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The Mother of America

Tags: Dutch Exploration

The article below was written by popular editor Edward Bok in the October 1903 issue of mass circulated 'Ladies Home Journal'.


With Independence Day drawing near again, it is interesting to read on which model the founding fathers based American statehood and institutions. Bok, who immigrated from the Netherlands at a young age, also wrote an autobiography, 'The Americanization of Edward Bok'. The title is now out of print.


by Edward Bok

As a matter of fact, the reading world of America has yet to learn the real extent of the Dutch influences which underlie American institutions and have shaped American life... 

Douglas Campbell was perhaps among the first of these writers to point out that the men who founded New York were not Englishmen, but largely Hollanders: that the Puritans who settled Plymouth had lived twelve years in Holland: that the Puritans who settled elsewhere in Massachusetts had all their lives been exposed to a Dutch influence: that New Jersey, as well as New York, was settled by the Dutch West India Company: that Connecticut was given life by Thomas Hooker, who came from a long residence in Holland: that Roger Williams, who founded Rhode Island, was a Dutch scholar: and that William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania, came of a Dutch mother.

Take, for instance, what may be truly designated as the four vital institutions upon which America not only rests but which have caused it to be regarded as the most distinctive nation in the world. I mean our public-school system of free education; our freedom of religious worship; our freedom of the press, and our freedom of suffrage represented by the secret ballot. Not one of these came from England, since not one of them existed there when they were established in America: in fact only one of them existed in England earlier than fifty years after they existed in America, and the other three did not exist in England until nearly one hundred years after their establishment in America. Each and all of these four institutions came to America directly from Holland. Take the two documents upon which the whole fabric of the establishment and maintenance of America rests -- the Declaration of Independence and the Federal Constitution of the United States -- and one, the Declaration, is based almost entirely upon the Declaration of Independence of the United Republic of the Netherlands; while all through the Constitution its salient points are based upon, and some literally copied from the Dutch Constitution. So strong is this Netherlands influence upon our American form of government that the Senate of the United States - General, a similar body, and its predecessor by nearly a century of years, while even in the American flag we find the colors and the five-pointed star chosen from the Dutch.

The common modern practice of the State allowing a prisoner the free services of a lawyer for his defense, and the office of a district attorney for each county, are so familiar to us that we regard them as American inventions. Both institutions have been credited to England, whereas, as a matter of fact, it is impossible to find in England even today any official corresponding to our district attorney. Both of these institutions existed in Holland three centuries before they were brought to America. The equal distribution of property among the children of a person dying interstate -- that is, without a will -- was brought to America direct from Holland by the Puritans. It never existed in England. The record of all deeds and mortgages in a public office, a custom which affects every man and woman who owns or buys property, came to America direct from Holland. It never came from England, since it does not exist there even at the present day. The township system ... came from Holland ... in fact, our whole modern American management of free prisons ... was brought from Holland to America by William Penn. Group these astonishing facts together, if you will, and see their tremendous import: The Federal Constitution; the Declaration of Independence; the whole organization of the Senate; our State Constitutions; our freedom of religion; our free schools; our free press; our written ballot; our town, county and State systems of government; the system of recording deeds and mortgages; the giving of every criminal a just chance for his life; a public prosecutor of crime in every county; our free prison workhouse system -- to say nothing of kindred important and vital elements in our national life. When each and all of these can be traced directly to one nation, or to the influence of that nation, and that nation is not England, is it any wonder, asks one enlightened historian, that some modern scholars, who, looking beneath the mere surface resemblance of language, seek an explanation of the manifest difference between the people of England and the people of the United States assumed by them to be of the same blood, and influenced by the same (?) institutions?


On the dust jacket of Bok's autobiography the following was shared with the book's readers:

A most remarkable young man

At sixteen, Edward Bok was a close friend of Ulysses S. Grant, Jefferson Davis, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Oliver Wendell Holmes.

At eighteen, he was corresponding with presidents and learning the secrets of the stock market from Jay Gould.

At twenty-six he was famous as the editor of the 'Ladies Home Journal'.

At thirty, his friends included such literary giants as Mark Twain and Rudyard Kipling.

At forty he launched President Theodore Roosevelt on a new literary career.