V: Formation of the public sphere in the 18th century

From subjects to rural citizens?

The peasantry and political participation in the late 18th-century Swedish Realm

Ella Viitaniemi


In this chapter, I study and re-evaluate the development of citizenship and the public sphere in 18th-century rural Sweden. I will scrutinise how the peasantry became early citizens and the public sphere developed in Swedish rural areas, especially in Western Finland. I study the concepts of early citizenship and the public sphere as part of the state-building process from below.

Swedish researchers have discussed the theoretical basis of the local community’s position towards and relationship with the central government. The role of parish meetings has also been considered in this context. The discussion has concentrated mainly on the era of Sweden as a Great Power (in the 17th century), but these interpretations have also been reflected on in 18th-century research. On the one hand, there is the view that the Swedish Realm maintained a position of strong power (maktstatj and control over its subjects.1 According to this perspective, the situation changed in the 1720s, when the four estates, including the peasantry, started to function actively in the Swedish Diet. The political, social, and economic position of the peasantry improved, and parish meetings developed into local political forums during this time.2

On the other hand, Eva Osterberg has presented an opposing view - the interaction perspective - which emphasises mutual and peaceful interaction, communication, and consensus between central government and the local community. The parish meeting is seen as an interactive arena for meetings, encounters, and power struggles, but it was nevertheless a place where the peasantry could act freely together. Osterberg emphasises the continuation of political arenas (Diet, district court sessions, and parish meetings) dating from the 16th century. From then on, the peasantry had learned to interact with different authorities, and parish meetings changed only slightly during the 18th century.3

The Finnish researchers Nils Erik Villstrand and Kimmo Katajala have also participated in the same discussion. According their view, the relationship between the central government and the local community was more complicated; both conflict and interaction took place and varied in different situations. Subjects had diverse ways of acting and making an impact on politics. The peasantry were very aware of their (political) opportunities and power, and they had the ability to act quickly and in various ways. In practice, geographical, economic, cultural, and social factors affected the peasantry’s activity and chosen strategy.4

Previous research has clearly shown that the peasantry had wide-ranging political influence, but the political, ideological, and economic situation changed significantly during the 18th century, both in urban and rural surroundings.' The better economic outlook and population growth that enabled farmhands to be hired, furthered freeholders’ opportunities to participate in local politics.6 Therefore, it is important to take a closer look at the development of the practices, forms, and conditions of political culture at the local level, and to ask how and why the political culture of participation changed and the development continued in the Age of Liberty.

Citizenship (medborgarskap) was one of the main concepts of late 18th-century political thinking. Already the Encyclopédie (1753) describes the citizen (citoyen) as a member of a political community who enjoys the rights and assumes the duties of membership.7 In Sweden, the concept of citizenship became established already in the 1760s. The new medborgare was a politically active and participating citizen, while the older concept of iindersate was understood as a passive but loyal subject. Moreover, the citizen was a well-behaved person who promoted the common good and also sought opportunities to further the general utility in his private actions.8 The concept of the citizen was closely connected to patriotism. According to Charlotta Wolff, the patriotic citizen was not only a political actor, but also a person who felt the moral obligations of loyalty and sacrifice that derived from this relation of belonging to a community.9

Citizenship is closely related to the public sphere. Usually the public sphere is studied by using Habermas’ influential theory on the rise of bourgeois publicity during the 18th century. Habermas’ theory is certainly relevant to the history of the early modern Swedish Realm.10 Nevertheless, the intention of this chapter is to test and broaden the framework of citizenship by employing an approach from the work of Hannah Arendt that is not bound to urban surroundings. Therefore, Arendt’s concept of the public sphere is here considered as part of her theory building. She argues that the public sphere is a precondition for citizenship; without the public sphere, citizenship does not exist.

In this chapter, I study the concepts of citizen(ship) in the rural context, even though the development of citizenship is usually seen as an urban phenomenon. The public sphere has also usually only been seen as an urban space. However, towns were relatively small and few in the Swedish Realm in the preindustrial era. Most of the population lived in rural areas, and thus, the parishes played an important part in political development. It is

From subjects to rural citizens? 235 important to study how the ideas of citizenship and equality with respect to the landowners’ right to participate in local decision-making developed to a more regulated level during the 18th century. Most of the public activities took place in the parish church. While the church was used for religious purposes, it was also a multifunctional site for social, administrative, and political interactions. According to Arendt, the public sphere comprises two distinct but interrelated dimensions. The first is the space of appearance, a space of political freedom and equality. The space of appearance is open, and it occurs whenever people act in concert through the medium of speech and persuasion. The second is the common world, a shared and public world of human artefacts, institutions, and settings that separates persons from nature and provides a relatively permanent and durable context for activities. Both of these dimensions are essential to the practice of citizenship: The first provides the spaces where it can flourish, while the second provides the stable frameworks and background from which public spaces of action and deliberation can arise and flourish.11

In this chapter, I study the preconditions of early citizenship by examining the political structures, institutions, and settings upon which the early parish administration and local politics were built. I will present key elements of the changing political culture - the elections of clergy and the main principles of parish meetings - that created the foundation for political participation. I also present large utilitarian public projects as activators and promoters for local political participation and decision-making. At the end, I discuss the role of the local gentry as the intermediator of information. I hold that these are among the main preconditions for achieving early citizenship, since they created the institutions and settings that enabled the peasantry’s personal participation and their freedom to act, speak, and create representative opinions as a local political community.

