Littell's Living Age/Volume 138/Issue 1781/The Constitution of Norway
From Fraser's Magazine .
THE CONSTITUTION OF NORWAY.
Although the crowns of Norway and Sweden have been united for upwards of sixty years, although the interests of the two countries are almost identical and their religion the same, and although no new questions have arisen to give increased force to the still existing causes of the separation of feeling, Norwegians and Swedes are now as far from being fused into one nation as at any time during the long centuries when their armies were frequently opposed. The memory of the old conflicts still survives, and the national sentiment, stronger perhaps in Norway than in Sweden, steadily rejects the idea of any closer union than that which at present exists, and which does not permit either nation directly to influence the internal politics of the other. A jealousy of Sweden, springing from the repeated attempts at annexation, and, it may be, intensified by the earlier prosperity and greater natural wealth of the eastern half of the peninsula, still lingers in the minds of the Norwegians, but is at present of little weight in the intercourse between the two countries. This feeling would, however, at once become a living and active force, if a union of the countries, such as was effected between England and Scotland by the Treaty of Union, were proposed. No such proposal could be made at present with any prospect of success, nor, indeed, for many years to come is it likely to be made on the part of the Norwegians, while any proposal emanating from Sweden would be at once rejected. Meanwhile, notwithstanding the abatement of the former open jealousies, and the consequent growth and interchange of friendly feeling, the indirect influence of Sweden, which necessarily resulted from the union of the crowns, has had little effect in modifying the laws, customs, and usages to which the Norwegians are deeply and patriotically attached. The reasons for this strongly developed national feeling are not far to seek, and are, at least, as influential now as at any previous period of Norwegian history. It is not so easy to assign their relative position to the different causes which still tend to keep the Norsemen apart from their Swedish fellow-subjects, or to determine which of them are losing or are likely to lose their importance.
The first place, probably, should be given to the difference of language, a difference which strikes a foreigner as comparatively slight, but which is yet sufficient to place a great impediment in the way of a thorough amalgamation of the two peoples. The Norwegian and Swedish languages are, it is true, so nearly akin, that the educated classes of both countries understand one another with little difficulty; but, at the same time, so many peculiarities and distinctions exist, and each language has taken so much a bent of its own, that the literature of the one country does not circulate freely in the other. The literature of Sweden, too, rarely penetrates into the country districts, where the numerous dialects, the relics of centuries of isolation, and bearing more resemblance in their archaic forms to the ancient Icelandic than to the modern Swedish, shut off the peasants from the influence of Swedish literature, and confine them to the perusal of a few Norwegian works, principally on religious subjects. The writings of Swedish authors would, certainly, have been more read and would have produced more effect in gradually obliterating the difference of language, had it not been for the long connection of Norway with Denmark, which till the beginning of this century made the Norwegians almost wholly dependent upon Copenhagen for literature and science. As a first result of this connection, the written language of Norway is identical or almost identical with Danish, and in the next place, when a native literature appeared, as a matter of course, it formed itself to a large extent upon Danish models, though it after a time endeavored to work out a character of its own. The spoken language has always been somewhat nearer to the Swedish than the Danish language is. It is a common remark that a Norwegian can converse freely with Swedes and Danes, who find difficulty in understanding one another. Norwegian is, however, very much nearer Danish than Swedish, and the continual commercial as well as literary intercourse between the Norwegian towns and Copenhagen tends to maintain the old relation of the languages.
In the next place, the difference in regard to the ownership of land, and the land customs, have much to do in preserving the Norwegian independence. There is no class of wealthy landowners, as in Sweden. The whole land belongs to peasant proprietors, who gain a hard subsistence from an ungrateful soil, but who are strongly attached to the old laws and usages of Norway, and would not willingly see them subjected to Swedish influences. The towns of Norway are few in number, and do not occupy so important a position as in Sweden, and thus, while the commercial classes are more open to foreign influence of every kind, their power is limited, and the peasants look with suspicion on novelties which have gained the support of the towns. The great mass of the peasant proprietors live quiet and uneventful lives, with little intercourse with the outer world, and feel but slight interest in the questions which agitate more densely populated and wealthier countries. They are not easily induced to change the customs under which they have lived, and with the advantages of which they are satisfied. A union with Sweden would launch them on a sea of unknown changes, and the benefits from a closer union are not of a kind to appeal to their imagination, while the dangers to which their cherished customs would be exposed are very real and apparent to their eyes.
