Anders Chydenius was born in 1729 in the small parish of Sotkamo, at present located in the region of Kainuu (Kajanaland) in northern Finland. The region was, and still is, sparsely populated and has a harsh climate. Before the twentieth century, its short summers and long winters created the basis of a meagre agriculture, sometimes of the primitive slash-and-burn type. On the other hand, other natural resources such as wood for charcoal, masts, planks and tar were plentiful, as were game and fish. Hence, in order to earn a living the peasant population combined agriculture with working in the woods, as well as engaging in a multitude of different handicrafts and taking part in petty trading. Tar in particular was an important export product of this region. In general, the few, and small, towns in this area (the county of Ostrobothnia) on the coast of the Baltic Sea, such as Oulu (Uleåborg) and Raahe (Brahestad), were located far apart and it could take days to reach them on foot or horseback. Hence, rivers and lakes played an important role in communication in this area. Against this background, making rivers and streams navigable was one of the most intensely debated issues of the day and led to a number of different plans and projects that Anders Chydenius would later in his life also take a keen interest in.
In 1734 Chydenius’s father, Jakob Chydenius, was appointed rector (kyrkoherde) of the huge parish of Kemin Lappi (Kemi Lappmark), which was even further north than Sotkamo, and settled in Kuusamo near the present-day Russian border and only a little south of the Arctic Circle. Here the climate was even harsher and the economic conditions more primitive. The inhabitants were to a large degree dependent upon reindeer-rearing and what the woods and streams could provide in terms of game and fish.1 Kuusamo was even further than Sotkamo from any town. It was here that Chydenius spent most of his childhood until his father was appointed rector of Kokkola (Gamlakarleby – today Karleby) further south in the heartland of Ostrobothnia. Later in life, Chydenius would recall, “I was ten years old before I saw any town”.2
Finland as we know it today consisted of a number of provinces that had belonged to the Swedish realm since medieval times – and the provinces would remain in this position until 1809, when they were formed into an autonomous grand duchy within the Russian Empire. In contrast to the conditions under Russian rule – Russia accepted Finland’s autonomy (up until the end of nineteenth century, at least) – the provinces were, in legislative, administrative and political terms, completely integrated into Sweden. This did not stop many Finns undoubtedly including Chydenius3 – from feeling that they belonged to a less privileged nation, one neglected by the Swedish Crown. That their native region was more or less mistreated was a view voiced quite frequently. It was often said that the Swedish kings were more eager to conscript Finnish males into their armies than Swedish ones. Without doubt, there was more than a grain of truth in such lamentations. The eastern part of the Swedish realm was generally speaking less developed than the southern and western parts. It had less industry and its towns were even smaller. It housed only one town of significance, Turku (Åbo), which had a population of less than 10,000 in the mid-eighteenth century.
It was regarded as particularly unfair that the eastern part, or Finland, had only a few towns with so-called staple rights: apart from Turku, the only ones were Helsinki (Helsingfors) and Hamina (Fredrikshamn), while Sweden south of Stockholm had 20 towns with such privileges. A lack of staple rights meant that it was forbidden for the townsmen to export produce from that region on their own ships directly to foreign ports. In the north of Finland no town had such rights until 1765. According to the existing system of regulation, exportable produce from this region (especially tar but also timber, planks, various handicrafts, etc.) first had to be transported to and sold in Stockholm. Only after that could it be shipped to foreign ports. This system, which also included Swedish Norrland, was branded by its critics the “Bothnian trade prohibition” (bottniska handelstvånget). Anders Chydenius contributed to its abolition in 1765. Over the years, it has been debated how effective this system in fact was, especially as we know that smuggling was frequent in many of the small ports. However, the fact that the system’s critics spent so much effort on having it abolished at least gives an indication that it was not totally without practical importance.4