The theoretical discussion of this chapter is based on empirical results from my doctoral dissertation and postdoctoral research project. For my doctoral dissertation, I analysed the decision-making processes, the implementation of the project and the conflicts that arose in the church building process in Kokemaki parish 1730-1786. I focused on the peasantry’s agency and the development of political culture at the local level. I have analysed multilevel source materials from central authorities to the local parish level. The church building project in the parish of Kokemaki became a complicated administrative and local political process, which penetrated the administrative hierarchy all the way from the local parish level to the Royal Majesty and produced diverse source materials. These materials include minutes and letters of the Royal Majesty, the Cathedral Chapter of Turku, and the Governor of Turku and Pori county. Conflicts over the church building project were handled by district court sessions and minutes from these meetings were also studied. However, at the centre of my research were minutes of parish meetings and local announcements (which were read from the church pulpit) concerning the buildingworks. By employing thematic and narratological reading methods, it has been possible to reconstruct administrative processes and conflicts in order to recognise political actors and motives, local practices, and participation.

From common consensus to individual choice

The peasantry of the Swedish Realm was present in the local political arena, and it had significant experience in terms of participation in local decision-making. The Swedish Diet worked actively from the end of absolute rule, which lasted from 1680 to 1719. The Swedish Diet determined most of the basic rights and set the frameworks for (local) participation and political agency. After the long period of absolutism, it was important to (re)define and renew some parts of the administration and political practices. This legislation was a precondition and foundation for later political development and early citizenship in local politics.

Despite the new era of parliamentary freedom (the Age of Liberty 1719-1771, Frihetstiden), the law-giving and legislation processes were not simple, since the four parliamentary estates (the nobility, clergy, burghers, and peasantry) had different interests and emphasised different matters. The regulations for local decision-making remained vague, since the nobility did not want to confirm the leading role of the clergy at the local level or in parish assemblies. The natural place for defining the rules and decision-making processes for parish assemblies would have been the privileges of the clergy, which were given in 1723, but the assemblies were mentioned in the privileges relatively briefly and quite generally.12 However, the core idea is that decisions that concern the local community and the parish had to be made together and publicly in parish meetings.

One of the first renewals the parliament made after the end of absolute rule was the formation of new legislation for the election of the clergy. Participation in the election of vicars offered concrete steps for the peasantry’s increasing activity and greater experience of attendance in the local political community. In the Swedish Realm, the peasantry had the right to elect their own local clergy by voting according to their tax rate. This election system was created in the 1730s.13

Parishes in Sweden already had the right to participate in the choice of the local clergy in early medieval times.14 According to the medieval Uplands landslag, a vicar was appointed if the peasantry unanimously supported his selection. Otherwise, the bishop made the decision together with the patron of the parish (the estate owner). However, the peasantry’s agreement on the selection was still necessary, since the peasantry handed over the church and its facilities to the new vicar.15 It was also obvious that if the peasantry was dissatisfied with the selected clergyman, his performance in the ecclesiastical duties and life as part of the community would become challenging.

From subjects to rural citizens? 237

During absolute rule, the clergy was basically chosen in two different ways. The parishes were regarded as being under the responsibility of a cathedral chapter, and these parishes appointed their clergy collectively by mutual consent. However, most parishes were regarded as regal parishes, which meant that the Royal Majesty had the right to directly appoint the local clergy according his own consideration. In both cases, ordinary parish men had no individual influence on the appointment of the local vicar or chaplain.

The practice of appointing the clergy changed in the 1730s when the formal election system was launched. Under the new clergy appointment system, all landowners received the right to elect their own local clergy by voting according to their tax rate (mantal). The central government, and especially the cathedral chapter, still had a central role in controlling and selecting the best candidates for election. The Royal Majesty was also still able to choose the vicar in certain parishes, but in these cases, the parish men nevertheless retained the right to vote in rhe election, and they had the opportunity to suggest an additional candidate in the elections. The individual right to vote is a crucial element of early citizenship.

