Constitution of Norway
The Constitution of Norway was first adopted on May 16, 1814 by the Norwegian Constituent Assembly
Constituent assembly
A constituent assembly is a body composed for the purpose of drafting or adopting a constitution...

 at Eidsvoll
is a municipality in Akershus county, Norway. It is part of the Romerike traditional region. The administrative centre of the municipality is the village of Sundet.-Name:...

 (a small town north of the country's capital, then called Christiania
Oslo is a municipality, as well as the capital and most populous city in Norway. As a municipality , it was established on 1 January 1838. Founded around 1048 by King Harald III of Norway, the city was largely destroyed by fire in 1624. The city was moved under the reign of Denmark–Norway's King...

), then signed and dated May 17. It was considered one of the most radically democratic constitutions in the world at the time, and is today the oldest single-document national constitution in Europe - the second oldest in the world - still in continuous force. May 17 is now the National Day of Norway
Norwegian Constitution Day
Norwegian Constitution Day is the National Day of Norway and is an official national holiday observed on May 17 each year. Among Norwegians, the day is referred to simply as syttende mai or syttande mai , Nasjonaldagen or Grunnlovsdagen , although the latter is less frequent.- Historical...



The Constitution is divided into Articles, numbered 1 to 112. The paragraphs are grouped in five areas:
  • §§ 1–2: Form of Government and Religion
  • §§ 3–48: The Executive Power, the King and the Royal Family
  • §§ 49–85: Rights of Citizens and the Legislative Power
  • §§ 86–91: The Judicial Power
  • §§ 92–112: General Provisions

It should be noted that several Articles exist no longer. These are §10 (abolished 1908), §33 (abolished 1905), §38 (abolished 1905), §42 (abolished 1905), §52 (abolished 1954), §56 (abolished 1972), §70 (abolished 1990), §72 (abolished 1990) and §89 (abolished 1920). Empty spaces have been left in their place. Also, some Articles have been abolished only to have their place filled by an entirely different Article. Examples include §14. Several Articles also have subsections. For example, §74 have the subsections from a through m.

Writing the constitution

Following the defeat of Napoleon's
Napoleon I of France
Napoleon Bonaparte was a French military and political leader during the latter stages of the French Revolution.As Napoleon I, he was Emperor of the French from 1804 to 1815...

 troops at the Battle of Leipzig
Battle of Leipzig
The Battle of Leipzig or Battle of the Nations, on 16–19 October 1813, was fought by the coalition armies of Russia, Prussia, Austria and Sweden against the French army of Napoleon. Napoleon's army also contained Polish and Italian troops as well as Germans from the Confederation of the Rhine...

 in October 1813 and the Treaty of Kiel
Treaty of Kiel
The Treaty of Kiel or Peace of Kiel was concluded between the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and the Kingdom of Sweden on one side and the Kingdoms of Denmark and Norway on the other side on 14 January 1814 in Kiel...

 of January 1814, the Crown Prince of Denmark-Norway, Christian Frederik, the resident vice-roy in Norway, founded a Norwegian independence movement
Norway in 1814
1814 was a pivotal year in the history of Norway. It started with Norway in a union with the Kingdom of Denmark subject to a naval blockade being ceded to the king of Sweden. In May a constitutional convention declared Norway an independent kingdom. By the end of the year the Norwegian parliament...

. The most likely goal of the young Crown Prince was ultimate re-unification with Denmark. His initiative was successful, and a national assembly at Eidsvoll
is a municipality in Akershus county, Norway. It is part of the Romerike traditional region. The administrative centre of the municipality is the village of Sundet.-Name:...

 was called. The assembled representatives were elected by the congregations of the state church
Church of Norway
The Church of Norway is the state church of Norway, established after the Lutheran reformation in Denmark-Norway in 1536-1537 broke the ties to the Holy See. The church confesses the Lutheran Christian faith...

 throughout Norway, and by military units. They convened at the Eidsvoll manor on April 10. During five weeks of the spring of 1814, the constitution was written. The constitution was ratified by the assembly on May 16, and signed the following day, the latter date now celebrated as the Norwegian Constitution Day
Norwegian Constitution Day
Norwegian Constitution Day is the National Day of Norway and is an official national holiday observed on May 17 each year. Among Norwegians, the day is referred to simply as syttende mai or syttande mai , Nasjonaldagen or Grunnlovsdagen , although the latter is less frequent.- Historical...


