The Revolutions of 1848 101: The Cases of Denmark and Sweden

Foreword

The revolutions of 1848 are a separate chapter in the study of modern and contemporary European history. The “Springtime of the Peoples,” as they are called by some historians, played a decisive role in the development of the historical events of the 19th century, the 20th century, and also the present. This is the main reason why this 101 series of articles, dedicated to these revolutions, came into being. Specifically, reference will be made to the cases of many European countries and regions, such as France, the German States, the Italian States, Denmark, the territories of the Habsburg Empire, Sweden, Poland, and so on.


The Revolutions of 1848 series consist of nine main articles:

It was impossible for the revolutions of 1848 not to reach the Scandinavian states, however, their character was not as revolutionary as in the rest of Europe. In this article, the cases of Denmark and Sweden will be examined. Denmark was affected by the fallout of these revolutions. Citizens' actions in Denmark were essentially violent demonstrations and riots aimed at enacting a constitution. However, due to the preparations that had already begun for the creation of a constitution, these actions did not develop further. The violent demonstrations of the Danes were almost bloodless except for the war that broke out in the Duchies of Schleswig and Holstein between Denmark and Germany (The First Schleswig War lasted from 1848 till 1851). The situation in Sweden was even milder. Demonstrations took place only in Stockholm, and they were easily suppressed by government forces.

The march to Christiansborg on 21 March 1848.
The march to Christiansborg Palace on March 21, 1848 (1).

The March Revolution in Denmark

Frederick VII was crowned as King of Denmark on January 20, 1848, and he reigned from 1848 to 1863. Frederick was open to the thought of a constitutional state. After his ascension to the throne, he kept the previous ministers and made some new appointments to the Council of State. A few days after his coronation, the Council accepted the fundamentals of the draft constitution that had been under development during the last days of the previous king, Christian VIII. On January 28, 1848, a public announcement of a joint constitutional framework for the entirety of the Kingdom of Denmark was made. The plan was for public representation to consist of equal numbers of members from the whole kingdom including the Duchies of Schleswig and Holstein. The National Liberal Party had through several methods demanded a constitution for the kingdom and the Duchies of Schleswig and Holstein. After the change of monarch, it was very disappointed by the announcement. Specifically, they felt that giving equal representation to the kingdom's population of 1,300,000 and the duchies' smaller population of 800,000 equal representation was a violation of the Danish people's rights. The people of the duchies were also displeased since they thought it was unacceptable that the kingdom and the Duchies should be bound by a joint constitution.


On the morning of March 20, 1848, a message reached Copenhagen telling of a meeting held between representatives of Schleswig and Holstein. The representatives decided to dispatch a deputation to Frederick VII with demands including a free constitution, the unification of Schleswig with Holstein, and then Schleswig's joining of the German Confederation, since the German population of the duchies was larger than that of Danes. Off the back of these communications, the duchies announced that they were in open rebellion. The People's Representatives of the duchies approved a declaration to the king with demands for system reform and a change of government. The Representation accepted the declaration after a lengthy debate and decided to deliver it to the king. They presented the declaration, and it was agreed to accompany the Representation to the king. On March 21, people gathered at Copenhagen's main market square and walked to the Christiansborg Palace (the royal palace) to demand a new government. They arrived to find that Frederick VII had already dismissed his previous ministers earlier that morning. In order to keep Schleswig for Denmark, the king dismissed the unification-supporting government, which wished to keep both of the duchies. The following days were taken up by efforts to form a new government, but they failed. The deputation from the duchies then received an answer on March 24, which also served as an announcement of the government's proposed program and stated that the king refused to allow Schleswig to join the German Confederation. However, the king did give Schleswig increased provincial independence. As for Holstein, it was to have a separate, free constitution as an independent German Confederate state. Before the news could reach the duchies, open rebellion had broken out in Holstein on March 23 (Strange Petersen & Paludan, 2002) (1).

Danish soldiers return to Copenhagen, 1849.
Danish soldiers return to Copenhagen, 1849 (2).

The March Unrest in Sweden

The March Unrest was a brief series of riots that occurred in the Swedish capital Stockholm during the revolutions of 1848. On March 2, 1848, news of the French Revolution of 1848 reached Stockholm. On the morning of March 18, the police encountered proclamations all over the capital defying the government and demanding reforms, among them elective and suffrage reform. These proclamations were set and organized by Swedish Republicans. That afternoon, a mob gathered at the Brunkebergstorg Square. The police crushed that mob, and arrested some of the protesters, though they defended themselves. In the evening, a crowd gathered between the Royal Palace and the Storkyrkan, the oldest church in Stockholm. King Oscar I of Sweden met the protesters, listened to their complaints, and ordered the release of the arrested, which dissolved the crowd. On March 19, mobs gathered again and shops were plundered. When the crowd refused to dissolve, the monarch called out the militia. The military stormed a barricade and shots were fired, leading to 18 casualties among the protesters. Among the wealthy merchant class, private militias were formed to keep the peace. The following day was calm. On March 21, reinforcements from the army arrived at the capital to be at hand in case of further riots, but none occurred (Söderhjelm & Palmstierna, 1944) (2).

"March troubles", a depiction of the confrontation between republicans and police on 19 March 1848 by Fritz von Dardel.
"March troubles," a depiction of the confrontation between republicans and police on March 19, 1848, by Fritz von Dardel (3).

Conclusion

As it is easily understood, the revolutions of 1848 in Denmark and Sweden were not as widespread as in other European countries. In Denmark, however, the riots of 1848 had a huge impact, in contrast to Sweden, which had essentially no influence at all. After the European revolutions of 1848, Denmark became a constitutional monarchy on June 5, 1849. The growing bourgeoisie had demanded a share in the government, and in an attempt to avert the sort of bloody revolution occurring elsewhere in Europe, Frederick VII gave in to the demands of the citizens. A new constitution emerged, separating the powers and granting the franchise to all adult males, as well as freedom of the press, religion, and association. The king became the head of the executive branch. The legislative branch consisted of two parliamentary chambers; one elected by the general population, and another by landowners. Denmark also gained an independent judiciary. Absolutely no change was made in Sweden. There were some limited demonstrations, which subsided after the king's vain promises to the people. Finally, the police, after being reinforced, disapproved of the last riots in the Swedish capital.


Image Sources

  1. Grundtvig, N. F. S. (1921). Folketoget i København 1848. Retrieved from: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Folketoget_i_K%C3%B8benhavn_1848.jpg

  2. Bache, O. (1894). Danish soldiers return to Copenhagen, 1849 [Painting]. Retrieved from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Tropper_1849.jpg

  3. Dardel, F. (1848). "March troubles" in Stockholm, 1848 [Watercolor]. Nordic Museum. Retrieved from: https://digitaltmuseum.se/011013840447/under-marsoroligheterna-i-stockholm-1848-ridande-polis-och-folkmassa-akvarell

References

  1. Strange Petersen, E., & Paludan, H. (2002). Growth and democratisation 1848-1914/Chapter 17: The fall of absolutism and the complete state - 1848-64/March 1848 - the revolutions in Copenhagen and Kiel. In Danmarks historie - i grundtræk (2nd ed.).

  2. Söderhjelm, A. and Palmstierna, C. F. (1944). Oscar I. Stockholm: Bonnier. pp. 328–330.

Author Photo

Miltos Spiratos

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