Breakdown in relations between Société Générale and the Netherlands (1830-1844)

The revolution in Belgium began just after the July revolution in France, the Second French Revolution. From 23 to 26 September 1830, Belgian revolutionaries went head to head with Dutch troops, getting as far as the Parc de Bruxelles, a large park in central Brussels. During the night of 26 27 September, the Dutch troops surreptitiously evacuated Brussels. In the morning the population was delirious with joy. The revolution had triumphed!

So how did Société Générale, which was the creation of William I of the Netherlands, survive the revolution? On 27 September, the Bank s governor, Repelaer Van Driel, had hastily left Brussels. From 30 September onwards, the Bank s management took steps to distance themselves to some degree from The Hague (the seat of Netherlands government). They sent a letter to all branches in the provinces telling them to disregard any instructions they had received from the fleeing governor; they should follow only instructions from Brussels. The Bank s management nevertheless acted in a highly cautious manner and avoided taking any radical measures which might permanently alienate William as it was possible even very likely that he would re-establish control over the region. Hence they refused to hand over Netherlands State funds to the insurgents. Nevertheless the bank did accept the role of treasurer of the new Belgium.

On 15 October 1830, a new governor was co-opted by the directors who were still in place.

They chose a native of Brussels, Ferdinand de Meeûs. Having talked to the provisional government and legal advisors, one of the first initiatives the new governor took was to bar from the Bank s General Meeting any shareholder who was not resident in the southern provinces of the Netherlands. This measure was of course mainly aimed at King William, who held more than half the bank s capital.

During the first years following the declaration of independence, the young country of Belgium was shaken several times by Orange plots, fermented by those who wished to see the House of Orange returned to power over the Belgian provinces and senior management at Société Générale was several times suspected of taking part in these plots. The Bank was accused of maintaining a relationship with the Dutch royal family was suspected of sending him the dividends on the shares he held and even to be actively manoeuvring to get William back into power. From time to time one or other Member of Parliament would cast doubts on the Bank s patriotism, demanding to know whether the Bank had sent him dividends in order to help him wage war against Belgium. Governor Meeûs formal denials to the Chamber and in the press did little to alter public opinion. One thing is certain however: of all the institutions founded in Belgium between 1815 and 1830, Société Générale was the only one of William s creations to survive the revolution.

The Bank s top management made strenuous efforts to convey tangible signs of goodwill towards Belgium s new ruling powers, for example setting up a savings bank for working

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