All these causes co-operate to maintain the separation and internal independence of Norway. Some of them will, undoubtedly, grow weaker in time, but only very slowly, while in the mean time they have fostered the growth of a strong national sentiment, which shows itself in nothing more than in the attachment of the people to the constitution. This attachment is, in part, the outcome of the national peculiarities, but it is founded principally on the prominence which the constitution holds in the most eventful epoch of the modern history of Norway. It is warmly regarded not merely as giving a well-considered and practically efficient form of government, under which the interests of the country have been fairly attended to, but also, altogether apart from its merits, as the work of the patriots who guided Norway safely through the perils of a foreign conquest and an enforced change of allegiance, and who, while unable to vindicate for her people the choice of a sovereign, secured the independence and freedom of Norway by substantial guarantees. The failure to form Norway into a separate State is not now regretted, as the union of the crowns is felt to add to the military strength of both countries, and to be a safeguard against foreign invasion; but, at the same time, the Norwegians would be slow to abandon a constitution which is surrounded by such great historic memories. Under it the internal affairs of the country have not been neglected, and the separation of the countries has not, as yet, exposed either Sweden or Norway to any danger from abroad. It is not, then, surprising that the attachment of the Norwegians to their constitution has only deepened with time, and that in this attachment should be found one of the most formidable obstacles to any amalgamation of Norway and Sweden.
The acquisition of Norway was long an object of ambition to the warlike kings of Sweden. Repeated invasions were repelled by the valor of the Norwegians, who preferred the rule of the kings of Denmark, under which, they thought, they had more security for the enjoyment of their ancient customs. Charles XII. met his death while prosecuting the siege of the border fortress of Frederickshall; and though the invasion of Norway was then abandoned by Sweden, it was rather because the Swedish statesmen were anxious to secure for their country a period of repose, than because they had relinquished the hope of conquest. Gustavus IV., smarting under the loss of Finland, meditated the conquest of Norway, but his ambitious dreams were cut short by his own enforced abdication. The dangers to which Norway was exposed were, however, only postponed. In 1812, when the Grand Alliance was being formed, Sweden, which had unwillingly entered into the Continental system of Napoleon, and had evaded as much as possible its obligations to exclude British manufactures from Swedish ports, with the result of incurring the suspicion of Napoleon, whose troops invaded Pomerania, then belonging to the Swedish crown, was easily persuaded to ally itself with Russia. Among the obligations and counter obligations undertaken by the contracting parties, the two most important were those by which on the one hand the Swedish government undertook to furnish an army of thirty thousand men to co-operate with the Russian forces against the French in the north of Germany, and on the other hand Russia guaranteed to Sweden the enforced cession of Norway by Denmark, the faithful ally of France, on the conclusion of the war. The terms of the treaty in which this agreement was embodied, were secretly communicated to the British government, which, eager for the downfall of Napoleon, and for the union of the nations of Europe against him, approved of them. Negotiations were opened between the English and Swedish governments, and ultimately the Treaty of Orebro was signed on July 12, 1812, by which England agreed not to oppose the conquest of Norway, and promised the assistance of her fleet if required, but at the same time stipulated that the rights and privileges of the Norwegian people should be respected. In the following year Bernadotte, who had been adopted by Charles XIII. as his successor, invaded Holstein at the head of a Swedish army; and the Danes, being unable to resist his advance, and hopeless of assistance from Napoleon, were obliged to accede to the conditions which he dictated, and which were embodied in the Treaty of Kiel. By this treaty, which was signed on January 14 and February 8, 1814, Norway was ceded to Sweden, and the king of Denmark in a proclamation addressed to his Norwegian subjects released them from their allegiance and advised them to acquiesce in the new order of things. The ancient Norse spirit, however, was not ready tamely to submit to a change of masters, for which the consent of the nation had not been asked; the more so that, notwithstanding the engagements of the Swedish king to respect their rights and privileges, the Norwegian people felt that their liberty and independence were seriously endangered. Everything depended on their own resolution, for they could look to no foreign power for help in this emergency. All the resources of France were not sufficient to beat back the tide of invasion of her own provinces, and Napoleon could spare no troops to protect a country which had furnished, so many sailors to man his fleets. England was hampered by the Treaty of Orebro, and seeing much of advantage in the union of the Scandinavian peninsula, was obliged, though half regretfully, to recommend submission. The other European powers were hostile or indifferent. Resistance was, nevertheless, resolved on.
