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United States of Belgium

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Title: United States of Belgium  
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Subject: 18th century, 1790, History of Belgium, United Kingdom of the Netherlands, Antwerp (province), List of country-name etymologies, Battle of Turnhout (1789), Index of Belgium-related articles, Charleroi, Wavre
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United States of Belgium

United States of Belgium
Verenigde Belgische Staten
Unrecognized state

Flag Belgic Lion (on coin)
In Unione Salus or Domini est Regum
"In Union Salvation" and "The kingdom is the Lord's"
The United States of Belgium in 1790.
Capital Brussels
Languages Dutch, French
Religion Roman Catholic
Government Confederal Republic
 -  1790 François de Nélis
 -  1790 Hendrik van Crumpipen
Prime Minister
 -  1790 Hendrik Van der Noot
Legislature Sovereign Congress
Historical era Brabant Revolution
 -  Manifesto of Brabant 24 October 1789
 -  Treaty of Union 11 January 1790
 -  Battle of Falmagne 22 September 1790
 -  Surrender of Brussels 2 December 1790
Currency Silver Lion

The United States of Belgium or United Belgian States (Dutch: Verenigde Nederlandse Staten or Verenigde Belgische Staten, French: États-Belgiques-Unis, German: Vereinigte Staaten von Belgien[1] Latin: Foederati belgii) was a confederation of the Southern Netherlands which existed from January to December 1790, during a short-lived revolt against the Habsburg Emperor Joseph II.


Influenced by the Enlightenment, Emperor Joseph II, who became sole ruler of the Habsburg lands after Maria Theresa’s death in 1780, decreed a series of large-scale reforms in the Austrian Netherlands designed to radically modernize and centralize the political, judicial and administrative system.

Characteristically, the well-intended but autocratic Emperor abruptly imposed his reforms without even a semblance of consultation with the population, including the influential urban intelligentsia and other segments of the ruling classes that were highly receptive to such innovations. His Edict of tolerance of 1781 established religious freedom. Another edict in 1784, taking away from the Catholic clergy responsibility for the civil registry and civil marriage was introduced. Under the Edict on Idle Institutions, contemplative religious orders, deemed useless, were dissolved and diocesan seminaries were abolished and replaced by general seminaries in Leuven and Luxembourg. Feudal and trade corporation regulations and jurisdictions were modified or abolished and, to the stupefaction of all segments of the population, the ancient provinces of Flanders, Brabant, Hainaut, Namur, Luxembourg were abolished and replaced by 9 circles, subdivided in 64 districts. Seigneurial jurisdictions and rights, including the corvée, were abolished.[2] As in Hungary, Joseph II attempted to introduce German as the language of administration for the sake of efficiency.


The United States was a confederal republic of eight provinces which had their own governments, were sovereign and independent, and were governed directly by the Sovereign Congress (French: Congrès souverain; Dutch: Soevereine Congres), the confederal government. The Sovereign Congress was seated in Brussels and consisted of representatives of each of the eight provinces. The provinces of the republic were divided into varied smaller separate territories, each with their own regional identities:[3]

  1. Duchy of Brabant
  2. Duchy of Guelders
  3. Duchy of Limburg
  4. Duchy of Luxembourg
  5. County of Flanders
  6. County of Hainaut
  7. County of Namur
  8. Lordship of Mechelen

Brabant Revolution

Battle of Turnhout, 27 October 1789.
Battle of Ghent, 13 November 1789.
Battle of Falmagne, 22 September 1790.
Surrender of Brussels, 2 December 1790.
Part of a series on the
History of Belgium
Belgium portal

In 1789, a church-inspired popular revolt broke out in reaction to the emperor's centralizing and anticlerical policies. Two factions appeared: the Statists who opposed the reforms, and the Vonckists named for Jan Frans Vonck who initially supported the reforms but then joined the opposition, due to the clumsy way in which the reforms were carried out.

The uprising started in Brabant, which in January 1789 declared that it no longer recognized the emperor's rule. The leader of the Statisten faction, Hendrik Van der Noot, crossed the border into the Dutch Republic and raised a small army in Breda in Staats-Brabant, the northern (Dutch Republic) part of Brabant.

In October, he invaded Brabant and captured Turnhout, defeating the Austrians in the Battle of Turnhout on 27 October. Ghent was taken on 13 November, and on 17 November the governors Albert Casimir and Maria Christina fled Brussels. The remains of the imperial forces withdrew behind the citadel walls of Luxembourg and Antwerp.

Van der Noot now declared Brabant independent, and all other provinces of the Austrian Netherlands (except Luxembourg) soon followed suit. On 11 January 1790 they signed a pact, establishing a confederation under the name Verenigde Nederlandse Staten / États-Belgiques-Unis (United States of Belgium) and a governing body known as the Sovereign Congress. The Dutch Act of Abjuration in 1581 and the American Declaration of Independence in 1776 stood model for the Declaration of Independence of Flanders and some of the other provinces between November 1789 and early 1790. Shortly afterwards, the Articles of Confederation stood as models for the Treaty of the United Belgian States of 11 January 1790.

Independently, in 1789, a revolution had broken out in Liège. The revolutionaries established a republic which joined the United States of Belgium in a semblance of an alliance.

Realizing the fragility of the new state, Van der Noot attempted to approach foreign states for support and suggested a unification with the Dutch Republic, with little success. Also, the factions of the Statists and the Vonckists were in constant conflict, bordering on civil war.

Suppression of the Revolt

Meanwhile, Joseph II had died and his brother Leopold II had succeeded him as emperor. Leopold II quickly moved to recapture the Austrian Netherlands. On 24 October 1790 imperial troops took the city of Namur, forcing the province of Namur to recognize the authority of the emperor. Two days later, the province of West Flanders followed suit, and by December the entire territory was again in imperial hands.

The Austrian restoration and hegemony however was short-lived as in 1794 during the French Revolutionary Wars the region was overrun by French armies and in 1795 was annexed to France (1 October 1795).


Though short-lived, the United States of Belgium had long-lasting repercussions. It had given the Southern Netherlands their first taste of independence, and had sparked a new political idea: the state of Belgium. In 1830, the inhabitants of the Southern Netherlands successfully revolted against the Netherlands during the Belgian Revolution, creating the modern state of Belgium.

See also


  1. ^ Marie-Thérèse Bitsch, Histoire de la Belgique, Hatier, 1992, p. 63
  2. ^ Bitsch, pp. 56, 62.
  3. ^ "The Brabant Revolution of 1789–1790". World History at KMLA. Retrieved 24 July 2013. 

External links

  • Text of the Treaty of Union (French)
  • Text of the Treaty of Union (Dutch)
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