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  • Peter Macnaughton

Origins of Norway’s Constitution

By Oscar Wergeland - Archives of the Storting, Norway

The Norwegian Constitution turns 200 this year. In celebration of this important anniversary an evening of lectures and a reception was held Tuesday January 14, organized by the Royal Norwegian Embassy in conjunction with the Canadian Nordic Society, with around 120 guests in attendance.

January 14, 1814 is very significant in the history of modern Norway, being the date that the Treaty of Kiel was signed, ending the main bout of the wars that had ravaged Europe from the time of the French Revolution through the Napoleonic era. Authority over Norway was assigned to Sweden at this time.

Historian Mr. Donald E. Graves recounted the European history during this period, highlighting the origins of the wars, intrigues, coalitions (some 7 different ones), major events, and some personages. He even threw in information on the Canadian – US war of 1812, some of which was impacted by the end of hostilities in Europe, releasing Britain from her preoccupation with the continent to concentrate on the plight of her colony.

At the end of the Napoleonic wars The King of Denmark was sovereign over the country of Norway; and this sovereignty was changed to the King of Sweden (which had been allied with Great Britain in the last year of the war.) Napoleon was exiled to Elba (from which he returned in 1815 only to meet his Waterloo and ultimate re-exile on the Island of St. Helens.)

The Royal Norwegian Ambassador H.E. Mona Brøther described the development of the Norwegian Constitution. Following the Treaty of Kiel of January 1814, the Crown Prince of Denmark-Norway, Christian Frederik, the resident viceroy in Norway, founded a Norwegian independence movement. A national assembly at Eidsvoll was called with representatives elected by the congregations of the state church throughout Norway, and by military units. They convened at the Eidsvoll manor on 10 April. During five weeks of the spring of 1814, the constitution was written. The constitution was ratified by the assembly on 16 May, and signed the following day, the latter date now celebrated as the Norwegian Constitution Day.

The Norwegian Constitution was written using some elements from the American and French ones. While a monarchy was retained, an interesting element is that the sovereign was to be elected by the citizens of the country and to govern with the consent of the populace. This constitution has continued with modifications, to this day and is the oldest European constitution in existence.

At the end of the lectures, George Hynnä, President of the Canadian Nordic Society presented H.E Mona Brøther and Donald Graves with a CNS mug, the traditional thank you gift of CNS. H.E. reciprocated by presenting George and Donald with traditional Norwegian wool hats.

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