The appointment of vicars in the 1720s represents an intermediate stage of development from unanimous decision-making to free elections.16 For example, an election took place at Kokemaki parish church in September 1730. These elections were described as ‘free and unforced’ (et fritt och otwungit Kyrckioherde-Wahl).'7 However, in the first documented election of this parish, all the men voted for the same candidate. They continued to make unanimous decisions and had no previous experience of free and individual elections. This case is a good example of how people had to practise political participation and act in the public sphere. Parish men, local officers, and church servants had to comprehend what free elections meant. After 1731, the clergy appointment legislation was improved, and the majority principle was clearly adopted. Gradually, the parish men learned how to vote and act independently in elections. The peasantry also practised voting when selecting members of parliament. In the following vicar election in 1757, the parish men were more prepared to divide their votes among the different candidates.18

Free elections and individual voting are key elements of early citizenship. The right to participate in the election of the vicar and individual voting meant that the parish men had to start to make choices over what kind of clergyman they would like to cooperate with in local matters. They could think more strategically or politically from an individual viewpoint and according to their experience. They had to decide who would be the best leader for them and the parish. Furthermore, the parish men had to consider whether they would rather vote for a clergyman who wanted to advance matters of the common good, a good preacher, or perhaps a man whose family had served the parish before. However, during the 18th century, qualities like good administration of office, age, and teaching skillsbecame more important in the appointment of clergy compared to social reasons or a willingness to keep the predecessor’s family in the parish.19

In terms of local political decision-making, the peasantry participated, practised, and gained ever greater experience. Local communities moved from the consensus principle to more individual decision-making. The peasantry used its political rights and received more experience of being a part of the local political community. Participation in the election of the priest and other local, regional, and national political activities increased their awareness of their political identity.

The parish men’s freedom to select between various options could make the decision-making processes unpredictable. Political actions and decision-making took place within the web of human relationships, a context defined by plurality. Therefore, no actor or officer could control outcomes anymore or trust that the parish men would achieve consensus or a common understanding in parish matters.20 There was a risk that the parish men’s individual free actions in local politics would complicate the decision-making processes, especially when dealing with more complicated issues in the parish assemblies.

I have showed in my doctoral dissertation, that parishioners stated very clearly various opinions in the discussions concerning church building matters at Kokemaki parish (1777-1786). The design and the building process of Kokemaki’s stone church culminated in four important choices: The choice of building materials, location, contractor, and construction committee. Representatives of central government and local officeholders could not directly dictate the decisions for the community, but they had to take local opinion seriously into consideration. Important questions were at first discussed and argued at the parish meetings and then taken to the central authorities or to the district court sessions. The decision-making of the new church turned to be a much more complicated and time consuming political process than it was considered at first sight.21

Another good example of this potential discord is the discussion over the selection of a new church site in Pirkkala parish in June 1753. The traditional church site of Pirkkala parish was known to be very wet, and the ground had caused problems for the previous church and graveyard. However, the parish was also divided by a lake, and finding a proper church site that would have satisfied all the parish men was difficult. According to local dean Johan Hacks, 59 freeholders (hemmas innehafware)11 wanted to keep the old church site, while another 39 freeholders announced that they would refuse to build the church there. Alternatives were discussed, opinions were sought, and the parish men clearly expressed their views.23 Five years later, Captain C.R. von Knorring and his wife Sofia Juliana Kurck promised to donate some good land for the new church. This building site was situated on the opposite side of the lake. The negotiations continued between the parish men in June 1758, but now opinions were only more divided. The majority - 64 freeholders - were ready to accept the new

From subjects to rural citizens? 239 church site and build a stone church, but 21 freeholders were happy to keep the old timber church and repair it again, while the members of Harju chapel announced that they were building a new chapel and would not be able to participate in the main church building project at all.24 The opinion of the Pirkkala men was sought, counted, and written down in the minutes and delivered to the central government. Even though the Pirkkala church building process was delayed later for various reasons, the case shows how parish men were ready to express their views; this expression of individual opinion had been adopted in the political culture within one generation. All the opinions were documented and various discussions were written down in the minutes, which also well reflects the gradual democratising process.

Building more democratic political practices was a long process. However, frequent selections and decision-making processes increased the experience of political activity and belonging to the political community. The landowners were able to gather, discuss, and select the leaders and trusted men for the rest of the parish. They formed an exclusive experiential community in which their activities, opportunities, and capabilities to use political influence slowly altered their political identities from subjects into early citizens.

Participation and being present in the local public sphere

The key elements of political life are acting and speaking freely with other people. Therefore, it is crucial to participate, be present, and interact with other individuals.25 The parish assemblies, which provided a permanent context for local political activities, became breeding grounds and elementary institutions for early citizenship in the countryside. The local level (parish meetings) became a place where parish men learned, manifested, and tested the beginnings of democracy. However, it took some time to adapt to the new political opportunities and practices. Usually the adaptation took place by participating in diverse decision-making processes. The parish assemblies were significant, because they were not only the main arena for local decision-making; the central government also used them as negotiation and decision-making arenas.

