The parliamentary speaking of Jon Sigurdsson

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Introduction..................................... ♦ Chapter



11* 111*

111* IV.

The wider audience and climate of opinion. ....... •..... The Danish audience* »*...•• *......... The Icelandic audience ..... *•»•

57 58 60 62 78

Education in Iceland. ..... 79 Educational policy in Althing* 1845.*........................... .... 84 Analysis of SLgurdsson’s speech on School Reform. ••••... ....... 93 Jon Sigurdsson1s propaganda Technique..... ••••*•••........... .


THE FREE TRADE ISSUE................... 103

1* 11*


History of the question.**........... ..104 Sigurdsson1s speech on free trade, 1845................................. Ill Analysis of speech of 1845*••»..••»*••143 Sigurdsson*s speech on free trade, 1847..................................155 Analysis of the speech of 1847...»»••*170


THE FINANCIAL ISSUE*...................180

1* 11*

History of the question. ..180 Sigurdsson*s speech on the budget, 1857................................. 187 Analysis of the speech on the budge t*...».......................... 202 Sigurdsson*s speech on the separation of finances* •••...••209 Analysis of the speech on separation of finances..............238

111* IV*



The Sigurdsson biography*#••••♦♦....* • 1 Factors in the development of Jon Sigurdsson as a speaker......... 6 Jon Sigurdsson* the man.......... 43

111* JON SIGURDSSON*S EDUCATIONAL POLICY**.*................. 1* 11*



11. JON SIGURDSSON*S AUDIENCE*.*....... ... 1*


Pag© iv

111. IV. V.


Page Chapter


THE CONSTITUTIONAL ISSUE* • *........... 251

1* 11*

History of the question*. *•......... * The Larsen-Sigurdsson contro­ versy* *............. Debate on the status of Iceland, 1869*... ....................... Analysis of Sigurdsson1s speech on the status of Iceland*»*•*•*».*•

111* IV* Chapter Vll. 1* 11*


251 261 269 314 327

Style............................... 328 Jon Sigurdsson on the platform. •«*»»» 335


. 341


Sigurdsson1s Presidential address at Althing in 1849•»**••*** 351


Sigurdsson*s Speech on Curing the Sheep-ltch, 1859.**••...••••**» 356


Bibliography.......................... 375

Iv IKTHODUCTION Tli© genesis of this study is to he found in the desire to gain further knowledge of a great states­ man of the 19th century* Jon Sigurdsson* and to discov­ er* in some degree* the sources of the influence which he wielded over the Icelandic people during a period of fifty years*

Prom the first broad perspective of the

man and his work the field of study has been brought to focus upon the man as a speaker* and upon those speech­ es which are the most complete expression of what he stood for and worked for* The specific purpose of this study Is to criticise the parliamentary speaking of Jon Sigurdsson* Since his Interests are too many and too varied to be treated fully in a work of this kind* the study has been limited to a consideration of his parliamentary speeches on those vital Issues with which he was chiefly concerned, education* free trade* finance* and constitutional reform* The critical method of this study Is based on the concept that the ultimate aim of oratory Is persuaslon; consequently* a given piece of oratory Is not treat­ ed as ••pure” literature*

in the sense that the aim of

literature Is to give pleasure*

A speech cannot be con­

sidered apart from the economic and social conditions which surround It* the historical conditions which give


rise to It* and the possible social consequences that result from it#

Public speech aims, not essentially to

give pleasure* but to move people to belief and to ac­ tion* and it springs from economic and social needs* and from the ambitions of able men to become leaders of the people*

While 'Ipure" literature might be considered In­

dividualistic in its approach and esthetic in its aim* oratory is social in approach and utilitarian In aim# Rhetorical criticism, therefore, becomes an analysis of the skills which enter into the art of per­ suading others*

A certain speech may rank high as lit­

erature* but its literary values per se do not constitute its essence*

It must ultimately be criticised on the b a ­

sis of its Inherent persuasiveness*

This does not imply

that a speech is to be judged by Its immediate results with a specific audience*

The orator may be skillful*

his integrity may be unquestioned, and he may ultimately prove to be right; and yet he may fail in his Immediate purpose of convincing an audience or moving It to action because certain conditions militate against him* The function of rhetorical criticism* therefore* Is to discover and explain those factors that enter Into any specific speech situation*

The immediate factors are

four; (1) the speaker* (2) the audience* (3) the occasion* (4) the speech*

Thus* It is essential to understand the

man* the forces that moulded him* and the peculiar qual-

Vi ities of his character and training that enabled him to wield an influence on the public platform.

Secondly, it

is necessary to have an understanding of the audience to which the man addressed himself, and the social forces of which that audience was the product and the expression# Thirdly, since every speech is the utterance of specific ideas arising from a specific occasion, it is essential to know the exact issues and the immediate motivation of the speech#

Finally, there is the speech itself, which

must be analysed in terms of those factors which make it peculiarly an act of persuasion.

Xftiderlying these immed­

iate factors is the historical setting, from which the speech can be surveyed in broader perspective.

The great

speech is one in which the character, or ethos» of the speaker, his knowledge of the subject, his understanding of the audience, his skill in dealing with that audience all combine into effective persuasion.

A public speech

is more than so much p r i n t e r ^ ink on paper.

It is a

man expressing his ideas and feelings on a specific sub­ ject at a given time and place for the purpose of Influenc­ ing an audience, either Immediate or remote, or both. Since Jon Sigurdsson1s speeches are not avail­ able except in Icelandic, the speeches discussed in this work have been translated and the English text included. The translation has been free since native idioms often lose their flavor and their meaning when translated

vii literally#

Where some peculiarly effective expression

is used editorial comment is made in a footnote.


text used is the Tidindi fra Althing! (Parliamentary Records), which contains a transcription of all speeches made in Althing, the Icelandic parliamentary assembly# The proceedings of

Althing were written down as they

took place by skilled amanuenses and immediately copied in a beautifully legible handwriting. ists were employed*

Only expert copy­

The final version of the speeches,

as printed In Tidindi fra Althingi. gives little inter­ nal evidence of revision by the speakers; though the speakers had the privilege of revising their speeches b e ­ fore publication, they seem to have done so very careless­ ly, for the material Is printed with little regard to punctuation and division* Other primary sources studied, In addition to the parliamentary records, are Jon Sigurdsson *s letters as published by the Icelandic Literary Society In Reykjavik, in 1911 and in 1955*

These letters are a

valuable source, since they, in themselves, are part of Jon Sigurdsson*s technique of persuasion*

Articles and

writings by Jon Sigurdsson have also been consulted, more particularly his essays and reports in his annual publication,


These writings elucidate

and expand his speeches in Althing*

In addition, var­

ious articles by Jon Sigurdsson*s contemporaries have

viii been examined where they originally appeared in such journals and periodicals as, Nordri, Nordanfari, Sklrnir, and in the writings of Konrad Maurer, German jurist, friend and admirer of Jon Sigurdsson*

These articles

are important as the reflection of the opinions of Sigurdsson*s political enemies and friends. Since Jon Sigurdsson was the dominant figure in Iceland for over forty years, source materials on his life are plentiful, and most of these materials have been utilized in Prof* P* E* 01ason*s five-volume biography* Second in value was the Skirnir memorial edition of 1911, which contains a series of studies and reminiscences of Jon Sigurdsson by leading Icelandic scholars and states­ men, many of whom knew him personally*

Another excellent

work is Eirikur Briem*s biographical sketch published the year after Jon Sigurdsson*s death* For background studies the works consulted have been authentic and careful histories of Iceland, such as Gjerset *s History of Iceland and Vilhjalmur St©fansson *s, Iceland, First American Republic, as well as historical documents in the original Icelandic*

Among the latter

are the old law books and Hjalssaga*

As a further back­

ground is the author's long familiarity, at first hand, with Icelandic sagas and Icelandic poetry* The best source of Icelandic lore in this country, is the FIske Library, at Cornell University,

ix under the direction of Dr* Ealldor Hermannsson, noted Icelandic scholar, whose publication, Islandica, appears annually with its valuable articles and bibliographies* There is another excellent collection of Icelandic books at Harvard University* Tidindi fra A1thing! *

This collection includes the Dr* Vilhjalmur Stefans son, explor­

er and scholar, has a private collection at his home, 67 Morton Street, New York City*

Besides allowing vis­

itors the use of his library, Mr* Stefansson is a gracious host who is ready at all times to give what assistance he can to the curious and the scholarly*

Others, to whom

I wish to express my appreciation for their help are Jonas Jonsson, former Minister of Justice of Iceland, and Arni Eelgason of Wilmette, Illinois, who has let me have the use of his books, and given me excellent advice* While there Is ample material on the life and work of Jon Sigurdsson, there Is no study that deals specifically with Jon Sigurdsson as a speaker#

At most

there are scattered, here and there, brief descriptions of his platform manner, or comments on his style*


study Is the first attempt to collate these scattered materials, analyse them and derive from them a composite picture of the speaker through a systematic method of rhetorical analysis* This study falls Into four divisions.


first division is concerned with the Sigurdsson bio­ graphy, the second with his audiences, the third with his policies and speeches, and the fourth with an an­ alysis of Sigurdssonfs style and delivery*

Chapter I

deals with Jon Sigurdsson*s life, his parentage, early training, experience, with special emphasis on those factors that contributed to his development as a speak­ er*

Chapter II considers Sigurdsson*3 audiences,

immediate and remote*

Chapters III, IV, V, VI are

concerned with the principal Issues on which he spoke during his parliamentary career*

These issues are con«

sidered in the order in which he dealt with them, educa­ tion, free trade, finance, and constitutional reform* The organization of these chapters is as follows* 1) the history of the question;

2) Sigurdsson*s policy;

3) Sigurdssonfs parliamentary speech or speeches on the issue;

4) analysis of the speech in terms of its effects

its organization and the persuasive devices employed* Chapter VII is devoted to the consideration of style and delivery*

Finally,the whole study Is surveyed and

summarized in the form of general conclusions.


appendix is added, which includes translations of two speeches not analyzed In the study, and a bibliography*

Chapter I The Development of Jon Sigurdsson as a Speaker* X.


Jon Sigurdsson*s plaoe in Icelandic history*


name of Jon Sigurdsson Is Inseparably associated with the economic, political, and educational history of 19th century Iceland*

From the establishing of his own annual publication,

Ny Felagsrlt In 1841, and the re-Instatement of Althing In 1843 until his death in 1879, he was the acknowledged leader, guide, and teacher of the Icelandic people* his activities was wide*

The field of

As a scholar he made Important

contributions In philology, archaeology and history, which brought him an international reputation and kept him active in several learned societies*

He gathered old Icelandic

manuscripts, edited and published many important Icelandic works, and encouraged learning among his people.