The Norwegian constitution was inspired by the United States Declaration of Independence
United States Declaration of Independence
The Declaration of Independence was a statement adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, which announced that the thirteen American colonies then at war with Great Britain regarded themselves as independent states, and no longer a part of the British Empire. John Adams put forth a...

 in 1776 and the French revolution
French Revolution
The French Revolution , sometimes distinguished as the 'Great French Revolution' , was a period of radical social and political upheaval in France and Europe. The absolute monarchy that had ruled France for centuries collapsed in three years...

 in 1789 and the subsequent U.S. and French constitutions. The authors Christian Magnus Falsen
Christian Magnus Falsen
Christian Magnus Falsen was a Norwegian constitutional father, statesman, jurist, and historian. He was an important member of the constitutional assembly and was one of the writers of the constitutional laws....

 and Johan Gunder Adler were also influenced by the Spanish Constitution of 1812
Spanish Constitution of 1812
The Spanish Constitution of 1812 was promulgated 19 March 1812 by the Cádiz Cortes, the national legislative assembly of Spain, while in refuge from the Peninsular War...

. A deviation from the republican constitutions of France and the USA was the retention of monarchy
A monarchy is a form of government in which the office of head of state is usually held until death or abdication and is often hereditary and includes a royal house. In some cases, the monarch is elected...

. Importing republicanism was seen as trying to emulate the French and Americans directly, something the lawmakers at Eidsvoll sought to avoid. The choice of monarchy as state form would also facilitate reunification of Denmark-Norway, something the Crown Prince was not alone in seeking. The king's power was however severely curtailed. His absolute veto over laws was removed. The council of Eidsvoll not surprisingly chose Crown Prince Christian Frederik as king. He was thus chosen, and as such a king by the will of the people rather than by the grace of God. In a Europe where almost all countries were ruled by absolute monarchy
Absolute monarchy
Absolute monarchy is a monarchical form of government in which the monarch exercises ultimate governing authority as head of state and head of government, his or her power not being limited by a constitution or by the law. An absolute monarch thus wields unrestricted political power over the...

, this was seen as extremely radical. Christian Adolph Diriks
Christian Adolph Diriks
Christian Adolph Diriks was a Norwegian lawyer and statesman, and a member of the Norwegian Constituent Assembly at Eidsvoll in 1814.. He was born in Copenhagen, the son of maritime captain Boye Boyesen Dyriks and Marie Elisabeth Stoppel...

, who was the legal secretary of the Constitutional Committee
Standing Committee on Scrutiny and Constitutional Affairs
The Standing Committee on Scrutiny and Constitutional Affairs is a standing committee of the Parliament of Norway. It is holds a supervisory role in relation to the proceedings of the parliament and public sector. The committee has 11 members and is chaired by Anders Anundsen of the Centre.From...

, was the assembly's resident expert on foreign constitutions, and played an important part in shaping the language of the constitution. Diriks is credited with formulating §100, concerning freedom of speech
Freedom of speech
Freedom of speech is the freedom to speak freely without censorship. The term freedom of expression is sometimes used synonymously, but includes any act of seeking, receiving and imparting information or ideas, regardless of the medium used...

, and §102, guarding against unreasonable searches and seizures
Search and seizure
Search and seizure is a legal procedure used in many civil law and common law legal systems whereby police or other authorities and their agents, who suspect that a crime has been committed, do a search of a person's property and confiscate any relevant evidence to the crime.Some countries have...


The constitution shows a curious mix of radical and traditional values. The principle of separation of powers
Separation of powers
The separation of powers, often imprecisely used interchangeably with the trias politica principle, is a model for the governance of a state. The model was first developed in ancient Greece and came into widespread use by the Roman Republic as part of the unmodified Constitution of the Roman Republic...

 between the executive, legislative and judicial branches was directly inspired by the radical ideas from the US and French systems. The retention of a king and a constitutional church
Church of Norway
The Church of Norway is the state church of Norway, established after the Lutheran reformation in Denmark-Norway in 1536-1537 broke the ties to the Holy See. The church confesses the Lutheran Christian faith...

 in the face of Republicanism
Republicanism is the ideology of governing a nation as a republic, where the head of state is appointed by means other than heredity, often elections. The exact meaning of republicanism varies depending on the cultural and historical context...

 were a traditionalist move, however, the kings power were severely curtailed, and the church very much under the control of the elected body. The right to vote was extended, but not made universal. All men who were either farmers possessing their own land, civil servants, or urban property owners could vote. With this, about half of all Norwegian men were granted the right to vote.

The union with Sweden

The young king and Norwegian officials tried to find international backing for their bid for Norway as a sovereign state throughout spring and early summer of 1814. After failing to secure the support of Great Britain
Great Britain
Great Britain or Britain is an island situated to the northwest of Continental Europe. It is the ninth largest island in the world, and the largest European island, as well as the largest of the British Isles...

