Tag Archives: Tax law

Dutch legal history and the First World War

The centenary of the beginning of the First World War has sparkled already an impressive number of digital projects, some of them presenting the centennial events and activities, and even more of them bringing you to digitized materials from many corners. The variety and wealth of these initiatives prompted me in February to start Digital 1418, a blog for the sole purpose of easy guidance to digital projects concerning the First World War. One of my goals at this blog is to bring together the widest possible selection of themes, subjects and countries. Thus my country, too, figures on it with some projects and two portals, one of them a web directory of European war museums. During the First World War the Netherlands remained among the neutral nations, but the Great War certainly had impact on this country, too. Being a legal historian I will not forget to include resources touching on legal aspects of the First World War. So far I have not been very lucky in my research. The digitized records of the Middlesex Appeal Tribunal, a military tribunal dealing with conscription appeals, is one of the few exceptions. Court-martials are one of the obvious subjects yet not present at this new blog.

Logo Delpher

For the subject of the Netherlands, legal history and First World War a recently reinforced Dutch digitization project at the Royal Library, The Hague, can bring you interesting materials. The Delpher portal combines the earlier separate portals of the Royal Library for digitized books, magazines and newspapers. Books from the period 1700-1800 had been digitized in cooperation with the university libraries at Amsterdam , Groningen, Leiden and Utrecht. Since its launch in November 2013 I have been looking for an opportunity to discuss here Delpher. The news item of April 24, 2014 issued by the Royal Library about the latest additions with digitized books from the early twentieth century alerted me to the inclusion at Delpher of books published during the First World War, and more specifically about commented law editions. In cooperation with two foundations which deal with copyright issues the Royal Library has gained a license to deal with the digitization of books from the period 1872-1940 which sometimes still remain in copyright. In this post I will look at some of the laws put into force by the Dutch government to cope with the consequences of the Great War, and I will look also at some Dutch digital projects concerning the First World War .

Surrounded by war

As in other European countries the First World War led political parties to a temporal truce. Political differences were suspended in a kind of national union. In The Netherlands, too, the government led by Cort van der Linden could reckon on broad parliamentary support. The government encouraged the creation of the Nederlandsche Overzee Trust Maatschappij (NOT), a consortium of major firms led by ship-owners and bankers with the overt aim of importing goods for the Dutch internal market under strict warrant of neutrality. The United Kingdom had imposed a policy to prevent goods to be imported to Germany by neutral countries. The NOT succeeded in getting clearance for Dutch vessels and their cargoes. The history of the NOT between 1914 and 1918 is the subject of the recent Ph.D. thesis of Samuël Kruizinga, Economische politiek: de Nederlandsche Overzee Trustmaatschappij (1914-1919) en de Eerste Wereldoorlog [Economic policy: the Dutch Overseas Trust Company (1914-1919) and the First World War] (dissertation Universiteit van Amsterdam, 2011; online (PDF)).

Cover Wet op de oorlogsiwnstbelastting, 1916

I refer to economic aspects of the First World War because one of the recently digitized laws at Delpher is a law for a tax on war profits, the Wet op de oorlogswinstbelasting of 1916. This edition with a commentary by A.G. Stenfert Kroese appeared in the famous series of commented law editions published by the firm Tjeenk Willink in Zwolle. The hallmark of these editions is the ample information about the parliamentary discussion about legislative projects. The very success of the NOT led to discussions about war profits. With finally nearly 1,000 people in its service the NOT dwarfed the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs which employed a staff of just 45 civil servants. Under its aegis smuggling to Germany became paradoxically a blooming business. The law on war profits taxed profits not directly, but only the growth of income and capital which clearly stemmed from war profits. The Dutch government did not want to interfere too much with the economy. Proposals by parliament for a much more immediate taxation of war profits were rejected.