His home

in Copenhagen was a center of culture and inspiration for the young men engaged In Icelandfs struggle for liberty* But it was in the field of politics and constructive states­ manship that he engraved his name most deeply In his coun­ try's history, so that he is today the symbol of Iceland's liberty and progress*

2* His life is closely bound up with the aspirations and struggles of bis country for constitutional and finan­ cial reform, and the full significance of his career can be understood only in the light of those aspirations and those struggles*

M o d e m Iceland is the realization of his

dream and the vindication of his policy*

To Icelanders he

is the great national hero, the liberator and the pioneer who used all his talents in the service of his country* His picture is hung in most Icelandic homes, and his birthday is a national holiday, not only in Iceland, but among the various Icelandic groups In America as well* B*

The Sigurdsson biography*

As might be expected,

much has been written about Jon Sigurdsson, but no popular biography has yet appeared in Icelandic, though P*E* Olason has recently published one in Danish*

The materials avail­

able In Icelandic are voluminous, consisting of essays in periodicals, articles in newspapers, and the monumental work of P*E* Olason, which Is, largely, a compilation of source materials* Mr# Olason was commissioned by the Icelandic govern­ ment to write a biography of Jon Sigurdsson for the millennial celebration of Iceland's first parliament In wm ^ w mm,



mm ^

em »


^ am



mm 0

^■p* E* Olason, Jon Sigurdsson* Bt lev i arbejde og Kamp* (Copenhagen, T9 40)* Owing to war"conditions this book Is not yet available In America*

3. 1930*

Instead, tie produced only the first volume of what

might more accurately be called the story of Iceland’s struggle for Independence in the nineteenth century*


volume brought the story of Sigurdsson9s life up to the year 1841*

It failed as a popular biography but It laid

the foundation for what ultimately became the largest single collation of materials on the life and work of Jon Sigurdsson. Mr* Olason9s treatment is encyclopedic, and his approach is historical rather than biographical*

As a study

in background his work is of great value, for it is a reser­ voir of source materials and a mine of documentation drawn from Icelandic and Danish archives*

Running accounts w e

given of every session of Althing from 1845 to 1879. we


analysed, character studies w e made of the members in

Althing, the parliamentary records (Tidindi fra Althlngl) are analysed end summarized with frequent excerpts from speeches*

One of Sigurdsson9s speeches is printed In full,

and main arguments from several others w e

given exactly

as they appear in the parliamentary records*

Not content

with reporting the proceedings at Althing, Mr* Olason presents the picture of Iceland's struggle in historical perspective against the background of the wider movements of the nineteenth century* The central figure is, of course, Jon Sigurdsson* Every phase of his varied activity Is considered, but with little attention to the laws of emphasis and proportion*

Tlx© result Is a somewhat undigested mass of information* There can be no question of Mr* Olasonvs accuracy and in­ dustry* nor can we doubt his competency and his grasp of the subject* but he has failed to focus and synthesize his material*

He is too lavish in his digressions and too

generous with his details*

On the other hand* his work is

extremely valuable as a reference*

It is trustworthy and

reliable In every respect* and written by a man trained in historical research* The most useful biographical essays are those pub­ lished by the Icelandic Literary Society in the Sklrnlr memorial edition of 1911* dedicated to Jon Sigurdsson*


essays are written by leading Icelandic scholars* and are concerned with various phases of Jon Sigurdsson*s career* They are carefully and competently written* Sigurdssonfs

One deals with

early life* another with his statesmanship*

and a third with his work as scholar and publisher*


same edition also contains a series of reminiscences by men who had known Sigurdsson and heard him speak*

Taken as

a whole the series gives a fairly composite picture of Jon Sigurdsson* but It does not constitute a unified bio­ graphy* Among the miscellaneous biographical sources are articles in newspapers and periodicals written by Sigurdsson’ political friends and enemies*

Most Important of these pub­

lications are Nordri* Thjodolfur* and Nordanfari and* of

5. course, Jon Sigurdsson*s own political writings in Ny Felagsrlt#

While many or these articles are prejudiced

and frequently written In the heat of controversy* they are helpful In the light they cast on the Issues of the day and on the nature of Jon Sigurdsson*s audience# Interesting also are the poems and eulogies written and recited on the occasions of Sigurdsson’s visits to Ice­ land#

Most of these have little value to this study except

as they reveal the great esteem In which Sigurdsson was held by the people of Iceland#

In addition to these eulogistic

poems scattered through various periodicals* a memorial edition of the poems and sermons given at Sigurdsson*s funeral was published in 1880 under the title* TJtfdr Jons Sigurdssonar# Since Iceland is a small nation* and since Jon Sigurdsson touched the lives of his countrymen at so many points there are countless allusions to him In books and magazines#

Of particular Interest are Stefan Einarsson's

Saga Eirlks Magnussonar (1955) and Benedlkt Grondal’s Daegradvol (1983)#

Rlnarsson's book has many references to

Sigurdsson*s correspondence with Magnusson on matters per­ taining to Icelandic manuscripts#

Benedlkt Grondal Is a

fascinating and somewhat extravagant writer who puts down what he thinks without fear or favor#

While his book does

not provide much of direct value to this study, his frank comments and reminiscences on his contemporaries are revealing#

6* Mention must be made of Sigurdssonfs correspondence* He was an Indefatigable writer* using letters as part of bis propaganda methods#

These letters not only explain and

elucidate his policies and methods#

They are lively and

interesting* intimate and informal* the expression of a man communicating spontaneously and unreservedly with his friends* and as such* they provide the best possible biographical source* Such are the principal biographies and biographical sources#

The present study is concerned with these sources

as they shed light on Sugurdsson9s development as a speaker and as they may be interpreted to provide a portrait of Sigurdsson the man#

Contributing to the Sigurdsson biog­

raphy is not here so much the Interest of the writer as it Is to analyze and collate these data and to bring them to bear on Sugurdsson as a speaker#

Certainly* we cannot know

Sigurdsson as a speaker unless we know him as a man# The ethos of the speaker is a vital element In persuasion* and especially does this appear to be true In the case of Jon Sigurdsson# II. A#

FACTORS IN JON SIGURDSSON »S DEVELOPMENT AS A SPEAKE Childhood* youth* and early training#


Sigurdsson was born In Rafnseyri by A m a r f jord* Iceland* on June 17, 1811#

His father* Sigurd Jonsson* was descended

from a long line of pastors and churchmen among whom was

Included Glsli Jons 3 on, Bishop of* Skalholt in the sixteenth century*

Sigurd Jonsson is described as a man of orderly

habits, industry, and energy who established himself in his district as a good pastor and a good provider*^


wife, Thor die, is spoken of by biographers as being the more brilliant of the two, quick wit ted, intelligent, and possessed of a book learning equal to, if not greater than that of her husband*

She was noted for her gift of repartee

and for her generosity which once provoked her husband into saying:

“You would give everything away, Thordisln5 Both

were excellent teachers and conscientious parents* From his parents, as was customary at that time in Iceland, Jon Sigurdsson received his early training and for­ mal education up to the age of eighteen*

The formal educa­

tion followed the curriculum of the Latin school at Bessastadir, near Reykjavik, modeled after the classical tradition and leading to the ministry*

The subjects taught

were Latin, Greek, Danish, Icelandic, History, geography, geometry, algebra, biblical exposition and theology*


this list of subjects Sigurdsson1s father added a thorough course in German*

He proved to be an interested and able

student, and his father paid him the compliment of placing

Jonssonar a Rafnseyrl," Skirnir, 1911, pp* 150-152 ^Thorlelfur Bjarnason, “Fra uppvexti Jons Sigurdssonar, Skirnir, 1911, p* 103.

8* him above his younger brother, Jens, who later became a noted scholar#4 Probably more Important in moulding Jon*s in­ clinations was the Informal education received through read­ ing and oral tradition#

Due to the people*s deep love of

saga and poetry the standard of literacy has always been high In Iceland*

Men vied with one another In storing their

minds with historical facts and literary anecdotes which they delighted in exchanging during the long winter nights; or, where books were available, the most expert reader would read while others gathered about to listen*

Still another

winter pastime consisted In the interchange of verses, a game in which one would extemporize the first two lines of a stanza and another would have to cap the rhyme# Thus book learning and conversational skill went hand In hand# Henderson was struck with this aspect of Icelandic culture and refers to his surprise at finding people, In even the most wretched of hovels, who could talk Intelligently on subjects usually considered beyond the grasp of other Europeans in similar circumstances^ This Informal aspect of Icelandic culture was par­ ticularly well represented in Jon Sigurdsson*s home#


father and mother were both interested in books, and among to





to* to*


4P. E# Olason, Jon Sigurdsson, (Reykjavik, 1929), I, 102# ^Ebenezer Henderson, Iceland or a Journal of Residence on that Island# (Edinburgh#"18181# I,xii-xlii#

9. the books in their library was the Sturlunga Saga, published by the Icelandic Literary Society from 1817 to 1820, a type of work that could hardly fail to inspire patriotism and love of liberty#^

Even more significant for Jon’s education in

Icelandic lore was the presence in his father’s home of the noted scholar, Markus Eyolfsson, who lived in Rafnseyri from 1817 to 1830*

Eyolfsson was an expert copyist with a

keen, scholarly interest in old manuscripts,

He was a

frequent visitor In the Sigurdsson home and there can be little doubt that Jon Sigurdsson listened avidly to his talk and found In It the seeds of his lifelong Interest in Icelandic literature# Still another factor entered into Jon Sigurdsson’s early training, a factor which had a direct bearing on his subsequent influence as a speaker#

Among his father’s

household servants was a blind man, Hrolfur Hrolfsson,1^ capable, intelligent, and gifted with excellent powers of expression*

He was a type of man not uncommon In Iceland,

one, who though

not a writer, was a storehouse of know**

ledge, and information, and whose conversation was replete with anecdote and rhyme#

Children are always attracted

to such a man, and young Sigurdsson was no exception* Through his association with Hrolf, Jon’s book learning was enlivened with the common touch, and throughout his

6The Sturlunga Saga Is the story of the family feuds which proved so ruinous to Iceland In the late 12th and early ISth centuries* These feuds constituted the main contributing cause for Iceland’s union with Horway?: in 1262* 7P*E* Olason, Jon Sigurdsson, I, 96, 96*

10. lil*e, lie maintained bis interest in the common people and in their idiom.

What is more important* he never lost

faith in the common man* During these formative years Jon Sigurdsson developed habits of work that served him well in later life#


father was a man of great energy and would not tolerate laziness In his children.

He put the boys to work on the

various duties connected with his farm* including that of going out to sea in rowboats#

Rowing a fishing boat was

considered arduous even for a full grown man* but Sigurdsson appears to have rowed with the best of them while only a boy#

The story is told that on one occasion the captain of

a fishing expedition arranged to give him half pay* but when Jon found that he had worked as hard as the rest of the crew he insisted on equal pay* and got it#3

The story Illustrates

admirably two aspects of Jon Sigurdsson*s characters capacity


for hard work* and an unyielding quality of mind

when he thought justice was on his side*. Of interest in the light of his later work in schol­ arly research was Jon Sigurdsson1s youthful talent for copy­ ing documents#

He learned to write a beautiful hand and*

as a boy* he was asked by neighbors and friends to copy items from the almanacs and calendars* tasks which he per­ formed graciously and joyfully#

As a direct result of this

^Thorleifur Bjarnason* "Fra uppvexti Jons Slgurdssonar*" Skirnir# 1911* p. 105.

IX. youthful hobby he became one of Iceland’s best copy writers and handwriting experts, and was responsible in later life for publishing the Icelandic almanac* There was nothing spectacular or extraordinary about Jon Sigurdsson1s childhood and adolescence*

He was a duti­

ful son, a brigjht student, a capable worker, and a young man with a marked Intellectual curiosity.


Bjamason has given the following character sketch of him as a youths During childhood and adolescence Jon was light-hearted and even-tempereds and there are frequent allusions to his ability to get along well with all classes of men* But from the very first he gave evidence of having a mind of his own and a disposition that would not readily yield to the opinions of others.^ Jon SIgurdsson’s formal high school education in his father’s home came to an end in 1829, when his father sent him to Reykjavik to write the final examination required of every candidate for higher education, corre­ sponding roughly to university entrance examinations of today*

After a brief period of coaching Jon acquitted

himself at the examination with special distinction*10

^Bjarnason, op* clt*, p* 103. ^ A t the entrance examinations at the university of Copenhagen Sigurdsson was outstanding, receiving highest honors In Latin and Danish composition as well as in history. Olason points out that In the whole history of this examination (abolished In 1850) only two Icelanders ever received first class honors In Latin composition and only four in Danish composition* Olason, Jon Sigurdsson, I, 140-146.