In the Swedish Realm, the peasantry had the right to participate in and to be present at the Diet and parish assemblies. There was no distinction in political rights between landowners (the peasantry and the gentry) in rural local politics as such. In principle, even whole farm leaseholders (landbonder) could attend the parish meeting if their landlord did not live or vote in the same parish.26

The peasantry was expected to be present in parish assemblies to avoid later problems and conflicts. The Crown or local officials did not expect the peasantry to be politically active as such, but it needed at least the peasantry’s attendance and agreement on important local decisions. The parish assemblies were arenas in which all the parish matters and purchases weredecided. However, the landowners’ participation and mutual agreement was needed especially in matters that required the landowner’s resources, extra payments, and day work, such as the project to build a new church.27

In my doctoral dissertation, I was able to show in a very concrete way, how the peasantry became more aware of their right to participate in local decision-making. At Kokemaki parish the local conflict over the exercise of power culminated in the church building committee on which only a few parishioners sat. The selection of the local building committee caused a severe reaction among the parishioners who were left out of the decision-making process. The idea was to select only a few men who would gather together and make decisions more efficiently and quickly, but the selection of so few local men resulted in a forceful response. The parishioners refused to be ignored, arguing that decisions relating to the burden of church building had to be made in common parish meetings. The peasantry wanted to control their building obligations by participating in the meetings. They wanted to agree collectively on the future provision of days of labour, material deliveries, and payments. By participating in public parish meetings, the peasantry tried to control their tax burden and building obligations. They observed whether building obligations could put their economy and the survival of their households at risk. However, the chief bone of contention had a political nature: Who had the right to define when the building work was done, what type of work was done, and how the building was made.28

Since the official language was Swedish, it has been wondered how the Finnish peasantry was able to participate in political processes when most did not comprehend Swedish. The church used the Finnish language generally in the parishes, and the local administration and ecclesiastical work functioned in Finnish. Church services, sermons, and parish assemblies were held in Finnish, even though official documents were written in Swedish. The church even taught laypeople to read Finnish.29 However, the peasantry (trusted men) had the right to check the parish assembly minutes. This meant that the vicar held the meeting in Finnish, and after that he wrote the minutes in Swedish and then explained the content to the peasantry in Finnish. A similar process also took place in Sweden proper, where the clergy read some minutes aloud for the Swedish-speaking peasantry.30 Even though the church taught people to read religious (printed) texts, the peasantry was not usually able to read or write handwritten documents. To avoid exploitation by the clergy, there was also at least one representative of the local gentry present as a scrutineer to read and proof the minutes.31 Formulating official letters and petitions needed special skills that only an educated person would possess, regardless of the person’s mother tongue. In this sense, there was no difference between a Swedish- and Finnish-speaking peasant: Both needed a mediator to write an officially formulated letter.32

The rise of local parish meetings did not mean that the traditional ways or hidden transcripts of influence had been forgotten. Different kinds of

From subjects to rural citizens? 241 procrastination, the avoidance of duties, and other actions the peasantry used to send a message of resistance to the local officers and church servants were still being used. Since the public space of appearance can be created wherever individuals gather together for speech and action, politics was not restricted to parish meetings, but could be exercised in church yards, or in other gatherings where people met and discussed common matters.33

Building society and exercising early citizenship in the Age of Utility

Adapting to early citizenship was a process that had different stages and regional variations. The démocratisation and development of early citizenship was not a linear or constant, unbroken process; it consisted of a series of participations in political questions and processes over time. The rationalistic proposals and enlightened improvements assisted adaptation to early citizenship by initiating new public projects, engaging in local political processes, and demanding local decision-making and discussions in challenging matters.

The Age of Liberty was also the Age of Utility. The active parliamentary work and the rise of rationalistic thinking enabled new kinds of investigations and proposals, and the launch of large utilitarian plans and enterprises. Finland received special political attention and investment, and many large, utilitarian, forward-looking public projects began in the 1750s in Western Finland. Russia had occupied Finland in 1741-1743, and after the obvious threat of losing the area of Finland to the Russian empire, the parliament of Sweden was ready to take a closer look at Finland’s military, political, and economic situation. Finland’s economic enhancement (Finlands ekonomiska upphielpande) became a political slogan.34 A special committee (Finska deputationen) was appointed to investigate and to make economic proposals and initiatives to reform Finland, and the committee work continued in the following decades.

In Finland, these utilitarian and forward-looking projects were usually aimed at improving defence, but they also focused on furthering population growth, agriculture, and manufacturing. Most of the utilitarian projects were launched in Western Finland in the 1750s and 1760s. Many parishes were involved in the large public projects, such as the clearance of turbulent sections of rivers (e.g., the Kokemaenjoki river), public road building projects, the establishment of grain warehouses, and land sur-veyance, mapping, and enclosure. Parishes sent soldiers to fortify building sites. The central government handed minor tasks to the local level in order to meet the general demands for building larger churches and vicarages and maintaining parish poorhouses.35 Hence, Western Finland saw an unprecedentedly swift wave of development over a single generation.

