Kootut teokset | Samlade skrifter | Selected Works

The Diet of 1765–6

It was the issue of the staple rights – by far the most important political issue at the time from an Ostrobothnian perspective – that to a large extent paved the way for Chydenius’s debut at the Diet of 1765–6. However, his road to becoming a delegate for his estate was a long and winding one. Initially, some influential leaders of the Cap party in Finland seem to have taken notice of the radical young chaplain. Among them the three brothers Per Niklas, Gabriel and Matthias Mathesius – sons of Nils Mathesius, the rector at Pyhäjoki – seem to have been the most important.1 They were all radical opponents of the Hat government, and, together with other family members, present and past, active in the Estate of Clergy (Gabriel was appointed dean in Uppsala in 1766).2 Chydenius was obviously successful in convincing the brothers Mathesius and others that he was the right man to send to Stockholm in order to work for a reform concerning the staple question. However, to become elected he had to be voted in by his corporation, and this was indeed a complicated process. It remained unclear until the beginning of the Diet whether or not the more humble chaplains were allowed to send a delegate of their own.3 When Chydenius arrived in Stockholm it was first said that the clergymen in Ostrobothnia had made a mistake: chaplains were not worthy to become delegates. This did not, however, hinder Chydenius from being voted in by a majority of his estate. As we will see later on, he would take a very active part in the debates and activities during the Diet, and in this respect he could not have disappointed his patrons.4 His first intervention, first delivered orally and then in a written memorial, clearly made many ponder how this novice from remote Ostrobothnia could speak up in such radical language: he starkly proclaimed that no one who had been the least involved in the affairs of the Bank of the Estates or the Ironmasters’ Association or had handled the state finances in the past should be allowed to be a member of a Diet committee.5

Shortly after his arrival in Stockholm he published a short pamphlet, probably based on the manuscript written in 1763, arguing for the right of the citizens of Ostrobothnia and Västerbotten to sail wherever they wished with their products: “Refutation of the Reasons Employed to Deny the Towns in Ostrobothnia and Västerbotten as well as in Västernorrland a Free Navigation”.6 A struggle that had been going on for decades finally ended when the estates granted staple rights to two towns in Norrland and four towns in Ostrobothnia, including Kokkola. The right that was granted was of significant importance for the development of these towns later, during the nineteenth century.

It was his work in different committees and in the estate that stimulated Chydenius to write a number of his best-known tracts (all published in this volume), including “The Source of Our Country’s Weakness” (Källan til rikets wan-magt, 1765), “The National Gain” (Den nationnale winsten, 1765) and “A Remedy for the Country by Means of a Natural System of Finance” (Rikets hjelp, genom en naturlig finance-system, 1766). Moreover, his contribution in helping to pass the ordinance for an extended freedom of printing in 1766 was without doubt decisive. Maybe he was a bit too active? As we will see, some may have thought that the young chaplain overstretched himself a little, and were quite relieved when he was suddenly excluded from the Diet and sent home during the summer of 1766. We will return to the causes of this dramatic event in a moment.

Without doubt, the Diet of 1765–6 formed the scene for the most formative moment in which Chydenius developed his main economic and political ideas. At this Diet one issue totally dominated all the others: the fact that the Swedish economy was in acute and severe crisis. A staggering rate of inflation hit the iron and steel industry especially hard, as it was extremely dependent on exports. Rising prices caused exports to fall, which in turn led to a negative trade balance; this was called “underweight” at the time. Less foreign demand for wares also caused falling demand for Swedish monies. A more modern view taking its point of departure from Hume’s specie­flow mechanism would perhaps see this lowering of value as a positive counterbalancing force: cheaper money creates more demand from abroad. However, at this time the “raising”7 of the exchange rate of Swedish money in Hamburg, Amsterdam and other foreign cities was looked upon as a problem caused by an “underweight” to which there existed no automatic countervailing or stabilizing forces. Hence, if foreign wares became dearer in exchange (a worsening of the nation’s terms of trade), the effect would be a direct national loss. The supposition that Sweden had a negative trade balance with other countries had in fact been a mantra in the economic discussion since the 1730s. It served as one of the main arguments in favour of a policy of substituting foreign imports for domestic production, for example through state support of manufactories.8 Moreover, the observation that inflation seemed to hurt some people (savers) but help others (spenders) – a common general effect of high inflation – was used as proof that criminal behaviour on the part of some speculating individual “capitalists” and money-jobbers was the true cause of the crisis.