12* His examiner, Gunnlaugur Odd son spoke of him as being:

"courteous and well-mannered, highly talented, with

excellent powers of observation and a remarkable gift for choosing the clear and appropriate word*13* From the bishop in Reykjavik, Jon Sigurdsson obtained the usual permit as student preacher, but being too young, and little inclined to preaching, he took a position as accountant and secretary for his uncle, Elnar Jons son, busi­ ness manager for the Danish merchant, P* C# Knudtsen#


was here that Sigurdsson first met his cousin Ingibjorg, whom he married in 1845*

Here, also, for the first time, he

came in direct contact with the Danish trade monopoly and, after he opened his long campaign for free trade, Khudtsen was one of the first with whom he clashed# In 1830, Jon Sigurdsson entered upon the second stage of his career# Jonsson in Reykjavik#

He became secretary to Bishop Steingrim This position, which he held for

three years, was of great importance in his intellectual and moral development*

It is, in itself, remarkable that

the bishop should have chosen a young and inexperienced country lad for such a difficult and much sought after position; but the boy quickly justified the bishopfs con­ fidence in him with his accuracy, thoroughness and diligence# Steingrim was so pleased with the rapidity and efficiency of his work that he made the statement he would rather have

^Olason, op# cit#, I, 113*

13. Jon Sigurdsson than two ordinary men. ^

Usually chary

with, recommendations he gave him an excellent testimonial on his departure to study in Copenhagen in 1833.13 Bishop Stelngrlm was himself an excellent scholar and owned a large library which included many valuable old Icelandic manuscripts# worker#

He was a bibliophile and careful

Jon Sigurdsson’s stay with him was fruitful In

several ways:

It gave him access to rare documents#

encouraged him in Icelandic research# inculcated careful work habits and a love of Icelandic traditions# all of which added to his power and prestige as a speaker when he became the leader of the reform movement#

Directly# it led to his

appointment as Keeper of the Archives of the Arna Library in Copenhagen# and brought him into association with the best Icelandic scholars# notably Sveinbjorn Bgilsson and Pall Melsted# with whom he continued a life-long friendship# Thus# when Jon Sigurdsson went to Copenhagen to continue his studies# he was exceptionally well equipped# He had been brought up to orderly and industrious habits in a good country home of plain and frugal living; he had been thoroughly instructed by his father# an excellent and conscientious teacher#

Finally# h© had enjoyed close associa­

tion with one of Iceland’s leading scholars# Steingrim Jones on#

So far he had let a sheltered# academic life#

12Bjarnason# "Fra uppvexti#.•#” Skirnir# 1911, p# 104 1301ason, op# cit## I# 138#

14. admirably suited to laying the intellectual foundation of the strenuous public career that lay ahead of him# B#

The rising tide of liberalism and laissez fairs#

At the time Jon Sigurdsson left for Copenhagen (1833) the great Liberal reform movement was sweeping over Europe#


poverty and unrest following the Napoleonic wars had resulted in popular uprisings and demands for reform#

The Industrial

Revolution was tearing away the last vestiges of feudalism# Laissez-faire was becoming the catch-word of economists and industrialists#

In England the act for the Emancipation of

Slaves was passed in 1833# to be closely followed by the Factory Acts# and in 1846 by the repeal of the Corn Laws and the triumph of free trade#

Adam Smith# the Manchester

School# and Jeremy Bentham were the prophets of the new order that was to make England the market of the world#


continental Europe the Paris Revolution of 1830 shook the foundations of absolutism and aroused new hopes for representative government#

Denmark did not escape the tide of fresh ideas#

A pamphlet# written by Uwe Lornsen in 1830# pointed out the weaknesses In the Danish system of absolute monarchy# and demanded representative government for Schlewig and Holstein# ^ King Frederick VI was startled and amazed# threw the author Into jail# but nevertheless was so disturbed by the pamphlet that he established four advisory parliaments# one for each €

part of his klndsom#

Some leading Icelanders made an attempt

l^Ueber das Varfassungswerk in Schle swi g-Hols tein (Copenhagen, 1830)•

to get a separate parliament for Iceland but all they achieved was the Royal Proclamation of August 22, 1838, by which & few Icelandic government officials were to be con­ voked bi-annually to Reykjavik to deliberate on Icelandic affairs and make recommendations to the Danish parliament. In the meantime, the Danish public was thoroughly roused* Liberal newspapers and periodicals sprang up to advocate reform in government*

Altogether It was an electric and

stimulating atmosphere for the young Icelandic students, coming from their own little country, which had been beaten into apathy and submissiveness by five hundred years of poverty, hardship, and mis government*

Into such an atmos­

phere came Jon Sigurdsson, and although he did not take an active part in politics during his student years, a man with his intellectual curiosity and keenness of mind could not fail to be greatly influenced by the stirring of thought around him*

He lived in the midst of revolutionary ideas

and was a close companion of the leading Icelandic liberals and intellectuals, men like Jonas Hallgrlmsson, Thomas Saemundsson, Baldwin Binarsson, Bjarni Thorarenson, all of them honored as the political and literary pioneers of the reform movement in Iceland* That this stimulating environment was important In Jon Sigurdsson*s development is evident from the fact that

■^Klemens Jonsson, "Jon Sigurdsson sem stjornmalamadur,n Skirnlr, 1911, pp. 185-7*

16. he quickly became a recognized leader among these young radicals*

Thus, these youthful associations gave an impetus

and direction to his career, vitalized and motivated what might otherwise have become merely an academic interest in Icelandic politics*

Further, his basic philosophy of

political liberalism was rooted in these early associations, a philosophy that underlay all his utterances as a public speaker* Studies in Copenhagen*

Like most of the students

from Iceland, Jon Sigurdsson found the problem of financing his studies a difficult one, but fortunately for him, his training with Bishop Stelngrlm Jonsson and his excellent scholastic record won him the much coveted appointment as assistant in the Arna library*

His work consisted primarily

In classifying, arranging, and copying old manuscripts* So valuable did Jon prove to his research library that his position was soon changed from that of a fellowship to a full time appointment, and for years it was his only source of income* Though entered at the University in Copenhagen as candidate for the Doctorate of Philosophy, Jon Sigurdsson never took his degree*

Had he done so he might have accepted

a position as head of the Latin school in Reykjavik and, as Olason points out, the whole course of Icelandic history In the 19th century might have been different.

The same

author gives three reasons for Sigurdsson ?s failure to

17* complete the work necessary for his degree* first, poor health from 1839 to 1840; second, his many research duties for the Arna library; and third; his active Interest in the movement for political and financial reform in Iceland*16 These varied Interests took up much of his time, but It was time well spent, for his research let him deeper and deeper into Icelandic history and literature, and gave him access to official documents on relations between Denmark and Ice­ land.

The effect of this research was threefold; It fostered

his love of Iceland; it placed him in the unique position of being able to gather at first hand facts and statistics for his articles and speeches.

Later, this was to give the

effect almost of infallibility to his utterances, and to make them at the same time an authentic history of Iceland* It was his unchallenged reputation as a scholar that made him the acknowledged leader of the Icelandic party, and an opponent to be respected and feared by the opposition In Denmark. In addition to his intensive research into matters pertaining to Iceland, Sigurdsson continued his studies at the University of Copenhagen, which followed the classical tradition, with Latin, Greek, Mathematics, and philosophy as the basis of the curriculum.

He was also Interested in

Hebrew and Sanskrit as adjuncts to his philological research,

16olason, op* cit*, I, 164 ff.

18 and despite his many activities he found time to acquaint himself with leading contemporary writers*

He had a

passion for reading and frequently spent beyond his means when it was a question of securing a book*

Fortunately for

his biographers he carried his orderly habits Into his daily life to the extent of making careful entries of his expenditures*17

Thus,we find that he bought works of

Tegner, Lie, Ibsen, Bjornsson, Schiller, Byron, Walter Scott, Macaulay and Guizot* To his wide knowledge of Icelandic culture, ancient and m o d e m ,

Jon added extensive reading and close study of

contemporary thinking in economics and constitutional history, and many

allusions in his letters and articles, some of which

will be cited later, lead to the conclusion that this care­ fully organized reading was consciously planned at an early age*

His biographers all note this fact, and one has the

following to say: Jon Sigurdsson excelled all his most brilliant con- temporaries In the thoroughness with which he equipped himself, and In the careful and master­ ly way in which he prepared every move before he engaged in battle* He alone came fully armed to the conflict*18 Jon Sigurdsson13 statements of accounts with book­ sellers and bookbinders reveal the extent of his reading*

170lason, op* cit*, I, 159-161 18Ibid*, I, 656*

19. From 1840 to 1844 he bought books in the roll owing order: National Economy, by David Ricardo; Darstellung der National* Oeconomie by Jean Baptiste Say; Political Economy, by John Ramsay MacCulloch; Statshusholdning, by M* L* Nathans on; Political Economy, by Travers Twiss*

Later he acquainted

himself with constitutional history through such writing as; Die Verfassung von Nord-Amerlka. by J* E* WIegel*19


are among the more important of the books he read; It is significant that all of them stem from Adam Smith and Ricardo*

From them he derived the chief tenets of nineteenth

century capitalisms

individual liberty, property rights,

and free competition* This reading of contemporary economists did more than give Sigurdsson a practical understanding of political econoxqy*

It colored his approach to the study of Icelandic

literature and Icelandic history*

While most of his country­

men turned with nostalgic longing to the golden age of the sagas, Jon

Sigurdsson turned his eyes resolutely to the

pressing problems of contemporary Iceland*

He was one of

the first to think of Iceland as part of Europe and of the world, and this view point emerges during his student years at Copenhagen*

But this interest In contemporary Iceland,

far from diverting his attention from the earlier history of Iceland, was founded upon an intensive study of the past* Olason makes the following observation:

1901ason, op* cit*, p* 364 ff*

20 Jon Sigurdsson was not content to be super­ ior to his countrymen in knowledge of the cul­ ture or the past* More than any other man Jon made himself familiar with the later periods in his countryfs history and culture, and through his research into manuscripts and documents, through his study of indexes and bibliographies he gained an excellent perspective in these matters, with the result, that an early age, he was the undisputed master in the field of Icelandic history and literature, ancient and modern* Jon's understanding and knowledge grew out of hard work and research* But his Industri­ ousness was the product of his love of country* The motivating power behind his Indefatigable labors was his love of Iceland* Obviously, a man with Jon's endowments and learning would have found it easy to work at more remunerative tasks* But he steadfastly refused to do so* Instead he submerged himself in the study of Iceland's national life and culture* That a man of Jon's temperament should be influenced by such study was unavoidable* In a way of speaking, such studies became a passion with him* Yet they were not an end In themselves, but rather the source from which he drew that sensitive love of his country and the noble public spirit which was soon to become his dominant characteristic*^ Jon Sigurdsson's research into Icelandic literature and history were subordinated to the ideal of making his knowledge serve the Interests of his country* see a twofold value in the Icelandic classless

He could they could

be used to win the respect of other nations; and they could be used to stir up national pride and patriotism*


he had these values In mind is evident from a letter written in 1841, when he was thirty years olds

^°01ason, op* clt** pp* &56~357.

21. This barbaric golden age has passed and will never come back, and to want to revive It Is absurd and Impossible, but It can be used as a comparison and as a warning* and, I believe, it can even be used to stir up patriotic fervor. But X d o n ft want to use it except to show that there has been and still is an Icelandic nation.21 But he went much further*

He directed his studies

towards an integration of the past with the present.


insisted that Iceland would never find her place in the world unless Icelanders acquainted themselves with the dominant ideas of the nineteenth century* and with the cus­ toms of other people*

He was fully aware of Iceland*s in­

sularity and isolation* and it was part of his educational policy to bring it into the stream of contemporary life* This attitude is reflected in his introduction to the first issue of Nj; Felagarits It is most wholesome to observe one1s own tem­ perament and behavior and compare it with that of others in order to know oneself and Judge correctly o n e fs position and powers, for he who does not observe this fumbles like a blind man and his spiritual welfare will be a matter of hit and miss* Similarly with nations; if they are not acquainted with their national life and culture they disintegrate and each man goes his own way without regard to the society In which God originally placed him to work with all his power for Its maintenance.22 But to avoid any misunderstanding he goes on to say:

21Bref Jons Sigurdssonar, 1911* p. 36• 22Ny Felagsrit, I (1841), I II#

22 But nations oan learn to know themselves only if they become acquainted with other nations, observe their habits and their progress, and profit by their experiences* But it is diffi­ cult for those who are isolated like the Icelanders to have accurate knowledge of such things and, therefore, they are inclined, as it appears island people always are inclined, to place either too high or too low an estimate on themselves, to consider themselves either the happiest or the most wretched among men, and to place either too high or too low a value on everything foreign* This utilitarian and realistic outlook, derived from his contact with contemporary thought, distinguished Jon Sigurdsson from his more romantic countrymen and sometimes brought him into conflict with them* the ground visions

He kept his feet on

and gave a practical turn to the dreams and

of his friends*

A notable Instance of this in his

early years was his proposal that the resuscitated Althing be held at Reykjavik rather than in its historical setting at Thingvellir*^3

That he had his eyes open to the prac­

tical needs of Iceland Is further evidenced in a letter written to Pall Mels ted In 1842 in which he speaks of writing a Kationaloeeonmie for Icelanders and of gather24 Ing materials for a History of Iceland.

