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Robert P. Swierenga, "Getting Political in Holland"

Paper presented to the Holland Historical Society, April 11, 2006

In the 2004 presidential election, Ottawa County voted for George W. Bush's re-election as president by an overwhelming margin of 71.5 percent. No one was surprised. Ottawa County is a conservative, Dutch Reformed center that has earned a national reputation as a Republican Party stronghold. The President came to Holland in the closing weeks of the campaign to shore up his base and increase the turnout, in hopes of countering the Democratic majority in the southeastern part of the state. That he lost the state by a slim margin was not the fault of the Dutch Reformed. They take their politics seriously and turned out for him at the polls in record numbers.

The Dutch in Holland were not always rock-ribbed Republicans. In the first twenty years, until after the Civil War, they identified with the Democratic Party, as did European immigrants generally and also Dutch immigrants elsewhere. Only in the cities of Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, and Grand Haven did the Dutch evidence Republican tendencies by 1856. Democrats cast themselves as the party of the common people, in keeping with the social and economic ideals of their patron saints, Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson.

The Dutch immigrants, kleine luyden (common people) all, had suffered much at the hands of the aristocratic Dutch authorities, especially after they broke with the State Reformed Church. They wanted no part of aristocracy in America. Democracy was a sweet word in their ears; it denoted that no one was better than any other in virtue and morality. That the chief architect of the Democratic Party was the Old Dutch politico, Martin Van Buren of New York, likely made the party even more attractive for the Young Dutch. Van Buren, a second-generation immigrant, could still speak the native tongue. In addition to its populist image, the Democratic Party took pro-immigrant positions on naturalization and suffrage laws, in sharp contrast to the xenophobia of many in the opposition Whig Party. Indeed, the pioneer Dutch considered “Whig” and later “Republican” synonymous with “Aristocratic.”

Once the Dutch immigrants passed the desperate early years and established themselves in American life, political rhetoric based on class, race, or gender had little appeal. They had fled a rigidly structured society in the Netherlands controlled by royalty, aristocratic landlords, and church officials that pinched the klijne luiden (literally, "little people") at every turn. A government run by aristocrats had taxed them mercilessly and licensed every craft and trade, large landowners and businessmen hired and fired them at will, and social rules required that they show deference to those of higher status. Dominies (literally "Lords") ran the church and Kings ruled the state. Escaping such circumstances for a land famed for social, economic, and political freedom was their dream. Most immigrated by choice, not out of desperation, like the famine Irish in the 1840s.

The political behavior and culture of the Dutch Reformed in America can best be explained as a refutation of Old Country hierarchy and an embrace of New World equality, freedom, and opportunity. As immigrants and the children of immigrants, the Dutch saw the promise of American life and went for it. America was a place where a man could make his own way, where individual initiative, self-reliance, and rugged individualism gained one a competence. In America farm laborers could climb the agricultural ladder to ownership, tradesmen could become capitalist, apprentices master craftsmen, and laborers entrepreneurs. Everything was possible. Less government was better than more, low taxes were a virtue, and churches and schools must be free from outside control.

With these values and aspirations, the Dutch initially found appealing the small government ideals of the Democratic Party of Jefferson, Jackson, and James Polk. After the Civil War, when that party became dominated by Catholics, Southern white racists, socialists, and labor unions, and the Republicans took up the mantle of social freedom and economic growth, the Dutch switched allegiances and found a comfortable home in the Grand Old Party.

Van Raalte endorses the Democratic Party

The Reverend Albertus Van Raalte had much to do with the early political persuasions of the Dutch. He led the colonists into the Democratic Party, which since the 1830s was the dominant party in Ottawa County and the State of Michigan. Van Raalte’s newspaper, De Hollander, the Kolonie’s first sheet in 1850, championed Democratic candidates from the outset. Henry D. Post was the English editor of the bilingual paper, which was printed in Allegan.[1]

Van Raalte made a special effort to bring his followers into the strange American political culture, whose boisterous populism contrasted sharply with the staid and deferential society in the Old Country. His people were political neophytes; probably none had ever voted before, and certainly none had ever experienced the free-wheeling American style of politicking. As farm laborers, small farmers, mechanics, and artisans of all kinds in the Netherlands, they had failed to meet the landed property requirements. But in the United States they could enjoy the blessings of full citizenship for the first time, because two decades before the Dutch arrived, the infant nation had eliminated property qualifications and made the transition to universal male suffrage.

The only prerequisite for foreign-born residents was naturalization. Federal election law required a five-year residency before immigrants could obtain citizenship. But they could file so-called First Papers after two and one-half years, which indicated their intent and, more important, allowed them to vote in local elections. Van Raalte was anxious to reach this stage, since as aliens he and the colonists lived in a civic “twilight zone.” The language barrier also kept most Hollanders in the dark about American political discourse and the points of difference between the two major parties. They had to gain political smarts mostly at second hand. But Americans tutored them by example. They flabbergasted the Hollanders by their interest in politics during the perennial election cycles. It seemed that the Americans talked of little else. One Dutchman reported that an American "very seldom will…converse with you about the weather, your health or anything of that sort; a laborer doesn't speak to his fellows about work, but the subject of conversation is nearly always government and politics."[2]

During the Civil War era, Van Raalte led his followers into the next step of their Americanization—switching from the Democratic to the Republican Party. This transition is a marker of the maturing of the colony, since the Republicans represented the dominant Yankee Protestant culture of the Union. This was for the Dutch a “positive reference group” that they looked up to and tried to emulate.

People's Assembly, Consistory, and Board of Trustees

From the outset, authority in the Holland colony was divided between two institutions—one old and one new. Familiar was Van Raalte’s consistory of elders in the Log Church, who held judicial power and enforced the biblical code of conduct. Totally unfamiliar was the Volksvergadering, or People’s Assembly, a gathering of adult males who assumed administrative and legislative powers and managed civic matters. The Hollanders, like so many other frontiersmen, had to fend for themselves. This “town hall” gathering, which Van Raalte first convened in February 1847 with the vanguard of his followers, met weekly from

The People’s Assembly proved to be cumbersome and unwieldy. So after two years, on April 2, 1849, Van Raalte convened a meeting in his log home on Fairbanks Avenue to organize Holland Township. The step gave the Kolonie a greater measure of autonomy and efficiency in local affairs. And it eliminated the need for the People’s Assembly. Van Raalte’s consistory, however, continued to rule on secular problems for another ten years, until 1859, when it declared that it would no longer make decisions in matters that properly belonged to the civil authorities (check council minutes). In the outlying villages, the consistories continued for many more years to act in the civil realm.[3]

Van Raalte was The Man in early Holland. Newspaperman Gerrit Van Schelven, the first historian of the colony, aptly described the situation: "The People's Assembly at Holland was Van Raalte, the consistory at Holland was Van Raalte, the Classis of Holland was Van Raalte." Given the circumstances, this concentration of power "was the best way," said Van Schelven. But, he added, "the inevitable outcome was this; since there was no appeal for the dissatisfied, justly or unjustly, there was little recourse besides secession." Netherlands historian Jacob Van Hinte observed wryly that "not everyone was in favor of this theocracy and many saw in the 'democracy' of Van Raalte actually his 'autocracy.’”[4]

Township and local politics Holland

In the second phase of development in the 1850s and 1860s, which might be viewed as a time of Holland's adolescence, the American legal structure rendered the founders no longer "undisputed lords in their own castle," as Van Hinte put it. The formation of Holland Township in 1849, for example, created a rival government for the consistory to deal with. Since neither body had clearly delineated authority, the township officials and consistory had to tread carefully so as not to walk on each other's turf. Fortunately, church members guided by Van Raalte served in both bodies and they could maintain a measure of harmony.[5]

To organize the government of Holland Township was a two-step process, according to the law. First, on March 31, 1849 all legal voters were called to caucus at the Post & Co. store and nominate candidates for office. Nine of the ten registered voters came. The offices, as needs be, were divided among the few Americans in town. Step two, the election, which was a foregone conclusion, was held two days later, on April 2, at Van Raalte's cedar log home on what is now Fairbanks Avenue. The ten qualified voters polled were all Americans, because no Dutchman yet qualified for the franchise. Nine of the ten were candidates for office! Many worked temporarily at Benham and Brists' steam sawmill (located on what later became Benjamin Van Raalte's farm on Sixteenth Street). The partners had been elected constables, appropriately.[6]

The board apparently had an informal “understanding" to act on behalf of the Dutch under Dominie Van Raalte's direction. Despite this seeming friendly gesture by the Americans, the fact that they held all the offices seems to cause some bad blood. One wag wrote the following doggerel: "Supervisor—Old Sort [Henry Post], Clerk—Hop Yeast [Bronson], Treasurer—Fresh Brine [Hoyt Post], Assessor—Whiskey Pop [Bronson], Highway Comm.—Go-it-stiff [Henry Post], School Insp.—Epsom Salts [Hoyt Post], Justices—Ginger Pop and Sour Kraut [Josiah Martin and Asa Haynes], Dir of Poor—Alcohol and Tobacco [James Walker]." Whether these labels fit the particular officials is difficult to say without knowing more about their lives and character.[7]

The first election in which the Dutch could vote was the 1851 spring township contest, and they happily unseated most of the Americans. But this led to a fight among themselves over the spoils of office. To pick the slate of candidates, the voters caucused in the centrally- located Zeeland Log Church. It was a typical American-style caucus, where politicos fought over road improvements and the “spoils” of office. In cash-starved settlements like Holland, government jobs were coveted because they paid a regular salary in hard currency. The low tax base meant that road funds were never enough and the ones who set priorities had power. Zeelanders were frustrated from the outset that the township did not provide enough monies to finish the Black River Bridge at Groningen and the roads from Zeeland south to Friesland and east to Grandville.

The 1851 caucus was unusual, even by American standards. Historian William Van Eyck claims it "was perhaps the most boisterous and disorderly ever held hereabout." It was so raucous that a brawl broke out with shoving and some fisticuffs. The issue went deeper than money. The event aroused latent rivalries and animosities between the “city people” in de stad (Holland) and the “county people” in het dorp (Zeeland), which had age-old roots in the Old Country. Zeelanders and their compatriots from Drenthe--Staphorsters all, had reputations for being headstrong and stubborn. No wonder that these villagers often spit out the words “de stad” in a “venomous tone,” as pioneer settler and local historian Engbertus Vander Veen (1828-1917) noted. The animosity between stad and dorp, like a “prickly little thorn,” persisted for more than fifty years in the Holland settlement.[8] Besides the historic rivalry began the two peoples and towns, settlers in the outlying villages resented Van Raalte’s perceived autocracy and theocracy.[9]

Vander Veen, an eyewitness and close friend of Van Raalte, recalled the scene vividly in his Reminiscences. The event had clearly made an indelible impression on him:

Early in the morning of the day of the caucus, Dominie Van Raalte, accompanied by such as had the right to vote and also by some friends and boys, went to Zeeland, walking the entire distance, climbing over fallen tress, and wading through water. They arrived in time for the meeting. Dominie Van der Meulen was in the pulpit, acting as chairman. Soon there was great excitement, and Dominie Van Raalte stood on the pews appealing to the men, saying ‘Brothers! Brothers!’ The Zeelanders, supported by their friends from Statesland [Drenthe], wanted all the offices to the exclusion of the men from Holland. The dominie’s exhortations calmed the spirits just in time to prevent hard blows.

After the caucus we went home in a body. Some of the office seekers were angry and jealous, complaining that the Zeelanders had captured the best offices. Pieter Van den Burg said: “Holland is ignored.” Others said: “Well! Well! That old Jan Hulst from Statesland, justice of the peace. That man was such a rebellious character! He is more for war than peace!” [Hulst, a native of Staphorst, in June 8, 1847 was the first white settler in what became Zeeland.]