Prince Christian Frederick, the heir presumptive to the Danish crown, and governor-general of Norway, was adopted as their sovereign, and was enthusiastically received by the peasants, all determined to fight for their independence, on his journey through the country to Throndhjem. A convention of representatives from all parts of the country was held at Eidswold, near the southern end of the beautiful Lake Miosen, where measures for the national defence were concerted, and a constitution for the country prepared. The latter was completed in four days, and was passed on May 17, 1814. Prince Christian was, however, not destined to retain the crown of Norway. A naval defeat was suffered by the Norwegians off the Hualorn Islands, and the crown prince of Sweden advanced rapidly towards Christiania at the head of twenty thousand Swedes, who, in spite of a gallant resistance, drove back the troops assembled by Prince Christian and forced the passage of the Glommen. Bernadotte was about to attack the main body of the Norwegian army at Moss, when Prince Christian, seeing the hopelessness of the struggle, agreed to resign his pretensions before the fortune of war had put it beyond his power to stipulate for conditions advantageous to the people whose cause he had adopted. The courage of the Norwegians had not been displayed in vain; and no decisive battle having been fought, they were enabled to treat for better terms than they might have ventured to ask if their army had been beaten and dispersed. By the Convention of Moss (August 14, 1814) the struggle was brought to an end, out at the same time substantial guarantees were obtained for the maintenance of the independence of Norway. The withdrawal of Prince Christian left the Norwegians no option but to accept Charles XIII. as their sovereign, though it was stipulated that the election should be made by an extraordinary Storthing to be forthwith held. On the other hand, the crown prince, on behalf of the king of Sweden, accepted the constitution of Eidswold, subject to such alterations as the union of the crowns might render necessary. Commissioners were appointed to conduct the ensuing negotiations, and an extraordinary Storthing was summoned to ratify the changes in the constitution, and to confirm the stipulations of the Convention of Moss.
This Storthing met at Christiania on October 7, 1814, and on the 20th of the same month agreed, not without some dissentient voices, to the union of the two countries under one king, and then proceeded to take into consideration the changes in the constitution thus rendered necessary. The alterations proposed by the royal commissioners were discussed by the Storthing, and a new constitution, little differing from that of Eidswold, was prepared, and on November 4, 1814, declared to be substituted in its place. This constitution was confirmed by the crown prince in the name of Charles XIII., and. with the other modifications which have from time to time been made on it, forms the Grundlov, or fundamental law, of the kingdom of Norway. Two other documents, however, occupy an important position in determining the constitution of the country. The first is the Swedish Order of Succession, which the Grundlov adopts as regulating the succession to the Norwegian crown, and by entailing the crown on the same order of heirs, materially lessens the risk of a disputed succession. The second is the Rigsact, to which the king, the Swedish Rigsdag, and the Norwegian Storthing were parties, and which settles the constitutional relation of the two countries, and defines the limits within which the respective governments must keep in dealing with questions affecting either or both countries. The new constitution was not accepted without much heart-burning and irritation, especially in the country districts, where the peasants were passionately attached to their country, and resented even the appearance of subjection to Sweden. In time, however, the new order of things was accepted, and the peasants perceived that, while they had lost the shadow of independence, they had gained a substantial freedom from all control on the part of their Swedish neighbors; and that, while less exposed to the danger of war than formerly, their affairs were as much as, perhaps more than, at any former time under their own guidance, and. that the moulding of the future of their country lay in their own hands. This has reconciled them to the present dynasty, but at the same time, has made them thoroughly opposed to any change in the constitution which could by possibility lead to an increase of Swedish influence in the disposal of Norwegian questions, and has kept them jealously alive to the action of the crown.
