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British Petition of 1899: intellectual elite advocating Finland

Gopp A.A. 1
1 Vladimir State University
1. Высочайший Манифест от 3 (15) Февраля 1899 года. // Положение Финляндии в Российской державе. Перевод с датского. Сочинение К.В. Нюгольма, члена Верховного суда. – Берлин: издание магазина Штура (владелец И. Реде), – 1901. – с. 5-7.
2.Основные положения о составлении, рассмотрении и обнародовании законов, издаваемых для Империи со включением Великого Княжества Финляндского от 3 (15) февраля 1899 года. // Положение Финляндии в Российской державе. Перевод с датского. Сочинение К.В. Нюгольма, члена Верховного суда. – Берлин: издание магазина Штура (владелец И. Реде), – 1901. – с. 7-9.
3. British Petition. // Pro Finlandia 1899. Les adressesinternationales à S. M. l'Empereur-Grand-Duc Nicolas II. — Stockholm.: Nordin& Josephson, – 1899. – p. 47.// [Электронный ресурс]. – http://www.histdoc.net/pro/valinta.html– (дата обращения: 08.12.2013).
4. Fundamental Rules to be complied with in the formulation, examination and promulgation of laws given for the Empire, the Grand Duchy of Finland hereto included. // [Электронныйресурс]. – http://www.histdoc.net/history/keisarik.html – (датаобращения: 16.01.2014).
5. The Gracious Manifesto of the Imperial Majesty issued in St. Petersburg, on the 3/15th of February 1899. // [Электронныйресурс]. – http://www.histdoc.net/history/keisarik.html– (датаобращения: 16.01.2014).
6.Мейнандер Хенрик. История Финляндии: линии, структуры, переломные моменты / пер. со швед. З. Линден.— М.: Весь мир, 2008.— 238 с. – ISBN 978-5-7777-0429-0.
7.Чертков В. Г. Финляндский разгром // Сборник под редакцией В. Черткова – Maldon, Essex, England: Издание «Свободного слова», – 1900. – № 35 – 81 с.
8. Юссила О., Хентиля С. и Невакиви Ю. Политическая история Финляндии 1809–1995. – М.: Издательство «Весь Мир», – 1998. – 384 с. – ISBN 5-7777-0041-1.

The proper choice of the country outskirts administrative and territorial government and domestic policy is a vital issue today. The Russian Empire political experience in this field might be useful and interesting to study. We can scrutinize the domestic policy of the Russian Empire in regard to Finland in order to examine the past experience in the country outskirts administrative and territorial government and define some of its consequences.

Finland had been a part of Russian Empire for over 100 years before its independence in 1917. If we consider the Russian Empire policy relating to Finland during the 19th century, we’ll see that all Russian Emperors did not pay much attention to many important issues of Grand Duchy of Finland. And Finland had a unique status amongst all other Russian outskirts territories because Finland was autonomous in domestic policy. Many Finnish laws were adopted without central government supervising. The status of Russian language was insignificant and it was not commonly used at all. The Russians who were Orthodox did not have the right to teach at school or be a doctor in Finland. Apparently Nicholas II started the process of Finland’s integration into the administrative structure of the Russian Empire in order to solve these problems and consider the issues of autonomy without the local legislative bodies consent. The new domestic policy of unification found resistance in Finland. The Finnish resistance caused the widespread reaction of European countries and subsequently they started to send the petitions to the Emperor in order to support Finnish campaign. One of these sympathetic manifestations was the British Petition of 1899.

The purpose of this article is to examine the response of English community towards the unification policy in Finland through the analysis of British Petition of 1899. In order to attain this research purpose we must solve several tasks: 1) to identify the reasons for the petition creation; 2) explore the history of the record publication; 3) display the social position of outstanding the petition signers; 4) determine the petition aims.

If we are going to talk about the reasons for the Petition writing we must say a few words about the new domestic policy measures which caused the Finns and European community response. The governmental policy of the Russian Emperor aimed at limiting the special status of Grand Duchy of Finland is called Russification and it has become generally accepted in foreign historiography. The period of unification policy Finnish historians also call the «years of oppression». While Russian historiography uses mainly the term of unification for this policy definition.