The public projects and social and economic improvements required the attention of the local administration. The new projects obliged parishmen to participate in both the decision-making and work processes with extra payments according their tax rate and often also to supply some of the labour, building materials, and tools. The negotiations and decisionmaking took place in the parish assemblies, district court sessions, and/ or other commissions. As I have shown in my doctoral dissertation, the peasantry was more conscious of its rights to participate in local politics and decision-making, and of defining their obligations and external tax load. The central government and peasantry had to meet at the local level and discuss forthcoming projects and processes.36 Since the freeholders’ contribution and participation were needed in various matters, the local peasantry gradually gained experience of decision-making processes.

The central government gathered information and required more reporting from the local level, using the information in decision-making processes. The information was gathered by the government for several reasons, such as the planning and clearing of waterways, the mapping and parcelling up of land (storskiftej, and establishing sawmills and new regional chapels. All of these various reports and inspections were made more or less at the local level and with the help of local trusted men (the lay members of court and ecclesiastical representatives like the sexton).37

The local people were very interested in following the new projects and processes, and they were eager to receive factual information, since this usually affected their everyday life.38 They were also ready to make proposals, as the parishioners of Huittinen and Kokemaki did when they proposed clearing rhe turbulent sections of the Kokemaenjoki river. The local landowners were ready to participate and volunteer in the huge project to avoid flooding, which damaged their fields. Eventually local men contributed over 2000 working days for free. The central government supported the same project, because it was originally part of a larger waterway and infrastructure plan.39

The public projects were a crucial part of the long-term development of early citizenship, because they constituted political processes that raised questions of participation in decision-making and administrative practice at the local level. These processes develop and change as questions are posed and conflicts arise. In the end, the questions, and especially the solutions arrived at, changed practices, courses of action, and the political culture. The political process could restart with new questions and conflicts, and thus, the community was constantly changing.40

The public projects and regular parish assemblies opened up the possibility for regular interaction and free participation in the decision-making processes in local political arenas. The control (from above) and obligatory participation enabled the peasantry to learn and gain experience of decision-making processes. The peasantry gradually turned this experience into more active individual agency and took a more proactive role as political actors in different processes. They stepped forward in the parish assemblies, and they became more visible agents. Instead of just quietly following

From subjects to rural citizens? 243 what the clergy and officers were discussing or deciding over their heads, they could argue and participate in the meetings. One could argue that members of the peasantry became more experienced in political practices and started to find their identity as political actors.

A good example of a politically experienced and active peasant is Matti Kôônikka (1727-1801), who became a chief opposition leader in the Kokemâki church building process. Kôônikka was a wealthy peasant who owned a cavalry estate.41 He was motivated by a personal desire to participate in local politics and other cavalry estates and their associated farms supported him. Kôônikka also had previous experience of local positions of trust. He had held a position as churchwarden and he participated as a lay member in the local council for land parcelling (Àgodelnings Compromissrdtt). Kôônikkâ’s and his associates’ actions proved that they knew their rights to participate in parish meetings and to appeal to the governor and the cathedral chapter if needed. Kôônikka himself was ready to act, to find the straightest appeal channels, and he sacrificed his own resources to achieve this. He also used his social networks to achieve his goal. Resisting the building committee became his local political statement. Kôônikka even went so far to demonstrate his political preparedness and experience that he organised a shadow parish meeting with his supporters. The argument that all parish men should be allowed to participate in public building meetings became the general political agenda among the parishioners.42 It showed that the political action of the parishioners had changed from a quiet acquiescence and hidden resistance to full activity in public political arenas.

Building new publicity and representative opinions in rural areas

The role and importance of information increased in the late 18th century. Gathering, producing, receiving, and delivering knowledge and information were essential elements in decision-making, even in peasant society. The manner in which the peasantry received factual information and news in such a preindustrial setting is noteworthy. Official information was distributed through administrative channels, via church pulpits, and by newspapers to the provinces. It was important that both urban and rural people could receive factual information and discuss and modify their views. The information flowed from the centre to the provinces and from rural areas to the towns that shaped ideas of society, economics, and politics. However, there were always people who gathered, formulated, and distributed information through interaction with other citizens. Representative opinions could arise only when people met, talked, and confronted one another in a public space, such as the parish assemblies or in the churchyard. According to Arendt, political opinions cannot be formed in private; rather, they are formed, tested, and enlarged only within a public context of argumentation and debate.43

It was also possible to form representative opinions in the rural context. The parish men received information in different ways and from different sources. One of the main sources of official information from the central government was the public announcement, which the deans and parish clergy distributed effectively over the counties and deaneries. The clergy read official announcements from the pulpits in several places simultaneously or with only a few weeks’ delay. After the Sunday service, people gathered in the churchyard and discussed the news and announcements they had heard from the pulpit. There, the peasantry was able to ponder, discuss, and form representative opinions at the same time in different corners of the realm.

