Grand Duchy of Finland

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Map of the Grand Duchy of Finland from 1900.

The Grand Duchy of Finland ( Finnish Suomen suuriruhtinaskunta , Swedish Storfurstendömet Finland , Russian Великое княжество Финляндское ) was from 1809 to 1917 a part of the Russian Empire endowed with extensive internal autonomy . It was created after the centuries to Sweden belonging Finland be ceded as a result of several Russian-Swedish war with Russia had, and ended as a result of the Russian revolutions in the independence of Finland.

The basis of the autonomous constitution of Finland was the state parliament held in Porvoo in 1809 , at which Tsar Alexander I assured the Finnish estates that the traditional laws and constitution would continue to apply. While the Gustavian Constitution of Sweden of 1772 and 1789 essentially continued to apply, the details and extent of autonomy were not legally established during the entire existence of the Grand Duchy. In the second half of the period, the Finnish view of constitutionally guaranteed autonomy increasingly came into conflict with the emerging nationalism in Russia and the associated efforts towards standardization.

Public political life in Finland was largely at a standstill at first, as the Finnish Diet was not convened until 1863. From this year on, the four-tier union day met regularly and political movements formed. One of the central issues of the day was the question of the relationship between the traditional Swedish official language and Finnish, a question that, due to the structure of the population, also had socio-political dimensions. The revolutionary events of 1905 led to a parliamentary reform that brought universal suffrage to a unicameral parliament . Modern political parties were formed. The political work of the parliament was decisively hindered by the now fully inflamed constitutional dispute.


The territories ceded by Sweden to Russia in 1721 and 1743 were annexed to the newly created Grand Duchy of Finland in 1812 as the so-called
Old Finland.

Finland, which had belonged to Sweden for centuries, had to be ceded to Russia in 1809 as a result of several Russian-Swedish wars. Tsar Alexander I formed a grand duchy out of the acquired territories, which was granted extensive autonomy in the state parliament of Porvoo through the throneid of Alexander.

Separation of Finland from Sweden

The area of ​​today's Finland has been an integral part of Sweden since the Middle Ages and belonged to the heartland of the empire during its great power period in the 17th century. During the 18th century Sweden's position of power waned, especially in the Great Northern War , during which Finland was occupied by Russia from 1714 to 1721. After the conclusion of the Peace of Nystad , the occupation of Finland ended, Sweden had to cede not only its Baltic areas but also the areas around Viipuri and Käkisalmi , which belong to Finland, to Russia. In another Russian-Swedish war, the so-called War of Hats 1741-1743, Finland was reoccupied, and in the subsequent Peace of Åbo the border between Sweden and Russia was pushed as far as the Kymijoki River .

In the course of the Napoleonic coalition wars, Russia allied itself under Tsar Alexander I on July 7, 1807 in the Treaty of Tilsit with France against Great Britain and Sweden, allied with it. On February 21, 1808, Russia attacked Sweden, starting the Finnish War , which quickly led to a renewed occupation of Finland. On September 17, 1809, the two powers signed the Treaty of Fredrikshamn , with which Sweden ceded large areas to Russia. In addition to what was then what is now the southern half of Finland, these areas also included the Åland Islands and parts of Lapland and Västerbotten .

Formation of the Grand Duchy

Already after the occupation of Finland in March 1808, Tsar Alexander had announced to the governments of Europe that Finland had been annexed to the Russian Empire forever. Because of the continued military resistance and the danger of a guerrilla war , Alexander tried to calm the situation in Finland. In a manifesto of June 17, 1808, he affirmed Finland's annexation to Russia, but promised to uphold the country's old laws and the privileges of the estates. At the same time he ordered the formation of a delegation of the Estates of Finland for the purpose of negotiating the future status of Finland. The delegation, led by Baron Carl Erik Mannerheim , traveled to Saint Petersburg in November 1808 , but took the position that it could not effectively represent the Estates of Finland. As a result, the Tsar decided to convene the Estates to a Landtag , following the procedures applicable under the old Swedish law .

The opening of the state parliament in Porvoo by Tsar Alexander I in the contemporary representation by Emanuel Thelning.

The Assembly of Estates met in Porvoo on March 25, 1809 , before the Finnish War was ended by the Peace of Fredrikshamn . After Alexander's arrival, the state parliament was ceremoniously opened on March 28th, and on the following day the tsar swore an oath to the throne, which was subsequently seen as establishing the identity of the newly created constitutional structure:

“We announce: That after WE have taken the great land of princes Finland under our government through His providence, WE want to affirm and establish the Christian doctrine and basic laws prevailing in the country as well as those freedoms and rights, which each state in the named Great Prince-Land in particular, and all its inhabitants together, noble as well as lower ones, have enjoyed until today according to the constitution: WE also promise to keep all these advantages and ordinances strong and steadfast in their full force. "

- Tsar Alexander I.

The representatives of the estates then took the oath of allegiance to the tsar one after the other . The stands then met for several months, which they used to adapt the administrative structure to Finland's new status. On July 19, 1809, the state parliament was closed with a speech by Alexander.

The ceded areas together formed the newly created Grand Duchy of Finland. The Finnish territories, which Sweden had already lost to Russia in 1721 and 1743 and for which the name Old Finland had become naturalized, were attached to the Grand Duchy by imperial decree with effect from the beginning of 1812. Finland kept the borders that were created in this way until independence in 1917.

Constitution and Administration

The official coat of
arms of the Grand Duchy combined the two-headed eagle of the Russian Empire with the lion symbol adopted from Swedish times.

As a result of the Porvoo events, the previous Swedish laws and the Swedish constitution remained in effect in the territory of the Grand Duchy of Finland. The constitution consisted primarily of the Gustavian constitution of 1772 , supplemented by the changes made in 1789 by the so-called Unification and Security Letter.

The Tsar as Grand Duke

As the Grand Duke of Finland, the Russian Tsar was also the head of state of the autonomous Grand Duchy. When the new Tsar Nicholas I ascended the throne in 1825, despite his fundamentally autocratic attitude, he recognized Finland's special status and swore the same oath to the throne as his predecessor, which was to become a tradition for all his successors.

At the court in St Petersburg became a separate authority for the preparation of decisions affecting Finland consisting of Finnish existing citizens Committee for Finnish Affairs formed. The committee was dissolved in 1826 and its duties were transferred to the State Secretary, from 1834 Minister State Secretary for Finnish Affairs, who were also Finnish citizens. The Committee on Finnish Affairs was revived under Alexander II , whose government from 1855 onwards brought significant changes to Finnish constitutional life.

