The Liberal Union (Dutch: Liberale Unie) was a conservative liberal political party in the Netherlands. A major party in its time, the Liberals were one of the historic predecessors of the Liberal State Party, and therefore of the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy.
Liberals had been an important political force in the Netherlands. Since 1848 they were the dominant political force. They were organized in loose political clubs and caucuses. Liberals were divided between progressive, centrist and conservative liberals, but because of the lack of organized political parties, these divisions were not very strong. In 1879 the division became explicit when a separate parliamentary party was formed by supporters of Kappeyne van de Copello. With the rise of both catholic and protestant parties, the liberals were forced to organize themselves better.
In 1885 all the liberal political clubs and caucuses were united in the Liberal Union. The Union was factionalized: it had a progressive, a conservative and a centrist faction.
In 1888 the liberals were forced into opposition by a majority of the confessional political parties. In 1891 the confessional parties lost their majority and a liberal cabinet led by Van Tienhoven is formed. The cabinet's most important proposal is the relaxation of the census, proposed by minister of home affairs Tak: the law would grant the right to vote to all men able to read and write. All political parties were divided on the subject and with a very narrow majority the proposal was rejected. In reaction to this the cabinet resigns and new elections are held. In these elections the division between pro-suffrage Takkians and anti-suffrage anti-Takkians grows. The Liberal Union is also split on the subject. A group of conservative liberals leaves the party. They remained a loose political club until 1906, when they founded the League of Free Liberals.
The 1894 elections are won by anti-Takkians and the Liberal Union is confined to opposition. After the 1897 elections the liberals regain their majority and a cabinet led Pierson enacts a series of social laws, including the Learning Obligation law, which forces all children to go to school between the ages of six and twelve in order to combat child labour.
In 1901 the progressive liberals in the party founded the Free-thinking Liberal League together with the Radicale Bond. This causes the liberals to lose their majority in the subsequent elections. In 1905 however a cabinet was formed by the two liberal parties, led by De Meester. In 1909 they lost their majority to the confessional parties again. The 1913 election resulted in no clear majority: the Social Democratic Workers' Party were asked to join the liberals in a coalition. They refuse however. An extra-parliamentary cabinet was formed by Cort van der Linden, formed by liberals from all three liberal parties. This cabinet enacts universal suffrage and ends the Schoolstrijd.
After the disastrous 1918 elections, in which the liberals lose half of their seats: they fall from thirty-seven to twenty seats. In 1921 the Liberals merged with the League of Free Liberals, and several minor liberal parties (the Economic League, Middleclass Party and the Neutral Party to form the Liberal State Party, the mainstream liberal party.
The Union started out as a moderately progressive liberal party, committed to the freedom of the individual. Gradually it became more conservative. It was in favour of a small government, which nonetheless got its income from progressive taxation and would enact social legislation. The party was fiscally conservative. It furthermore was in favour of the universal suffrage and proportional representation.
Chairman of the Lower House parliamentary party
1902-1913 Hendrik Goeman Borgesius
1913-1917 Theodoor de Meester
1918-1921 Pieter Rink
1891-1894 Van Tienhoven
1905-1908 De Meester
1913-1918 Cort van der Linden
Development of the number of seats in the Lower House, of the 100 available. Before 1918 elected in single member districts, after that by proportional representation:
1918 - 6
1913 - 22
1909 - 20
1905 - 25
1901 - 18
1897 - 35
1894 - 57 (this includes conservative liberals)
1891 - 53 (this includes conservative liberals)
1888 - 46
Liberal received support from Atheist and Latitudinarian Protestant voters from the higher classes: businessmen, civil servants, wealthy farmers and voters from the liberal professions (lawyers, doctors, etc.) The party performed particularly well in the major trading cities Amsterdam and Rotterdam, in provincial centres like Arnhem, Zutphen and Leeuwarden, in the rich municipalities around Hilversum and the Hague and in northern rural provinces, like Groningen and Drenthe.
The Liberal Union formed a loose alliance with the League of Free Liberals and the Free-thinking Liberal League. The parties cooperated in several cabinets. The liberal legislation to extend suffrage and to better the position of workers was often supported by the Social Democratic Workers' Party.