[water color painting of the brawl by Anesus J. Hillebrands (signed "JH"), school teacher in Groningen. Those named are: in the lower left “Mulder & Zoon [Berend and Johannes]; in the center, left to right: Henry Meengs, S.L. Morris, Verbeek, Jan Trimpe, James Koning, Jan Roost (Roest), and Isaac Kapon [Cappon]; and on the far right, Cornelius Blom, Sr.  All were from Holland except the Mulders. Trimpe, Koning, and Blom, who were “star route” mail carriers, a government job. Trimpe was the road overseer.]

Vander Veen then explained the background of the conflict:

The Zeelanders and Stateslanders were angry at the men from Holland. They declared that the Pope and his Cardinals of Holland [Dominie Van Raalte and the consistory] had come to Zeeland to impose their rule, and that they were selfish. The expression “Pope and his Cardinals” was frequently employed by malcontented spirits, especially in the editorials of Gilles Van de Wall in De Nederlander, a weekly newspaper published [in Kalamazoo] for a short time by men who gloried in publishing vicious articles.[10]

Although the men from Holland may have lost in the caucus, they snagged most of the township posts in the first election. These included Bernardus Grootenhuis as highway commissioner, Teunis Keppel director of the poor, and Van Raalte as school inspector. The only Zeelanders to triumph were Robbertus De Bruyn as treasurer and Jacobus Den Herder as one of four constables.

Remarkably, as much as the Dutch fought among themselves over the offices, they did not claim them all, as their numbers would warrant. Rather, Van Raalte and Vander Meulen saw to it that their American friends retained posts that required special expertise. Henry Post continued as supervisor, justice of the peace, and highway commissioner; Hoyt Post was treasurer and Bronson clerk. The Dutch took as many of the other posts as they were capable of holding, given limitations of language and civic knowledge.[11]

[water color painting by Hillebrands (signed "JH"). Showing four Dutchmen acting to Replace! (Dutch, Afgeloest!) the "ex"-Americans as director of the poorhouse, justice of the peace, clerk, and supervisor. At the top the drawing are the words “time pass” and “one year,” with the wind goddess blowing the Americans away. Above the heads of the Dutchmen is the word “majority” and the number of votes, viz., 38, 62, 33, and 76 2/3. Over the heads of the Americans is the phrase “Nothing to do for us, etc., etc.,” and four zeroes, to show that they received not one vote. Hoyt Post, the outgoing treasurer, is pictured with a moneybag on his shoulder containing $1500. Bronson, the clerk, has an ink quill stuck between his ear and glass frame. The Americans look scruffy and the Dutchmen spiffy. Hillebrands' painting, although a political cartoon, clearly shows a degree of animosity between naturalized and native-born Americans.]

National Politics: Nativism, Prohibition, and Abolition, 1852-1860

In the 1850s Holland Township voted overwhelmingly Democratic, beginning with the 1852 presidential election, the first in which they could vote. They cast 123 Democratic ballots for Franklin Pierce (96 percent), and 5 Whig ballots for Winfield Scott. In Zeeland Township the outcome was 128 to 11 (92 percent) in favor of the Democrats. The Whig candidate barely raised a whimper.

 Democrats dominated Michigan state government and their leaders had befriended Van Raalte and helped the Dutch find a home here in 1847. Detroit attorney Theodore Romeyn “was brought up in the Democratic school of politics,” as was Allegan Judge John Kellogg, who personally led Van Raalte to the mouth of Black Lake, Henry Pennoyer of Grand Haven, and the Post brothers, Henry and Hoyt of Holland. All these close friends of Van Raalte in the early years indoctrinated him in the standard political doctrine that the Democracy befriended immigrants, while the Whigs were tainted with nativism (antipathy to immigrants). Van Raalte was introduced to United States Senator Lewis Cass of Michigan, the former territorial governor and a dominant figure in national politics since the 1810s. The Dutch cleric also became friends with Judge Epaphroditus Ransom of Kalamazoo, whose policies as governor of Michigan in 1849-50 were “immigrant-friendly.”[12]

In contrast to Holland, the Reverend Hendrik P. Scholte, leader of the Pella colony and an admirer of Henry Clay, induced his people to vote for Clay and the Whig ticket in 1852, which over 80 percent did. Only after nativism reared its ugly head in Iowa did Scholte switch to the Democrats by 1854. The Democrats dominated in Iowa as they did in Michigan before the Civil War.[13]

Senator Cass took care to cultivate the Dutch vote by befriending them and giving the impression that he supported the river and harbor bill pending in Congress in 1851, which included monies for the Black Lake harbor improvement including a lighthouse. On the political stump in Grand Rapids, Cass spoke eloquently in favor of the bill, while he castigated “aristocracy” and defended “democracy.” Such rhetoric played well in Holland among the Dutch. But when the harbor bill came to the floor of the Senate, Cass voted against it, much to the chagrin of the Hollanders.[14] Van Raalte and the colonial leaders had determined that a harbor on Lake Michigan was an absolute necessity for the future success of the settlement. That Whig President Millard Fillmore, in office since 1849, had failed to fund the rivers and harbors bill, after Congress had appropriated the monies, strongly displeased over two-thirds of the voters in Ottawa Country, according to the editor of De Hollander.[15]

Nativism and a niggardly attitude toward harbor improvements extinguished the last spark of Whiggism among the Dutch, according to William Van Eyck. In a political parade in Grand Rapids in 1852, a wagon carried a banner in both Dutch and English that declared: “Oppressed in the Old World, protected by Democracy in the New World, we go for Pierce and [William R.] King [the vice-presidential candidate].” Beneath the banner hung a dead raccoon, head downward. This vivid prop said it all; Whiggery was dead in Holland.[16]

Another contentious issue was prohibition, which was considered a stalking horse for nativism. The Whig Party, especially its dominant New England Yankee Protestant wing, sought to ban the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverage, both to reduce the social costs of alcoholism and to strike at the perceived licentious lifestyle of (mostly Catholic) immigrants. Maine had accomplished this goal in 1851 and the crusade was spreading. In Zeeland, for example, Arie Van Bree, the state liquor agent (whose salary was $15 per year), could barely sell his $20 inventory the first year, since so few accounts were permitted.[17]

In 1853 Whigs in the Michigan legislature managed to enact a prohibition law, but it was made contingent on a popular referendum. The act would ban the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages and levy heavy fines for possession; even communion wine was proscribed. This ballot issue further incensed the Hollanders in West Michigan, who despite an aversion to saloons wanted no legal impediment to enjoying their glass of beer. They and most new immigrants considered the law an infringement on personal liberty and not a panacea for the nation’s social and moral ills. As Scholte declared, it is misguided to “try to effect by law that which can only be effected by the Gospel.” Worse, the Dutch detected nativist overtones among the proponents of the referendum. As a result, they voted down the proposal by a majority of more than three to one.[18] But the referendum passed statewide by a substantial majority, only to be overturned by the courts on a technicality. When the Republicans came to power in 1855 they passed an acceptable law and Michigan joined the “dry” states. Enforcement of the law was so lax, however, that it became a dead letter.[19] 

The Dutch vote against teetotalers brought nativist attacks down on their heads. John Wilson, a Michigan Republican, charged in a speech that "not one single throb of patriotism" beats in the hearts of foreigners. "Some tell me that many foreigners are intelligent; yes intelligent," Wilson cried. "How in the name of Almighty God can they say it? Look at the Dutchman smoking his pipe, and if you can see a ray of intelligence in that dirty, idiotic face of his, show it to me."[20] "Dutch Cattle" was another epithet contemptuously hurled at the Hollanders. In 1854 and 1855 the stridently nativist and anti-Catholic Know Nothing (or American) Party captured many votes in the Midwest among Yankees who touted the slogan: “America for the Americans.” The Know Nothings pushed for a naturalization law that would require twenty-one, rather than five, years before immigrants could apply for citizenship. The Dutch read this as a call for the repeal of all naturalization laws.

Rhetoric and “reforms” such as these kept the Dutch in the Democratic camp, despite their growing disappointment with the party's refusal to support internal improvement grants and its increasingly southern, pro-slavery stance, especially on the controversial issue of the fugitive slave law and likely extension of slavery into Kansas Territory under the Kansas-Nebraska Act. The Dutch had always opposed slavery, even before emigrating, but they had no first hand experience with it and slavery seemed a distant problem. President Pierce’s veto in 1854 of the Whig-sponsored harbors and rivers appropriation bill, presumably as an economy measure, struck much closer to home and was a particularly bitter pill for the Dutch to swallow. Their man had failed to deliver.[21]

The Kansas-Nebraska Act split the dysfunctional Whig Party and led to the emergence of a new free-soil party, the Republicans, that attracted northern Whigs and also some disillusioned Democrats, including some Hollanders. By the 1854 mid-term elections, Dutch dissatisfaction with the Democracy was growing; the 96 percent support of 1852 dwindled to only 64 percent, a drop of more than 30 points. “Whig-Republicans” in Zeeland led the move away from the Democrats, much to the disapproval of Vander Meulen, Van Raalte, and their consistories. While Zeeland went Republican for the first time, Fillmore and Holland townships remained in the Democratic column, "aided by the pastors, elders, and deacons of the Gereformeerde [Reformed] Church," according to De Hollander. George Boer, a Drenthe farmer who switched already in 1854, noted in 1859 how lonely it had been in the new party. "We have had hardly none that would advocate the principles of the Republican party, so we lived here dead to its true and honorable principles." Old timer Derk Vyn recalled that Republicans were “as scarce as hen's teeth." But change was in the wind, Boer declared. "A good many around me seem to be aroused" and turned from the "Democratic, Slavocratic party." One influential man who did was Jacob Quintus, editor of the influential Sheboygan Nieuwsbode, and he had many subscribers in Michigan..[22]

As the fall 1856 presidential election heated up between Democrat James Buchanan and Republican John Frémont, county Democrats held a mass rally in Grand Haven that attracted about two hundred Dutchmen. Pieter Vanden Berg of Grand Haven gave an eloquent speech on behalf of Buchanan, and stressed that the Democratic Party had always befriended immigrants. Jan Binnekant of Holland declared that Buchanan had to be elected "in order to preserve our liberties." Doesburg of De Hollander reported that the meeting "clearly demonstrated that our small band of Dutch people is firmly attached to the Democratic Party. Mr. Quintus may shout 'Frémont! Frémont!' but all his howling will help him not at all. The Know-Nothing Republicans are distributing De Nieuwsbode gratis, but it were better for them to keep their money in their pockets, because the simple Hollanders are slow to let themselves to be delivered even though people try to sell them." The Frémont Club in West Michigan attracted at least three men from Holland. In a meeting at Grand Rapids, Isaac Cappon was elected president and George Steketee secretary. Oswald Vander Sluis addressed the group.[23]

During the 1856 campaign, Doesburg looked to Scholte for rhetorical arguments against Republicans. He copied so many Pella Gazette editorials condemning "Know Nothing Abolition Republicanism" that a local critic, signed "Overisel," humorously dubbed De Hollander's editorial byline, "Doesburg, Scholte & Co."[24] In September, Scholte accepted an invitation to visit Michigan for the first time. He preached in Van Raalte's new church sanctuary and spoke at a Democratic campaign rally in the schoolhouse, where he was "received with much real enthusiasm." Before returning to Iowa, Scholte also stumped among the Dutch in Zeeland, Grand Haven, Grand Rapids, and Kalamazoo. He got a hero's welcome everywhere, both for his role in leading the Secession of 1834 in the Netherlands and for his American political savvy. But as a clergyman, he took some brickbats, just as did Van Raalte, for entering the domain of politics.[25]