The governor general , who was usually Russian, served as the representative of the imperial government in Finland . The governors-general included those who lived in Helsinki and understood their office in Finland as their main task, such as Nikolai Adlerberg , who was in office from 1866 to 1881 , but also those who played a central role in the entire empire and for whom Finland was more of a sideline , like the naval admiral Alexander Sergejewitsch Menshikov 1831 to 1855.


As early as November 1808, Alexander I made the fundamental decision to create a separate supreme administrative body for Finland, which corresponded to the Swedish Imperial Council . The rules of procedure for the body, initially called the Administrative Council , then called the Senate from 1816 , were drawn up by a commission headed by Bishop Jacob Tengström and largely shaped by the legal scholar Matthias Calonius . The Stands assembled in Porvoo added the essential point to the Rules of Procedure that the members of the Senate had to come from Finland.

The Senate Building (now the Government Building) on ​​Senate Square in Helsinki was the official seat of the Senate of Finland from 1822.

The Senate consisted of two departments, the economics and legal departments. The Legal Department acted as the highest court in the country, while the Economic Department acted as the highest administrative body for the Government of Finland. The presidency of the Senate was formally held by the Governor General. As a rule, however, he did not take part in the negotiations of the Senate. Instead, the chairmanship was initially led by the highest-ranking member of the respective department, until a deputy chairman was appointed for each department in 1822. The deputy chairman of the economic department thus effectively represented Finland's head of government. The Senate exercised part of the monarch's rights in Finland; its members were therefore directly appointed by the tsar. The senators' term of office was three years. According to the rules of procedure, half of the members should be nobles and the other half non-aristocrats.

The official seat of the Senate was initially Turku , which was the first capital of the autonomous Grand Duchy. However, on April 12, 1812, Alexander I took the decision to move the capital to Helsinki . While Turku symbolized the old connection between Finland and Sweden, the Tsar wanted to found a new capital as a symbol of the connection with Russia. Helsinki offered itself not only because of its location in connection with the important fortress Sveaborg , but also because it was almost completely burned down in 1808 and had to be rebuilt anyway. After extensive reconstruction work under the direction of the architect Carl Ludvig Engel , the Senate moved into the new Senate building in Helsinki in 1822.

In connection with the Senate, the office of procurator was created, the first incumbent Calonius. The main task of the procurator was to monitor the legality of the Senate's activities; But it also became the supreme supervisory body for the administration of justice. The office of procurator continues to this day in independent Finland under the name of the judiciary.

Reichstag and Parliament

The four-chamber Reichstag as Swedish heritage

The Reichstag was the regularly convened representation of the estates in Sweden. Until the replacement of Sweden, representatives from Finland were represented in the Reichstag in the same way as the other core areas of the empire. In the Grand Duchy the institution continued limited to the territory of Finland.

The opening of the Reichstag in 1863 by Alexander II in Helsinki, here in a painting by R. W. Ekman.

According to the Gustavian constitution, the approval of the Reichstag was required for the enactment or amendment of laws, even if the Reichstag did not have the right of initiative. However, the king had the right to regulate administrative and economic issues by means of ordinances without the participation of the estates. The scope of this authority remained unclear in the constitution, and this provision could be used by the king and then by the tsar to a large extent to circumvent the involvement of the representation of the estates.

It was at the monarch's discretion to convene the Reichstag. After the Reichstag of Porvoo in 1809 (which was still called the Landtag at the time), both Alexander I and his successor Nicholas I refrained from convening during their entire reign. It was not until Alexander II saw the participation of the estates in the implementation of the many economic reforms as necessary and convened them again in 1863. This sparked great enthusiasm in Finland and earned Alexander the admiration of wide Finnish circles.

The Estates building in Helsinki, built in 1891, served as a meeting place for the non-aristocratic estates until the parliamentary reform in 1906.

Alexander set up two committees to compile the Finnish constitution on the basis of the Gustavian constitution and to reorganize the administrative apparatus. A realization of the project would have given the estates a legislative right of initiative and made the role of the Senate independent. The large-scale reform ultimately fell victim to the general tension in the domestic political situation in Russia, in particular as a result of the Polish uprising in January 1863 and the attempted assassination attempt on the Tsar in 1866. Only the Reichstag order, which stipulated that the estates be convened every five years, was implemented . It was not until 1882 that Alexander III confessed . the Reichstag also the right of initiative and shortened the interval between the Reichstag to three years.

The composition of the Reichstag was based on the Reichstag order of 1617. The four estates met and decided separately from one another; Decisions required the approval of three estates. The nobility were represented by the heads of all aristocratic families in Finland. The monarch was able to influence the composition of this class by raising families to the nobility. The representatives of the clergy included the bishops and other representatives elected by the Protestant pastors, and from 1869 also representatives of the university and the school system. The representatives of the bourgeoisie elected the citizens of the cities in an election based on income and wealth. In the fourth estate, the peasant estate, the right to vote was linked to the property. In 1890, around 30 percent of the population was represented in the Reichstag in this way.

Even at the time of the revival of the Reichstag system in the 1960s, the estates' representation system was felt to be out of date and its reform was discussed. During the Reichstag in 1885, concrete proposals to expand the circle of eligible voters failed due to the resistance of the nobility and conservative citizens, who feared a decisive shift in the balance of power in favor of the Finnish-speaking majority. The voting right question was similarly postponed several times until the demand for universal and equal suffrage became a central demand of the emerging labor movement at the beginning of the new century.

Revolutionary unrest lead to parliamentary reform

The year 1905 was riddled with demonstrations and unrest. Here a demonstration in front of the town hall in Jakobstad in autumn 1905.

During the 1880s, the first workers' associations were founded in Finland , and collaborations were intensified in the following decade. Founded in 1899 as the Labor Party of Finland and renamed the Social Democratic Party of Finland in 1903 , the issue of universal suffrage was its central demand. When the Reichstag again discussed the question of voting rights in April 1905, around 35,000 demonstrators, mostly workers, gathered in Senate Square , but the reform was again rejected.

