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Instrument of Government (1772)


Instrument of Government (1772)

Sweden's Constitution of 1772 (Swedish: regeringsform, "Instrument of Government") took effect through a bloodless coup d'état carried out by King Gustav III, who had become king in 1771, establishing a brief absolute monarchy in Sweden. This was a response to perceived harm wrought upon Sweden by a half-century of parliamentarism during the country's Age of Liberty,[1] as members of the Swedish parliament then used to be bribed by foreign embassies.

History and effects

The 1772 Constitution was partly inspired by the current Enlightenment ideas of separation of powers by Montesquieu,[2][3] but also based on earlier traditions in Sweden, especially from the era of King Gustav II Adolf,[2][3] and two of the offices of the ancient Great Officers of the Realm were revived. King Gustav III also cherished other Enlightenment ideas (as an enlighted despot) and repealed torture, liberated agricultural trade, diminished the use of death penalty etc.[4] The somewhat later Freedom of the Press Act of 1774, a part of the constitutional law and largely edited by Gustav III, was actually commended by Voltaire.[4] The earlier first Freedom of the Press Act of 1766 was repealed by the Constitution in 1772.

The outcome of the constitution and its deliberately vague formulations,[1][3][2] partly attributable to it being written in haste,[2] was however a more or less authoritarian political system more weighted in favour of the King's power.[1][3] In 1789 it was amended in a still more autocratic direction by the Union and Security Act.

Formally, the 1772 Constitution was adopted by the Parliament (Riksdag) on 21 August 1772, but this took place as members of the Parliament and the Privy Council were under threat by the royal garrison on order by King Gustav III outside of Stockholm Palace, where the Parliament and Privy Council were assembled in different parts of the palace. Leading members of the Caps party who sat in the Privy Council (as well as in Parliament) were arrested,[1] as they were locked up in the Privy Council Room and released shortly after the adoption of the constitution.[1]

The 1772 Constitution replaced the Swedish Constitution of 1720 (which was fundamentally similar to the 1719 Constitution) and was in turn replaced by the 1809 Instrument of Government following the defeat in the Finnish War and the removal of King Gustav IV Adolf from the throne.[5]


Largely the content of the Constitution was the following:

  • The King governed the civil service and Parliaments were assembled only at the King's will when the King had to raise taxes and legislate (legislation was regulated in articles 40-43). An offensive war also had to be approved by Parliament (article 48) and also new taxation (articles 45-46).[2][3]
  • The Privy Council's justice department (Swedish: Justitierevisionen), functioned as a fairly independent Supreme Court[2] (the King had two votes in this Court's judgements, as in all decisions by the Council in the Age of Liberty). The Privy Council did not however function so much as a political institution as in the Age of Liberty,[2][3] and in these matters the King could put it aside and listen to other advisors and councillors as the King also often did.[2]
  • The King however had to listen to the advice of the Privy Council in cases concerning treaties about peace, armistice and alliances with foreign powers[2][3][6] and (state) visits to other countries.[6] In these cases the Council also could veto the King, if all members of the Council shared this view unanimously.[6]

In Finland after 1809

In the Grand Duchy of Finland, created in 1809 from the eastern third of Sweden as part of the Russian Empire, the amended 1772 Constitution was in force until 17 July 1919. In Sweden, the loss of Finland resulted in both a new royal dynasty (Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte being appointed successor to the throne) and a rewriting of the constitution, resulting in a new Instrument of Government, with more limited powers of the King.

See also


External links

  • Text of the Constitution (Swedish)Template:Constitutions of Sweden
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