The main directions of unification policy in Finland under Nicholas II were limiting range of questions belonging to the competence of local authorities, the local legislative initiative submission to the central government, the Russian language status strengthening, and equalization of Russian population in the Grand Duchy of Finland in their rights with the Finns. Nikolai IvanovichBobrikov, appointed the Governor-General of Finland in October of 1898, became an instrument of the new policy implementation. The new Governor-General abolished the right to free speech and assembly and also dismissed thousands of Finnish civil servants from their posts and replaced them with Russian officials. The negative impact of Bobrikov’s actions led to some forms of extremism whereupon he was assassinated on June 16, 1904 by EugenSchauman, a young Finnish patriot who then committed suicide.

A first step to the unification policy was «The Gracious Manifesto of the Imperial Majesty of February 3 (15), 1899», which historians call the February Manifesto. Together with this decree there were also issued «Fundamental Rules to be complied with in the formulation, examination and promulgation of laws given for the Empire, the Grand Duchy of Finland therein included». After the promulgation of these documents all the laws concerning general interests had to be considered by Russian government along with other laws. The motion for a gracious assent to adopt, amend or repeal a law could only be presented by the Imperial Minister and Minister–Secretary of State for Finland [4]. The powers of the Diet regarding Finland's internal affairs were weakened and transferred to the Russian ministers. The February Manifesto formulated the main purpose of the new domestic policy – «the closest union» [5]. It meant the further integration of Finland into the Russian Empire.

The Finns rapidly became aware of February Manifesto content and launched a campaign in defense of their autonomy. They regarded these enactments as the irretrievable violation of their constitution. The Finnish population reacted to these reforms with nonviolent resistance. The «Great Petition» was compiled; it collected half a million signatures, which was equal to one fifth of the total population [8, 84]. The signatures were collected all over Finland in two weeks. Five hundred men from every district in Finland made their way to St. Petersburg to represent their petition to the Tsar personally. Nicholas II refused to receive them an audience: «Notify the deputation that I shall not, of course, receive them, although I am not angry with them, either. Let they come home and give its petition to the Governor-General» [7, 42].

After an unsuccessful attempt to influence the Sovereign’s decision a widespread campaign, mainly in Europe, was launched in favour of the Finn’s protest against the February Manifesto. Finnish journalists as well as representatives of science and art appeal to their foreign colleagues and acquaintances for help and support. As a result representatives of intellectual elite from various states of Europe started to send their petitions to Nicholas II in order to support Finnish rights and privileges [7, 127]. Many national petitions were beautifully designed works of art. Petitions were sent from France, Sweden, Holland, Italy, Demark, Norway, Hungary, Austria and other European countries.

One of the most vibrant manifestations of solidarity and sympathy towards the Finns is the British Petition of 1899. This diplomatic document was intended to support a campaign against unification policy.

The British Petition is an unpublished and only partially translated document. There is only the last paragraph translated into Russian represented in Chertkov’s collection of articles [7, 48]. Therefore in our research work we use the full original text of petition, which is represented in the «Pro Finlandia» album of petitions album of petitions [3, 47]. Book «Finland» is an album with printed petitions from various European countries to Nicholas II in support of Finnish autonomy. The genuine book was kept in the public library at Hague and was presented to Finland’s National Archives in 1921.

The British Petition was signed by the most eminent representatives of politics, art, literature and science. Among those who signed this diplomatic record, there was Florence Nightingale, Thomas Hardy, Joseph Lister, Herbert Spencer and others [7, 47].

Now a few words about some famous persons who signed the British Petition of 1899:

Florence Nightingale, a celebrated British social reformer and the founder of modern nursing, came to prominence while serving as a nurse during the Crimean War, where she took care of the wounded soldiers. She was known as «The Lady with the Lamp» due to her habit of making rounds at night. Nightingale laid the foundation of professional nursing.

Thomas Hardy was an English novelist and poet of the Victorian era. «Tess of the d'Urbervilles» (1891) is the most his famous novel. Novel attracted criticism for its sympathetic portrayal of a «fallen woman» and was initially refused publication. «Tess of the d'Urbervilles» depicts the decomposition of Victorian’s upper-class society. This was the main theme of Thomas Hardy’s novels.

Joseph Lister was a British surgeon and a pioneer of antiseptic surgery. He promoted the idea of sterile surgery, introduced carbolic acid (now known as phenol) to sterilise surgical instruments and to clean wounds, which led to a reduction in post-operative infections and made surgery safer for patients. Lister was president of the Royal Society a learned society for science, one of the oldest in the world playing the role of the British Academy of Sciences.

Herbert Spencer was an English philosopher, biologist, anthropologist, sociologist, and prominent classical liberal political theorist of the Victorian era. He was an eminent supporter of the liberal ideology. His most famous scientific works are «Social Statics» (1851) and «The Study of Sociology» (1872). Spencer was a founder of the «organic school» in sociology.