More particularly, the Bank of the Estates (Ständernas bank) was blamed by contemporary critics. As the first central bank in Europe, it had started its operations in 1668. Formally it was owned and controlled by the estates, with its main task being to issue bonds or promissory notes in order to borrow money on behalf of the state. On request, the issued notes were to be exchanged for copper or silver monies. To some extent also, the bank was intended to be able to lend money to individuals. However, it was unable to refrain from issuing too many notes, which seems to be an eternal vice repeating itself through history. The result was inevitable: the notes fell in value. Bankruptcy would occur if there were a run for metallic money, and therefore the cashing in of notes had to be stopped in 1745, which in practice meant a transfer to a paper standard. Sweden’s disastrous involvement in the Seven Years War in the 1750s had to a large extent been financed through the issuing of ever more notes. Consequently, their value rapidly deteriorated in relation to the silver Hamburg riksdaler, the main denominator at the time. Hence, a loan taken up in circulating money in the form of notes became an increasingly lighter burden over time. In fact, the relative value of the circulating so-called copper mark in relation to the Hamburg riksdaler sank from 1:36 in 1737 to 1:72 in 1761.9 Not least, those who had bought notes at the Bank of the Estates at the higher rate felt utterly cheated. What they were able to receive in silver money when they cashed in their notes had rapidly dropped in value. This, more than anything else, caused alarm and bitterness during the Diet of 1765–6 and the situation reached boiling point; a scapegoat was clearly needed and was ultimately found.

Hence, for many observers it seemed clear that the directors of the Bank of the Estates as well as individuals connected with them through patronage were the people most responsible.10 In particular, it was argued that this group had a private stake in lowering the value of the circulating money. According to this version, “insiders” had borrowed great sums from their own bank, which they could now pay back in money of less value than before. For their own private gain they had over-issued promissory notes as well as manipulated the Swedish exchange rate in order to make it fall in relation to foreign money. A critique against “evil speculators” such as Gustaf Kierman, Jean Henry Le Febure and the brothers Claes and Johan Abraham Grill had already started at the end of the 1750s but now escalated. Increasingly, the Hat leadership, to a large extent consisting of wealthy Stockholm merchants, nicknamed Skeppsbroadeln, was also now being targeted. In the eyes of the Cap opposition, which had grown considerably in size since the last Diet, that of 1760–2, they were responsible also for the unsuccessful war with Prussia and its allies. They were also accused of corrupt use of state means to support the manufactory industry. According to the radical critique, the whole system of regulation had been set in place in order to serve the interest of the rich merchants in Stockholm.

For one leading opponent of Kierman and the others, this turned into a private vendetta.11 Hence, Anders Nordencrantz did not merely accuse the directors of the Bank of the Estates of having mismanaged the economy, but insisted that they had done so deliberately in order to gain personally. Nordencrantz’s bitter diatribes against the Hat regime were undoubtedly coloured by the fact that he had lost a lot of money by selling some of his ironworks in the county of Uppland to persons in close relation to the Bank, namely the Stockholm merchant house of John Jennings and Richard Finlay. According to him, the buyers had been extremely slow to pay, which meant that inflation over time had diminished the agreed-upon price in real terms. However, it was not only the Bank that was involved in the alleged trickeries. Another object of Nordencrantz’s harsh criticism was the Ironmasters’ Association (Järnkontoret), of which he himself, ironically enough, had been the main initiator some decades ago. The aim behind the Association had been to organize iron and steel exports from Sweden in order to obtain the highest possible price. However, according to Nordencrantz, instead of carrying out this cartel function it operated in such a way as to benefit the leading merchant houses in Stockholm, as well as to use its position to provide loans to “insiders” which were repaid later with inflation­affected monies. On this basis he was ready to draw the conclusion that the directors of the Bank as well as some of the leading Hats were criminal speculators who had destroyed the kingdom’s economy. Hence, it was not the “underweight” in the balance of trade that had caused Swedish money to fall in exchange, but the undertakings of “secret operations” and “manipulations by criminal speculators”.12

The Diet of 1765–6 turned into an inquisition, as it were, with the Hat regime in general and a number of leading Skeppsbroadel merchants in particular being targeted. As a consequence, the Hats had to leave their leading positions in the estates as well as in the Council of the Realm. Moreover, some of those who seemed to have been most responsible for the operations in the Bank were put in jail while others had to pay fines; Kierman, who was regarded as the worst offender, was sentenced to life imprisonment at the Marstrand prison (however, he was released after only one year). Chydenius was one of the most aggressive spokesmen for punishing this group of Wäxel-Associerade (“exchange associates”). At a committee meeting he branded them as “traitors to their country” and “imposters”. On top of the prison sentences he sensed that a “just” punishment would be for a number of those most involved to be pilloried in each of the towns they passed on their way from Stockholm to the prison in Marstrand, a distance of 500 kilometres with a dozen towns en route.13

