In Memory of King Oscar II of Norway

By J.K. Baltzersen

Those powers which the Constitution grants the King of Norway to empower him to promote the well-being of the land according to his conviction are not greater than that they should be preserved in the hands of the regal power, such that no practice against constitutional principles is established, which according to article 112 of the Constitution cannot even be brought about with a constitutional amendment. One of the principal principles of the Constitution – the most important – is that Norway is a constitutional monarchy. This principle cannot be unified with the King sinking to a no-will tool in the hand of the Council of State. If, however, the members of the Council of State through denial of countersignature are able to prevent each and every royal decision, the King of Norway would be without any part in state power. This situation would be as equally denigrating for the monarch as harmful for Norway herself.


After in such a manner, in violation of the Constitution, having sought to nullify a legal decision by the King of Norway, the Council of State has by resigning their offices in Parliament put the King of Norway in a position without advisors. The Parliament has accepted this violation of the Constitution and through a revolutionary act declared the legal King of Norway for having ceased to reign as well as the union between the united realms dissolved.

- Oscar, Rosendal Palace, June 10, 1905

Two weeks ago was the centenary of the last Norwegian royal veto. 11 days after this veto the Norwegian Parliament resolved to depose Oscar II as King of Norway. After yet another 3 days King Oscar protested this resolution. Today we mark the centenary of this heroic protest.

These events came as steps towards the dissolution of the Swedish-Norwegian union[1]. This was quite a loose union. The union consisted of a mutual King – the King was King of Sweden and King of Norway – and a common foreign policy[2]. The Secretary of Foreign Affairs was always a Swede. The union dissolution has often been erroneously described as Norway’s secession from Sweden[3]. To say that Norway seceded from Denmark is probably much more accurate, although that claim is also debatable, since it was Frederik VI who handed over the Kingdom of Norway to the King of Sweden[4].

In 1905 there was a much greater cultural relationship between Denmark and Norway than between Sweden and Norway. It has been said that the history of the Danish-Norwegian union is the story of two peoples growing together and that the history of the Swedish-Norwegian union is the story of two peoples growing apart. Long time after political ties with Denmark had been cut books were generally published simultaneously in Copenhagen and Christiania. Stockholm never achieved the nickname “the King’s City” as Copenhagen had[5]. It has often been claimed that the union was doomed to dissolve. However, Professor of history Øystein Sørensen has made the counterfactual history case that the union could have lived quite a bit longer. It was Swedish Prime Minister Erik Gustaf Boström who “sealed the fate of the union” when he just after the 90th anniversary of the union late in 1904 had achieved official Swedish support for 6 terms[6] for the organizing of Norwegian consular services. These terms were perceived as an insult, and this move from the Swedish Cabinet basically dissolved all major support of the union. From then on the divide was basically about how to dissolve the union. A caricature was made of Boström with King Harald Hairfair telling him that only two men had been able to unite Norway, “you and me.”[7]

The Swedish-Norwegian King met separately with his Swedish and Norwegian councils. There was, however, a union council for foreign policy and other matters of mutual interest. There were no representatives of the Swedish Government in Christiania before the Royal Swedish Embassy was established there right after the union dissolution. The one exception – in addition to the temporary presence of the royal family, which was theoretically at least as much a Norwegian royal family as a Swedish royal family, at times – was the Governor until 1829, whereafter the Governor was a Norwegian until the position was left vacant and finally officially abolished in 1873. In a few periods the Crown Prince held the position of viceroy of Norway. Oscar II had never held this position since he had never had the position of Crown Prince. Under the entire reign of Oscar II Crown Prince Gustaf held this position for one week only.

There were not many Swedish buildings in Christiania during the union. According to Director Lars Roede of Oslo City Museum, there were only three such buildings in Christiania in 1905. The architect of these buildings was the Swedish architect Emil Victor Langlet[8]. The only building of power among these was the Parliament building – a building for a totally Norwegian institution[9]. No objections were made against him as architect due to his nationality. The Royal Palace was built by Carl Johan, and although he had many Swedish architects to choose from, he chose a Danish-Norwegian architect by the name of Hans Ditlev Franciscus von Linstow. The Royal Palace in Christiania was, moreover, the symbol of the King of Norway. Paradoxically, around 1905 Swedish influence on architecture in Norway started.

The Swedish-Norwegian monarch was supreme commander of the military forces of both nations, and according to the Act of Union the nations were to stick together in times of war. It would be hard to imagine two military organizations with the same supreme commander at war with each other. However, these two military organizations were completely separate save the supreme commander.

The King was crowned in both countries, basically first in Stockholm as King of Sweden and then in Trondhjem as King of Norway. Carl XIII was, however, not crowned King of Norway due to old age. Moreover, Oscar I – the father of Oscar II – refused a Norwegian coronation when his queen was refused the same unofficially, probably due to her Catholic faith.

    Courtesy of the National Library of Norway

The King was generally termed “King of Sweden-Norway” or “King of Sweden and Norway” when both countries were mentioned. However, on Norwegian coins “Norway” was actually placed before “Sweden.” There is a separate enumeration of the Swedish-Norwegian Kings as Kings of Norway, such that Carl XIII of Sweden is Karl II of Norway, Carl XIV Johan of Sweden is Karl III Johan of Norway, Carl XV of Sweden is Karl IV of Norway. However, this enumeration never received full recognition, and particularly the Bernadotte monarchs did not recognize them.

Oscar II was born on January 21, 1829 as Prince Oscar Fredrik in the reign of Carl Johan as third son to Crown Prince Oscar and Crown Princess Josephine. He was named the “Norwegian prince.” He married Princess Sophie Wilhelmine Mariane Henriette of Nassau on June 6, 1857. He became first in line to inherit the thrones without the title of Crown Prince upon the ascension of his brother Carl XV to the thrones on July 8, 1859 He ascended the thrones of Sweden and Norway on September 18, 1872. His royal motto was “The Welfare of the Brother Peoples.” At his ascension he was more popular in Norway than in Sweden. He was crowned King of Sweden in Stockholm on May 12, 1873 and King of Norway in Trondhjem on July 18, 1873. He terminated his sick leave and resumed the government on May 26, 1905 just in time for his last Norwegian Cabinet meeting, which was held on the following day and in which the Consular Services Bill was denied sanction. On June 7, 1905 the Norwegian Parliament unanimously passed an act to “depose him.” On October 26, 1905 he renounced the throne of Norway, and his new royal motto was from then on “The Welfare of Sweden.” On December 8, 1907 he passed on from this world.