Dominie Scholte's energetic speeches and Doesburg's sharp editorial pen held the Democratic vote in Holland Township steady at 64 percent, as in 1854. Frémont and the Republicans would have done better had the Dutch not feared that he and his cohorts were tainted with Know Nothingism. An editorial in De Hollander even raised the question: "Is or was Colonel Frémont a Catholic?" In Holland that unproven "fact" was the kiss of death.[26] Not so in Grand Haven, Ottawa County, and statewide, where Democrats "suffered a most disastrous defeat, a complete annihilation," while Republicans swept to victory for the first time. Doesburg was totally dejected. [27]

In the national 1858 fall campaign, Roost organized the first Republican meeting in Holland. Among the active participants were Nicholas Vyn, Johannes Hoogesteger, Isaac Cappon, and Engbertus Vander Veen. "Hollanders Awake for Freedom," crowed the Grand Rapids Daily Eagle, and it seemed like the boasting was for real. These men had been active Democrats. Clearly, a political realignment was underway in Holland. But Doesburg kept the Democratic banner on the masthead of the De Hollander, and in the election, Dutch support for the Democrats in Holland Township climbed above 80 percent, but it was the last hurrah.[28]

Political cataclysm of 1859-1860

The growing political cataclysm struck with full force in Holland and Pella in the summer of 1859, when both Van Raalte and Scholte switched party allegiances and joined the Republicans. Van Raalte changed rather quietly, as befitting a minister of the Gospel.[29] But Scholte, who by this time was active in state politics, defected from the Democracy in such dramatic fashion that his name appeared in Iowa newspapers statewide. Although he was elected a delegate to the state Democratic convention in Des Moines, Scholte instead appeared one day earlier at the Republican convention in the same city at the head of the Marion County delegation! The convention then chose him as a delegate to the Republican national convention in Chicago, where he voted to nominate Lincoln for president.[30]

When Doesburg heard this shocking news, he published in De Hollander a scathing condemnation, under the title "Scholte is a dishonest Republican." Most of the piece consisted of a lengthy letter of Hendrik Hospers, a Pella Democrat, which castigated Scholte for dishonest land dealings and dabbling in politics. Scholte, "the best minister" in town, "is able to sit Saturday on a Republican float surrounded by 30 young ladies in white, and preach a good biblical sermon on Sunday—yes, he mixes politics and religion." Hospers also ingratiated himself with Doesburg by noting that an "evil sprit" had come over Scholte when he called Doesburg a "'dwarf cock, 'frog,' and other bad and dirty names" in a letter published in the Sheboygan Nieuwsbode. [31]

Political activities at that time often degenerated into street theater. Dirk Vyn recalled that in the 1860 campaign Republicans put up a flagpole on the west side of Eighth Street at River Street in front of Pfanstiel's store, adorned with a 25 foot party flag provided by state senator D.M. Ferry. Not to be outdone, the Democrats, led by Dr. Bernardus Ledeboer, a medical doctor, and Henry Post, erected their own pole, "larger and taller, and more beautiful," in the center of the intersection. The Democratic pole featured a colorful crosstree and golden ball atop their pole. In those days, said Vyn, they were "well heeled while the Republicans were as poor as Job's turkey." But it so happened that one Saturday night high winds broke off the topmast of the Democratic pole and it fell, knocking off a piece of the cornice of Bartje Vander Veen's hardware store. At this the Republicans lowered their flag to half-mast "as an indication of mourning." This taunt, Vyn noted, "made the 'Demmies' boiling hot, after which a fist fight ensued." Carpenter Gerrit Slenk repaired Vander Veen's store at the expense of the Democrats.[32]

Party pros assumed that Van Raalte and Scholte would carry their followers into the Republican camp. After all, the immigrants could barely read English or understand the nuances of American political rhetoric and they would continue to need their dominees to explain and interpret the meaning of the ballot choices. Van Raalte, in the words of Van Hinte, “fired up popular enthusiasm; he saw in Lincoln the ideal American statesman. Van Raalte could be found everywhere,” Van Hinte continued, “on the streets, at meetings, in homes, at assemblies, near the rolling drums which were encouraging men to sign up—working for the Union.”[33] The race took on greater significance, because after Muskegon County was detached from Ottawa in 1859, Holland Township was by far the largest voting precinct in the county. As Holland went, so went the county.

As an enthusiastic convert to Republicanism, Van Raalte's activism caused some to complain that their dominie was a knoeier (bungler or dabbler) who was bringing politics into the pulpit. In reply Van Raalte told his consistory “that he was a citizen before he was a minister,” and he would not separate his political beliefs from his faith. He would continue to condemn slavery and defend the Union. The complaints came before the consistory, but the body tabled the matter “because of the profound political changes in which N N [Latin Nomen Nescis, i.e., anonymous] and others are so deeply involved,” That the consistory would not come to Van Raalte’s defense suggests that his political transformation and campaigning for the hitherto hated Republicans was not generally accepted in town.[34]

Van Raalte saw to it that the Dutch had a new weekly, De Grondwet [Constitution], to tutor them in the nascent Republican faith. Under the politico, Jan Roost, and his understudy, the schoolmaster Marinus Hoogesteger, as editors, the inaugural issue, with columns in both Dutch and English, hit the streets on April 30, 1860. Holland had arrived; it was now a two-newspaper town, with the rival editors critiquing each other's writings. The choice of the name, "Constitution," in contrast to the title, "The Hollander," is significant. Instead of an ethnic identity, this gave the Republican paper an American identity, even though most columns were written in the Dutch language. In editorial policy, Roost emulated Scholte's Pella Gazette and cloaked Republican ideology with the mantle of the Constitution, thereby implying that Democrats disregarded the revered document. De Grondwet soon became known far and wide as "the Republican Bible."[35]

The masthead of De Grondwet set off alarm bells for Doesburg, who launched Holland's first "newspaper war" with a sarcastic blast at the name "Constitution" as "hypocritical, simulated, sly, or a manipulation to attract the Dutch to their views." If the paper followed the Radical Republican ideology, it would be anything but honoring of the Constitution and upholding of Union. "Can it be called 'aiming for Union' if the North attacks the South?" declared Doesburg. And how is rejecting the Supreme Court decision in the Dred Scott case (that a Negro slave is property and not protected by Constitutional rights), anything but despising of the very body that under the Constitution must interpret the fundamental document?[36]

To the great joy of Doesburg and the consternation of Roost and Van Raalte, most voters in Holland and Zeeland in November 1860 again cast Democratic ballots, although by smaller margins than previously. Holland Township voted Democratic by only 53 percent; (208 Democrat and 187 Republican) and Zeeland by 51 percent (89 to 85). Pella went Democratic by 66 percent. Abraham Lincoln was not their man; they preferred the “Little Giant,” Stephen Douglas. Lincoln's election triumph prompted the minority Republicans in Holland to hang Douglas in effigy, which so infuriated Democrats that they stole Douglas away. The Republicans then made another Douglas effigy and ceremonially buried "him" in the swamp east of town. No wonder that someone threw a stone through the window of Roost's office at the De Grondwet, and editor Hoogesteger remained in his home after the polls closed on election day "out of fear that he would be attacked and mistreated."[37]

The election-day shenanigans, as viewed by Doesburg in De Hollander, were beyond the pale. But he failed to mention the fury of the Democrats and the attack on his competitor. In an unduly alarmist and almost apocalyptic report, Doesburg painted politics in Holland as over the edge:

The day of the election turned out to be more peaceful than we had expected in the morning.… But when we received the news that there was a Republican majority in our County, our State, and our Republic, the quiet was gone. The victorious party wanted to bury a straw Douglas with a cross, in a manner that was offensive to Democrats. Tension built quickly and bats and revolvers were drawn. We are fortunate that this did not lead to a fight. If the roots of bitterness in both parties grow any deeper, we will have to deal with murders and arson…. Now that the election is over, we have to stop our party fervor, and rest in the dispensation of the one Lord. Everyone should calm down and get over the heated debates, be sorry for the hot-tempered zeal and through forgiveness try to re-establish former relationships. Should a Christian people sink below the pagan state and follow the directions of a vengeful heart? Shame on us! We, people of influence, people from both parties, we call on you sincerely: Work on maintaining peace and encouraging love, so that the people will not be destroyed or consumes![38]

As a spokesman for the losing party, Doesburg was following the time-honored tactic of calling for compromise and bipartisanship. The triumphant Republicans were not about to oblige.

That Republicans won the 1860 election in Ottawa County by 197 votes signaled the winds of change. Democrats were converting to Republicans due to the course of national events and the editorial pages of the newspapers many locals read, notably the [Sheboygan] Nieuwsbode and Roost's De Grondwet. Doesburg continued to condemn Republican ideas, even with a bit of race baiting. He noted, for example, that in 1860 the Republican majority in the Michigan legislature passed a law giving Negro freedmen the right to vote if they owned goods worth at least $250, "while they denied this right to residents born in a foreign country." Thus, Doesburg argued, Republicans value Negroes above Hollanders. "One finds their papers filled with nothing else than with human love toward the black people." At the same time, Republican lawmakers levy high taxes and then squander the money. The only goal of the Republicans, Doesburg concluded in strident tones, is "to brutally plant their dirty party principles here…. They will do anything they can to persuade voters, so they can empty our pockets." The day after the election, however, Doesburg titled his lead editorial simply, "No large Republican victory." There was little to crow about. Republicans has swept the county, state, and nation.[39]

Doesburg's ultimate tactic was to tie Christianity and American patriotism. In a clever "dialogue" between two Hollanders, Klaas and Jan, printed in De Hollander just one week before the election, Doesburg repeated the Democratic campaign theme that Lincoln, as an abolitionist, would undermine the Union and the Constitution. If elected, Southerners would secede in order to safeguard slavery, which institution was protected by the Constitution. But Doesburg took this argument one step further by linking the Republicans to oath breaking and the AntiChrist. He reminded the Dutch of their citizenship oath to uphold the Constitution and the Union, and he linked abolitionists to the AntiChrist. By tying Christianity to Democratic policies, Doesburg was indirectly accusing Van Raalte, the spiritual leader of Holland and erstwhile Republican, for allying with the AntiChrist. Van Raalte's support for the Union was merely Satan's "venom beautifully adorned…. [It is] terrible to us…that so many of our friends till now hear and abet" these errors. Such was hardball politics Doesburg's style. Little had changed since he castigated the Pope and his Cardinals in 1852.

The Great Reversal

During the war years, Holland continued to vote Democratic. In the 1862 gubernatorial election, the Democratic candidate for governor won 63 percent of the vote in Holland Township. In the 1864 election, with General George "Little Mac" McClellan representing the Peace Democratic faction, and Lincoln seeking reelection in the midst of a floundering war effort, Holland again voted Democratic, by 58 percent.[40] The Democratic triumph during the war was remarkable, since more than four hundred Dutch volunteers from Western Michigan, including two of Van Raalte’s sons, were putting their lives on the line in the Union army. This was a ratio of one soldier for every ten inhabitants of Holland Township. Yet, more than half of the voters supported a candidate President Lincoln had fired in 1862 after ignominiously losing the Battle of Antietam, and who if elected president would willingly acquiesce in the breakup of the Union and allow the Confederacy to form an independent nation. The 1864 poll testifies to the depth of the hurt inflicted on the Dutch in the mid-1850s by Whig and Republican nativists. This was the last local Democratic victory in a presidential race, although the party won local races for two more years, through the spring elections of 1866.

