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Commentary on The Causes of Emigration

This essay was sent in as a response to a prize essay competition launched by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1763. The Academy had put the following question to potential responders: “What may be the cause of so many people annually emigrating from this country?” It is probable that Chydenius first read about the essay competition in Lärda Tidningar.1 He sent his response to the Academy in Stockholm at the end of the year 1763, but it remained unpublished until 1765, when it was printed by a printer in Stockholm, Peter Hesselberg. As no original seems to exist, we do not know whether the printed version is exactly identical to the one sent in to the Academy; as Virrankoski has noted, it is likely that Chydenius did make some changes and corrections before printing it.2

To launch competitions of this kind was very common at this time. Most likely the inspiration came from foreign academies such as the Prussian Academy in Berlin as well as the Académie française in Paris. In general, the prize essay competitions put up in Sweden must be looked upon as typical manifestations of the kind of “utilism” during the Age of Liberty which emphasized the spread of new useful knowledge in order to help the economy – agriculture as well as manufacturing industry. The Royal Academy, which was inaugurated in 1739, had held prize essay competitions with regard to economic and medical subjects at least since 1761 – made possible by a private donation by the noble family Sparre. Such launchings continued also after the Gustavus III’s coup d’état in 1772, when the wealthy director of the Swedish East India Company, Niclas Sahlgren from Gothenburg, donated a quite considerable sum to the Royal Academy to be used to remunerate persons active in carrying out agricultural innovations, including both landlords and peasants. With regard to the so-called Sparre prize questions, the reward for the best essay was a gold medal, and the fact that the Academy undertook to publish the winning essay.3

In this case as many as 30 entrants responded to the call, and it seems that the jury had great difficulty selecting a winner. Several of the contributions raised critical points against the government. As the majority of the Academy members belonged to the ruling Hat party, including for example the Uppsala professor Anders Berch, this caused some consternation. In the end, Chydenius did not receive a prize for his essay, and because of this it was not published until two years later, when he arrived in Stockholm to take part in the Diet of 1765–6. The winner was instead the Commissioner of Manufactories (Manufakturcommissarien), Johan Fredrik Kryger,4 who, incidentally, was also a member of the Academy and a steadfast Hat. However, his piece too seems to have been excessively critical of the government. Like Chydenius’s essay, it was never published by the Academy, and as a protest Kryger refused to accept the gold medal.5

Chydenius’s text was without doubt the most radical. Moreover, it was the most extensive and probably also the best-written text. In particular, it stood in stark contrast – according to Ulric Rudenschöld (1704–65), who was a member of the jury – to some other contributions, which were so “simple-minded that they could not be published at all”.6 It is clear that Chydenius was quite upset by the fact that the jury did not mention his contribution at all, and that it regarded it as seditious. In a letter to the Academy’s secretary, Pehr Wargentin, in 1764, he complained that he had not received recognition either for his essay on emigration or for his piece on carts, which he had sent as a response to another prize essay competition the same year. The fact that the first price in the cart essay competition had gone to a member of the Academy, J.F. Faggot, clearly showed that the Academy was biased, he complained. He pointed out that its turning down of the emigration piece showed that the political establishment was afraid of critical thinking.7

As earlier biographers have noticed, the essay on emigration was written in a specific political context. The general background was, as we have seen in the Introduction (p. 00), the general grievances that the representatives from Ostrobothnia had had since at least the 1730s against the so-called staple policy, which prevented the towns in the north from receiving staple rights.8 It was the campaigning for the establishment of new staple towns that stimulated Chydenius to write the essay prize contribution concerning emigration from Sweden in 1763. The text is full of references to the issue of free navigation as a means to increase the population and wealth of these remote areas of the Swedish realm. Moreover, the lack of possibilities for starting enterprises, developing proto-industrial production and carrying out trade in the countryside is depicted as the most pertinent reason behind the alleged emigration out of Sweden. In hindsight, it seems clear that his allegation was somewhat exaggerated; emigration out of Sweden in the middle of the eighteenth century was most probably minuscule. However, the fear of depopulation was a mantra often expressed in public discourse during this period.9 Here, as in many other texts by Chydenius, it is proposed that the Swedish realm (most certainly Ostrobothnia) was grossly underpopulated. It would be able to support a much bigger population, he believed. Like many others during this period, Chydenius held the opinion that the country had been much more heavily populated earlier, but that a decline had set in as a consequence of the many wars Sweden had taken part in. In his view, the many regulations and prohibitions regarding trade also had a detrimental effect on a much-needed growth of the population.

Lars Magnusson

  1. P. Virrankoski, Anders Chydenius: Demokratisk politiker i upplysningens tid, Stockholm: Timbro, 1995, p. 107. Lärda Tidningar was a literary journal published 1745–8 and 1751–73 containing among other things poetry, essays and information on new books.
  2. Ibid., p. 107.
  3. S. Lindroth, Svensk lärdomshistoria: Frihetstiden, Stockholm: Norstedts 1978, p. 58.
  4. Johan Fredrik Kryger (1707–77) was an economic writer and a leading administrator (andra kommissarie) at the Manufactures Office in Stockholm. In 1770 he was appointed Board of Trade Councellor (kommerseråd) and since 1755 he had been a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. He was one of the leading proponents of the Hats’ policy concerning manufactures, which implied heavy subsidies and regulations to support the industry. He was the author of several pamphlets and books published from the 1750s onwards dealing with economic issues and he especially pointed to the positive role of manufactures. Kryger’s essay won first prize in the competition and was published in 1765.
  5. Kryger later published the essay at his own expense. Virrankoski, op. cit., p. 107; G. Schauman, Biografiska undersökningar rörande Anders Chydenius, Skrifter utgifna af Svenska Litteratursällskapet i Finland 84, Helsinki: Svenska Litteratursällskapet i Finland, 1908, p. 49.
  6.  Schauman, op. cit., p. 48.
  7. Letter from Chydenius to Wargentin, 3 August 1764. Cited in Schauman, op. cit., p. 51f. Available online in Swedish.
  8. G. Sundberg, Partipolitik och regionala intressen 1755–66: Studier kring det bottniska handelstvångets hävande, Studia Historica Upsaliensia 104, Uppsala: Uppsala universitet, 1978, p. 32f; Virrankoski, op. cit., p. 102f.
  9. The conception that Sweden was grossly underpopulated derived from the Great Northern War (1700–21), during which hundreds of thousands of people had died or fled their homes, and the period following it. But as no reliable information on the number of inhabitants existed, the estimates varied. The Swedish Office of Tables (Tabellverket) was established in 1749 and it started to gather information on the population in the Swedish realm. Rectors were ordered to send in information on the annual number of births and deaths and the distribution of age and sex among the members of their congregation.