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The constituent assembly

The six weeks during which the Constituent Assembly was gathered at Eidsvoll was a period of intense effort and frequent clashes between the delegates. The outcome was the most democratic constitution of its era.

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On 10 April 1814 the Constituent Assembly’s 112 elected representatives arrived at Eidsvoll Verk. From day one the assemblymen divided into two parties or factions. The independence party wanted complete independence for Norway, while the unionist party believed a union with Sweden was the best way forward.

Early disagreement
Disagreement broke out on the first day of debate. The conflict revolved around a speech thanking Prince Christian Frederik for his efforts on behalf of Norway. Pastor Nicolai Wergeland, one of the leaders of the unionist party, proposed that, at the same time, the Constituent Assembly should pass a resolution temporarily confirming Christian Frederik’s authority to rule. The purpose of Wergeland’s proposal was to underscore the Constituent Assembly’s sovereignty. The proposal was perceived as too extreme and won no support.
The first major battle between the unionist party and the independence party took place on 19 April. Landowner and unionist Severin Løvenskiold proposed that the Constituent Assembly appoint a Foreign Affairs Committee. The purpose of the proposal was to highlight the fact that the assembly had both the right and the duty to engage in all aspects of national government, including foreign policy. Circuit Court Judge Christan Magnus Falsen, one of the leaders of the independence party, tabled a counter-proposal: that the Constituent Assembly be dissolved as soon as the Constitution had been adopted and a king elected. The independence party carried the day thanks to the president’s casting vote. No Foreign Affairs Committee was created.

Framing the Constitution
On 12 April the Constituent Assembly nominated a Constitutional Committee to draw up a draft constitution under the chairmanship of Christian Magnus Falsen. Four days later the committee set out eleven fundamental precepts which would underpin all subsequent work on the Constitution. These were that Norway was to be a free, independent and indivisible realm; the king was to have executive power, an elected national assembly was to have the power to pass laws and grant funds, and independent courts were to pass judgment; freedom of the press and freedom of religion were guaranteed, but Jews were to remain barred from entering the realm. The Constitutional Committee then embarked upon the detailed framing of the Constitution. By 2 May the committee could lay a finished proposal containing 115 articles before the assembly.

Adoption of the Constitution
In a series of votes between 4 and 11 May, the Constituent Assembly adopted the final text of the Constitution. Ultimately, the parties were divided only on the matter of the king’s position. The unionist party wanted to include a ban on the king being able to accept a foreign crown. The purpose of this proposal was to prevent a future recreation of the Danish-Norwegian union when Prince Christian Frederik – who was Denmark’s heir presumptive – became King of Denmark. The proposal was rejected by a substantial majority. On 17 May the entire Constituent Assembly, dressed in their finest clothes, gathered together and voted unanimously to elect Christian Frederik as king of the self-declared Norwegian state. Christian Frederik accepted the crown on 19 May. A day later, on 20 May, the Constituent Assembly was dissolved.