In the wake of the Russian Revolution , the workers decided on October 29, 1905 a general strike , which was soon joined by student circles. The strike, viewed with benevolence by conservative circles because of the simmering constitutional crisis, was followed almost entirely. At the mediation of the leading liberal politician Leo Mechelin , Tsar Nicholas II finally issued a manifesto that promised, among other things, a new order of the Reichstag and universal and equal suffrage.

The first session of the new unicameral parliament on May 22, 1907 in the building of the volunteer fire brigade

At the end of 1905, the four-tier council was elected for the last time, which, after the proposal for the new Reichstag order was presented by the Senate headed by Mechelin, passed it on May 29, 1906. The Tsar ratified it on July 20th. The new parliament of Finland consisted of only one chamber with 200 members who were elected in the various constituencies of the country according to universal and equal suffrage by all Finns at least 24 years of age. For the first time in Europe, women were also given the right to vote. The seats in parliament were allocated according to proportional representation in the D'Hondt procedure . Unlike the old Reichstag, the new parliament would meet continuously and be elected for three years.

The new order of the Reichstag gave parliament the form it has in its main features to this day. The relationship between the powers of the Reichstag and those of the monarch, on the other hand, remained unchanged: Laws could not be passed without ratification by the Tsar, and the Senate did not depend on the confidence of Parliament. The option of the Tsar to regulate by ordinance was also not affected. On these issues, the constitution of 1772 and 1789 remained in force.

Administrative division

From the Kingdom of Sweden the Läne (Finnish. Lääni ) were taken over, which were adapted to the Russian system of governorates . At the head of the administration was a governor who was supervised by the governor general. After a reform in 1831, when some Lääni were newly created or renamed, they remained unchanged well into the period of independence - some even until 1997. The Lääni of the Grand Duchy of Finland since 1831 were as follows:

The local government, which was also brought from the Swedish era, initially continued to rule in the Grand Duchy unchanged. In the rural communities, the community assembly was the supreme body, but it was seldom called. On the other hand, most decisions were made by the church councils, which formed a kind of parish council. A separation of the political municipal administration from the church administration did not take place. In addition to the community infrastructure, the community's tasks also included caring for the poor. The jurisdiction was exercised in the countryside by deserving peasants as lay judges. In 1865 the administration of the rural communities was separated from the church administration and the political community was introduced as a secular self-government unit. The basic structures of the administration otherwise remained largely unchanged. The administration of the cities was in the hands of the magistrates elected by the citizens, who also functioned as courts. From 1873 an elected municipal council was introduced in cities with more than 2,000 inhabitants and the magistrates were converted into authorities.

What the administrations of the rural communities and the cities had in common was that the non-owning population had no influence on the resolutions. The voting rights were dependent on the payment of taxes and staggered. Selective suffrage remained in effect until Finland became independent and was not significantly reformed even when it became a major source of political tension in the early 20th century.

Political currents and parties

Johan Vilhelm Snellman was the spiritual father of the Fennoman movement from which the Finnish Party emerged.

The political life of Finland between 1809 and 1917 was essentially characterized by three periods. During the period when there was no Reichstag until 1863, political discourse largely stood still and only took place in the university's academic circles. The period of the estates' Reichstag until 1906 was determined by political movements that were taking shape and especially by the antagonism of the language dispute. After the introduction of universal suffrage, modern parties were formed and the Social Democrats rose to become the strongest political force.

1809 to 1863

Since the Finnish Reichstag was not convened between 1809 and 1863, political life in the true sense did not take place. Government by the Tsar and Senate focused on administration. Necessary regulations were passed by ordinance, essential legislative measures that would have required the participation of the Reichstag were omitted entirely. The civil service apparatus was further developed in a targeted manner, in particular through the centralization of civil servant training at the university .

The only university in Finland, which existed in Turku until 1828 and was relocated from Turku to Helsinki after the great fire, developed into the formative political forum of this period. Adolf Ivar Arwidsson was one of the forerunners of political activities . His demands for the development of a Finnish national identity and for greater civil liberties, which he put forward vehemently from 1820 on, led to his dismissal from the position of lecturer in 1823. Arwidsson emigrated to Stockholm, where over time a number of emigrated Finns, usually extremely skeptical of Russia, gathered.

One of the personalities influenced by Arwidsson was Johan Vilhelm Snellman , who from the 1940s became a pioneer and leading figure of the so-called Fennoman movement. The main concern of the Fennomans was the development of Finland's own language and culture so that the Finns could acquire their own place in the midst of the peoples. Unlike Arwidsson, however, the fennomania was not directed against Russia, but sought to preserve Finnish independence in the context of the tsarist empire. They actively pursued the development of Finnish as a cultural language and the improvement of broad popular education.

1863 to 1906

Yrjö Koskinen was the leader of the Finnish party during its period of power at the end of the 19th century.

After the revival of the Reichstag system, politics found its way into general social life. The fennomania movement was shaped into a more political movement in the 1960s by its new leader, Yrjö Koskinen . This movement, soon to be known as the Finnish Party , had its supporters in the fennoman-minded academics as well as in large parts of the Finnish-speaking rural population. It stood for the elevation of the Finnish language to the official language, for the implementation of economic and social reforms, but also for unconditional loyalty to the Russian monarch.

As a counter-reaction to the rise of the political fennomans, the advocates of the position of the Swedish language also formed a political movement in the 1970s, which was known as the Swedish Party . In addition to the language issue, the movement under its spiritual leader Axel Olof Freudenthal tended towards social conservatism . Especially under the influence of Scandinavianism , the supporters of the movement, who also call themselves Svekomanen, took a distant to hostile position towards Russia. In the estates' Reichstag, the Finnish party consistently dominated the peasant class and the clergy, while the Swedes held the majority in the nobility and bourgeoisie. Numerous attempts to expand voting rights in the bourgeoisie failed because of the Swedish Party's concern that the ruling balance of power would be overturned by the voting rights of the Finnish-speaking urban population.

Leo Mechelin was the founder of the short-lived Liberal Party and leader of the constitutional struggle.

While the aforementioned "parties" were political currents without a fixed party organization, the Liberal Party was founded in 1880 as the first Finnish political party in the modern sense, led by Leo Mechelin. The party, also supported by Swedish-speaking elites but mediating on the language issue, concentrated on questions of the economy and the rule of law . The party soon broke up between the fronts of the language dispute and dispersed around 1885. Mechelin, however, was to become the central protagonist of the constitutionalists as an independent in the constitutional dispute at the turn of the century.

