Free-thinking Democratic League

Azure, billetty Or a lion with a coronet Or armed and langued Gules holding in his dexter paw a sword Argent hilted Or and in the sinister paw seven arrows Argent pointed and bound together Or. [The seven arrows stand for the seven provinces of the Union of Utrecht.] The shield is crowned with the (Dutch) royal crown and supported by two lions Or armed and langued gules. They stand on a scroll Azure with the text (Or) "Je Maintiendrai" (French for "I will maintain".)
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The Free-thinking Democratic League (Dutch: Vrijzinnig Democratische Bond, VDB) was a progressive liberal[1][2] political party in the Netherlands. The VDB played a relatively large role in Dutch politics, supplying one Prime Minister, Wim Schermerhorn. The League is a predecessor of two of the major Dutch political parties, the conservative-liberal People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) and the social-democratic Labour Party (PvdA). The social-liberal Democrats 66 also claims that it and the VDB are ideologically connected.


Before 1901

The VDB is a merger of two groups; one, the Radical League, was founded in 1892 as an Amsterdam secession of the Liberal Union; they left the Union over the issue of universal suffrage. The second group was the Free-thinking Democratic political club (Dutch: Vrijzinnig Democratische Kamerclub, VD-kamerclub). This was a club of Liberal Union MPs (in 1901 it had about twenty-five members, out of thirty-five Liberal Union MPs and one hundred MPs in total). The second group left the Union over the same matter. In 1901 the board of the Liberal Union, supported by the VD-kamerclub, proposed that all its candidates would stand on a platform of universal suffrage. The party congress rejected this proposal. In reaction to this the party's board, some of the members of the VD-kamerclub, and some of the party caucuses left the party.


The two groups, the Radical League and the VD-kamerclub, merged in 1901 to form the Free-minded Democratic League. In the 1901 elections they won nine seats. The party always remained rather small, but because of their strategic position and quality of their MPs the party was very influential.

Although the VDB had split from the Liberal Union and the other liberal split, the League of Free Liberals, was against universal suffrage, they still needed each other to form a liberal alternative to the Christian-democratic coalition. In many districts there was only one liberal candidate supported by all three liberal parties.

In 1905 the VDB won two seats. From 1905 to 1908 the Liberal Union and the VDB formed a liberal minority cabinet led by De Meester. The cabinet was supported by socialist Social Democratic Workers' Party (SDAP). In the 1909 elections the Christian-democratic coalitie regained its majority. The VDB lost two seats, making its total nine. In the elections of 1913 the Christian democrats lost their majority. The VDB lost four seats, because it was not the only liberal party in favour of universal suffrage; the Liberal Union and the League of Free Liberals had also included in their programmes. Furthermore, the socialist SDAP performed exceptionally well in these elections. The leader of the VDB, dr Dirk Bos, tried to form a cabinet with the liberals, free liberals, socialists and free-thinking democrats. The socialists refused to cooperate, because one of their major issues (unilateral disarmament of the Netherlands) could not be realised. A liberal extra-parliamentary cabinet was formed, led by Pieter Cort van der Linden. It implemented universal suffrage and proportional representation.

During this cabinet a conflict between the VDB parliamentary party and minister Treub led to his resignation. Treub left the party and founded the Economic League, which would merge with the Liberal Union to form the Liberal State Party.


In the 1918 elections, with universal suffrage and proportional representation in place, the liberal alliance lost nearly half its seats. The VDB remains relatively stable with five seats, but they were nonetheless forced to a position in opposition to a Christian-democratic cabinet. In 1919, however, VDB leader Henri Marchant initiated the law for female suffrage. In the 1922 elections the party retained its five seats.

In 1925 the party was instrumental in the fall of the cabinet led by Hendrikus Colijn: each year the orthodox Protestant Political Reformed Party (SGP) proposed that the Dutch representation at the Vatican be removed. The Protestant SGP was fervently anti-Catholic. This proposal was always supported by the Protestant Christian Historical Union (CHU), which was part of the Catholic-Protestant cabinet, but nonetheless had an anti-Catholic history. For the Catholic leader Nolens, this Papal representation was of utmost importance. In 1925 the VDB had convinced the other opposition parties that this was their chance to let the government fall and create a progressive cabinet. The entire opposition voted with the SGP and CHU, and the cabinet fell. In the following 1925 elections the party gained two seats. The party leader, Marchant, attempted to form a progressive government with the Roman-Catholic State Party (RKSP), the SDAP and the VDB. He failed, however, and a new Christian-democratic cabinet was formed.

