Friday, 24 May 2024


Orla Lehmann (1810-1870)

Orla Lehmann (1810-1870) was a Danish politician and a leading member of the Danish National Liberal Party (one of the earliest in Europe, around 1830+, and possibly the first to use the name. They were also known as the intellectuals’ party as many belonged to the educated middle class).

His involvement with the party began at an early stage writing for liberal newspaper (Copenhagen Post) before becoming an editor of the National Liberal supporting magazine ‘The Fatherland’. Whilst his initial passion was in liberalising the Danish political system by replacing absolute monarchy with a democratic constitution he later added on a patriotic desire to unite with fellow countrymen in Schleswig (“Denmark to the Eider!” was an NLP slogan).

Orla Lehmann formulated the Ejder program in 1842 . The Eider program (the River Eider being the desired southern border) aimed to absorb the Schleswig province into Denmark whilst, unlike Conservatives, releasing the German Duchies of Holstein and Lauenburg (presently under the Danish Monarchy). Denmark Thus many Liberals, heavily influenced by national romantic/cultural ideals, became National Liberals.

In 1848 Europe erupted in Liberal, Nationalist and National Liberal revolutions. In Denmark the desire for change was driven by the latter. In March mass rallies, one of which Lehmann addressed, called upon the King to accept a new democratic and national system of government. Under this pressure and the fear of revolution the King appointed a Constitutional Ministry composed of National Liberals and Conservatives.

Ultimately, whilst the first Schleswig war (1848-51) with Germany helped unite the country the second (1864) led to the loss of the province (and 200,000 citizens) and the slow demise of the party.

Although Lehmann was later eclipsed by younger NL leaders e.g. Christian Hall who implemented many of their original democratic demands in the late 1850’s he was held in high esteem by his countrymen as an inspirational figurehead who had broken the power of monarchy. For us he will be remembered as someone who could combine a passion for both his country and people and where democracy and patriotism are two sides of a coin.

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