After the wars with Russia, Denmark and Brandenburg-Prussia et al. (the so-called Great Northern War) had ended with the Peace of Uusikaupunki (Nystad) in 1721, Sweden lost its Great Power status in the Baltic area and now instead had to turn its energies inwards. In particular, the Finnish regions were ravaged as a consequence of Russian occupation and war. The population here shrank to approximately 330,000 (the Swedish realm had a total population of some 1.8 million at the time).5 Consequently, agriculture was suffering from a loss of hands at the same time as trade and commerce lay idle. The so-called political and constitutional “revolution” after Charles XII’s death in 1718 replaced absolute monarchy with rule by the Diet.6 The founding fathers of the new constitution of 1719–20 were without doubt influenced by contract and constitutional theory stemming from Hugo Grotius, Algernon Sidney and other natural law theorists. However, as for example Michael Roberts has pointed out, domestic influences were equally important. Hence, what was established was not a contractual form of governance based upon any principle of balance of power, as formulated later by Montesquieu, for example. According to this doctrine, the Prince was, as we know, supposed to govern while the power of decision lay with the parliament. Instead of having a parliament like the one in England, for example, Sweden retained its several-hundred-year-old system with four estates: the Nobility, the Clergy, the Burghers and the Peasants. According to the new constitution, they were to meet at a Diet every third year (such regularity was not strictly followed, however). At the Diet the different estates congregated and decided separately on issues that had been presented to them by the government. After a decision had been reached in each of the four estates, the government had to follow the decision of the Diet. If at least three of the four estates were in agreement, a new law or regulation could be passed. Apart from this, a number of joint committees were established during the Diets. They consisted of members from the different estates and their task was to prepare new legislation. As we will see, Chydenius took part in a number of them during the Diet of 1765–6. As a main result of the constitution of 1719–20, the estates congregated at the Diets became the overwhelmingly dominating power. This meant that the monarch had very little legislative power; if indeed any.7 The estates were regarded as corporations and had one vote at the Diet. This meant, for example, that no consideration was taken of the fact that the fourth estate, the Peasants, represented 80 per cent or more of the Swedish population. Also, the delegates in the estate chambers were elected by corporations: towns, hundreds (härader, local legal corporations outside the towns) and dioceses. In contrast to this, all noble families had the right to participate and vote in their estate (which meant that their gatherings at the House of Nobility (Riddarhuset) could be extremely crowded). Moreover, it was a strongly held principle that each member of an estate was responsible only to it. The idea that members might respond to or represent their own local constituencies was stigmatized as an extremely dangerous doctrine – the so-called doctrine of principalship (principalatsläran) – and had been strictly forbidden by law since 1744.8 Of course, the king could exercise at least some power between the Diets, but the executive power, too, was by and large dominated by the estates. This meant, for example, that the king’s government, or the Council of the Realm (Riksrådet), was responsible before the Diet for its decisions.
During the 1730s, two opposing interest groups with supporters in all four estates came into being: the famous parties of the Hats and the Caps.9 Certainly they were not political parties in the modern sense of the word. They had no formal membership or clearly defined roles to play in the estates or at Diets. Even so, they had distinct political programmes and agendas. Furthermore, they also had their base in different socio-economic groupings. Typically, the Hats found their followers among the nobility, but perhaps even more so among wealthy burghers (especially the merchants in Stockholm, the so-called Skeppsbroadeln), owners of ironworks and steel manufacturing plants (brukspatroner), as well as state officials of higher ranking. The ranks of the Caps, on the other hand, were swollen by men of lower status: peasants, petty burghers from the small towns, as well as clergymen. Up to the 1750s, however, the nobility was still able to dominate the Cap party. It was also identified as the “English” party, in contrast to the Hats, who were considered to be “French”. Accordingly, the two parties differed in their views on contemporary foreign policy and Sweden’s position in the European power system. To what extent their policies were based upon principled arguments can be debated. According to malicious reports, at least, the two parties’ finances were heavily dependent upon secret funding stemming from France or England (and Russia). During the 1760s the Cap party was in reality split between the more radical “younger Caps”, dominated by people of lower ranking, and the conservative “older Caps”, still to a large degree dominated by noblemen.10
However, there were many exceptions to this stylized picture (for example, many bishops were Hats, while the lower clergy voted for the Caps), and it was not unusual for individuals to change their sympathies during one and the same Diet. Moreover, in order to guarantee that law, order and social hierarchy were preserved, a special Secret Committee (Sekreta utskottet) was inaugurated. The Estate of Peasants was excluded from the Secret Committee, which dealt with the most important matters, such as Sweden’s foreign policy. Up until the dramatic events at the Diet of 1765–6 (to which Anders Chydenius vividly contributed), the Secret Committee was dominated by the Nobility and the Hat party.