, war with Sweden
Sweden , officially the Kingdom of Sweden , is a Nordic country on the Scandinavian Peninsula in Northern Europe. Sweden borders with Norway and Finland and is connected to Denmark by a bridge-tunnel across the Öresund....

 became unavoidable. The Swedish Campaign against Norway was short and decisive. However, while badly trained and equipped, the Norwegian Army put up a determined fight, holding the Swedes back at Kongsvinger
is a town and is a municipality in Hedmark county, Norway. It is part of the traditional region of Glåmdal. The administrative centre of the municipality is the town of Kongsvinger....

 and securing a tactical victory at the battle of Langnes
Battle of Langnes
The Battle of Langnes, or the Battle of Langnes Entrenchment, was a battle fought between Norway and Sweden as a part of the Swedish-Norwegian War of 1814...

. This enabled the King to avoid an unconditional surrender as he was forced into negotiations with the Swedes, leading to the Convention of Moss
Convention of Moss
The Convention of Moss was a cease fire agreement, signed August 14, 1814, between the Swedish King and the Norwegian Storting. It followed the Swedish-Norwegian War due to Norway's claim to sovereignty...


Putting the strategic situation and his own abdication to good use, he persuaded the Swedish crown prince Carl Johan
Charles XIV John of Sweden
Charles XIV & III John, also Carl John, Swedish and Norwegian: Karl Johan was King of Sweden and King of Norway from 1818 until his death...

 (the former Marshal Bernadotte
The House of Bernadotte, the current royal house of Sweden, has reigned since 1818. Between 1818 and 1905, it was also the royal house of the Norway...

 of France) to let the Norwegians keep their constitution. The Swedish crown prince wanted to appease the Norwegians and avoid a bloody continuation of the war. Realizing that a forced union with himself as ruler of a conquered and hostile country would be very uneasy, he accepted the Norwegian proposition. Norway then entered into a personal union
Personal union
A personal union is the combination by which two or more different states have the same monarch while their boundaries, their laws and their interests remain distinct. It should not be confused with a federation which is internationally considered a single state...

 with Sweden, removing only such amendments from its constitution as were necessary to form the Union between Sweden and Norway
Union between Sweden and Norway
The Union between Sweden and Norway , officially the United Kingdoms of Sweden and Norway, consisted of present-day Sweden and Norway between 1814 and 1905, when they were united under one monarch in a personal union....

. On October 7, an extraordinary session of the Storting convened, and king Christian Frederik delegated his powers to the parliament and abdicated on October 10. The Storting adopted the constitutional amendments on November 4 and on the same day unanimously elected Charles XIII
Charles XIII of Sweden
Charles XIII & II also Carl, , was King of Sweden from 1809 and King of Norway from 1814 until his death...

 king of Norway, rather than acknowledging him as such, thus reinforcing the concept a King by the will of the people.

Dissolution and the second King

The union amendments were revoked after the dissolution of the ninety-one-year-old union in 1905. The question of a King was again considered, and the Storting elected to offer the throne to the 33-year-old Prince Carl of Denmark, married to Princess Maud of Wales
Maud of Wales
Princess Maud of Wales was Queen of Norway as spouse of King Haakon VII. She was a member of the British Royal Family as the youngest daughter of Edward VII and Alexandra of Denmark and granddaughter of Queen Victoria and also of Christian IX of Denmark. She was the younger sister of George V...

, the daughter of King Edward VII. By bringing in a king with British royal ties, it was hoped that Norway could court Britain's support. Prince Carl was however well aware of a surge of republicanism in Norway and of the constitutional situation of the Norwegian throne. He insisted that he would accept the crown only if the Norwegian people expressed their will for monarchy by referendum and if the parliament then elected him king. On November 13, the Norwegian votes decided on monarchy
Norwegian monarchy plebiscite, 1905
The Norwegian Monarchy Plebiscite, 1905 on accepting a republican or monarchial form of state in Norway was held on 12 and 13 November 1905. The voters were to cast a yes or no vote on whether they approved of the decision the Storting had made in authorizing the government to offer the throne of...

 with a 74 percent majority, and Carl was elected King by the Storting, taking the name Haakon VII of Norway
Haakon VII of Norway
Haakon VII , known as Prince Carl of Denmark until 1905, was the first king of Norway after the 1905 dissolution of the personal union with Sweden. He was a member of the House of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg...


Several other amendments have been adopted since 1814, the most recent on February 20, 2006. After World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 and the restoration of peace and constitutional rule, there was much debate on how to handle the events of the previous five years. None of this led to any changes in the constitution; it had withstood the test of hard times.