23 tfj-p j could see that the Institution Itself would benefit from having the meetings at Thlngvellir, good­ ness knows I would not be the last one to promite it, for it Is the most honored place we have, but of what value it Is in these times for men to gather together every other year In some out of the way place--a place where men can assemble with more dignity and solemnity at other times and on other occasions— to discuss in the name of the people matters which require the great­ est consideration and care?*1 Bref Jons Sigurdssonar, 1911, P* 49.

24Itoid., p. 48.

23. D.

Scholar and publisher*

Though Jon Sigurdsson,s

primary interest during his student years in Copenhagen was in Scandinavian and Icelandic studies, It was during this period that he laid the foundation for his International reputation as scholar and scientist.

To give a detailed

account of his scholarly activities is beyond the scope of this essay, so It must suffice to Indicate briefly the nature of his work.


For the Royal Northern Text Society he edited and published the Younger gdda, and a collection of sagas Includ­ ing the Landnamabok and the Islendingabok.

He compiled a

descriptive bibliography of the books in Arna Library, pub­ lished the first volume of Dlplomatarium Island!cum, assisted in the publication of Scrlptores Rerum Panic arum, and was continually writing articles on education and trade, most of which were published In Ny Pelagarit. he became President of the Literary Society,

Later, when (1851-1879)

his gift for leadership bore immediate fruit In the progress made by the Society*

When he took office In 1851 the Society

had only 150 members* by 1859, through an energetic member­ ship drive, the number was raised to 780.

Similarly, the

collection of Icelandic manuscripts Increased from 37 in 1851 to 672 in 1869.

^®See Finnur Jonsson, "VIsandastorf Jons Sigurdssonar,11 Sklrnir, 1911, pp. 153-184, and Olason, Jon Sigurdsson, I, 167-355, for a clear and concise account of Sigurdsson's scientific work.

24. Jon Sigurdsson's Interest in the Icelandic Literary Society,.

and his grasp of the situation Is revealed In a

letter written to Sveinbjorn i^gilsson in 1837s There are two things In particular I wanted to talk about with you: first, the Literary Society: I think It is not fulfilling Its obli­ gations as It should and I attribute this to the executive; but we have no one except P# Gudmundsson to be president, because Magnusson doesn't want the job and he Is really the only one available and the only one who might open up brighter pros­ pects for the Society# fty chief complaint against the executive is that It does not sufficiently promote the Societyfs publications; that there are too few representatives in Iceland so that nothing is sold; that an Insufficient number of copies is published with the consequence that they cannot be sold at reasonable price, thus prevent­ ing their distribution in the country and causing them to be pushed off the market by the Andra ballads and other monstrosities; that they do not publish annually what is left of their copyrighted books; that they do not call to the people's attention that In the Society they have something well worth preserving* And X see nothing ahead but decay un­ less we do something about It quickly and vigor­ ously*26 And nowhere was his tendency to transform knowledge Into constructive action for hie country more evident than it was In his activities in the Society#

Ejorn Olsen estimates

that in the forty years of his association with the Society,, Jon Sigurdsson gave up approximately four years of his time to working for it*2^

This work was of a varied nature.

He initiated the policy of issuing an annual publication and of paying the writers#

With his translation of the life of

2gBref Jons Sigurdssonar, 1911, p* 8. 27g. m * Olsen, nJon Sigurdsson og bokmentafjelagid,” Skirmir, 1911, p* 259

25. Franklin and 0*Connell he sot a precedent for the occasional publication of* worthwhile books not otherwise available in Icelandic#

Most important of* all* possibly* was his encourage—

ment of contemporary writing among his countrymen, for many young poets found in h im their first sponsor#

He himself

had a thorough knowledge of Icelandic poetry, ancient and modem,

and all his life he collected old manuscripts and

collections of folk poetry#

He was the first to call the

attention of foreign scholars to the great storehouse of folk rhymes#

Notable among the scholars was William

Morris, with whom he formed a close personal friendship# Hven Jon Sigurdssonfs love of books was ultimately subordinated to his love of Iceland#

Through a lifetime

of rare opportunities for collecting books he was constantly adding to his own private library which, in the course of years, became the largest private collection In Iceland# In fact, so great was his passion for old books that some of his friends hid their books when they saw him coming for fear he might ask them to sell him some rare volume # ^ And he was a hard man to resist and paid well when it came to bargaining for books#

But the bibliophile merged into

the patriot, for his objective was to lay the foundation of a national library#

He gave his collection to his country#

^®Finnur Jonsson, wVIsindast8rf Jons Sigurdssonar,n Skirnlr, 1911, p# is79#

26. Any consideration of Jon Sigurdsson as a speaker must take Into account his scientific and literary activi­ ties#

In his case they were not a side issue, not something

apart from his political activity#

They were, rather, an

Integral and vital part of his political writing and speak­ ing, and Inseparable from his ethos as a speaker#


his studies, and the fame derived from his studies, he gained the respect and the ear of his audiences; he spoke as one who had authority, and people were predisposed to listen to him, if only because there was always something to learn from his speeches#

Equally Important was the

influence of these studies on Jon Sigurdsson himself*


them he acquired skill in the use of statistics, a passion for accuracy, and a sureness of touch#

It was literally

true that he was never at a loss for words, for he was so familiar with Icelandic history and politics that he could always speak extemporaneously# S.

Social and political activities#

As mentioned

before, Jon Sigurdsson came to Denmark at a time when Surope was In the throes of revolutionary idealism#

In Iceland

he had lived quietly at home under a strict regimen of hard study and hard work, with little or no opportunity to form friendships#

Probably such discipline was an

excellent thing during his adolescent years#

Certainly it

helped to develop In him that intellectual acuteness and

27. stability that mad© it possible for him to hold his own, and* in ashort time, to become the leader

of the most brilliant

group of Icelanders ever assembled in Copenhagen.

Not only

were they the flower of Iceland's Intellect, but they were ardent patriots as well, caught up in the flaming spirit of a militant democracy and nationalism.29

Olason says

of these mens It Is Impossible to speak too highly of the young Icelanders who attended the university in Copenhagen from 1830 to 1845 or 1850.... A man like Jonas Hallgrimsson pushes his country forward a hundred years* And other great men In this group make themselves felt In other fields of human progress. At a quick glance it sometimes appears that fate makes a game of bringing onto life's stage at certain epochs men who advance their countries * culture by centuries and bring progress to everything they touch; at other times It appears that everything stands still, intellectual life languishes, and a nation's economy retrogresses. There is no need of giving examples of this; everyone knows they are to be found In the pages of history. In the following paragraph this writer continues: It is by no means suggested that this exceptional group from the period 1830 to 1850 sprang up accidentally and without preparation. Intimations of It are seen in the fresh intellectual activi­ ties in the country, In the founding of a literary society. In the publication of more diversified books, in an Improved literary style. In the more utilitarian aspects of life the way was improved In social relations, better co-operation, new methods of work, slight though they may be. The underlying causes are clears an awakening national consciousness springing from the same wave that had raised other nations, and the struggle of these nations to recover their rights

2%;nut Gjerset, History of Iceland (New York: the Macmillan Co., 1924), pp7~367 ff.

28. to self-government out of the hands of kings, __ more especially In the climactic year of 1830.30 This period has been designated by historians as the Icelandic Renaissance, the period during which Icelanders aroused themselves from a torpor that had lasted five hun­ dred years.

Copenhagen, being at the time the cultural

center of Iceland, was also the center of this Intellectual and spiritual awakening, the center, also, of the govern­ ment and, therefore, the arena of the political battle launched by Iceland's fiery young idealists* When Jon Sigurdsson became a member of this group there were already established several means for the expres­ sion and interchange of ideas*

In the first place, the

Icelandic students lived together In a sort of fraternity house which had a reading room, a library, and an assembly hall for social and political gatherings; and there were certain taverns and coffee houses frequented almost exclusive­ ly by Icelandic students*

Meetings were frequent and

convivial, special occasions being receptions to visitors from the home land, and farewell parties to graduates* Through such gatherings the students kept in close touch with one another and with their compatriots. Besides these Informal gatherings, there existed also specific organizations which gave opportunity for a mature and considered expression of opinion. ^

a * m


To such or^


ganizations the more serious among the Icelandic students attached themselves*

Chief among such organizations was

the Literary Society, which had been in existence some time before Jon Sigurdsson arrived in Copenhagenj Its aim was to foster Icelandic literature*

Regular meetings were held

twice a year and special meetings whenever the occasion arose*

Another important society was called FjBlnir, an

outgrowth of the efforts of an ardent Icelandic patriot and scholar, Baldvln Binarsson, who had established a society to foster good fellowship among Icelandic students, to en­ courage Interest in Icelandic affairs, and to provide weekly meetings for the Interchange of political views*


Binarsson’s society was dissolved at his premature death in 1833, and merged into F.jfllnlr whose chief activity con­ sisted in the publishing of an annual political and literary journal* named FjSlnir after the society* Jon Sigurdsson Immediately made his Influence felt among the Icelandic students in Copenhagen*

Very soon after

his arrival he became a contributor to Sklrnlr, official organ of the Literary Society*

Following up his criticism

of the S o c i e t y ^ with constructive action, he donated* In 1839, his own translation of a life of Benjamin Franklin with an introduction that reveals clearly that he made the translation with Iceland’s practical needs in mind*

31s©e excerpt from Bref Jons SIgurds s onar cited on page 22.

To him

30 Franklin was the model statesman who combined clarity of vision with an intense practicality; The happiness of nations is not dependent upon large populations nor upon vast undertakings* Each nation prospers that has the acumen to discern its countryfs assets and turn them to profitable use* Countries are like individual pieces of land; no land is denied every good quality* But it is important to discern good qualities and to see that detrimental qualities do as little harm as possible, This is parti** cularly important in harsh countries, where the assets are more inaccessible and can be utilised to the full only by dint of energy and perseverance Significant also is his admiration of the great Irish Statesman, Daniel 0 1Connell,whose life was devoted to freeing Ireland from the tyranny of England, a tyranny worse: than that which Denmark exercised over Iceland*


says of 0 fConnell: O ’C o n n e H ’ Is struggle to free the Irish appears to avail little, yet hardly any one man has worked harder for his native country, and he lacked neither gourage nor strength even though he was opposed and molested in England by opponents who defamed and slandered him in every way they could; but he let nothing deter him or discourage him, and happy would be the land that had many men like him*^3 It Is evident from Sigurdsson*s Interest In these two great statesmen, different In temperament but alike in patriotism, that his political philosqphy was already clearly defined, a philosophy at the same time visionary and practical*


flFra uppvexti. .* .,rt Skirnir, p. 109*

33skirnir, 1837, p. 71-72*

31. Jon Sigurdsson was one of the early members of the FjSlnir Society, but as early as 1837 he expressed his dis­ satisfaction with the publication in the words "for my part I find most of the articles rather thin.3 ^

This dissatis­

faction was, apparently, felt by other Icelandic students In Copenhagen, and evidence of Jon Sigurdsson's acknowledged leadership is the fact that in 1341 he was able to launch Ny Felagsrlt, an annual publication designed to prepare the way for educational and political reform in Iceland.


publication appeared annually for thirty years, two-thirds of the material written by Sigurdsson himself, the rest by those who supported his policies at Althing.

Olason says of its

Thus the N£ Felagsrlt was launched, one of the most powerful org a n s e v e r to appear in the history of Icelandic politics, and Jon Sigurdsson was almost unexpectedly, though he was well prepared for It, automatically chosen as the standard bearer for a political party that was destined to wage the sharpest battle ever fought by the Icelandic people.35 A close reading of Sigurdsson's very first articles will re­ veal an exceptionally keen understanding of political econ­ omy, and confirm a statement he made many years later to the effect that he had learned his politics from the Danes them­ selves.36 Jon Sigurdsson was also Instrumental in organising

34Bref Jons Sigurdssonar, 1911, p. 9., 35Jon Sigurdsson, I, 421. 36Wy Felagsrit, I, ii.

the Icelandic Society. which flourished in Copenhagen from 1843 to 1846*

Jon was on the committee which drafted the


The society was devoted to the discussion

of Icelandic politics; meetings were to he open to all Icelanders in Copenhagen; meetings were to he held once a month and a chairman appointed for each meeting#

At the very

first meeting he spoke on constitutional reform for Iceland* He also spoke frequently on the subject of free trade*37 Since the founding of this society was coincident with the reinstatement of Althing in 1843 it must have been of great value in preparing

him for his first session of Althing,

which met in 1845# These various student organizations provided excellent training in public speaking for those who participated* and that Jon Sigurdsson participated actively is evident from the fact that in a few years he was an acknowledged leader of an extremely vocal group#

That meetings were frequently live­

ly and stimulating we can gather from a letter written by Jon Sigurdsson himself to Thorgeir Gudmundsson, February 28, 1843 j At one meeting I spoke for three quarters of an hour on free elections for Iceland, and I ,m glad that my countrymen thought it rather good and better than was to be expected from me; the meeting agreed with me almost unanimously with the exception of a few officials and mer­ chants*3® The letter further reveals that Jon Sigurdsson was already 370 lason, Jon Sigurdsson* I, 441. 38Bref Jons Sigurdssonar, 1911, pp* 54, 55.

