Troelstra was inclusive in his outlook. As leader of the Parliamentary faction of the SDAP, he did not insist upon a tight party line. This permitted a period of harmony within the SDAP between 1894 and 1900.
Both within and outside parliament, the SDAP proved to be a powerful force, despite their relatively small representation in the Tweede Kamer. However, the socialist felt a moral advantage because parliament could hardly be said to be an accurate representation of the people and they used their possibilities to the full, among other things by filibustering (each representative had an unlimited speaking time). When, in 1911 a majority of parliament even refused to vote on an SDAP motion, the anger of the party was expressed by one of its most fiery speakers, J.H. Schaper:
In that case, the inkwells will fly through the room. [...] I cannot be held accountable for anything. I assure you, we will start throwing chairs.This antagonism between the SDAP and more conservative forces would cause bitterness for a long time afterwards, and also explains much of Troelstra's actions.
I have never been able to prefer a government without social democrats over one with them, as evident as it may be that one cannot entertain all company. I still think that the refusal to accept government responsibility in 1913 is one of the most significant errors the SDAP ever madeThere is evidence to suggest that Troelstra himself was rather relieved; he had only reluctantly supported the request for government participation. Universal suffrage eventually did come to be in the Netherlands in 1917, under the leadership of the liberal minority cabinet of Cort van der Linden.
The navy in Den Helder decided to disarm the sailors because there was too much unrest among them. The also socialist party RSC organised a meeting with mainly soldiers, who next marched on a military barracks to seek support, but were shot at, resulting in 3 dead and 18 wounded.
On the argument that the revolution would not stop at the border, Troelstra suggested that power be transferred to the SDAP. A program of changes was drawn, including women's suffrage, an 8-hour work day, abolition of the first chamber, nationalisation of appropriate companies and a state pension at the age of 60. But the party thought the time was not ripe and did not allow him to go any further--which he ignored.
On 11 November, Troelstra proclaimed the revolution, during a debate about the general Snijder's suppression of the Harskamp revolt. A government committee had advised the dismissal of Snijders because he "had proved unable to grasp the spirit of the new age". Snijder's departure was being stalled, however, according to rumours due to the personal involvement of the Dutch Queen Wilhelmina. At a certain point, Troelstra took the stage, and in the words of the later Dutch prime minister Drees:
But the government had already started a counter-campaign (including posters and the spreading of 500,000 pamphlets) telling people that the revolutionaries formed a small minority. This caused the 'Orange-movement' (oranjebeweging), named after the colour of the royal house because it played on national and loyalist sentiments. Many people that were not monarchists (like Roman-Catholics and moderate socialists) joined the Orange-movement because they felt a socialist revolution went too far. Trustworthy sections of the army were mobilised and sent to Rotterdam, Amsterdam and The Hague and vigilante patrols were installed. On 12 November, Troelstra held a long speech in parliament. But the moment had gone. The revolution did not take place.
This has come to be known as Troelstra's Mistake (Troelstra's Vergissing). It has been said that the Dutch did not really want a revolution. But others claim the potential leaders just were not prepared and did not seize the moment. The SDAP was divided and when they united they did so too late. The most active players in all this were the 'counter-revolutionaries' (the authorities). A symbolic act would have been needed, like occupying the city hall in Rotterdam, the centre of unrest and an SDAP stronghold.
The SDAP would not be re-invited to form a government until the national cabinet of 1939. But the establishment and the political right wing had gotten a fright. The next cabinet, under Hendrikus Colijn, although right-wing, started social reforms to take away discontent which might give the socialists further support. Despite this (or maybe to some partly because of this), Troelstra was and still is seen as an inspirational figure for many in the Dutch workers' movement.
He withdrew from politics in 1925 and devoted much time, despite ever declining health, to dictating his memoirs to his secretary, the later Amsterdam alderman Herman Wiardi Beckman. These memoirs (Gedenkschriften), which appeared in four volumes ('Genesis', 'Growth', 'Surf' and 'Storm') after 1925, almost became part of the furniture in the house of many Dutch workers, further testimony to Troelstra's reputation among his followers.