Dechamps, ADOLPHE, Belgian statesman and publicist, brother of Cardinal Dechamps, b. at Melle near Ghent, June 17, 1807, d. at Manage, July 19, 1875. He entered public life about 1830 and soon became popular through his brilliant contributions to several Catholic newspapers. Having founded with his friend de Decker “La Revue de Bruxelles”, he advocated in that paper a system of parliamentary government which was termed “government of the centers”. The ministries were to be composed of Catholics and Liberals and to be supported by the moderate elements of the two parties. The scheme was not without merit under the circumstances, and it worked sucessfully for some years, but no great political shrewdness was needed to foresee that, unless the Catholics were willing to surrender their principles, they must sooner or later part company with the Liberals. In 1834 Dechamps was elected to the Chamber of Representatives, where his talent as an orator and his practical sagacity soon secured him a prominent position. In 1836 he participated very actively in the discussion of the bill on the organization of the communes, and in 1839 he opposed the treaty with Holland. The great Powers had imposed that treaty on Belgium and Holland in 1834, but the latter had delayed accepting it in the hope that she might eventually obtain better conditions. Dechamps, with many others, held that by this delay Holland had forfeited her right to the advantages granted her by the Powers and they urged the Government to appeal to arms rather than to surrender any part of Belgian territory. This warlike policy, however, would have been unwise in view of the opposition of the Powers, and peace was finally signed with Holland.
The most remarkable event of Dechamps’s political career is perhaps the leading part he played in the passing of the bill on elementary instruction. Up to 1842 there had been no elementary public schools in Belgium, although there were numerous schools organized under the direction of the clergy. One of the provisions of the new bill enacted that religious instruction was to form an essential part of public education and to be under the control of the clergy. The bill was passed almost unanimously by the votes of both Catholics and Liberals. From 1843 to 1848 Dechamps was a member of several ministries and showed himself a competent administrator. After the defeat of his party in 1848 he became the leader of the Catholic minority in the Chamber of Representatives and retained that position for several years. In 1864 he retired from politics and engaged in financial enterprises, but his ventures proved unfortunate. The following are his most important works: “Le second Empire” (Brussels, 1859); “Le second Empire et l’Angleterre” (Brussels, 1865); “Jules Cesar; Fernanti re juge par l’empereur” (Brussels, 1865); “La France et l’Allemagne” (Brussels, 1865); “La Convention de Gastein” (Brussels, 1865); “Les partis en Belgique et le nouveau regne” (Brussels, 1866); “L’ecole clans ses rapports avec l’Eglise, l’Etat et la liberte” (Brussels, 1869); “Le prince de Bismarck et l’entrevue des trois empereurs” (Brussels, 1873).