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Dissolving the Norwegian –Swedish Union in 1905
Do you know the background for the dissolving of the union between Norway and Sweden in 1905? Here you can find out what happened.


By Åse Klundelien. Translated into English by Åse Klundelien

From around 1850 and onwards, several cases led to disagreement on how power should be distributed among Norwegian and Swedish authorities within the union. Democratic popular movements emerged, partly inspired by the French February Revolution in 1848. Marcus Thrane founded workers’ societies. Søren Jaabæk established farmers’ unions.

Disagreement on the Vice-regent (Stattholder)

The Vice-regent disagreement was the first conflict case to be treated in the Norwegian parliament Stortinget. From 1814 on, the Norwegians had to accept that the King should have a Swedish vice-regent in Norway. A vice-regent has the authority to act on behalf of the King. The Norwegians really disliked this. King Karl 15 promised to dissolve the vice-regent arrangement, but he did not keep his promise, because the Swedish parliament Riksdagen did not accept the suggested solution. When Oscar 2. became King in 1872, he sanctioned (accepted and signed) the act passed by the Norwegian parliament Stortinget, about the dissolution of the vice-regent arrangement.

Parliamentarianism

The next fight between the King and the Norwegian parliament was about parliamentarianism. In 1884, Johan Sverdrup had been Member of Parliament for 33 years. That year he was elected Prime Minister KongebannerFotograf: Terje Bautz(PM). Several times had he been upset about situations where the King and his Ministry did not conform to the motions carried by a majority in Stortinget. PM Sverdrup cooperated with the spokesman for the farmers, Søren Jaabæk. Sverdrup founded the first Norwegian political party, Norges Venstreforening (Norwegian Left Society), later, Venstre (the Leftists (Liberals)). That was in February 1884. In August 1884 the party Conservative Society’s Committee (later, Høyre, the Right wings (Conservatives)) was founded.

According to the Constitution, the King had a sole right to decide who he would appoint to be his cabinet ministers. Sverdrup and Venstre wanted the King to be obliged to choose his ministers from the majority group or majority party in the Parliament. They wanted that cabinet ministers should have to be present in the Parliament. Sverdrup said, All power to this assembly! The third principle was that the ministry would have to resign, if voted down in the Parliament. These three principles constitute parliamentarianism. The King, his ministers, and Høyre were against it. Venstre won the majority in Parliament several times, and the Act of Parliamentarianism was passed several times. But the King argued that he had veto (a lawful right to refuse accepting the law), according to the Constitution, in matters of amendments to the Constitution. So he refused to sanction the law.

The electoral campaign of 1882 was tougher than ever. The playwright Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson travelled all over Norway and held popular meetings for thousands of people, where he argued that the Constitution had to be amended, i.e. the King should no longer have veto in matters concerning the Constitution. After the election to Parliament, Venstre had a qualified majority sufficient to put the cabinet ministry to impeachment. Venstre held all seats in the Lagtinget, and in addition, they had enough seats to hold a majority in Odelstinget (the two “houses” in the Norwegian Parliament.) Judges in the Impeachment Court are the Supreme Court of Justice, and the Lagtinget. The impeachment procedure took several months. In the end the Impeachment Court decided that PM Christian Selmer and most of his cabinet ministers were deprived of their positions.

Still, the King did not give in. He appointed another Høyre cabinet ministry. This ministry ran into problems with Stortinget after just a couple of months, and had to resign (“the April Ministry”). Then the King accepted that he would have to sanction the Act of parliamentarianism, which had actually been passed in Stortinget five times. Sverdrup now constituted the first Venstre ministry, in 1884, and on June 2nd 1884 the ministry was present in the Stortinget for the first time. Introduction of parliamentarianism was now carried out in Norway. King Oscar 2.felt this as a humiliation.

Disagreement on the consular service

As long as Norway and Sweden were in union, it was settled that Sweden would hold the post of Minister of Foreign Affairs. Most consuls and ambassadors at the consulates and embassies were Swedish as well. Swedes and Norwegians had different interests in matters of foreign affairs. Shipping and foreign trade was of great importance to Norwegian economy.

The consulates were important for Norwegian export. Sweden had close connections to Germany, concerning trade, whereas Norway had close economic connections towards Western Europe, and to Great Britain in particular.

