The emergence of democracy in Sweden

Last updated: 3 10 2018

Image Boken om Sverige
This material is from the book About Sweden.

Various events in Sweden have influenced the emergence of democracy and how Swedish society looks today. Some events over the course of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century have had particular significance. They laid the groundwork for a modern and democratic Sweden.

The Instrument of Government 1809

Sweden has had written laws since the 14th century. The fundamental law that forms the basis of Sweden's democracy is called the Instrument of Government. The Instrument of Government of 1809 has a major significance to the development of democracy. This established that the king no longer had sole power, instead power was split into four:

  • Executive power was in the hands of the king.
  • Power over taxes that had been paid in was in the hands of the Riksdag.
  • Power to create laws was split between the king and the Riksdag.
  • Power to judge was in the hands of the courts.

Despite power having been split in accordance with the new law, there was still no apparent democracy in Sweden. Nevertheless, the new laws created the opportunity for continued democratic development.

Freedom of the press and of speech and freedom of religion

The Instrument of Government of 1809 also reinforces a range of civil freedoms and rights. For example, since 1766, Sweden already had freedom of the press and of expression, which meant that everyone had the right to express their ideas, opinions and feelings verbally and in writing. The Instrument of Government of 1809 also established that all citizens has the right to choose which religion they wanted to belong to.

Universal primary education

Universal primary education was introduced in Sweden in 1842. This meant that all children had to go to school. Many more people learned to read and write. This was an important prerequisite for the development of democracy in Sweden.

Popular movements and freedom of association

Popular movements such as the temperance movement, free churches, the women's movement, the labour movement and political parties emerged in Sweden at the end of the 19th century. This was important for democracy. By organising themselves into groups, people could more easily put forward what it was about society that they wanted to change. The popular movements taught people to organise themselves, how meetings are arranged and what is needed to push through change. Different organisations worked for different things. The labour movements put forward, for example, demands for better working conditions and the right to vote, regardless of gender and income.

In 1909, the majority of men in Sweden gained the right to vote. In 1919, it was decided that women had the right to vote in, for example, municipal elections. In 1921, all legally competent people, both women and men, gained the right to vote in general elections in Sweden.