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In around 1850, the Netherlands was bent on economising. King William I had virtually bankrupted the country in 1841. After the constitutional reform of 1848, the Thorbecke Government tightened the purse strings. The budget for the Royal Institute was cut from 11,000 Dutch guilders to a mere 5,000 in 1849. This did not make Prime Minister Johan Rudolf Thorbecke – who was himself a member of the Institute – a popular man among intellectuals or the establishment.
When the Institute once again received only a paltry sum of money the following year, members began to resist. MP Groen van Prinsterer, another member, proposed amending the budget so that the Institute would once again receive 11,000 guilders. Parliament rejected his proposal, however.
The Institute then took a major gamble and threatened to shut down rather than suffer a chronic shortage of funds. Almost riskier was its decision to call in the help of King William III. The king fanned the flames by providing money out of his own pocket. William III and Thorbecke famously hated each other. Thorbecke also detested Amsterdam. There was no repairing the relationship between the prime minister and the Institute.
On 26 October 1851, Thorbecke issued a Royal Decree closing the Institute. In its place, he established a Royal Academy of Sciences. The Academy was to focus on the exact sciences. The Government had already benefited more from the advice of the First Category (mathematics and physics) than from that provided by fine arts. After the first Thorbecke Government fell, the new Cabinet extended the Academy’s mission to include “the advancement of linguistics, literature, history and philosophy”. Since that time, the Academy has had two Divisions: Literature (humanities and social sciences) and Natural Science (science, medicine and technology). The artists and amateurs never returned.