32. becoming a persuasive and Influential speaker. In 1845 Jon Sigurdssonfs political activities became one with the history of his country*

Prom that date until

his death in 1879 he was a member of Althing, and during most of that period he was President of the Assembly*


part of his career will be told in the discussion of his policies in subsequent chapters*

But it was no accident

that he became the dynamic leader of the reform movement, since for years prior to the opening of Althing he had aggressively promoted reforms*

The scope of these earlier

activities is intimated in a summary written by Thorleifur Bjarnasson on the occasion of the Jon Sigurdsson centennial in 1911s But it was not only in the matter of the Althing and free trade that Jon Sigurdsson made his influence felt* He was ever watchful for Iceland's honor, and alert to anything that would promote his country's material and intellectual progress* First of all he wanted to build a public opinion in Iceland based on patriotism and sound knowledge, and trusts that this will he accomplished through the native intelligence of the people, provided that work is kept up unremittingly* To foster a national culture he wants to establish a library of historical documents.......... He wants statis­ tical reports about conditions in Iceland, more particularly on Iceland's trade relations* During these years he made himself familiar with agricul­ tural methods that might be useful in Iceland. He corresponds with timber merchants in Norway concerning the shipment of wood to Iceland, and he works day and night In the government archives searching for documents with a bearing on Iceland's geography and history and seeking to extend his knowledge on matters that he considers important for his country and profession.39

S^Thorleif ur B j a m a s on, ,fFra uppvexti. .., ” Sklrnjr, 1911, pp* 148-149.

33. Ample evidence of this many-sided activity can be found In the records of meetings, in Jon Sigurdssonfs letters, and in his articles in the Ny Felagsrlt.


ever entering upon his political career he had exerted an influence in almost every phase of practically and intellectually*

his country's culture,

Before taking up the

cudgels for reform, he was advocating by pen and speech the progressive principles of nineteenth century liberalism. Before standing up on the floor of Althing he had schooled himself in the art of controversy, through participation in discussions at meetings, and through engaging In liter­ ary controversy*

Few statesmen have had better preparation

for their life's work.40 F*

Educator and pamphleteer*

The position of

leadership which Jon Sigurdsson had established by 1841, he maintained until his death in 1879, not only among his devoted party followers, but among the people of Iceland as well*

This does not imply that he had no opposition.

On the contrary he had to contend with fierce opposition both at home and in Denmark*

That he successfully met this

4^That Jon Sigurdsson was consciously preparing himself for statesmanship is evident from a letter written to pall Me Is ted in 1844 s 11If the people of IsafJord elect me I shall accept, even though there may not be much cause for rejoicing, especially for me. I thought it my duty to offer myself as candi­ date, and I don't care If some may call it presump­ tion on my part, or selfishness." Bref Jons Sigurdssonar, 1911, p*67.

34* opposition and that

his policies ultimately triumphed is

due, in part, to his educational p o l i c y ^ and in part to a skilful use of systematized propaganda* lessly towards two objectivesz

He hammered cease­

to educate the people of

Iceland, and to break down the resistance of the Danish beaucracy*

That both objectives were ultimately achieved

is evidence of his knowledge of educational methods# Klemens Jons son writes* Nowhere did Jon Sigurdsson show is astute states­ manship more clearly than in his propaganda arti­ cles* In them he repeats ceaselessly his basic teachings, so that ultimately his readers must believe them* It Is, therefore, tedious today to read the Felagsrlt with their endless repetitions of his basic doctrines again and again, and year after year# Xet this was doubtless a sound policy* The publication appeared annually, and what had been read the year before might easily be forgotten* Therefore it was necessary to summarize the main points of leading Issues# This method bore Its fruits, for it is well known that the Felagsrlt were a sort of Bible to the Icelanders,' eagerly looked forward to and even more eagerly read*4** And Dr* Hermannssen of Cornell University, says, "his arti­ cles were propaganda literature of the best kind, and they had a great influence upon public opinion* Nor did Jon Sigurdsson find it easy to bring his countrymen over to his way of thinking*

Frequently they

clung obstinately to old ideas and traditions, and yielded slowly to the encroachments of 19th century industrialism* This was particularly true of the notorious "sheep-Itch1*

4^See chapter on educational policy. 4gSklrnir, 1911, p* 196. 4^Islandlca» 1 (1918), p* 61#

55* controversy (1857-65), when Sigurdsson found the whole of Iceland ranged against him* Nothing In his whole career reveals more clearly his tenacity of purpose and disinterested devotion to his country*

The sheep itch, a deadly and destructive plague,

sprang up in southern Iceland in 1856, and a dispute arose as to whether It had been brought into the country by diseased sheep from England, or whether it was the recurrence of the plague of 1778 which most considered to have been exterminated by the wholesale slaughter of the sheep in the affected areas*

The dispute developed into a bitter

controversy, and, In the meantime, it became a matter of urgent necessity to do something about the plague* There were only two possible ways of dealing with its

cure, or kill#

The district magistrates, supported

by the people, held that killing the sheep was the only way of stopping the plague, while the Danish government advocated curing the diseased sheep#

For the first, and,

possibly, the only time in his life, Jon Sigurdsson found himself wholeheartedly on the side of the government*


Althing, in 1857, he spoke strongly for the Governmentf& proposal*

Feeling ran high*

The faaraers, panic stricken,

through fear of losing their livestock, demanded that the diseased sheep be slaughtered before the plague could spread*

Sigurdsson found only a few supporters, and those

few who did support his views were threatened with violence*

He, himself* was so disappointed and angry that he writes in 1858s

"I blush to my ears when I see your antics, and I

wonder how a man can justify himself to his God and his conscience for trying to secure self-government for such people!?44

Yet so great was his own faith in medicine and

modern methods* that* at the risk of his career, he came as an official emissary of the Danish government with full power to experiment with cures*

He did meet with some

success* but his proposals were rejected by Althing in 1859, the committee on resolutions reportings

"the committee un­

hesitatingly declares that only on© in every hundred of the population is in favor of cure*4®

As a result of his cam­

paign and his close association with the Danish government on this issue Jon Sigurdsson was called a "Judas11 a "traitor" and a "hireling" of the Denmark*4^ hurt by the desertion of many of

Though he was deeply

his friends he did not

yield an inch* and* when challenged in the House* he declared that he would continue advocating the governments policy. At7 It was ten years before the affair blew over. Peeling was so strong against him that he was not elected to the office of President of the Assembly in 1859 and he* bitterly disappointed at seeing his countrymen slaughter their sheep

44Bref Jons S 1Kurdss onar* 1911* p. 25. 45Tidindl fra Althingi, 1859* p. 1312. 46Nordarfari* VI (1867), 2-3. and Thrfodolfur,

XIX (T867IT947”

--- ---

4^Por a complete account see Olason, Jon Sigurdsson, IV* 49~115. See also Appendix B for Jon Sigurdssonfs speech in 1857*

37# and unwilling to listen to reason, did not come back to Iceland for six years, thus missing two sessions of Althing, 1861 and 1863*

When he did come back in 1865,

his policy was vindicated*4^ Jon Slgurdsson also gave much of his energies to the rehabilitation and extension of Ireland*s foreign markets*

He was the first to advocate the direct shipment

of sheep to England, a policy which ultimately became very profitable to Iceland*

In urging his Innovation he

met with great opposition on account of the difficulties involved in establishing such a direct shipping route* We find his attitude clearly and vigorously stated In a letter written on

September 3, 1866s


But that I sn’t all, for, If we knew the trick of It we could have a sheep trade with England that would mount Into millions annually, not to mention other food products, for it is perfectly obvious that the vast and Increasing population living by its labor will need more and more to eat* But you are quite right in saying that the more reasonable we are, the better are our chances* The worst of It Is you have come over here to Copenhagen to get the capital; i t ’s a loss and a bother to you, but I see no way of avoiding It at present unless you can agree to accept English money* But the most important thing is that you get together, prime and educate some able men and gradually make your­ selves acquainted with trade and finance* We can no longer crawl like snails in the rut of the o3d trade monopoly methods; we must push forward, supporting and encouraging one another till every one feels himself a partner In the enterprise, that Is, every one who Isn't too lazy to do anything about It *49

48«ij»he sheep-Itch matter ha3 now had the treatment Is should have had in 1857*,# Bref Jons Sigurds sonar, 1^11, p* 303*

49ibia#, p# 4 H #

38. Jon Sigurdsson was also largely tresponsible for the establishment of extensive and friendly trade relations with Norway*

The culmination of his efforts in this direction

was the founding of a new Norwegian-Icelandic merchant associa­ tion wdet Islandske handelssamlag** In 1870.

The association

named Its first steamship the "Jon Sigurdsson”.

When the

**Jon Sigurdsson” sailed Into Reykjavik harbor on May 25, 1872, it marked the beginning of a new era of prosperity for

Iceland.^ There can be no doubt that this activity as a propagandist and educator

had a great influence in mould­

ing Jon Sigurdsson, the speaker. ^

In the first place, it

required a constant alertness and an immediate awareness of political realities*

Secondly, it kept up that fighting

spirit, which is so essential to statesmanship*


practise kept Jon Sigurdsson constantly active, and his intense activity, in turn,stimulated

his mental faculties,

giving a constructive side to his statesmanship that many of his countrymen lacked* vigilance

Because he never relaxed his

he never lost courage and, in this respect, he


I don't intend to dwell on this illustration,

for everybody knows that the English have gone through bloody revolutions in the course of centuries, before their parliament gained the power and the prestige and the respect which it now has#

But we believe we don't have to pass

through such purgatory to gain our rights*

We believe

rather that everything will be won smoothly and peacefully# The Royal Proclamation to Althing In 1849 goes farther than to say that our parliament has the right to talk, but not

295# to make binding resolutions#

This interpretation lies in

the word "forhandle" about which so much controversy Is now being woven#

This word has a specific denotation,

and is obviously used because of that specific meaning# It implies that the national convention has what Is called "deliberativt noturn," not a final deciding vote, but a vote by which It makes recommendations, from which the king, assuredly, may withhold his approval, but only If he summons a new meeting and presents the same bill to it# But he cannot make changes in the resolutions of the convention and proclaim those changes as law without the consent of the meeting* Two years passed, and the national convention was delayed two years, and as a result one session of Althing was left out altogether, contrary to all laws and rights#

This was the fault neither of Althing nor of us

Icelanders, but solely of his majesty's government; it alone is responsible#

It is

useless to quarrel about

that now, but we may feel sure that, If the convention had been held at the specified time and under the existent conditions, we should have been presented with an entirely different proposition than the one which appeared In the bill of 1851# The drafting of this bill was, in Itself, rather queer, for it Is well known that the government completely ignored two Icelanders iho were

heads of Icelandic affairs

296# and therefore,

self-appointed for the task#

Instead, it

appointed a Dane working under these two officials, a man who knew nothing of Icelandic affairs*

This Is

indeed a strange government procedure, that has no parallel in history and I shan't dwell on It, except to point out the full responsibility for this bill lies on the Danish government*

Althing has no part in it,

directly or indirectly and no Icelander can be found will­ ing to say the bill of 1851 was based on equality of rights#

The bill submitted to the convention speaks for

itself# I shall merely cite as typical of the bill that Iceland was to be placed on a level with a magi s.* trate's district in Denmark; it got neither control of Its finances, nor the power of taxation, except to a minor degree*

Another queer thing about this bill Is that it

was founded on the assumption that Iceland had been in­ corporated into Denmark in 1662 so Irrevocably that It wasn't even subject to discussion#

There was no

Inevitable course of events at that tlme**'^

Nor had

Iceland acquired those national rights which, according to the Royal Commissioner, are now a fundamental principle of the constitution#

Unquestionably we have gone ahead since

S^The Commissioner argued that Iceland's status was the result of the inevitable course of events# (Ras vldburdanna)

297# 1851#

To add one more example, government employees were

divided into two groups.