 In 1868 Ulysses S. Grant carried Holland by 58 percent; it was the first Republican triumph. Lincoln's martyrdom and the votes of Civil War veterans made a mark. [41] The Hollanders were ten years behind the rest of Michigan in joining the Republican crusade. The state had turned Republican already in 1855. Dutch Reformed and Republican was a natural alliance. The Republican Party was composed of men of New England Calvinist ancestry, Presbyterians and Congregationalists, backers of denominational schools and a Christian society. They were fellow Reformed believers, although of an English and Scotch stripe, instead of the Low Countries and German Rhineland. The Dutch in the Holland Colony also lagged behind their compatriots elsewhere in the Midwest in switching their allegiance. In the1868 presidential race, in Holland Township in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, Grant gained 78 percent of the votes; in nearby Oostburg, he received 98 percent, and in New Amsterdam in western Wisconsin 91 percent.[42]

After the political reversal, a "herd instinct" seemed to keep Holland voters in the same ruts and routines for more than a hundred years. The majority voted Republican as a matter of course. Some attributed this to a "too low level of education, a too low phase of cultural development," or simply a "typical lack of judgment."  More likely, fathers brought up their sons to be Republicans, just as they tutored them in the Reformed faith. It was natural alliance, which made party loyalties as important as church loyalties. And the more that Democrats became identified as the Catholic party, the more the Calvinistic Hollanders endorsed the Republicans.[43]

Presidential election campaigns in Holland were boistrous affairs. A Republican rally in 1872 for President Grant's re-election bid turned out more than 1,000 partisans. Grant's opponent was the New York newspaperman, Horace Greeley, famed for his slogan: "Go West, Young Man, Go West."  George McBride, one of the speakers, gave the Greeley followers some "good blows to the stomach," according to De Grondwet. One tack was to accuse the Democrats of being the party of saloonkeepers. This played on the stereotype of the Democrats as the Irish Catholic party, while the Republicans spoke for American Protestants. Grant in 1872 carried both Holland Township and the city by more than 70 percent. But amazingly, the Democrat Ledeboer bucked the trend and won the office of state senator.[44]

Four years later, in the 1876 presidential campaign, both parties again staged torchlight parades and rallies late into the night, with candidates stumping for votes in both Dutch and English. Geesje Vander Haar Visscher noted: “There was activity every day until November 7th…. Tension had been rife and many had feared there might be some disturbances.” The campaign between Samuel Tilden, the Democratic candidate, and Rutherford Hays, the Republican standard bearer, was bitter and the outcome too close to call. But the death of Rev. Van Raalte at 7:45 A.M. on election day, announced by the mournful tolling of the church bell, cast the citizens into great sadness and the “day passed quietly.” Van Raalte's death, his biographer Henry Dosker noted, dissipated the tension and "voting took place as an inferior business." Needless to add, the Republicans in Holland “won easily” with 57 percent of the votes, although the margin was considerably less than the 74 percent in 1872.[45] But the presidential race nationally was so close that it ended up being decided by the U.S. House of Representatives after a prolonged deadlock.

Locally, Republicans and Democrats alternated in the mayor's chair between 1867 and 1882. Thereafter, Republicans predominated. Cappon served four terms (1867-68, 1870-71, 1874-75, and 1879-80), and Edward J. Harrington three terms (1872-74, 1892-93. Four Democrats held the office in between: Bernardus Ledeboer three terms (1868-70, 1871-72), John Van Landegend two terms (1875-77), Kommer Schaddelee two terms (1877-79), and John Roost one term (1881-82).  Except for Cappon's terms, Democrats carried the city ticket regularly from 1875 to 1882, due to the "hard times" nationally that followed the crash of 1873, which put three million people out of work. A notable feature of local politics was the lack of ethnic chauvinism. The Common Council in 1877 included three Hollanders, two Americans, two Germans, and one Canadian. "Who says this is not a liberal place? crowed Gerrit Van Schelven, editor of the City News at the time.[46]

Reform politics has its day

The economic crash in 1873 and the ensuing depression undermined Republican gains in Holland following the Republican crusade of the Civil War. From a high point of 74 percent in the 1872 election, Republicans in presidential elections over the next thirty years only carried between 46 and 56 of the city electorate. Yet they won every race, three times by a plurality (rather than a majority), because Democrats split the opposition votes with reformist parties--Greenback, Granger, Socialist, Populist, and Prohibition. The decades of the 1870s, 1880s, and 1890s were an unsettled era of protest politics in America, brought on by economic dislocations due to rapid industrialization and the ups and downs of the business cycle. Industrial workers turned to socialist labor unions to deal with the vagaries of the market; farmers formed the Grange and Farmers Alliance movements. Socialists who preached class warfare, "easy money," and the government regulation of big business such as railroads enjoyed their heyday.

The Democrats in the 1870s felt so insecure that they dropped their party name in local elections in favor of other labels--Union Ticket (1872, 1874, 1875, 1877), Citizen's Ticket (1873, 1879, 1880), People's Ticket (1874), and Independent Ticket (1876, 1878). It was an effective public relations ploy by a threatened minority. Holland had become a Republican stronghold, the "banner town" in the county. Faced with this reality, Benjaminse of De Hollander announced in June 1880 that his paper no longer would carry a Democratic masthead, thus leaving Dutch Democrats with no paper in their native language and Ottawa County Democrats with no paper, period. De Hollander carried on for another fifteen years and gradually resumed its Democratic advocacy. But with a circulation of only 500, its influence was minimal. Calls for non-partisan local tickets, however, continued in the next years.[47]

The national economic crisis caused problems for the Republican administrations of Grant (1872-76) and Rutherford B. Hayes (1876-80). As the party in power, they were blamed for rising unemployment and bank failures. When railroad companies cut wages in 1877, the Knights of Labor called a strike that crippled the country and led to mob violence in Chicago and other cities that claimed dozens of lives. Troops were even concentrated in Grand Rapids as a precaution. In rural America the Patrons of Husbandry, better known as the Grange, formed the Greenback Party with a platform of inflating the money supply printing more paper dollars ("Greenbacks"). This supposedly would restore prosperity. Some Dutch fell for the panacea of soft money. The Greenback Party found enough adherents in West Michigan to warrant publishing a Dutch-language newspaper, De Standaard, in Grand Rapids.  Although the name mimicked that of Abraham Kuyper's mouthpiece in Amsterdam, the local Greenbackers did not share Kuyper's disdain for socialism in all its facets. A Holland resident, in a letter to the Grondwet, under the signature "Anti-Communist," declared: "No Christian may have such a newspaper [The Grand Rapids Standaard] in his house."

Dutch Calvinists saw in the Greenback movement the specter of European communism and its rhetoric of class warfare. Holland's Greenback Club counted only seventeen members in 1878; yet in the gubernatorial election that year their candidate got 82 votes (12 percent), almost all from "soft money" Democrats. John Klyn, a son of Rev. Hendrik G. Klyn, the founding pastor of the Second Reformed Church of Grand Rapids, was a leading Greenbacker, as was Ottawa County sheriff Joos Ver Planke and former Holland mayor Edward Harrington. Otto Doesburg's editorials in the City News gave cover to the radicals by condemning Republican "hard money" policies and their seeming allegiance to business tycoons like railroad magnate Jay Gould. Given the "prevailing dissatisfaction about the hard times in such a magnificent country," Doesburg intoned, "who knows how large a Greenback vote may be rolled up here yet." In the municipal elections of 1879, when Republican clerics and professionals cried "Down with Greenbackers," Doesburg retorted that "all those zealous hard money men are people who draw a regular salary," not lowly wage earners. Yet the charge of Greenbacker was the kiss of death in Holland and no one on that ticket won except for Ver Planke.[48]

Holland's majors during the hard times, John Van Landegend and "Boss" Schaddelee, as he was known, kept a tight rein on city expenditures and raised revenues to cover welfare costs, such as a new office of the poor, and for a new city library. Van Landegend welcomed saloons to town and instituted fees for the purchase of liquor licenses. But he failed in an effort to raise taxes in 1877; citizens voted this down decisively. Van Landegend's seeming pro-saloon policies aroused temperance forces, led by Hope President Rev. Dr. Charles Scott, Theology professor T. Romeyn Beck, and local Methodists, to organize the Holland City Temperance Society. This movement gained strength over the next decades.[49]

The issue of women's suffrage was on the ballot in Michigan in 1876 for the first time. Holland lacked a single public advocate for the change, except Sylvester Morris, editor of the City News, who gave the proposal his endorsement in a low-key editorial. City voters squashed the proposal overwhelmingly by 87 percent. "Woman suffrage has but few votaries here," declared Hope College student W. C. Walsh in the student paper, Excelsiora, but he added, "there are strong minded women who say: 'it is only a question of time.'" Until that time, as student Haan declared, "idiots, lunatics, and females" are denied the right to vote. He might have added convicts and aliens to the list.[50]

Holland in the 1880s continued in the Republican column. In the presidential election of 1880 James A. Garfield won with a plurality of 49 percent in a four-way race. And when he died from an assassin's bullet in September1881, both First Reformed (Pillar) and Hope churches hosted citywide memorial services, the former in Dutch and the latter in English. The service at First Church included singing Psalter number 68, verse 16 ["Gij koningrijken! singt God's lof (Oh kingdoms! sing God's praise)] and the hymns "Rock of Ages" and "America." Garfield's vice president, Chester A. Arthur, succeeded him.[51]

The 1884 presidential campaign of Grover Cleveland against James Blaine was long remembered as a nasty one, marked by anti-Catholic hysteria and charges of personal scandal against Cleveland for fathering an illegitimate child. Blaine harped on "Rum, Romanism, and Religion" as the hallmarks of the Democratic Party. For the next fifty years, locals remembered the "bitter hatred," the "seething political turmoil," that poisoned politics for many years. Some 100 Holland Republicans organized a Blaine and Logan Club (Logan being the "veep" nominee). The club members were ecstatic when Blaine, a flamboyant congressman from Maine, nicknamed "the Plumed Knight," came to Holland to stump for votes, en route to Muskegon after a rally in Grand Rapids. The gathering came hard on the heels of a big Democratic rally staged by the Cleveland and Hendricks Club a week earlier. Blaine's Grand Rapids appearance attracted a huge crowd of 35,000 people from all across West Michigan, including 200 from Holland. Many, including Mayor Beach, Dr. O.E. Yates, and Gerrit Kollen, remained in Grand Rapids overnight so they could accompany their hero on the train to the lakeshore the next morning. At 10 A.M., when the train rolled into Holland's station, cannons fired a welcome salute that energized the throng of 2,000 who awaited Blaine, and he addressed them briefly from a temporary platform. Former mayor Isaac Cappon and the young attorney and rising star, Gerrit J. Diekema gave speeches to "warm up the crowd" while awaiting Blaine's delayed arrival.[52]

With all the hoopla, Blaine won Holland was a slim 33-votes. It was a cliffhanger here as it was nationally. The party faithful in Holland stayed up late at the Lyceum Hall watching the telegraph dispatches come in with the latest results. Each report was hailed with cheers or jeers, depending on the numbers. "Old and young alike were fairly crazed with excitement and it was broad daylight before many sought their homes." The contest was "one of most spectacular and one of the most strenuous ever waged in Holland."[53]

Although Republicans triumphed in Holland, local Democrats had something to cheer about in the end--their candidate won the presidency. They organized a victory parade, replete with two hundred "footmen bearing banners, brooms, and torches, and judging from the noise, each was armed with a tin horn." The procession formed in front of the Cleveland and Hendricks Club on Eighth Street and proceeded to River, circled Centennial Park, and then followed Eighth Street west to Macatawa Bay. Steam whistles at local factories, including the stave factory, Phoenix Planing Mill, and Plugger Mill "belched forth steam and hideous noises at the rate of about sixteen ounces to the pound…. The canon at short intervals added its thunder to the occasion." Democratic homeowners and places of business along the parade route decorated their buildings and 254 candles shone from the windows of the Phoenix Hotel on Eighth Street. It had been twenty-eight years since a Democratic--James Buchanan in 1856--had captured the White House and the long-suffering party faithful in Holland finally could celebrate on election day.[54]

