Great Emigration – The Tzars

At the end of the Finnish War in 1809, Russian and Finnish relations started off well. Finland, now free of Swedish control was autonomous for the first time but still under the control of Russia. Finland became the Grand Duchy of Finland.  But would that autonomy last?

At the closing months of the Finnish Ward in March of 1809, the four Estates (nobility, clergy, burghers, and peasants) of Finland met at the Diet of Porvoo.  A sovereign pledge of loyalty was made to Tsar Alexander I of Russia, who had taken the title of Grand Prince of Finland.  In return for their loyalty, Tsar Alexander agreed to keep the Finnish government and constitution as it had been set forth by the Swedish Instrument of Government in 1772.  Finland would become the autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland.  In 1812 Alexander I would add Old Finland as the Viipurin Province to the Grand Duchy of Finland. 

Nicholas I came to power in 1827.  He would remove local autonomy from several nations and entities under it’s influence; Bessarabia (1828), Poland (1830), and the Jewish Qahal, a stateless entity, (1843).  But still Finland remained autonomous.

Alexander II came to power in 1855.  He would push Finnish nationality even further.  In 1863 the Diet of Finland was reconvened.  Finland got its own currency, the markka, and its first railway.  For the first time the Finnish language became equivalent to Swedish in official business.  New laws also increased foreign investment and industry.  The new laws helped to create Nokia.

Alexander III came to power in 1883.  Alexander III started to fear that German influence in the Baltics and strong Finnish autonomy would lead to separation. Young Finns and Old Finns were becoming divided on economic policy. Finland was also becoming very important in maritime trade, with Finnish captains on Finnish ships sailing the world’s ocean.  Russia’s and Finland’s mutual apprehension was starting to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.  The lure of gold and “golden opportunity” away from a government that was becoming more oppressive made the New World an interesting opportunity.

Nicholas II came into power in 1896.  By the time Nicholas II came to power, Finland felt that Russia was a constitutional monarchy, like Australia with England.  Russia thought Finland was becoming too autonomous.  The February Manifesto of 1899 was pushed through the Finnish Senate with threats of invasion and siege.  The Manifesto stated several things. The Russian language was made the official language.  Russian currency and stamps were the only ones allowed for use.  The Russian Orthodox Church was made the church of the state.  Finally, the Finnish army was placed under officers of the Russian Imperial Army.   In response, the Young Finns would have Eero Erkko publish their views in the Päivälehti, which ultimately got him deported in 1903.

The loss of independence, deportation of Finnish leaders, and forced Russian military service would be too much for some.  All this added to the urge to immigrate from Finland to the New World and elsewhere.

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