Council of State during Union with Sweden
4 November 1814 - 7 June 1905
Article | Last updated: 06/03/2013
Norway’s revised Constitution of 4 November 1814 gave the King the right to appoint either the Crown Prince or his eldest son as viceroy in Norway, or to appoint a governor-general there.
The office of viceroy was in function only in shorter periods. To the office of governor-general, both Norwegian and Swedish citizens could be appointed. The office was held by Swedish citizens 1814-1829 and by Norwegians 1836-1856.
The Constitution of 4 November introduced the title “statsminister” (literally minister of state, while translated into English as prime minister) for the presiding councillor of state, according to Swedish practice. At this time there were two members of the Swedish Council of State holding the title of “statsminister”. These were the "statsminister" of justice and the "statsminister” of foreign affairs, parallel in rank.
On 20 March 1876 the office of a "statsminister" as presiding councillor of state was introduced in Sweden. At the same time the "statsminister" of justice had his title changed to councillor of state and chief of the Ministry of Justice, while the "statsminister" of foreign affairs was now termed minister of foreign affairs.
By the fact that the title “statsminister” in Norway was linked only to the senior minister, "statsminister" was here now established as title for the office which in other countries is termed prime minister, “premier ministre”, “Ministerpresident” or “president du conseil”. In Great Britain minister of state (“statsminister”) is in use as title for junior ministers in several ministries.
When Denmark in 1918 introduced the title of “statsminister”, this was done according to Swedish and Norwegian practice. The leading Danish minister had then since 1856 been titled president of the Council ("konseilspræsident"), while he in the period 1848-56 had held the title prime minister ("premierminister").
The Constitution of November 1814 increased the number of members of the Norwegian Council of State to at least eight; the prime minister and at least seven other councillors of state. Also, the Council was divided into two; the Government in Christiania (Oslo) and a smaller division in Stockholm. The prime minister and two of the ministers should at all time remain with the King. This caused the prime minister to be permanently based in Stockholm, while the ministers shifted on serving there. This led to rather frequent shifts of leadership in the ministries in Christiania.
The Norwegian Government
Until the establishing of the office of a prime minister in Christiania in 1873, the Norwegian Government was in the King’s absence led by the viceroy or the governor-general. In periods without an appointed governor-general, i.e. 1829-1836 and 1856-1861, or in the governor-general’s absence, the Norwegian Government’s presiding minister was the most senior councillor of state in Christiania, with the semi-official title of first minister. Between 1861 and 1873 Mr. Frederik Stang was appointed first minister.
By constitutional amendment of 5 June 1873 the office of governor-general was abolished, while the office of first minister in Christiania was upgraded to prime minister. The office of viceroy was abolished by constitutional amendment of 30 June 1891, after having not been in use since 1857.
Two prime ministers
Thus, from 1873 until 1905 the Norwegian Council of State had two prime ministers. The prime minister in Christiania was seen as head of the Norwegian Government, and thus the most senior of the two. After parliamentary rule was introduced in 1884, the task of forming government was placed on the prime minister in Kristiania. The Norwegian prime minister in Stockholm now even more clearly had the role of the Norwegian Government’s permanent representative to the King.
Various types of Council of State sessions, at various places
In the years 1814-1905 Norwegian Council of State matters were resolved in various ways and at various places. It happened in Christiania, in Stockholm and other places were the King resided. And it happened without the King.
Most of the year the Norwegian Government met in Christiania in the King’s absenc, as he normally resided in Stockholm. In the years 1814-1873 Government sessions in Christiania were presided over by the King’s governor-general or the senior Norwegian minister, the first minister. In the years 1873-1905 Government meetings in Kristiania were presided over by the prime minister.
Decisions passed by the Government in Christiania in the King’s absence, were passed by “highest decree” (not “royal decree”).
When the King resided in Christiania, something the Constitution required him to do for a period each year, the Government in Christiania and the Norwegian Council of State Division in Stockholm met as one body. Also, the King was accompanied to Christiania by four Swedish ministers.
In these periods also Council of State matters in Christiania were thus passed by royal decree. From the 1820's the Norwegian Government met for preparatory meetings before Council of State meetings held by the King when he was in Christiania.
When the King resided at the Royal Palace in Stockholm or at other palaces in Sweden, decisions that the Government in Christiania could not pass in the King’s absence, were passed in council of state sessions attended by at least two of the three Norwegian ministers in Stockholm.
