THE STORY OF
INDEPENDENCE FROM HOLLAND
we Americans speak the English language, our country is not a New England,
or a New Britain, but a New Europe. Our race gained a thousand years of
potency by crossing the Atlantic. Old World ideas, unless modified, will
not work on our continent. Yet, above all nations is humanity.
Dutchmen in America,
like men of other strains and stocks, face to face with new problems,
found themselves compelled to cut apron strings, and firmly but reverently,
first ask and then demand of Patria to grant her sons freedom to grapple
with new tasks in their own way. That was the meaning of the troubles
and differences which came into the eighteenth-century Dutch Church. This
typical Netherlands institution and survival in America is conservative,
above all others, of things distinctively Dutch.
In 1739 seventy-five
years had passed since the English conquest, and two generations had grown
up. Only a few octogenarians among the Dutch Churchmen had seen Patria.
Most of the people spoke the Dutch language, but were loyal to the British
King, yet from a sense of duty rather than from affection or admiration,
and increasingly they were of the Continental spirit. The
very attempt to serve two masters made them eager to rest their supreme
loyalty in that law of safeguarded liberty, which, older than thrones,
is common to the two countries which were one in love of order and progress.
Hence, the people of Dutch descent in the middle colonies were unusually
The common English
or insular term for all people of Teutonic stock was Dutch,
a word meaning literally, the peoples. The Netherlanders were spoken of
as Neder or Low Dutch, the Germans being High
Dutch. The reference being to geographical, not moral conditions,
the English were the lowest of all three levels. As English became increasingly
the language of New York and accurate knowledge of Holland faded away,
both New Yorkers and New Englanders, who were copyists of the English,
sank to shameful depths of ignorance concerning Patria and the Netherlanders.
It was increasingly
felt by the Dutch Churchmen that they must attend to church business themselves,
and have student candidates and ministers raised up on this side of the
Atlantic. Happily the Classis of Amsterdam was a liberal-minded body,
and the Americans were urged to form a Ctus, or Association, as
had been done already in Surinam. On September 5, 1737, seven ministers
met in New York and drew up a plan to heal divisions, give effective counsel,
promote unity, and attract ministers from Europe to America.
While the popular
hunger and thirst for education increased, there was constant fear lest
the British Government should force a state church on the people and establish
a sectarian college, just as in England the two older universities had
been closed to all but members of one form of Christianity. This and the
heterogeneousness of the population made the growth of systematic education
in New York a slow one.
had warned the Dutch that all pretenses of the political church
people at sisterhood and identity were fallacious and hypocritical.
Hence the course of Domine Frelinghuysen, who called a meeting of the
Ctus for May 30, 1755, to take action concerning an American Classis
and the university for the Dutch Church. After eleven years of debate,
the American Classis, in 1766, obtained the charter. As there was a Kings
College in New York City, this one in New Jersey was called Queens,
and is now Rutgers College.
One argument for
an independent Dutch Church in America was that an oath of allegiance
to Great Britain was inconsistent with obedience to the foreign State
Church of Holland. Yet there were other elements entering in to prepare
both Dutch and English to sever their bonds with Europe.
It was difficult
then, however, as it is for some of the old Dutchmen of to-day in Michigan
and Iowa, to understand how the omnipotent God can be trusted to reveal
truth in any language but the Dutch, or in any theology but that of Dordrecht
and the seventeenth century. How, also, sound catechetics can be taught
in English is still, to some fresh from the turf of Patria, a mystery
passing their understanding. Nevertheless, there were loyal Dutch Churchmen
on Manhattan willing to trust the Almighty and the English language, and
in 1763 they called the Rev. Archibald Laidlie, a graduate of Edinburgh
University, and then pastor at Flushing in Zealand. The introduction of
English preaching in New York City resulted in a lawsuit, besides sad
losses of temper, money, and membership, but the English side won. About
the year 1770 Laidlie translated the Heidelberg Catechism into English,
and the excellence and the grace of his work may be seen to this day.
He was made S. T. D., by the College of New Jersey, in 1770. While in
exile from the city, on account of the Revolution, he died of consumption.
The Rev. Lambertus
de Ronde, a genuine Continental patriot, had in 1763 made
an English version of the Heidelberg Catechism, and was the author of
the first book in the English language published by a member of the Reformed
Dutch Church in America, a manual of theology and preparation for
Communion. When driven from Manhattan by the British occupation of New
York in 1776, he preached in the churches farther north in the Hudson
River Valley. When the people of the United States had their
National Government in 1787, de Ronde translated into Dutch the Constitution
of the United States, and when this instrument had been adopted by six
states, the Dutch version was printed in 1788, and published by order
of the federal committee in the city of Albany. It had a tremendous influence
among older men of the State, backing Alexander Hamilton, and securing
New York for the Union and Constitution.
Meanwhile, the two
parties in the Dutch Church squabbled together, and sometimes like saints
who serve the Lord as if the devil were in them, but the peacemaker
was being raised up, who was to grapple with the difficulties and bring
order out of chaos.
John H. Livingston,
born in Poughkeepsie in 1746 and graduated at Yale College in 1762, was
the bearer of the olive branch. He spent the winter of 1765-66 on Manhattan,
and was much in the society of Domine Laidlie. Then, on May 12, 1766,
like our own Motley of later days, he sailed to Holland, for the sources
and the masters, and entered Utrecht University. He was the last of the
American youth who went to Holland for the study of theology.
and over one hundred churches composed the Reformed Dutch Church when
Livingston returned, on September 3, 1770. A preacher, a scholar, a, statesman
of flue highest ability, he, as soon as affairs were ripe, proposed a
plan of union which should unite all parties. A convention was called
for October 15, 1771, to establish a firm and enduring church constitution.