Those in the lower salaried

group were to be called employees of Iceland and to be paid from the Icelandic treasury; the high salaried men were to be civil servants paid out of the government's treasury; they were to be well treated and not forced to live on the left-overs#33

A few Icelandic representatives

were to get seats In parliament, but since it was obvious that It would not only be useless but also extremely costly for Iceland to send representatives to Denmark, the cost was to be assumed by the national treasury. Convention delegates opposed this bill, and the Commissioner looked

upon their opposition as revolt.

But everybody remembers the sudden termination of the c on vent ion • After the convention came the Royal Proclamation of May 12, 1852, from which it appears that all possibilities of rapprochement are exhausted, for there is no mention made of equal rights.

Everything is turned back into the

old groove, new elections ordered and Althing allowed to assume Its former advisory capacity, Instead of placing the matter before a new convention whose note would be binding on the Danish parliament#

The Proclamation

emphasizes what already was a law and needed no emphasis, namely, that the king wished to seek the consent of Althing 35Modunum, the leavings of hay - withered grass. 33The Commissioner broke up the meeting with armed force.

298. before changing the constitution.

And this is interpreted

to mean that Althing is expected to bring the constitutional issue before a national convention. Time passed*

Althing tried to push the matter

along, especially in 1853, but without success.

At last,

in 1857, Althing was Invited to express its opinion on the budget,3*^ which was considered part of Denmark's national budget.

The same invitation was given to the colonies in

the West Indies*

The Prime Minister promised In parlia­

ment to prepare the whole matter in the form of a bill, but when It came before Althing It was only a committee report. As a condition for exercising the privilege of voting the Icelandic budget, it was proposed that Iceland should consent to conscripting men for the Danish fleet*


Althing would not accept these conditions, and so rejected the proposal. Not another word was said on the subject until 1861 when a committee was appointed to report on the financial issue*

I was

a member of that committee.


a result of the work of this committee a bill was presented to Althing in 1865, and It is well worth

noting that the

Minister of Justice, Casse, a famous Danish lawyer, wrote a careful letter of explanation to the Minister of Finance, April 27, 1863.

It is printed in the reports of Althing

3^See Jon Sigurdsson's speech on the Budget in 1857.

299# and in the Danish parliamentary reports for anyone to read who wants to*

In this letter the Minister of Justice

states unequivocally that the Danish parliament Is con­ cerned only with the actual amount to he granted to Iceland from the Danish treasury when the finances of the two countries are separated* A significant thing about this letter is that the Minister of Justice suggests that he would like to

propose a fixed annual payment, and a fairly high

one at that; he considered this only reasonable, and in this he agreed with the opinion of some of the representa­ tives at the Danish parliament#

He enumerates certain

items that substantiate our claims, and they are identical with our own, especially those which I stressed*

In my

opinion this Is doubly significant, since the Minister of Finance Is by no means well disposed toward me and my claims*

On the contrary, he condemns them severely*

enumerates church property, crown lands, and trade*

He He

says It Is only fair to take into consideration the oppressive trade conditions which prevailed here for many years*

He does not make an evaluation

In terms of

dollars and cents, but this has to be determined, and both this amount and the amount of the other items can be determined without much difficulty if we take to trouble to look into It# I mentioned a while ago that before 1848 no

mention was made of these financial problems*

Not till


after 1848 did it appear that it would be impossible to straighten out accounts between Iceland and Denmark. S^lll, it appeared in 1850 that the government had know­ ledge of these accounts, for it admitted that It was un­ just to budget Iceland for a deficit, since trade was so disadvantageous to the Icelanders and so advantageous to the Danes, especially to the merchant class, that it could never be reckoned In terms of moneyo

All reasonable

men in Denmark agree that the trade monopoly brought incalc uable loss to Iceland, as well as Incalculable gain to Denmark; so even if there were nothing else, this alone would be sufficient cause to claim reparation. The Minister of Justice also explained in this letter the procedure matter as a bill to

he would follow in presenting this Althing*

But when the bill was

presented at Althing in 1865, it was in a form entirely unexpected*

It was presented as a bill to be laid before

the national parliament after passing though Althing*


merely proposed changing the existing financial arrange­ ment between Denmark and Iceland, but said nothing about separation of finances*

It recommended that Iceland

be granted art annual sum of 42, OC0 dollars over a period of years.

But apart from that the situation was unchanged.

It is true that this bill did not go deeply into the constitutional Issue, but It did go deeply enough to make It clear that Icelandic affairs were to be administered by Denmark.

Althing discovered the flaw In this bill and

301. rejected the form, while accepting its promise of a freer form of government. In 1867 another bill was laid before Althing and I admit it was the best ever to come from the govern­ ment, because of its recognition of equal rights and its more generous reparations offer*

The members of Althing

at the Royal Commissioner were able to come to an under­ standing because he assured them their vote would be bind­ ing on the government and that they would not have to fear that Althing would have any measure forced through without its


Though the Royal Commissioner objected to

some clauses In Althing's resolution, he nevertheless promised to speak In favor of the proposed amendments. Mr. Leuning, Minister of Justice, in office at that time, was thoroughly acquainted with the whole issue and favor­ ably disposed to our viewpoint; he would, in all probability, have brought the issue to a satisfactory conclusion, but unfortunately for our case he wasn't available when we most needed him.

I talked to his successor Rosenorn-TeIImann,

about this matter.

He admitted that he was opposed to some

clauses in the resolution, the same ones opposed by the Royal Commissioner, but he undertook to see to It that Althing's recommendations would be binding.

But shortly

afterwards he resigned, to give way to the present minister of Justice, Mr. Nut z h o m .

Last fail he laid before the

Danish parliament, a bill which ostensibly

would settle

302# the financial issue, but he confuses it with the consti­ tutional issue when he attempts to designate what are strictly Icelandic affairs.

This, In spite of the fact

that Casse had said prior to 1863 that only the financial issue was the concern of the Danish parliament, since the whole matter of the constitution could be settled by agree­ ment between Althing and the king# The committee appointed by parliament to deal with this matter, dealt only with the matter of finance, but not without allowing the constitutional issue to color the report somewhat, with the result that parliament began to concern Itself more and more with the constitutional aspect, until it finally became the main issueo


did not, it is true, settle the matter, but it is quite apparent that it would like to arrogate to itself the right to legislate In matters pertaining peculiarly to Iceland as well#

This would be a violation of our right

to reach an agreement with our king on governmental policy in our own affairs, the same right exercised by our fellow citizens in Denmark in Danish affairs*

It is just as if

we were to take the Danish constitution for discussion at Althing, propse amendments and send them for ratification to His Majesty#

Of course nobody has the slightest notion

of doing this, and It should be far from our Danish brothers* thoughts to assail our rights or interfere in our affairs.

Thus to violate our rights is of no use or

303# value to the Danes, and serves no good purpose either to the kingdom or t o us • But the present state of affairs is not the fault of Althing, nor of the Icelanders*

The fault lies

with the government, and the attitude of certain Individuals in Denmark who act as if they had absolute power over us and our affairs*

This attitude Is bound to change eventually,

when these Individuals are convinced that it has no foundation In fact.

We have less reason to doubt this change when we

consider the progress made between 1851 and 1867 and the corresponding slight change In the government's attitude, and we may assume that parliament is governed by the same natural laws. Is for

Ultimately they must be convinced, but it

us to convince them, and our best procedure is to

insist firmly on our rights, never to yield them, but support them with sound arguments, of which we have plenty# We have not the slightest intention of abridging parliament's right to legislate in Denmark's affairs*

But insofar as

general matters pertain to Iceland, we are entitled to an equal vote as we always, have Iceland.

had on legislation affecting

As to our own Internal affairs there can be no

doubt that we have equal rights with the Danes# But the whole issue takes on an entirely different hue in the bill which parliament was preparing last winter*

The intention of that bill is to give the

304. Danish parliament complete control of our constitution, in fact, it acts on the assumption that parliament has the right to grant us a constitution, to give us reforms and permit us to govern ourselves.

It must then, also,

have the right to withhold or take away these things# It's exactly the same way English colonies have been treated, except that England has proceeded with more legality, that Is to say, the English parliament authorizes the queen to negotiate with a colony on a piece of legislation, and if, later, there is disagreement between the colony and the government on a vital issue, parliament has the power to withhold the proposed legislation indefinitely.


Danish government is using the same method when it orders parliament to dole out our national rights. But there Is something here of vastly greater Importance.

The government is presenting a bill to

Althing, which is entirely different from the one to which parliament had given partial consent, and altogether differ­ ent from the one presented to Althing In 1867.

Then it

was all one bill; now it is chopped into two parts#


the Danish parliament was not mentioned; now it is frequently referred to as having complete control over our affairs, directly or indirectly.

The opening statement in article

1 of the bill of 1867, namely, that Iceland had national rights, has disappeared; and yet this very Item was lauded by the Honorable Royal Commissioner as being basic to our constitution.

I can't see it anywhere now, in either of

305. the bills.

The bill of 1867 provided that the king, on

assuming power, would promise to uphold the Icelandic constitution; this bill makes no mention of it.


Althing's power to vote on general policy is to be rescinded (Article

now, a sort of cancellation is made of old


accounts between Iceland and Denmark without giving any statement of these accounts to Althing, and despite the stronger objections we have made to them#

Now, Article 9

states that Denmark's revised constitution shall all be valid In Iceland, despite the fact that nobody has seen it, either

here at Althing or elsewhere, at any time;

in 1867 only a few laws, specified

In the bill, were to

be binding on Iceland, and that is true of the bill of 1851 also# Another remarkable feature of the bill Is that it is concerned almost exclusively with peculiarly Icelandic affairs that belong in our constitution, while little mention Is made of general policy.

I cite, as an example,

Article 3, which enumerates the affairs which are exclusive­ ly Icelandic.

But surely these come under the jurisdiction,

not of the Danish parliaments, but of Althing#

It would

have been nearer the mark If parliament had decided on joint policies, pending the consent of Althing; for the vote of parliament is binding only in matters pertaining strictly to the kingdom of Denmark.


But since this bill has been laid before us we must either accept It, reject It, or ask that it be changed.

If our vote were considered binding so that we

could be sure no legislation would be forced on us, It would be a different matter, and we could safely propose amendments for further negotiations. stands we

But as the matter

have no foundation to build on, for in the

first place the government has arrogated to itself the right to Ignore any recommendation from Althing, except in minor items, and furthermore, what assurance have we that this bill would be passed even if we did consent to it in its present form without any changes?

May we

not expect parliament to make Itself thoroughly at home in this bill as It has done In others, especially since it does not emanate from parliament?

It would Indeed be

a strange part for Althing to play if it allowed itself to be used for making resolutions and bills for others to juggle with, and perhaps get back laws that Althing has never seen, much less consented to.

It is futile to think

you can introduce only such amendments as do not c onflict with the Danish laws, for the Danish laws are opposed to the principle of granting us equality# With regard to the money grant and our reparations claims, we note that the bill specifies 50,000 dollars to start with, a specification In line with one of the proposals made In the lower house. this offer.

But there Is no certainly about

The government cannot give any guarantee, for

307. it doesn't have the authority to do so.

In the upper

house the grant was fixed at 15,000 dollars as a maximum, with 35,000 for a few years* this is clearly a great difference if it were a question of a guaranteed amount assured by the government.

But, on the other hand, we

have no reason to hope that parliament would be any more likely to vote this sum than any other, and I must further remind you that the personnel in the lower house will not be the same.

The lower house Is likely to have an entirely

different complexion this year, for elections are to take place, and on October 1 the newly elected members will take their seats in the house.

And who can predict what

their stand will be? In the lower

house last winter there were,

unfortunately, many opposed to our claim of equality, but we have to live in the hope of gradually convincing more and more Danes of the truth, and get them to admit our right to self-government and financial autonomy.

