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Denmark - 1864-1901 - The Great Transformation

The farming community experienced great changes during the second half of the 19th century; more land was cultivated and production was reorganised. The change from the cultivation of plants to livestock farming had already begun, but it accelerated in 1875 when the farming community was hit by falling corn prices. From having been an exporter of corn, Denmark suddenly had to import it, and exports to Great Britain changed to processed goods such as butter and, from around 1890, bacon and eggs. Agricultural products accounted for 85-90% of the country’s exports, and production rose sharply. The manors had previously maintained a leading position, but in the 1880s the farmers set up co-operatives such as dairies and bacon factories.

The co-operative movement is the most obvious sign of the restructuring which took place within the farming community during the last part of the 19th century; the medium-sized and smaller farms suddenly gained a prominent position in agricultural production. With the farmers at the centre, a characteristic culture began to develop during the 1860s. In addition to the co-operatives, this included technical skills, the Church and the education system. Around the turn of the century, this new culture had replaced the old peasant culture with a modern, self-sufficient culture with the farm and the family firmly at the centre.

Religious movements were an important part of these developments. In the 1820s, many of those who lived in the countryside, particularly in Funen and Zealand, became involved in the religious revival which through wide-spread lay preaching urged followers to personal acceptance of the Christian principles.

Having originally been established as a layman’s association in 1853, the Home Mission became a strong revival movement within the Danish National Church during the 1860s. The Home Mission had its roots in Evangelicalism, and was characterised by the demand for personal conversion. It became particularly popular during the 1890s. Grundtvigianism, based on N.F.S. Grundtvig’s belief that baptism, Holy Communion and Profession of Faith were the most important elements of the concept of Christianity, also developed during the last half of the 19th century into a comprehensive popular movement.

As Grundtvigianism spread, free schools and folk high schools were established and a number of elective congregations (which chose their own minister), as well as independent congregations began to appear. All these had a lasting effect on the culture of the rural population.

The towns developed rapidly during this period, and the rural population’s share of the total population fell from just below 80% to a little over 60%. There was also a growth in urban trades, particularly in skilled trades, the service trades and minor industries working for the home market. Industrialisation, which had previously been centred around Copenhagen and the other large towns, spread to the smaller market towns in the 1890s. Copenhagen grew rapidly during this period, numbering 400,000 inhabitants by the turn of the century.

The political life of the nation changed character after 1864. First and foremost, the National Liberals lost their leading position, and in 1866 an amendment to the Danish-Schleswig constitution resulted in a Landsting which gave the big landowners greater power.

The National Liberals were gradually swallowed up by the party Højre (the Right), which brought together the conservative forces, while in 1870, a number of opposition groups amalgamated to form Det Forenede Venstre (the United Left) which won a majority in the Folketing in 1872 and demanded the reintroduction of the June Constitution, Cabinet responsibility and further reforms.

Højre upheld the equality of status for the Landsting and the Folketing and maintained that the king still had the right to choose his ministers. The battle lines were drawn for a conflict between the Conservative government and the liberal majority in the Folketing which came to mark the years between 1872 and 1894.

The conflict was primarily caused by the division between the farmers and those who had so far held the power, namely the civil servants and the landowners. The Conservative governments between 1875-1894 under the leadership of Prime Minister J.B.S. Estrup stuck firmly to their guns and the conflict quickly became a bitter struggle.

On 21 October 1885 a printer named Julius Rasmussen fired a gun at Prime Minister Estrup outside his home. The shot was deflected by a thick coat button and Estrup escaped unscathed.

The first provisional Finance Act was introduced in 1877. During the Period of the Provisional Laws between 1885-1894, the Right continued to govern through these provisional finance acts, forcing through a measure for the building of the fortifications around Copenhagen in 1886-1894.

The Left tried to obstruct Estrup’s policy through a policy of obstruction, but was weakened by internal division between the moderates led by Frede Bojsen, and the radicals led by Christen Berg and Viggo Hørup. In the 1880s, the radicals furthermore split into Berg’s Danish Left and Hørup’s European Left. In spite of gains in the elections prior to 1884 and continued attacks on Estrup’s government, the Left did not succeed in bringing about a change of system. At the end of the 1880s, the moderate members within the Left began a policy of negotiation with the Right.

In 1891, a number of social Acts were passed by a majority in the Rigsdag, and in March 1894 the moderates on both sides reached an agreement. Although Estrup stepped down, the Right stayed in power until 1901, becoming increasingly dependent on the Left majority. In 1895, the members of the Left who were against conciliation formed Venstrereformpartiet (the Left Reform Party) under the leadership of J.C. Christensen. In the spring of 1901, it became clear that the Right could not stay in power, and in July the Left Reform Party formed a new government.

The labor movement in Denmark began to evolve in line with the rapid expansion of the towns, the abolition of the guild system in 1857 and the incipient industrialisation. A socialist labour movement was founded in 1871 on the initiative of Louis Pio as a unified organisation made up of the different trades and a political party which later became the Social Democratic Party. The movement met with strong opposition from the authorities.

In May 1872 the conflict led to a direct confrontation between the workers and the authorities and the leaders were arrested. After a short period of growth, the movement went through another crisis in 1877 when the leaders were paid off by the police to emigrate to the USA. From c. 1880, however, the labour movement managed to rebuild itself, and in 1884 the first Social Democrats were voted into the Folketing where they aligned themselves with the Left. During the 1890s a trade union movement began to emerge and quickly gained strong support.

After an extensive labour dispute, a compromise was reached between the employers’ organisations and the trade unions in September 1899. The so-called September Agreement established the right of the trade unions to represent the workers, and the right of the employers to direct and distribute the work. At the turn of the century the labour movement was still making progress, and in 1901 the Social Democratic Party won 14 of the 114 seats in the Folketing. The Social Democrats continued to follow the Left until 1901, but the tension between the two parties already began to show towards the end of the 1890s.

Danish society underwent a complete transformation between 1864 and 1901; signs of what was to come had already been seen prior to this period but now the changes began to affect everyone. Life in 1901 differed in almost every way from life back in 1814; the population had grown dramatically and their standard of living had greatly improved. The Education Act of 1814 introduced compulsory schooling for everyone, and around 1850 illiteracy had been completely eradicated. A better diet, improved hygiene and medical advances had raised the average life expectancy.

A huge number of people moved from the countryside into the towns and many, though not quite as many as in Norway and Sweden, emigrated, especially to the USA. Old ideas and lifestyles went by the board along with many traditional cultural notions. Change became a way of life. The society based on rank was abolished in 1849 and the old distinctions between the estates were transformed into a new social stratification based on property and income.

The peasant society gradually became divided into farmers, smallholders and day labourers; in the towns, employer/employee relations were introduced, and society’s growing need for services led to the appearance of a stratum of salaried workers and new groups of independent businessmen. Women still had no part in the political rights granted to men, but new legislation granted them more rights than before, and by the end of the 19th century they began to enter the labour market where many of them found employment in the service sector.

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Page last modified: 22-07-2013 18:53:39 ZULU