In the 1929 elections the VDB retained its seven seats. In 1933 the party lost one seat, but it was nonetheless asked to cooperate in the centre-right government led by Colijn, which consisted of the Catholic RKSP, the Protestant CHU and ARP, and the liberal VDB and Liberal State Party. The VDB cooperated in the budget cuts and the strengthening of the Dutch armed forces. The previously good relations with the SDAP came under considerable strain from this. In 1933 the party's leader, Marchant, who also served as minister of Education, stepped down because he had turned Catholic. Pieter Oud took his place as political leader of the VDB, until he became major of Rotterdam in 1938. In 1937 they managed to retain their seven seats. In 1941 the party was forbidden by the German occupying force. The VDB played a minor role in the 1940-1945 cabinets in exile.


After the German occupation there was a widespread feeling that a new political party was necessary, one that was not part of the pillarized system. This movement was called the doorbraak. Willem Schermerhorn became the first Prime Minister after the Second World War. He led a cabinet composed out of progressives of all parties. In 1946 the VDB merged with the Social Democratic Workers' Party and the progressive Christian Democratic Union (CDU) to form the modern-day Labour Party (PvdA). However, this party soon strengthened its ties to democratic-socialist organisations. In 1948 a group dissatisfied with the failed doorbraak and the increasingly socialist tint of the PvdA left the party. These were all former VDB members, led by former VDB leader Pieter Oud. They joined with the conservative-liberal Freedom Party (PvdV) to form the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy. The influence of the VDB on the PvdA soon weakened as the party became an explicitly social-democratic party.


The party specifically did not call itself liberal, because of the connotations with conservative liberalism. They preferred the word vrijzinnig, which means "free-minded" or "free-thinking". It also has meanings in the Protestant church referring to more liberal, latitudinarian sections of the church. Democracy furthermore was a core issue for the League. The party did not call itself a party because in liberal circles parties were seen as factionalist and incompatible with the common good.

Ideology and issues

The VDB started out as a left, social or progressive liberal party, committed to universal suffrage and the construction of a welfare state. It favoured the democratisation of the Dutch political system. Female suffrage was one of its most important issues. It favoured government influence in the national economy by nationalising crucial industries. It also believed that government should play an important part in ensuring the welfare of the population; hence, it favoured the implementation of state pensions for the elderly.

Before the First World War it favoured an army formed by national conscription. After the war and until the 1930s, it favoured unilateral disarmament. This position was abandoned with the rise of international tensions after 1933.



This table shows the VDB's results in elections to the House of Representatives and Senate, as well as the party's political leadership: the fractievoorzitter, is the chair of the parliamentary party and the lijsttrekker is the party's top candidate in the general election, these posts are normally taken by the party's leader. If the party is part of the governing coalition the highest ranking minister is included, otherwise this will read opposition.

Year HoR S Fractievoorzitter Lijsttrekker Cabinet
1901 9 0 Hendrik Drucker n/a opposition
1902 9 0 Hendrik Drucker n/a opposition
1903 9 0 Hendrik Drucker n/a opposition
1904 9 1 Hendrik Drucker n/a opposition
1905 11 1 Hendrik Drucker n/a Jacob Veegens
1906 11 1 Hendrik Drucker n/a Jacob Veegens
1907 11 1 Hendrik Drucker n/a Jacob Veegens
1908 11 1 Hendrik Drucker n/a opposition
1909 9 1 Hendrik Drucker n/a opposition
1910 9 1 Hendrik Drucker n/a opposition
1911 9 2 Hendrik Drucker n/a opposition
1912 9 2 Hendrik Drucker n/a opposition
1913 5 2 Dirk Bos n/a Willem Treub
1914 5 2 Dirk Bos n/a supports cabinet of Cort van der Linden
1915 5 2 Dirk Bos n/a supports cabinet of Cort van der Linden
1916 5 3 Henri Marchant n/a supports cabinet of Cort van der Linden
1917 5 3 Henri Marchant n/a supports cabinet of Cort van der Linden
1918 5 3 Henri Marchant Henri Marchant supports cabinet of Cort van der Linden
1919 5 3 Henri Marchant n/a opposition
1920 5 3 Henri Marchant n/a opposition
1921 5 3 Henri Marchant n/a opposition
1922 5 4 Henri Marchant Henri Marchant opposition
1923 5 3 Henri Marchant n/a opposition
1924 5 3 Henri Marchant n/a opposition
1925 7 3 Henri Marchant Henri Marchant opposition
1926 7 3 Henri Marchant n/a opposition
1927 7 3 Henri Marchant n/a opposition
1928 7 3 Henri Marchant n/a opposition
1929 7 4 Henri Marchant Henri Marchant opposition
1930 7 4 Henri Marchant n/a opposition
1931 7 4 Henri Marchant n/a opposition
1932 7 4 Henri Marchant n/a opposition
1933 6 4 Henri Marchant Dolf Joekes Pieter Oud
1934 6 4 Dolf Joekes n/a Pieter Oud
1935 7 4 Dolf Joekes n/a Pieter Oud
1936 6 4 Dolf Joekes n/a Pieter Oud
1937 6 2 Pieter Oud Pieter Oud opposition
1938 6 2 Dolf Joekes n/a opposition
1939 6 2 Dolf Joekes n/a Gerrit Bolkestein
1940 SG out of session Gerrit Bolkestein
1941 SG out of session Gerrit Bolkestein
1942 SG out of session Gerrit Bolkestein
1943 SG out of session Gerrit Bolkestein
1944 SG out of session Gerrit Bolkestein
1945 6 2 Dolf Joekes n/a Willem Schermerhorn (PM)

