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Contested customs

Swedish towns and the private customs company, 1726-1762

Magnus Linnarsson


When the Swedish Diet (Riksdagen) in 1723 debated the possibility of farming out the customs service of the realm, the decision was to retain the customs within the state administration. One of the arguments against a private customs farm was that the towns in the country would be disadvantaged by such a solution. In the debate, concern was raised that ‘a [customs] lease will not have any other effect than the harassment and suffering of the subjects, leading to ruin and obliteration of the towns in the country, which may or may not be engaged in the lease.’1 Apparently, the parliamentarians were worried that changes in the organisation of the customs service, in this case using a private entrepreneur, would affect the towns negatively.

The concerns voiced in 1723 were, however, not taken into account when the king signed a contract on a ‘general customs lease’ (generaltullarrende) in 1726. The customs service was then farmed out to the General Customs Lease Company (Generaltidlarrendesocieteten}, a newly established company, consisting of private shareholders. The lease comprised the entire customs organisation in Sweden, including both the long-trade customs (sjôtullen) and the excise in the towns (landtull, accis). The lease fee was set at ten barrels of gold per annum and the sum was distributed among 5000 tickets, issued as shares in the company.2 This was not the first time, though, that Swedish customs had been farmed out during the early modern period. From the beginning of the 17th century, the management of the customs had oscillated between leases to private entrepreneurs and government administration.’’ The lease in 1726, however, was the most extensive privatisation of the customs service during the period.

The solution to use a private company for the collection of state revenue sparked a fierce debate in the Riksdag for the greater part of the 18th century. The company was scrutinised at several occasions but survived until 1765 when the Riksdag abolished the contract and returned the customs service to the management of the Crown.4

One reason for the heated debate is that the customs was as much a local as a national issue. The practical operation of customs and excise took place in the towns and was something that many people came into contact with in their everyday lives. The townspeople in general were greatly affected by the daily customs operations, and as merchants and craftsmen in the Swedish towns, they regularly came to confront the customs officers, employed by the private customs company. Thus, throughout the 18th century, and the period of the General Customs Lease Company, there were ongoing conflicts between the Swedish towns and the Customs Lease Company.5 All of them were drawing on criticism from the towns that the Customs Lease Company had violated the contract with the Crown in ways that was seen as negative for the towns and their inhabitants.

The purpose of this study is to analyse the political contestation against the General Customs Lease Company between 1726 and 1761, using the Swedish towns as an example. I will examine the agency of local groups, i.e., the towns, when they reacted and responded to policies introduced to them by the state but pursued by a private company. Hence, the contested customs in the 18th century is an example of the possibilities for the localities to have a say and gain support for their arguments in a specific question, demonstrating what historians have called ‘state building from below.’

In this chapter, the perspective ‘from below’ is used to analyse the bargaining process at the Riksdag, where the Swedish Crown was forced to negotiate with the representatives of the towns, in order to push through its policies. This emphasises the reciprocal interests, demands, and claims made by the towns and accentuates the outcome of the political process as a response to the same claims - what André Holenstein has called ‘empowering interactions.’6 In that context, this study also builds upon the extensive literature that has emphasised the exchange between the state and local society, foremost by Peter Blickle, who has shown that the towns were important in the making of the early modern state.7 Also important is research such as Michael Braddick’s study of the English state, where the significance of the localities and the local officeholders is stressed.8

However, I will argue that establishing the private Customs Company in 1726 altered the rules of political interaction and for advancing criticism. Usually, the conflict between the state and the localities is described on the axis: Local-central. This is typically conceptualised as the dichotomy between ‘above’ and ‘below,’ or between ‘top-down’ and ‘bottom-up.’ My argument, though, is that in the case of the period of the Customs Company, the relation should rather be described as a triangle: local-private-central. This triangle has consequences for the perception of how the state was supposed to function and consequently affected the development of both the towns and the state. Furthermore, a trilateral view of the state building process has implications for questions about the common good, something I will get back to later on.

The establishing of the General Customs Lease Company faced the towns with a fait accompli, and they were supposed to accept the new organisation. However, if the towns are regarded as political subjects, it is rather the start of resistance and contestation against the private company. To rephrase André Holenstein, the towns were ‘disempowered’ when the Customs Company was launched. The empowering reciprocity was now aligned between the company and the state, side-lining the towns.9 Consequently, an analysis of the towns and their contestation against the Customs Company makes it possible to demonstrate how local and central politics became entangled with each other as a part of the early modern state building process.