Another information source for the local community was newspapers, the importance of which grew during the late 18th century. Rational thinking and the promotion of the common good were important elements of citizenship. The educated gentry in particular felt a personal and moral responsibility to share the latest knowledge with other people. Their aim was to improve the economic situation of the fatherland and advance the general living conditions of society.44 Central government, academics, and the local gentry used the public newspapers as channels to deliver arguments to the local level. The arguments represented rational thinking and were published in the newspapers’ editions. The arguments could be presented at the local level in discussions and negotiations with local people in parish meetings.

The gentry performed an intermediary function by delivering information to the local level in different ways. It also assisted in creating public opinion in rural parishes. The educated gentry, officers, and clergy who lived in the countryside had access to and the ability to read Swedish newspapers. The rural gentry could subscribe to newspapers for provincial areas. For example, Dagligt Allehanda, which was published in Stockholm, was ordered, read, and discussed in the provinces. In principle, one subscription (and one reader) in the parish enabled other local (rural) people to receive the information contained in the newspaper. The normal reading habit was to read aloud while others listened. After reading rhe news, the papers could be circulated to other readers. This could be done by handing over the original newspaper or a handwritten copy to others. Referring to the news in private letters was also possible, because the ideas generally travelled by private letters in the preindustrial world.45

Tidningar Utgifne Afet Sdllskap i Abo was the first newspaper to be published in Finland from 1770. The members of the Academy of Turku closely influenced the content of the publication, and it was printed in Swedish. It was a relatively modest publication, but it contained articles that promoted the common good. The aim of the practical articles was to spread information and to improve local economic and social conditions in rural parishes. The articles covered such topics as promoting building in stone instead of timber (to tackle deforestation) and arguing against burials inside churches

(for health reasons).46 These enlightened ideas and improvements were meant to be spread in (Finnish) parishes by the educated gentry (the middle class), who had good Swedish reading skills, Finnish communication skills, access to the publications, and - above all - the ability and willingness to communicate the ideas to Finnish laymen. The articles were intended to function as guidelines for good and rational arguments that could be presented at the local level when discussing and negotiating with parish members. The Finnish peasantry could not read newspapers by themselves, but they were still able to participate in larger discussions and help form public opinion.

In the case of Ulvila parish, the parishioners discussed and encouraged each other to abandon the old practice of church burials and graves.47 As a leading trusted man in the parish (kyrko forestdndare), Professor Johan Kraftman made a proposal. He also gave clear arguments for prohibiting the old custom of burying bodies under the church floor. The arguments were similar to those presented in a recent academic dissertation and articles in Tidningar Utgifne Af et Sdllskap i Âbo.48 The health risks and various inconveniences the graves caused for the people inside the church were obvious. King Gustaf III did not want to forbid church burials, since he was afraid of losing his popularity among the people. However, the proposals for improving the church space came from the gentry, and the parishioners strongly supported the rationalistic idea. This example shows how information could be spread, representative ideas formed, and reformative decisions made in the rural areas.

The peasantry could participate in the larger national discussion by receiving information from the gentry or by public announcements. Current topics were discussed not only locally, but nationally, because many similar decision-making processes were ongoing in different parishes, deaneries, districts, and provinces simultaneously. For example, when the governors sent orders to establish grain stores in the 1750s and poorhouses in the 1770s, every parish had to concern themselves with these matters simultaneously according the central government’s instructions. At the local level, (dis)advantages were considered and information was exchanged between different parishes. The examples and failures of other parishes were observed, but ultimately, every parish had to make its own decisions.

The breeding ground of early citizenship and the rural public sphere

In this chapter, I have studied the preconditions under which the peasantry were able to practise and receive the experiences of political agency and achieve the status of early citizens in the rural public sphere. As key elements of the changing the political culture, I looked at election of the clergy, the function of parish assemblies, the place of large public utilitarian projects, and the role of the local gentry as intermediators of information.

By using Hannah Arendt’s concepts of citizenship and the public sphere, I showed that these are some of the main elements in achieving early citizenship. They enabled the peasantry’s personal participation, giving them the freedom to act, speak, and create representative opinions as a local political community.

In the Swedish Realm, the peasantry had significant experience of participation in local decision-making. The central government had demanded parish men be present in local political arenas in order to make unanimous binding agreements and decisions. However, the nature of the participation was changed and reinforced during the Age of Liberty, when the four parliamentary estates passed more power to the local level. One main cornerstone of early citizenship was set in place when new legislation for the appointment of clergy was enacted in the 1720s and 1730s. It provided a solid foundation for individual decision-making, and it also defined who was able to participate in decision-making generally. It allowed landowners free consideration and the right to participate in the political community. They now formed a clear political community that gained experience both as individuals, but also as a collective. The parish men practiced and learned by participating in different political decision-making processes in the local public sphere.

