March 29

This Day in History

World War I

Mar 29, 1917:

Swedish prime minister resigns over WWI policy

Prime Minister Hjalmar Hammarskjold of Sweden, father of the famous future United Nations Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold, resigns on this day in 1917 after his policy of strict neutrality in World War I—including continued trading with Germany, in violation of the Allied blockade—leads to widespread hunger and political instability in Sweden.

The elder Hammarskjold, a professor of law who became active in politics and served as a delegate to the Hague convention on international law in 1907, was asked by King Gustav V of Sweden to become prime minister in 1914 after a popularly elected government was opposed and defeated by conservative forces. From the beginning of his administration, Hammarskjold pursued a policy of strict neutrality in the war, continuing trade with Germany and thus subjecting his country and people to the hardships wrought by the Allied naval blockade in the North Sea, in place from November 1914.

Though the Allies—and many within Sweden—saw Hammarskjold's neutrality as a pro-German policy, he apparently considered it a necessary product of his firm principles regarding international law. Sweden's sacrifice during the war, he believed, would prove that it was not an opportunistic nation but a just one; this would put it in a stronger position after the war ended. In practice, however, his policies, and the hunger they produced, hurt Hammarskjold, as did his identification with Sweden's monarchy and other reactionary forces, just as a movement toward true parliamentary democracy was growing in Sweden.

In 1917, Hammarskjold rejected a proposal for a common trade agreement with Great Britain that had been brokered by Marcus Wallenberg, brother of Sweden's foreign minister, Knut Wallenberg, and would have brought much-needed economic relief to Sweden. With the obvious conflict between Hammarskjold and Wallenberg, the prime minister lost the support of even his most right-wing allies in parliament, and was forced to submit his resignation at the end of March 1917. He was succeeded by Carl Swartz, a conservative member of parliament who served only seven months. In October 1917, Sweden's Social Democratic party won their first general election, and Nils Eden became prime minister.

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