August 25 – Anniversary of the Beginning of the Belgian Revolution

Posted on August 25, 2014

An opera performed on Aug. 25
was so nationalistic, the audience
emerged from the opera house and
promptly joined in the rioting!
What happens when a nation is full of frustrated people who cannot find jobs, who feel that their ruler is unfair, who feel misunderstood and out-of-step with the “powers that be”?

Sometimes what happens is rioting and looting.

Sometimes what happens is political revolution.

Sometimes it's rioting that leads to revolution!

King William I
That is what happened in Belgium on this date in 1830. King William I of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands spoke a different language and professed a different religion than most of the people in southern Belgium, and unemployment was high. When riots broke out in Brussels on August 25, 1830, shops were looted, factories were occupied, and machinery was destroyed. William sent soldiers to restore order, but rioting and uprisings continued elsewhere in the country and broke out again and again in Brussels.

Soon some of the protestors talked about secession; before the year was out, the States-General in Brussels decided to secede, and they declared Belgium's independence. A conference was held in London by representatives of the Great Powers (the Netherlands, Britain, France, Prussia) – and William I was very unhappy that the other European nations decided to recognize and even guarantee Belgium's independence!

Perhaps this political cartoon, showing
the kings of other nations sending
Leopold I to Belgium to become its king,
helps us understand why many Belgians
resented the London Conference.
Some people were very happy about the conference. I'm not talking about the Belgians here (although I assume that some of them were happy with the results), because many Belgians who were pro-independence felt rather humiliated that the leaders of other nations would presume to say whether or not they were allowed to be independent. But some Europeans were excited that the leading powers could use talk – diplomacy – rather than force – war – to decide things, and they saw the conference as providing “the institutional framework through which the leading powers of the time safeguarded the peace of Europe.” 

However, the peace was not necessarily safeguarded. William I, feeling even more humiliated by the conference's decision, launched in 1831 a military attack to reconquer Belgium. Called “The Ten Days' Campaign,” the attack was not successful. France backed the Belgians, William I's forces were turned back, and in 1839 the Dutch finally accepted Belgium's independence.

Learn more about Belgium here, here, and here

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