General League of Roman Catholic Caucuses

The General League of Roman Catholic Riding Associations (Dutch: Algemeene Bond van Roomsch-Katholieke Kiesverenigingen), informally called the General League (Dutch: Algemeene Bond), was a Catholic political party in the Netherlands. It is one of the ancestors of the Christian Democratic Appeal, currently a major party in the Netherlands.


Before 1904Edit

During the 19th century, Catholics were a disadvantaged minority in the Netherlands. They enjoyed considerable independence in the southern provinces North Brabant and Limburg, where they formed 90% of the population. In the north, however, Catholics were not allowed to organise religious rallies and demonstrations. Until 1848, the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church was forbidden in the Netherlands. A mix of Protestantism and nationalism, inspired by the struggle for independence against the Catholic Spanish, was a reason.

Until the 1890s, the most important ally of the Catholics were the liberals, who advocated freedom of religion. Catholics supported several liberal governments but were divided between two groups: those for the progressive Schaepman and those for the conservative Bahlman. The progressives favoured a corporatist economy and extension of suffrage, but the conservatives, who represented business interests, opposed both. Meanwhile, the organisation of the Catholics was concentrated on the district or province. The Brabant caucuses was exceptionally strong.

In the late 1880s, the Catholics became disillusioned with the liberals because, although they supported the freedom of religion, they refused to finance Catholic, or otherwise religious, schools. That became an important issue that united the Catholics. In 1888 the Catholic parliamentary party switched its allegiances to the Protestant Anti-Revolutionary Party and became part of the first Coalition cabinet, led by Aeneas Mackay. The new cabinet also jump started the formation of a new party in 1896. All Catholic candidates then rallied around one programme, written by Schaepman. The programme was inspired by the encyclical Rerum novarum, which advocated social Catholic politics. From 1897, Catholic MPs began to meet regularly.


Finally, on 15 October 1904, the General League was founded as a federation of district and provincial Catholic caucuses and parliamentarians.

The 1905 election was the first election contested by the League. It retained the same number of seats as previously held by Catholic candidates: 25 (out of 100). That number remained remarkably stable in subsequent elections. The party governed between 1908 and 1913 together with the ARP and the Protestant CHU, in the cabinet led by Heemskerk. Between 1913 and 1918, the party was out of power by a liberal minority cabinet, which was preparing an important constitutional revision to solve the two most pressing political issues of the past three decades: suffrage and equal financing for religious schools. All parties were involved in the process, and in 1917, the changes were implemented.

Then, the General League grew in power. In the 1918 election, held under proportional representation, the League became the largest party, and its alliance with the ARP and CHU won a considerable majority. For the first time in Dutch political history, a Catholic, Charles Ruijs de Beerenbrouck, became Prime Minister.

That responsibility put considerable pressure on the party. In 1919, Van Groenendael was removed from the party ranks because the MP supported the independence of Dutch Limburg. In 1922 another Catholic party, Roman Catholic People's Party, was founded by former members of the General League and was oriented towards Catholic workers. In 1923, 10 Catholic MPs caused the fall of the second Ruijs de Beerenbrouck cabinet by voting against the budget of the Ministry for the Navy. Ruijs de Beerenbrouck continued with a new cabinet. In 1925, the orthodox Protestant MP Kersten caused the fall of the first Colijn cabinet. Kersten had proposed every year for the Dutch representative at the Holy See to be abolished. Each year, the conservative Protestant CHU, which was in government with the General League, had supported the proposal. Now, the socialist and liberal opposition supported the proposal as well, which was unacceptable for the Catholic ministers, and their departure caused the cabinet to fall. Those events and the pressure of governing accelerated the General League's change to a tightly-organised mass party. In 1926, it formed a new party, the Roman Catholic State Party, which was the continuation of the General League with a stronger organisation.


The name "League" conveyed three things: its federative nature, as it was a federal league of caucuses, its Roman Catholic ideology, and its opposition to partisan politics – it was a general league. The long name was not abbreviated in an acronym, but just as General League. Before the foundation of the Roman Catholic State Party in 1926 the party was also generally known under that name.

