Union with Sweden

In the years immediately following 1814, the newly organized state fought repeatedly for its existence. Norway was hit by the worst economic depression it had ever suffered. The common market with Denmark was dissolved and the British market was closed to Norwegian timber. Mines and sawmills lost foreign custom. Many of the wealthier middle class citizens in southeast Norway went bankrupt. The crisis was hard and long.

From the 1830s Norway enjoyed a period of economic buoyancy, which fed demands for freer trade and customs regulations. Trading rights were expanded and customs tariffs were given a free trade bias. In other ways too, Norway started to take part in general developments in Europe. The first railway line was laid, between Oslo and Eidsvoll, in 1854. Telegraph lines were erected. New management methods were introduced in agriculture.

The foundation for modern industry in Norway was laid in the 1840s, with the establishment of the first textile factories and engineering workshops. Between 1850 and 1880 the size of the Norwegian merchant fleet increased dramatically.

Economic development was followed by an intensified class conflict. The calls for democratic reform grew louder.
In the Storting antagonism gradually arose between the representatives of the senior officials who attended to administration, and the delegates for the farmers and the radicals. The farmers were in the majority as early as 1833. In 1859 the first attempt to create a party organization was unsuccessful, but ten years later the first liberal block was formed. Norway's first political party, the radical Liberal Party was established in 1884 and its political counterpart, the Conservative Party, was founded some months later.

The resentment directed towards the Swedish monarchy soon became apparent within the union, not least because foreign policy was led in its entirety from Stockholm. As early as 1827 the Storting submitted a request to the King that the Norwegian prime minister be allowed to take part in diplomatic issues. Other proposals, such as a special Norwegian merchant flag, were forwarded to promote Norwegian equality in the union.

The really major struggle against the Swedish monarchy, however, was linked to the introduction of parliamentarianism, the constitutional principle that a government must have the support of the national assembly if it is to remain in power. As a condition for this, the Storting passed amendments to the Constitution in 1874, 1879 and 1880, giving ministers of the crown access to the sessions of the Storting. On each occasion the King refused to sanction the proposal.

This raised the issue of whether constitutional amendments in fact needed the consent of both the King and the Storting. The government and the Conservative representatives asserted that they did. However, the Liberals were determined to bring matters to a head through an impeachment process. After an election campaign in 1882, the Liberals returned 82 representatives to the Storting against the Conservative's 32. The government of Prime Minister Selmer was impeached, and in 1884 sentenced to partial loss of office, primarily for having advised the King not to sanction the constitutional amendments. After a period of interim Conservative government, the King saw no option but to request Liberal leader, Johan Sverdrup to become prime minister. Parliamentarianism had finally won through in Norway.

Towards the end of the century clashes on the subject of the union intensified. A Swedish demand that the union's foreign minister must be Swedish, and the Norwegians' demand for their own consulates sparked bitter disagreement. Swedish troops prevented the Norwegians from achieving their desires. In return, the Norwegians spent the final years of the century building up their military power.

In the end it was the consulate issue that triggered the final conflict between the two countries. On 11 March 1905, the government of Prime Minister Michelsen was formed to push the consulate issue through as a unilateral Norwegian action. On June 7 the government placed its power in the hands of the Storting. The latter, however, requested the government to continue temporarily, in accordance with the Constitution and current law " with those changes necessitated in light of the fact that the King has ceased to function as the King of Norway, thereby bringing to an end the union between Norway and Sweden under a single monarch."

Sweden demanded negotiations on the conditions for a dissolution of the union as well as a plebiscite to clarify whether the nation as a whole was in agreement with this move. The plebiscite took place in August of 1905. A total of 368,392 Norwegians voted to end the union, while only 184 voted nay.

Further negotiations with Sweden were held in Karlstad in August and September, and these were successfully concluded with the drawing up of an agreement for a peaceful dissolution of the union. 

Source: By Tor Dagre   |   Share on your network   |   print