Norway is declared by the Grundlov to be a free, independent, and indivisible. kingdom, united with Sweden under one king, whose authority is defined, and whose power is limited by the constitution. The crown is hereditary in the family of Bernadotte, who was elected crown prince of Sweden in 1810, with a right of succession to the throne on the death of the childless Charles XIII. The order of succession is fixed by the Successions-Ordning, which was enacted by the king and the four Swedish houses of parliament at an extraordinary Rigsdag at Orebro on September 26, 1810, and which, as already stated, is incorporated in the Norwegian constitution. The succession to the throne of Norway is entailed on the eldest son of Bernadotte and his male descendants, excluding not merely females, but mails claiming through females; and on their extinction, the other sons of Bernadotte and their male descendants are entitled to succeed. The throne may become vacant not only through the death of all the male representatives of the king, Charles John, but also through the existing princes having forfeited their right to succeed. This may happen in various ways. In the first place, any prince who does not profess the Protestant faith according to the Confession of Augsburg and the Resolution of the Upsala Assembly of 1593, is excluded from the right of succession. Princes are not permitted to marry except with consent of the king, who cannot give his consent to their marriage with a Swedish subject, or with a foreigner not of a royal house. The king may, however, consent to their marrying a princess of the royal house of Sweden who is not related within the forbidden degrees. In the event of a prince contracting a marriage in disregard of these rules, he forfeits for himself, his children and his descendants, all right of succession; and the same forfeiture is incurred by a prince, without the consent of the king and the Swedish houses of parliament, becoming the reigning prince of any foreign State, whether by succession, election, or marriage. On the throne becoming vacant in any of these ways, or if the reigning king has no heir entitled to succeed, the election of a new king or of a successor to the crown lies with the Storthing in Norway and the Rigsdag in Sweden. To prevent, however, the risk of the two parliaments making choice of separate candidates, the Rigsact defines the course to be followed. The Storthing in Norway and the Rigsdag must be summoned to meet on the same day, and within eight days after their opening, the king, or, in the event of his decease, the interim government, must lay before both parliaments on the same day a proposal in regard to the succession. Any member of the Storthing or of the Rigsdag is entitled to propose a candidate, but he must do so within a limited time. Each parliament then chooses thirty-six representatives, who together form a joint committee for the ultimate choice of a prince, if any difference between the two countries should arise. The Storthing and Rigsdag then proceed on the same day to choose each one prince out of those who have been proposed. If the choice falls on the same individual, the matter is ended; if on different persons, the two committees proceed to Carlstad in Sweden, where they vote for one or other of the two candidates. In order to secure a majority, the chairman, before opening the voting papers, takes out one at random, and lays it aside. The voting papers are then scrutinized, and those which from any cause are inadmissible are destroyed. If the votes are equally divided, the vote which has been laid aside is opened, and decides the question, unless it chance to be inadmissible, when a new voting takes place. By these elaborate provisions the Scandinavian statesmen have endeavored to reduce the risk of a disputed succession to a minimum; but if any serious difference arose between the countries as to the choice of a king, it is to be feared that these precautions might not avail to induce a ready acquiescence in what might really be an accidental majority.
The national religion, like that of Sweden, is Protestant and Lutheran. The form of Church government is episcopal, and with comparatively small exceptions the people belong to the national Church, to which they are strongly attached. Dissenters are allowed complete liberty, and are freed from the obligation, incumbent on the rest of the population, to educate their children in the national faith. The only restriction on the religious liberty of the people, and it is rather a political than a religious restriction, is that which forbids a Norwegian becoming a monk or a Jesuit. Formerly Jews were not allowed to settle in Norway, but in 1851 this prohibition was removed.
The executive power is vested in the king, whose person is declared to be sacred, and against whom no complaint can be made; while responsibility is fixed on the members of his council. On succeeding to the throne he takes an oath in presence of the Storthing, to govern the country in accordance with its laws and constitution, and he is thereafter solemnly crowned in the old cathedral at Throndhjem. Unless prevented by some serious obstacle, he is bound to pass some time in each year in Norway, though he generally resides in Sweden. His council consists of two ministers of state and seven councillors, whom he himself chooses, and who must be Norwegian citizens, upwards of thirty years of age, and who cannot be members of the Storthing. This latter provision has occasioned much discussion, and has been the cause of a serious difference between the crown and the Storthing. Some years ago, the government proposed to the Storthing to alter this law; but, though repeatedly pressed on their consideration, the Storthing would not accede to this change. Recently, however, the Storthing has passed a resolution abolishing this restriction, but the king has used his veto to prevent the alteration being made. The Storthing is still eager for the change, which will probably become law. A father and a son or two brothers cannot have seats in the council at the same time, a rule which may sometimes deprive the country of the services of a man of ability, but is dictated by the jealousy of any family acquiring undue influence, which might be prejudicial to the State. One minister of state and two councillors in turn reside in Sweden, in order to assist the king in despatching Norwegian business, in regard to which, indeed, he can come to no resolution except in their presence and after hearing their opinion. The Swedish council also is debarred from taking up Swedish business in their absence, and responsibility for the royal resolutions rests with them. The other members of the council reside in Norway and form the government of Norway. They have free access to the Storthing to communicate the intentions of the government and to give explanations. In the absence of the king, a viceroy or govenor is appointed by him, who may be either a Norwegian or a Swede. The governor resides in Christiania, and presides at the meetings of the council, where he has a vote along with the other members of the government, and also a casting vote in the case of an equal division of opinion. The resolutions of the government must be at once transmitted to the king. All the members of the council are held responsible for the resolutions arrived at, unless they have minuted a protest at the time; and no command of the king (with the exception of orders in military affairs) has any force unless countersigned by one of the ministers of state.