This expands the perspective to current debates on early modern state building. For example, recent scholarship on representative assemblies has problematised the over simplistic model of top-down or bottom-up and emphasised the importance of the towns.10 It is therefore reasonable to view the politics of state building as influenced from ‘below.’ Moving forward, I will show how local groups and subjects used the political institutions of the state to promote their own interests. The focus is on the towns and the estates, but not neglecting the role of the ‘state’ in the analysis. Rather the opposite, since this chapter will highlight how the towns contested policies imposed from ‘above.’

The source material comprises the grievances (besvar) presented to the burgher estate at the Riksdag. To map the policies on the customs service over time, I use the ‘general grievances’ (stadernas allmànna besvar) from the estate between 1726 and 1761. However, in an attempt to reach further, I have also surveyed the grievances from individual towns {stadernas besvar) for the years 1742-1743 and 1760-1762. This makes it possible to get closer to the towns and their inhabitants and accordingly enables an analysis of agency of local groups.

The grievances were one of the most important political channels of interaction between the towns and the Riksdag. The grievances were an old institution that grew in importance during the 18th century; both generating and articulating an increased political consciousness amongst the population.11 It was the town magistrate that was responsible for the grievances, and usually they consisted of a number of sections, regarding various issues. When decided upon, the grievances were handed to the local parliamentarian who brought them to the Riksdag. There, they were dealt with according to established routines, and if the estate supported a section in the local grievances, it became part of the general grievances.12 At the end of the Riksdag, a royal resolution was given on the general grievances, in most cases favourable to the towns.13

Theory on public services and publicness

Theoretically, this analysis draws on previous work by British political scientists Janet Newman and John Clarke, who have analysed the changing organisation of public services in the late 20th century. According to

Newman and Clarke, political conflicts about public services serve to articulate a new sense of publicness; that is, the awareness of what ideas, people, and practices should be regarded as public. Newman and Clarke have singled out three discursive chains that each constitutes an important part of the construction of publicness. The first of these chains defines the idea of the political community. The second constructs the public, based on the organisation responsible for the public service. The third discursive chain links the consciousness of the public to values of political rights and freedom. Taken together, these discursive chains help one to understand and explain what defines and constitutes publicness, why some services were regarded as vital to the public, and who had a say in discussions concerning their organisation, in this case the customs service.14

Research on customs service and state building

The Swedish customs service and its organisation during the early modern period, and the General Customs Lease Company, has scarcely been researched by historians. The most thorough investigation thus far is that carried out by Karl Amark who devotes a part of his extensive book on Sweden’s state finances between 1719 and 1809 to the customs.15 The history of the customs service before 1718 has been studied by William Smith.16 The organisation of the local customs has attracted somewhat greater interest, and there is a comparatively large field of books and articles about local custom administrators and local customs history, many of them written by amateur historians.17

More recently, Maria Agren has studied the customs court in Örebro in the 18th century. Agren is interested in the local customs officials and the relationship between the early modern state and its servants, emphasising notions of service, gender, and work.18 However, she does not pay any close attention to the General Customs Lease Company and the private organisation form of the customs. Consequently, the triangle local-private-central is not part of her analysis.19 Agren, though, is interested in state building, and this study takes one important cue from her book. She emphasises that the state building process manifested itself ‘on the ground,’ in the form of various protests.20 This is a qualification of the dichotomy between ‘above’ and ‘below,’ since more agents are involved in the process. In her analysis, Agren emphasises both the strong state, and the possibility for the local customs officials to protest and resist policies from ‘above.’

Maria Agren’s discussion is related to the two dominating interpretations of the early modern state building process in the Nordic countries; ‘coercion’ versus ‘interaction.’ The first interpretation emphasises a strong state bureaucracy and its capacity to dominate local society by extracting resources, the second emphasises the capacity of the local society to withstand the central power of the state, using political channels for bargaining and interaction between rulers and subjects.21 However, these conflicting interpretations reinforce the dichotomy between ‘above’ and ‘below,’ and drawing on the earlier discussion, this division calls for a more nuanced perspective on the state building process. Such an awareness has recently led scholars to merge the two perspectives, striving for new interpretations, considering more agents than the state and the local community.22 This chapter is a contribution to this strand of research and a part of the ongoing historiographical dispute on the relation between centre and locality; I argue that the triangle local-private-central is one way to further develop the interpretation of the Swedish state building process.

