11/19/12 — the ascendance of the dutch

In today’s selection — for a brief time, after the decline of Spain with its diminishing New World riches, and before the full ascendance of England with its naval dominance, the Dutch were the preeminent trading power in the world. They had an estimated 10,000 ships at sea, and accounted for more than half the trade in all of Europe. We see the traces of this power in places like New York, which saw its beginnings as New Amsterdam, an outpost for the Dutch West India Company. The Dutch emerged as a world power after an eighty year war of independence to free themselves from the clutches of Spain, sparked by the hatred between Protestants and Catholics and the atrocities and the economic heavy handedness of Spain, including the hated “Tenth Penny” tax on revenues and income:

“In the 17th century, national energies opened into a period of spectacular enrichment of trade and commercial expansion in which Dutch talents and methods led them to excel and acquire the status of a major power. Cash profits from the flow of new products -- spices of the East Indies, cotton of India, tea of China, sugar of the West Indies -- enabled the Dutch to lend money to their neighbors. …

“Superior seamanship and superior ships were the means that carried the Dutch to the crest of world trade, taking the lead from Spain, thought to be the greatest sea power of the time, and from England, the self-appointed rival of Dutch enterprise. …

“In 1648, when the Dutch gained independence from Spain, they had risen to riches and power despite the energies absorbed in the prolonged revolt and the damages suffered to war-torn countryside and cities and the impoverishment caused by expenditure on arms and armies and by the emigration of so many men of substance. Through extraordinary enterprise and force of necessity and confidence gained in their ordeal, they had expanded their commerce and shipping until they had more than half the trade of Europe in their hands, and had access to ports on every foreign shore from the East Indies to Africa, from Brazil to the Caribbean and to New Amsterdam in North America.

“In the Ottoman Empire they had a concession to trade throughout Turkish dominions given by the Turks as a slap at Spain, which had beaten them at the Battle of Lepanto. More than three-quarters of the world's carrying trade in timber and grain from the Baltic, salt from France, fabrics from their own cities, spices from the East and sugar from the West Indies was shipped in Dutch bottoms. By the time of independence in 1648, they were, according to historians' estimate, the greatest trading nation in the world. They were said to have 10,000 ships at sea, carrying an international traffic estimated at a thousand million francs a year, a figure doubtless exaggerated by foreign mariners to shame their own governments into stronger competition.”


Barbara W. Tuchman


The First Salute




Copyright 1988 by Barbara W. Tuchman


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