Jan De Witt, a Dutch statesman, born in Dort in 1625, murdered at the Hague, Aug.

20, 1672. From his father, who had been a member of the states and a conspicuous opponent of the house of Orange, he inherited strong republican tendencies. The imprisonment of his father in 1650 intensified his hatred of the stadtholders; and the death of William II. in October of that year gave a favorable turn to the fortunes of De Witt. In 1652 he was one of the deputation sent to Zealand to dissuade that province from adopting the Orange policy, and the eloquence he then displayed gave him considerable popularity. In the following year he became grand pensionary of Holland; and his new power was at once exerted to the utmost to put an end to the plurality of offices which had rendered the stadtholders almost despotic. He so far succeeded that the office of stadtholder was abolished; and in negotiating the treaty of Westminster with Cromwell (1654), he procured the insertion of a secret article by which the house of Orange was to be for ever excluded from the highest offices. When Charles II. was restored, De Witt sought to form an alliance with France; and England thereupon declared war against Holland. After hostilities had continued two years, the advantage was with Holland; De Ruyter's fleet was in the Thames and had burned the British shipping in the Medway, and the peace of Breda was concluded, July, 1667. Though De Witt managed the affairs of his office with great skill and wisdom during this war, his popularity sensibly declined, and the Orange party continually gained strength.

When France assumed a hostile attitude toward Holland, he made such haste to form an alliance with Sweden and England that he had the treaty ratified at once by the states general, when it should have been referred to the council of each province. However this action may have been justified by the emergency, it was easy to make it a cause of popular clamor and distrust. Yet the grand pensionary did not abate his hostility to the house of Orange, or cease his efforts for regulating the finances and otherwise strengthening the internal condition of the government. Louis XIV. having succeeded in detaching England from the Dutch interest and forming a counter alliance, and his armies having invaded Holland in 1672, De Witt lost all hold on the confidence of the people, and was obliged to resign his office. William III. of Orange was made commander-in-chief of the Dutch forces, and was nominated stadtholder. De Witt's brother Cornelius, two years older than himself, had served with distinction in the navy for several years during his youth, was afterward appointed inspector of war vessels, and was again conspicuous under De Ruyter when the fleet entered the Thames. He was more celebrated, however, as a magistrate, and had risen to the office of deputy in the states general.

The popular clamor excited against his brother was turned upon him also, and he was accused of plotting against the life of the prince of Orange, and thrown into prison and tortured. On his release, Jan was waiting for him at the gate, when both were seized by a mob and murdered. The states general demanded an investigation of the affair; but the stadtholder neglected to do anything about it, and was therefore believed to have countenanced the assassination. The brothers, by their ability, courage, and integrity, had commanded the respect and admiration even of their political opponents. Jan was the author of several works of political interest.

Jan De Witt #1

See De Witt.