Since the beginning of the reign of Alexander III. it became the practice of the tsar to fill the senate with political persons taking into account the social conditions. The Fennomans thus became a kind of ruling party, a position they held until 1905. During the 1990s, however, criticism of the line of loyalty advocated by Yrjö Koskinen and of the social policy that had become too conservative for the critics stirred among more radical Fennomaniacs. In 1894 the Young Finnish Party split off from the Finnish Party .

1906 to 1917

As a member of parliament from 1907 to 1917 and as a social democratic party leader from 1906 to 1909, Edvard Valpas represented a radical revolutionary line.

The formation of the unicameral parliament and the extension of voting rights to the large masses of the people required the formation of modern, structured political parties. The Social Democratic Party had already formed in 1899 and by 1905 had reached a level of organization that enabled it to play a central role in the revolutionary events of the year and enabled it to campaign effectively. The (old) Finnish party gave itself a new structure in 1904 with a formal party leadership and regional departments. The Young Finnish Party followed in 1905. As a completely new party, the Landbund was founded in 1906 , which primarily represented the interests of the independent Finnish-speaking farmers, and whose defining personality was Santeri Alkio , who had been replaced by the young women .

The Swedish party faced a radical change in its meaning. While the old electoral system guaranteed the Swedish-speaking elite supremacy in two estates, it was to be foreseen that the new parliament would become a minority. That is why there was a reorientation in the Swedish camp. In May 1906, the Swedish People's Party was founded under the leadership of Axel Lille , which saw itself as a representative not only of the old elites, but also of the Swedish-speaking Finns in all walks of life.

The first elections for the new parliament in March 1907 brought the Social Democrats - surprising to all observers at the time - 80 of the 200 seats. The old Finns received 59, the Landbund 9 seats. The constitutionalist parties were bitterly disappointed by the election results: The Jungfinnen received 26 seats and the Swedish People's Party 24 seats. In the following years the parliament was dissolved by the tsar at short intervals after parliament repeatedly opposed the policy of the Russian government. Parliament did not meet during World War I, but elections were held in 1916.

The Social Democrats were programmatically at odds during this time. While Matti Paasivuori, who held the party chairmanship from 1909–1911 and 1913–1917, sought reformist cooperation with the bourgeoisie, the chairmen from 1906 to 1909 and from 1911 to 1913, Edvard Valpas and Otto Ville Kuusinen , represented a revolutionary class struggle line. Nevertheless, the socialists were able to gain steadily in the elections. In 1916 they achieved an absolute majority of 103 seats with a share of the vote of 47.29%. The Landbund was also able to steadily increase its importance and in 1916 already had 19 mandates. In contrast, support for the Finnish party dwindled drastically, with only 33 seats in 1916.

Autonomy and Constitutional Disputes

The foundations of the autonomy of Finland were not established by law during the entire existence of the Grand Duchy. Views on the nature of autonomy largely depended on the interpretation of what happened in 1808 and 1809. From the 1880s onwards, the Finnish view of constitutional autonomy increasingly came into conflict with Russian nationalism. Efforts by the Russian government to bring Finland closer to the empire led to bitter resistance on the Finnish side from the turn of the century.

Constitutional nature of Finland

The throneid of Alexander I in its Finnish-language announcement.

The results of the state parliament in Porvoo meant that Finland was given extensive autonomy vis-à-vis the tsarist empire and that the country's legal system remained largely independent of Russian law. The exact constitutional classification of the resulting Grand Duchy remained open. In his speech at the end of the state parliament, Alexander had declared that Finland had now been raised to the circle of nations. On the Finnish side, both during the existence of the Grand Duchy and afterwards, this declaration was taken as an opportunity to regard Finland as an independent state from 1809, which is primarily linked to Russia by the common ruler.

This view was disputed by the Russian side, especially during the late phase of the Grand Duchy, and even in Finnish research today it is assumed that the definition of Finnish status has at least remained unclear. Alexander apparently made his statement about the elevation of Finland to a nation with a view to Finland's previously completely dependent role as part of the Swedish Empire. Although the tsar promised to uphold the constitution, the concept of the constitution was hardly clearly defined at the time, both in Sweden and especially in Russia, so that the content of the promise remained largely open.

Alexander II was highly regarded by the Finns as a friend of Finnish autonomy even during his lifetime. In 1894 a statue was erected to him in the middle of Senate Square, the central point of Helsinki.

The opinion that the constitution of Finland was based on the Swedish Gustavian Constitution of 1772 and 1789 soon took hold in Finnish academic circles. From 1817 access to public office required a degree from the University of Turku, later in Helsinki. The administration's conception of the Finnish constitution was thus largely shaped at the only university, and so the administration was shaped on the basis of the Swedish constitutional tradition. The Russian rulers refrained from specifying the status of Finland until Alexander II made explicit reference to the constitutional documents of 1772 and 1789 as the basis of his rights in Finland in the new order of the Reichstag issued in 1869.

The Russian public viewed Finland's special status with skepticism. The constitutional situation in Finland was graphically described in a contemporary phrase coined by the long-time Secretary of State for Finnish Affairs, Alexander Armfelt :

“The Constitution of Finland is like a married man's illegal relationship, everyone knows it, everyone accepts it; the less people talk about it, the happier those involved live together. "

Debate on the Finnish Constitution

After the death of Alexander II in 1882, the public discussion began to come to a head. Against the background of a general nationalist mood and a tense international situation, increasingly violent attacks on the Finnish special status were presented in the Russian press from 1883. In return, the liberal Helsingfors Dagblad caused a stir in Finland in 1885 with the thesis that Finland should declare itself neutral in the event of a war. The paper emphasized that Finland and Russia are completely different states, which are only linked by the person of the monarch. The liberal politician Leo Mechelin published a treatise on the Constitution of Finland in several languages ​​in 1886, which in turn was met with fierce polemics by the Russian press. The Russian constitutional lawyer Kesar Filippowitsch Ordin published the work of Mechelin with his own, sharply criticizing comments, and in 1888 and 1889 two works of his own in which he denied Finland the status of a state and instead described the country as a conquered province.

As public pressure grew, Tsar Alexander III revealed. initially little inclination to deviate from his father's policy towards Finland. In keeping with the spirit of the time, however, one of the goals of the imperial government was to bring about a standardization of practical issues. In 1890, the question of the standardization of the postal system, in which the Finnish Senate refused to participate for constitutional reasons, was particularly symbolic. The tsar finally decided the matter by ordinance through the postal manifesto of June 12, 1890. The following year Alexander announced that the position of Finland had apparently been misunderstood and that the differences between the laws of Finland and the empire required measures which would bind Finland together to strengthen the kingdom.