The appointment of all civil, ecclesiastical, and military officials lies with the king, who can, after taking the advice of his council, remove any of the superior officers of Church or State without trial. The amount of pension, if any, which the removed officials are to receive is determined by the first Storthing which is held subsequent to their dismissal. In the interval they enjoy two-thirds of their former salary. The inferior officials may be suspended by the king, but must be immediately brought before the proper tribunals, and unless convicted of some charge cannot be removed from their posts or dismissed without their own consent.
The king has command of the army and navy, but without consent of the Storthing can neither increase nor diminish the military forces of the country, which must be strictly employed for the good of Norway, and cannot be lent to foreign powers, after the manner so common formerly among the German princes. Norwegian troops cannot be stationed in Sweden, nor can Swedish soldiers be introduced into Norway, except for a short period not exceeding six weeks, when a limited number of the troops of either country may take part in joint manœuvres on the frontiers of Sweden and Norway. The consent of the Storthing is also required before the Norwegian army or navy can be used to attack a foreign enemy; but in case of an invasion or an apprehended attack, the king has full power to direct the movements of the Norwegian forces by sea and land. The king has the right of declaring war and concluding peace, as well as of entering into alliances, and making or breaking treaties; but this right is fenced round by very stringent provisions as to the manner in which the Norwegian government is to be consulted, and the joint advice of an extraordinary council of Swedish as well as Norwegian councillors is to be taken. Each councillor must give his opinion in writing, for which he is held responsible; but the king may then adopt that course which he considers most beneficial to the State.
The ordinary powers of the king extend to the superintendence of public worship and the regulation of ecclesiastical assemblies. He is also entitled to keep the clergy to the observance of the established forms. He may also issue regulations affecting trade and the collection of the taxes, provided they do not conflict with any article of the constitution, but such regulations only have force till the meeting of the next Storthing. Norway is responsible only for its own debt and for its own expenditure; and while the king is bound to collect the taxes imposed by the Storthing, his ministers must be careful to expend them only for Norwegian purposes. Lastly, the king has the prerogative of mercy secured to him by the constitution, but he can only exercise it in council, and with the consent of the criminal, who is entitled to choose whether he will accept the royal mercy or suffer the penalty to which he has been condemned. This provision is apparently copied from the similar one in the Swedish constitution. The royal prerogative, too, cannot be exercised in the case of persons prosecuted at the instance of the Lagthing (one of the divisions of the Storthing) before the high tribunal for the trial of State offences, except to the effect of freeing the prisoner from the penalty of death, if such shall have been decreed.
The general result of all the foregoing provisions of the constitution is to accumulate upon the king the whole of the executive powers of the State, to give him very real and important influence in determining both the internal and the external policy of the State, and to attach the whole body of officials throughout the country to the government, as represented by him, since the nomination to all appointments, directly or indirectly, is placed in his hands. At the same time, the restriction which requires his orders to be countersigned by a minister of State restrains him from any arbitrary abuse of authority, which would without fail be visited upon a too compliant minister under the strict doctrine of ministerial responsibility.
