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Voting for Norway’s king

Summary:
On November 12th, 1905 (continued into November 13th), a referendum was held in Norway to decide whether the country should invite a foreign prince to become its king, or should become a republic. The background was that the Storting, the 169-member supreme legislature of Norway, had approved a dissolution of the union with Sweden. King Oscar II of Sweden renounced his position as monarch of Norway, and refused to allow a Swedish prince to become King of Norway.The Storting asked Prince Carl, the second son of Denmark's Crown Prince, if he would assume the Norwegian throne. The prince accepted on condition that a referendum be first held to assure him that a majority of the population wanted this. He was a good choice, widely liked and, as a Scandinavian, would mesh with Norway's culture

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On November 12th, 1905 (continued into November 13th), a referendum was held in Norway to decide whether the country should invite a foreign prince to become its king, or should become a republic. The background was that the Storting, the 169-member supreme legislature of Norway, had approved a dissolution of the union with Sweden. King Oscar II of Sweden renounced his position as monarch of Norway, and refused to allow a Swedish prince to become King of Norway.

The Storting asked Prince Carl, the second son of Denmark's Crown Prince, if he would assume the Norwegian throne. The prince accepted on condition that a referendum be first held to assure him that a majority of the population wanted this. He was a good choice, widely liked and, as a Scandinavian, would mesh with Norway's culture and understand its language. Furthermore, he already had a two-year-old son, Alexander, to continue the succession.

The November 12th referendum put one simple question to the people of Norway:

“Do you agree with the Storting's authorization to the government to invite Prince Carl of Denmark to become King of Norway?”

There was a large turnout of 75.3%, with 78.9% voting in favour, and 21.1% against. Parliament therefore chose Prince Carl to be King, and its Speaker sent him a telegram to make the formal offer. The prince accepted and moved with his family to Oslo. He immediately took the name Haakon, and gave his son the name Olav, to link the new royal family to the Norwegian kings of old. In June of the following year the coronation took place in Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim.

It was a wise move on Norway's part. Looking at the various systems of government in different parts of the world, it seems to be the constitutional monarchies that provide the best guarantees of civil liberties. They tend to have an independent judiciary, a free press, free speech and access to legal redress. On the whole they respect property rights and uphold the rule of law.  

The monarch is usually head of the armed forces, the judiciary, and sometimes the church, thereby denying these positions to ambitious people who might otherwise exercise the power these posts could entail. The justification for an hereditary monarchy is that it works in practice, and is nearly always very popular with the people. It gives countries a non-factional head of state, rather than someone from a political party. It gives countries a symbol of their national identity that is non-divisive, an institution around which the whole nation can unite, regardless of differing political views.

To a revolutionary motivated by a desire to have society conform to some rational plan, a constitutional monarchy seems archaic and messy, a throwback to the Middle Ages and earlier. In practice, though, the constitutional monarchies have evolved to keep pace with the developing views of their peoples, and given them a firm anchor of national identity to support them in changing and sometimes turbulent times. The institution has lasted because it has staying power, and the Norwegians were wise to vote for it.

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