Bobrikov and the first russification period

Governor General Bobrikov was the most visible protagonist of the first Russification period and was assassinated in Helsinki in 1904.

After Nicholas II ascended the throne in 1894, official Russia showed increased efforts to standardize administration. In the background stood the need for a tightening of the Reich administration under the pressure of external threats of war and internal revolutionary movements, as well as the Great Russian ideology corresponding to the spirit of the time. On behalf of the Tsar, the infantry general Nikolai Ivanovich Bobrikov drew up a secret plan in 1898 to bring Finland closer to the Russian administration. On August 29 of that year, Bobrikov was appointed Governor General of Finland, unlike all his predecessors, not at the suggestion of the Secretary of State for Finland, but the Minister of War.

On February 15, 1899, the Tsar issued the so-called February Manifesto by ordinance , in which he decreed new procedures for the enactment of such regulations that also affected the interests of the entire empire. In particular, the Russian government should play a central role in the preparation of such laws. There was massive political resistance among the Finnish public to what was often seen as the prelude to the destruction of Finnish autonomy. After the manifesto was issued, 520,000 signatures were collected in Finland within ten days for a large petition to the tsar, which the tsar did not accept.

The question of the right strategy to defend autonomy divided the Finnish political landscape. The supporters of the Swedish Party and the Young Finnish Party took a strictly constitutional position and refused to make any concessions to the Tsar. The attack on autonomy must be averted by passive resistance and insistence on the constitution. On the other hand, the Finnish Party pursued a policy of indulgence, which sought to limit the efforts of the Russian side by affirming Finnish loyalty.

Governor General Bobrikov, who was granted extensive rulership rights in 1903 by the so-called dictatorship ordinance, took various measures to break the passive resistance that occurred in many places, especially in the matter of conscription . Numerous newspapers were banned, freedom of assembly restricted and officials and judges dismissed. The repression eventually led to a radicalization of some constitutionalists who no longer wanted to limit themselves to passive resistance. At the end of 1903 the Activist Resistance Party of Finland was founded to organize active resistance, which later also wrote Finland's independence on its flags. In academic circles too, regardless of the party, some circles took the step towards activism. On June 16, 1904, the assistant treasurer of the school administration, Eugen Schauman , entered the Senate House and shot first Governor Bobrikov and then himself.

The February Manifesto was repealed on November 4, 1905 in the wake of the revolutionary events of the year and the general strike, as were the laws enacted on its basis. Thus ended what is known in Finland as the First Period of Oppression, or the Frost Years.

Stolypin and the second russification period

Soon conservative circles began to regain the upper hand in Russia and ushered in what is known as the Second Period of Oppression in Finland. The new Prime Minister Pyotr Arkadyevich Stolypin initiated a resolute program aimed on the one hand at the suppression of the revolutionary groups and on the other hand at profound economic reforms. Finland's autonomy, which stood in the way of the strict central government, was a thorn in his side. In 1908, at Stolypin's instigation, Nicholas II signed a resolution that put the provisions of the February Manifesto on the legislative procedure back into force. In 1910 the Duma passed a law according to which Finland had to send representatives to the Russian imperial parliament.

The Finnish parliament consistently opposed the Russification efforts. In particular, the young Finn Pehr Evind Svinhufvud , who was President of Parliament until 1912, became the leading figure of the constitutionalist resistance. In 1914 he was exiled to Siberia . The Finnish party under its new leader Johan Richard Danielson-Kalmari had meanwhile joined the constitutionalist front. Parliament was repeatedly dissolved and re-elected without any significant change in the majority. After the senators joined the protest, a Russian Senate was installed under Vladimir Markov in 1909. The second russification phase lasted until the outbreak of the First World War and was replaced by an extensive standstill in Finnish politics from the beginning of the war.

Dissolution of the Grand Duchy

The conflicting interpretations of the Finnish constitution clashed for the last time when Tsar Nicholas II abdicated the throne on March 15, 1917 as a result of the February Revolution . On March 20, the provisional government of Russia restored Finland's limited autonomous rights under Nicholas II, thus ending the “second period of oppression”. However, according to the Finnish view, the Tsar's abdication had a decisive impact on Finland's status. According to this view, Finland's ties to the Russian Empire were mediated solely through the person of the monarch. The question of who should exercise its powers now led, on the one hand, to a conflict with the provisional government, which claimed these powers, and, on the other, to an internal split in Finland, which culminated in the Finnish civil war in January 1918 . The October Revolution eventually accelerated the process of Finland's secession from Russia. On December 6, 1917, the Finnish parliament declared the country independent. Independence was recognized by Russia's new Bolshevik government on January 4, 1918. As the last reminiscence of the dissolved Grand Duchy, the last Minister of State for Finnish Affairs, Carl Enckell , was dismissed and the office dissolved on June 28, 1918 .

Armed forces and war participation

During the time of the Grand Duchy, Finland was largely spared from direct acts of war with the exception of the destruction during the Crimean War . The defense of Finland rested mainly on Russian army units. The Finnish armed forces were never organizationally integrated into the Imperial Russian Army and were reorganized several times. The Finnish Guard earned respect by serving in Russian wars outside of Finland. The dispute over general conscription ultimately led to the complete abolition of the Finnish armed forces in 1905.

Reorganization of the armed forces and the Crimean War

The armed forces in Finland based on the Swedish system of division were disbanded in 1810. The crews previously obliged to deploy one soldier each had to pay an annual fee instead. With the funds thus obtained, six mercenary battalions were formed in 1812 , whose primary task was to defend Finland. In 1818 a so-called training battalion was founded, which was upgraded to a unit of the Imperial Guard in 1829 as Finnish snipers of the life guards. This so-called Finnish Guard , divided into five companies of 100 men each , took part in the suppression of the Polish November uprising in 1831 . Apart from the Finnish Guard, the mercenary battalions were disbanded in 1830. Instead, a land-based naval unit consisting of eight companies was formed that same year . The main responsibility for the defense of Finland, however, lay with the Russian infantry units and fortifications stationed in Finland , which were manned by a total of about 12,000 soldiers.

