Johan Rudolf Thorbecke

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Johan Rudolph Thorbecke (January 14, 1798 – June 4, 1872) was a Dutch politician and statesman of Liberal signature who is considered as one of the most important Dutch politicians of the 19th century. In 1848 he virtually singlehandedly drafted the revision of the Constitution of the Netherlands, giving less power to the king, and more to the States-General of the Netherlands.



Early life

Thorbecke was born in Zwolle, and began studying classic literature and philosophy in Amsterdam, studies he finished in Leiden defending a thesis on Asinius Pollio. After studying at several universities in Germany he was appointed at the chair of diplomacy (history of international relations) at the University of Ghent in Belgium, which in those days was part of the Netherlands. Because of the Belgian insurrection in 1830 he had to give up this position, and one year later he was promoted to professor in diplomacy and modern history at the Leiden University.

Political career

In 1839, he published his criticisms of the current Dutch constitution in a very detailed study ('Aanteekening op de grondwet'); as a result, he became a well-known political figure. Five years later, together with eight other politicians, he formulated a proposal to change the Dutch constitution. The proposal, known as the Voorstel der Negenmannen ("proposition of the nine men"), did not pass through the House of Representatives, the lower house of the Dutch parliament.

Due to the international unrest in 1848, King William II decided to form a committee for revision of the constitution, and Thorbecke was appointed as the head of that committee. The changes, which were virtually all created by Thorbecke, were grudgingly approved by the parliament. The most important changes were those limiting of the powers of the monarch, introducing direct elections, establishing liberty of religion, and strengthening the powers of the parliament and the ministers. The new constitution was proclaimed on November 3, 1848.

In 1849, Thorbecke became minister of internal affairs, thereby de facto becoming the first Prime Minister of the Netherlands. During this cabinet, he devised several important laws, most important of which were laws on elections (1850), municipalities (1851) and provinces (1850). His cabinet was forced to resign in 1853 because of the so-called Aprilbeweging ("April Movement"), a Protestant group which protested against re-instituting the Catholic dioceses, which Thorbecke's cabinet had allowed.

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