Oscar II was the only monarch to comply with the constitutional provision to stay some time in Norway each year. Of course, new means of transportation made this easier than for his predecessors, but there can be little doubt that he tried well to be a Norwegian King as well as a Swedish King. He changed both uniform and court on the border. In 1904 he established the Order of the Norwegian Lion[10] of which he was the Grand Master. With this order Norway got her equivalent to the Swedish Order of the Seraphim. The Order of the Norwegian Lion is known as one of the most exclusive orders in the world. It had one class; knight. 11 men were knighted in total, including the French President, German Emperor Wilhelm II, and Emperor and King Franz Josef of Austria-Hungary. Oscar II spoke Norwegian with Norwegians and when in Norway.

In 1844 Oscar I ascended the throne, and as a “morning present” a union symbol was placed in the upper inner corner of both the Swedish and the Norwegian flags. The union symbol was formed as to symbolize a union of equal partners. The union symbol has the nickname “herring salad.” In Norway this nickname is commonly perceived as a term applied by Norwegians as a negative term in the sense that it was a symbol of subjection. This is true for at least the last period in the history of the union. However, the term “herring salad” was first used by Swedes as a term denoting “dirtying of the pure Swedish flag.”

In 1844 the union symbol was placed in the state flag[11], the trade flag, and the royal banner. The royal banner also got a dual royal crest. The royal banner and the state flag remained the same until the end of the union. The trade flag, however, was amended in 1898, when the “herring salad” was removed. Sweden did not remove the “herring salad” from any flags before the end of the union.

Although it can be said that the Swedish-Norwegian was a union by formally equal states, there can be little doubt that Sweden was the senior partner in this union. There is also little doubt that the union in practice was not a union of equal states. It is perhaps true that the King, who theoretically was to be as much Norwegian as Swedish, as King of Norway considered Swedish interests. Moreover, vassal realm theories did exist. If one based the union on the Treaty of Kiel, it is clear that it was no union of equal states. However, the constitutional arrangement with regard to the relation between Norway and Sweden reached on November 4, 1814 and the Act of Union, upon which the union was based, cannot be seen as a superior-subject relationship. Carl Johan did attempt amending the Norwegian Constitution supported by troops outside Christiania, but the attempt failed. Carl Johan wanted to increase the royal prerogatives. One of the proposed amendments was to replace the suspensive royal veto with an absolute veto – a proposal with which I can have much sympathy, as only a suspensive veto was one of the errors made by our Constitutional Convention in 1814. Carl Johan worked for amalgamation of his two realms, but no such amalgamation succeeded.

Our Constitution is very much a symbol of a national fight, more than an instrument of limiting government. Once upon a time it did serve as limitation on government power of sorts. Recently though it has been filled with “banner articles,” articles that sound nice, but at the same time consciously have been constructed so as to avoid their being binding on the government, i.e., these articles are basically no more than PR.

According to Professor of history Roald Berg historians have had to concede that foreign powers did not recognize the Swedish-Norwegian border in the period from 1814 to 1905. The border was not an international border, but seen as an internal Swedish-Norwegian issue. Minor conflicts existed, but basically the border had been defined before 1814.

According to Professor of history Francis Sejersted the story of Norway as an inferior country with regard to development is a myth. According to Sejersted Norway was ahead of Sweden economically in 1870. Soon it was to end. This was around the time of the rise of democracy. The rise of democracy in Sweden came later. Is there a relationship here between the rise of democracy and this shift?

Within the union there were several trade acts, giving duty free trade between Sweden and Norway. The last such trade act was repealed unilaterally by Sweden in 1895 as of July 12, 1897. Protectionism was triumphing over free trade, which in Norway still was relatively dominating. It has been said that this repeal contributed to the fall of the union[12].

In the year of the union dissolution Norway had a large shipping industry. As the United Kingdom in those times only permitted ships from the departure nation to carry goods to the United Kingdom, and the United Kingdom viewed Sweden-Norway as one nation, the Norwegian shipping industry could carry goods from Sweden to the United Kingdom. The leader of the anti-union revolution in 1905, Christian Michelsen, was a shipper. Erling Lorentzen, founder of Aracruz[13] and consort of Princess Ragnhild, was the son of a shipper. So was polar explorer Roald Amundsen. At the time of World War II Norway had the 3rd largest trade fleet in the world. Much of Norway’s “old money” is within shipping.

Oscar II was called the most educated of Europe’s monarchs in his time. He was made honorary doctor at a number of academic institutions. He knew Latin, Italian, and other languages in addition to the two languages of his realms, which he spoke fluently. He had studied esthetics, history, philosophy, and math. He translated works of Goethe and others into Swedish. He wrote own works, including diaries, memoirs, and speeches. These works are a part of Swedish literature except those speeches held in Norway.

What really can be celebrated about the union dissolution is that the union was peacefully dissolved. Historian Øystein Sørensen has stressed several points as the reason for this. Firstly, it was a very loose union. Further, no major border conflicts existed. Also, among about the 50,000 Swedes in Norway no claim to status as “national minority” was made. Moreover, the royal house, including King Oscar II and Crown Prince Gustaf, contributed largely to the peaceful solution. Upon the opening of the Swedish Parliament on June 21, 1905 King Oscar II spoke before Parliament:

How vital for the security of the Scandinavian peoples the union is it is not worth the sacrifices actions of force would bring […]

Furthermore, it has been claimed that King Oscar II and Queen Sophie had a provision in a marital agreement that war would not be made against Norway.