The two-day bombing of Sveaborg Fortress, here in a contemporary illustration, marked the end of the Crimean War in Finland.

During the Crimean War , the Finnish waters and coasts became a theater of war. After the entry of the Western powers into the war, the British fleet sailed into the Baltic Sea in March 1854 with orders to capture all ships under the Russian Tsar or in his territory . Finland lost almost its entire merchant fleet as a result. The British and French fleets also threatened the coasts. The Finnish defense was strengthened, among other things, by the fact that from 1854 the classification system for the recruitment of soldiers was used again. In this way nine battalions with a total strength of up to 10,711 men were created. Russian troops in the country were increased to around 70,000 men during the war.

During the spring of 1854, the British fleet attacked various locations on the coast and caused great damage. On June 7th, she attempted a landing in Kokkola . However, the attack was repulsed by residents of the village who had taken up arms. The leaders of the resistance, the trader Anders Donner and the farmer Mats Gustafsson Kankkonen were honored with busts in the Imperial Palace in Helsinki in honor of this victory. French troops landed in Åland on August 8th . After eight days of siege and bombing, the occupation of Bomarsund fortress surrendered to the attackers and was completely destroyed. After the war, the demilitarization of Åland was agreed.

In the summer of 1855 the British and French reappeared on the Finnish coast. In June they destroyed the fortress Fort Slava in front of Kotka , in July the fortress in Svartholm in front of Loviisa . Most of the city was also burned in the latter attack. Several other coastal cities were bombed. From August 9th, the attackers fired at the Sveaborg fortress outside Helsinki for 46 hours , which was badly damaged but not captured. The capital itself was spared the bombardment. It was the last act of war in Finland.

The question of conscription and the dissolution of the armed forces

The Finnish armed forces created because of the war were partially demobilized after the war. The troops recruited according to the division system, which had proven ineffective, were completely disbanded in 1867. Instead, in Finland, as in Russia, there had been discussions about the introduction of compulsory military service since the early 1960s . Public opinion in Russia pushed for the elimination of Finland's preference on defense. Conscription in Finland received support from both fennomans, who expected a conscription army to be Finnish-speaking, and from liberal circles, who rejected the idea of ​​a separate class of soldiers. The democratic nature of a conscript army in particular also gave rise to serious concerns in Russia.

The worsening international situation in the run-up to the Russo-Turkish War finally led to the enactment of the conscription law in 1874, which, however, did not yet affect Finland. It was not until 1878, after the outbreak of the Russo-Turkish War, that the Finnish Reichstag passed compulsory military service for Finland, which came into force in 1881. Eight new sniper battalions were formed. The Finnish Guard, which had participated effectively in the Turkish War and was raised to the rank of Old Guard, was gradually filled with conscripts. The naval units were disbanded. The new Finnish armed forces remained organizationally separate from those of the empire and were not allowed to be deployed outside Finland, which sparked fierce criticism in Russia.

During the first russification period, the Russian government sought to integrate the Finnish defense into the armed forces of the empire. After the Reichstag in 1899 did not pass a regulation that satisfied the government, Tsar Nicholas II signed a new conscription law in 1901, which made the Finns subject to general conscription in the army of the empire. The previous Finnish units were disbanded with the exception of the Finnish Guard. The Finnish constitutionalists saw this as a violation of Finland's constitutional rights and organized passive resistance. By the first convocation in 1902, the secret organization Kagal , founded for this purpose, had carried out effective propaganda, and numerous pastors refused to read the conscription law in the church - the method of promulgation of laws at the time. Most of the conscripts did not obey the draft, and on April 18, 1902, on the day of the draft, violent demonstrations broke out in Helsinki. In the two following years, further convictions were made, which met with less resistance, but also had more symbolic value in terms of numbers.

As a result of the conscripts strike, the Tsar agreed with the Finnish Senate in 1905 that the conscription law would not be implemented for the time being. Instead, Finland paid annual financial compensation for the empire's military costs. The Finnish Guard was disbanded that same year, ending the existence of any Finnish armed forces. It remained in this state until the end of the Grand Duchy. In particular, this meant that Finnish soldiers - apart from a few volunteers - did not take part in either the 1904/05 Japanese War or the First World War . In contrast, a group of Finnish volunteers, the so-called Finnish hunters , trained in the German army from 1915 and also fought on the German side in the war.

Economy and social structure

The Finnish economy remained agricultural throughout the Grand Duchy. Land ownership was widely distributed among the Finnish rural population. However, the rapid growth of the population increased the percentage of the non-owning population and created social tensions. The late onset of industrialization was particularly supported by the wood processing industry. The rise of Finnish industry was made possible or facilitated by the creation of waterways and railways as well as a stable local currency.


In addition to cultivating their own fields, small leasehold farmers carried out work on the landowner's fields. Their legal status became one of the great issues of the late Grand Duchy.

The population of Finland including Old Finland around 1810 is estimated at 1,070,000. By 1870 the population had grown to 1,770,000. During this time, growth was concentrated on the rural population, whose social structure was thereby greatly changed. While at the beginning of the century the majority of the rural population consisted of self-employed farmers who owned land, at the end of the century the landless population predominated, the impoverishment of which caused social tensions. The poorest stratum was formed by the non-land-based workers, consisting of day laborers , male servants and maids . Their share rose from around 10% to 15–20% in 1875, but already to 40% at the turn of the century. The impoverishment of large parts of the rural population described by this development could not be compensated for by the slow development of industrialization. This caused a total of 300,000 people to emigrate to America between 1870 and 1914, most of them from the province of Ostrobothnia .

The small leasehold farmers (torpparit) , who ran their own small farms on the land of an independent farmer, often on land cleared by themselves, occupied an intermediate position . As a lease they had to do work on the lessor's farm, which in the busy seasons often meant that they had to work their own farm at night. The lease conditions were often not clearly defined, and unilateral changes to the conditions as well as the termination of the lease agreements were to be feared at any time. Although the small tenant farmers were generally in a much better economic position than the pure working class, the question of their legal status developed into one of the most burning socio-political questions in Finland after the turn of the century.

Agriculture in Finland was unable to keep pace with population growth in the mid-19th century. After the Crimean War, part of the necessary grain had to be imported regularly. In the 1960s, there were several crop failures, as a result of which the grain stocks were depleted and public finances fell into a crisis. In 1867, an unusually cold summer - the ice on the lakes of southern Finland did not melt until mid-June - resulted in an almost complete harvest failure. The procurement of grain from abroad was made difficult by the strained state finances, and the transport of the grain on the poorly developed transport routes caused great difficulties. The result was a famine in 1867 and 1868: Finland lost around 6% of its population in the “great famine years”.


