Instrument of Government (1772)

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Gustav III of Sweden

The 1772 Instrument of Government (

King Gustav III, and replaced the 1720 Instrument of Government, which had been in force for most of the Age of Liberty (1719-72). Although in theory the 1772 Instrument merely readjusted the balance of power between the Crown and the Riksdag of the Estates (Swedish Parliament), without changing Sweden's status as a constitutional monarchy, in practice it is generally seen as instituting an absolute monarchy, especially after its modification in 1789 by the Union and Security Act, which further strengthened royal power at the expense of the Riksdag. It remained in force throughout the Gustavian era, until replaced by the 1809 Instrument of Government as a result of the Coup of 1809.[1]


During the Age of Liberty (1719–1772), Sweden was governed as a

Hats' War (1741–1743) and the Pomeranian War (1757–1762). Indeed, some historians argue that by the early 1770s the situation had deteriorated to the extent that Sweden was on the brink of anarchy.[2]

Gustav III was therefore able to attract considerable support for his scheme to overthrow the government and replace the 1720 Instrument of Government with a new constitution. On 19 August 1772 the king rallied the Stockholm garrison and arrested the Council of the Realm, along with several prominent members of the Cap party. Two days later he convened a session of the Riksdag and compelled it to accept a new constitution which he had drawn up, the 1772 Instrument of Government.[2]


The Instrument of Government was a somewhat curious mix of different influences. In part it was based on earlier Swedish political traditions, harking back above all to the reign of the revered

King Gustav II Adolf; for example, it revived the posts of Lord High Chancellor and Lord High Steward, which had once been among the Great Offices of the Realm but had fallen out of use in the previous century.[3][4]

On the other hand, large parts of the Instrument were also inspired by recent

US Constitution, drawn up four years later, and indeed Gustav was an avowed admirer of the nascent United States.[5]

However, while Gustav may have admired



Significant provisions of the Instrument of Government included the following:

Coup of 1809

After the Swedish defeat in the Finnish War, a coup d'état was mounted against Gustav's son and successor, King Gustav IV Adolf, by disgruntled liberals and army officers. The king was forced to abdicate and sent into exile, and a new constitution was then drawn up, the Instrument of Government (1809), which superseded the 1772 Instrument.[7]

In Finland after 1809

In the

Russian Empire, the 1772 Instrument of Government had a peculiar status. While the Russian emperors, reigning in Finland as grand dukes, never gave any indication that they considered their autocratic powers limited by any constitution, a theory was developed in Finland that the old Instrument of Government remained in force, mutatis mutandis, with Finland's position as part of the Empire having the nature of a personal union. This theory was, however, never put forward officially and never accepted in St. Petersburg. It did gain considerable popular currency in Finland, so that Russification
measures instituted from the 1890s onwards were commonly decried as an "unconstitutional" assault on the country's autonomy. The "Constitutionals" (perustuslailliset) were an important political faction in Finland at this time, and their legacy of constitutional legalism has had a significant effect on later Finnish politics.

The matter remained officially uncontested and arguably unresolved for more than a century, but after the abdication of

Nicholas II in 1917, the Parliament of Finland, as successor to the old Estates of the Realm, moved to assume sovereign power in Finland, based on the old Swedish provisions in case of a vacancy on the throne. This led to a power struggle with the Provisional Government of Russia, as well as within Finland, culminating, after the October Revolution, in the Finnish declaration of independence

The Instrument of Government was finally superseded when Finland adopted a new, republican instrument of government in 1919.

See also


  1. Nordisk Familjebok
  2. ^
    Nordisk Familjebok
    (1909), pp. 672–673
  3. ^
    SELIBR 1610850
  4. ^ .
  5. p. 149
  6. ^ a b c Articles 6 and 7 of the Instrument (Instrument of Government or Regeringsform). (in Swedish)
  7. Nordisk Familjebok
    (1915) (in Swedish)

External links