Let’s consider the content of the British Petition.

The document focuses on the obvious contradictions between the February Manifesto and the Peace Rescript, which led to the convening of the Peace Conference at The Hague in 1899. As a matter of fact The First Hague Peace Conference was convened by the initiative of Nicholas II. This international conference regarded different issues such as the preservation of peace and order in countries around the world, international diplomacy, a third party mediation in the resolution of conflicts, arms reduction etc.

As we can see from the content, British Petition remarks the fact that in the same time when Tsar implements his unification policy in Finland; at The Hague there is assembling the Peace Conference which is convened by his initiative:

«May it please, Your Majesty, we, the undersigned, venture respectfully to approach Your Majesty as profound sympathisers with the noble and enlightened sentiments to which Your Majesty has given the expression in the Rescript which has resulted in the assembling of the Peace Conference, now in session at the Hague» [3, 47].

The Petition reports that many reasonable people in Britain were alarmed by the fact that the legitimate petition of the Finns was not considered by Sovereign. The undersigned try to assure Tsar that all Finnish rights and privileges were legally guaranteed by Alexander I at the Diet of Borgo in 1809 and by the Treaty of Fredrikshamn. The predecessors of Nicholas II also reaffirmed them. Petition expresses the hope that Tsar will review its internal policy with due respect to the Finns:

«Having read, and being moved by, the Petition of the 5th March (21st February), 1899, of over half a million Finnish men and women, in which they made a solemn appeal to Your majesty in support of the maintenance of their full rights and privileges, first confirmed by His Most Gracious and Imperial Majesty Alexander I in 1809, both at the Diet of Borgo and by the Treaty of Fredrikshamn, and subsequently re-affirmed in the most solemn manner by all his illustrious successors; we venture to express our hope that Your Imperial Majesty will take into due consideration the prayer of the said Petition to Your Majesty's Finnish Subjects» [3, 47].

British Petition also tries to affect the Emperor vanity and pride: «It would be a matter of great regret to us as to all admirers of Your Majesty's enlightened views, if recent events in the Grand Duchy of Finland should retard the cause of amity among the nations of the civilised world, which has in Your Majesty so illustrious an advocate» [3, 47]. It was probably a little bit naive to believe that the Emperor would be so touched by his role of a world peace defender, give up his policy in Finland and return to the policy of his predecessors, in order not to lose his position of a world peace defender in world public opinion at the Peace Conference in The Hague.

To sum everything up, the reason for the British Petition creation was the protest of the Finns against February Manifesto of 1899. It was regarded in Finland as a violation of their rights and privileges, the threat to their autonomy. After an unsuccessful attempt of Finnish deputation to present the «Great Petition» with expression of the unification policy disagreement to the monarch; there was launched a campaign in Europe in favour of Finnish protest. This response was incredibly widespread. Petitions from all over Europe supporting the Finnish protest came to St. Petersburg. One of those petitions was British Petition of 1899.

This diplomatic document is not fully translated. The record is unpublished and the original text is placed in the album of appeals to Nicholas II. The name of album is «Pro Finlandia» [3, 47].

The petition was signed by the most distinguished intellectuals of Victorian England. Among those who signed this diplomatic record were Florence Nightingale, Thomas Hardy, Joseph Lister, Herbert Spencer, Taylor and others [7, 47].

The reaction of the British community is clearly seen from the document content. They regarded February Manifesto as a violation of the Finland’s constitution. They also believed that in order to preserve peace in the region the Tsar should cancel the policy of further unification. This point of view proves rejection by the British community of the measures taken by Nicholas II to strengthen Finland integration into the Russian Empire. All the petitions presented to the Russian Tsar can also be considered as the formation of the public diplomacy and world general public attempts to influence the process politics formation in favour of democracy. However, it should be remarked that despite the pressure from the international community, the Emperor did not refuse to implement unification domestic policy and, moreover, he decided to carry on its implementation in the future. We can also add that these events had also the great significance for the Finns because they contributed to further civic awareness growth among common people, which led to the national unity and finally to the independence winning.

Библиографическая ссылка

Gopp A.A. British Petition of 1899: intellectual elite advocating Finland // Международный журнал экспериментального образования. – 2014. – № 6-2. – С. 168-170;
URL: http://expeducation.ru/ru/article/view?id=5288 (дата обращения: 16.07.2020).

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