    Courtesy of the National Library of Norway
Another factor preventing war, and which is interesting in a wider European perspective, is that the European powers did not want war. This goes for Kaiser Wilhelm II as well. The claim that the German Kaiser was just looking for a conflict to happen comes in a different light. This was just 9 years before World War Ithe war that destroyed the world of liberty. The German Emperor told Oscar that he had sympathy for him – which he showed by visiting Oscar II instead of Norway that year, as was usual – but that he wanted no war. At a peace conference in The Hague in 1907, just shortly before his death, King Oscar II was hailed as a king of peace.

Lastly, there was a wise attitude in Sweden. This attitude was firstly basically that the Norwegians had done something illegal and were not in the right. Secondly, it was Sweden’s right to act militarily. Lastly, it would not be wise to act militarily, as the result would be hatred towards Sweden, and it would not serve the interests of Sweden.

It is widely held in Norway that military preparedness on the Norwegian side was a major cause of the peaceful dissolution. This view is, however, disputed, and historian Øystein Sørensen is one of those contesting that view. Norwegian commanding general Ole Hansen gave his opinion of the chances of a Norwegian victory in September of 1905. He considered the chance of Norwegian victory as 1 per cent.

The theory that democracies do not go to war against each other has been brought up in connection with the Swedish-Norwegian union dissolution. Historian Halvdan Koht has claimed that both Norway and Sweden were so democratically developed at the time that war could not erupt. His claim is, however, dubious. Parliamentarism was not established in Sweden to the degree that it had in Norway.  The military command was in particular not under “democratic control” in Norway before the usurpation of June 7, 1905, which brought this command under control of a Cabinet unconstitutionally appointed by a democratically elected parliament. The King considered his military command authority close to sacred. The Norwegian Constitution supported an “unchecked” royal authority in this field. Are we to think that it was more democratically developed in the generally less democratically developed Sweden? Moreover, Norway was not internationally recognized as an independent state. That the American “Civil War” was not between two internationally recognized nations has been used as an argument for why this case does not violate the “law” that democracies do not go to war against each other. I could go on analyzing this. However, I will suffice to say that had war broken out, there is little doubt that there would be ample material to “prove” that the Swedish-Norwegian case does not disprove the theory on democracies not going to war with each other.

The union dissolution went hand in hand with the rise of democracy and popular sovereignty. Not only did the events bring democracy forward in Norway, but seeds were also sown for parliamentarism in Sweden. The Swedish Parliament very much took control during the union crisis, and the Cabinet was a parliamentary Cabinet.

    © BN Reklam & Flygfoto
There is little doubt that the dissolution of the union was the main issue for the Norwegian political leaders in 1905. However, considering the fact that nationalism and the fight for democracy in Norway went hand in hand, it is near obvious that pro-democracy activism played a role. This role is probably underemphasized in most historical accounts. On May 27, 1905 the leader of the Norwegian Cabinet, His Excellency Prime Minister Jørgen Løvland, and the two other members of the Stockholm Cabinet delegation met at the Royal Palace in Stockholm. The issue at stake was the Consular Services Bill, which had been passed by both chambers of the Norwegian Parliament, and royal sanction of this bill. As the royal position was that the consular issue was to be resolved through negotiations between Norway and Sweden, His Majesty denied sanction. Such a denial needed a countersignature. The Cabinet thereupon handed in a pre-written resignation with an assertion that Oscar II, through exercising “personal power,” acted “unconstitutionally.” His Majesty would not accept the resignation as no other Cabinet “now” could be formed.

Historians believe that Prime Minister Christian Michelsen, the head of the Cabinet, wished the bill to be sanctioned. However, when the denial was there, he used this denial for all it was worth. When the Parliament met on June 7, King Oscar II was “deposed” for an act he had done as King of Norway. The Parliament simply declared that Oscar II had ceased to function as King of Norway because he could not supply the country with a Cabinet. This was his constitutional duty. His Majesty’s statement on his not accepting the resignation, put in writing, was cited with the removal of the word “now.” As a consequence of Oscar II no longer being Norwegian King the union was dissolved and the Constitution amended as an outcome of this dissolution. If this is not usurpation, what is?

Historians generally believe this act to be dubious at best. Historian Dr. Nils Ivar Agøy has said that he has seen only one attempt at judicially defending the act, and from what I can see from this “defense” it is very dubious indeed[14]. The fact is that we had a constitutional arrangement with a Parliament with quite extensive powers, but still not absolute. What it did was to take the powers vested in the King and usurp those for itself. It “appointed” a Cabinet “vested” with those powers which according to the Constitution were vested in the King[15].

The issue of oaths made to the King and the Constitution is here quite interesting. Agøy has made an excellent account of the oath issue for Norwegian officers. The oaths to His Majesty and to the Constitution have been treated quite opportunistically. There was a theory that the constitutional oath lasted only as long as the Constitution was relevant. Once the Constitution was outdated the constitutional oath was invalid. Another theory was that since Oscar II had “ceased to govern” or “deposed himself” through the “effective abdication” in the Cabinet meeting on May 27, the oath to him was no longer valid. It is important to note that military officers had an oath of their own not made by other officials. At the end of the union with Sweden this arrangement had somewhat changed, but for most officers this was irrelevant since they had made their oaths prior to the latest changes. Moreover, a dubious case was made that since one had made an oath to the Constitution one had to support the parliamentary act, since the Parliament was standing up for the Constitution. In the end the officers chose not to defend the Constitution and the King to which they had sworn loyalty. Instead they chose the “fatherland.”

Immediately after the usurpation of June 7 the most senior officers were summoned by the usurpers to resolve the issue of the oath to King Oscar. An ultimatum was made. The officers were told if they stuck to their oaths they would be relieved of duty with no pension whatsoever. Among those officers summoned there was a minority of officers prone to be loyal to King Oscar, even though among all those officers eligible to be present such loyal officers were in majority. One wonders whether this was a coincidence.