Hence, Chydenius contributed to the inquisition against the high officials of the Bank to a substantial degree. By his critique of the main parts of the Hat regime’s regulative framework, he had done his best to undermine its position. However, as we will see later, he was not at all satisfied with what the Caps had to offer in its place. In general he had supported Nordencrantz’s critique against the Hat speculators and agreed with Nordencrantz’s interpretations. But during the Diet he changed his mind to some extent. When the Caps suggested drastic measures that would cause prices to fall rather dramatically, Chydenius disagreed completely. He formulated his doubts in “A Remedy for the Country by Means of a Natural System of Finance” (1766) – which ultimately led to his exclusion from the Diet. The background was that the new Cap government had put forward a scheme by which the value of circulating money was to be gradually raised so that it would regain the value it had had in foreign silver riksdaler in 1737. This could of course only be achieved by drastically decreasing the number of banknotes, creating a shortage of money in circulation. Such a step, however, would, according to Chydenius, depress the economy and severely hurt most trades and industry – a not too unrealistic assumption, given what we know today about the effects of deflation. However, one problem with this interpretation was that it seemed to go against what he had said previously. Neither would it satisfy his old colleagues in the Cap party – or Nordencrantz, for that matter, his old teacher.14

Among his activities at the Diet of 1765–6 we must also mention Chydenius’s important work regarding the abolition of censorship and the establishing of a more liberal attitude to the printing and publication of state and official papers. This historic effort was crowned with the establishment of a new ordinance on freedom of writing and printing in 1766 as well as the establishment of the principle of freedom of information. In Sweden this principle is more exactly called the “principle of public access to official records” (offentlighetsprincipen), and Chydenius is rightly hailed as one of its most important instigators.15 To quite an extent, Chydenius’s contribution here was coloured by his own personal experiences during the Diet. The fact that it was not possible to publish (secret) state papers – or proceedings of the work in the estates – was regarded by Chydenius as well as others as a serious factor inhibiting their political work.

From the beginning of the 1760s, censorship of the press was increasingly challenged. An early voice demanding reform was that of Anders Nordencrantz (who had favoured reform since 1730), but later Christian König and Anders Johan von Höpken spoke out too. In the 1750s the journal “An Honest Swede” (En ärlig swensk) made some impact arguing for a more open attitude, and it is most possible that the suppression of the publication of “Thoughts on Civil liberty” (Tankar om borgerliga friheten) by the Uppsala philosopher and student of Linnaeus Peter Forsskål in 1759 worked in the same direction.16 Even more important was probably the publication of Anders Nordencrantz’s tract “Indefeasible thoughts on freedom in the use of reason, pens and print, and how far such a freedom should be extended in a free society, together with its consequences”,17 the printed copies of which were confiscated by the Board of Chancery, even though the censor, von Oelreich, had approved it. However, a couple of hundred copies had already been distributed. Here Nordencrantz used a proverb that Chydenius too cites on several occasions: “Freedom of speech is the apple of the eye of a people’s freedom.”18 He argues for an almost total freedom of printing, with one exception: religious tracts and texts. This was also a line that Chydenius would follow some years later during his work towards reform of the system. At the Diet of 1760–2 it was already clear that the question of the freedom of printing was linked to an even bigger issue: the downfall of the Hat government and the rise of the Caps. Nordencrantz’s tract was now published, and almost everything that was written in opposition to the Hats was allowed to be printed by the censor, von Oelreich. During the Diet a special committee on the freedom of printing was appointed and the historiographer royal Anders Schönberg – later Chydenius’s friend – was asked in 1761 to write a memorial. He presented a rather cautious proposal that suggested some steps forward, but at the same time regarded it as too dangerous to totally eliminate the possibility of censoring libellous political texts. However, not even this was accepted by a majority at the Diet, and the matter came to a standstill.

At the following Diet of 1765–6 the issue was once again taken up, and now with more force. In June 1765 Chydenius wrote a memorial (in fact signed by Anders Kraftman, a colleague of Chydenius in the Estate of Clergy). It was much more radical than, for example, Schönberg’s piece, and Chydenius here argues for a total lifting of censorship for non-religious texts (and implicitly also for freedom of information). In August the same year a new Freedom of Printing committee, the so-called Third Committee, was appointed, with Chydenius as one of its most active members; the committee was in fact dominated by radical Caps from the Estate of Clergy. The work here resulted in new reports and memorials which ultimately led to the proposal for a new ordinance in the autumn of 1766. At that time Chydenius was of course already back in Finland, but it is clear that he perhaps more than anybody contributed to the launching of this ground-breaking reform.