The parish assemblies opened up the possibility of regular interaction and free participation in local political arenas, which enabled the peasantry to gain experience of political processes. The central government also unintentionally stimulated political activity by passing more complicated tasks and utilitarian public projects to the local level in the second half of the 18th century. In order to launch these projects, parishioners had to gather together to consider, report, discuss, and decide how these projects would be conducted. The projects demanded the landowners’ active participation, but at the same time parish men received political experience in processing questions, and their awareness of their political rights and opportunities rose to a new level.

The peasantry gradually turned the experience they gained into more active individual agency and took a more vigorous role as political actors in different processes. They could argue and discuss in the meetings and not just quietly follow or resist what the clergy and officers were discussing or deciding over their heads. The free actions of the parish men could also complicate local decision-making processes, since decisions were now made in a web of human relationships. The local officers could not control or dictate the final outcome of the decision-making; instead, they had to persuade and convince the parish men to act according to the common good. For these negotiations, officers needed more exact information and arguments to convince the parish men to make the correct decisions in the parish assemblies. Information and news became crucial parts of the administration and political culture not only in urban surroundings, but also in rural areas in the late 18th century. A new kind of representative opinion was formed that crossed regional borders.

The wide variation of political culture and the hidden transcript and everyday forms of resistance remained potential political tools that were used when needed. However, the official and public methods of political activity and influence were now open to the peasantry more than ever before. Members of the peasantry gained more experience in political practices, and belonging to a political community slowly reformed their political identities to shape them into more active and responsible agents. In this sense, landowning peasants can be considered early citizens in the late 18th-century context.

Primary sources

National Archives of Finland (KA)

Turku, Kokemaen kirkonarkisto

Hameenlinna, Pirkkalan seurakunnan arkisto

Ulvila, Ulvilan kirkonarkisto

Printed sources

Codex Aboensis. Turun kasikirjoitus (1977), Kommentaarit ja suomen-nokset, Helsinki: Koneen Saatiô.

Modée, R.G. (1742), Utdrag utur aile ifrân den 7. decemb. 1718 utkomme publique handlingar, placater, fôrordningar, resolutioner ock publicationer, som riksens styrsel samt inwartes hushdllning och fôrfattningar i gemen, jamwal ock stockholms stad i synnerhet, anga; med nôdige citationer af allé paralel-stellen.: del 1, til dr 1730, Stockholm: Grefing.

Kalm, Pehr & Johan Hydenius (1765), Om Liks Begrafwande I Kyrckor och Kyrkogdrdar, Dissertation, Kuninkaallinen Turun akatemia.

Samling af fôrfattningar och Stadgar, hwilka andra eller fôrklarar Kyrko-Lagen af Ar 1686, och annu aro till efterlefnad gallande, Fôrfattad och utgifwen pd Kongl. Maj:ts Nddiga Befallmng Ar 1813. Tryckt hos Olof Grahn. Stockholm 1813.


  • 1 For example, Villstrand 1992, 2005, 2011; Gustafsson 1989, 1994.
  • 2 For more about this theoretical perspective, see Simonsson 1999, pp. 23-44; Linde 2000, pp. 13-14, 25-30.
  • 3 Ôsterberg 1987, pp. 322-325; Aronsson 1992, pp. 34, 50; Ôsterberg 1993, pp. 133—141; Villstrand 2011, p. 282.
  • 4 Villstrand 1992, pp. 13-36; Katajala 1994, p. 400; Katajala 2002, p. 491; Villstrand 2005, pp. 119-121; Viitaniemi 2016.
  • 5 Concerning the change of the political culture in the 18th century, see, for example, Riksdag, kaffehus och predikstol; Nationalism och nationell identitet i 1700-tals; Maktens mosaik.
  • 6 Arendt 2017, p. 73.

Leydet, ‘Citizenship’, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Nordin 2000, pp. 96-97; Saastamoinen 2003, pp. 47-49; Wolff 2008; Öst-lund 2007, pp. 167-77.1 am using the term ‘early citizen(ship)’ to distinguish the 18th-century idea of citizenship from the later concept of citizenship in this chapter.

Wolff 2008, pp. 70-84. About early nationalism (before 1780s), see, for example, Gustafsson 2008, pp. 69-70; Nordin 2000; Manninen 2008.

Swedish research on publicity. Lindberg 2014; Winton 2006, for example, pp. 41-43.

Arendt 1958; d’Entreves 2006; Sennefelt 2011, pp. 26-27.

Johansson 1937, pp. 37-38; Frohnert 1985, p. 237; Viitaniemi 2016, p. 68. About the Age of Liberty, see, for example, Lindberg 2003, pp. 14-17; Wolff 2007,2008.

Kongl. Maj.ts Nädiga Förordning hwarefter wid Prestewals anhällande sä i Stader som pit Landet förfaras bör. Gifwen Stockholm i Räd-Kammaren d. 5 Junii 1739. Sämling af författningar och Stadgar, 1813.

Lindstrom 2003, p. 106.