Agøy gives in the said account a short reflection of royal prerogatives. He says that the power of the royal office has been underestimated in post-1884 Norwegian history, i.e., after the impeachment trial to end liberty in Norway. After 1884 there were quite often cases where the Cabinet had to threaten to resign in order to have its way. Oscar also rejected certain single candidates for his Cabinet. Moreover, in the early 1890s there were plans to establish a completely non-parliamentary Cabinet. Especially in military council cases King Oscar II personally involved himself because he saw his military role as particularly important. He was supreme commander of the forces, a role he had “unchecked,” i.e., no countersignature was required. Involving himself in council cases relevant for his role as commander is not surprising. Agøy tells us that Michelsen and his fellow usurpers showed no respect for King Oscar’s independent role as commander, a role which he needed no Cabinet to exercise.

Norway and Sweden have a peculiar phenomenon called “power research projects.” These are government projects initiated at the top political level to research on who has power in society. These projects are a long story. The last Norwegian “power research project” – the second one – finished in 2003, after a five year research period. What is especially interesting for the rise of democracy is that a survey was published within this project on national symbols in Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. A quite disturbing feature of this survey is that the top Norwegian national symbol was Parliament, a position which the Swedish Parliament does not have[16].

The status the Norwegian Parliament has as top national symbol is tightly connected to the Norwegian Parliament’s role in the fight against the royal office and Sweden. The consular services issue was what brought the union down. It is quite obvious with Norway, a shipping nation, and Sweden, a manufacturing nation, would have different interests to pursue through consular services. There were Norwegian consuls, and generally Norwegians could make careers in the Swedish-Norwegian foreign service. Historian Francis Sejersted has raised doubts that the consular services were very important for Norway. It was the principle of Swedish superiority – in practice at least – over the consulates that was unsatisfactory. I must say I have sympathy for the need to take care of Norwegian interests. However, the struggle to bring the foreign office under “constitutional control” is something I would have serious reservations about.

King Oscar II did not formally recognize parliamentarism. In the year the conflict between King and Parliament was at the top, 1884, Oscar heroically declared his prerogatives to be intact while still giving in. He wrote about this in his memoirs in 1894:

This protest has never been recalled; it still stands today […] Neither will it be recalled, to the contrary, God willing, once in the future it will be brought up again […]

To begin with he heroically hesitated to comply with the impeachment trial against his Cabinet. However, Oscar II and Prime Minister Selmer could not continue the fight alone; a couple His Majesty compared to Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. Oscar felt abandoned by his Council and betrayed by the Supreme Court, which had given legitimacy to an illegitimate verdict by sitting through the “trial.”

According to Stefan Gammelien the King got threats even from Norwegians who had emigrated to America:

[Y]ou will be chased off like a dog.

Another Norwegian-American threat – or shall we say a pre-Wilsonian Wilsonian private threat? – was:

Your days are numbered if you do not yield to the will of the Norwegian people.

German consul in Christiania, Ernst Bothmer, said after the first parliamentary Cabinet had been formed:

[The Kingdom of Norway has become] a worm-eaten figurehead on the ship of state, which is sailing under false flag with republican goods.

Oscar II was furious when the conservatives started using the instrument of vote of no confidence.

According to historian Agøy opposition to parliamentarism was especially present for some time among officers. Naval Captain Niels Juel said that he did not care about the sovereignty of Parliament, a principle “foreign to our Constitution.”

Our constitutional fathers left the monarch as supreme military commander. Whether this was because it was vital that the chain of military command could not be blocked when in conflict with an enemy, because it was to give the royal office a means of striking down upon usurpers, or for another reason is an issue I will leave. However, when one does have a mixed government, one must concede that each part of this mixed government must be able to stop usurpations of the other part. Oscar II had the means of militarily striking down the usurpations that in fact did take place. Although such action was considered, no military action was made. We see that Oscar II was one of those monarchs, as Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn told us, who relinquished their powers with little opposition.

According to historian Roy Andersen just prior to the June 7 revolutionary act Parliament was to reestablish the Eidsvold Constitution of our constitutional fathers[17]. Nothing could be further from the truth. Although an independent nation, as our original Constitution asserted, did rise, the system established in 1814 was basically gone as of the June 7 revolutionary act and the following dissolution.

Historian Ole Kristian Grimnes has told us:

It is generally said that parliamentarism was established in Norway in 1884, but that’s only partly true. If we with parliamentarism denote that the executive power is to act as the legislature’s lengthened arm, the executive power in Norway could not do this as long as the King acted politically, and he did so even until 1905. It was not before the emasculation of the royal power that came with the union dissolution parliamentarism could function without interruption, with the King as a unifying symbol, but without political power.

We know that there has been a strong tradition of “nation-building history writing.” Textbooks promoting hatred against Swedes were in common use. One could wonder whether anti-Swede indoctrination through schools was a major factor in the monolithic almost unanimous sentiment against the union.

The revolutionary act of June 7 was a manifestation of the dangerous principle of popular sovereignty,
    Courtesy of the National Library of Norway
 but something perhaps even worse was yet to occur. Due to Swedish pressure a referendum – the first referendum in Nordic history – on the revolutionary act was held on August 13, 1905. There were 184 nays and 368,208 yeas to the “union dissolution that had taken place.” That’s 99.95% yea. The Austrian Anschluß was passed in a referendum with 99.75%. Historian Øystein Sørensen has said of the referendum:

The climate around [the referendum] was such that one, putting it mildly, had to be tough to vote nay to the Parliament’s act of June 7. The result was so overwhelming that it strongly resembles countries with which one rather would not be compared.

This overwhelming result has been used as a legitimatization of the revolutionary act. The very small minority is almost always referred to when doing so. However, if one believed that the union actually was not dissolved, one could not vote at all because voting would be a concession that a union dissolution, and hence a king deposal, had taken place. Moreover, given the immense pressure towards voting and voting “the only right thing” it would be quite pointless to vote in such a farce and a joke of a “referendum.” Historians should start considering those who did not vote more seriously.

On March 3, 1905 Aftenposten was victim to a demonstration for belonging to the “wrong” side on the union issue. Windows were broken.