From the 1890’s onwards, Venstre demanded a Norwegian Minister of Foreign affairs, and Norwegian consuls. Høyre took the stand that Norway and Sweden should still have a united foreign policy, but they wanted a more balanced influence on Norway’s side, on foreign affairs. Stortinget passed an act on Norwegian consuls. The King refused to give his sanction. The Norwegians were afraid the Swedes would start a war on the matter, and accepted that they would have to negotiate with the Swedes on the question. The negotiations dragged on for several years. In the autumn 1904, PM Bostrøm in Sweden was ready to accept the Norwegian demand on Norwegian consuls, but the terms were such as the Norwegians felt their country would become a dependency. This situation made the Norwegians close ranks. In 1905, all political parties unanimously demanded that Norway should have their own Norwegian foreign service.

Sitting in the Stortinget on June 7, 1905

Bergen ship-owner Christian Michelsen had been elected Prime Minister in 1905. An act on Norwegian consuls was carried unanimously in the Stortinget. The Norwegian cabinet ministry urged the King to sanction the law, but he refused. On June 7, 1905, there was a sitting in Stortinget. Everybody knew that the meeting was of great importance, and the audience galleries were stuffed with people. Outside the Stortinget 7.juni bannerFotograf: Terje Bautzbuilding were thousands of people, waiting to be informed on what would be decided. In the sitting, the Ministry informed the Parliament that the cabinet ministers would resign. The reason for this was that the King did not accept the advice he got from his cabinet ministry. It was obvious that it would be impossible for the King to appoint another Norwegian ministry. Then, Stortinget unanimously passed a motion saying that the King could no longer be the King of Norway, since he was unable to appoint a Norwegian ministry. The Union with Sweden under one King has ceased to exist, because the King no longer acts as King of Norway.

The Stortinget sitting lasted for less than 30 minutes. Then the news was spread by telegraph all over the country. Flags were hoisted everywhere.

Kong Oscar protested. The Swedes wanted to know if this was the will of the people, and they demanded that a referendum about the union should be put trough. The referendum demonstrated that 368 392 men were in favour of dissolving the union, and 184 were against it.

Women had no right to vote. The suffragettes, among them Betzy Kjelsberg from Drammen, organized a petition campaign to support the dissolution of the union. The campaign took place on the same day as the referendum, on August 13th . The result was amazing. No less than 245 000 women signed the petition. The petition was handed over to the President at Stortinget. Thus, the women had shown that they were in favour of dissolving the union, and they also demonstrated that women ought to have their say in a political case of great importance to the country.

Negotiations in Karlstad, Sweden

Now it was time for Norwegian and Swedish delegates from the two cabinet ministries to negotiate on the terms for the dissolution of the union. The negotiations took place in Karlstad. The situation was tense, and nobody could tell on beforehand what would be the result. Norwegian and Swedish soldiers patrolled their sides of the border, and in both countries they were ready to start a war, if the negotiations should fail. When the message arrived that the negotiators had reached an agreement, both Norwegians and Swedes were relieved.

Election of a King

In the sitting on June 7, the Stortinget decided to ask if a Swedish prince, of the Swedish dynasty Bernadotte, would come to Norway and become King. King Oscar refused this with fury.

Stortinget and the ministry then turned to Denmark, and asked the Danish prince Carl, if he would become King of Norway. Prince Carl said that he would be willing, if the people of Norway really wanted to have him. So a referendum was held for the second time that autumn. 4/5 of the voters said yes to prince Carl, and wanted Norway to continue to be a monarchy. 1/5 (70.000 of the voters) were in favour of a republican form of government. In Buskerud county 89% of the electorate were in favour of monarchy.

Then, Prince Carl accepted the offer, and became King of Norway. He took the name Haakon 7, and he gave his 2-year old son Alexander the name Olav. (The last Norwegian kings before the Kalmar union with Norway, Sweden and Denmark in 1397, were Haakon 6 and Olav 4.)

On November 25, 1905, King Haakon, Queen Maud and Crown prince Olav came to Norway.

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Sist endret 15.06.2010 Terje Bautz
Opprettet 15.06.2010 Terje Bautz
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