The legislative power is vested in the Storthing, which consists of two divisions, named respectively the Lagthing and the Odelsthing; the former of which consists of a fourth part of the Storthing, chosen immediately after the Storthing has been constituted and the opening speech from the throne has been made. The remaining three-fourths constitute the Odelsthing, which retains the function of initiating legislation, while to the Lagthing belongs a limited power of revision and rejection. Every proposed law must be brought before the Odelsthing, either by one of its own members or by the government, which states its views through a privy councillor. If the proposed law be approved by the Odelsthing it is transmitted to the Lagthing, and if disapproved by that body is returned, with a memorandum of their objections or observations, for further consideration. The bill is then again considered by the Odelsthing, and, if their opinion remain unaltered, is retransmitted to the Lagthing. If a bill be twice rejected by the Lagthing, a joint meeting of the two houses is held, at which a majority of two-thirds is sufficient to carry the measure. The composition of the two houses is too much the same to raise any risk of frequent collision; and the Lagthing's work consists more in revising and improving the bills of the Odelsthing than in serious and adverse discussion. After a bill has been passed by the Storthing, it is sent with a deputation from both houses to the king, or in the event of his absence to the viceroy or the Norwegian government, with a request that the king would sanction it. If the king approve of the Bill, he signifies his approval by subscribing the bill in the manner pointed out by the constitution, and the bill thereupon becomes law. If the king disapprove, he directs the bill to be returned, with the declaration that he considers it inexpedient in the mean time to sanction the proposed law. The royal veto, however, is not absolute, but merely suspensive. The Storthing cannot during the same session pass the same bill again, but at the next ordinary Storthing the same resolution may be come to, and the bill anew presented for the royal approval. If the third ordinary Storthing pass the same bill, unaltered, as the two preceding ones had done, the bill is for the third time presented to the king with a special prayer that he will not refuse his sanction to a law which the Storthing, after mature deliberation, considers for the benefit of the State. If the king still refuse his consent, the resolution of the Storthing becomes law in spite of his refusal. This law was the occasion of the first great danger which threatened the constitution after the union with Sweden. Not long after the union the Storthing proposed to amend the constitution by adding a law which forbad the giving of patents of nobility. The then existing noble families of Norway were few and uninfluential, and the resolution of the Storthing met with general approval, but the king refused his consent. The bill was passed twice by both houses, and twice vetoed. The Storthing met for the third time, and was still determined to carry its point, and the government was equally resolute in its opposition. Swedish troops were marched into Norway to overawe the Storthing, and the government proposed to change the suspensive veto of the crown into an absolute veto, but the Storthing persisted in its determination to prevent the creation of noble families, and also, notwithstanding the pressure brought to bear upon them, refused to agree to the proposals of the government. A serious crisis was imminent, but the king ultimately yielded, partly in consequence of remonstrances privately addressed to the government by the ambassadors of England and Russia, who pointed out that any violence offered to the Storthing would be a violation of the stipulations of the treaties by which Norway was guaranteed to the king of Sweden. The king still endeavored to induce the Storthing to grant him an absolute veto, but both in 1821 and 1824 the Storthing refused to entertain his proposal, and the suspensive veto remains one of the most distinctive features of the Norwegian constitution. It seems probable that in the question which has been recently discussed in Norway, and to which allusion has already been made, the Storthing will avail itself of its constitutional power to override the royal veto, which so far has been exercised against the proposal to repeal the law excluding privy councillors from seats in the Storthing.
The Storthing formerly met only every third year, but it now holds an annual session, which has been rendered necessary by the increase of public business consequent on the advancing prosperity of Norway, and the sessions are also now longer than they used to be. The number of representatives has from time to time been altered, and is at present one hundred and eleven, of whom seventy-four are returned by country districts, and the remaining thirty-seven by the towns. The tendency of the Storthing, arising mainly from its composition, has been to favor the country districts at the expense of the towns. The inhabitants of the towns think that this tendency is especially shown in the comparatively large sums of money which are voted from the national exchequer for the purpose of making new roads through the interior, though the accusation is certainly in part unfounded, as indirectly the towns benefit from the increased facility of communication. On the other hand, the Storthing has shown itself adverse to increased expenditure on the public service of the State, and decidedly opposed to the imposition of heavier taxation in order to give increased efficiency to the army and navy. This was very distinctly shown at the last Storthing, which unanimously rejected a proposal of the government to vote a sum of money for military preparations, in view of the uncertain aspect of foreign affairs consequent on the war in the East. To the Storthing the danger seemed remote, and the injury to the country likely to be caused by increased pressure on her scanty though well-husbanded resources, too palpable to justify their yielding to the demands of the government. At the same time a feeling of insecurity is showing itself among the commercial classes, more readily apprehensive of the perils of foreign war than are the peasants in their quiet valleys, and it is not unlikely that the Storthing may begin to busy itself with schemes for national defence. Such schemes will almost certainly proceed from the members for the towns, and will, it is most likely, be opposed by the country members, whose consent to increased taxation will be only obtained with difficulty, and perhaps not at all, except in the presence of immediate danger.
