“Abraham the Great”

KuyperAbrOne of my father’s heroes was Abraham Kuyper: he was often mentioned when I was a child and of course it was only in later years that I came to realise why my Dad and so many of his Dutch contemporaries deeply respected and honoured this Dutchman.

Paging through the August 2015 Dutch Courier, the monthly news and info paper for the Dutch in Australia, I came across a brief and selective overview of Abraham Kuyper’s life and impact, written by Andries Snoek.  I’ve translated it to make it accessible by a different readership. . .

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In its series on The Iron Century, the Dutch BVN TV network (“Best of Flanders and the Netherlands”) broadcast a portrait of Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920), also known as “Abraham the Great”.  [However, “great” is a bland translation of the Dutch “geweldig” which implies more of what constitutes greatness, such as wonderful, impressive, eminent and illustrious – ed.]  It is indeed great what this man brought into being.

Starting as a humble minister in the Netherlands Reformed Church at Beesd (in the Betuwe region), he was converted from liberal to orthodox Reformed convictions and became the founder of the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands and of the Anti-Revolutionary Party (ARP), the first Dutch Christian political party.  He also established the Free University of Amsterdam, now one of the Netherlands’ largest universities.

He was also the managing editor of the daily The Standard newspaper, for which he wrote the daily lead editorial.  He was known as “the bell-ringer of the little people” because he spoke up for the rights of “ordinary people” (including their right to vote) at a time when the Netherlands was still being ruled by the elite.  Thus he developed great political influence which resulted in his becoming the “Minister-President” [Prime Minister] from 1901-1905.

He established the right to vote and to be elected for the general population, although it was initially given only to men, and the equal funding of public and private education.

In 1909 he was involved in a scandal, the so-called “Honours Affair”.  In 1903 an Amsterdam merchant, Rudolph Lehmann, had received a royal honour after being recommended by Kuyper.  It later appeared that in 1904 Lehmann had donated 11,000 guilders to the ARP.  This resulted in a row and Kuyper had to defend himself in the Parliament.  He confessed to having acted without discretion and uttered words that became famous, “The penitent’s cloak does not mar a man”.  A committee of inquiry later declared him not guilty of corruption.

Kuyper Cartoons AnthologyThis episode occurred to me as I thought of the many current politicians who can hardly manage to admit their mistakes, let alone apologise for them.

Kuyper was greatly loved by cartoonists.  Few politicians have had as many caricatures drawn of them as he did.  Johan Braakensiek and Albert Hahn were his most vitriolic mockers.

A selection of these cartoons was published in 1909.  It was “great” indeed that Kuyper himself wrote a 6 page introduction in the form of a letter to the anthology’s publisher, complimenting him for publishing it.

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So far the Dutch Courier article on Abraham Kuyper.  What it hardly explains, however,  is why my father was so taken with this Dutchman who died when he was just 7 years old and 25 years before I was born.

More about that in my next post.

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