You can check online for the text of Dutch parliamentary debates at the portal Staten-Generaal Digitaal. This portal offers free access to materials from 1814 to 1995, both the debates themselves as also questions asked by members of the two chambers of the Dutch parliament, and the answers given by Dutch cabinet ministers. A major problem for tracking old Dutch legislation online which was published in the Staatsblad and the Staatscourant is the absence of a website with these resources. At Officiële bekendmakingen [Official announcements] you can find mainly information published in their entirety since 2009; treaties published in the Tractatenblad are included from 1951 onwards.

At Delpher a law concerning statistics published in 1916, the Wet op het statistiekrecht 1916, attracted my curiosity. The title page mentions the functions of the author commenting this law, V.S. Ohmstede, a civil servant at the customs and tax office in Amsterdam. The law was concerned with creating a tax on goods for the creation and financing of economical statistics. The Memorie van Toelichting, the official explication given to the Dutch parliament, referred to the examples of the French droit de statistique and the Statistische Gebühr levied in Bremen and in Switzerland.

Surely it is not sensible to list here all kind of laws issued between 1914 and 1919. Among the laws you will find for instance also a law concerning public archives (Archiefwet 1918) and a law on the emergency use of forests (Nood-Boschwet, 1917). Interesting also is the list of goods declared illegal for export [Lijst van ten uitvoer verboden goederen…, A.C. Luber (ed.) (2nd ed., Zwolle 1915). In the books section of Delpher you can use a simple free text search or enable the advanced search mode where you can limit your searches to a particular period or year, and also to a particular library.

The Delpher portal offers a great opportunity to look at the public impact of legislation. You might look in digitized Dutch newspapers for opinions about war profits, the role of the NOT and the approach of the Dutch government to all kind of emergencies linked with the war. In fact you can transfer your search seamlessly from one section of Delpher to another section. The newspapers section of Delpher is most useful because you cannot find yet any digitized Dutch newspapers on the First World War at Europeana Newspapers. The Dutch portal brings you to newspapers from the seventeenth to the twentieth century published in the Netherlands, including those from the Dutch Antilles in the Caribbean, Suriname and the Dutch East Indies. Among the eighty journals digitized at Delpher is a barristers journal, the Advocatenblad (1918-1935). The presence of the Wetenschappelijke Bladen, a kind of digest from scientific journals, is certainly interesting, too.

The Delpher portal uses a notice Beta in its top right corner as a warning for those who want to express severe criticism about its present scope and working. However, constructive comments are sincerely welcomed and invited. On my list of wishes an English interface would get a high priority. The possibilities for full-text research and the nifty transfer of search requests from one section to another are definitely among the great qualities of the Delpher project. Delpher contains also transcripts of radio news bulletins from 1937 to 1989, something I have not often encountered as objects of a digitization project.

The Netherlands and the First World War

Legislation and public opinion are just a few aspects of Dutch history during the First World War. It is perhaps useful to mention here the websites and projects I assembled at Digital 1418, even though you arrive directly at the information about relevant websites by clicking on the link. The Stichting Studiecentrum Eerste Wereldoorlog (SSEW) was founded in 2011 to bring together Dutch research, scholars and initiatives concerning the First World War. The website of this study center has a links section with a large number of Dutch projects. Huis Doorn, a country house in the province Utrecht, became the last residence of the exiled German emperor Wilhelm II. The museum at Huis Doorn has been designated as the location for the Dutch national center for the history of the First World War. Its website offers in particular some 6,500 digitized images. I did already mention the portal War Museums in Europe and the Dutch parliamentary proceedings at Staten-Generaal Digitaal. The digital portal Memory of the Netherlands contains some 8,000 digitized items from the collections of the former Legermuseum [Army Museum] in Delft; 400 items are related to the First World War. Digitized materials from several Dutch cultural institutions can be found at the portal Europeana 1914-1918. Lately Huis Doorn was the venue of two crowdsourcing days during which Dutch people could bring materials to the attention of the team behind this marvellous portal.