Besides the legislative powers which the Storthing possesses, its most important functions are those which relate to the superintendence of the administration of the public departments and the auditing of the public accounts. The minutes of the meetings of the government, as well as of the meetings of the king with the members of the council in attendance upon him in Sweden, and all public documents and royal orders, unless relating to military operations, are regularly laid before the Storthing, which has the further power of calling any one before it in State matters. The king and royal family are excepted; but a prince who holds any office, except that of viceroy, is bound to appear before the Storthing, if called on, to give an account of the manner in which the duties of his office have been discharged. The Storthing also specially concerns itself with the list of pensions, which it carefully prunes, so as to prevent the nation being unnecessarily burdened; and it is apparently a rule that in settling the pension of a public servant, his private fortune may be taken into account. If malversation of any kind be discovered, the offending minister or councillor is liable to a prosecution, at the instance of the Odelsthing, before the Rigsret, a high court composed of the members of the High Court of Appeal and of the Lagthing, and the same tribunal takes cognizance of offences committed by members of the Storthing or of the High Court of Appeal, and in both of these cases, also, the Odelsthing has the right of instituting the prosecution. In order to secure to the Storthing perfect freedom in its control over the public administration, the consent of the king is not required to a resolution impeaching any official before the Rigsret. Among the powers reserved to the Storthing is one which reveals a great jealousy of foreigners, and a fear lest the privileges of Norwegian citizenship should be too easily communicated to them. The power of naturalizing foreigners is vested in the Storthing, but is not subject to the royal veto, which can be exercised against most of their other resolutions.
The elections for the Storthing are held in the month of December every third year, but the electors do not vote directly for any candidate. They choose electors, in towns in the proportion of one to every fifty voters, and in country districts in the proportion of one to every hundred voters, who thereafter meet and choose, either from among their own number or from among the legally qualified voters in the district, the members of the Storthing the town or district is entitled to elect. The representatives so chosen, in addition to the qualifications required for an ordinary voter, must be thirty years of age and have been resident for ten years in Norway. To entitle a Norwegian citizen to vote, he must be twenty-five years of age, have resided five years in the country, be living there at the time of the election, and either be or have been an official, or, if in a country district, own or have farmed for more than five years registered land, or be a burgess, or own house property or ground, in a town, of the value of three hundred kroner (about 16l.). The right to vote is suspended on indictment for a criminal offence, on suspending payment, or on making a declaration of bankruptcy, in which case the suspension lasts until the creditors have received payment in full. An exception, however, is made in favor of a debtor whose failure has been caused through losses by fire, or other unexpected and innocent misfortune. A voter, also, cannot vote if he have been deprived of the conduct of his own affairs and placed under curatory. The right to vote is lost where an elector has been condemned to imprisonment or to penal servitude or other degrading punishment, and where an elector enters into the service of a foreign power without the consent of the government, or acquires a right of citizenship in a foreign State. Conviction of having bribed, or of having been bribed, or of having voted at more than one meeting of electors, also entails a forfeiture of the right to vote.
An elector who is chosen by his co-electors to represent them in the Storthing, is bound to serve, unless prevented by some legally sufficient excuse; but he may decline to be re-elected to the Storthing immediately following that in which he has served. To lessen the hardship of this compulsory service, the travelling expenses of members of the Storthing are paid, and they also receive a sum for their support during their attendance on the meetings of the Storthing at Christiania. The peculiarities of the Norwegian constitution are, in the main, due to the national characteristics of the country and of the people. The comparatively isolated life of the peasants, cut off from intercourse with towns, and but half acquainted with the doings of their neighbors in the adjoining valleys, made some plan necessary by which suitable representatives should be chosen, and, at the same time, the views of all the voters be consulted. In order to attain these results, the plan was adopted of making the voters in each parish choose from among themselves electors to whom the selection of the representatives of the district might be entrusted. In no other way could good representatives have been elected. The expense of a canvass of a mountainous province would have been too great for the limited purses of the few well-to-do peasants, and would have thrown the representation into the hands of carpetbaggers, of whose qualifications or disqualifications the peasants would have been unable to judge, or the election would have fallen by chance rather than by selection on some peasant who happened to have a larger circle of friends than was usual, amidst the general apathy of the voters. As it is, however, the interest taken in the different parishes, in all that concerns the country as well as the parish, is intelligent, even if sometimes short-sighted. The rule, again, which excludes members of the government and civil servants from seats in the Storthing, springs naturally from the same state of matters. In great districts of the country men can be found who will leave their farms, and for a few weeks or months reside in Christiania, and assist in the making of new laws; but few if any of them would be willing to devote themselves for years to the public service while their own affairs were perforce neglected. The members of government would, then, have been selected from the representatives of the towns, or rather of Christiania and the towns in the south of Norway; but this limitation would almost certainly have worked ill, by confining the choice of the sovereign to a narrow class, and to a class, moreover, which might very frequently be opposed by the large majority of the Storthing, for, as has already been stated, two-thirds of the members represent country districts, and do not sympathize readily with the views which find acceptance in the towns. In these circumstances the exclusion of the members of the Storthing from the government has probably led to the filling of high offices with more able officials than would have been obtained if a seat in the Storthing had been practically indispensable. The improvement of the Norwegian roads and the introduction of railways, both of which tend to put an end to the separation of different provinces, are rendering the maintenance of this restriction less necessary, and if ever, as is at present proposed, the members of the government are chosen from the national representatives, it will be made less difficult than it would have been formerly for able men to secure seats in the Storthing in distant parts of the country, and the limitation of the choice of the electors to those who are resident in the same province will of necessity have to be abolished.
