Open main menu
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
678
[HISTORY
BELGIUM

reforms. The election of 1847 gave a majority to the Liberals and a purely Liberal ministry was formed, and from this date onwards it has been the constitutional practice in Belgium to choose a homogeneous ministry from the party which possesses a working majority in the chamber. In 1848 a new electoral Electoral reform. law was passed, which lowered the franchise to 20 florins’ worth of property and doubled the number of electors. Hence it came to pass that Belgium passed safely through the crisis of the French revolution of 1848. The extreme democratic and socialistic party made with French aid some spasmodic efforts to stir up a revolutionary movement, but they met with no popular sympathy; the throne of Leopold stood firmly based upon the trust and respect of the Belgian nation for the wisdom and moderation of their king.

The attention of the government was now largely directed to the stimulating of private industry and the carrying out of public works of great practical utility, such as the extension of railways and the opening up of other internal means of communication. Commercial treaties were also entered into with various countries with the view of providing additional outlets for industrial products. The king also sought as much as possible to remove from the domain of politics every irritating question, believing that a union of the different parties was most for the advantage of the state. In 1850 the question of middle-class education was settled. In 1852 the Liberal cabinet was overthrown and a ministry of conciliation was formed. A bill was passed authorizing the army to be raised to 100,000 men including reserve. The elections of 1854 modified the parliamentary situation by increasing the strength of the Conservatives; the ministry resigned and a new one was formed, under Pierre de Decker, of moderate Catholics and Progressives. In 1857 the government of M. de Decker brought in a bill to establish “the liberty of charity,” but in reality to place the administration of charities in the hands of the priesthood. This led to a violent agitation throughout the kingdom and the military had to be called out. Eventually the bill was withdrawn, the ministers resigned and a Liberal ministry was formed under M. Charles Rogier. In 1860 the communal octrois or duties on articles of food brought into the towns was abolished; in 1863 the navigation of the Scheldt was made free, and a treaty of commerce established with England. The elections of July 1864 gave a majority to the Liberals, and M. Rogier continued in office.

On the 10th of December 1865, King Leopold died, after a reign of thirty-four years. He was greatly beloved by his people, and to him Belgium owed much, for in difficult circumstances and critical times he had managed its affairs Accession of Leopold II. with great tact and judgment. He was succeeded by his eldest son Leopold II., who was immediately proclaimed king and took the oath to the constitution on the 17th of December. On the outbreak of war between France and Germany in 1870, Belgium saw the difficulty and danger of her position, and lost no time in providing for contingencies. A large war credit was voted, the strength of the army was raised and strong bodies of troops were moved to the frontier. The feeling of danger to Belgium also caused great excitement in England. The British government declared its intention to maintain the integrity of Belgium in accordance with the treaty of 1839, and it induced the two belligerent powers to agree not to violate the neutrality of Belgian territory. A considerable portion of the French army routed at Sedan did indeed seek refuge across the frontier; but they laid down their arms according to convention, and were duly “interned.”

In 1870 the Liberal party, which had been in power for thirteen years, was overthrown by a union of the Catholics with a number of Liberal dissentients to whom the policy of the government had given offence, and a Catholic cabinet, at the head of which was Baron Jules Joseph d’Anethan, took office. At the election of August 1870, the Catholics obtained a majority in both chambers. They increased their power considerably by reducing the voting qualification for electors to provincial councils to 20 frs., and to communal councils to 10 frs., and also by recognizing the importance of what was styled “the Flemish Movement.” Hitherto French had been the official language of the states. The use of Flemish in public documents, in judicial procedure and in official correspondence was hereafter The Flemish Movement. required in the Flemish provinces, and Belgium became officially bi-lingual. It was, as has been already pointed out, a reversion to the policy of the Dutch king, which in 1830 had been so strongly denounced by the leaders of the Belgian revolution, and its object was the same, i.e. to prevent frenchification of a population that was Teutonic by race and speech. In 1871 M. Malou had become the head of a cabinet of moderate Catholics, and he retained office till 1878. This was the period of the struggle between the pope and the Italian government, and the German Kulturkampf. The Belgian Ultramontanes agitated strongly in favour of the re-establishment of the temporal power and against the policy of Bismarck. Though discountenanced by the ministry, the violence of the Ultra-clericals compassed its downfall. They passed a law adopting the ballot in 1877, but at the election of the following year a Liberal majority was returned.

The new cabinet, under M. Frère-Orban, devoted itself solely to the settlement of the educational system. Hitherto since 1842 in all primary schools instruction by the clergy in the Catholic faith was obligatory, children belonging School law of 1879. to other persuasions being dispensed from attendance. In 1879 a bill was passed for the secularization of primary education; but an attempt was made to conciliate the clergy by Art. 4, which enacted—“religious instruction is relegated to the care of families and the clergy of the various creeds. A place in the school may be put at their disposal where the children may receive religious instruction,” at hours other than those set apart for regular education. The bill likewise provided for a rigorous inspection of the communal schools. The passing of this law was met by the clergy by uncompromising resistance. The bishops ordered that absolution be refused to teachers in the schools “sans Dieu,” and to the parents who sent their children to them, and urged the establishment of private Catholic schools. All over Belgium the agitation spread, and the clergy, who were practically independent of state control, gained the victory. In November 1879 it was calculated that there were but 240,000 scholars in the secularized schools against 370,000 in the Catholic schools. In Flanders over 80% of the children attended the Catholic schools. The government appealed to the pope, but the Holy See declined to take any action, and so great was the embitterment that the Belgian minister at the Vatican and the papal nuncio at Brussels were recalled, and in 1880 the clergy refused to associate themselves with the fêtes of the national jubilee. In order to emerge victorious in such a struggle the Liberal party had need of all their strength, but a split took place between the sections known as the doctrinaires and the progressists, on the question of an extension of the franchise, and at the election of 1884 the Catholics carried all before them at the polls. From 1884 up to the present time the clerical party have maintained their supremacy.

A Catholic administration under M. Malou at once took in hand the schools question. A law was passed, despite violent protests from the Liberals, which enacted that the communes might maintain the private Catholic schools established since 1879 and suppress unsectarian schools at their pleasure. They might retain at least one unsectarian or adopt one Catholic school, where 25 heads of families demanded it. The state subsidized all the communal schools, Catholic and unsectarian alike. Under this law in all districts under clerical control the unsectarian schools were abolished. In October 1884, M. Beernaert replaced M. Malou as prime minister, and retained that post for the following ten years. He had in 1886 a troublous and dangerous situation to deal with. Socialism had become a political force Social outbreak in 1886. in the land. Socialism of a German type had taken deep root among the working men of the Flemish towns, especially at Ghent and Brussels; socialism of a French revolutionary type among the Walloon miners and factory hands. On the 18th of March 1886, a socialist rising suddenly burst out at Liége, on the occasion of the