Norwegian Government Periods 1814 - 1884

In the first seventy years of Norway’s union with Sweden, until the introduction of parliamentary rule from 1884, the King personally appointed the Council of State.

As changes of governor-general or prime minister did not lead to the dismissal of the entire Council, it was normal that a large number of the ministers from one government period continued in their offices into the next, without being re-appointed. Ministers did not have access to the Storting’s meetings.

The office of councillor of state was thus to a large extent a post of promotion for central civil servants. Still, many of the 67 ministers and prime ministers appointed during this period, had been members of Storting.

Towards this background, the years before 1884 saw smooth transfers between governments, without marked party-political differences. Exceptions were Christian Selmer’s and Christian Schweigaard’s governments in the years 1880-84, which were clearly Conservative.

It has been differed between various numbers of government periods in Norway before the introduction of parliamentary rule. In this presentation the choice has been made to differ between eight government periods before 1884:

  • 1814-1836 the government is named after its leading minister until 1822, Count Herman Wedel Jarlsberg, chief of the Ministry of Finance.
  • 1836-1844 Count Wedel’s name is linked to the government, now due to his role as governor-general.
  • 1844-1856 the government is named after Mr. Severin Løvenskiold, governor-general, and Mr. Jørgen Vogt, minister.
  • 1856-1858 the government is named after Mr. Vogt alone, now first minister
  • 1858-1861 the government is named after Mr. Georg Sibbern, prime minister, and ministers Christian Birch-Reichenwald and Ketil Motzfeldt.
  • 1861-1880 the government is named after Mr. Frederik Stang, first minister and from 1873 prime minister.
  • 1880-1884 the government is linked to Mr. Christian Selmer’s name, prime minister.
  • The transition government in the spring of 1884 is named after Mr. Christian Schweigaard and Mr. Carl Otto Løvenskiold, prime ministers.

Already in the early 1800’s the Council of State proposed that government ministers should have access to the Storting’s sessions. A central argument was that this would improve the exchange of views between ministers and members of Storting. The proposal fell due to the Storting majority’s scepticism against increasing the influence of civil servants in the Storting.

Later in the century the proposal to open access to Storting meetings for government ministers was repeated from the Storting itself, now in order to ease the Storting’s control of the Government. The proposal to amend the Constitution accordingly was passed by several sessions of the Storting in the 1870’s and the 1880’s, but was refused sanctioning by the King. Only after Mr. Selmer’s government had been impeached and convicted in 1883-1884, i.a. for not having announced the constitutional amendment to open Storting sessions for ministers, ministers from 1 July 1884 were granted access to the Storting’s deliberations.

A natural effect of this development was that the composition of the Council of State now became dependent on the political reality in the Storting. Thus, on 26 June 1884 Mr. Johan Sverdrup’s Liberal government was appointed by the King as the first in the new system of parliamentary rule. From now on a change of prime minister normally led to the dismissal of the entire Council of State.