Revolt, religion, and dissent in the Dutch-American Atlantic: Francis Adrian van der Kemp's pursuit of civil and religious liberty
This project explores the histories of the Dutch Republic and the United States during the Age of Revolutions, using as a lens the life of Francis Adrian van der Kemp. Connections between the Netherlands and the United States have been understudied in histories of the Revolutionary Atlantic. Yet the nations' political and religious histories are entwined both thematically and practically. Van der Kemp's life makes it possible to examine republicanism and liberal religion anew, as they developed and changed during the era of Atlantic revolutions. The project draws on numerous archival collections that house van der Kemp's voluminous correspondence, political and religious writings, his autobiography, and the unpublished records of the Reformed Christian Church, now the Unitarian Church of Barneveld. With his activity in both countries, van der Kemp offers a unique perspective into the continued role of the Dutch in the development of the United States. The dissertation argues that the political divisions and incomplete religious freedom that frustrated van der Kemp in the Dutch Republic similarly manifested in America. Politically, the partisanship that became the hallmark of the early American republic echoed the experiences van der Kemp had during the Patriot Revolt. While parties would eventually stabilize radical politics, the collapse of the Dutch Republic in the Atlantic world and the divisiveness of American politics in those early decades, led van der Kemp to blunt his once radically democratic opinions. Heavily influenced by John Adams, he adopted a more conservative politics of balance that guaranteed religious and civil liberty regardless of governmental structure. In the realm of religion, van der Kemp discovered that American religious freedom reflected the same begrudging acceptance that constituted Dutch religious tolerance. Van der Kemp found that even in one of the most pluralistic states, New York, his belief in the unlimited liberty of conscience remained a dissenting opinion. The democracy and individualism celebrated in early American politics were controversial in religion, given the growing authority of denominations and hierarchical church institutions.