United States of Belgium
The United States of Belgium or alternatively the United Belgian States (Dutch: Verenigde Belgische Staten, French: États-Belgiques-Unis) was a confederation of the Southern Netherlands which existed from January to December 1790, during a short-lived revolt against the Habsburg Emperor Joseph II.
Influenced by the Enlightenment, Emperor Joseph II, who became sole ruler of the Habsburg lands after Maria-Theresa’s death in 1780, decreed a series of large-scale reforms in the Austrian Netherlands designed to radically modernize and centralize the political, judicial and administrative system.
Characteristically, the well-intended but autocratic Emperor abruptly imposed his reforms without even a semblance of consultation with the population, including the influential urban intelligentsia and other segments of the ruling classes that were highly receptive to such innovations. His Edict of tolerance of 1781 established religious freedom. Another edict in 1784 took away from the Catholic clergy responsibility for the civil registry and civil marriage was introduced. Contemplative religious orders, deemed useless, were dissolved and diocesan seminaries were abolished and replaced by general seminaries in Louvain and Luxembourg. Feudal and trade corporation regulations and jurisdictions were modified or abolished and, to the stupefaction of all segments of the population, the ancient provinces of Flanders, Brabant, Hainaut, Namur, Luxembourg were abolished and replaced by 9 circles, subdivided in 64 districts. Seigneurial jurisdictions and rights, including the corvée, were abolished. As in Hungary, Joseph II attempted to introduce German as the language of administration for the sake of efficiency.
The Brabant Revolution 
In 1789, a church-inspired popular revolt broke out in reaction to the emperor's centralizing and anticlerical policies. Two factions appeared: the Statisten who opposed the reforms, and the Vonckisten, named for Jan Frans Vonck, who initially supported the reforms but then joined the opposition, due to the clumsy way in which the reforms were carried out.
The uprising started in Brabant, which in January 1789 declared that it no longer recognized the emperor's rule, in what is called the Brabant Revolution. The leader of the Statisten faction, Hendrik Van der Noot, crossed the border into the Dutch Republic and raised a small army in Breda in Staats-Brabant, the northern (Dutch Republic) part of Brabant.
In October, he invaded Brabant and captured Turnhout, defeating the Austrians in the Battle of Turnhout on October 27. Ghent was taken on November 13, and on November 17 the imperial regents Albert of Saxony and Archduchess Maria Christina fled Brussels. The remains of the imperial forces withdrew behind the citadel walls of Luxembourg and Antwerp.
Van der Noot now declared Brabant independent, and all other provinces of the Austrian Netherlands (except Luxembourg) soon followed suit. On January 11, 1790 they signed a pact, establishing a confederation under the name Verenigde Nederlandse Staten / États-Belgiques-Unis (United States of Belgium) and a governing body known as the Sovereign Congress. The Dutch Act of Abjuration in 1581 and the American Declaration of Independence in 1776 stood model for the Declaration of Independence of Flanders and some of the other provinces between November 1789 and early 1790. Shortly afterwards, the Articles of Confederation stood as models for the Treaty of the United Belgian States of January 10, 1790.
Realizing the fragility of the new state, Van Der Noot attempted to approach foreign states for support and suggested a unification with the Dutch Republic, with little success. Also, the factions of the Statisten and the Vonckisten were in constant conflict, bordering on civil war.
Suppression of the Revolt 
Meanwhile, Joseph II had died and his brother Leopold II had succeeded him as emperor. Leopold quickly moved to recapture the Austrian Netherlands. On October 24 imperial troops took the city of Namur, forcing the province of Namur to recognize the authority of the emperor. Two days later, the province of West Flanders followed suit, and by December the entire territory was again in imperial hands.
Though short-lived, the United States of Belgium had long-lasting repercussions. It had given the Southern Netherlands their first taste of independence, and had sparked a new political idea: the state of Belgium.
See also 
- Marie-Thérèse Bitsch, Histoire de la Belgique, Hatier, 1992, p. 63
- Bitsch, pp. 56, 62.