Sofus Arctander

Acting Prime Minister 1905

Sofus Arctander

Sofus Anton Birger Arctander was civil servant and politician.
(Photo: Oslo Museum).

Councillor of State 26 June 1884-17 February 1888, Chief of the Ministry of the Interior. Member of the Norwegian Council of State Division in Stockholm August 1885, Chief of the Ministry of the Interior August 1886.

Councillor of State 11 March 1905-28 October 1907, Chief of the Ministry of Trade. Acting Prime Minister 31 August-23 September 1905.

Councillor of State 28 October 1907-19 March 1908, Chief of the Ministry of Trade.

Councillor of State 2 February-11 June 1910, Chief of the Ministry of Trade.


Born in Christiania (Oslo) 22 January 1845, son of customs superintendent Hans Steenbuch Arctander (1801-1885) and Martha Dahll Nielsen (1804-1896).
Married 1881 to Maren Sofie Aars (1849-1940), daughter of shipyard clerk Jens Ludvig Aars (1808-1855) and Annette Lund (1818-1855).
Deceased at Lifjell in the County of Telemark in August 1924. Buried at Vår Frelsers kirkegård (Our Saviour Cemetery) in Oslo.

Sofus Arctander belonged to an old family of civil servants. In 1853, at the age of eight, he moved from Christiania (Oslo) to Christiansand (Kristiansand), due to his father’s service. After university qualifying examination in 1863 Arctander went to Christiania to take up law studies. His economic situation made it necessary for him to combine his studies with paid posts as a teacher at Nordfjordeid and as librarian at the Students’ Association. The latter gave him free lodging in the Students’ Association’s house in Christiania.

The Students’ Association came to be of major importance to Arctander’s development and interests. He was a quick-witted debater and belonged to a group of radical and nationally-minded students led by author Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson and others. Politically Arctander was an ardent supporter of Liberal leader and later prime minister Johan Sverdrup.

After achieving his law degree in Christiania in 1870, Arctander studied economy and philosophy at the University of Lund in Sweden in the spring of 1871, on a scholarship granted by King Carl XV. That same summer he went north to Nordland, where he had family. In the years 1872-1884 Arctander lived in Hadsel in Nordland, where he was deputy judge and then acting district stipendiary magistrate before establishing himself as a lawyer in 1875. In 1880 he became bailiff in Hadsel.

Arctander quickly became involved in local politics in Hadsel, and was chairman of the municipal council 1875-1879. On this post he was particularly occupied with the development of schools and roads.

In 1877 Arctander was elected deputy Member of the Storting for the County of Nordland, meeting for his first time in the session 1878-1879. From 1880 to 1884 he was permanent member. He was seen as one of the most promising young politicians at the Storting, becoming president of the Lagting (the Storting’s minor house) already in 1883-1884. Arctander belonged to a group of young Liberals who supported Johan Sverdrup’s opposition policy. He participated actively in the founding of the Liberal Party in 1882, and was among those warning against a too ambitious and solid party organisation.

In the late spring of 1884 Arctander was a candidate to joining Ole Jacob Broch’s possible government, and when Sverdrup in June actually established a government, Arctander became minister of the interior. Except for one year as member of the Norwegian Council of State Division in Stockholm between August 1885 and August 1886, he was particularly occupied with communication issues (in 1885 transferred to the new Ministry of Labour) and socio-political issues. Norway’s first labour commission was appointed in 1885, during Arctander’s time in the Ministry of the Interior.

Gradually Arctander became opposed to Prime Minister Sverdrup, and even more to his nephew – Government Minister Jakob Sverdrup. Although primarily a personal conflict, this was also linked to Arctander’s opposition to Jakob Sverdrup’s plans to introduce parish councils in the country’s state church – the Church of Norway. Arctander’s view was that this would mean a restriction of voting rights in church issues, and he attempted  – together with Prime Minister (in Stockholm) Ole Richter and Government Minister Elias Blix – to have the issue postponed.

