Norway Becomes Independent Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Norway dissolved its union with Sweden after an almost century-long effort that involved heated debate, ongoing compromise, and persistent political maneuvering.

Summary of Event

Norway successfully dissolved its union with Sweden in 1905, becoming completely independent for the first time since 1380. Norway had entered into dynastic union with Denmark in 1380, a union that lasted until 1814. After the Vienna Settlement ending the Napoleonic Wars, Finland was taken from Sweden and given to Russia. In return, Czar Alexander I promised to support Swedish annexation of Norway, which was accomplished by the Treaty of Kiel Kiel, Treaty of (1814) in 1814 between Sweden and Denmark. Norway, however, refused to become a pawn in the game of international politics. On May 17, 1814, a Norwegian constituent assembly adopted a liberal constitution providing for a unicameral parliament, the Storting. Storting, establishment It also denied to the king both the right of absolute veto and the right to dissolve the Storting. The constituent assembly then proceeded to elect unanimously Prince Christian Frederick of Denmark as king of Norway. Norway;independence Sweden;dissolution of union with Norway [kw]Norway Becomes Independent (Oct. 26, 1905) [kw]Independent, Norway Becomes (Oct. 26, 1905) Norway;independence Sweden;dissolution of union with Norway [g]Norway;Oct. 26, 1905: Norway Becomes Independent[01390] [g]Sweden;Oct. 26, 1905: Norway Becomes Independent[01390] [c]Diplomacy and international relations;Oct. 26, 1905: Norway Becomes Independent[01390] [c]Government and politics;Oct. 26, 1905: Norway Becomes Independent[01390] [c]Independence movements;Oct. 26, 1905: Norway Becomes Independent[01390] Bjørnson, Bjørnstjerne Sverdrup, Johan Oscar II Boström, Erik Gustaf Michelsen, Christian Haakon VII

This independent course of action prompted Sweden to invade Norway, which then had no choice but to submit to Swedish rule. The Norwegians refused to abandon their independence altogether, however. On November 4, 1814, the Storting declared Norway to be “a free, independent, and indivisible kingdom, united with Sweden under one king.” In 1815, Sweden accepted this declaration and, by implication, Norway’s constitution by a special act of union called the Riksakt. It remained, in the wake of later unsuccessful attempts to revise it, an ill-defined agreement, something more than a merely personal bond but less than a complete union. Its vague character was particularly evident in the administration of foreign affairs for the two countries. The Swedish government conducted foreign affairs for both, but the consular service was a joint arrangement.

It became increasingly evident that Norway and Sweden were incompatible. Norway’s population consisted primarily of fishermen and a free peasantry; in Sweden, by contrast, a landed aristocracy prevailed over a dependent peasantry. By the middle of the nineteenth century, Sweden was becoming highly industrialized, but Norway remained predominantly an agricultural and commercial state. During the second half of the nineteenth century, Norway increased its maritime commerce tenfold, leaving Sweden far behind in this area. Politically, the liberal structure of Norway’s government was altogether different from the conservative and aristocratic bent of Sweden’s government, over whose parliament the king exercised an absolute veto.

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The steady growth of Norwegian nationalism after 1815 underscored these differences and contributed to the eventual dissolution of the union. The publication of national histories and collections of folk songs, together with Norwegian dictionaries and grammars, created the prologue for the great Norwegian literary revival of the last third of the nineteenth century, led by playwright Henrik Ibsen, among others, and especially by Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, who aroused considerable antiunionist sentiment among the youth of Norway. Politically, the young nationalists were drawn to the Liberal Party, Liberal Party (Norway) led by Johan Sverdrup, which emerged after 1870 as the champion of Norwegian democracy and greater freedom for Norway within the union. By 1890, however, the most militant Norwegian nationalists had gone over to the Radical Party, Radical Party (Norway) which came to advocate dissolution of the union with Sweden.

Norway’s growing disaffection with the union was reflected in a number of serious disputes after 1859 between the Storting and the Swedish crown. In each case, Norway successfully challenged key prerogatives of the monarch, King Oscar II, and thereby undermined the foundations of the union.

