Adjusting the horrors of civil war. Reforming the senate in small power democracies in the nationalistic crises of the 1860’s: Canada, Denmark and Sweden
In the 1860s, political crises erupted in the Atlantic world which had repercussions on political thinking about parliamentary systems. Conservative forces gained control in several small powers in the North Atlantic after the preceding more liberal decades had, according to many, contributed to revolution and war. This paper is about this conservatism: the political discussions and its sources of inspiration. We focus on the role assigned to senates as a safeguard against nationalism and civil revolt in the cases of Canada, Denmark and Sweden.In Canada the American Civil War and nationalistic and ethnic conflicts all over Europe were interpreted as the outcome of (too much) democracy and nationalism. To prevent the ethnic groups in Canada to tear the country apart, revision of the parliamentary system seemed unavoidable. This presumption resulted in the conservative Constitution Act, 1867. A new senate, independent from the votes of the people, was considered pivotal for the country. In Denmark, the fanaticism of liberal-nationalists was found responsible for the loss of Schleswig and Holstein. The liberal constitution of 1849, inspired by both the Belgian and American constitutions, was put aside. The new constitution in 1866 gave senate and king far more power and its composition was ‘safely’ revised in a more conservative way. In Sweden the liberal Dutch constitution of 1848 initially had inspired politics. The fear of the effects of liberal and nationalistic resentments, which became manifest in Denmark in 1864, resulted however in conservative forces gaining more power in 1866. In the historiography of the countries involved, the crises of the 1860’s were until recently predominantly seen from a national perspective. This paper however, based on a re-interpretation of the relevant sources, wants to highlight that the political reforms of the 1860’s, at least in northern democracies, had a common background as well as purpose and were by contemporaries seen in an international and transatlantic perspective.