[sidebar--Evert Visscher of Zeeland described the torchlight parades in detail: "Many hundreds of these torches, made in quantities for the purpose, would be used. They were sticks about four feet long, at the end of which they would be swinging cans that would be filled with kerosene, from which a coarse wick protruded. When lit, there was a smelly large black flame. These torches were owned by someone in Grand Rapids, who rented them for the parades of both parties that were put on in Grand Rapids or nearby towns. At times the kerosene would leak out, which was not good for the clothes. At other times the torches were used as weapons, when the excitement was at its height. I think that it is well that they are no longer used."[55]

The Knights of Labor for the first time played a small part in the outcome of the 1884 election in Holland. This socialistic labor movement, founded as a secret society among Philadelphia garment cutters in 1860, evolved in the 1870s into a union of unskilled laborers, including women and blacks. The Knights reached a high point in 1886 with 730,000 members and they placed a candidate, Henry George, on the presidential ballot. In Grand Rapids the organization was strong enough to publish its own periodical, The Workman, and "many" Dutch Reformed factory workers joined up. Christian Reformed Church leaders became so concerned that Rev. Cornelius Vorst of the First Church of Grand Rapids published a scathing indictment in De Grondwet, and editor Rev. Lammert Hulst of the Wachter followed up with warning to members nationwide not to join this "secret" brotherhood and "dangerous enemy of the Church." It stood condemned for the same reason as freemasonry; both required believers to be "unequally yoked" with unbelievers. Worse yet, the Knights included radical socialists and even anarchists. The Netherlands Anti-Revolutionary Party of Guillaume Groen van Prinsterer had militated for decades against such ideologies, as all orthodox Reformed immigrants knew full well. In 1885 Classis Grand Rapids officially condemned the Knights and any church members in the union faced consistorial discipline. Classis Holland unanimously approved an "overture" (proposal) to the denomination's national synod, drawn up by the consistory of the Ninth Street (now Pillar) Church, asking the church to bar from church membership members of the Knights or other oath-bound labor union.[56]

In Holland, John A. Roost, son of the political leader of the Republicans and later the Greenback Party, ran in the 1886 mid-term election as the Knights candidate for the Michigan House of Representatives against Republican Gerrit Diekema and defeated him by 29 votes, largely because Roost carried the 2nd and 4th wards, which were traditionally Republican. Editor William Rogers of the Holland City News attributed this victory entirely to the support of the Land and Labor Club of Holland, the local arm of the Knights of Labor, who had raised $286 in the campaign. Roost's win was a shot across the bow for politicians and presaged an era of class warfare in local politics. The Haymarket riot in Chicago on May 1, 1886, in which four policemen were killed, so discredited the Knights that they quickly died out, but radical ideologies continued to gain strength among Greenbackers, leading in the 1890s to the Populist or People's Party. In 1887 the Knights in Holland even celebrated the 5th of September as "Labor Day." Since the day was not yet a national holiday, the event had to take place in the evening. It featured some seventy men marching around with torches ablaze, followed by a cleric from Lansing who recounted the history of the organization.[57]

The temperance movement also heated up in the 1880s, after a hiatus of thirty years. After ten years of effort, the Republicans succeeded in placing a Prohibition Amendment on the state ballot in 1887. Dutch leaders in Holland, from both Reformed and Christian Reformed churches, met to consider the issue in the former Van Raalte Church on Ninth Street, under the aegis of its pastor Evert Bos. After many speeches, "almost all" favoring prohibition, the assembly resolved without a dissenting vote to support the Amendment. Despite the endorsement of community leaders, only 37 percent of Holland's electors voted "Yes;" the Amendment also failed in Ottawa County and statewide. The failed law was the worst kind of "hypocrisy in politics," declared Holland City News editor Nicholas J. Whelan. Dutch Reformed and German Lutheran voters liked their beer just as much as Irish Democrats liked their whiskey. "Republicanism and prohibition do not mix," declared Whelan. "The prohibition question is a question in itself and should stand on its own bottom. It has no business in the republican party." The battle against "demon rum" would continue for many decades, led by the Prohibition Party. Republicans often linked up with the prohibitionists, but endorsing their ballot initiatives proved to be "third rail" of politics in Holland. More than twenty years passed after the 1887 referendum before Holland faced another liquor vote, and saloons were then the flash point.[58]

In the summer of 1888, the Democratic Party convention re-nominated President Clevelend. "A national scandal," cried Leendert Mulder, editor of De Grondwet and the Holland City News. His readers knew full well the sordid fact that Cleveland, a bachelor, in the 1884 campaign had admitted having an illegitimate son. Redemption came in November when the telegraph reported that Republican Benjamin Harrison has won and turned Cleveland out of office. The City News proclaimed: "Hurrah for Harrison!!! We're All Right!" Mulder could hardly have imagined that four years later Cleveland would run again and win!  Harrison carried all four wards, but he won the 2nd by only two votes. This ward had replaced the 1st as the Democrat stronghold, and quickly earned the derogatory label, "the bloody Democratic second," because of that orientation. Republicans also swept all state and congressional races, but one. A week after the election, local Republicans celebrated with a great festival that featured a 28-gun salute at sunrise, a parade in the afternoon, and fireworks to cap off the evening.[59]

On the local level, Democrats were far from finished. In 1889, a "Fusion" ticket of the Democrat and Single Tax (Socialist) parties, led by Mayor Henry Kremers, Isaac Fairbanks, Schaddelee, the Van Puttens--Jacob, Ben, and Marinus, the Kanters--Leendert and Abraham, Richard Van den Berg, and Cornelius Ver Schure, captured the city offices of mayor, marshal, school inspectors, justice of the peace, and second and fourth ward aldermen. Only the first ward remained solidly in Republican hands. Dr. Kremers, a graduate of the University of Michigan Medical School, and Kanters, were unlikely socialists. Kanters was chief of the fire department and publisher of Hope College's newspaper, De Hope. Kremers served on the boards of a local bank and several companies and was a well-respected community leader. As mayor, Kremers pushed for lower taxes, human rights, and new sewers. While in office, he had George Dalman build a new home for his family at the corner of 12th and Central. It was one of the most extravagant homes in town (now the Centennial Inn Bed and Breakfast). Kremers served only one year.[60]

Another notable change in city politics was the reorientation of the wards. From 1867 until the mid-1880s, wards 1 and 3 were Democratic and wards 2 and 4 Republican. By the late 1880s this was reversed; the east side wards 1 (solidly) and 3 (less solidly) voted Republican and the west side wards 2 and 4 voted Democratic, Greenback, Fusionist, or Union. The Prohibition Party base also was on the eastside; in 1890, 7 percent in ward 1 and 5 percent in ward 3 voted "dry." Most were Methodists and Reformed Church members from New York and the East, led by Hope College professors. Prohibition was always a Yankee Protestant crusade, and only immigrants well along the path of assimilation voted that ticket.[61]


Populism arrived in Holland in the early 1890s and the "People's Crusade," a third party movement with socialist ideals, roiled local and national politics for several years. Americans, not Hollanders, led the way locally, and most of the support came from factory workers and not farmers. In 1891, at the first convention of the People's Party in Ottawa County, some forty delegates elected George Ballard of Holland as president and John A. Roost, David Bertsch, David Cronin, and Ballard to the county committee. Only Roost was of Dutch ancestry. The next year, James De Young chaired a newly formed city committee and two other Hollanders, J. Elferink, Jr., and Martin Klyn, joined the county committee.[62] In the state gubernatorial election in 1891 both Holland City and Holland Township went Democratic by a small majority, although the Republican candidate, Charles Belknap of Grand Rapids, won easily in Ottawa County and in the entire Fifth Congressional District.

In the 1892 presidential race, the Populists insisted on running their own candidate, James Weaver, and the Democrats turned to ex-president Grover Cleveland. Cleveland won the presidency again and local Republicans, like ex-mayor Isaac Cappon, had to swallow hard.[63] Cappon could take comfort that Republicans again gained a majority in Holland Township (56 percent) and a winning plurality in Holland City (46 percent), although the margins were down by ten points from the 1888 election. Only the 2nd ward went Democratic. Populists nearly had the swing vote in Holland.[64]

The apex for the Populists in Holland was the 1894 gubernatorial race in which they garnered 172 votes (15 percent). Hard times after the 1893 business panic brought out dissidents. Also, an internecine struggle among Ottawa County Democrats over Cleveland's hard money policies split the party. Many West Michigan Dutch were pro-silver men who favored the unlimited coinage of silver dollars. But Cleveland in 1893 called a special session of Congress to repeal the Sherman Silver Purchase Act of 1890, which was bankrupting the treasury. Many Democrats voted Populist in protest. But to no avail; Republicans swept every office. In the 1895 spring election, with M. Vander Heide as party secretary, Populists strength in Holland dropped to 12 percent. A change in Michigan election law barred candidates from running on more than one ticket. Populists could no longer share candidates with Democrats; they had to fuse or die. They chose to fuse in the 1896 presidential race and lost their identity. In the end, the Democrats co-opted them.[65]

The Dutch Reformed rejected Populism and its free silver panacea, even after De Volkstem [The Voice of the People], began tutoring them. Gold was God's money and the Republican Party God's voice. It was the non-Dutch who sang the song of socialism, although some Dutch factory workers joined them. Of the seven Populist county conventions in the 1890s for which names of delegates are known, only 41 percent from Holland were Dutch, although they comprised two-thirds of the electorate. Most of Holland's Populists were loyal Democrats who voted the fusion ticket. In the end, reformers did the crusading and the Dutch did the voting.[66]

The economic distress in the mid-1890s opened doors for Democrats to carry city races, if not state and national elections. Hummer, a Democrat, in 1893 defeated Republican Edward Harrington, the incumbent, and in 1894 Hummer upset Isaac Cappon, the strongest possible candidate. This was quite a feat in the "staunch, rock-ribbed" Republican town, but Hummer's coattails were short and his tenure brief. Republicans won most of the other offices in 1893, and in 1895 Republicans, led by their rising star Gerrit J. Diekema, won back the mayor's office by a huge 337-vote majority and wiped out the "disgrace of having a Democratic mayor." Diekema's coattails were long; he carried to victory every nominee on the Republican ticket--city, district, and ward. "Unprecedented!" crowed Van Schelven of the City News. But hard times stemming from the 1893 financial panic also limited Diekema to one term. The next year James De Young, the Democratic and Fusion candidate, turned him out by 26 votes. Diekema lost to De Young again in 1897 by a slim 12 votes. Both elections were so close they required recounts. De Young was the "father of the Holland BPW" (Board of Public Works), having led the first board in 1893.[67]

Progressive Era Politics

State and National

Republicans increased their hold on Holland in the four presidential elections from 1896 through 1908, largely because of the appeal of Theodore Roosevelt, former governor of New York, who shared their Dutch ancestry. William McKinley began the string by twice defeating the Democrat-Populist fusion candidate, William Jennings Bryan, the silver-tongued orator who preached "free silver" as a panacea for the national economic crisis of the mid-1890s. Although supporters in 1896 organized a Bryan Free Silver Club and a Dutch-language newspaper to tout free silver, McKinley and his Honest Money Club of "gold bugs" who upheld the gold standard, won with 56 percent in 1896 and 60 percent in 1900. The Volksstem did not survive the election of 1900. McKinley apparently gained more votes in Holland by his hard money stand than he lost by siding with the British against the "freedom-loving" Dutch of the Transvaal in the Boer War (1899-1902).[68]

 One non-voter who weighed in on the 1900 election was Dr. Abraham Kuyper, Prime Minister of the Netherlands and editor of the Anti-Revolutionary Party newspaper, De Standaard. In a lengthy editorial addressed to "descendents of the Dutch race in America" and published in English as well as Dutch, Kuyper strongly condemned McKinley's South African policies and urged his American cousins to vote for Bryan, who backed the Boers. The Ottawa County Times, a Democratic sheet, happily reprinted Kuyper's position paper for every Hollander to read. This prompted De Grondwet, a Republican paper, to publish stinging rebukes of Kuyper's views by two local men, Cornelis Van Loo of Zeeland and Rev. Johan Fles of the First Christian Reformed Church of Muskegon, an immigrant who took his theological training in the Reformed Seminary in Kampen. Dutch foreign policy was more to blame for the Boers' fate than any American action or inaction, Fles charged. The locals may well have blunted the impact of Kuyper's foray into Dutch-American politics. Interestingly, after Bryan exchanged his political career for Christian apologetics, he spoke in Holland three times and in Grand Haven once to admiring crowds of Hollanders, who relished his defense of the Bible against agnostics and evolutionists more than his radical political ideas.[69]

