A historic referendum

The Danes had to agree before the colony in the West Indies could be sold. The vote in December 1916 was not merely the first referendum in Denmark, but also the first where women and servants could exercise their new voting rights. Faroese and Danes abroad were also given the opportunity to vote. The only people who were not asked were the population of the colonies in the West Indies.
Covering letter for ship’s mate Poul Svarrer’s ballot.
Covering letter for ship’s mate Poul Svarrer’s ballot, sent by the consul in Le Havre. (Danish National Archives).

When the treaty with the Americans had been formulated in August 1916, Denmark held a referendum on the sale on 14th December 1916, which resulted in a clear yes.

Danes living abroad also voted

Seamen who were sailing on the day of the referendum could cast their vote with a Danish consul. One example is the ship’s mate Poul Svarrer, who voted at the office of the Danish consul in Le Havre in France. According to the sources, the ballot was to be filled in personally, ”voluntarily and without being seen by anyone else, in a private room” and then placed in a sealed envelope. The envelope was placed in a larger envelope that was then sent to Svarrer’s local municipality, Copenhagen, together with a covering letter. Voting secrecy was maintained – to this day we do not know how Svarrer voted.

Not everybody abided by the rules

The procedure was not followed so correctly everywhere. The consul in Lisbon sent a list to Copenhagen, which the 22 seamen who had voted at his office had had to sign with name, address and age and whether they voted yes or no! Therefore, today we know how each of them voted; the result in Lisbon was 19 for and 3 against the sale of the colony.

The result in figures

The overall result was 283,670 votes (64 percent of the votes cast) in favor of the sale and 158,157 votes (36 percent) against. The only counties with a majority against the sale were Thisted and Vejle.

Picture of a 'yes' vote.
Example of a ballot with a ’yes’ vote, sent from France. (Danish National Archives)


Picture of a 'no' vote.
Example of a ballot with a ’no’ vote, sent from France. (Danish National Archives).
Drawing of H. Jensenius in Klods-Hans 1916.
One had to be 29 to take part in the referendum. Divulging one’s age could be quite revealing. (H. Jensenius in Klods-Hans 1916).