Logo 100 years Netherlands and World War IMuch more can be found online. Among memorials of the First World War the Belgenmonument [Monument for the Belgians] near Amersfoort stands out, erected in commemoration of the countless Belgian refugees who came to the Netherlands in 1914. An exact number of refugees cannot be given yet, but estimations come close to one million people. Some 1,500 men of the British Royal Navy Division were interned at the Engelse Kamp in Groningen. This year the history of First World War refugees receives particular attention at a number of Dutch archives and museums, for example at the Stadsmuseum in Tilburg and at the city archive of Utrecht (In staat van oorlog). The foundation 100 jaar Nederland en de Eerste Wereldoorlog [100 years Netherlands and the First World War] has created a centenary portal which will guide you to further websites and to activities and events around the Dutch commemoration of the First World War. In due time I intend to include the most telling and important Dutch websites on my blog Digital 1418. The Dutch corner of this blog is well worth visiting.

Dutch and Belgian digitized academic theses

Logo Academic Joy

The thesis by Kruizinga on Dutch economic policy leads me to say more about digitized theses defended in Belgium and the Netherlands. For Digital 1418 it seemed most useful to include a web directory to digitized academic theses. At Academic Joy you will find a very rich survey of online repositories worldwide with both Ph.D. and M.A. theses. On the blog I offer a selection of the main European repositories, and in addition I mention more resources for the Netherlands and Belgium. NARCIS is the main Dutch theses repository, Bictel has the same function for Belgium, but only for theses written in French. For Flemish theses one can consult M.A. theses at Ethesis, and B.A. theses in the Vlaamse Scriptiebank; both websites have an interface in Dutch and English. For the Netherlands one should add Scripties van de Nederlandse Universiteiten for M.A. theses, and the Igitur Archive for Ph.D. and M.A. theses defended at Utrecht University. B.A. and M.A. theses written at Dutch Higher Education institutions can be retrieved from the HBO Kennisbank. The Dutch term for the First World War is Eerste Wereldoorlog, in Flemish the term Gro(o)te Oorlog is also used.


Tales of the unexpected

A rainy weekend looked just perfect for doing some maintenance work for my website: making backups, upgrading below the surface, reading and using a new handbook on the software involved. It turned out to be the perfect time for something you dreadfully fear: it did not work anymore. I will not inflict on you all the painful details, but yes, I had to put a notice on my site apologizing for any inconvenience caused by my virtual absence.

Almost two days after the first signs of a breakdown of the site installation the good news is that the backup of the information is safe and unharmed. And I have learned and learned again some lessons: upgrading equals releasing a new version; documenting of the exact structure below the surface is very useful; making a site depending very much on one central piece of software is nothing but creating the weakest link in a chain…

Of course I have often been warned that these things can go wrong, but this year I had taken new precautions. Of course I had met just a few days ago somebody who told me about the trouble with his e-mailbox. And best of all a few weeks ago I had read again by chance about a website with historical data which have triumphantly survived all major changes in computing since the original data were collected. The data for the Florentine Catasto of 1427 were collected and studied in the sixties and seventies by the late David Herlihy (1930-1991) and Christiane Klapisch-Zuber. Herlihy and Klapisch-Zuber published in 1978 their study Les Toscans et leurs familles: Un étude du catasto Florentin de 1427. Robert Litchfield and Anthony Molho have taken responsibility for the version since 1995 online at Brown University. This university hosts also an online database with records of the tratte, the elections of the Florentine office holders from 1282 to 1532. More technical details about the transformations of the raw data can be found on the website of the University of Wisconsin with the complete data set of the 1427 Catasto, supplemented with ecclesiastical records from Florence. The harvest of online sources for the history of Florence and Italy is rich and varied, with for example Florentine charters and the Fondo Datini at Prato. Records on medieval taxation can be searched online for other countries, too, for instance the Taxatio Ecclesiastica Angliae et Walliae from 1291, a document on church properties in England and Wales. The Netherlands Economic History Archive in Amsterdam presents a fine overview of historical datasets. Do I need to remind you that these datasets yield their secrets only when you consider them in the light of their context, taking into account such things as the historical limitations of the data collected and the niceties of their online representation?