The war in South Africa was the first national issue that aroused great emotions among Dutch immigrants and engendered a sense of ethnic identity among them. McKinley's foreign policy angered many Hollanders in West Michigan. But he managed to defuse these emotions somewhat in 1900 by choosing Theodore Roosevelt, of New Netherlands ancestry, as his running mate. During the campaign, Gerrit Diekema, chairman of the Republican State Central Committee, arranged for "TR" to come to Holland. This was the first visit ever by a presidential candidate and it signified that the Dutch colony had "arrived" on the national scene. Better yet, Roosevelt had Dutch blood coursing through his veins. The locals turned out three thousand strong to cheer him and listen to his tirade against Bryan and the soft money Democrats. Mayor William Brusse, ex-mayor Isaac Cappon, Gerrit Diekema, Dr. Gerrit Kollen, and Michigan Republican Governor William Alden Smith welcomed Governor Roosevelt. The West Michigan Music Corps roused the crowd with patriotic songs and marches. So popular was the New York "cousin" that some local Democrats split their tickets to vote for McKinley and Roosevelt, and the pair garnered a majority of 60 percent. The 1900 election was considered at the time to be a watershed in local politics, but it was overshadowed by the 1904 presidential election.[70]

After McKinley's assassination in 1901 and Roosevelt's ascendancy to the presidency, the Dutch were dumbfounded that American policy toward the Boers did not change one whit, and the Boers had to lay down their arms in defeat. Yet, the Dutch surprisingly did not abandon Roosevelt over his egregious policy, and when he ran for president in his own right in 1904, he took a whopping 71 percent of the vote in Holland. This was the largest margin of victory for any candidate in Holland's history to this time. Four years later, in 1908, William Howard Taft could do no better than McKinley in 1900, winning 61 percent of the vote. Roosevelt's popularity was so high that in 1912, when he defected from the Republicans to form the "Bull Moose" Progressive Party, he carried all five wards and outpolled the sitting Republican President Taft three to one (1102 to 371 votes). Democrat Woodrow Wilson, the victor nationally, gained only one-quarter of the total vote in Holland.

As the City News noted, Roosevelt ran even stronger than expected; "there was hardly a precinct in the county in which he did not get a heavy vote." Indeed, Roosevelt won the entire state of Michigan, which gave his Progressive Party the top place on official election tickets for the next four year. Republicans, which had held this coveted spot since the party was formed fifty years earlier, dropped to third place on the ballots. The great labor leader and socialist, Eugene Debs, who had "addressed a large audience" in Holland in 1905, garnered 10 percent of the vote in Holland, almost entirely from factory workers who felt exploited and downtrodden. Some 250 workers at the Cappon & Bertch Tannery voted to take a half-day off to attend a Bryan rally at Battle Creek in the 1900 campaign. The Populist-Progressive era was the high tide of political activism in West Michigan. Yet, Roosevelt's third party was short-lived. By the fall gubernatorial election in 1914, Bull Moose was "vamoosed," as the Holland Daily News, a Taft organ, happily proclaimed.[71]

From 1900 until 1936, Holland was a Republican bastion, with 60 to 80 percent of the votes in presidential elections. Teddy Roosevelt, the "favorite son," increased the Republican vote in every Dutch city and hamlet, except in the 1912 race when he split from his party and ran as an independent in his new Progressive (Bull Moose) Party. Every Roosevelt vote in 1912 was, in essence, a Republican vote, although he represented the reformist "liberal" wing of the party.

Another high point in local politics, which coincided with Teddy Roosevelt's national ascendancy, was the Republican Party's nomination in 1907 of Gerrit Diekema for the Fifth District seat in the U.S. Congress. Diekema, who had risen through the ranks of county and state offices, was sent off to Washington as a "Roosevelt man" by a procession of thousands, punctuated by fireworks. The festivities started on the Hope campus, where Mayor Jap Van Putten gave a rousing speech in the jam-packed Carnegie Hall auditorium, and then the throng escorted him on the train to Grand Rapids for further celebrations. It was a memorable "gala day" for Holland's favorite son. Although no local company had a labor union, Diekema adroitly portrayed himself as a friend of workingmen and secured the endorsement of the Union Sentinel, the mouthpiece of Grand Rapid's labor unions. This was a rare coup for a Republican candidate and portended his victory in the fall.[72]

Diekema's reluctant Democratic opponent was his friend George Hummer, former mayor of Holland and now a Grand Rapids resident, who had endorsed Diekema in the Republican primary. Diekema defeated Hummer easily and became the first son of Dutch immigrants to win a seat in the United States Congress. Diekema held the Fifth Congressional District for three terms (1907-11) and enjoyed several rousing public ovations in his hometown. The local boy had gained a national reputation and was even mentioned for Vice President. But in 1911 Diekema unexpectedly lost the Republican primary by a razor thin margin to a fresh young Democrat from Grand Rapids. The "public can be a fickle master," opined the Holland City News editor. According to his biographer, Warren Vander Hill, Diekema "found himself in a position where he was considered too conservative in his political views for Kent and Ionia and too liberal in his religious outlook for many of his home-town constituents." Regional rivalries played a part too. Some Grand Rapids ward heelers portrayed the election as pitting their native son against Holland's favorite son, with epithets such as "Let's beat the 'Hollicky'  (Hollander) … [and] keep Grand Rapids on the map."[73]

 [photo of Diekema bidding farewell at the Holland railroad station in 1929 en route to the Netherlands  [H-88-200 B-2]

These subterfuges infuriated the drys, who got up another petition with 1000 signatures to ban the sale of alcohol, period. But the liquor interests had the upper hand at city hall and they persuaded the council to table the proposition. The county prosecutor then stepped into the fray in 1913, and issued a sweeping order that every society and club in the county must close the lockers "at once." This prompted the dealers in Holland to "go for broke;" they got the council to put on the ballot a proposal again to license saloons and saloonkeepers.  If passed, saloons would be back in business with minimal regulation. Mayor Bosch vetoed the ballot act, but the council had no difficulty overturning his veto and sending it to the voters. Some one hundred prominent businessmen and citizens had stiffened the spines of the aldermen by submitting a petition asking for the public vote. The tide seemed to be turning in favor of saloons. But in the April poll the drys won again, although by a mere 23 votes. The city was evenly divided; wards 1, 2, and 4 voted for, and wards 3 and 5, against.[74]

This poll threw the hot potato back to the council. Exactly what did the vote mean? Was it "no saloon" or "no local option"? Would druggists and the Seif Brewery also have to close? Or did the vote mean a return to the previous system of lockers and the Jungle? The committee on licenses, chaired by Frank Congleton, took the vote to be absolute and would shut them all down. This set off a heated debate. Drinkwater, a wet, favored giving licenses to Seif and the druggists. Van Drezer, like Congleton, wanted Holland to be so "blooming dry that College Avenue would crack open." Mayor Bosch and several others thought it unfair to close the wholesalers but not the druggists. In the end, when put to a vote, the council approved the committee recommendation unanimously! Holland would be bone dry.[75]

Harrington challenged Bosch for mayor in 1914, but Bosch outpolled him 2.5 to 1. Interestingly, two of the immortal seven were Socialists, including Vernon King of the Second Ward, who ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 1910, 1911, and 1912 (he garnered 23 of the vote in 1912 and carried his ward), and Olaf Hansen of the Fourth Ward, who it was charged, "fought the mayor on practically every question that pertains to the general welfare of the city." Hansen ran for mayor in 1913 and captured only 14 percent of the vote. Both left office as aldermen in 1914; King stepped down and Hansen was defeated. The rejection did not dissuade Hansen from making a futile run for state representative in the fall. Several Holland's Socialists subscribed to the national paper, Appeal to Reason, but their reasoning did not resonate with local voters.[76]

            In the November 1918 election campaign, the issue of women's suffrage came to a head in Michigan. An earlier attempt to extend full suffrage rights in Michigan failed in 1913 by a narrow majority but succeeded handily in the Damon bill of 1917, which set in motion a state constitutional amendment. Some 535 women "of voting age" in Holland signed a petition in 1918, addressed "To the Voters of Ottawa County," asking them to support the proposed state equal suffrage amendment on Nov. 5th. The Holland City News published the names in alphabetical order for all to read. It included wives and daughters of leaders from all walks of life--from Mrs. D.B.K. Van Raalte and Mrs. Arnold Mulder to Mrs. George Kollen and Levina Cappon. The Holland Equal Suffrage Club, an organization of prominent women in town, also took up the cause. But the activism had little impact; the amendment went down in the city by a resounding two to one majority in every ward, the same proportion as in Ottawa County as whole. Thus, one can assume that many husbands and fathers of the petitioners voted "no" on the women's suffrage amendment.[77]

Though the women lost the battle locally, they won the war. Voters state-wide approved the amendment, and in the next weeks 900 women trooped into city hall to register under the new rules, about one-third of the 2,500 women who were eligible. This suggests that suffrage was not a burning issue among most women in Holland. Yet politicians quickly recruited women and chose them as delegates to party conventions. And the Women's Club held seminars that "led the women through the maze of balloting" before the spring elections. Attorney Charles McBride tutored the Club members, and his wife was the first woman in Holland chosen as a delegate to a county convention, the Republican one. This welcoming spirit enticed the Republican women to join the regular party rather than to form a separate women's party organization, which they had considered doing. The question on the minds of the politicos was: "How will the women of Holland stack up in the next presidential election"? The answer, as we will see, is that they had no impact whatever, although women suffrage pushed the normally high turnout down sharply, from the 90 percent range to the low 70s. Most women in Holland apparently agreed with the views of Rev. P.P.Cleff, who told the local chapter of the W.C.T.U that should women seek political power it would undermine their natural moral influence. They should vote but leave politics to the men. In the end, the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920, which confirmed women's voting rights for all time, changed the political landscape for good.[78]

Holland's favorite president, Theodore Roosevelt, died in 1919 and the city fathers led by Mayor Bosch responded to the call of the Roosevelt Memorial Committee for $5 million for a suitable national memorial. The Council resolution asked "every man, woman, and child in the city, without regard to party affiliation" to contribute in a popular subscription. "Holland is not going to stand back as far as 'Teddy' is concerned," declared the City News editor. "Only $800 is required of Holland and then we have done our bit." All the schools and many businesses got involved in the campaign and the money came in quickly from rich and poor alike. Ten major companies bought a full-page advertisement in the City News  showing a portrait of the president over the words "Above All, He Loved America!" Another thirty-six merchants and businessmen bought a second full-page spread showing Teddy on his horse charging up San Juan Hill in Cuba  in 1898, with effusive words of praise for "a man whose spirit continues to lead the Nation on the long trail to progress."[79]

While Theodore Roosevelt was highly admired in Holland, his cousin Franklin D. Roosevelt was not. During the 1920 presidential primaries, FDR, the former governor of New York, came to town to campaign for the Democratic vice-presidential nomination. The last vice-presidential candidate to campaign in Holland was TR himself. But what a contrast! The build-up in the press for FDR was low-key and the speech was virtually ignored by the city press, which carried on the masthead the Republican team of Warren Harding for president and Calvin Coolidge for veep.[80]

The "Roaring" Twenties, Great Depression, and World War Two

Republican hegemony in Holland continued through the First World War and the "prosperity decade" of the Twenties. Warren Harding won in 1920 with 77 percent of the vote, Calvin Coolidge in 1924 with 78 percent, and the very popular Herbert Hoover in 1928 won a whopping 88 percent of the vote. But the Great Depression tested Republican loyalties and substantially reduced their majorities. Yet, Franklin D. Roosevelt could not carry Holland, even in the depths of the depression.  In 1932, when he swept Hoover in almost every state, FDR garnered only 26 percent of the votes in Holland.  He did somewhat better in 1936 after six years of depression, winning 43 percent. In 1940 his margin dropped to 32 percent and in 1944 it dropped again to 32 percent. Harry Truman did even worse in 1948, capturing only 31 percent of the vote. Hollanders preferred Hoover in 1928 and 1932, Alfred Langdon in 1936, Wendell Wilkie in 1940, and Thomas Dewey in 1944 and again in 1948.  