Hence, there is little to suggest that the Swedish constitutional and political order after the fall of absolutism was democratic in any modern sense of the word. In particular, the stubborn resistance to making members of the Diets responsible to their local constituencies, as well as the estates’ dominance of both the legislative and the executive power, argue against such a conclusion. On the other hand, the increased role given to the estates led contemporaries during this period to speak of an “Age of Liberty”.11 In Swedish and Finnish historiography this age is generally defined as the period beginning in 1719 and ending with the coup d’état of Gustavus III in 1772. By and large, it is this political context to which Anders Chydenius refers in his texts. Increasingly over time – as we will see – he becomes critical of the very foundation upon which political rule during the Age of Liberty was founded. He came to dislike in principle a polity made up of competing parties. More and more he leaned towards a system with a strong monarch. Hence, his political attitudes were quite complex and perhaps not so “modern” as has often been suggested – an issue we will return to.
While the Age of Liberty was not “democratic” in a modern sense, the term might nevertheless be accurate from another perspective. The 1730s in particular saw the opening up of a lively public debate dealing with political, economic, social and scientific issues.12 In books, pamphlets and journals – made possible by a generous attitude towards the freedom of the press – proposals for promoting economic development and modernization were presented. Not everything was allowed, of course (as the case of Chydenius during the Diet of 1765–6 clearly illustrates). Until the Ordinance on Freedom of Writing and Printing was passed, in 1766, every printed text had to be approved by a censor; at the time of the stormy Diets in the 1760s, this position was held by a professor from Lund, Niclas von Oelreich. On the whole he seems seldom to have used his power to censor: according to the gossip, the censor’s libertarianism was said to derive from the fact that he was paid for every pamphlet and book that he allowed to be published. The system was therefore rather flexible and could easily be manipulated. Censorship was, however, used as a force in the political battle between the Hats and the Caps, as the printed media could be used to expose the flaws and errors of the opposing party. Although political tracts and treatises could be published rather freely, religious literature was still eagerly scrutinized in order to detect blasphemous utterances and critique of the established Church dogmas. During the Age of Liberty a clear ambition was to spread new scientific ideas, encourage the introduction of new methods and practices in agriculture, and find means and ways to establish more trade and manufactures. Swedish historians have often labelled this spirit, which dominated the public discussion during the Age of Liberty, as “utilistic”.13 Hence, the introduction and practical use of new knowledge was aimed at enhancing national honour and prosperity. In order to re-establish Sweden as a Great Power, the development of sciences and the spread of useful knowledge were essential. The patriotic aim was to strengthen Sweden’s international power position through an enlarged and more productive agriculture as well as by more foreign trade and manufactures. An enlarged economy would in turn render possible a rapid growth of population. No state could grow strong and powerful without a large population, according to the prevailing view. Moreover, the Hats especially (the Caps in the 1760s mainly favoured agricultural improvements) insisted that the most prosperous state at the time, the Dutch Republic, could only have emerged as such because of its expanding foreign trade and its manufactured goods – which made possible a dense population. For Swedish patriotic writers, the lesson to be learned was clear: a poor country with a small population and without industry and trade could not compete with the other European states. To regain what had been lost in the Peace of Uusikaupunki, economic reforms and growth were necessary, and to that end the visible hand of the state was needed.14
In order to contribute to this development a number of initiatives were taken. First, to stimulate useful scientific research and spread innovations, a Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences was inaugurated in 1739. According to its statutes, its aim was to promote science in general, but in practice it developed into a society mainly for the improvement of agriculture with the intention of increasing the population level.15 Almost immediately it began publishing learned letters and articles on a multitude of topics in order to spread novel and useful scientific ideas. It also launched prize competitions in which writers were asked to deliver answers to specified issues, competitions that were partly responsible for stimulating Chydenius to take up his political pen. Other learned societies with “utilistic” and patriotic aims, too, were established in order to stimulate improvements, including the Patriotic Society (Patriotiska sällskapet) in 1772. Moreover, starting in the 1790s, rural economy and agricultural societies (hushållningssällskap) were established at the county level in order to introduce new tools, machines and methods of production in the farming sector.
