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The Long and Short of what the Dutch Gave New York and America

by Jessica Thompson and Adrienne Cousineau

In many ways our Bill of Rights has roots in Dutch New Amsterdam. The Flushing Remonstrance, signed by villagers in the town of Vlissingen, reminded Stuyvesant that "the law of 'love, please and libertiewhich is the glory of the Outward State of Holland' extends even 'to Jewes Turks and Egiptians'."1 This remonstrance is considered an ancestor to the Bill of Rights, added to America's constitution. In addition, the Dutch program for citizenship was less stringent than the other American colonies. In 1653, the Dutch settlers signed a municipal charter for the city of New Amsterdam. Within this city the Dutch burgher system was adopted. In this system, there were different levels of citizenship. A great burgher "was a powerful trader who contributed sizable sums for civic improvements and, in exchange, got the right to trade and had a voice in settling policy."2 Nearly every resident of New Amsterdam who did not become a great burgher applied for small burgher status. This gave residents of New Amsterdam a stake in the town as a whole and "largely did away with the itinerant traders who used to sweep in, make a quick profit, and leave."3 This caused New Amsterdam to become much more egalitarian and stable than its English neighbors.

In addition to the status as small burgher, workers in New Amsterdam did not form unions or guilds, as was common in Europe. This allowed the settlers to dabble in a variety of professions such as the landlord and baker of the tavern, or the owner and ship's captain, which would never be allowed in a society shaped by guilds.

What makes New York most distinctive from other British colonies is the "Articles of Capitulation" signed by the Dutch after the English takeover. It would have been well within the rights of England to suppress New Amsterdam's character and force to adhere to the mold of "an English colony;" however, the Dutch were allowed to remain distinct. New York's citizens enjoyed "the liberty of their Consciences"4; they could come and go, trade with countries other than England, continue to self-rule as they had under Dutch guidance, and were also guaranteed the right to not quarter soldiers. The Duke of York himself declared that Manhattanites should have "immunities and privileges beyond what other parts of my territory doe enjoy." 5

These special privileges would never have been bestowed on New York had it not been seen as a valuable, up and coming port that needed to be valued and not suppressed. And it is this special treatment that allowed New York to develop so differently from other English colonies in North America.


1. Shorto, R. The Island at the Center of the World. New York: Vintage Books, 2004. p. 276

2. Ibid. p. 268

3. Ibid. p. 268

4. Ibid. p. 304

5. Ibid. p. 305

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