The Republican dominance in Holland City and Ottawa County increased after the death of the popular Franklin Roosevelt in 1945. With only two exceptions--1964 with Barry Goldwater and 1992 with George H. W. Bush's reelection bid, Republicans won presidential elections by majorities of two to one and often three to one. The Democratic low point was in 1960 when John F. Kennedy, the second Roman Catholic candidate, won a mere 17 percent against Richard Nixon. Other Democrats fared little better. Adlai Stevenson (1952, 1956), Hubert Humphrey (1968), George McGovern (1972), Jimmy Carter (1976, 1980), and Walter Mondale (1984) all gained only 20 to 25 percent against a string of popular Republicans--the war hero Dwight Eisenhower, the political warhorse Richard Nixon, and the beloved Ronald Reagan. Not only were the region's voters overwhelmingly Republican, but they went to the polls in record numbers. Until the 1970s, turnouts of 85-90 percent of registered voters were common, as city newspapers boasted with bold headlines.


For 140 years, since 1864, Holland Township and Holland City, as well as Ottawa County generally, have voted Republican in every state and national election, except during the Populist and Progressive eras. Neighboring Allegan County went Democratic only once in the twentieth century, that was Franklin Roosevelt's second run in 1936. However, as the population of Holland City has become more diverse, with foreign-born residents making up nearly 40 percent, the Democratic vote is increasing and that party may soon become the new majority. The rising Democratic trend first became evident in the late 1980s when Michael Dukakis (1988) and Bill Clinton (1992, 1996) won nearly 30 percent. Albert Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004 pushed the Democratic vote to 32 and 37 percent, respectively. This is almost twice the historic level since 1952. The key for the Democrats in Holland in the future is to get out the vote. Turnout was down to 64 percent in 2004. Park Township, in contrast, had a turnout of 79 percent; Zeeland City and Zeeland Township were at 76 percent, and they voted Republican by 84 and 85 percent, respectively. This pattern reflected the Holland of old.

Table   Holland Township Presidential Elections

Year     Rep.    %     Dem.   %     Other  % 

1852         5     4     123    96                          

1856    138    36     129    64

1860    187    47      208   53 

1864    301    42      222   58

1868               52              48

1872    172    73        58   24       7     3

1876      NA              NA          NA   

1880      NA              NA           NA  

1884    333    59      211   38  17      3                                   

1888      NA              NA            NA

1892    304    59      214   38  37      7                      

1896    382    56      267   43  12      1                           

Table     Holland Presidential Election Results (incl. Allegan Co. precincts from 1952)

Year      Rep   %     Dem   %     Third* %   Total

Holland Township

1852         5     4     123    96                        128        

1856    138    36     129    64                       267

1860    187    47      208   53                       395        

1864    301    42      222   58                       523

1868      NA   52      NA   48  

Holland City

1868    NA            NA                NA

1872    273    74       81     22      17     4         371     

1876    295    57     219     43      NA           514

1880    226    49     153     33    79   17         547                   

1884    275    49     242     43    43     8         560       

1888    495    56     268     37   49     7         812       

1892    446    46     413     43    107    11        871

1896     849    56     658    43    12     1       1519       

1900   1070    60     686    38    37     2       1793

1904   1253    71     384    22     130     7       1767    

1908   1186    61     673    35       75     4       1934    

1912     371    17     508    23   1327    60      2206

1916   1291    55     934    40  112      5      2337

1920   3144   77      644    16     302      7      4090

1924   3615   78      519              11     473    10      4144

1928   5039   88      534      9  127      3      5700 (est.)

Table     Holland Presidential Elections             

Year     Rep    %    Dem    %    Third* %      Total       

1932   4051   72    1467    26  124      2       5642

1936   3285   53    2660    43  230      4       6175      

1940   4223   62    2453    36  156      2       6832      

1944   4761   65    2343    32  202      3       7306

1948   4871   67    2270    31  167      2       7308      

1952   5381   69    1434    18   1027    13       7842                                                   

1956   6120   79    1519    20       89      1       7728

1960   9191   73    2095    17   1324   10      12610   

1964   6512   52    4645    37   1249   10      12406 

1968   8230   65    2483    20   1874   15      12587

1972   9227   72    3178    25     401     3      12806

1976   9348   75    2932    23  249     2      12529      

1980   8631   68    2887    23   1082     9      12600

1984   9740   78    2628    23  108     1      12476                              

1988   7081          2877           NA                 

1992   8124   58    3752    27   2087   15      13963               

1996    NA               NA         NA              NA

2000   8685    65    3752   28  907     7      13344      

2004   8840   62    5167    37  151     1      14158


*Major Third Parties: Greenback-Labor 1880-1888; Prohibition 1884-1916, People's Party (Populist) 1892, 1900; Socialist 19041920, 1932; Farmer-Labor 1920; Union 1936 (Lemke); State's Rights 1948 (Thurmond); American-Independent 1968 (Wallace), 1972 Schmitz), 1980 Anderson), 1992 (Perot); Libertarian 1980 (Clark)

Mayors of Holland, by term

Isaac Cappon (R                                  1867-68   

Bernardus Ledeboer (D)                       1868-70  

Isaac Cappon (R                                  1870-71   

Bernardus Ledeboer (D)                       1871-72

Edward J. Harrington (R                       1872-74

Isaac Cappon (R                                  1874-75   

John Van Landegend (D)                      1875-77   

Kommer Schaddelee (D)                      1877-79   

Isaac Cappon (R                                  1879-80   

Engbertus Van Der Veen (R                 1880-81   

John Roost (D)                                     1881-82

William H. Beach (R                             1882-85  

Rokus Kanters (D)                               1885-86   

Patrick H. McBride (R                         1886-88   

Cornelius J. De Roo (R                         1888-89   

Henry Kremers (D)                              1889-90   

Oscar E. Yates (R                                1890-92

Edward J. Harrington (R                       1892-93

George P. Hummer (D)                        1893-95   

Gerrit J. Diekema (R                             1895-96    

James De Young (D)                            1896-99

Jerome W. Mokma (R                          1899-00    

William Brusse (?)                                1900-02    

Cornelius De Roo (R                            1902-04    

Henry Geerlings (R                               1904-06

Jacob G. Van Putten (D)                      1906-08    

Henry Brusse (D)                                 1908-11    

Evert P. Stephan (R                              1911-12    

Nicodemus Bosch (R                            1912-16    

John Vander Sluis (D)                           1916-18    

Nicodemus Bosch (R                            1918-20    

Evert P. Stephan (R                              1920-24    

Nicholas Kammeraad (R                      1924-28    

Earnest Brooks (D)                              1928-32    

Nicodemus Bosch (R                            1932-36    

Henry Geerlings (R                               1936-44    

Elmer J. Schepers                                 1944-46   

Ben Steffens                                         1946-48   

John Bernard De Pree                          1948-49   

Harry Harrington                                  1949-55   

Robert Visscher                                    1955-61    

Nelson Bosman                                    1961-71

L.W. Lamb, Jr.                                     1971-73    

Louis Hallacy II                                    1973-79    

Richard William Smith                           1979-83    

William A. Sikkel                                  1983-87    

Philip A. Tanis                                      1987-89    

Neal Berghoef                                      1989-93    

Albert McGeehan                                 1993-


[1] William O. Van Eyck, “Old History on Sheriff-ship in Ottawa County,” Holland City News, 25 Sept. 1930, typed transcript, p. 1; “When Holland Was Democratic,” Holland City News, 23 Feb. 1911, Moerdyke Papers, box-15, HMA.

[2] Quoted in George S. May, "Politics--As Usual?" Holland Historical Trust Review (Spring 1994): 4.

[3] Van Hinte, Netherlanders in America, 243.

[4] Gerrit Van Schelven, “The Classis of Holland: Social Relations and the Schism Following in 1857,” Feb. 1914, Van Schelven Papers, box 9, HMA; Van Hinte, Netherlanders in America, 241.

[5] Van Hinte, Netherlanders in America, 242.

[6] "A Holland Election of "Ye Old Days,'" Holland City News, 15 Mar. 1909; Randall Vande Water, "First Election Held in 1849," in Vande Water, Holland Memories (4 vols., Holland, 1994-97), 2:19-21.

[7] List of Holland Township officials, 1849-1876, Moerdyke Papers, box 15; Anonymous undated 3-page memo [by Gerrit Van Schelven],"Early Historical Data," Moerdyke Papers, box 15; Hoyt G. Post, "Holland," undated reminiscences [ca. 1893] in Post Family Papers, all in HMA. The Americans selected in 1849 included: justices James O. Walker, Asa Haynes, and Josiah Martin; highway commissioners James O. Walker, Henry D. Post, and Alvin T. Benham; directors of the poor James O. Walker and Henry D. Post; school inspectors Henry D. Post, Hoyt G. Post, and Ira Manley; and constables Alvin T Benham and Benjamin Brist.

[8] Vander Veen, Life History, 19-21.

[9] Van Hinte, Netherlanders in America, 243.

[10] Engbertus van der Veen, “Life Reminiscences,” [1915] in Lucas, ed., Dutch Immigrant Memoirs and Related Writing, 1:512; Lucas, Netherlanders in America, 241-42.

[11] De Hollander, 6 Apr. 1853, 16 Apr. 1856.

[12] Van Hinte, Netherlanders in America, 419; Willis F. Dunbar, Michigan: A History of the Wolverine State (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), 356, 416-18, 420-21.

[13] Robert P. Swierenga, "The Ethnic Voter and the First Lincoln Election," Civil War History 11 (March 1965): 27-43, reprinted in Swierenga, Faith and Family: Dutch Immigration and Settlement in the United States, 1820-1920 (New York: Holmes & Meier, 2000), 274-89.

[14] Henry Lucas, Netherlanders in America , 543.

[15] Grand Rapids Enquirer, 4 Aug. 1852, quoting De Hollander, 30 Apr. 1852; Grand Haven Grand River Times, 18 Aug., 1 Dec. 1852.

[16] Sheboygan Nieuwsbode, 2 Nov. 1852, cited in Lucas, Netherlanders in America, 543.

[17] Van Loo, “Zeeland Township and Village,” in Lucas, Dutch Immigrant Memoirs, 1:246.

[18] Van Hinte, Netherlanders in America, 239-40, (quote) 545.

[19] De Hollander, 13 July 1853; Editorial, "The Maine Law in Detroit," ibid, 20 Apr. 1854; Dunbar, Michigan, 430. In Ottawa County, the prohibition law passed 427 to 321.

[20]  The 1853 prohibition vote was 31 against and 9 in favor. Grand Haven News, 12 Sept. 1860, quoted in Wagenaar, “Early Political History, 27; Van Hinte, Netherlanders in America, 239. Wilson may have had Germans more than Dutch in his line of fire, because he made a reference to their love of “cabbage and lager beer.” But Americans seldom differentiated between Germans and Hollanders (Duits and Dutch); all foreigners suffered from such stereotyping.

[21] De Hollander, 17 Aug. 1854.

