From debut author VanDuren, an examination of how the evolution of Dutch law and government influenced the drafting of the U.S. Constitution.
The region of what is now the Netherlands has been a crossroads of commerce and conflict since before Roman times. Citizens’ survival required evolution of often novel forms of law and governance to take into account the interests of world traders as well as defense from regional despots. Using stories of pivotal individuals within this process, VanDuren reviews the creation of these layers of law that eventually inspired the framers of the U.S. Constitution. For instance, Frankish Queen Balthild’s reforms to land ownership in the seventh century led to Philips van Leyden’s 14th-century demand that rulers respect public interest. Mary of Burgundy’s list of the rights of a free people in the 1477 document “The Great Privilege” formed the foundation of John Barneveld’s engineering the Dutch Republic’s independence from Spain a century later. After a discussion of Dutch influence on the Pilgrims of Massachusetts Bay Colony and the relationships of the English and Dutch colonies in America with their home nations and corporate owners, the book climaxes with the ascendancy of William III of Orange to the throne of England and how his 1689 English Bill of Rights converted Britain into a constitutional monarchy. A fictionalized version of the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia ties all these threads together. First-time author VanDuren delivers impressive research on individuals whose ideas guided the drafters of the Constitution. Yet the breezy style and rambling narrative work against him. He devotes much space to personal lives—such as Barneveld’s time in prison or Mary’s complicated marital saga—but doesn’t give similarly detailed attention to the broader political context. Similarly, discussion of the legal significance of their actions is frequently rushed. As a result, crucial legal concepts remain unclear and undeveloped. The lengthy, imagined scenarios for certain events are entertaining but contribute little.
Though informative, this book is in need of tighter structure and a more focused narrative to deliver on its intriguing premise.