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Commentary on A Remedy for the Country

As we saw in the Introduction, this publication was the ultimate reason why Chydenius had to leave the Diet after the decision in the Estate of Clergy on 3 July 1766. The text had been written in April the same year and the printing began at Lars Salvius’s shop during the following month. In his autobiography, Chydenius explains some of the circumstances around this text, which he at first intended to publish anonymously.1 Originally he was given permission to publish it by the censor, Niclas von Oelreich. However, soon after the printing process had begun, the censor was ordered by Thure Gustaf Rudbeck – the Speaker of the Nobles and in practice the head of the Cap party – to fetch the manuscript from Salvius’s shop. After reading it, Rudbeck forbade any further printing of the text in its present form. This was certainly not according to the rules, but shows exemplarily how the political system worked during the Age of Liberty. Chydenius was ordered to cut out some of the paragraphs which seemed most offensive to the Cap government. It is most probable also that he was offered a tidy sum of money to keep quiet about the whole thing.2 Chydenius then informs us that some time after these events he went to his superiors in his estate, who decided that three of its members should read the text and suggest a solution to the matter. After having done so, they returned to the estate and at a meeting on 11 June they argued that the text could very well be published as it stood. It should be added that the three readers, the rectores Pehr Högström, Carl Kröger and Per Niklas Mathesius, belonged to the radical wing of the Cap party and in general held political views close to Chydenius’s. Hence, when Chydenius at the next meeting of the estate on 14 June asked whether the manuscript could now be published, no one spoke against it. As a consequence, the printing of the text continued and it was published on 26 June. According to one eyewitness present at the Diet, Daniel Tilas, the tract immediately caught the interest of the public; during the two days immediately following publication, it sold as many as 600 copies.3

However, the reaction from the political establishment was swift and harsh. Two days after the tract had been published, one of the leading Caps, Fredric Ulric von Essen, was able to unite his estate (the Nobility) in putting pressure on the Estate of Clergy, asking to what extent it as a whole stood behind Chydenius’s pamphlet. At this point many of its members wavered. The estate officially claimed that it had “no knowledge” of the text and that it as a body did not support the text’s conclusions. This made it easier for von Essen and his like-minded friends to act: on 1 July the matter was discussed in the Secret Committee and it was decided that Chydenius should be called to appear before the Committee. An inquiry was held the same day; the haste reveals the heated character of this issue. Harshly attacked by his opponents (at least, this was Chydenius’s own view), he responded in a rather deferential manner. We must remember that it was still forbidden to openly criticize decisions once they had been taken by the Diet; such practices as severely hurt the authority of the Diet were condemned as “English ideas” at the time.4 Hence, Chydenius defended himself by claiming that he by no means had wanted to criticize the decision to establish a new system of finance. Instead, he had only spoken his own mind freely, as he, like anybody else, was entitled to do “in a free nation”.5 Moreover, he agreed that perhaps some of his views were somewhat drastically formulated, but pointed out that he had been allowed to print the text by the censor and by his own estate. After having dismissed Chydenius, the Secret Committee discussed the matter. Some of the members present openly felt that Chydenius should be prosecuted. When he returned to the meeting, the interrogation continued. The question was even put whether he in fact was not an agent of the Hat party, or secretly siding with the party of the Royal Court (Hovpartiet).6 However, the result of the heated discussions was that the matter was passed over to the Estate of Clergy for it to decide what to do with the author and his tract. At a meeting on 3 July, Chydenius presented a humble memorial in which he pleaded that he had acted in good faith and that he hoped that the estate would speak favourably in his defence in relation to the other estates. He also asked for forgiveness if he – against his intentions – had offended anybody.7 After a long discussion and a vote, it was nevertheless decided that Chydenius should be expelled from further proceedings of the ongoing Diet, and banned from taking part in the next. The estate was split over the decision, however. What seems to have decided the case was that some of those in favour of him voted for expulsion, as they were afraid that otherwise, more severe measures would be taken. This fear may not have been totally without foundation: in other estates, as we saw, there were voices speaking in favour of prosecution and a severe sentence.

