Rural and Environmental History Group

At the lever of prosperity. Mr. B.W.A.E. baron Sloet tot Oldhuis (1807-1884), a many-sided pioneer

‘Sloet’, as he was popularly known, played a significant role during the ‘liberal offensive’ in the decades around 1848. As a (liberal) politician (among which parliament membership 1848-1860), as a political economist and publicist he advocated  publicity of government, reorganisation of governmental finances, change of the fiscal and trade policies, extension of public investments in the infrastructure and means of communication and a thorough recalibration of colonial policy. In this he took up an explicit position as a representative of the ‘provinces’ and of the colonies, the interests and interest of which were discriminated and underestimated according to him.

Also and especially from that point of view he was an initiator of private institutions as the Overijssel Society for the development of Provincial Prosperity (1841), just as the Agronomics Congresses (since 1846). Sloet, alongside Van Hoëvell, was not afraid of the public debate and did far-reaching proposals concerning the exploitation of natural sources and the position of the native population in The Dutch East Indies. His being critical of the Cultuurstelsel constantly caused conflicts with the advocators of this system and with those who saw The Dutch East Indies first and foremost as a conquered province.

According to him a reserved government –except when he considered an active part necessary, for example with the construction of roads, waterways and railway lines– and the private initiative formed the ideal combination ‘at the lever of prosperity’.

The research, that will result in a dissertation in the form of a thematic biography, wishes to give insight into the functioning of the political activities around the middle of the nineteenth century, in relation to the development or the ‘modernisation’ of the countryside and the Dutch colonies, from the point of view and the theoretical backgrounds of a prominent contemporary. The book also portraits the man behind a many-sided pioneer.