I must

declare, as a member of Althing, and, what is more important, I must declare as president of Althing, Althing's vote Is too valuable to be thrown away on tentative proposals, and under the threat of being completely Ignored. No unprejudiced observer could be surprised at the reluctance of members to cast their votes on this bill in its present form and Intention.

No wonder members dont

trust themselves with such a bill, which emphasizes matters pertaining exclusively to Iceland and makes little

308. or no mention of matters of general policy#3®


among other things, in clause 2, repudiates those rights which Icelanders justly claim#

The government is res­

ponsible to no one for Its actions.

And just as it is

true In practice and theory that there can be no free government without responsibility, sd Is It also true that the government is responsible to those directly concerned, which, In this case, is Althing*

The respon­

sibility must all lie there, whether the government acts through an ambassador, or maintains Its connection with the King In some other manner. As the bill now stands, the government would take the place of the Royal Commissioner, and we have al­ ready seen how little his recommendations are heeded, even when he does his best in support of a measure.


Royal Commissionershave often tried to support us, but they have had to give way with their proposals#

Such a

state of affairs Is certainly not a desirable thing.


conditions offered us in this bill don't advance us a 39 single Inch, though some have said that it does, and I am astounded that any Icelander, with an Icelandic disposition, should for an instsnt hesitate about reject­ ing such a proposal. I am entirely in agreement with the member from Hunavatn, are now*

that the bill leaves us exactly where we

But it Is not enough to compare the bill with

38Article 3, Tldindi fra Althingi, 1859, II, 10. 39"haenu fet" literally, “a hen's step."

309 #

with our present status# bill of 1867#

We have to compare it with the

Parliament has, it is true, repudiated the

government's proposal and forced It to take a backward step, but we must remind the government that it is morally and politically obligated to stand by what It has once promised to undertake on our behalf. No, this bill Is not one hen's pace forward, unless we are speaking of hens who think they are going forward, but are really waddling in circles around the same pile of refuse, picking up the kernels which the farmer occasionally throws into the heap.

I shan't deny that the

occasional hen may find a good kernel now and then. The committee's demands show unmistakably that It is going In the right direction.

True, it has couched

them In a different form than I have done, but the items are identical, and its conclusion proves that I have been much out In my accounting.

The significant thing is the

claim of justice, and it is founded on solid arguments. To take the church properties as an example#

It is an

established fact that they were drawn into the national treasury with the explicit understanding on the king's part, and Indeed, in the very nature of things, that the national treasury should assume the expenditures previous­ ly charged against the church properties*

It Is a peculiarity

of the government's recent financial statements that every year the expenditures charged against the church property


are Itemized, such, as, cost of schools, bishops' salaries, etc# but no receipts are shown to balance them, and the government now wants to strike these accounts off the books# I will not give my consent to this#

It seems

to me much more just to have the accounts straightened out#

Let the Danes pay us what they owe

us whether the

amount is large or small, but our liberties and our rights they have no right to withhold from us#

This must be

called to the attention of the government and I take the liberty of challenging those honorable gentlemen who have most influence on the government and who have the respect of the government to do their part#

If the leading

administrators of our country had repeated these claims clearly and vigorously, and sincerely called attention to our needs and our rights, the conditions in our country would be much better; for the votes and the declarations of Influential men surely have more meaning and more In­ fluence than expressions of opinion from us lesser men# But regardless of what they may do, I have no fear as to the outcome#

We shall, in the eourse of time, gain

liberty and justice for our country, for what a good preacher said recently about the word of God, will also come true of uss

Iceland's liberty cannot be shackled#

It has been predicted that, If we reject these bills, either the issue will be dropped or this constitu­ tion will be forced on us; the Honorable Royal Commissioner

has predicted both*

Should the first alternative be our

lot the situation is practically unchanged, and we can wait a while until we gain acknowledgment of our rights from Denmark.

But should it be the second alternative

we know what to expect, even though we don't ask for it, and experience will show whether or not this bill advances us a hen's pace#

Some have prophesied that the government

would torture us and oppress us with compulsory taxes and other oppressive measures and Illegalities.

But I believe

with the honorable member from South Mulasysla that It is an entirely unjustifiably suspicious and mistrustful atti­ tude towards the government to think that It would illegally force upon us that which we all object to; In fact, when this was suggested by a member the other day, I was on the point of ruling him out of order# I shall say no more about this matter at present#

312. Effects of the Speech In presenting its bill the Danish government adopted the tactics of forcing it through Althing under the threat that it would be the last opportunity for the Icelandic people to deal with the matter of constitutional reform. Thus, the Royal Commissioner and all of the appointed representatives* aided by such able men as Benedikt Sveinsson and Grlmur Thomsen* bent every effort to cajole or browbeat Althing into accepting the bill* either in its entirety* or with minor and insignificant changes* Probably they would have succeeded in doing so but for Jon Sigurdsson.

That the, sponsors of the bill feared him

is evident from their attempt to unseat


Jon Sigurdssonfs speech summed up the case so effectively that very little discussion followed®


Royal Commissioner made a feeble effort to defend the merits of the bill* and his only attempt at refutation was to charge Jon Sigurdsson with exerting undue influence from the chair.

When the vote was taken it was a signal

victory for Sigurdsson, and the disappointed government supporters lost no time in blaming him for the outcome® Grimur

Thomsen remarked*

in an exchange with Sigurdsson*

I took the liberty, during the preliminary discussion of this matter* to point out that an invisible spirit hovered over the waters* while the committee was^reparing its report* to give the ccmmittee its blessing. This spirit has since materialized itself in the form of the President**^ 5aTldlndl fra Althlngl. 1869, I, 759.

515* The effects trie#

upon people of Iceland were elec-

Bishop Thorhallur Bjarnarson writes of the effect


upon visiting members in the house: No speech of Jon Sigurdsson’s has provoked so much thought and discussion in this country as his main speech on the constitutional issue in 1869* I remember very clearly how eager people were to read it* SIgridur, the Bishop’s wife, an intelli­ gent and plain spoken woman— -and I have the story from the reverent Eirik Brlem-could not resist telling her husband in plain words that it was not to be wondered at that Jon Sigurdsson had so much more power over m e n ’s minds than his opponents had* She came home from the school house enchanted, after hearing the speech, and yet, from all reports, she was a woman not easily carried a w a y * ^ Once more Jon Sigurdsson had showed his country­

men the way, even though the struggle was far from over* There can be little doubt that, without his leadership at this time, Althing would have been forced to yield*


it was, the Danish government tried to ignore Althing altogether and only under threat of large scale emigration of Icelanders to America, did it finally yield to the people’s demands and grant the constitution of 1874o

^OwgQdurminningar urn Jon Sigurdsson,n Skirnir, 1911, p* 278*

314. IV.



Tills speech comes as a summing

up and a refutation of arguments given in the course of a long debate, and it was given in an effort to clear up the issues In what threatened to become an interminable dis­ cussion. In a brief and challenging introduction the speaker immediately states the issue:

"Is the new

constitution to be shaped according to our needs and our rights?*

Then, by means of a transitional paragraph

which assumes the historical proof of Iceland’s status, he moves into the body of the argument, which he launches with the question:

"But where do we Icelanders stand in

the matter of equal rights and our demand for those rights when we look at the course of events to which we are referred as proof that those rights no longer exist?" The

answer tothis question is found in the first division

of the argument, which traces events from 1831 to 1869* The order Is chronological. Having traced the events leading up to the bill of 1869, the speaker next analyzes the bill itself, the method used being that of comparison with the bill of 1867.

The contrast between the two bills Is shown

clause by clause. The third division of the argument is the speaker’s defense of his claims against the Danish treasury,

315. and at the same time a refutation of the finance clauses in the bill before Althing. The speech then moves on to a climactic con­ clusion which, in the intensity of its appeal, becomes a peroration, declaring God to be on the side of Iceland, and appealing to the magnanimity and good will of the government. Outlined, the arrangement would appear as follows s Introduction:


We are concerned with shaping a constitution in accord with the needs of our country. I. The course of events has justified rather than minimized our claims. II.

The present bill proposes to reverse progress and rob us of our rights and gains.



The present bill justifies the financial claims I have made against the government.

I. Iceland’s liberty cannot be shackled. II*

I do not believe the government will act dishonorably or lllegaly.

The whole speech moves inexorably towards the one conclusion, namely, that the responsibility for adjusting affairs between Iceland and Denmark lies squarely upon the Danish government.

A note of Indignation recurring

throughout the argument gives added unity and intensity, as the speaker from time to time directly charges the govern­ ment with obstruction tactics.

316. B.

Log!cal proof.

Underlying the whole

argument Is the basic assumption of Iceland’s historical rights, as implied by the sentence beginning “This demand for equality of rights is not a brand new issue with us.1* The speaker does not even dwell upon this aspect of his argument, since he knows that practically every member In Althing takes It for granted*

He merely uses it by in­

direction as he moves into his argument, which constitutes an attack upon the bill before the house. The first part of the argument consists of an analysis of events between 1831 and 1869, an historical exposition designed to refute the claim of the government that Iceland had forfeited its rights.

The speaker proves,

by specific references that the King of Denmark acknowledged the people’s right to legislate their own affairs, and that the Icelandic people had assumed, as a matter of course, that they would be permitted to exercise their rights.


cites the efforts of Icelanders to gain a parliament of their own Immediately after 1831, step by step, year by year.

He proves each step by citing historical documents

and parliamentary records: 1.

By the Proclamation of 1843, Iceland was granted the right to hold its own Althing.


With the abolition of absolutism in 1848, Iceland gained the right to self-govern­ ment.


At the national convention In 1851, the people expressed their desire for their own constitution.

317. 4.

Althing in 1853, 1857, and 1861, 1865 was led to expect that its wish for a free constitution would be granted.

Thus, the speaker shows by direct reference to historical records that the people of Iceland have never relinquished their rights as an independent nation. On the other hand, by contrast, the records showed that the government had blocked reform and thwarted the legitimate desire of the people: 1.

The Danish constitution of 1849 violated the spirit of the King’s letter*


The governmentfs representative unlawfully disbanded the national convention before its voice could be heard#


The Proclamation of 1852 turned everything back into the old groove.


The bill of 1865 went contrary to the wishes of the people, and was rejected.


The bill of 1867 was acceptable, with Its promise of reform, but the new bill violates that spirit#

The speaker, after drawing this comparison, does not hesitate to lay the blame for the present situation directly upon the government. As further support to his arguments he refers to eminent Danish authorities, such as the Ministers of Justice, who have, to a large extent favored some of the demands made by Icelandic delegates#

These authoritlesare Casse, Leunig

and Rosenorn-Teilman, all of whom saw the reasonableness of Althing’s demands for financial compensation to Iceland. The second phase of the argument consists In an analysis of the bill of 1869.

He takes It clause by

318. clause, pointing out its fallacies and showing where it violates the promises of the King and of the previous parliament.

He contrasts it with the bill of 1867#

After such an analysis the conclusion is inevitable, and Sigurdsson draws its

"It would Indeed be a strange part

for Althing to play if It allowed itself to be used for making resolutions and bills for others to juggle with, and perhaps much

get back laws that Althing has never seen,

lessconsented toJ"

The case against the govern­

ment is complete, and Sigurdsson challenges them to straighten out the tangle for which they themselves are responsible# Refutation#

The whole speech Is in the nature

of a refutation, but the speaker also makes direct attacks on specific arguments*

This Is excellently exemplified in

his exposure of the government ’s attempt to distort the meaning of the word “advisory11#

Sigurdsson 1 s argument, in

outline is as follows: I*

The lawyer’s Interpretation of "advisory" is false, for A# It justifies tyranny and Injustice# E. It Is unreconeliable with the ethical code to ask advice only to disregard it# C# English monarch follows the advise of his "advisory" parliament* D* "forehandle" means that we have a deliberative vote* E. A deliberative vote is a deciding vote#

At another point he attacks the government by defining the nature and function of parliamentary rule,

319* namely, that one parliament must accept responsibility for the enactments and promises of the parliament that preceded It*

Therefore, It was a violation of parliamentary pro­

cedure to introduce the bill of 1869, as contrary in spirit to the bill of 1867* Another excellent example of refutation Is the clause by clause attack on the bill of 18690

It is analysis

by contrast and parallel structure and serves to emphasize the glaring inconsistencies in the two bills.