While radical in its day, the constitution of 1814 was a product of its age. As Norwegian democracy developed, some parts of it began to look increasingly dated. For example, the executive power, which in the constitution is consistently attributed to the King, came increasingly to rest in his Council of State (statsråd). Similarly, the King originally had the right to appoint members of the Council, who were answerable to him alone, and they could not be chosen from the members of the Parliament of Norway. With the establishment of parliamentarism in 1884, the Council was effectively chosen by general election, in that the King appointed only members of the party or coalition having a majority in the Storting. Further, the Council became answerable to the Storting, in the sense that a failed vote of confidence would cause the government to resign. This last happened in March 2000, when the governing coalition felt unable to accept the introduction of natural gas
Natural gas
Natural gas is a naturally occurring gas mixture consisting primarily of methane, typically with 0–20% higher hydrocarbons . It is found associated with other hydrocarbon fuel, in coal beds, as methane clathrates, and is an important fuel source and a major feedstock for fertilizers.Most natural...

 power stations (considering it dangerous to the environment), which a majority of the Storting supported.

In addition to these changes in practice, there have been many amendments and changes to the actual text. A relic from the earlier laws of Denmark-Norway, Paragraph 2 originally read, "The Evangelical-Lutheran religion remains the public religion of the State. Those inhabitants, who confess thereto, are bound to raise their children to the same. Jesuits
Society of Jesus
The Society of Jesus is a Catholic male religious order that follows the teachings of the Catholic Church. The members are called Jesuits, and are also known colloquially as "God's Army" and as "The Company," these being references to founder Ignatius of Loyola's military background and a...

 and monastic orders are not permitted. Jews are still prohibited from entry to the Realm."
In 1851 the last sentence was struck after the famous Norwegian poet Henrik Wergeland
Henrik Wergeland
Henrik Arnold Thaulow Wergeland was a Norwegian writer, most celebrated for his poetry but also a prolific playwright, polemicist, historian, and linguist...

 had campaigned for the rights of the Jews, and in 1897 also the next but last sentence. Monastic orders were permitted 1897, but he ban on Jesuits was only lifted 1956.§12 in the constitution still states that more than half of the persons in the Council of State have to be members of the state church, a paragraph that has grown strongly controversial.

Universal male suffrage
Suffrage, political franchise, or simply the franchise, distinct from mere voting rights, is the civil right to vote gained through the democratic process...

 was introduced in Norway in 1898 and universal suffrage
Universal suffrage
Universal suffrage consists of the extension of the right to vote to adult citizens as a whole, though it may also mean extending said right to minors and non-citizens...

 in 1913 by amendments of the constitution.

Current trends

From time to time proposals are made to separate the church from the state, which would imply an amendment of § 2 of the constitution. This has never been supported by a majority in the Storting but is constantly a matter of debate.

The Norwegian High Court of the Realm is warranted by the constitution and was frequently (mis)used by the Storting as a political tool to control the government during the 19th century, but no impeachment
Impeachment is a formal process in which an official is accused of unlawful activity, the outcome of which, depending on the country, may include the removal of that official from office as well as other punishment....

s have been made since 1927. A parliamentary report and a proposition for constitutional amendment was presented in 2004 to change the legal basis of the High Court of the Realm and reduce its political bias. The proposal was passed by a unanimous Storting on February 20, 2007. The court will be composed of five regular Supreme Court of Norway
Supreme Court of Norway
The Supreme Court of Norway was established in 1815 on the basis of the Constitution of Norway's §88, prescribing an independent judiciary. It is located in Oslo and is Norway's highest court...

 judges and six lay judges appointed by the Storting, instead of the whole Supreme Court plus the Lagting (1/4 of the Storting).

Some constitutional scholars hold that it may be necessary to change the constitution if Norway is to enter the European Union
European Union
The European Union is an economic and political union of 27 independent member states which are located primarily in Europe. The EU traces its origins from the European Coal and Steel Community and the European Economic Community , formed by six countries in 1958...

. However, the debate on the EU has been relatively quiescent since the referendum in 1994, so such a change is not likely to occur for some years.


The events and the constitution of 1814 have a central place in Norwegian identity. For this reason, and to keep the text as consistent as possible, changes are written in a language close to the original. In 1814 Danish
Danish language
Danish is a North Germanic language spoken by around six million people, principally in the country of Denmark. It is also spoken by 50,000 Germans of Danish ethnicity in the northern parts of Schleswig-Holstein, Germany, where it holds the status of minority language...

 was still the universal written language. The current two official varieties of written Norwegian language, Bokmål
Bokmål is one of two official Norwegian written standard languages, the other being Nynorsk. Bokmål is used by 85–90% of the population in Norway, and is the standard most commonly taught to foreign students of the Norwegian language....

 and Nynorsk
Nynorsk or New Norwegian is one of two official written standards for the Norwegian language, the other being Bokmål. The standard language was created by Ivar Aasen during the mid-19th century, to provide a Norwegian alternative to the Danish language which was commonly written in Norway at the...