[22] In 1854 the vote was 107 Democrat and 60 Republican (Van Eyck, "Old History on Sheriff-ship"; Sheboygan Nieuwsbode, 9 Mar. 1853; 15, 22 Aug., 21, 28 Nov. 1854; De Nieuwsbode, 14 Apr. 1857, cited in Lucas, Netherlanders in America, 545-47; De Hollander, 5 Oct. 1854. Doesburg's editorials in De Hollander include "Throw off your mask," 24 Aug. 1854; 31 Aug., 21 Sept., 5 Oct. 1854; "American Slavery," 28 Sept. 1854.

[23] Allegan Journal, 6 Aug., 17 Oct. 1856; De Hollander, 3 Sept. 1856, quoted in (and translated by) Lucas, Netherlanders in America, 552.

[24] "America for the Americans," De Hollander, 23 May 1855; Scholte's editorials on "De Know Nothings," 25 Feb. 1855; 30 Apr., 4, 21 May 1856; 27 Aug., 3 Sept. 1856; Doesburg, "Republican Consistency," ibid, 16 July 1856; Allegan Journal, 10 Sept. 1856.

[25] "Mr. Scholte's Visit to Holland," De Hollander, 12, 24 Sept. 1856; Lucas, Netherlanders in America, 552.

[26] De Hollander, 23 July 1856.

[27] Holland Township in 1856 cast 129 Democrat and 74 Republican votes, De Hollander, 19 Nov. 1956.

[28] De Hollander, 29 Apr. 1857, 7 Apr., 21 Oct. 1858, 14 Mar. 1860; Allegan Journal, 19 Apr. 1858; Grand Rapids Daily Eagle, 14 Oct. 1858. Holland Township in 1858 voted for governor 143 Democrat and 32 Republican; Zeeland Township voted 62 Democrat and 9 Republican, De Hollander, 23 Dec. 1858.

[29] There is no poll list or political party document to prove that Van Raalte became a Republican, but his close association positive support Lincoln's policies during the Civil War, and comments in letters of opponents such as George Steketee in 1867 all make it certain that Van Raalte indeed aligned himself with the Republicans (Wagenaar, "Early Political History," 57-59). Van Hinte noted that William O Van Eyck personally told him in 1922 that, according to Van Eyck’s father, who was editor of De Hollander during the Civil War years, “that Van Raalte became a Republican, especially after he came to Detroit” (Van Hinte, Netherlanders in America, 1058, n46); Henry E. Dosker, Levenschets van Rev. A. C. Van Raalte, D.D (Nijkerk, 1893), 229.

[30] Swierenga, "Ethnic Voter," 281-83.

[31] "Scholte a dishonest Republican," 24 Oct. 1860, translated by Simone Kennedy.

[32] Dirk Vyn, "When Holland Was Democratic," Holland City News, 23 Feb., 6 Apr. 1911.

[33] Van Hinte, Netherlanders in America, 435.

[34] First Reformed Church Consistory minutes, 16 Apr. 1860, cited in Dosker, Levenschets, 228; and in J.A. Wormser, Een Pilgrimsvader: Het leven van Albertus Christiaan Van Raalte (Nijverdal, 1915), 224, 227, English translation typescript by Henry Ten Hoor.

[35] Grand Rapids Democrat, 5 Sept. 1896.

[36]  "De Grondwet," De Hollander, 9 (quotes), 23 May 1860, translated by Simone Kennedy. Roost was an 1847 immigrant from Harderwijk, province of Overijssel, who settled in Grand Rapids until 1853, when he opened a wagon manufacturing business in Holland. He served as Holland Township supervisor (1858-60). In 1867 Roost sold the paper to his partner Hoogesteger and L. Mulder. The Mulder family in 1880 became sole owners and ran the paper until 1938 (Lucas, Netherlanders in America, 535). De Grondwet continued until 1938; De Hollander ceased publication in 1895

[37] Hoogesteger obituary, De Grondwet, 3 June 1879.

[38] De Hollander, 14 Nov. 1860.

[39] De Hollander, 3 Oct., 7 Nov. 1860, translated by Simone Kennedy. Another racial baiting article, "Negroes vs. Foreigners," clipped from the Detroit Free Press by the Ottawa Register (27 Apr. 1859) reported that Republicans in the Massachusetts legislature passed a constitutional amendment that would allow freedmen and runaway slaves to vote after one year's residence but would make foreigners wait two years after naturalization. "How immeasurably above white foreigners do the black republicans place negroes!"

[40] Van Schelven, Michigan and the Holland Immigration of 1847," 31; Van Koevering, Legends of the Dutch, 394-95; Wagenaar, "Early Political History," 34-35, 42, 45, 48-49; Van Eyck, "Old History on Sheriff-ship," p. 2, "Early Historical Data--Political," p. 3. Zeeland Township in 1860 voted Democratic by only a 51 percent majority, down from 92 percent support for Buchanan in 1856.

[41] Allegan Journal, 23 Nov. 1868.

[42] Allegan Journal, 23 Nov. 1868, clipping from the Grand Rapids Eagle. 

[43] Ibid, 440-41.

[44] De Hollander, 14 Aug. 1872, translated by Simone Kennedy; Holland City News, 10 Aug., 9 Nov. 1872, 5 Apr. 1873.

[45] Geesje Vander Haar Visscher, "Diary," HMA; Dosker, Levenschets, 311, English translation by Elizabeth Dekker. The election results are reported in De Hollander, 18 Nov. 1876. The first ward again ran 10 points more Democratic than the city at large.

[46]  This and the next paragraph rely on Michael Douma, comp., "Biographical Information for the Mayors of Holland, Michigan," JAH; Holland City News, Apr. 8, 1876. On the stipend, see the resolution of Alderman D. Kamperman, 16 Sept. 1874, in Early City Records, box 1, HMA. The negative public reaction is noted in De Hollander, 18 Feb., 11 Mar., 1, 8 Apr. 1874.

[47]The Holland City News had many owners and editors. S.L. Morris sold it in 1874 to G.S. Doesburg, a son of Hermanus, and he hired Gerrit Van Schelven as editor. In 1876 G.S.'s younger brother, Otto Doesburg, came from Chicago to edit the paper until 1882, when it was sold to William Rogers. Rogers edited the paper until it was sold in 1888 to Leendert Mulder of De Grondwet. Mulder hired as editors John C. Post (1888-90), Gerrit Van Schelven(1890-99), and Nicholas J. Whelan (1899-191?). Holland City News, 22 July 1876, 4 Apr. 1885, 27 Feb. 1888; De Hollander, 13 Nov. 1872; De Grondwet, 6 Nov. 1872, 8 June 1880. See Holland City Records, box 1, HMA, for many examples of election tickets.

[48] Holland City News, 28 July, 1 Dec. 1877, 17 Aug. , 21 Sept. 1878,  20 Mar. 1880;  De Grondwet, 16, 30 July, 6, 13 Aug, 19 Nov. 1878; 8 Apr. 1879.

[49] Holland City News, 28 Aug., 11 Sept., 2 Oct. 1875, 19 Apr. 1877.

[50] Holland City News, 9, 30 May, 7 Nov. 1874; Excelsiora [Hope College semi-monthly student paper, 1870-      ], 4 Dec. 1874.

[51] Holland City News, 6 Nov. 1880, 8 Oct. 1881, 11 Nov. 1882; Church bulletin, Holland City Elections, box 1, HMA

[52] Holland City News, 16 Aug., 11, 18 Oct., 8 Nov. 1884.

[53] Holland City News, 8 Nov. 1884; 20 Mar. 1924.

[54] Holland City News, 4 Sept., 5 Nov. 1884.

[55] Arend A. Visscher, "Recollections," typescript, p. 1-2, Visscher Family Papers, HMA.

[56] De Grondwet, 14 Oct., 4, 25 Nov. 1884; 20 Jan., 3, 10, 17 Feb., 3, 17 Mar., 21 Apr., 23 June, 14 Sept., 22 Dec. 1885; 6 July 1886.

[57] Holland City News, 30 Oct., 6 Nov. 1886, 19 Feb., 2 July, 1887; De Grondwet, 6, 13 Sept 1887.

[58] De Grondwet, 4 Apr., 24 Oct., 21 Nov. 1882; 3 Apr. 1883; 8 Apr. 1884, 19 Mar. 1887; Holland City News, 29 Mar. 1879, 7, 28 Ag. 1880, 5 Mar., 9 Apr. 1887; Excelsiora, 17 Mar. 1887.

[59] Holland City News, 27 Oct., 10 Nov. 1888; 12 Apr., 15 Nov. 1890; 15 Mar. 1923; De Grondwet, 13 Nov. 1888.

[60] Holland City News, 23 Feb., 30 Mar., 6 Apr., 11 May 1889, 11 Apr. 1891, 1 May 1903; "Biographical Information for the Mayors of Holland," JAH.

[61] Holland City News, 8, 15 Nov. 1890; 27 Sept. 1892.

[62] Howard Lubbers, "The History of the Populist Party in the City of Holland and the Dutch Reaction to It," seminar paper, Calvin College, 1968, 1-4, 14.

[63] Wm Cropley, Napa City, Mich., letter to Isaac Cappon, Holland, Mich, 24 Nov. 1892, in Cappon Family Papers, Box 1, HMA Holland.

[64] Lubbers, "Populist Party," 4-8. 

[65] Ibid, 10-11.

[66] Statistics compiled by Lubbers, ibid, 20-21; Lindeman, "A Non-Hollander Looks at Holland," 504.

[67] Holland City News, 8 Apr. 1893, 17 Apr. 1894, 6 Apr. 1895, 11 Apr. 1896, 10 Apr. 1897, 8 Apr. 1898, 7 Apr. 1899.6 Apr. 1900; "Biographical Information for the Mayors of Holland," JAH.

[68]  Holland City News, 5 Sept., 7 Nov. 1896; 31 Aug.; 9 Nov. 1900; 13 Apr. 1922. The short-lived newspaper was owned by M.G. Manting, publisher of the Ottawa County Times, and edited by city treasurer Henry Vander Ploeg. On the Dutch American reaction to the Boer War, see Lucas, Netherlanders in America, 565-70.  

[69] De Grondwet, 30 Oct. 1900; Holland City News, 22 Nov. 1922.

[70] De Grondwet, 11 Sept. 1900; Michael Douma, "The Reaction of Holland, Michigan to the Boer War," unpublished paper, 2003, JAH.

[71] Holland City News, 11 Nov. 1904; 30 June 1905; 5 Nov. 1908; 7, 14 Nov. 1912; 5 Nov. 1914; De Grondwet, 16 Oct. 1900.

[72] Holland City News, 7 Mar. 1907.

[73] Holland City News, 30 June, Sept.10, 1910; 10, 17 Nov. 1911 (quotes).

[74] Holland City News, 5, 27 Mar., 3, 10 Apr., 8 May 1913.

[75] Holland City News, 24 Apr. 1913.

[76] For this and the next paragraph, see ibid, 12, 19 Feb., 3 Mar., 2 Apr., 29 Oct. 1914; 2 Sept. 1915; 12, 19 July 1917. The "immortal seven" aldermen were Frank Congleton, James Drinkwater, Frank Dyke, Austin Harrington, Olaf Hansen, Vernon King, and Luman Van Drezer. His three supporters were Peter Prins, Arie Vander Hill, and Henry Sterenberg. Drinkwater served from 1908 to 1918 and earned the title "Dean of the Council" (ibid, 18 Apr. 1918)

[77] Holland City News, 31 Oct., 7, 14 Nov. 1918.

[78] Holland City News, 3, 10 May, 14 June 1917; 1 Aug.15 Dec. 1918; 30 Jan., 13 Feb., 18 Dec. 1919; 6 Apr. 1922.

[79] Holland City News, 9, 23, 30 Oct. 1919.

[80] Holland City News, 24 Oct. 1920.