Perhaps you learn something in depth only when you make mistakes, when things break down, when errors and lacunae take away received wisdom and unmask your bad habits. I have to swallow this interruption of service as a fact of life, and to accept my own small addition to the march of human folly. Meanwhile I will try to re-establish my services to the visitors of my website as soon as possible. However, putting the necessary security devices and tuning the appearance will yet take some time. Most important, next time I will carefully prepare procedures before upgrading to something which looks promising and useful, but is also potentially dangerous. As for now I had better resume working on it, and leaving you hopefully a bit more informed about my site’s crash, perhaps a bit uneasy about your own website, or just amused – or annoyed! – by this unexpected mixture of daily misery and some historical information.

Ferdinand Grapperhaus and the history of taxation

Dutch legal historians are not often mentioned in national newspapers. On May 9, 2010, Ferdinand Grapperhaus passed away. Ferdinand Heinrich Maria Grapperhaus, born in Utrecht on December 26, 1927, became a legal historian after a career in fiscal law which brought him into politics. He had studied law at the University of Amsterdam where he got his degree in 1952.  He worked as a fiscal consultant and defended his doctoral thesis on fiscal law in 1966 at the University of Tilburg. From 1967 to 1971 he served as Undersecretary at the Ministry of Finance. In this position he was able to introduce some very important fiscal measures, for example the VAT. From 1971 to 1975 he was at the head of Bank Mees & Hope (now MeesPierson). In 1975 the University of Leyden gave him a professorship for the history of taxation which he held until 1993.

The obituaries published today do not mention any details of his publications in the field of legal history. In the Festschrift for Grapperhaus – Liberale gifte: vriendenbundel voor Grapperhaus, edited by J. Verburg, N.H. de Vries en O.I.M. Ydema (Deventer 1999) – his bibliography occupies eight pages. Using the Digital Bibliography for Dutch History one can rapidly retrieve his most important books and articles. A special characteristic of them are the very long titles reminiscent of eighteenth century books. Alva en de tiende penning (Alba and the tenth penny) (Zutphen 1982) is the exception. In this study he discusses the infamous taxation introduced in 1569 by the Duke of Alba. This action acerbated opposition against Spanish rule in the Low Countries. In fact the States of Holland had already in 1553 tried to impose the tenth penny on the possessions of William of Orange, Egmont and Horne, the richest aristocrats of these regions. In Belasting, vrijheid en eigendom (…) (Zutphen 1989) – the English version is titled Taxes, liberty and property : the role of taxation in democratization and national unity 511-1787 – he wrote about the way taxation helped the processes of state building in Europe. Grapperhaus treated regional history as well. In an article for the Jaarboek Oud-Utrecht for 1996 he discussed the meaning for fiscal history of the Utrecht Landbrief from 1375, a key document for the relations between the prince-bishops of Utrecht and the emerging States of Utrecht. Grapperhaus’ last book was about a very Dutch kind of taxation, a bicycle tax for which you had to put a copperplate on your bike: Over de loden last van het koperen fietsplaatje : de Nederlandse rijwielbelasting 1924-1941 (Deventer 2005).

No doubt Onno Ydema, now at the same chair of the history of taxation at Leyden University, will be able to give a more detailed appraisal of Grapperhaus’ work, but it seemed fitting to dedicate at short notice a few words to the memory of this remarkable lawyer, politician and legal historian.

An addendum: Grapperhaus published in 2009 two books for the International Bureau of Fiscal Documentation which appeared in one cover: Tax Tales  for the Second Millennium and Taxes through the Ages. A Pictorial History (Amsterdam 2009).