Sweden in the 19th Century

Sweden in the 19th Century

In domestic politics his government is worthy of being remembered for a great reform: it was decided that the old system of the rural commune should be dissolved and that the peasants should have their possessions made up of contiguous plots. No other government measure changed the life of the Swedish people so radically; the enormous importance of the reform, which made possible a grandiose development of agriculture, appeared only later.

Moreover, the history of this era is characterized by the consequences of the wars of the French Revolution and Napoleon. For political and commercial reasons Gustavo Adolfo considered it necessary to maintain good relations with England; when (from 1805 onwards) it was no longer possible to maintain neutrality, he consequently sided with the English side against Napoleon, whom he ardently hated. This policy led, after the Peace of Tilsit, to the war against Denmark, which threatened Sweden from the south and west, and against Russia, whose armies entered Finland and occupied the region in 1809. But since it was the general opinion among the officers and officials, influenced in part by ideas of the French Revolution and by old ideals from the era of Swedish freedom, that the blame for the misfortunes lay only with the king, the commander of the western Swedish army, G. Adlersparre, revolted and began to march on Stockholm. Gustavo Adolfo wanted to go to the southern army in Schonen; but he was arrested by some officers in Stockholm. Convoked a parliament, Gustavo Adolfo was overthrown, and his uncle, Charles XIII (1809-18) was elected king. A new constitution was approved, heavily influenced by Montesquieu’s doctrine on the division of powers. But the advantageous conditions of peace, on which the men of the revolution had trusted, could not be obtained. In the peace of Fredrikshamn of 1809 Sweden had to cede Finland with Aland and a portion of northern Sweden to Russia; in the peace with France of 1810 it had to undertake to join the continental block. During the same year the French Marshal J.-L.-B. Bernadotte was elected heir to the crown, after the sudden death of Charles Augustus of Augustenborg, elected in 1809. Bernadotte, who adopted the name of Charles John, immediately became the head of Swedish politics and also conquered the high Swedish aristocracy, who on the principle was sympathetic to the son of the dethroned king, Prince Gustav Vasa. Soon it was again necessary to decide about France: in 1813 Swedish troops fought in Germany against Napoleon. After the battle of Leipzig, Charles John, to whom Norway had been promised by the great powers, headed against Denmark, which in 1814 formally ceded Norway to Sweden. At the news of this Norway declared itself an independent kingdom, but after Swedish troops broke into the country, he concluded the so-called Moss Convention with Sweden in 1814: Norway was recognized as an independent kingdom, but entered into a union with Sweden. The situation thus created was not changed by the Congress of Vienna.

According to localcollegeexplorer, the period from 1815 to 1830 was peaceful. Charles XIV (1818-44) maintained in foreign policy the friendly relations with the emperor of Russia, whom he had already established in 1812; an opposition, directed against his authoritarian system of government, was immediately warned, but only acquired greater importance in 1830-40, particularly towards the end of the decade, when a general crisis shook economic life and reduced the now important export of Swedish iron. The opposition required, among other things, the abolition of the prohibitive economic legislation in force until then and a constitutional reform, which was to create a popular representation, elected according to liberal principles, in place of the general states of the medieval-type kingdom. In the parliament of 1840-41 the opposition predominated, without, however, carrying out any more important positive reforms. Thus the storm subsided and when Oscar I (1844-59) ascended the throne, relations between the people and the king were once again excellent. Economic legislation was conducted in a liberal spirit, according to the principle of freedom of supply. The Scandinavian movement, which in particular had many adherents among the students and which announced the unity of the Scandinavian North, was favored by the king. When Denmark was attacked by Germany in 1848, Swedish and Norwegian troops were deployed at Fyen, to prevent the Germans from crossing over to the Danish islands. But Oscar’s efforts to forge an alliance with Denmark, with the aim of getting Denmark to join the Swedish-Norwegian Union, failed. When in 1864 under Charles XV (1859-72) who had ruled the government since 1857, the war broke out again between Denmark and Germany, the king wanted to interfere, and so did a large part of the people; but he had to resign himself to the obstinate opposition of the responsible ministers. In fact, the Swedish army was unable to go to war (since then the care for the army has increased). Domestic politics were conducted with the same liberal spirit of the times of Oscar I; the most important consequence was the parliamentary reform in 1866 – the work of the Minister of Justice L. De Geer. A two-chamber parliament was created; the first chamber was to be elected by municipal corporations, which for their part were elected according to a system based on census;

In the new parliament the peasants predominated completely in the second chamber and united in a peasants’ party, which aimed to abolish the old land tax, based on land ownership, and the organization of the standing army, which was imposed only on the peasants. But it was not a party in the parliamentary sense; he wanted to control the bureaucracy and master the public finances in detail, but he had no intention of assuming power. When in 1880 the holder of the post of minister of state, L. De Geer, resigned – this post was created in 1876 during the reign of Oscar II (1872-1907) – because the peasants’ party had rejected his proposals for a new organization of the army, one of the peasant leaders, A. Posse, became minister of state; but his proposals were also rejected, with the cooperation of his own partisans. Thus the ministry of state passed to men, who were primarily the king’s officials: CJ Thyselius (1883-1884), OB Themptander (1884-88), G. Bildt (1888-89), G. Åkerhielm (1889-91). But starting from 1880-90 a new political situation took over. The period of economic prosperity of the previous decade was followed by a crisis; emigration increased to the maximum (during certain years more than 50,000 people emigrated to America); the social democratic agitation among the workers began; the voices calling for electoral reform became stronger and more numerous. Finally, violent agitation broke out against the free trade system, which had been followed until then, and in favor of a system of protective duties. The peasants ‘party split into two parts: the old one, made up of free trade partisans, and the new protectionist peasants’ party. In 1888, the protectionists gained a majority and a system of protective duties was introduced for the Swedish rural economy. One of the protectionist leaders, EG Boström, became minister of state (1891-1900); he succeeded in 1892 in resolving the pending disputes in the following way: the land tax was to be phased out gradually; a new organization of the army was to proceed immediately, much improved in 1901 under the minister FW von Otter (1900-02). Having solved these ancient questions, in the period 1890-1900 we came to the formation of real political parties, in the modern sense of the word. The peasant groups met in 1895 in a “peasants party”, which developed with right-wing tendencies. From that same year there was a bourgeois, radical “popular party” in the second chamber, which united in 1900 with other leftist groups in the “liberal party”; finally, in 1897, the first socialist Hj. Branting sat in the Swedish parliament.

Sweden in the 19th Century