After the matter had been voted down by the Storting, the conflict ended in Arctander leaving the Government in February 1888. His bitterness towards Johan Sverdrup remained, and following the Liberal Party’s split in 1888, he joined the (Pure) Liberal Party and became one of the Sverdrup Government’s staunchest critics.

Arctander was re-elected to the Storting for the period 1889-1891. After having become mayor of Bergen in 1890, he now concentrated on this role for some years. He would now frequently see disputes with later prime minister Christian Michelsen, central in Bergen’s political life in these years. In this period Arctander was also chairman of the national taxation commission (from 1892) and the committee preparing a fiscal law (from 1899). Through these posts Arctander came to contribute decisively to the Fiscal Act of 1911, which introduced the individual income tax form and regulated limitation of the taxation rate.

Arctander was re-elected to the Storting also for the period 1900-1903, and moved to Kristiania after having been appointed to a post at the Customs there in 1901. He was re-elected to the Storting for the period 1903-1906, at the same time holding the post as chairman of the supervisory board of the Bank of Norway 1902-1905. Arctander became president of the Odelsting (the Storting’s major house) and of the Storting’s standing committee of ways and means from 1900, and was the initiator of the annual budget debates in the Storting.

On the issue of the union with Sweden Arctander had been supporting a moderate line, by favouring the proposal that new negotiations with Sweden be held on a free basis. When the conflict came to a head again towards the end of the 1890’s, Arctander however supported efforts to strengthen Norway’s armed forces. When Prime Minister Johannes Steen left office in 1902, Arctander was mentioned as his successor. However, the Liberal Association at the Storting supported Otto Blehr, Norway’s Prime Minister in Stockholm, as new Prime Minister.

In the 1905 union dispute Arctander became a leading figure. He was member of the Storting’s special committee on the consular issue, and was in March appointed minister of trade in Christian Michelsen’s Coalition Government. Arctander wanted a quick settlement of the issue of a separate Norwegian consular service, and contributed decisively to what came to be the Government’s attitude.  

During the Swedish-Norwegian union negotiations in Karlstad in September 1905 Arctander was acting prime minister in Kristiania in Michelsen’s absence. In the late autumn he contributed to Gunnar Knudsen leaving the Government, by stating in the Storting that the Government would resign if the November referendum should go against the choice of Danish Prince Carl as King of Norway.

In 1906 Arctander without success tried to have the Liberal group at the Storting support a continuation of the coalition model from 1905. But he also supported the radicalisation of the Liberal Party in 1907. He continued as the Minister of Trade when Foreign Minister Jørgen Løvland succeeded Christian Michelsen as Prime Minister in the autumn of 1907, until the Liberal Party and the Labour Party forced the Government to resign in the spring of 1908. That year Arctander opposed initiatives to consolidate the Liberal Party, and in 1909 he was among the founders of the Liberal Left Party. He became one of the leaders but refused to become chairman.

In the winter of 1910 Arctander was again appointed minister of trade, now in Wollert Konow’s (S.B.) Coalition Government. However, already in June he tendered his resignation due to a proposal of universal suffrage for women in local elections, which he had also opposed in the Storting.

Arctander had in 1908 become leading mayor of Kristiania, a post he came to hold until 1920. In line with his liberal view he propagated a restrictive fiscal policy, limits to municipal activities and more leeway for private initiative. This made the radical opposition turn against him. He sought to solve the capital’s lack of housing by developing small, private houses with gardens, inspired by the British homeowner movement. The ”Arctander Village” at the foot of Oslo’s Ekeberg Hill, from 1910-1911, is one example.

Several times Arctander found himself in the centre of political events, but without reaching all the way to the top. This has been explained with the fact that he combined knowledge and political energy with being self-assertive and somewhat hot-headed, which did not make cooperation with others his strongest side.

Arctander died in the Lifjell mountains of Telemark one day in August 1924. The date is uncertain, as he had been missing for some days when he was found dead.


Norsk Biografisk Leksikon
Oslo Cemeteries and Burials Agency