Second, steps were also taken at the universities. At Uppsala University, the oldest in Sweden, the professor of botany in the Faculty of Medicine, Carolus Linnaeus (after his ennoblement in 1761 Carl von Linné), was a clear proponent of “utilism” in order to enhance the power and glory of Sweden. But the new chairs in the economic sciences were also established for practical purposes, the first being in Uppsala in 1741, followed by Turku in 1747 and Lund in 1750.16 Much to the dislike of Linnaeus, the new chair in Uppsala was placed within the Faculty of Law rather than in Medicine, with the title jurisprudentiae, oeconomiae et commerciorum professor. Linnaeus insisted that economics was the principal science, upon which physics and all other natural sciences were dependent and upon which the temporal well-being of all humans rested.17 But in Uppsala the first professor of the new subject, Anders Berch, concentrated his lecturing activities on economic legislation and governance (police or polizey). On the other hand, Berch was known for collecting models of new agricultural tools such as ploughs, harrows and threshing machines and putting them on display in his lecturing premises close to the Fyris River, the Theatrum oeconomicum. Hence, for him too, improvement of agriculture was part of the tutorial programme. In Lund and Turku the connection to agriculture was even more clearly expressed. In Lund the first professor, Clas Blechert Trozelius, advised his students to take up such mundane topics as cattle-rearing, bee-keeping and the proper way to build farmhouses and stables, while Pehr Kalm in Turku, who since 1747 had held a chair in Professione scientiæ oeconomicæ, was regarded as an economist even though he was most interested in his collection of stones and minerals.
Third, the stimulation of economic growth was also a cornerstone of economic policy and regulation during the Age of Liberty. While earlier regulations had been very strict on matters such as the division of farms – no doubt in order to hinder pauperization – the public discussion now took a new turn to stimulate reforms. Hence, in 1747 a more liberal regulation concerning the splitting up of farms (hemmansklyvning) was inaugurated. The aim was to stimulate farmers to take up new land through reforesting or by digging ditches in order to reclaim wetlands that previously had not been in use. As a consequence, the legislators hoped, population would increase considerably. Another important step was the introduction of the great redistribution of landholdings, which started in the 1750s. The General Redistribution Act of 1757 (storskiftet) was followed by other acts of redistribution in 1803 and 1827. The idea was to stimulate individual initiative in order to introduce more effective methods of production. Rightly or wrongly, it was taken for granted that the old collectivist strip-farming was detrimental to productivity (as well as to the reclaiming of more land). To what extent such reforms contributed to the undisputed growth of agriculture which started in the 1720s and lasted until the 1770s is not easy to say. Perhaps the more peaceful conditions that dominated during most of the Age of Liberty played an even more pivotal role – a population growth that led to more hands becoming available, which in turn meant more land could be put under the plough.18 This progress was temporarily halted in the 1770s during the reign of Gustavus III with the emergence of what has been described as the last Malthusian crisis in Swedish agriculture.19 The suggested reason for the hunger crisis was that the increase of population had not been matched by an increase of production sufficiently great to support it. Despite all attempts and suggestions for improvement, productivity had remained low and the traditional agricultural methods had exhausted the resource base. However, when the wheels began to turn again at the beginning of the nineteenth century, after some decades of agricultural crisis, this was perhaps the most important long-term effect of the reform activities initiated during the Age of Liberty.
High hopes and reform activity were not restricted to the agricultural sector. As in many other European countries during the eighteenth century, the authorities in the Swedish realm were more than willing to support the establishment of manufactories. The aim was to establish centralized enterprises for the production of industrial wares such as cloth, paper, glass and other useful items of consumption, but also luxuries such as tobacco, silk, porcelain, etc. Although their actual organization often differed – most manufactories both in Sweden and elsewhere combined centralized proto-factory production with putting-out activities (the Verlag system) – they were clearly distinguishable from the old crafts practised in the towns. Most pertinently, they had a distinct legislative status and were governed by particular laws and privileges.20 Moreover, manufactory owners were not members of guilds or other town corporations; quite often they carried out their operations in premises located outside towns. The aim of supporting such manufactories was, as elsewhere in Europe, to contribute to economic modernization and growth, to increase population and to strengthen political and military power (many manufactories concentrated on producing supplies for the army and the fleet). The basic idea was to replace expensive imports by domestic production and develop an industrial policy strategy that in later times has been named “import substitution”. Clearly, the motive was not only to increase economic growth but also to strengthen military and national power. Developing a domestic industry meant that a state would no longer have to rely on foreign imports, which could be especially beneficial during periods of war and conflict – no doubt an almost endemic situation during the middle of the eighteenth century.