Conflicts about the General Customs Lease Company

Immediately after the introduction of the General Customs Lease Company in 1726, a conflict between the towns and the company emerged. The criticism related to an accusation that the Customs Company was trying to bend the rules when it came to accounting for the lease. The core of the conflict was the lease amount, but the concrete examples related to the financing of the maintenance of buildings and fences in and around the towns. The buildings were used by the customs personnel and placed at the various entry points where goods were brought into the city; the fences provided the barrier surrounding most of the towns and marked the customs border. All goods passing the border were liable to customs fees and should be declared at the entry point.

At the Riksdag 1726-1727, the burghers argued in the grievances from the estate that ‘some of the smaller towns had now been ordered to pay for the fences, even though they had never done so before.’25 The burghers contended that the small towns did not have the necessary means to finance the fences, neither access to the amount of wood required for the construction of fences and buildings. If they were supposed to be responsible for the construction and maintenance, they demanded to be awarded a share of the excise. At present, the excise was transferred in total to the Customs Lease Company in most of the towns.

The grievances in 1726-1727 established a recurrent conflict between the burghers and the Customs Lease Company. When the company was established, the entire customs organisation was placed in the hands of private shareholders. The Customs Company, obviously, did not want to pay for fences and buildings if it was possible to transfer the expense to the towns and the magistrates. Consequently, they used every opportunity to place the cost on the towns and to improve their profit margin. In doing so, they referred to how the fences and buildings were financed prior to the establishment of the Customs Lease Company.

Then, construction and maintenance were paid for in two ways. The larger towns, e.g., Stockholm and Gothenburg, were entitled to retain some of the excise that was raised in the town. In return, they were required to finance parts of the fences and buildings. In the smaller towns, the whole excise was transferred directly to the central administration, and the fences and buildings were paid for by the Crown.24 When the contract was signed with the Customs Lease Company in 1726, this solution was sustained, and the contract stipulated that none of the towns should pay more than they had done when the Crown managed the customs. Of course, this made for conflicts because the cost increased for each year and it was this form of organisation the Customs Lease Company was accused of violating in the grievances in 1726-1727.

The burgher estate raised grievances against the General Customs Lease Company at almost every Riksdag.15 In 1734, the estate complained that the lease company ‘had withheld several of the towns’ shares in the excise.’26 According to the burghers, the towns had fulfilled their obligations and maintained the customs buildings and fences, but the Customs Company was now trying to make a profit at their expense, forcing them to pay more than was stipulated in the contract. In 1738, the estate put forward similar criticism, accusing the Customs Company of withholding money, rightly belonging to the towns.27 On both occasions, the estate demanded that the king should enforce the rules previously agreed on. In 1740, the estate went even further and demanded in their grievances that the General Customs Lease Company should be dissolved, and that the customs service ought to be managed by the state administration.28 The request was not accepted by the Riksdag, and enforcing the previous rules was apparently not successful; a similar grievance was put forward to the Riksdag in 1742.29

In 1742, the complaints about the fences and buildings were raised by the magistrates in Stockholm. The burghers in Stockholm complained that the Customs Lease Company had requested the magistrate in Stockholm ‘to establish fences around the town, as opposed to what was previously customary, that not without a huge cost can be implemented.’30 Furthermore, Stockholm argued that since the fences were subject to continuous sabotage, a cohort of guards was needed to keep the customs border secure. This was a further cost for the town, and ‘their salary along with the cost for the fence’s construction and constant upkeep, utterly deprived the coffers of the city, and caused a lack of maintenance of the public houses and bridges, when no more funds were accessible.’31 As the dominant city in the realm, the complaints from the magistrate in Stockholm formed the basis for the general grievances of the estate. The burghers again requested that the rules and regulations regarding the excise and the cost of maintaining fences and customs buildings should be observed by the Customs Company.32

Furthermore, at the Riksdag in 1742-1743, the burgher estate sent a request to the General Customs Lease Company, asking the company to account and explain for the inaccuracies noted in the grievances from the estate. In their answer, the Customs Company defended their management of the customs service, and specifically how the maintenance of fences and buildings was organised. According to the company, the towns that held a share in the excise had an ‘unlimited obligation, to take care of the entire fence around the city, as well as all of the customs buildings.’33 With regard to the accusation that some of the towns had been forced to pay more for the maintenance than was regulated in the contract between the Customs Company and the state, the company vehemently objected that, ‘the company has no knowledge of any town, that because of their shares in the excise [...] are obliged to keep fences and customs houses, that has become burdened with somewhat greater inconvenience during the lease period, and at least since 1734, than they were during the management of the Crown.’34

Furthermore, the company defended their right to withhold some of the collected excise - referring to how the financing was traditionally organised. According to their letter to the burgher estate, this was a legitimate deduction from the lease amount ‘which the Customs Company, according to the confirmed customs lease contract, was allowed to do.’35 All in all, the General Customs Lease Company dismissed the accusations from the towns, arguing that their operation of the customs service followed the agreed contract.

