Anders Chydenius was born in Sotkamo on 26 February 1729 as the second child of eight to the (at that time) curate Jakob Chydenius (1703–66) and his wife Hedvig, née Hornaeus (1699–1754). Both Jakob and Hedvig were born into clerical families with long-standing roots in the local Lutheran church. Since there were only a few persons or families of rank in the area surrounding Sotkamo, Chydenius at an early age learned to speak Finnish, the language of the peasantry in the area, as well as Swedish, his native language. Of his five brothers and sisters who survived to adult age, Anders’s older brother Samuel (1727–57) studied in both Uppsala and Turku, where he subsequently became docent and assistant professor. He was also a junior member of the Royal Academy of Sciences in Stockholm. Samuel was regarded as a brilliant young scholar in various natural sciences such as chemistry, physics and mineralogy. He was a pupil of Christopher Polhem and became a renowned expert on inland traffic and the clearance of waterways to make them navigable. At the age of only 30, he was, sadly, drowned while investigating the possibility of using the Kokemäenjoki (Kumo älv), a river in south-western Finland, for navigation purposes. Given the important role of rivers for navigation and transport in this roadless region, this was a typical “useful” and patriotic subject for a young scholar at the Academy in Turku to take on, working under the auspices of Professor Pehr Kalm.1
Spending his childhood days in distant Lapland, Anders was sent with his older brother to study in Turku and Uppsala before the family moved to Kokkola in 1746. Hence, both Samuel and Anders matriculated at Turku during the autumn semester of 1745. The following years Anders mainly spent either at the university or at home in Kokkola helping his father with his priestly duties. In 1750 he followed Samuel to Uppsala but stayed only one year. In 1753 he graduated from the Academy in Turku by becoming consecrated as a priest and by taking a Master’s degree under Professor Kalm. His dissertation, Americanska näfwerbåtar (“American birchbark boats”) was written in Swedish, which was not so common at the time but very much in line with the passion for economics and “utilism” during the eighteenth century.2 The choice of topic originated no doubt from his professor. As one of the famous student “apostles” of the great Linnaeus in Uppsala, Kalm was sent to North America in 1747 in order to collect plants and to investigate the area from an economic perspective, which included the economy of the native inhabitants. When he returned after three years he compiled En resa till Norra Amerika (1753–61), which was rapidly translated into German, Dutch and English. Travels into North America was published in London in 1770–2.3
When Chydenius in his autobiography 30 years later recalled his student years, for some reason he forgot to mention his theology studies. Instead, he seemed keener to mention his “fiddling around” with mathematics, astronomy, mechanics, etc. during his two semesters in Uppsala.4 But his study of theology and particularly philosophy at Turku under Professor Johan Browallius without doubt had a profound influence on him – as we will note later. Browallius combined a keen interest in the natural sciences with the teaching of theology. He was not uncritical of the prevailing orthodoxy and was clearly influenced by the Prussian philosophy professor Christian Wolff, who at the time was very influential in the Swedish realm.5 Although Browallius did not completely accept Wolffian rationalism, he agreed with Wolff that God had created a universal natural order which it was the duty of the (natural) sciences to grasp and categorize. This is the basis of the famous socalled physicotheology, which influenced a whole generation of Swedish scholars and writers – including in such subjects as economics.6 Another profound influence upon Anders Chydenius was his teacher of philosophy at Turku, C.F. Mennander. Lecturing on Pufendorf’s seminal De officio hominis et civis, Mennander emphasized natural law for grasping the duties and obligations of humankind. God had made all men equal in the sense that they were able to grasp his creation. More profoundly perhaps than Pufendorf, Mennander also emphasized that men were equal by birth.7 Thus, existing inequalities in society were based upon a contract that men had made with each other, not on the natural order as such. This was of course a radical position during this period, and from it Chydenius would draw some disturbing conclusions from the point of view of current orthodox ideology.8
At the same time as Chydenius was consecrated into the Church, he was also appointed to his first position: to become a preacher at Alaveteli (Nedervetil), an arrangement that made him a subordinate under his father, the rector of Kokkola parish. His true feelings with regard to this we cannot be sure of, only that this arrangement seems at least partly to have been based upon his own choice. Although he failed to obtain a position as a university lecturer (docent), he could without doubt have stayed at the Academy in Turku. However, during his student years he had already spent time helping his father in the church, and possibly Chydenius felt obliged to assist the latter in view of his advancing years. However, in the Church hierarchy the position of preacher was the lowest possible. His first step up the ladder was when he was appointed chaplain at Alaveteli in 1760. Although carving out his existence on a meagre wage, he was able to marry Beata Magdalena Mellberg in 1755, the daughter of a merchant with some wealth from Pietarsaari (Jakobstad), who left a handsome 100,000 daler kmt when he died, in 1769.