In the Swedish realm, special legislation based upon far-reaching privileges for the iron and steel industry had developed during the seventeenth century. At the end of that century, similar kinds of privileges were also granted to owners of manufactories. However, the breakthrough for such a policy occurred following the Diet of 1738–9, when the Hat party came to power. At this Diet a financial fund for the support of manufactories was established, the Manufakturfonden. Simultaneously, an office was inaugurated in order to monitor the exclusive legislative framework put forward by the government, the Manufactures Office (Manufakturkontoret). From now on, generous subsidies poured out of the state coffers in order to establish enterprises producing wool and linen (also silk) textiles, paper, porcelain, glass and other items. Best known became the manufactories established by Jonas Alströmer in a small town in the west of Sweden, Alingsås. With the help of subsidies he established a whole set of manufactories there, including both textile manufactories and a tobacco-spinning factory, an oddity in Sweden at the time, producing tobacco from home-grown plants. When this policy of protection and financial support began to receive severe criticism in the 1760s, it was easy to point to the case of Alströmer.21 To some extent such a critical attitude must be said to have been justified: without the support of the state, many manufactories withered away when the Caps took over power after 1765.22 No doubt the established manufacture policy was looked upon by many as a typical feature of corrupting tendencies and rent-seeking activities on the part of wealthy merchants, speculators and money-jobbers, who constituted the leading circle of the Hat party – a group which would be attacked fiercely at the Diet of 1765–6, not least by Chydenius.
It is largely against this background of the introduction of an economic policy of regulation – most specifically regarding the manufactories – that the specific economic discussion during the Age of Liberty should be contextualized. Those who favoured state regulation as a means to achieve economic growth have been named “mercantilists” by later historians of economic doctrines from Sweden and Finland, while those more critical of such regulation have been labelled “reform-mercantilists”.23 For example, E.F. Heckscher found in the textbook Inledning til almänna hushålningen (1747), by Anders Berch, the first professor of economy at Uppsala, a full programme of conservative “mercantilist” regulation that he regarded as typical for the time.24 Clearly inspired by German and Austrian cameralists such as von Rohr, Dithmar, Lau and others, Berch divided his subject matter into three parts: “police” (polizey), “cameralism” and “economy”. Berch was in principle favourable towards state intervention in order to steer the economy in the right direction. At times he went so far as to propound policies not too far from what we today would label as leading to a “planned economy”. Thus, arguing for a yearly calculation to be carried out by the state concerning the number of young people needed in each trade and occupation, he wrote:
No less mistaken is the view put forward . . . that economic equilibrium could be accomplished by itself if only one had a free right to choose one’s own occupation. . . . Why should we run the risk of making a detour instead of taking the short cut?25
Berch was in favour of most of the economic regulations that existed at the time, including the prohibitions against rural trade, and the privileges of cities. If the rural population were free to trade on its own, it would ruin the towns while the peasants neglected to tend to their fields, he maintained. Similarly, he was in favour of regulations concerning foreign trade including the staple system. The so-called Commodity Ordinance (produktplakatet) also belonged to this system of policy. Influenced by the English Navigation Acts from the middle of the seventeenth century, this ordinance was inaugurated in 1724 and made even more restrictive two years later. It was aimed at inhibiting foreigners from shipping to Sweden anything but their own produce. By this means, practical opportunities for foreign merchants to take part in the Swedish exporting were eliminated, which was intended to create opportunities for the Swedish merchant fleet to grow. Moreover, Berch favoured the policy of manufactories and regarded subsidies as essential for their establishment. In line with many others at the time, he regarded national manufactories as a most beneficial counterweight to “excessive” imports from abroad, especially of luxury items. On the other hand, like other debaters in the economic discussion during this period, he was very critical of the prevailing guild system. He designated the guilds as “monopolists” and, as such, as harmful as the opposite system of “polipoly” (free trade and competition), using the vocabulary of the seventeenth-century German economic writer Johann Joachim Becher. Other important “mercantilist” writers supporting the existent system of regulation were Eric Salander, Johan Fredrik Kryger (both of them high officials at the Manufactures Office) and the brothers Edvard Fredric and Ephraim Otto Runeberg, who were Finns by origin. While Kryger pointed out that free enterprise must lead to a situation in which “no one wants to be a labourer”,26 Salander emphasized that “all small craftsmen will be ruined because all would like to be masters”.27
However, especially from the 1750s onwards many voices were raised against some of these regulations, or even against the logic of the system as a whole. As has been mentioned, this group of writers have been called “reform-mercantilists”. They shared a number of viewpoints concerning, and criticisms against, the prevailing regulative system, in many cases based upon a specific philosophy of humankind and the natural order. It is within this intellectual context that Anders Chydenius must be placed. Hence, it was not mere intuition that led him to formulate his programme of economic and political freedom. Instead, he is better characterized as perhaps the most radical of the reform-mercantilists, drawing with great clarity and weight the conclusions that he believed followed only naturally from his moral-philosophical as well as religious premises.