Hans Thøger Winther was a teacher in Drammen. After having written an anonymous letter to the editor in a Swedish newspaper he was revealed and had to flee to Sweden. After he and his wife had left Drammen a mob showed up outside his house, for the second time. This time the mob was fiercer than before and threw rocks at the windows of his house. Winther had in the letter been claiming the referendum to be “pure comedy.” According to Winther a terrorist oppression of all opposition was going on. The Cabinet, the Parliament, and the press were together on a strategy to prevent any opposition to surface in order to make the impression of a “Norway compact and in agreement.” Winther also had written that he had met many in disagreement with what was taking place but did not dare come forward.

According to historian Agøy it was necessary for the Cabinet to use hard pressure and unorthodox methods in order to achieve external agreement. Clergyman Christopher Bruun, according to Agøy, asserted that quite a number of the priests of Norway had objections against the act of June 7 without the media letting these objections be brought to the public. According to Professor of theology Dag Thorkildsen Father Bruun believed what was going on at the time was similar to what happened in the 1880s around the fight over parliamentarism in the sense that it was about “making wrong right.” Bruun had on Pentecost Sunday read the proclamation from the usurpers before the parish, but he said clearly that it was heavy-hearted. He had called a bible lesson for June 14. The Cabinet ordered his church closed, and the order was effectuated by the police. Again according to Thorkildsen the theologian Jens Gleditsch pointed out that if the June 7 act had come 30 years earlier the priests would not have recognized it and resigned their offices.

There are several examples of police being called in for protecting people from mobs. Protective custody was even used. At the polls symbolism made it very clear what was the “right” choice. People who did not vote were publicly harassed for not voting. There is at least one story of a unionist voting nay and putting his name on the envelope containing the vote so it would be rejected.

Some time ago I heard a story of what was perhaps the first opinion poll. It was conducted in Christiania, and it showed that it would be entirely risk-free to run a referendum on the union. Later I heard that this was from one of the novels of Swedish novelist Jan Guillou. Thus, I dismissed the story as fiction. However, somewhat later I learned that letters actually were written to His Majesty claiming that the Parliament was a radical body unrepresentative in this issue. Also, King Oscar II is said to have believed that the referendum could have gone his way.

The unanimity[18] of the act of Parliament to “depose” the King has probably made its share to the mess. Professor Francis Hagerup – who had been relieved as head of the Norwegian Cabinet by Christian Michelsen – was an exceptional politician. He had always believed that negotiations were the way of solving the union problems. That’s why he was relieved. If the negotiation platform were to be abandoned, a platform he felt bound by from the last election campaign, he had to bring the issue anew to the voters. He, moreover, believed that everything had to be done in a completely judicially untouchable manner. I have no doubt that he stood up for this in the secret meetings prior to the open meeting on June 7. It is sad to see the treason demonstrated by his not standing up in the final hour. One could argue that in such a national issue sticking together is the right thing to do. However, it is a dubious claim that this was a national crisis demanding everyone to stick together for survival. It was far from being such a national crisis. Also, more importantly, something much more fundamental was at stake, namely our constitutional order. This constitutional order was severely damaged by this dangerous precedent. Choosing treason against that order, upon which the founding of Hagerup’s party initially was based[19], over treason against the “fatherland” and a nationalism which went hand in hand with the perilous concept of absolute parliamentary or popular sovereignty is no noble act.

    Courtesy of Terje Bodin Larsen

Hagerup should further have been willing to form Cabinet to save the royal powers at least, as Emil Stang – son of Frederik Stang – had done in 1893 to save the union and the royal powers. Also, Oscar II should have come to Christiania during the crisis, as he had done in 1893. He was recommended to do so both by some friends of the union and the Cabinet[20].

The revolutionary act of June 7 followed by a political climate with no allowed opposition, a near unanimous referendum, women’s signatures for the union dissolution, and democrats negotiating with Danish Prince Carl to become King of Norway has clearly contributed largely to bring about a constitutional order where the Parliament is the arbiter of what the Constitution is. The Parliament on June 7 no doubt usurped such a role. It is argued that this was emergency law, but that is a very dubious claim. If this case was emergency law, what later cases of conflict between King and democratically elected politicians would not “justify” “deposing” the monarch? We saw just some 6 years later – in 1911 – a unanimously passed constitutional amendment clarifying that all decisions of the King in Council needed a countersignature in order to be valid. Moreover, the military command was made subject to countersignature. One wonders if not the events of 1905 contributed considerably to this unanimity. It seems a linkage of nationalism or “love of the fatherland” and democracy, which the democracy movement tried to impose for a long time and with which it had succeeded only partly, completely triumphed in 1905. The concept that emerged is, in the words of the present-day Swedish Constitution, that “the source of all public power is the people.”

We can say Oscar II was our last old order monarch. This is not to say he represented the ancien régime, which went in 1814. Moreover, he was the grandson of Carl Johan Bernadotte – born Jean-Baptiste – a son of the French Revolution, the cradle of modern democracy, and – like Napoleon – a usurper and parvenu. In that sense his successor as King of Norway, Haakon VII, who belonged to the House of Glücksborg, was more of the old order. However, Oscar II was a monarch who wanted to rule and who did rule. He did not believe in the concept of parliamentary or popular sovereignty. He did not accept a role for the monarch as a no-will tool in the hand of the Council of State, or worse – according to biographer Langslet – in the hand of Parliament. Moreover, his sympathies were generally with the political right. He stuck together with German Emperor Wilhelm II. He no doubt tastes a bit as a Hoppean monarch.

King Haakon VII is known as our “first constitutional monarch.” Former Speaker of Parliament Jo Benkow has even called him the founder of our constitutional democracy. Before Prince Carl accepted the throne of Norway he demanded a popular vote on the issue. Among those recommending him to do so was Oscar II. With a relatively strong republican sentiment prevalent in Norway at the time, the deposal act, and the way negotiations for a union had been carried through without a monarch it is easy to see that a monarchy would be quite unstable from then on. Oscar II believed a referendum would provide a sort of an insurance against a republic. Of course, this is a double-edged sword. This referendum established as a principle that the form of government is subject to the popular will, which is contrary to the monarchical principle.

