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Commentary on the Report and on the Additional report on the freedom of printing

At a meeting on 26 August 1765 a Freedom of Printing Subcommittee, or the so-called Third Committee, was established. In practice it was dominated by Chydenius and the radical Caps from the Estate of Clergy. The preliminary report was the result of a decision made in the Committee on 18 December. While the result was a collective product, there is no doubt that Chydenius was its main author. However, it took some time for it to reach the Grand Joint Committee. Most probably Chydenius commenced to write the text very rapidly – spending long hours at his desk rather than taking time off during the Christmas celebrations as most other members of the Diet did.

As we can see, this report does not really deal with the issue of censorship at all, or whether it should be retained or not. Rather, it presents arguments in favour of freedom of printing and information, referring to the principles of natural liberty. It also contains an outline of the history of the freedom to write and print in Sweden, or rather of the restrictions on that freedom. The report does not directly deal with the issue of access to official documents, although the Committee discussed the issue at length and even made a proposal concerning it. The report was signed by Gustaf Reuterholm (the Nobility), Carl Fredrik Mennander (the Clergy), Erik I. Miltopaeus (the Burghers) and Henrik Paldanius (the Peasants) and sent to the Grand Joint Committee, which discussed it on 7 April 1766.

The focus of this meeting was the specific issue of making the minutes of the estate meetings accessible by publication. In the heated debate the delegates of the Nobility in particular warned that printing would make it impossible for delegates to speak their minds openly. Moreover, they stated that accessibility would in the end lead to the English form of party parliamentarism (Whigs and Tories), which in Sweden was thought to be based upon the forbidden doctrine of principalship.1 In the discussion, the right to publish Diet minutes was defended by Chydenius and some other members of the Estate of Clergy. Chydenius also referred to the discussions on the issue during the Diet of 1760–2, when Count Thure Gustaf Rudbeck, the head of the Cap government at least publishing some of the minutes from the Diet’s proceedings. Rudbeck had vacillated earlier and was again uncertain of his opinion. He now pointed out that printing the minutes might be contrary to the Diet Act (riksdagsordningen), but when § 22 of the Act on request was read aloud, it became clear that the Act did not explicitly prohibit publication of the minutes.2 This seemed to settle the matter, but at the last instance, in order to find a compromise, it was decided that the right to publish should be allowed only for minutes and documents produced after the new legislation on freedom of printing had taken effect. Hence, the possibility of publishing older documents with the aim of castigating old political sins – something that Chydenius, for example, had wished for – was effectively stopped.

Hence, an important step had been taken towards the launching of a new Act. The next step was to write the additional report, and Chydenius seems to have commenced doing so soon after the meeting on 7 April. However, during the weeks that followed, Chydenius found himself in great trouble with regard to his pamphlet against the Caps’ monetary and financial reform. It cannot be doubted that his staunch defence at the April meeting of the right to publish political documents in order to enlighten the public discussion contributed to his expulsion from the Diet during the summer.


The additional report was written in April 1766, most probably after the meeting with the Grand Joint Committee on 7 April, and presented during a meeting with the Third Committee on 21 April. The discussion at this meeting seems to a large extent have been focused on the issue of censorship – a theme which was not so much in focus in the last report, discussed earlier in April. As Virrankoski shows, several of the more conservative members of the committee were not present, “thus making the position of the adversaries of censorship quite strong”3. The censor, Niclas von Oelreich, was summoned to this meeting in order to present his views and arguments. Not surprisingly, he spoke in favour of censorship. His emphasis on the argument that censorship helped to improve and standardize the written Swedish language was perhaps more unexpected. Moreover, he stressed that although censorship sometimes can be “despotic”, it also has good sides: excessive freedom to publish can endanger the public order. He also spoke against making the printer responsible for the publication – referring back to the memorial signed by Kraftman (in fact written by Chydenius) from the previous summer. Such an order would only lead many printers, through fear of being prosecuted, to abstain from publishing controversial texts, he argued. Hence, it would lead to even less freedom of printing. Chydenius changed his opinion on this matter in the additional report, possibly in part under the influence of Oelreich. It was now suggested that only the writer should be held responsible, and this principle was also subsequently implemented in the final Act.

At this time, when Oelreich’s plea for the preservation of censorship seems to have created new proselytes, Chydenius interfered. While speaking favourably of Oelreich as a person, he insisted upon the negative effects of the institution of censorship as such. The task of improving the Swedish language could not be put upon the shoulders of a single censor, but should rather be taken care of by a scientific or literary academy, he argued. He also spoke in favour of a system in which printers would be prosecuted at ordinary courts of law if they misused the freedom of printing and published texts offending private individuals. Here he also referred to the case of England and how the censor Gilbert Mabbott back in 1649 had voluntarily left his position, which eventually led – according to Chydenius – to the abolition of the institution of censorship in England. The message to Oelreich was clearly put: in the name of freedom he too ought to resign from his position. Responding to Chydenius, Oelreich changed the subject and stressed the need to censor blasphemous religious texts. However, Chydenius had never intended to allow a total freedom to publish theological texts without their being censored by the Church authorities. Hence, Oelreich’s discourse here was beside the point and possibly indicates that he had problems in defending the old institution.4

The result of the discussion signalled a clear victory for Chydenius and his group: it was decided that the Committee would submit the additional report to the Grand Joint Committee and on the basis of it suggest a new Act that would ban censorship. After Chydenius was expelled from the Diet in July 1766, there were a number of changes made to what in December 1766 became the new Act abolishing censorship (except for religious texts). It admitted increased rights to publish such political documents which until then had been considered to contain classified information. The Peasants, the Burghers and the Clergy supported the new Act, whereas the majority of the Nobles rejected it. With three estates against one, the new Act could be established. It was a grand victory for the radical Caps, but for Chydenius personally too. The result was the world’s first Act combining freedom of printing with freedom of information.

Lars Magnusson


  1. The doctrine of principalship (principalatsläran) was based on the notion that the delegates acted on behalf of their “principals”, i.e. voters, and according to their instructions. During the 1740s there was a heated debate (principalatsstriden) in Sweden on whether the delegates were under an obligation to render account of their actions at the Diet and whether the voters could withdraw their authorization in the event of disagreement with the delegate. The theory of such an imperative mandate was expressly condemned at the Diet of 1746–7.
  2. For this, see P. Virrankoski, Anders Chydenius: Demokratisk politiker i upplysningens tid, Stockholm: Timbro, 1995, p. 185f.
  3. P. Virrankoski, Anders Chydenius: Demokratisk politiker i upplysningens tid, Stockholm: Timbro, 1995, p. 187. 
  4. Ibid., p. 187.