The judicial system of Norway is simple. Courts of first instance, before which, with few exceptions, all civil and criminal cases are brought, exist in the country districts as well as in the towns; and from these courts an appeal lies to the court of the stift or province, and from that there is a final appeal to the supreme court, which sits at Christiania, and is composed of a judiciary and six assessors. Besides these courts there are ecclesiastical and military tribunals for the trial of offences against ecclesiastical and military law, and in time of peace an appeal may be made from the judgments of a court-martial to the supreme court, whose deliberations are assisted on such occasions by two officers of high rank named by the king. The Rigsret or high court of the realm has been already described. Its functions are strictly limited to the trial of offences against the State.
Each province is presided over by an amtmand, to whom the care of all civil matters is committed. There are eighteen amts, each of which is divided into bailiwicks, with a foged over each of them, who collects the taxes, sees that the decisions of the courts of law are executed, and generally concerns himself with the maintenance of the laws. In each parish, again, there is a tensmand, or chief constable, who acts as the deputy of the foged, preserves order, and attends to purely parochial matters, such as the superintendence of the posting stations in the parish. The executive powers, which in the country districts are vested in the fogeds, in the towns are committed to the judges of the courts of first instance. The management of the affairs of the parish is placed in the hands of a council, chosen by the peasants, which deliberates on all matters which concern the parish, such as the making of new roads, the application to the central government for assistance, and the repairing of the parish church. In like manner the provinces have their councils, the members of which are chosen by the different parishes. These provincial councils discuss matters which affect the whole province, and make representations to the Storthing or to the government.
The Norwegian Church is deeply rooted in the affections of the people, and the clergy hold a most influential position in the country districts, but in the towns their influence is less. The clergy, who are well educated and intelligent, but not learned, receive their appointments from the government, which is said to exercise its patronage well. The parishioners have no concern with the nomination of the parish priest, but seem generally to be quite satisfied with the appointments which are made. Next to theology, the Norwegian priest must be well acquainted with farming, for his emoluments consist almost entirely of the returns which he can obtain by his own skill and labor from a farm which he occupies rent-free. The effect of this combination of secular and sacred pursuits seems to be wholly good. The Norwegian priests are practical men, who combine an acquaintance with the rules of husbandry with the precepts of religion, and are saved from the spirit of a priestly caste by having to depend on their own exertions for their support, and on their superior intelligence and knowledge for their influence over their congregations. The form of Church government is episcopal, and the country is divided into six bishoprics, that of Throndhjem being an archbishopric. All civil servants must belong to the national Church, and the peasants regard this provision as one of the safeguards of the country, which they would not willingly part with; but a feeling is growing in the towns, and among the educated classes, that the exaction of such a test from civil servants is inexpedient. In the mean time, however, it is unlikely that it will be soon abolished.
Such is a sketch of the constitution of Norway, and the impression left on one's mind by a study of its various parts is, that it is of a thoroughly practical character, and that good government has been the end aimed at by its founders, rather than any elaborate system of philosophical principles, which might have proved less beneficial to the country, although more symmetrical and of greater pretence.W. D. T.