A monarch had been “deposed” unanimously by Parliament because of his “unconstitutional” behavior. There was hardly any opposition to this. A farce of a referendum, whose only purpose was to provide legitimacy to the “deposal,” was held. Those negotiating for the continuance of the monarchy had a clear pro-democracy sentiment. To think that a young prince from a foreign country would not be influenced by this is not reasonable. Haakon VII saw as his duty to serve the people in the sense that he was under the will of the people. Our monarchy since 1905 has been denoted our “popular monarchy,” where the monarch “is to serve and not to rule.” Of course, the monarch is always there for the people. This concept is not something that came with “democratic monarchy.” That’s plain democrat propaganda.

Having a monarch “by the grace of the people” is obviously some kind of republic in sheep’s clothing. However, having a king by the “grace of Parliament” could be worse, and “by the grace of Michelsen” would perhaps be even worse. This only goes to show that it wasn’t easy to get out of the mess Norway was put in in the first place by those usurping politicians.

Now, King Haakon does not deserve to be portrayed as a monarch without character or will. He was quite hard against politicians. He emphasized openly not taking politically controversial stands, although appointing the first Labor Party Cabinet[21] was quite controversial. Behind the scenes though he postponed cases[22] and even threatened with abdication. The abdication threat was used against a proposal to emasculate the royal office and abolish the King’s personal right of giving orders such as the Royal Norwegian Order of St. Olav, a proposal he took as an insult. Not even with the emergency of the German invasion of April 1940 the King asserted any right to have the final say, although he made it quite clear that he wanted no part of the wrong decision in that he told his Cabinet that an appointment of a Quisling Cabinet would result in his abdication. However, he asserted his “Bagehot rights” of being consulted, warning, and encouraging to an extent that might not be accepted today. Haakon led the nation through World War II in a way that no partisan politician probably could have managed. Given the circumstances he did very well as a “modern monarch.” The old order is, however, preferable.

The usurper Michelsen wanted no referendum, neither on the union dissolution nor on the form of government – or perhaps more correctly on whether to accept Prince Carl of Denmark as King or not. He had his way in both referenda though. The second referendum turned out with a majority of about 80% for monarchy – or Prince Carl. Things could easily have turned out worse. Norway could have turned republican, which probably would have been worse than our “democratic monarchy.” Some even wanted the Constitution to be thrown out completely and a new Constitutional Convention to be called. It is worth mentioning that the European powers all preferred monarchy for Norway, including France. The European order at the time was monarchical. Had the union been dissolved only 15 years later, the result might have been completely different.

Had Michelsen had his way with respect to the referendum on the monarchy, there might very well have been a step two, namely the step of “deposing” Haakon VII and installing a full-fledged republic. The act of June 7 was not in accordance with international law at the time. Support from the powers of Europe would have been considerably less if an open republic had been chosen. Prince Carl was the son-in-law of His Britannic Majesty, and he was thus a means of achieving British support. A step two never came, as Haakon succeeded in winning the whole people, but it was a victory at a price.

    Korsaren no. 39, 1905.
    Courtesy of the National Library of Norway

King Oscar II has his face portrayed on sardine boxes far outside the borders of Scandinavia. In 1902 a Norwegian company got His Majesty’s permission to produce with the King’s name and portrait[23]. At first thought such a permission reminds one of old mercantilism under which industrial privileges were handed out. However, the permission to produce King Oscar sardines is actually a symbol of the end of mercantilism and of the freedom of enterprise, as it is the King’s name and portrait only that requires royal permission.

Our Constitution has even had a protection of the freedom of enterprise since 1814, such that new and lasting infringements of the freedom of enterprise could not be established. However, this provision is only seen to forbid lasting privileges to private parties[24]. It has no effect against government monopolies or granting money games rights to charitable organizations only. Just after the union dissolution we got lots of concession legislation, requiring government grants for hydro-electric power plants, with provisions for a no compensation “return” of the plants to the government after a certain number of years. These days this concession legislation is being revised and one hears arguments that “we” can’t give away “our” resources as we do not know what these resources would be worth in 60 years. Let’s “rent” it out instead, the argument goes. To this level that debate has fallen! As if the government is not powerful enough without this government capitalism, which sadly also is a concept doing its harm in the oil industry, to name the most important sector, and to name where it is least challenged.

Property rights were much more secure in most of the 19th century than what they are now. Up until the end of 19th century redistribution was considered outside the scope of the state. Since then democracy and popular sovereignty has given rise to a far-reaching big-size state. Socialism came to haunt us.

Our Constitution has a protection provision for property rights. However, although it does say that whenever the “need of the State” requires it those who must give up their property are to have full compensation, there is seemingly no limit to what the “need of the State” is. Moreover, private interests can acquire property, or at least use of property, through government confiscation. Furthermore, it seems to set no limit to confiscatory taxation. Even the “Conservative” Party, the party which is to be the property protection party above all, now seems to be going for new legislation to let leasees of land rob the land owners legally. The respect for property of the 19th century is gone. What relief this unbridled democracy is!

Oscar II is known to have said:

The people have no basis for having any opinion.

He was right in the sense that it is meaningless to refer to the opinion of the whole body of the people. Individuals may have bases for opinions. Maybe even small groups can have such bases. The conceived popular opinion is just that; conceived. There is no popular opinion in the sense that there are individual opinions. The “popular opinion” is often something which the people is led into. The ability of the common man to form an educated opinion is often very limited. Moreover, the effort the common man will go through to form an educated opinion is limited.

