Red, White and Blue: Norwegian Constitution, American Inspiration

Maria Johansson, for GPA -- 200 years ago, on May 17, 1814, the Constitution of Norway was signed at Eidsvoll Manor, north of Oslo. This document is to no small degree inspired by the American Constitution and although true Norwegian sovereignty did not come until 1905 when the country broke free from its union with Sweden, May 17 and the year of 1814 are the most celebrated occasions in the country’s history.

On October 22, The Norwegian-American Chamber of Commerce (NACC) rounded off a year-long, country-wide celebration of this bicentennial with an event at the National Constitution Center. The event included an art exhibition featuring Norwegian artists and was joined by a discussion of the relationship between the Norwegian and the American constitutions, framed by a book written by Professor Ola Mestad, “Red, White and Blue: Norwegian Constitution, American Inspiration”.

In addition to a guided tour around Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, the attendants, which included the Norwegian Consul General of New York City Elin Bergithe Rognlie, were also privileged to a discussion on the similarities and differences between the two constitutions at the National Constitution Center, hosted by Jeffrey Rosen. The panelists were two highly knowledgeable Norwegian professors: Mestad, visiting from the University of Oslo, and Professor Kaare Strøm from the University of California, San Diego.

Both professors have written about and performed extensive research on the topic of the constitution and during the program they spoke at length about how America influenced Norway and how the constitution influenced Norwegians.

“The constitution was the farmers’ weapon against the king in the 1830s and the 1850s,” said Mestad.

Although the American Constitution forcefully excluded any kind of monarchy, the Norwegian version kept the Royal Family as a feature of its government.

While the king was still acknowledged, after 1814 he was elected by the people instead of being born into the role despite his level of intelligence, compassion or diplomatic skills. In fact, as Professor Strøm put it at the debate, “the word ‘king’ meant government” in the Norwegian Constitution. As a result, the Norwegian king had no real power and much like in America the practical ruling was left to a group known as the Storting, who would make decisions together in a democratic manner.

After the debate finished, guests were invited to enjoy the beautiful Norwegian art exhibition in the Annenberg Center and Kirby Auditorium at the National Constitution Center, while snacking on imported Norwegian salmon. All this took place 3,600 miles away from the home of the constitution that was the subject of the evening, but only a stone’s throw from its inspiration. 200 years later, the connection between Norway and the U.S. remains as strong as ever.

The “Red, White and Blue: Norwegian Constitution, American Inspiration” exhibition will be featured at the National Constitution Center until November 30, 2014. 

Additional photos available on GPA's Flickr.