Matters could also be resolved by the King in other ways than in Norwegian Council of State sessions in Stockholm or tother places in Sweden, or in full Council of State sessions in Christiania:
Combined Council of State session
"Combined council of state" sessions resolved in matters of common concern for the two states. When combined council of state sessions met in Stockholm, they consisted of at least four members of the Swedish Council of State, and at least two members of the Norwegian Council of State Division in Stockholm.
When held in Christiania, combined council of state sessions consisted of at least half of the members of the Norwegian Council of State, and at least four members of the Swedish Council of State.
Supplemented Council of State session
"Supplemented council of state" sessions resolved in matters under the authority of one of the states, while being of concern also to the other state. Decisions here bound only the state under which authority the actual matter belonged.
When supplemented Swedish council of state sessions were held in Stockholm, they consisted of at least four members of the Swedish Council of State and at least two members of the Norwegian Council of State Division. When supplemented Swedish council of state sessions were held in Christiania, they consisted of at least four Swedish ministers and three Norwegian ministers. Supplemented Norwegian council of state sessions held in Stockholm consisted of at least two members of the Norwegian Council of State Division and three Swedish ministers.
When supplemented Norwegian council of state sessions were held in Christiania, they consisted of at least half of the Norwegian Council of State and three Swedish ministers.
Ministerial Council of State session
"Ministerial council of state" sessions were held when the Swedish-Norwegian chief of the Ministry of State for Foreign Affairs/minister of foreign affairs presented certain types of Swedish and Norwegian diplomatic matters to the King, in the presence of one Swedish civil servant or minister. As for Norwegian matters this was in line with section 28 of the Constitution. In the period 1814-1835 ministerial council of state sessions were held without Norwegian presence.
By royal decrees of March and April 1835, it was decided that Norwegian diplomatic matters should be presented in ministerial council of state sessions in the presence also of the Norwegian prime minister or another member of the Norwegian Council of State. Diplomatic matters of concern to both states were presented by the minister of foreign affairs in "union (ministerial) council of state" sessions, in the presence of an additional minister from each country.
On 12 March 1885 the Swedish Parliament decided that the number of Swedish ministers participating in union ministerial council of state sessions should be increased from two (the prime minister and the minister of foreign affairs) to three, while the number of Norwegian ministers should remain one. Diplomatic matters of central importance were often presented in supplemented council of state sessions.
Norwegian military matters were for most of the period 1814-1905 not treated by the Council of State, in accordance with section 28 of the Constitution. Rather, such matters were presented to the King by the Norwegian general adjutant in Stockholm, or by the head of the Norwegian military office there.
From 1823 the Norwegian military office in Stockholm was part of the Norwegian Council of State chancery there. In 1893 the Storting stated that Norwegian military matters should be presented and countersigned by the minister of defence.
In the years 1852-1881 it happened seven times that an interim government met in Stockholm when the King – due to illness or absence – was not able to preside at the Swedish and Norwegian Council of State’s sessions.
The interim government consisted of equal numbers of Norwegian and Swedish ministers, usually ten from each country. The Swedish and the Norwegian prime minister alternately presided; the order between them decided by drawing lots. Matters were passed as “interim government resolutions”.
In periods with interim governments additional Norwegian ministers were appointed both in Stockholm and Christiania, in the latter case to replace ministers travelling to Stockholm to supplement the Council of State Division there.
An interim government could also meet in Stockholm when the successor to the throne had not reached age of majority at the King’s death. That situation did not occur. By constitutional amendment of 20 January 1863 it was decided that the prince next in the order of succession should be regent if he had reached age of majority.
Prime Minister also head of ministry
From the establishing of the post as prime minister in Christiania in 1873, the prime minister here would normally also head one of the ministries. Exceptions until 7 June 1905 were Mr. Frederik Stang in the years 1873-1880, and Mr. Christian A. Selmer in the years 1880-1884.
The state secretary in November 1814 continued as secretary to the Council of State in Christiania, while the Council of State Division in Stockholm had an office of director general (state secretary 1822-1841). The State Secretariat in Christiania quickly developed into an office with several employees, as did the secretariat in Stockholm.
Secretary to the President of the Norwegian Government
Certain common tasks in Christiania were also handled by the “secretary to the president of the Norwegian Government". The post was established in 1829, in a period when the post of governor-general was vacant for several years, leaving the first minister to preside at government meetings in the absence of the King and the prime minister. The post, which was not full-time, was kept when the post as prime minister in Christiania was established in 1873, but was abolished in 1906.
After the first steps towards parliamentary rule were taken in in 1884, it largely became the pattern that the secretary to the prime minister resigned when governments changed.