Of course, there could be reasonable grounds for removing a monarch. A tyrant should not be allowed to sit on the throne. However, it is perfectly clear that Oscar II was no tyrant. What was a threat to liberty in the fight over government powers were those usurping parliamentary politicians. They have brought upon their posterity much trouble. It is not that the denial of a separate independent consular organization necessarily is a good example of limiting the reach and size of parliamentary power. It probably is a very bad example. The point is the royal prerogatives in themselves as a check on the reach and size of parliamentary power. It is prudent in this respect to keep in mind something Bertrand de Jouvenel told us in On Power:

It is possible, with the help of prudently balanced institutions, to provide everyone with effective safeguards against Power. But there are no institutions on earth which enable each separate person to have a hand in the exercise of Power, for Power is command, and everyone cannot command. Sovereignty of the people is, therefore, nothing but a fiction, and one which must in the long run prove destructive of individual liberties.

King Oscar was no absolute monarch, although with the abuse of political terms that we are haunted by, he very well might be erroneously described as one. Oscar II was a part of a regime that was supposed to be limited after monarchical absolutism had been allowed to blossom. Our mixed government of the 19th century was born in 1814, got a serious blow in 1884, and it basically got its final blow in 1905. What Bertrand de Jouvenel and On Power told us basically describes what happened:

[Authoritarianism] could, no doubt, have been avoided if there had been a stable, vigorous, and unified executive to which the legislature acted merely as limitary principle. But in fact, as we have seen, the contrary happened: the legislature made itself the ruling sovereign.

Historians would protest a claim that Oscar II’s reign was marked by personal rule. Even when he ascended the throne personal rule had been reduced in the sense that the Cabinet had very much real power, independent of Parliament and in practice to an extent independent of the monarch. However, it is still fair to say that Oscar II represented personal rule, and On Power again gives an excellent account of the historical development:

The royal will was, and was known to be, that of a crowned head, his favourite, or his minister; it was in that respect as human and personal as that of anyone else. The will of democratic Power goes by the name of general. It crushes each individual beneath the weight of the sum of the individuals represented by it; it oppresses each private interest in the name of a general interest which is incarnate in itself. The democratic fiction confers on the rulers the authority of the whole. It is the whole that both wills and acts.

The usurper Prime Minister Løvland, who initiated the process of “deposal” of King Oscar II, was Norway’s first Secretary of Foreign Affairs and his motto was that our foreign policy was to have no foreign policy at all. Moreover, he was chairman[25] – from 1901 until the year before his death in 1922 – of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, which is responsible for naming the Nobel Peace Laureate. He had himself been contributing to a relatively peaceful process towards democracy in Norway. He was thus a member of a gang of small criminals. Petty criminals often look up to large criminals, as we were to see was the case here also. The Norwegian Nobel Committee named Woodrow Wilson Nobel Laureate for the year 1919. Wilson had prolonged a war in order to “make the world safe for democracy” and to “end all wars.” The Norwegian process had been relatively peaceful. The member of said committee had seen that such was possible. Praising fellow democrats is a vice that one could expect from democrats. However, with the relatively peaceful Norwegian experience Norwegian democrats should have known better than to celebrate this warmonger and his warring democratic crusade.

Luckily, the anniversary celebration is not a celebration of democracy. It is no big feast to the great god Demos. There is, however, a conference in Karlstad – the town where dissolution negotiations were held in 1905 – on the development of democracy in the two countries this upcoming September.

June 7 is fortunately no public holiday. It is merely a public flag day. I would say it is my least favorite public flag day. There is absolutely no reason to celebrate this revolutionary act in any way. The thought of wearing a black suit with a white shirt and black neck tie has crossed my mind. So has flying a flag on half staff. When I’m not seriously considering it, that’s because June 7, 1945 was the day on which King Haakon VII returned to Norway after having led the resistance from abroad during 5 years of German occupation. Perhaps one should fly the “herring salad” on June 7?

Portrait by , 1898The day October 26 is recognized as the union dissolution day in Norway and October 26 thus becomes public flag day instead of June 7 should be warmly welcomed[26]. That the union was dissolved without war is certainly something that should be celebrated, and the relatively peaceful[27] character of the end of the union should serve as a guiding light for future conflicts. Save the relative peacefulness, however, I can see no reason whatsoever to celebrate the manner in which the union was dissolved.

You might say that I’m with those who in 1905 wanted dissolution, but who were sorry for the way in which it was done. The fact still remains, though, that the union and our Bernadottes represent a period with relatively limited government prior to mass democracy. Just two days ago a two volume work on Swedish and Norwegian history in the period from 1814 until 2005 was released. I have not yet had time to have a look at it, but the title of volume 1, covering 1814-1905, is “union and democracy,” and the title of volume 2, covering the last hundred years is “social democracy.” None of these titles sound very well. However, when one considers that democracy only seriously blossomed in the last part of the period, there is no doubt which period is preferable[28]. The words of Henrik Ibsen are truer today than in his days:

Norway is a free country inhabited by unfree people.

Of course, the union itself is not the point. The union nevertheless provided an argument for an absolute veto for constitutional amendments, and otherwise a strong royal office. The mixed government arrangement provided would logically do, but having supplemental arguments would absolutely be helpful. We must also keep in mind that the Swedish-Norwegian was a very loose union. Any serious study of Swedish-Norwegian relations would show that integration – or perhaps more correctly, harmonization – in most ways has been at a greater level after the dissolution of the union. For instance, Norway and Sweden had provider state cooperation after the dissolution. The European Union provides large unit rule far overreaching that very loosely connected union of Sweden-Norway.

What could one do to celebrate the memory of His Majesty Oscar II? What about having a go at King Oscar sardines or related products? Perhaps one could have a dish prepared?
    Photo: Udo Jacob
Or maybe one could eat Veal Oscar? Oscar’s at the Waldorf=Astoria in Manhattan claims the dish to be named after Oscar Tschirky of the Waldorf. Still, variants of the dish are made so as to feature the monogram of Oscar II.

A wine from Liechtenstein, specifically from the wineries of the Prince of Liechtenstein, would certainly go well to any such dish. What an excellent celebration of non-democratic monarchy wouldn’t that be?

For a more intellectual celebration reading the memoirs of Oscar II, some of his diaries or other literature from his hands would be quite appropriate. Proficiency in the Swedish language – sometimes in the Norwegian language, which is quite similar – is required though.