 (until 1929 called Riksmål and Landsmål
Landsmål, meaning "language of the land/country", was the name Ivar Aasen gave the Norwegian orthography he created in the 19th century. In 1885 it was adopted as an official language in Norway alongside Danish. In 1929, Landsmål was renamed Nynorsk...

 respectively), were not developed until the late 19th century. In 1903 the constitution underwent a very slight linguistic revision, changing the spelling of some words where orthography had changed since 1814, but still retaining a conservative 19th century Danish.

All recent amendments have attempted to imitate the language of the 1903 version, leading to peculiar constructions. The word "environment" is written in the ancient spelling milieu, differing from modern Norwegian and Danish miljø; the modern context of that word was, however, non-existing in the 19th century. The "Sami
Sami people
The Sami people, also spelled Sámi, or Saami, are the arctic indigenous people inhabiting Sápmi, which today encompasses parts of far northern Sweden, Norway, Finland, the Kola Peninsula of Russia, and the border area between south and middle Sweden and Norway. The Sámi are Europe’s northernmost...

 ethnical group" is "den samiske Folkegruppe", even if the word Sami (samisk) was not common until the 1970s. In 1814 or 1903, the word Lappish (lappisk) would have been used.

Since amendments are elaborated by politicians not competent in 19th century Danish, several modern Norwegian spellings have sneaked into the constitution. Different approaches to revise the language throughout the document have been suggested:
  • Bring the language up to today's usage and orthography.
  • Use the 1903 standard, but correct various passages where newer amendments do not really conform to that standard.
  • Revert the language to the standard of 1814; an objection to this is that most modern Norwegians would find it even more difficult to read.
  • Update the language to one of the spelling reforms, either 1917, 1938, or 1959. This would still be fairly conservative language, but closer to today's speech.

A constitutional amendment of February 2, 2006 was aimed at reverting 16 minor spelling errors to the proper 1903 forms.

Though Norway is not the only country to have a constitution written in a foreign language, it is certainly the only state to compose new law material in an archaic language form, apart from the Vatican
Holy See
The Holy See is the episcopal jurisdiction of the Catholic Church in Rome, in which its Bishop is commonly known as the Pope. It is the preeminent episcopal see of the Catholic Church, forming the central government of the Church. As such, diplomatically, and in other spheres the Holy See acts and...

 which uses Latin. Even the official name of the Kingdom of Norway (Norwegian: Kongeriket Norge/Kongeriket Noreg) would in fact be the Danish form Kongeriget Norge if taken literally from the constitution.

Constitution Day

The 17th of May, the date of the signing of the constitution, is celebrated as Norwegian Constitution Day
Norwegian Constitution Day
Norwegian Constitution Day is the National Day of Norway and is an official national holiday observed on May 17 each year. Among Norwegians, the day is referred to simply as syttende mai or syttande mai , Nasjonaldagen or Grunnlovsdagen , although the latter is less frequent.- Historical...

 with the school children's flag
Flag of Norway
The flag of Norway is red with an indigo blue Scandinavian cross outlined in white that extends to the edges of the flag; the vertical part of the cross is shifted to the hoist side in the style of the Dannebrog, the flag of Denmark.- History :...

 parades. In the capital Oslo, the parade passes the Royal Palace
Royal Palace, Oslo
The Royal Palace in Oslo was built in the first half of the 19th century as the Norwegian residence of Norwegian and Swedish king Charles III and is the official residence of the present Norwegian Monarch. The crown prince couple resides at Skaugum in Asker west of Oslo...

 where thousands of schoolchildren wave to the King
Harald V of Norway
Harald V is the king of Norway. He succeeded to the throne of Norway upon the death of his father Olav V on 17 January 1991...

 and Queen
Queen Sonja of Norway
Queen Sonja of Norway is the wife of King Harald V of Norway.-Prior to marriage:Sonja was born in Oslo on 4 July 1937 as the daughter of clothing merchant Karl August Haraldsen and Dagny Ulrichsen .Queen Sonja grew up in the district of Vinderen in Oslo and completed her lower secondary schooling...

. A notable feature of the Norwegian Constitution Day celebration is the virtual absence of any military parades, the day being almost wholly a civilian celebration.

External links

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