Ideology and issuesEdit

The General League was a Catholic party, which explicitly based itself on the papal encyclical Rerum novarum. In this encyclical Pope Leo XIII expressed the principles of Catholic social teaching. It called for stronger government intervention in the economy, while denouncing socialism.

As a Catholic party, it advocated equal finances for religious and public schools. Furthermore, the party supported religious freedom for Catholics in the Northern provinces, such as the right to hold religious demonstrations. It wanted a separate envoy at the Holy See and a strong Catholic mission in the Dutch Indies.

As a Catholic social party, it was a staunch proponent of a corporatist economy, where employers' organisations, unions, and state work together for the common good. It supported the implementation of a system of social security, protection to develop national industry, and the improvement of the position of workers. It advocated householder franchise in which only heads of families could vote.

After World War I it advocated increased spending on defense.


This table shows the General League's results in elections to the House of Representatives and Senate, as well as the party's political leadership: the fractievoorzitter, the chair of the parliamentary party, and the lijsttrekker, the party's top candidate in a general election; these posts are normally taken by the party's leader. It is also possible that the party leader was a cabinet member, if the General League was part of the governing coalition. The "highest ranking" minister is listed.

Year HoR S Lijsttrekker Fractievoorzitter Cabinet
1905 25 17 not applicable Maximilien Kolkman opposition
1906 25 17 no election Maximilien Kolkman opposition
1907 25 19 no election Maximilien Kolkman opposition
1908 25 19 no election Maximilien Kolkman opposition
1909 25 19 not applicable Jan Loeff Anton Nelissen
1910 25 18 no election Wiel Nolens Anton Nelissen
1911 25 18 no election Wiel Nolens Robert Regout
1912 25 18 no election Wiel Nolens Robert Regout
1913 25 18 not applicable Wiel Nolens opposition
1914 25 18 no election Wiel Nolens opposition
1915 25 18 no election Wiel Nolens opposition
1916 25 17 no election Wiel Nolens opposition
1917 25 17 not applicable Wiel Nolens opposition
1918 30 17 Wiel Nolens Wiel Nolens Charles Ruijs de Beerenbrouck (PM)
1919 30 17 no election Wiel Nolens Charles Ruijs de Beerenbrouck (PM)
1920 30 17 no election Wiel Nolens Charles Ruijs de Beerenbrouck (PM)
1921 30 17 no election Wiel Nolens Charles Ruijs de Beerenbrouck (PM)
1922 32 21 Wiel Nolens Wiel Nolens Charles Ruijs de Beerenbrouck (PM)
1923 32 16 no election Wiel Nolens Charles Ruijs de Beerenbrouck (PM)
1924 32 16 no election Wiel Nolens Charles Ruijs de Beerenbrouck (PM)
1925 30 16 Wiel Nolens Wiel Nolens Dionysius Koolen

Municipal and provincial governmentEdit

The General League was particularly strong in North Brabant and Limburg, where it often won more than 90% of the vote, and was in a comfortable position in provincial legislatures and local legislatures.


The General League was supported by Catholics of all classes. In North Brabant and Limburg, it often got more than 90% of the vote.


Organisational structureEdit

The party was a loose league of caucuses, with little party discipline. The weak party organisation was dependent on the party's parliamentary party.

Pillarised organisationsEdit

The General League had close links to many other Catholic institutions such as the Roman-Catholic Church, and together they formed the Catholic pillar. These organisations included a Catholic labour union, the Catholic employers' organisation, the Catholic farmers' organisation, Catholic Hospitals united in the Yellow-White Cross, and Catholic Schools.

Relationships to other partiesEdit

The General League was allied to the Protestant Anti-Revolutionary Party and Christian Historical Union, in alliance called the Coalition. Their shared issue was the equal financing for religious schools by the government. The relationship with the ARP, which also supported the extension of suffrage and recognised the Catholic religion, was considerably better than with the CHU, which opposed the extension of suffrage and sought to minimise the rights of Catholics.

International comparisonEdit

As a Catholic party in a dominantly Protestant country, it is similar to the German Centre or the Swiss Conservative People's Party. All three were committed to the emancipation of Catholics from their disadvantaged position.