Adventures in the Kuyper archive: Column 2: Happy Birthday, Abraham!’

This Kuyper year, our curator of the Protestant Heritage collections, Jasmijn Vervloet, would like to take you on an adventure in the Kuyper archive to gain a better understanding of Abraham Kuyper, the founder of VU Amsterdam.

10/27/2020 | 1:53 PM


kuyper_blog02In 1907, Abraham Kuyper turned seventy, and this landmark was cause for a big celebration. Among the countless presents he received was a beautifully designed congratulatory register. This large leather-bound volume with 96 pages of parchment printed in black ink, is one of the highlights in the Kuyper archive because of its wonderful decorations in silver, ivory and blood coral and brass locks. But it also provides a unique insight into the members of the Anti-Revolutionary Party in 1907.

Congratulations from 1,061 societies
The register contains congratulatory messages from no less than 1,061 corporatiën (societies). All the members of these societies are mentioned by name and, fortunately for historians, their positions are also stated. Among them were members of the Anti-Revolutionary electoral associations and propaganda clubs, Dutch Reformed youth societies and organisations that were active in Reformed education.

ARP: the first nationwide political party
In 1879, Kuyper founded the Anti-Revolutionary Party (ARP), the first political party with a nationwide organisation. It had very strong grassroots support in local electoral associations. These associations sent delegates to the party congress that was held in the run-up to national elections.  Without such grassroots support the ARP could never have been as influential in Dutch politics.    
Who were the members?
Uncovering the types of people who were members and their positions in the associations is difficult, since the records of most of the electoral associations have been lost or survive only partially. The first yearbook of the Anti-Revolutionary Party of the Netherlands was not published until 1921, but this also does not contain complete information on members.

Unique insight into local party organisations
The congratulatory register is unique in that it paints a picture of the ARP's local organisations before the changes to the electoral system (1917-1919).
The lavish praise showered on Abraham Kuyper by the wellwishers shows their adoration for him, but above all, the book is an important historical document that brings the early members of the first Dutch political party to life.

Our next blog will be on Kuyper and the initiative for a Dutch Reformed university. It will be published in the week of 2 November. See you then!

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