Norway


Norway
   A Danish domain dragged into the Napoleonic Wars in 1799. A seafaring nation highly dependent on grain import, Norway suffered badly under blockade from the Royal Navy, and only the recent introduction of the potato saved Norwegians from famine. The Treaty of Kiel transferred the rule of Norway to victorious Sweden. But in the short interregnum in 1814, a Norwegian constitution and parliament were established. The parliament controlled the legislative powers and the judiciary, and the king the executive.
   The ruling class of civil servants made up only a tiny faction of the population, less than 3 percent in 1815. Males over 25 years old enjoyed suffrage, provided they had a certain income or sufficient landed property. Full universal suffrage for men and women was introduced in 1913. Although the majority of the population were yeomen, the first half of the nineteenth century saw a growing population in general and a rising number of husmenn, peasants renting land, paying either a fee or in labor, servants and laborers, numbering 173,000 in 1801 and 261,000 in 1850. Also, ever more marginal lands were cultivated. The situation for these groups was mixed, however, and many were able to combine farming with fishing and forestry, and agriculture saw a wave of modernization around the mid 1840s and 1850s, called det store hamskiftet , the great transformation or more literally “the great shedding.” Many emigrated to the United States from the 1860s, and only from Ireland did a larger proportion of the population emigrate to North America.
   A radical social rising around 1850, the Thranites, was quashed, but at the same time the yeomen asserted themselves as a political force along side the civil servants. Their agenda was lower taxes and small government, as well as a greater degree of local self-rule. A major breakthrough in the latter came with an 1837 law, dividing Norway into municipalities. The ideals of the 1814 constitution, as well as the civil servant class were liberal. Servitude was banned and certain civil rights guaranteed.
   From the 1840s, there was a significant improvement of internal communications. The first railroad opened in 1854, but only from the 1870s did railroad building really gather pace. By 1853, steamers covered almost the entire coast. From1850 to 1880, Norway’s merchant fleet grew from the eighth to the third largest in the world, stimulated by Great Britain’s repeal of their Navigation Acts in 1849, a general liberalization of world trade and the availability of skilled sailors at low wages. From the 1880s, Norwegian high seas shipping also shifted to steam. The nineteenth-century Norwegian economy followed a boom and bust pattern, but long-term growth was ensured by the steady reduction of government regulations, stimulating growth of industry and crafts both in the cities and rural areas. Norway’s old industries - shipbuilding, mining, and forestry - still thrived; but from the 1870s new, export-oriented industries of wood-processing, food canning, and electrolysis emerged, based on innovation and abundance of hydroelectric power. The most famous single industry, perhaps, was Norsk Hydro’s production of artifi-cial fertilizer. Many new industries were financed by overseas capital, and legislation was introduced to ensure national ownership of natural resources toward the end of the period. Domestic finance also saw the introduction of cooperative banking, especially in rural areas. Cooperative solutions were also chosen in many areas relating to agriculture, that is in dairy processing.
   Norway, too, was swept by the nationalist sentiments throughout Europe after 1848. The medieval greatness of the Vikings and folklore came into fashion, but a more long-lasting effect manifested itself in a prolonged struggle for national independence.
   Until the 1840s, the civil servant class had kept Swedish overtures for more integration at bay. From then on, the king was put on the defensive. Following an impeachment of the government in 1884, parliamentarism asserted itself, and the first political parties were established: Venstre, the Left, and Høyre, the Right, in 1884. The Norwegian Labor Party soon followed in 1887. The late nineteenth century also brought a surge of organizations in every aspect of public life besides pure politics, from religious societies, culture, in labor and trade, sports, and leisure activities.
   In addition to the more fundamental cleavage produced by the desire of national independence, Norway also had a different alignment regarding foreign trade. Sweden was oriented toward continental Europe and chiefly Germany, but Norway’s greatest trading partner was Great Britain, and, as a seafaring nation, good relations with the British as the rulers of the seas was paramount to Norwegian national interest. The dispute leading to the final abolition of the union with Sweden in 1905 came after Norway demanded separate foreign legations. On the basis of referenda Norway chose independence, but maintained the monarchy and handed the throne to the Danish Prince Carl, who became King Haakon VII. Following independence, Norway pursued expansion in form of explorations and land claims in polar areas and stayed neutral in World War I.
   See also <>.
   FURTHER READING:
    Barton, H. Arnold. Sweden and Visions of Norway Politics and Culture, 1814–1905. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2003;
    Moses, Jonathon Wayne. Norwegian Catch-Up: Development and Globalization before World War I. Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing 2005;
    Stenersen, Øivind Libæk, and Ivar Stenersen. A History of Norway: From the Ice Age to the Age of Petroleum. Lysaker: Dinamo Forlag, 2003.
   FRODE LINDGJERDET

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

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