Two caricatures – from the newspapers Social-Demokraten and Vort Land – illustrate the form taken by the debate.
The new standpoint of the right of centre press
Social-Demokraten published the drawing at the top of the page on 8 August 1916, a few days after the foreign ministers of Denmark and the USA had reached agreement on the terms of the sales treaty. In the view of Social-Demokraten, the right of centre press had changed its standpoint from opposing to supporting the sale. The drawing shows the editor in chief of Berlingske Tidende, Christian Gullmann, running in front; the little man is Julius Wulff of Vort Land; Harald Witzansky, editor of the liberal newspaper København is on the right; and Oskar Kalko, editor of National-Tidende, is at the back.
Social-Demokraten was not alone in its criticism. The newspaper Vort Land was fired as the organ of the Højre party following its approval of the sale of the islands.
The drawing from Vort Land on 14 August 1916 commented on the secretiveness surrounding the negotiations between the Danish and American governments in the summer of 1916.
It was finance minister Edvard Brandes and especially minister for foreign affairs Erik Scavenius who were responsible for the negotiations. The first rumours about the sale appeared in the press in July, but both Brandes and Scavenius firmly denied that the rumours had any substance. Nevertheless, shortly after they presented the negotiated sales treaty at a closed meeting of parliament. The treaty was signed on 4 August 1916.
It was not only Vort Land that expressed surprise. The opposition fiercely criticized the government and claimed that the ministers could no longer be trusted. Brandes replied: ”When one has to conceal something, one conceals it if one is a decent person”, and Scavenius said that trust between political opponents was an impossibility.
The government, however, had to meet the opposition halfway, with the result that the Social-Liberal government took three “control ministers” without portfolio into the government – from the Liberal, the Conservative and the Social Democratic parties.