Denmark


Denmark
   In 1800, the Scandinavian country of Denmark was an absolutist monarchy with overseas colonies; by 1914, it was a parliamentary democracy. The possession of the Danish West Indies in the Caribbean - St. Thomas, St. Croix, and St. John - made Denmark an imperial power, albeit on a minor scale. Sugar production was quite profitable until the abolition of slavery in 1848. Danes were also heavily engaged in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. The Danish islands were sold for $25 million to the United States in 1917 and became part of the Virgin Islands. From 1620 to 1845, Denmark also held the island of Trankebar (present-day Tarangambadi), southeast of India. From 1750 to 1848, attempts were also made to colonize the nearby Nicobar Islands but failed.
   Denmark gained control of the North Atlantic islands of Greenland, Iceland, and the Faeroe Islands by dynastic tradeoffs in 1380. On Iceland, a series of disasters - ranging from volcanic eruptions to epidemics - led to serious considerations of evacuating the whole population to Denmark, but after the mid-eighteenth century the situation improved, and by the nineteenth century cottage industry and fisheries flourished. Political upheaval in Europe and change in Denmark also led to reforms demands in Iceland. The Althing, the medieval Icelandic parliament, was resurrected in 1843 and a constitution promulgated in 1874. From 1854, Iceland also had status of a free trade area. Iceland became autonomous in 1918 and fully independent from 1944. The Faeroe Islands had a parliament of medieval origin until 1816 that was reestablished as a provincial council after the Danish constitution came into force in 1849, but a growing awareness of local cultural identity lead to a forceful movement of national revival that has lasted into the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
   Denmark was initially a member of the League of Armed Neutrality and then joined the Napoleonic Wars war on France’s side in 1799, a move that heralded disaster. In 1801, the capital of Copenhagen was shelled by the Royal Navy, and in 1807, the British captured or destroyed the entire Danish navy. The 1814 peace treaty of Kiel forced Denmark to cede Norway to Sweden and Helgoland to the British. The West Indies was occupied by Britain but was returned after the war. German unification threatened Schleswig and Holstein, which the Danish king ruled as duchies, and in 1864, Austria and Prussia conquered the two duchies and parts of remaining Jutland. The latter territory was returned to Denmark in 1920 after the German defeat in World War I, in which Denmark remained neutral. The Napoleonic Wars also led to an economic crisis that lasted until the establishment of a central bank in 1818 and also a crisis in the agricultural sector that lingered until 1828 as a result of low grain prices. The already efficient Danish farming sector improved its output, especially in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Falling grain prices again in the 1870s stimulated the emergence of export-oriented dairy farming and a mechanization of production. Agricultural produce such as eggs, bacon, and butter accounted for 85–90 percent of Danish exports, Great Britain being the major market. From the 1880s, cooperatives owned by the farmers themselves did most of the food processing, thus creating a market-oriented rural class.
   Economic problems fed growing demands for political reform around the midnineteenth century, and a constitutional monarchy was established in 1849, the year after the great upheavals of 1848 all over Europe. Civil liberties were guaranteed and a bicameral legislature, the lower-house Folketinget and the upper-house Landting, was introduced, while the King retained partial legislative powers. As a consequence of the defeat by Prussia and Austria in 1864, Denmark was forced to surrender its claim on Schleswig-Holstein and thereafter was vulnerable to German power. Conservative, wealthy landowners controlled a reformed upper house; but after 1864, modern political parties emerged, the conservative Høire and liberal Venstre being the dominant factions. The emerging urban working class became politically more active from the 1870s, and the Social Democrat Party was established in 1880. Organized labor followed a confrontational line until 1899, when disputes between employers and employees became institutionalized and subject to negotiations and general agreements. The Social Democratic party was voted into the Folketing in 1884. Toward the end of the nineteenth century, Denmark saw a process of further democratization of the constitution and introduction of parliamentarianism in 1901, giving the Folketing a dominant position over the Landting and the King.
   See also <>; <>; <>; <> Conflict.
   FURTHER READING:
    Jespersen, Knud J. V. A History of Denmark. Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2004;
    Jones, W. Glyn. Denmark. A Modern History. London: Croom Helm 1986;
    Oakley, Stewart. A Short History of Denmark. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1972.
   FRODE LINDGJERDET

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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