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Anders Chydenius


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The Swedish Finn Anders Chydenius was one of the most notable politicians of 18th century Finland. He was a clergyman, Member of Parliament, economist, and one of Finland’s first exponents of economic liberalism. He is most remembered as an outspoken defender of freedom of trade and industry, the “Adam Smith of the North.” According to him, democracy, equality and a respect for human rights were the only way toward progress and happiness for all of society. He said that economics exists for the benefit of “the little people” – and not the other way around.

Anders Chydenius was born in 1729 at Sotkamo where his father Jacob was a chaplain. The family moved to Kuusamo in 1734 where his father became a rector. Anders’ childhood was spent in the barren area of northern Finland. He and his brother Samuel were taught privately by their father and then they went to Oulu grammar school. After the War of the Hats of 1741-43, the boys studied privately in Torneå and entered Åbo Academy in 1745. They also studied at Uppsala University in Sweden. Anders studied mathematics, natural sciences, Latin and philosophy. In 1746 the father Jacob and family moved to Gamlakarleby.

Picture courtesy GSF
In 1753, after graduation, Anders was appointed preacher to the Chapel

of the dependent parish of Nedervetil parish in Ostrobothnia. He was married 1755 to Beata Magdalena Mellberg, daughter of a merchant from Jakobstad. The couple was childless.

While in Nedervetil parish he was active in many projects such as the clearing of the marshes, experimenting with new breeds of animals and plants, and adopting new methods of cultivation of potatoes and tobacco. His aim was to enlighten the peasants by example. Chydenius practiced medicine and became known by innoculating ordinary people against smallpox. He also performed cataract operations and prepared medicines.

Some of his first writings were about practical matters such as the moss over-growing the meadows, and improvements in the design of horse carriages. Then he moved on to social questions and became known as a writer and speaker. He was sent to the Stockholm Diet in 1746-66 to obtain free Free trading rights - Ostrobothnia for the towns of Ostrobothnia. The cities of Karleby, Vasa, Björneborg and Uleåborg received navigational rights which helped with their later development as well as helping all of Ostrobothnia. At that time, the tar which should have brought prosperity to his town and the coast had to be sold abroad through Stockholm, which made most of the profits. Largely due to Chydenius’ efforts, Stockholm’s monopoly was broken and from 1765, the towns gained freedom to sell and ship tar directly to foreign customers.

Chydenius participated actively in the Diet, and published several articles of criticism which caused a great stir. One of the results of his activities in the Diet was a stricter control of the national economy. He considered that one of his greatest achievements was an extension of the freedom of the press. His radical activities caused him to be excluded from the Diet by his own political party.

In 1770 he was appointed rector of Karleby where he concentrated on parish work. He maintained his own orchestra, and rehearsed with them. They gave concerts in the rectory’s reception hall. His father lived in the parsonage at Karleby 1746-66, and Anders lived there from 1770-1803. The parsonage was built in 1736-37 and is the oldest parsonage in its original style still in use in Finland.

In 1778-79 Anders Chydenius once again participated in the Diet, at which the position of hired hands was brought up. He championed the rights of the servant class. At the suggestion of King Gustavus III, he introduced a bill whereby foreigners were also granted limited rights to practice their own religion. He participated in the Diet again in 1793 and was active as a writer covering the development of agriculture, the burning of saltpeter, smallpox, and the settlement of Lapland. One of his main tasks during his latter years was the supervision of building an extension to the old parish church. He died in 1803. His likeness appears on the present-day 1000 Finnish Mark.

Shortly before his death in 1803, Chydenius became the initiator and first member of a reading society to ensure the preservation of the collection of books. For many years it was called the “Chydenii library” in Gamlakarleby. Up to 1830 many notable people were members of the society, including judges, church figures and local businessmen.

Some examples of his writings:

  • Thoughts Upon the Natural Rights of Servants and Peasants, 1778:
    • Natural Equality: “Nature shapes them exactly like us. Their posture in the crib is the same as ours, their souls have the same reason as other peoples’, whereby it is plain to see that the Lord of creation also had intended them to have equal rights with other people.” He advocated the liberation of servants from the despotism of their masters.
    • “Freedom with dry crusts is often more pleasant for an individual than a great feast when he is under the power of another. It costs a lot to sit with your feet under your own table, but who would not rather do that with a small income than prosper as another man’s servant?”
    • “I am speaking only of that little, but blessed, word Freedom."
    • “The exercise of one coercion always makes another inevitable.”
    • “There are only few people who speak in favour of civil liberty, although most people speak openly of freedom, and the few who follow this path and consider human rights as belonging to people in general, are themselves considered by most people as defenders of self-indulgence and political free-thinkers. Others speak much of freedom but take this to mean the freedom of certain groups of people or individuals, and forget the humblest who have not had the advantage to have sought refuge in the entrenchments of the others, but the more these entrenchments are extended to the others, then naturally the humblest become more crowded and homeless on our earth.”
  • Thoughts on Inoculating Against Smallpox for the Finnish People. He was a pioneer of inoculating against smallpox in the 1750’s.
  • American Bark Boats. In Chydenius’ graduate thesis at Åbo Academy, he wrote a description of the usage and making of the bark canoes of the indians of North America.
  • For What Reason do so Many Swedes Emigrate Every Year? 1765:
    • ”Fatherland without freedom and merit is a large word with little meaning.”
    • “ We are all Humans, all Subjects to wicked Desire; therefore we require Co-operation and close Observation. As long as we stand outside Society, we may each pursue our own will regardless of others, but we are then also left entirely to our own Devices, deprived of all Defense; such liberty is natural. But as soon as we turn to Society for protection, then the wellbeing of this Society must be our first Priority. We have all, uncompelled, sworn fidelity to the Swedish Crown, such Crown being all the dearer to us by virtue of its Foundation on Pillars of Liberty. Thus no one is called to be another’s Master, no one is to be another’s Slave; all have equal Right, all the same Privilege.”
  • The National Gain, 1765:
    • “The more opportunities there are in a Society for some persons to live upon the toil of others, and the less those others may enjoy the fruits of their work themselves, the more is diligence killed, the former become insolent, the latter despairing, and both negligent.”

Excerpts from the Internet.

June Pelo

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