The timber for the sawmills was floated from the forests of the inland over the lakes and rivers to the coasts.

There was no significant industrialization in Finland until the 1860s. While at the beginning of the Grand Duchy around 90% of the population earned their living in agriculture, the proportion fell to only 88% by 1865. From the 1960s onwards, population growth accelerated, and by 1914 Finland had around three million inhabitants. The urban population increased from 6% to 20% during this period, and the industrial sector's share of the Finnish economy increased at a similar rate.

The driving force behind industrialization in Finland was the woodworking industry. The last legal restrictions on the operation of sawmills were lifted in 1861 and numerous steam sawmills were founded as a result, especially after the sharp rise in prices in the early 1970s. The main focus of development was the coastal areas from which the sawed material was shipped to Western Europe. From the 1980s, but especially after the turn of the century, paper production also gained in importance.

Other branches of industry mainly served the Finnish domestic market and developed their actual growth in the 1980s, sometimes only later. At the turn of the century, the city of Tampere rose to become the undisputed industrial center of Finland. Benefiting from the hydropower of the Tammerkoski rapids and the direct rail connection to Helsinki and Saint Petersburg, numerous factories for the textile industry , but also the metal industry , settled here . The population of Tamperes doubled between 1891 and 1904 from 20,500 to 40,261.

Money and banking

The building of the Bank of Finland in Helsinki was planned by architect Ludwig Bohnstedt and built between 1876 and 1883.

After Finland was separated from Sweden in 1809, the ruble became the official currency of Finland. As an expression of the continuing close economic ties to Sweden, the Swedish Reichstaler remained legal tender until 1840. As a result of the Crimean War, the ruble became so unstable that the currency had to be removed from the silver standard several times . In 1860 Finland was allowed to use its own currency. The introduction of the Finnish mark was initially of a purely nominal nature, as Russian paper money, which fluctuated greatly in value, continued to be legal tender. The Senator responsible for finances Johan Vilhelm Snellman persevered in persuading the Russian government authorities from 1864, as a result of which Tsar Alexander II signed the so-called currency manifesto on November 4, 1865. The silver mark was declared the only legal tender in the Grand Duchy of Finland. The silver ruble remained valid, but the unstable Russian paper money no longer had to be accepted.

The Finnish central bank was founded as early as 1811 under the name "Wechsel-, Kredit- und Depositionskontor in the Grand Duchy of Finland" and in 1840 it was renamed Bank of Finland ( Suomen Pankki ) . The initially insignificant tasks of the bank were gradually expanded. In 1840 the bank was given the right to issue banknotes. In 1865 the bank was given control of the Finnish mark, which had been redeemed from the ruble. For its part, the Bank of Finland was under the supervision of the Finnish estates, even during the period in which the Reichstag was not convened. The establishment of commercial banks began in the 1860s after the removal of legal barriers by Alexander II. Suomen Yhdys-Pankki was the first commercial bank to be founded in 1861 , followed by numerous others. The opportunities created in this way to raise capital through loans created one of the basic requirements for industrialization.


Transport links within Finland were still completely undeveloped at the beginning of the 19th century. The country roads became deep and difficult to drive in rainy weather and often completely impassable in winter. The expansion of the traffic routes was a basic requirement for the economic and industrial upswing of the respective areas. The construction of the Saimaa Canal , which spans the vast lake area around Lake Saimaa with the city of Viipuri, was of major importance for the connection of Eastern Finland to the sea and to the Russian markets and the Gulf of Finland . Construction of the canal began in 1845 and was inaugurated in 1856.

The renovation program of Alexander II included the construction of railways. On his orders, the first railway line from Helsinki to Hämeenlinna , opened in Finland in 1862, was built. The line from Riihimäki to Saint Petersburg was built between 1868 and 1870 . Political controversy arose over the gauge of this line, but in the end the Finnish rail network was built with the Russian broad gauge , which is wider than the standard gauge common in the European network . In the 1970s, the Hämeenlinna line to Tampere was extended, and the line through Österbotten to Tornio was continued until 1903 . Further main routes were built in the province of Savo from Kouvola to Iisalmi and to North Karelia from Viipuri to Joensuu . These main routes were further extended until 1914, the Österbottenlinie from Kemi to Rovaniemi , the Savolinie from Iisalmi to Kajaani and the Karelia line from Joensuu to Nurmes . Finally, during the First World War, Karelia was connected directly to Ostrobothnia. By the end of the Grand Duchy, most of the railway lines that existed today were completed.


The publication of the Kalevala rune collection was a milestone on the way from the Finnish language to a cultural language.

The Swedish retained its position as official and administrative language under the Russian crown. The emerging Finnish national consciousness also brought the language issue to the fore. It was to be one of the most important political questions of the Grand Duchy. Important protagonists of the national movement such as Johan Ludvig Runeberg and Zacharias Topelius emphatically advocated the need to develop the Finnish language spoken by the majority of the population and establish it as a cultural and official language. Elias Lönnrot's Kalevala rune collection and Aleksis Kivi's novel The Seven Brothers earned respect for the previously underestimated Finnish language and culture.

The Russian language reached a significant role even in the period of Russian rule at any time if was required a certificate of the Russian language skills also since 1818 by all incumbents. This requirement was lifted for pastors in 1824. Instead, they were required to speak Finnish in municipalities with a Finnish-speaking population. In 1828 the office of the lecturer of the Finnish language was established at the university and in 1850 the chair of Finnish language and literature was established. The first Finnish-language dissertation was published in 1858. In the same year the first grammar school was founded in Jyväskylä , the language of instruction was Finnish.

The dispute over the position of the Swedish and Finnish languages ​​was one of the defining political issues in Finland in the 19th century. Efforts to improve the position of the Finnish language and the linguistic rights of Finnish speakers led to the emergence of fennomania as an ideal movement in the 1940s . While liberal fennomans such as Elias Lönnrot and Zacharias Topelius strove for the country to be bilingual, the younger fennomans, formed from 1863 around Yrjö Koskinen , wanted to establish Finnish as the only cultural and official language of Finland, displacing Swedish. As a counter-reaction to the Fennomans, a movement defending the position of the Swedish language, the Svekomanen, formed .