Hence, the official reason for sending Chydenius back to Alaveteli was that he had offended the Diet and the constitution by his harsh critique of the new Cap government’s monetary and finance policy (see Anders Chydenius’s life and work/The Diet of 1765–6). The Diet of 1765–6 saw the downfall of the former Hat government, and condemned the leaders of the Bank of the Estates (Ständernas bank) in harsh terms. The latter were accused of being swindlers and jobbers who had artificially created a process of inflation basically in order to enrich themselves. The effect had been that the rate of exchange of Swedish copper money in circulation had fallen drastically in relation to foreign money. This view had been forcefully put by the new government made up by the Caps, and was based upon such intellectual authorities as the economic writer Anders Nordencrantz. Moreover, Chydenius seems initially to have agreed with this analysis; and, as we have seen, he was also one of the angriest critics of the “evil practices” of the Bank authorities. However, at some point he seems to have changed his mind. While we cannot know for sure, it is most probable that during his work in the General Appeals Committee (allmänna besvärsdeputation) he became convinced that the Caps’ new system of finance, which ordained a gradual increase in the value of of the copper mark by reducing the amount of circulating money (mainly in the form of banknotes), would lead to a catastrophe that would severely hurt small traders and farmers, but also the economically very important iron industry. He seems to have received food for thought for revision through reading the critique of Anders Nordencrantz by Pehr Niclas Christiernin, adjunct professor of economics at Uppsala (see Anders Chydenius’s life and work/Chydenius as an economist), as well as a memorial written by the nobleman Christer Horn concerning the administration of the Bank of the Estates, which was published in April 1766. In his text, Chydenius refers openly to Horn, and many of the arguments he presents are very similar. Hence, when defending himself from accusations made against him, he naturally referred to Horn. He asked his critics why he should be so harshly condemned and his tract withdrawn when nothing of the sort had happened to Horn: “I am not the only one who enjoying the privilege to be part of the Honourable Diet has pondered on this matter and written about it in a similar fashion,” he writes in an early version of his memorial from 3 July.8

Even more imperative was when Chydenius – perhaps in October 1765 – came across a secret memorial from 1722 hidden in the archives and possibly written by the same Emanuel Swedenborg who had inspired him when he was formulating his critique against the Commodity Ordinance (see Commentary on The Source of Our Country’s Weakness). In any case, the anonymous writer of the memorial depicts in dark colours the effects of the deflation, especially for the iron industry in the early 1720s after the downfall of absolutism. Without doubt it only strengthened Chydenius’s feeling that Christiernin must have been on the right track and that the present plan to increase the value of the mark would eventuate in a drastic fall of prices. Instead, he argues along the same lines as Christiernin – as we can see in the text – that the present (low) value of the circulating money should be preserved. Of course, in changing his mind he had not also changed his views concerning the “criminal” activities of Kierman et al. or the Bank of the Estates. However, the risk attached to the remedy suggested by the Cap government was that such a “cure” would make the patient much more ill than he already was.

Lars Magnusson

  1. G. Schauman, Biografiska undersökningar om Anders Chydenius, Skrifter utgifna af Svenska Litteratursällskapet i Finland 84, Helsinki: Svenska Litteratursällskapet i Finland, 1908, p. 213.
  2. P. Virrankoski, Anders Chydenius: Demokratisk politiker i upplysningens tid, Stockholm: Timbro, 1995, p. 223.
  3. D. Tilas, Anteckningar och brev från Riksdagen 1765–1766, del II, Stockholm: Norstedt, 1974, p. 313f.
  4. Virrankoski, op. cit., p. 232.
  5. Ibid., p. 227.
  6. The king of Sweden, Adolphus Frederic, and in particular Queen Lovisa Ulrika made several attempts to extend their political power during the 1750s. They had some support within the circles closest to the royal court, a group mostly consisting of high nobility. The group was called Hovpartiet, the party of the Royal Court, although it cannot be compared to the Hats and Caps. The conflict between Queen Lovisa Ulrika and the ruling Hat party reached an acute stage in 1756, and the attempted royal coup that followed was a complete failure. The defeat was humiliating for the royal couple, and many of their supporters were either executed or banished. In the 1760s the party of the Royal Court slowly regained its position, and its importance and influence gradually grew. The coup d’état of 1772 eventually restored the political power of the king.
  7. For the memorial, see Memorial till självförsvar.
  8. Utkast till Självförsvar.