One could have a party on board Oscar II. One could go to Marstrand in Sweden and take one’s hat off to the bust of Oscar II there. Or one could go to King Oscar’s Chapel in Grense Jakobselv in Finnmark[29]. Another option is to go to one of the many places in the mountains in Norway were King Oscar II left his mark.

Today, exactly one hundred years since June 10, 1905 we raise our glasses to the memory of the old European order and to the memory of the Grand Master of the Order of the Norwegian Lion. These memories shine gloriously.

June 10, 2005.

J.K. Baltzersen is a senior consultant of information technology in Oslo, Norway.

© J.K. Baltzersen 2005

[1] Also Americans were interested in this event.

[2] This was problematic as Norway was drawn to the United Kingdom and Sweden to Germany.

[3] About a year ago I picked up a free newspaper at a stand at Copenhagen’s Kastrup Airport. Of course, the reliability of such newspapers is limited. However, I did find a story on Karl Rove in this newspaper, a story which very well could be true. Karl Rove was according to the story quite proud of being the highest ranking among those with Norwegian roots in the White House. Moreover, he reportedly hated Sweden for having annexed Norway in 1814. It is true that the Sweden did go to a minor war with Norway in 1814 and that Norway gave in to military pressure. To call the resulting union an annexation is, however, dubious at best. If the claim that Sweden annexed Norway is ignorance or propaganda on Karl Rove’s part the story is silent.

[4] Saving the old Norwegian territories of Iceland, the Faeroe Islands, and Greenland for the Danish Crown.

[5]Copenhagen, although it is rarely used these days, still goes by the nickname “the King’s City.” Whenever it is used it does not mean Oslo or Stockholm.

[6] The leader of the Norwegian Cabinet delegation to Stockholm at the time, and hence bore the title of statsminister – Prime Minister – Dr. Sigurd Ibsen – the son of Dr. Henrik Johan Ibsen – called these terms “the vassal realm terms.” Professor of law Francis Hagerup – head of the Cabinet in Christiania, and also with title of statsminister – soon applied this term to the 6 terms. It soon became part of common Norwegian terminology.

[7] That Harald Hairfair united Norway has been claimed to be very much a myth in the sense that the unification was much more limited than what the myth gives an impression of. This is, however, beyond the scope of this essay.

[8] He was also the architect for the Drammen Exchange and Drammen Theater. The latter was the venue for the opening ceremony of the dissolution anniversary celebration, which is officially a marking – not a celebration – so as not to hurt the feelings of any Swedes.

[9] The architecture was not Swedish, however, but Italian, more specifically Lombardian.

[10] This order was never formally abolished, but it has been sleeping since the dissolution of the union.

[11] The state flag has a split and a tongue, which the royal banner also had.

[12] Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany supported Ålesund after the city fire in 1904. He later commented that the lack of support from the Swedish-Norwegian royals brought the union down.

[13] Supplying the market with paper based on rapidly growing trees Lorentzen has probably done a lot more than most large groups of “environmentalist activists,” despite the problems his business probably also has caused.

[14] I concede that a case can be made against the union by referring to Norway being forced into it. Undoing the amendments made in connection with the establishment of the union wouldn’t be very problematic if one did so with reference to gunpoint and the unconstitutionality of the amendments. However, this was not the argumentation used in 1905.

[15] This was to be a temporary arrangement. No formal act to alter the Constitution such that the King would be emasculated was made. Moreover, an offer was made to the House of Bernadotte for another prince to ascend the throne, a part of a strategy to conceal the anti-monarchical agenda. Although there were many with a republican agenda, the general idea was to get rid of the union, not the monarchy, as getting rid of both at the same time was believed to be too risky. As we will see, though, what we got was very much a republic in a monarchy’s clothing.

[16] The Norwegian Parliament got 38%, the Swedish Parliament 11%, and the Danish Parliament 10%. The monarchy was not an option in the survey.

[17] Whether this was a claim explicitly made by the usurpers does not clearly show in the account of Andersen. However, it is quite probable that such propaganda had been used by those politicians.

[18] When the closed Parliament meeting on June 6 was over and a unanimous act had been guaranteed, Michelsen, according to historian Roy Andersen, sent an unsigned telegraph to a good friend saying “tomorrow morning we will cross Rubicon.” Thus, the connection to the end of liberty at Rome was drawn.

[19] At the time of the fight over parliamentarism the conservative side saw the monarchical element as a protection of minority rights.

[20] The railway between Christiania and Stockholm was blocked, however, just before the Parliament “deposed” King Oscar to prevent last minute compliance with this recommendation.

[21] This was probably part of a strategy to be King for everyone. Haakon VII is ascribed “I am also the King of the communists.” He, however, denied Nazis any audience. A lot can be said about such different treatment of these two leftist ideologies, but I will leave it for now.

[22] Postponements even led to Cabinet minorities turning into Cabinet majorities.

[23] A curiosity is that in Sweden one has the same concept with King Gustaf V, Oscar II’s son, the last Swedish monarch of the old order.

[24] This does not bar privileges being granted for a limited period of time and being constantly renewed for “limited time periods.”

[25] Only later did the Parliament stop appointing committee members who were active politicians due to problems connected with committee independence.

[26] Such a recognition from Parliament will not come easy, as such a recognition would be tantamount to recognizing that Parliament cannot do as it wills; that there are limits to what it can do; that it is not omnipotent. Moreover, such a recognition would also affect the plebiscite and its authority in very much the same way. Dare Parliament ever question the sovereignty of the people expressed through the August 13 plebiscite by declaring that the union was not dissolved before October 26?

[27] We must use the term relative as on one hand war was avoided between the two nations and on the other hand mob tyranny against opposition can by no means be considered peace.

[28] Eventually Sweden turned a worse provider state than Norway and degenerated constitutionally further than Norway, with perhaps the most emasculated monarch on the planet – leaving the monarch basically without even formal, advisory, and emergency powers – and putting in writing in the Constitution that “all public power comes from the people.” On the other hand that is in a way more honest.

[29] Oscar II was the first King of Norway to visit Finnmark since Christian IV.