The Library of the House of Representatives in the Hague is a historical reference collection that has been used by generations of Dutch parliamentarians. One of the collections in the library consists of 4,000 pamphlets and brochures from the 19th and 20th centuries. There are the famous pamphlets that changed the course of a debate, and the obscure ones that have been all but forgotten. Here is an overview of five of my favourite items from that collection.
1. Suffrage and Cannibalism?
Abraham Mendes Chumaceiro Az. (1841-1902) was a lawyer and activist who advocated the right to vote on the island of Curaçao. The strength of this pamphlet is the ironic title, Will suffrage lead to cannibalism on Curaçao? Chumaceiro was battling the idea that the local population was immature and not qualified to make a concious political decision and wonders why prejudices from the 17th century still remain in the 19th century. The title is as powerful today as it was 125 years ago.
2. The practical anarchist
This brochure full of do-it-yourself bomb recipes was intended for the practical anarchist. It was handed out on the streets in Amsterdam and some neighbouring villages in 1909, before the police made an end to it and arrested some of the people involved. The anonymous publisher states in the preface that “gentle considerations should never guide us when acting against rascals”. In the second part of the brochure we find recipes for the preparation of mercury, nitroglycerin, dynamite and many other explosives, complete with all the necessary chemical formulas. It is the irony of history that this extremely rare ephemeral publication, intended to blow up statesmen and goverment officials, is now preserved in the library of the House of Representatives.
3. The Marshallplan and you
The Marshall Plan (officially the European Recovery Program, ERP) was an American initiative passed in 1948 for foreign aid to Western Europe. To explain what this program meant for Dutch citizens, the press services of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and the Government Information Service published this brochure. Well-known commercial artist Jo Spier was hired to make the illustrations to accompany the government’s message: “Roll up your sleeves and get back to business!”
4. Forgotten but not lost
In a sole survinging copy of this almost forgotten pamphlet, a certain N. Bouman from Wijk bij Heusden turns against a work by a fellow local who hides behind the initials J. van D. The anonymous writer advocated against direct elections, much to the displeasure of Bouman, who thought of this as the work of the devil. Bouman further complained that the anonymous writer even put up posters in the coffee houses to to his pamphlet. Both pamphlets have been completely forgotten in history, but do show how the debate about the new constitution of 1848 was continued at the local level. This copy by Bouman, with an extensive handwritten dedication to the House of Representatives, seems to be the only one that has survived.
5. Annexation after WWII
Towards the end of WWII, there was a curious and nearly forgotten debate in the Netherlands about the possible annexation of German territory as compensation for war damage. Dozens of pamphlets on this subject can be found in the library of the House of Representatives. Some pamphleteers suggested that the Dutch border should be extended beyond Hamburg. In the end, only a few boundary corrections would take place, which in many cases were later undone.