Municipal government

In its strongholds of Amsterdam and Rotterdam the party provided various mayors. The former VDB leader Oud was mayor of Rotterdam between 1938 and 1941.


The VDB was mainly supported by atheists or liberal protestants from higher classes: the party was supported by teachers, civil servants, intellectuals and educated teachers. Regionally the VDB received most of its support form the large cities Amsterdam and Rotterdam, but also from provincial centres in Groningen, Drenthe, North and South Holland.


The VDB lacked a real system of pillarized organisations around it. 'Neutral' organisations, which were not linked to a pillar, often had friendly relations with the VDB. This included the general broadcasting association AVRO (Algemene Verenigde Radio Omroep, General United Radio Broadcasting Organisation), the general union ANWV (Algemene Nederlandse Werkelieden Vereniging, the General Dutch Workers' Association); furthermore, the neutral employers' organisation VNO and the financial paper Het Handelsblad had good relations with the League. Together with the other liberal party, the Liberal State Party, these organisations formed the weak general pillar.

Relationships with other parties

The VDB was part of the Concentration the alliance with the liberal Liberal Union and League of Free Liberals. These parties had good relations. The VDB served as bridge between the liberals and the socialist Social Democratic Workers' Party. The SDAP supported two liberal minority cabinets, but the SDAP was unwilling to join a cabinet with these bourgeoise parties in 1913. After 1918, when the liberals lost more than half of their seats, the relations with Concentration dissolved and the two other concentration parties merged to form the Liberal State Party. The VDB continued to serve as the bridge between liberals and socialists. This strategy resulted in the fall of the cabinet Ruys van Beerenbrouck in 1925. The VDB was unable to form a government of liberals, socialists and Catholics. In 1933 the relations between the SDAP and the VDB worsened as the VDB joined the Cabinet Colijn, which had a very conservative economic policy. Their cooperation in the Second World War improved the relations between SDAP and VDB considerably. This led to the Doorbraak and the formation of the Labour Party with the SDAP and the VDB is its major components.


Like some other liberal parties in Europe, such as the Free Democratic Party of Switzerland, the party did not have the word "Liberal" in its name. Instead it used the term "Vrijzinnig" which is difficult to translate into English. The term, which literally translated would be "Free thinking" or "Free minded" is used to refer to both liberal or latitudinarian tendencies in the Church and more progressive and social tendencies in liberalism, as opposed to classical liberalism.

The term "Democratic" is included in the parties name because of its clear commitment to further democratisation of the Dutch political system. The term "League" is used instead of "Party" because the organisation was not a centralised, strictly organised mass party but rather a loose league of politicians and local caucuses.


  1. David Broughton (4 January 1999). Changing Party Systems in Western Europe. Continuum International Publishing Group. pp. 166–. ISBN 978-1-85567-328-1. Retrieved 20 August 2012.
  2. Gebhard Moldenhauer (1 January 2001). Die Niederlande und Deutschland: einander kennen und verstehen. Waxmann Verlag. pp. 113–. ISBN 978-3-89325-747-8.
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