Two Early Dutch Translations of the United States Constitution: Public Meaning in a Transnational Context

In 1788, a Dutch-born minister in upstate New York named Lambertus De Ronde translated the U.S. Constitution into Dutch. Five years later, a legal scholar in the Netherlands, Gerhard Dumbar, produced another Dutch translation of the U.S. Constitution. De Ronde’s translation was printed on at least two separate occasions in 1788, and scores of editorial changes between the two printings demonstrate that De Ronde was working to make the text appealing and understandable to his audience. Dumbar, however, disparaged De Ronde’s translation for its amateurish character. Dumbar claimed, furthermore, that a legal education, and not experience in an American context, was essential for understanding the Constitution. In an analysis of the context and language of these two early Dutch translations of the Constitution, this article contributes new perspectives on the transnational character and influence of the U.S. Constitution. This article argues that for the Dutch in New York, debates about ratification and interpretation of the U.S. Constitution, were as much concerned with local character and transnational currents as with national politics.