Dutch 'Acte van Verlatinge' inspired Thomas Jefferson in 1776

The Acte van Verlatinge, which clinched the independence of the Netherlands, doesn’t enjoy the same honour and fame as the American Declaration of Independence. Nonetheless, it seems that it was a source of inspiration for Thomas Jefferson when he wrote the latter declaration. 

In 1579 frustration with Philip II’s oppressive rule in the protestant Netherlands came to a head. So some provinces united in the Union of Utrecht. Two years later they wrote the Acte van Verlatinge, abjuring the sovereignty of the Spanish king, a decision that clinched the independence of the northern Netherlands. Some of the southern provinces were signatories to the document as well, but they were later re-conquered by Philip’s armies. 

A template

In recent years interest in this historic document has rekindled. The Dutch National Archives have had the artefact forensically examined to find out about more about its history. The results show that the manuscript is from the hand of the clerk Jan van Asseliers. He wrote the act in The Hague early in July of the year 1581. What’s more, he didn’t do it very neatly, because the paper shows a lot of deletions and additions. 

More interesting, perhaps, are the findings of the American professor Stephen E. Lucas. He examined the similarities between the Acte van Verlatinge and the Declaration of Independence and came to the conclusion that the Acte strongly influenced the form and content of the American Declaration of Independence: "When you look at the two documents side by side, you cannot avoid noticing that the American Declaration more closely resembles its Dutch predecessor than any other possible model." 

Lucas adds that there is no question of plagiarism; it is more like ‘a template’. The scholar also deplores the ignorance surrounding the historic importance and the considerable influence of the Acte.

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