1848 Thorbecke and the constitution

In 1844 King William II had resolutely vetoed proposals for amending the constitution. The times were changing, however. Revolution was sweeping across Europe. Absolute monarchs were no longer tolerated. William II had to give in.



Uniform of J.R. Thorbecke as minister of home affairs. Netherlands, c. 1850

The Liberal politician and statesman Johan Rudolf Thorbecke led three cabinets, in which he also held the position of minister of Foreign Affairs. He laid the foundations for the present Dutch polity. He drafted the constitution of 1848 that greatly expanded the power of the parliament, and limited that of the king. His name is also linked to laws expanding the independence of municipal and provincial governments.


Extremely liberal

Portrait of Johan Rudolf Thorbecke. Minister of state and minister of home affairs. Johan Heinrich Neuman, 1852

Portrait of Willem II, king of the Netherlands. Jan Adam Kruseman, 1839

Throughout Europe, 1848 was a revolutionary year. In France the king abdicated and the French republic came into being. There were also incidental disturbances in the Netherlands. Because of these events, on 13 May 1848 King William II announced that he would work on a fundamental amendment of the constitution. The conservative government resigned. William II claimed he had changed from being extremely conservative to extremely liberal in 24 hours. Thorbecke and a few other Liberals were ordered to make a proposal for amending the constitution. This resulted in the constitution of 1848. It gave the ministers ‘ministerial responsibility’ and the king total immunity. The Netherlands became a constitutional monarchy. Parts of the constitution have subsequently been revised on numerous occasions. However, the constitution of 1848 remains the basis for the form of government in effect today.