H© points

out Its differences, first, in Its general trends, then in specific clauses: A* 8



It assumes that the Danish government has the authority to legislate for us* Treats us like Britain treats her colonies, but less fairly* It differs in specific points from the bill of 1867; 1. It is chopped Into two parts* 2* Icelandic rights have disappeared* 3. Althing’s power to vote on general policy is rescinded* 4. Debts are to be cancelled without an accounting* 5* Denmark’s constitution Is to be valid In Iceland* 6 * Strictly Icelandic affairs are put under the Danish parliament.

This is effective refutation, especially since it could be so easily checked by placing the two documents side by side* C* Ethical proof*

There can be no question that

ethical proof plays a very important part In this speech. Its logical aspects were familiar to the audience through their long and careful study of the speaker’3 previous

articles on the subject#

Other speakers

had attacked

the bill and exposed its logical fallacies, but several members at Althing were afraid to vote against the bill lest it be Iceland’s last opportunity to gain her consti­ tutional freedom#

TShat the members of Althing needed most

at this time was new

heart and new courage#

They were

becoming weary of the long struggle and were almost ready to give way under the continuous pressure#

There can be

no doubt that they looked to Jon Sigurdsson for moral support, and it is equally certain that Jon Sigurdsson rose to the occasion#

He had been leader of the Icelandic

people for twenty years; he was conscious of his power, and long experience had given him confidence#

In none

of his speeches did he exert all his power as

he did

in this one#

He brought bear all the resources of his

intelligence, his character, and his long years of familiarity with the subject#

He spoke as one with

authority, consciously and deliberately, and yet as one moved with profound moral indignation#

And, Indeed,

there can be little doubt that Jon Slgurdsson’s patience was almost exhausted# The speech abounds in examples of direct ethical appealo

The speaker uses the personal pronoun

frequently, and refers directly to his own efforts: In a position to know";

"I am

"I was a member of the committee"

321# f,I will not give my consent to this"; as President of Althing";

"I must declare

"Regardless of what they may

do I have no fear of the outcome#" utterances of a man conscious of

These are the his authority and

power* He strikes a high ethical note throughout the whole speech, in emphasizing the sense of justice and fair play shown by Althing and the people of Iceland, as contrasted with the obstruction tactics of the governments We thought it best to make our protest as reasonable as possible in order not to Injure the cause of Denmark# It appeared to be our first duty# We wanted to give our full support to the Danes in securing their liberty* It should be far from our Danish brothers ’ thoughts to assail our rights or Interfere with our affairs# He also makes constant allusions to the ethlQAl basis of the Icelandic cause; They were merely expecting fair dealing# cannot be reconciled with the ethical code that operates in the dealings of respec­ table individuals*#* The government’s attitude Is bound to change* Ultimately they must be convinced* Our best procedure Is to insist firmly on our rights, never to yield them, but support them with sound arguments, of which we have plenty* I am astounded that any Icelander with an Icelandic disposition should for an Instant hesitate about rejecting such a proposal*

322* #•*what a good preacher said recently about the word of God will also come true of us; Iceland’s liberty cannot be shackled# There is further ethical proof in his vigorous attack on the government's policy, and in his fearlessness In the face of Its threats to make this Iceland’s last opportunity#

He concludes with an expression of confidence

in the ultimate good will and co-operation of the government# D*

Pathetloal proof#

This speech, more than

any w e have studied, derives much of Its power from the use of pathetical proof • As Sigurdsson, in his capacity of chairman, listened to the heated arguments, his own indigna­ tion kept mounting, until finally he could restrain himself no longer#

As a result his language is charged with

connotations and emotional drive, for he was

trying to

produce certain attitudes In his audience, to give emotional re-enforcement to their intellectual convictions*


should also be remembered that feelings ran high, that the atmosphere was charged with tension* A few examples will show this

use of pathetical

proof: It cannot be a question of equal wrongs to all# This bill has not advanced us a hen's pace# I am convinced the government did not intend to trample on the rights of Icelanders# Such an interpretation is to justify tyranny and injustice# This is known as hoodwinking people#

323. The government alone is responsible* Danish laws are opposed to the principle of granting us equality* Althing's time Is far too valuable to be thrown away* Everybody remembers the sudden termination of the national convention* Pathetical proof is implicit, also, in the use of Irony, and in the sharp and biting attack on the govern­ ment*

It was a fighting speech*

Summary Sigurdsson's ultimate aim was to achieve con­ stitutional independence for his country*

His conviction

that Iceland had never relinquished her ancient independent status was the recurring theme of his speeches* Established originally by warrior chieftains escaping from the tyranny of Harald Hairfair of Norway, the Icelandic nation became a vigorous, self-governing people*

In 1262 they entered into an agreement with the

King of Norway, whereby they acknowledged him as King of Iceland*

This agreement was the Gamll Sattmali* As time passed disease and famine decimated

the population of Iceland and the vigor of the people declined*

In the meantime, the more powerful nation

of Norway, and later Denmark, gradually absorbed Iceland* The people, though helpless to resist this exploitation, nevertheless, did not legally relinquish their original

324# status.

But precedent and the "course of events" gradually

obscured the nature of the relations between Denmark and Iceland, and the Danish government became convinced of its right to govern the smaller country* position that Iceland's

Sigurdsson took the

historical status was unchanged,

and with the renunciation of absolutism by the King of Denmark In 1843, he demanded constitutional liberty for Iceland* Reply to Larsen In his reply to Larsen Sigurdsson displays his forensic skill at Its very best*

For the sake of

clarity It Is here presented as a brief, but in the original essay, the argument takes the form of minutely documented inductive reasoning*

That is to say, Sigurdsson

examines historical documents, and minutely, and draws his conclusions*

events, analyzes them His research was

exhaustive, for he left scarcely a possibility unexplored* Some idea of his thoroughness is conveyed by the fact that his essay consisted of 108 pages, while Larsen's had only 43 pages* It will be seen that the method is the same one employed In his speaking, except that In the essay, as in other propaganda articles, there Is more detail, more statistics, and a greater number of citations*


whole is a closely welded causal chain, each link in­ dissolubly connected with the next, all leading to the one


Later, the conclusions reached from this

Inductive chain were used as major premises on the floor of Althing during the debate for constitutional reform. Speech of 1869 The speech of 1869 is the crest of a climac­ tic development of speeches.

The basic assumption of

Iceland's historical status is there; the method of historical exposition is used to the utmost; the same skill in refutation is evident in the masterly attack on the bill of 1868; there is the same careful documen­ tation and meticulous accuracy* But ethical and pathetical proof which, In most of the preceding speeches, was implicit or very cautiously used, is here used directly and with telling effect*

The speech bears every evidence of sincere

moral In d i c a t i o n on the part of the speaker, andof direct drive at the emotions of the audience*


language is full of suggestion and connotation, and the speaker asserts his authority consciously and with full knowledge of its effect*

327* Chapter VII. Style and Delivery

We have discussed arrangement and Invention, hut to enlarge our understanding of Jon Sigurdsson, the speaker, we still need to consider style and delivery, and the extent to which these two factors entered into the act of persuasion. As to style, no effort will be made at minute analysis, since such an analysis would be meaningless to a reader when he cannot refer to the original text# Translation can, at best, preserve only some of the general qualities of the style of the original, and this is particularly true in translating a highly inflected language like Icelandic into an uninflected language like English. The treatment of delivery will also have to be general.

Jon Sigurdsson spoke before the age of the

phonograph and in a country which was not "speech conscious* to the extent of making minute, scientific observations of a speaker's platform manner*


there are few objective analyses of his delivery*


best observations have been gathered into the Sklrnir memorial edition of 1911, and they are the chief sources of this work*

They are impressions and reminiscences of

Jon Sigurdsson on the platform by men who heard him in their youth.

328. I.


Clear and logical.

Any reader must be

struck with the clear and logical arrangement of Jon Sigurdssonfs ideas*

Buff on's famous dictum, "Le style,

c'est l ’homme" is particularly true of Sigurdsson, for his written and spoken language Is the reflection of a scholarly and scientific mind*

Sigurdsson brought the

same care and precision to his spoken utterances that he brought to his scientific research*

He observes closely

and minutely, and reports exactly what he observes*


ing Sigurdsson1s speeches is almost like watching the Inevitable march of events*

There can be no mistaking

his meaning, for the facts are marshalled and the con­ clusion is drawn, figures and statistics are given in such profusion that no possible doubt can remain.


ease with which his speeches can be outlined is an indication of their compact logical structure# Bo

Con vers at i onal.

Jon Sigurdsson fs style is

essentially conversational In quality, the style of a man who speaks extemporaneously and thinks on his feet. This Is evident In an occasional abruptness In the intro­ duction and In the conclusion, In the homeliness and naturalness of his Idioms, in the general absence of bookishness and oratorical flourishes.

This was partly

determined by the fact that he was President of Althing and spoke only when he felt moved to do so by the urgency of the situation, and the need for refutation, but it was

529. determined even more by bis vast and detailed knowledge cf the subject*^*

This conversational quality is seen in a

certain looseness of structure, in the accumulation of subordinate clauses as one idea gives rise to another, In a tendency to digress*

The Tldlndi fra Althingi, in

reporting his speeches, pays little attention to paragraph division or sentence division* find long complex sentences,

On the other hand, we in Icelandic, with its many

Inflections, the Inter-relationship of ideas Is perfectly clear, but the effect cannot be reproduced in English translation.

So great was Jon Sigurdsson 1s knowledge of

his subject that he was never at a loss for ideas, and so careful was his training in composition that he was rarely at a loss for the precise word, even when he spoke on the spur of the moment* C*

Calm and moderate.

All critics have

commented upon the moderation and calmness of Sigurdsson 1s utterances.

Barely, even under pressure, does he display

personal resentment*

Never does he report to the "name-

calling" or the "ad hominem" argument. against his opponents

If he makes charges

he does so vigorously and openly

and substantiates what he says.

His speech on the status

of Iceland In 1869 Is an outstanding example of his restraint, even when greatly moved* springs from two sources;

This reasonableness

his habit of scientific

^See Appendix A for a carefully prepared address*

objectivity, and his genuine appreciation of the Danes as people*

He did not hate the Danes as many of his

countrymen did, even though he did lose patience with the government*

But even in the most heated controversy he

was attacking idease rather than people*

Besides these

unconscious influences on his style, it should be remembered that he advocated the method of reason rather than the method of passion and prejudice* He believed that firmness, tempered with tolerr ance, would bring ultimate victory* The ability to remain calm, reasonable and tolerant Is perfectly illustrated in the controversy with Larsen*

Flnnur Jons son has the following comment to

make; (hie might think that he (Jon Sigurdsson) wrote the whole essay extemporaneously. This work, which is controversial in character, is a model In every respect, in arrangement, reasonableness of language, calmness of presentation and, for us Ice­ landers at least, convincing in its logic* It is like watching a knightly tournament* Here are no disparaging or discourteous remarks, no words of censure, no illmannered Invective * 2 By and large, this same spirit was carried into his speeches at Althing* This does not imply that Jon Sigurdsson*s style was anemic or devitalized*

On the contrary, it was

essentially masculine, the hard-hitting style of a strong,

^"Vislndastorf Jons Sigurdssonar, w Skirnir, 1911, p. 175*

331. clean fighter, conscious of his strength, confident of victory and convinced of the justice of his cause* D®

Simple and direct#

Jon Sigurdsson addressed

himself at all times to the rational intellect#

His aim

was to convince through analysis and exposition, and his language, in confoimity to that purpose is a clear-cut, lucid prose.

He spoke and wrote, as Flnnur Jonsson has

pointed out in his critical essay, in a straightforward manner and without affectation.

Professor Flnnur Joheson

even goes so far as to recommend Jon Sigurdsson1s style as a model to aspiring prose writers• To some It might appear that Jon Sigurdsson*s style is too prosaic, arid even, and lacking in that fire and imagination which one associates with Impassioned oratory.

It is true that his style is unadorned and lack­

ing in ornamentation, and that some of us reading his speeches today might find them cold and dry, but it should be remembered that his articles and speeches were eagerly read by his contemporaries In Iceland.

They were hungry

for facts and arguments, and he supplie