Union with Sweden

With the dissolution of the common market with Denmark and the closure of the British market to Norwegian timber after 1814, Norway was initially plunged into economic depression. However, in 1821 Norway’s parliamentary assembly, the Storting, abolished the nobility and the bureaucracy created an exclusive class of civil servant. A stable situation evolved and by the 1830s economic buoyancy had been re-established.

In the years which followed, Norway participated fully in the general trends affecting Europe. New management methods were introduced in agriculture, the first textile factories and engineering workshops were set up in urban areas, public health facilities and a universal elementary education system were introduced, postal and telegraphic links were established and new roads and railways constructed.

Economic developments were accompanied by growing political awareness, and throughout the 19th century the Storting came into regular conflict with the Swedish monarchy in its efforts to establish a greater degree of autonomy within the union. Deeply-felt separatist aspirations contributed to the early development of political democracy in Norway and by 1882 Liberal Party leader Johan Sverdrup, sometimes described as Norway’s Gladstone, had secured a powerful parliamentary majority of urban radicals and nationally-minded farmers. In response to repeated attempts by Sweden’s King Oscar II to veto Sverdup’s bill to bring the Norwegian government under the direct control of the Storting, the government of Prime Minister Selmer was impeached and, after a tense interval, the Swedish monarchy reluctantly requested Sverdrup to form a government which clearly derived its authority from the Norwegian Storting rather than the Swedish crown.

Towards the end of the 19th century efforts to secure independence from Sweden intensified. Clashes on the subject of the union finally came to a head in the early years of the 20th century with a dispute over Norwegian demands for a separate foreign ministry and the establishment of Norwegian consulates overseas.

In 1905 the new radical government of Christian Michelsen pushed through the establishment of a separate consular service without consulting Sweden, then resigned following the inevitable veto by the Swedish monarchy. King Oscar’s subsequent refusal to accept the government’s resignation on the constitutional grounds that he ‘could not now form a new government’ was relayed by Michelsen to the Storting with the deliberate omission of the word ‘now’, so that he could claim that the Swedish monarchy had effectively abdicated its constitutional functions in Norway and justify his government’s reinstatement under the authority of the Storting. In June 1905 the Storting requested the government to continue temporarily in accordance with the Constitution and current law, ‘with the amendments made necessary in that the union with Sweden under one king is dissolved as the king no longer functions as a Norwegian monarch’. The Norwegian parliament’s desire to dissolve the union with Sweden was put to a national referendum in August 1905; 392 Norwegians voted for dissolution and just 184 against.