The Evolution of Popular Politics in 19th-Century Sweden and the Road from Oligarchy to Democracy

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In the 20th century, Sweden distinguished itself as one of the most organized and participatory democracies in the world. But in the late 19th century the situation was much the opposite – Sweden had for Western Europe a low degree of suffrage, and low political participation. To explain the turnaround, this paper explores the evolution of a democratic political culture in the final third of the 19th century, in opposition to the oligarchic system. The empirical material consists of digitalized newspapers from the south of Sweden in the period 1866 to 1900, studying about 2700 articles that mention ‘popular meetings’, folkmöten, which was the contemporary description of political meetings. In the 1860s and 1870s a farmer-centred democratic critique dominated, combining proposals for widened suffrage with criticisms of banks and the bureaucracy. In the 1880s and 1890s, the social base was widened as urban workers – socialist and antisocialist – took a greater part and the ideological composition became more heterogeneous. The paper suggests that the folkmöten constituted an important arena for democratic socialization in a country with an oligarchical political system, creating a road forward for democratic reforms and a democratic society.




Bengtsson, E. (2023). The Evolution of Popular Politics in 19th-Century Sweden and the Road from Oligarchy to Democracy. Journal of Modern European History, 21(1), 71–89.

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