Codex Aboensis. Uplannin maakuntalaki, Kirkkokaari V., p. 139. Even the appointment of the parish clerk/bell ringer had to be done with consent.

Lindstrom 2003, pp. 67-68. More about the elections of vicars and the change of political culture in Lindstrom 2003.

RA (Stockholm) Skrivelser til KM. Äbo. Konsistoriernas skrivelser, vol. 6. (1728-1733).

RA (Stockholm) Skrivelser til KM. Abo. Konsistoriernas skrivelser, vol. 12. (1757-1759).

Lindstrom 2003, p. 24; Widen 1988, p. 30.

Arendt 2017, pp. 196-197.

Viitaniemi 2016.

Hemmas innehafware includes here the peasantry, gentry, and officers with an officer’s house in the parish.

National Archives of Finland (KA), Hämeenlinna, Pirkkalan seurakunnan arkisto. II Ec.2. Valtion viranomaisten kirjeet ja päätökset. The parish assembly minutes 3 June 1753. Viitaniemi 2018b, pp. 21-22.

KA Hämeenlinna, Pirkkalan seurakunnan arkisto. II Ec.2. Valtion viranomaisten kirjeet ja päätökset. Governor Wallen’s report, 22 December 1758. Viitaniemi 2018, p. 25. For a more detailed case of the selection of a new church site in Kokemäki parish, see Viitaniemi 2016, pp. 182-203.

Arendt 2017, p. 210.

Kongl. Maj.ts Nädiga Förordning hwarefter wid Prestewals anhällande sä i Städer som pä Landet förfaras bör. Gifwen Stockholm i Räd-Kammaren d. 5 Junii 1739; Kongl. Maj:ts Nädiga förklaring, öfwer Dess den 5 Junii 1739 utgängne förordning om Prestwal. Gifwen Stockholm i Räd-Kammaren den 22 Januarii 1746. Sämling af författningar och Stadgar. Viitaniemi 2018, pp. 404-406.

Kongl. Maj.ts Nädiga Förordning hwarefter wid Prestewals anhällande sä i Städer som pä Landet förfaras bör. Gifwen Stockholm i Räd-Kammaren d. 5 Junii 1739; Kongl. Maj:ts Nädiga förklaring, öfwer Dess den 5 Junii 1739 utgängne förordning om Prestwal. Gifwen Stockholm i Räd-Kammaren den 22 Januarii 1746. Sämling af författningar och Stadgar. Viitaniemi 2018, pp. 404-406.

TMA. KoSA II CaJ. Pitäjänkokousten pöytäkirjat 1760-1805. Parish meeting minutes of Kokemäki parish 9 July 1780. Viitaniemi 2016, pp. 17, 292-299.

  • 29 Viitaniemi 2019, pp. 92-96.
  • 30 Lindstrom 2003, p. 102.
  • 31 About conflicts concerning inspections of the minutes, see Viitaniemi 2016, pp. 216-217.
  • 32 Linde 2000, p. 88; Manninen 2008, pp. 258-259; Villstrand 2014, pp. 193-197.
  • 33 Arendt 2017, pp. 205-206; Sennefelt 2011, pp. 26-27.
  • 34 Paloposki 1976, pp. 11-16.
  • 35 Kuisma 1983; Paloposki 1976; Pulma 1985; Salminen 2007; Talvitie 2013, Teerijoki 1993; Viitaniemi 2016, pp. 154-157.
  • 36 Viitaniemi 2016.
  • 37 For example, Kuisma 1983, pp. 57, 60; Talvitie 2013, p. 73; Teerijoki 1993, passim; Viitaniemi 2016, pp. 154-157.
  • 38 Kuisma 1983, pp. 57, 60; Talvitie 2013, p. 73; Viitaniemi 2016, pp. 154-155.
  • 39 Viikki 1973, pp. 388-390.
  • 40 Viitaniemi 2016, p. 22.
  • 41 A cavalry estate received tax reductions for equipping a horse and a cavalry soldier for military service. Usually these estates were wealthier than the average and their owners were higher than the average in the hierarchy of the peasant population.
  • 42 Viitaniemi 2016, pp. 299-304.
  • 43 d’Entreves 2006. Arendt uses the term 'representative opinions’ instead of 'public opinions’.
  • 44 Nordin 2000, pp. 96-97; Nurmiainen 2009, p. 211; Wolff 2008; Ôstlund 2007, pp. 167-177.
  • 45 Klinge 2002, pp. 28-29; Virrankoski 1997.
  • 46 Viitaniemi 2016, pp. 146-147; Viitaniemi 2018c, pp. 42-43.
  • 47 Ulvilan kirkonarkisto, Ulvila. II Ca. Pitâjânkokouksen poytakirjat 1746— 1792. Pitâjânkokouksen pôytâkirja 15 March 1767.
  • 48 Kalm & Hydenius 1765; Viitaniemi 2018c.


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