The Radicals, upon assuming control of the ministry and the Storting in 1891, proceeded to raise the issue that ultimately ended the union, the demand for a separate Norwegian consular service. As had been the case with previous issues debated with the Swedish crown, the Radicals believed that the question of a separate consular service was purely a Norwegian affair. In this view, the Radicals encountered the opposition of both the Swedish government and the Norwegian Conservative Party. Conservative Party (Norway) In 1902, Sweden decided to accept the Radical Party’s demand for separated consular services. Chances for settlement of the question seemed to improve with the fall of the Radical government in 1903, but the advent of the uncompromising Erik Gustaf Boström as prime minister of Sweden more than offset any advantage gained by the momentary decline of the Norwegian Radicals. During 1904, Boström insisted on certain “dependency clauses” in any agreement with Norway, which would have effectively nullified the real independence of a separate Norwegian consular service relative to the foreign ministry of Sweden. On February 7, 1905, both governments finally announced that negotiations had formally closed. Boström had succeeded in uniting the people of Norway as never before against Sweden. In March, the Radicals returned to power under the leadership of Christian Michelsen.

Prime Minister Michelsen and the Radical-dominated Storting now moved to destroy the union. Rejecting new Swedish offers for negotiations on the consular issue, the Storting passed a bill in May, 1905, that called for the establishment of a separated Norwegian consular service. When the king vetoed the bill, the entire Norwegian ministry resigned. King Oscar II refused to accept the resignation and was reluctant or unable to form a new government in Norway. As a result, the Storting declared on June 7 that royal power had ceased to function. The Storting requested the ministry to remain in office and to exercise the authority of the Swedish king. In a plebiscite held on August 13, the voters approved the dissolution of the union by the overwhelming majority of 368,208 to 184. The Swedish parliament reluctantly accepted the separation on September 24. A month later, on October 26, 1905, the two states signed a formal treaty dissolving the union. After the union was dissolved, Norway bestowed the Norwegian crown on Prince Charles of Denmark, grandson of King Christian IX of Denmark. Charles ruled Norway until 1957 as King Haakon VII.

Significance

At least in part as a result of their national experience, Norwegians as a group place a very high value on liberty, independence, and democracy. This was reflected in the resistance movements that were active in Norway against the German occupying forces during World War II and has remained a part of the Norwegian character. Evidence of Norwegians’ distaste for being dictated to by other nations is found in the fact that as of the end of the twentieth century, Norway’s citizens had twice rejected the proposal that their country join the European Union. Norway;independence Sweden;dissolution of union with Norway

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Barton, H. Arnold. Sweden and Visions of Norway: Politics and Culture, 1814-1905. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2003. Examines the period of the union between Norway and Sweden, with an emphasis on Norway’s political and cultural influences on Sweden.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Derry, Thomas K. A History of Modern Norway, 1814-1972. New York: Oxford University Press, 1973. Objective, well-written history addresses social, economic, literary, and artistic developments as well as political events. Depicts Norway as aspiring to political democracy, social reform, economic growth, and cultural accomplishment.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Greve, Tim. Haakon VII of Norway: The Man and the Monarch. New York: Hippocrene Books, 1983. Biography of the first modern Norwegian monarch includes discussion of the dissolution of Norway’s union with Sweden.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hayes, Carlton J. H. Contemporary Europe Since 1870. Rev. ed. New York: Macmillan, 1958. Provides a brief, reliable account of Norway’s move toward independence.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Heidar, Knut. Norway: Elites on Trial. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 2001. Discussion of Norway’s political system includes historical background on the nation’s former union with Sweden.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Larsen, Karen. A History of Norway. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1948. Survey of Norwegian history to World War II provides a straightforward recitation of the facts. Chapters 18 and 19 are especially informative regarding the dissolution of the union between Norway and Sweden.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lindgren, Raymond E. Norway-Sweden: Union, Disunion, and Scandinavian Integration. 1959. Reprint. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1979. Fine presentation of reasons for the dissolution of the Swedish-Norwegian union includes discussion of nonpolitical events and ideas. Focuses primarily on the final phase of the union’s history.

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