On this day in 1840 Willem II became King of the Netherlands.
On 7 October 1840, on his father’s abdication, he acceded to the throne as William II. Although he shared his father’s conservative inclinations, he did not intervene in governmental affairs nearly as much as his father had.
The Revolutions of 1848 broke out all over Europe. In Paris the Bourbon-Orléans monarchy fell.
Fearful that the revolution would spread to Amsterdam next, William decided to institute a more liberal regime, believing it was better to grant reforms instead of having them imposed on him on less favourable terms later. As he later put it, “I changed from conservative to liberal in one night.”
He chose a committee headed by the prominent liberal Johan Rudolf Thorbecke to create a new constitution. The new document provided that the Eerste Kamer (Senate), previously appointed by the King would be elected indirectly by the Provincial States.
The Tweede Kamer (House of Representatives) would be elected directly. The electoral system changed to census suffrage in electoral districts. Most notably, royal power decreased sharply. For all intents and purposes, the king was now a servant of the government rather than its master; the real power passed to the Tweede Kamer.
That constitution, significantly amended (most notably with the replacement of census suffrage by universal manhood suffrage and districts with nationwide party-list proportional representation, both in 1917) is still in effect today.