Alaveteli at this time housed a small congregation of fewer than 600 inhabitants, mainly peasants and their families, together with a small number of craftsmen and soldiers. Chydenius’s younger brother Jakob gave the following picture of the situation in Kokkola (including Alaveteli) in 1754:
The inhabitants seem in general to be quite proper and clean with regard to their houses and clothing. They are also in general sober, cheerful and industrious. They are diligent in different crafts, particularly woodworking, and they are also ready to pick up new schemes when they feel there is something to gain from it. They are in general clever, polite and civil to the extent to be expected from mere peasants, as well as quite affluent.9
Besides his churchly duties and assisting his father, Chydenius spent most of his time trying to improve cultivation at his own farm. Rural clergymen in the Swedish realm were as much farmers as they were priests, and Anders Chydenius was no exception to this rule. In Chydenius’s case this was even more necessary because the family could hardly survive on the small wage (disbursed by the congregation in barrels of grain, wool and other items) he received from his parish. By reclaiming new land, digging ditches and introducing new plants and crops, he seems to personify well the kind of diligent cultivator hailed in contemporary articles and letters published by the learned and patriotic societies in Stockholm. In 1766 he even started to grow tobacco and then some years later a novel crop: the potato. It was also during his time in Alaveteli that he began his medical activities, especially providing care for children. To improve health care in order to enable more children to survive (including introducing a state-controlled midwifery system) was part of the “utilistic” programme of the time and must be seen in relation to the political importance given to increasing the population. The early experimentation by Chydenius (together with his father) with vaccination against smallpox (perhaps starting in 1761) has already been mentioned. He was particularly proud of this, and it made him known to well-placed persons in Stockholm. He would return to this issue in one of the last pieces he wrote, published posthumously almost 40 years later.10 He was also known for the extraction of a special liquid useful for healing sore eyes as well as for his surgical operations on eyes. He heard about new ideas regarding both the improvement of cultivation and medical treatments from the journals and books that were streaming out of the printing presses at the time. In Kokkola, Chydenius’s father kept a not insignificant library, including books that had belonged to his oldest son, Samuel. The old man was also a keen subscriber to publications and journals issued by the Royal Academy of Sciences and other learned societies.
By around 1761, Chydenius had formed most of the radical political and economic ideas he would propound during the Diet of 1765–6 – and indeed for the rest of his life. An important influence here was his reading of some of Anders Nordencrantz’s most important works. In his autobiography he particularly refers to the vitriolic attack on the Hat regime that Nordencrantz published in 1759, Til riksens höglofl. ständer församlade wid riksdagen år 1760. In a highly critical tone, Nordencrantz here held up to particularly close scrutiny the inflationary effects of the government’s monetary policy. With the help of contemporary foreign literature (French économistes as well English moral philosophical works), he condemned economic dirigisme in a more general sense. The fact that Chydenius was especially influenced in his political and economic thinking by Nordencrantz was very well acknowledged by his contemporaries during the Diet of 1765–6, and this was also something he openly admitted. At times he spoke of Nordencrantz with great respect as his foremost “teacher”.
The first proof of how much he had learned from Nordencrantz – and later perhaps superseded him – came in the written response that he presented to a prize question put 1763 by the Royal Academy of Sciences concerning “the cause of so many people annually emigrating from this country”. However, this was not the first time he had taken part in such prize essay contests. In 1761 he had responded to a call from the same Academy with a piece titled “A response to the question regarding the best ways and means to cultivate moss-covered meadows”. Two years later he returned with an answer to another Academy question, namely how a cart could be built to carry a considerably heavier load than the usual model. In this case his essay gained him a silver medal – although Chydenius himself thought he should have received the gold medal and complained to the Academy that the only reason why he had not won was because the Academy was biased in declaring one of its own members, Jacob Faggot, the winner.
Chydenius’s essay on emigration included a general attack on the prevailing regulative system, including the Commodity Ordinance, the staple rights policy, the prohibition on rural trade, subsidies to manufacturies, and much more. Many of his points echoed what Nordencrantz had said earlier, but there were also some important additions, especially concerning the effects of the government’s export policies. In all, the Royal Academy received 30 answers. Without any doubt Chydenius’s piece stood out. It contained a full programme of radical reform-mercantilism written in a clear style and with precise arguments. But because of the Academy’s consternation, in the end none of the contributions was rewarded with a prize and it refused to publish them. The competition had opened up a flood of critique – among which Chydenius’s was by far the most radical – of a critical stance which the authorities had not expected.
The piece on emigration was not the first text Chydenius had written concerning economic matters. An unpublished manuscript most probably written in 1761 or 1762 was found by Georg Schauman when he was going through Chydenius’s personal and domestic papers. It was written in a form presenting answers to three different questions concerning economic policy: first, whether it was beneficial or not for a nation to export money to other countries; second, whether the public’s distrust of representative money (banknotes) was well-founded or not; and third, whether servants should be forced to go into service, or even be allocated to serve a particular master by local authorities, a discussion going on at the time. These were themes that Chydenius would return to in later texts. Especially in his discussion on servants, he formulates a belief in the natural freedom of men, a belief that he would return to again and again. In general this is something that starkly underlines his argumentation in the printed essay concerning the causes behind emigration from the Swedish realm.
One major political issue in the Finnish part of the Swedish realm at the time was the staple towns policy, which was felt to hamper the trade and economic development of this area. It was argued that a reform was necessary in order to make it possible for local merchants to trade directly with merchants in foreign ports. It was said that the trade of tar and other wood products in particular was negatively affected by the present system of regulation. Especially during the Diet of 1760–2, this topic became a heated issue, and a memorial was published by Per (Petter) Stenhagen, a merchant from Kokkola, backed up by the local representatives from three of the estates (the Burghers, the Peasants and the Clergy). This author argued for the establishment of no fewer than three staple towns in Ostrobothnia.11 However, a positive decision in this direction was blocked by the Burghers (of whom the Stockholm representatives were the most active). Against this background, protest meetings were held in Ostrobothnia, and Chydenius made his political debut at one of the meetings held in Kokkola on 17 February 1763. He had written a manuscript for the occasion, which he read before an audience of angry protesters. This manuscript is lost, but it was very possibly an early version of the pamphlet he published in 1765.
In his autobiography, Chydenius depicts the February meeting in dramatic colours, suggesting that he was close to being arrested by the police – the likelihood of which has been put in doubt by his later biographers.12 But however that may be, it was undoubtedly this gathering that made the chaplain from Alaveteli known to a wider audience, and ultimately earned him a ticket to Stockholm two years later as one of the representatives of the Ostrobothnian clergy.