Revolution and independence
At the Congress of Vienna, in 1815, Belgium (The Southern Netherlands) and the Northern Netherlands (Holland) were united to form one State. This new state was ruled by King William I. Although his policy was beneficial to the Belgian bourgeoisie, there was protest. The Catholics objected against the interference of the protestant king in clerical matters. The Liberals demanded more freedom. In 1828 Catholics and Liberals drew up a concerted programme of demands. The association between Catholics and Liberals was called unionism.
After a series of incidents, the revolution erupted in Brussels in 1830. William I sent in his troops, but they were expelled on September 27th, 1830. The rebels received support from volunteers outside the city. Following this rising Belgium separated from the Northern Netherlands. A provisional government declared independence on October 4th, 1830. On November 3th of the same year, a National Congress was elected by an electorate of 30,000 men, who paid a given level of taxes or who had special qualifications. On February 7th, 1831 the national congress adopted a constitution which, for its time, was very progressive.
1830 to 1908
A diplomatic conference on the future of Belgium opened in London on the November 4th. The great powers of the time recognised the secession of Belgium from the (Northern) Netherlands. Leopold I of Saxe-Coburg became the first King of the Belgians (1831 - 1865). In 1865 he was succeeded by his son Leopold II (1865 - 1909). Under their reign Belgium became the second most important industrial power.
Both kings wanted to secure Belgium's economic independence by promoting colonial expeditions, but they were not successful in this until the end of the 19th century. It was at this time that Leopold II backed expeditions by Henry Stanley to the Congo basin. He entered into agreements with local chiefs which resulted in a confederation of states. At first the Belgian government and parliament had no hand in the king's operations. Since Leopold II had been the first occupant of areas in Central Africa, he held a strong position at the Conference of Berlin in 1884. His demands were met. In 1885 the Belgian parliament agreed that Leopold II should become the head of state of the Congo. In 1908 control of Congo was transferred to the Belgian state.
Although the great powers forced Belgium to remain neutral when it became independent, it couldn't escape World War I. The Belgian army under the command of King Albert I (1909 - 1934) was too small a match for the Germans, it nevertheless could managed to halt the enemy at the river Yser. Belgium suffered greatly during the war. The Yser region was laid waste.
The years after the war were very difficult. The international economic crisis affected the country. When Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany, the dangers posed by that country rose again. From 1936 onwards Belgium took a neutral stance, just as it had done before the 1914 - 1918 war, but Germany invaded again on May 10th, 1940. After 18 days king Leopold III (1934 - 1951) decided to capitulate. This decision provoked a rupture with the government. After the war the royal question dominated politics. In 1951 Leopold III abdicated in favour of his son Baudouin I. This king reigned until his death in 1993. On August 9th, 1993 his brother Albert II became the sixth King of the Belgians.
A federal state
The question of relations between the communities has played a highly important part in recent Belgian history. Following four state reforms Belgium was transformed into a federal state. The political scene is also dominated by economic problems and increased internationalisation. Belgium played an important role in the creation of the Belgian-Luxembourg Economic Union, the Benelux and the European Union. As a member of the United Nations, and in the service of world peace, Belgium often sends its troops on peace missions or sends its observers to areas over the world.