The fennomans achieved a breakthrough in 1863 when Tsar Alexander II signed an ordinance according to which Finnish would become an official and judicial language within 20 years. Due to the political resistance, it was not until 1902 that Finnish actually became an official language with equal rights. This process was overshadowed by the effects of the language manifesto issued in 1900, through which, in the course of the intended Russification of the Finnish administration, the Russian language was established as the language of the Senate, among other things. In practice, however, Swedish and Finnish remained the languages ​​used in the Senate, while the protocols and resolutions were merely translated into Russian. The language manifesto was revoked after the preliminary end of the Russification efforts in 1906.


The Uspensky Cathedral in Helsinki is the most important example of the promotion of Orthodox church building in the time of the Grand Duchy.

Since the reign of Gustav I. Wasa , the Evangelical Lutheran faith was the state religion of Sweden. According to the assurances of Alexander I in his oath to the throne, this religion was left to the Finns. The powers of the Swedish king passed to the tsar, which led to the fact that the head of the Lutheran Church in Finland was itself of the Orthodox faith, until the church was given extensive self-government by church law in 1869, which is essentially still in force today. Originally there were two dioceses, the Finnish ancestral diocese of Turku , which became an archbishopric in 1817, and the diocese of Porvoo , to which the parishes of Old Finland were added . In 1850, a new diocese was established for northern Finland, initially in Kuopio and later relocated to Oulu . In 1897 a fourth diocese was founded in Savonlinna .

The Russian rulers also promoted the Orthodox Church in Finland. At this time, numerous Orthodox church buildings were built, around 1869 the Uspenski Cathedral in Helsinki , the largest Orthodox sacred building in the western world. With the influx of Russian officials and the military, Orthodox communities also formed in the country's major cities. After the Orthodox of Finland were initially subordinate to the Metropolitan of Saint Petersburg , the independent Orthodox Diocese of Finland was founded in 1892.

From the early 19th century onwards, the various revival movements that had their background in Pietism gained considerable social influence . The main message of the awakened, who, despite church prohibitions, met for prayer hours outside of church services and founded Bible clubs, was a strictly moral way of life. One of the central protagonists of these diverse movements was Paavo Ruotsalainen , who from his hometown Nilsiä made long preaching trips, mostly on foot. Like many other movements, Ruotsalainen had to accept reprisals from the church and the state authorities, because the spontaneously formed movements were suspected as possible sources of unrest.

Web links

Commons : Grand Duchy of Finland  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files


  • L. Mechelin (Ed.): Finland in the 19th century . GW Edlunds Verlag, Helsingfors 1899 (geographical, ethnological, political, economic and cultural overview).
  • Matti Klinge: Keisarin Suomi . Schildts, Helsinki 1997, ISBN 951-50-0682-1 .
  • Frank Nesemann: A state, not a governorate: the origin and development of the autonomy of Finland in the Russian tsarist empire, 1808 to 1826 (European university publications: series 3, history and its auxiliary sciences). Lang, Frankfurt am Main 2003, ISBN 3-631-39742-9 .
  • Pentti Virrankoski: Suomen historia 1 . SKS, Helsinki 2001, ISBN 951-746-341-3 .
  • Pentti Virrankoski: Suomen historia 2 . SKS, Helsinki 2001, ISBN 951-746-342-1 .

Individual evidence

  1. Finnish text: Archives of the Finnish Parliament ( Memento of February 7, 2005 in the Internet Archive ); Translation by the author.
  2. ^ Blade: Keisarin Suomi. 1997, p. 32 and 198; Virrankoski: Suomen historia 1. 2001, p. 414.
  3. Virrankoski: Suomen historia 1. 2001, p. 186 f .; Virrankoski: Suomen historia 2. 2001, p. 506 f.
  4. Virrankoski: Suomen historia 1. 2001, p. 417 f .; Virrankoski: Suomen historia 2. 2001, p. 514 f.
  5. So still in the latest literature: Blade: Keisarin Suomi. 1997, p. 23.
  6. Final formula of the Reichstag order of 1869 ( full text in Finnish )
  7. Virrankoski: Suomen historia 2. 2001, pp. 578-580; Blade: Keisarin Suomi. 1997, pp. 309-316.
  8. Virrankoski, pp. 587 f .; Blade: Keisarin Suomi. 1997, pp. 380-385.
  9. Virrankoski, p. 588.
  10. ^ Blade: Keisarin Suomi. 1997, pp. 94-96; Virrankoski: Suomen historia 2. 2001, p. 552.
  11. Virrankoski: Suomen historia 2. 2001, pp. 523-527; Blade: Keisarin Suomi. 1997, pp. 237-243.
  12. Raija Majamaa, Leeni Tiirakari: JV Snellman. Valtioviisas vaikuttaja. SKS, Hämeenlinna 2006, ISBN 951-746-678-1 , pp. 112-115.
  13. On the revival movements as a whole Virrankoski: Suomen historia 1. 2001, pp. 454–463, and blade: Keisarin Suomi. 1997, pp. 60-65.
  1. p. 16.
  2. p. 32.
  3. p. 43 f.
  4. p. 33.
  5. p. 286.
  6. p. 224 f.
  7. p. 225.
  8. pp. 300-302.
  9. p. 425.
  10. p. 436.
  11. p. 436.
  12. p. 17.
  13. p. 305 f.
  14. p. 272 ​​f.
  15. p. 167 f.
  16. p. 273.
  17. p. 173.
  18. pp. 177-179.
  19. p. 274 f.
  20. pp. 275-279.
  21. pp. 96-99.
  22. p. 95.
  23. p. 107 f.
  24. p. 159.
  1. p. 404 f.
  2. p. 409.
  3. p. 323.
  4. pp. 407-409.
  5. p. 454.
  1. p. 506.
  2. p. 596.
  3. p. 596 f.
  4. p. 597 f.
  5. p. 512 f.
  6. p. 600.
  7. p. 610.
  8. pp. 576-578.
  9. p. 582 f.
  10. p. 583.
  11. pp. 583-586.
  12. p. 586 f.
  13. p. 587.
  14. p. 591 f.
  15. pp. 603-605.
  16. p. 550.
  17. p. 549 f.
  18. pp. 535-539.
  19. pp. 540-542.
  20. pp. 532-534.
This article was added to the list of excellent articles on February 10, 2007 in this version .