Twenty-two ministers and twenty-five elders, representing in all thirty-four
churches, were present at the meeting. Of these, half a dozen had originally
been French and about twenty German Reformed, most of whom were gradually
Hollandized and ultimately Anglicized as to language. In these one hundred
churches, during the century and a half of colonial dependence, one hundred
and twelve ministers had officiated, of whom thirty-four were living at
this union of the two parties.
This Dutch Church
Congress in 1771, composed of the children of several European nations,
the first of its kind in America, was but a prelude to that of the gathering
of the fifty-five Continental delegates in Carpenters Hall in Philadelphia
in 1774. It certainly proved to be a powerful incentive to American freedom
and law-abiding resistance to King Georges revolution, which he
and Parliament forced on the colonies. As simple fact, every one of the
Dutch friends of ecclesiastical independence belonged also to the Continental
party of freedom in 1776, and throughout the war. The Dutch Church was
a unit in resisting British attempts to overthrow American liberty, though
there were many Dutch Tories.
At a second convention
called, according to arrangement, June 16, 1772, twenty-six ministers
and forty-three elders from one hundred churches were present, and almost
every one subscribed to the Plan of Union. When they heard read the letter,
from the mother Classis in Holland, sent to the Convention, dated January
14, 1771, they found to the joy of all that their Plan of Union was approved.
The written constitution,
which grew out of this Dutch Church Congress, is a notable document in
American history, and a splendid specimen of a republican and representative
frame of government. It gave a model for the national Constitution of
The General Synod
thus created, which met triennially, took on a decidedly American form
in being not only conventional but representative, that is, consisting
of all ministers in the Church and an elder from each congregation.
Article LIX is especially
worthy of mention, as showing that attitude of the Church, in regard to
the servitude of Africans, which gave the Reformed Dutch Church in the
nineteenth century its unique position throughout the whole slavery agitation
and the Civil War. In the Church there is no difference between
bond and free, but all are one in Christ. Whenever, therefore, slaves
or black people shall be baptized, or become members in full communion
of the Church, they shall be admitted to equal privileges with all other
members of the same standing; their infant children shall be entitled
to baptism, and in every respect be treated with the same attention that
the children of white or free parents are in the Church. Any minister,
who, upon any pretense, shall refuse to admit slaves or their children
to the privileges to which they are entitled, shall, complaint being exhibited
and proved, be severely reprimanded by the Classis to which he belongs.
Thus the Church that
had already welcomed the red man to font and altar showed brotherhood
to the negroes. So it came to pass that on scores of old record books
of the Dutch churches are hundreds of names of members who were black
brethren, baptized, and communicants, and right nobly did many a Simon
the Niger carry his cross. A permanent feature of the Dutch congregations
was the devout colored worshiper who sat in the gallery. On baptismal
and Communion Sabbaths, the children of the slaves, or the free blacks,
or the new immigrants from the Indies or the Dark Continent, stood up,
with their white masters in the flesh to be brethren with them in the
Spirit, to take the same vows, and answer to the same questions of loyalty
to a common Saviour and obedience to the church rules, Yes, truly
with all my heart. Before the baptismal font, the dusky fathers
and mothers held their babes for the same waters of covenant and consecration,
making like promises, and receiving like guarantee of spiritual culture
as the highest in the land.
No body of Christians
on the North American continent entered more profoundly in mind, or realized
more fully in practice, the spiritual democracy of believers than the
people of the Reformed Dutch Church. The names of pickaninnies and papooses,
adult slaves and warriors, servants, proselytes, black, red,
and white, on the pages of Dutch Church registers sparkle among the undying
glories of American colonial life. It was as though the negatives of those
photographs of primeval Christianity, taken by the slave and prisoner
of Jesus Christ at Ephesus, Corinth, or Rome, in the first century,
had been developed and enlarged in the sunshine of the Western world.
The prayer Sun of Divine Justice, shine on us, with the added
et Occidentem (the West), was throughout every generation,
from the days of the first Manhattan congregation, gloriously and repeatedly
fulfilled. In the Reformed Church, by excellence, Ethiopia held her gift-laden
hands unto God, and despite all human infirmities Salems ebony sons
and daughters adorned the doctrine of their Saviour.
The story of New
Netherland may be written in the history of the various towns making up
the colony, province, and states of New York and New Jersey, but none
in the whole country probably suffered worst than New Brunswick. Later,
in place of the burnt collage, the trustees built a two-story frame house,
painted white, without a cupola or belfry, facing the north. in true Dutch
style, it was set with its gable end toward George Street.
During the first
troublous but fruitful period, Old Rutgers, on the banks
of the old Raritan, graduated over sixty young men, ten of whom
became ministers. Others were leaders in politics and science. The new
building, still called Queens College, not reared until 1809, was
planned by the architect of the City Hall in New York. Dr. Livingston,
appointed in 1784 and serving elsewhere, cane to New Brunswick and opened
the theological seminary in 1810, possibly the first in America. In 1863
the State College of New Jersey, for the benefit of agriculture and mechanic
arts, was founded, and in 1865 was organized as a department in Rutgers
Men are influenced
by precedents, and gladly receive the lessons of experience, while profiting
by the mistakes and successes of others. This Plan of Union, by men of
the four Middle States, with its masterly written constitution of 1771
powerfully influenced the Constitutional Convention of the United States