Chydenius had arrived in Stockholm in the midst of political turmoil and a struggle between the Hats and the Caps. We will return to the particular circumstances concerning the discussions he was involved in – and which in most cases led to the publication of a treatise or pamphlet – as we introduce each of the texts from his pen included in this volume. Without doubt, Chydenius had some success but also met with some disappointments at what was indeed an eventful Diet. In his unpublished bucolic “Herda-qväde”, which he wrote in a sombre mood after being sent home in 1766, he emphasized how naive he as a young chaplain from a remote part of the Swedish realm must have appeared only a year earlier.19 In Stockholm, “everything was on display; a feeling of abundance filled all senses of the gazing spectators”. Instead of allowing himself a relaxing night out with his colleagues, or alternatively a good night’s sleep, he worked hard at his desk most nights in order to carry out what he saw as his duty:

A stage full of sights that aroused my senses stood before me, and I did not know myself which person I was or how I wanted to act . . . I was on top of the world: no honour or happiness so great that I did not have a chance to win it for myself. But it is easy for a fearless young man to fall for any folly, and hot blood was streaming through my young veins. I dreamed quite happily of all the opportunities I seemed to be able to catch as soon as I held out my hand, until I suddenly woke up in indignation over the fool I had been. I had fallen for the kind of false illusions that trick many a young man, making him forget that simplicity and humbleness instead of appearing under false colours is the key to his true fortune.20

  1. Winton, op. cit., p. 270f.
  2. Virrankoski, op. cit., p. 97f.
  3. See, for example, Winton, op. cit., p. 254f.
  4. Cf. the discussion whether or not Chydenius was in fact the most active discussant in the Estate of Clergy: Schauman, op. cit., p. 108; Virrankoski, op. cit., p. 122.
  5. Virrankoski, op. cit., p. 123.
  6. A. Chydenius, Wederläggning Af de Skäl, Hwarmed man söker bestrida Öster- och Västerbotniska Samt Wäster-Norrländske Städerne Fri Seglation, Stockholm, 1765.
  7. In eighteenth-century Sweden it was said that the exchange rate was “high” when an increased amount of Swedish money was needed to buy foreign currency. Today we would say “low”.
  8. J.W. Arnberg, Anteckningar om frihetstidens politiska ekonomi, Uppsala: W. Schultz förlag, 1868, p. 9ff.
  9. Virrankoski, op. cit., p. 211.
  10. Exchange Bill Offices refers to a group of influential merchants, who during the years 1747–56 and 1758–61 were commissioned by the state and with financial aid from the same to try to improve the value of Swedish money. In practice this was done by taking up foreign loans and using the money to draw bills abroad. The operations of the wäxel-contoir in 1758–61 failed completely and contributed to the defeat of the Hat party in the Diet elections of 1765. Many held the persons who had taken part in the operations of the Exchange Bill Offices responsible for the deplorable economic state of the Swedish realm. Initially Anders Chydenius also held this view, being under the strong influence of his intellectual father-figure Anders Nordencrantz at the time.
  11. On this, see Heckscher, op. cit., p. 769f., and Magnusson, “Corruption and Civic Order”, p. 80.
  12. Magnusson, “Corruption and Civic Order”, p. 81.
  13. Virrankoski, op. cit., p. 151. Cf. also Schauman, op. cit., p. 60f.
  14. See further pp. 214–15. LINKKI
  15. This aspect is especially emphasized in J. Manninen, “Anders Chydenius and the Origins of the World’s First Freedom of Information Act”, in J. Mustonen (ed.), The World’s First Freedom of Information Act: Anders Chydenius’ Legacy Today, Kokkola, Finland: Anders Chydenius Foundation, 2006, pp. 18–53.
  16. See P. Forsskål, Thoughts on Civil Liberty: Translation of the Original Manuscript with Background, Stockholm: Atlantis, 2009.
  17. A. Nordencrantz, Oförgripelige tankar, om Frihet i bruk af förnuft, pennor och tryck, samt huru långt friheten derutinnan i et fritt samhälle sig sträcka bör, tillika med påfölgden deraf, Stockholm, 1756.
  18. On the history of the freedom of printing in Sweden and particularly during the eighteenth century, see, for example, T. von Vegesack, Smak för frihet: Opinionsbildning i Sverige 1755–1830, Stockholm: Natur och Kultur, 1995; H. Eek, “1766 års tryckfrihetsordning, dess tillkomst och betydelse i rättsutvecklingen”, Statsvetenskaplig Tidskrift, 1943, pp. 185–222.
  19. For a presentation regarding Chydenius’s time in Stockholm, see H. Knif, “Den farliga staden: Anders Chydenius och Stockholm”, in M.-C. Skuncke and H. Tandefelt (eds), Riksdag, kaffehus och predikstol: Frihetstidens politiska kultur 1766–1772, Stockholm: Atlantis, 2003, p. 155f.
  20. A. Chydenius, “Herda-Qväde” [1766] (translation by the author).