Another criticism from the towns against the General Customs Lease Company regarded the legitimacy of the company, and more specifically the customs officials. The lease comprised all customs and excise in the realm, and the local customs officials were employed by the Customs Lease Company. This put them in a hard spot, since their legitimacy was based on them being servants of the king. When the private company took over in 1726, many of the towns argued that they did not want to pay customs or excise to a private company; they wanted to pay to the king. This was explicitly stated already in 1726 at the Riksdag when the parish priests, Petrus Qviding from Landskrona and Severin Bokrnan from Vinberg, reported complaints from home. According to Qviding and Bokrnan, the inhabitants in their hometowns were ‘badly treated in the customs [by the officials] and they would rather pay the custom fees to the king.’36 The argument is parallel to the one raised by the peasants in the 1620s when they protested against the private tax farmers that managed Swedish tax collection.37

The question of legitimacy also became a recurrent debate during the 18th century. The peasants and the burghers used it when they put forward arguments in favour of a state-managed customs service.38 This contradicts historian Karl Âmark’s conclusion that the lease of the customs service mostly concerned the organisation of the top management.39 On the contrary, as this study shows, the towns, and the everyday practice of the customs service, were clearly affected by the new organisation. This is confirmed by Maria Agren in her recent study of the customs court in Örebro. She finds clear evidence that the local custom officials, especially the so-called visitors (besôkare), officials who made home visits to collect excise for the manufacturing of beer and bread, were despised and ill-considered by the inhabitants in the town.40

Another example is when the Customs Lease Company at the Riksdag in 1739 was accused of imposing rules and regulations without the consent of the towns. The burgher representative, Johan Hoffmeister, sent a memorandum to the burgher estate. He was representing the town of Lund in the south of Sweden and criticised the Customs Company for forcing the brewers and tavern-keepers in Lund to pay too much excise (saluaccis), something the company justified with the introduction of new rules. Hoffmeister accused the Customs Lease Company of imposing these new rules without informing the county governor and the magistrate in Lund, something the company was obliged to do according to a previous decision of the Riksdag.

Hoffmeister argued that the brewers and tavern-keepers should be exempt from part of the excise in respect of consumption within their own household. Furthermore, the injustice was, according to Hoffmeister, a result of the private management of the customs. In his memorial, he suggested that the brewers and tavern-keepers should pay excise according to ‘when the customs were being managed by the Crown, [...] retained as it had been since ancient times.’41 Accordingly, Hoffmeister argued that the customs service ought to be operated by the state and not by a private company. Such a solution would be better for the towns and the localities.

When the Riksdag convened in Stockholm in 1760, the disagreement between the towns and the General Customs Lease Company had escalated further. As always, the matter of fences and customs buildings was again put forward. In their local grievances, Stockholm continued to criticise the Customs Company. The burghers in Stockholm argued that they were ‘not obliged to keep more fences than they used to do during the administration of the Crown, while also that their [Stockholm’s] income from excise [and other fees], should not, under any pretence, be withheld, but monthly paid to the Magistrate.’42 The criticism regarding the management of the fences and the buildings is similar to that raised earlier. Apparently, the conflict had not been resolved and once again the importance of Stockholm is proved, as the text from the Stockholm magistrate went in to the general grievances from the estate in practically unchanged form.43

As in 1742, the burgher estate asked the General Customs Lease Company to explain and account for the alleged transgressions against their lease contract. This time, it was the Board of Trade (Kommerskollegium) who handled the case. In a letter to the board, the Customs Company defended their actions. The Company continued to argue that the towns were obliged to maintain the fences, and also that the Board of Trade had accepted certain deductions on the lease amount. However, some self-critique was recognised, in that the company declared that no towns should be obliged to ‘maintain fences in a different place, than where fences used to be during the administration of the Crown.’44

The company nevertheless continued to argue that it was their right, in accordance with both the lease-contract and the custom regulations, to order those towns that had the right to keep some of the levied excise, to pay for the fences. According to the company, this way of financing and organising the fences and customs buildings had a precedent from when the customs was managed by the Crown in the period before the lease. Therefore, they argued, ‘in the same way, it should apply during the lease period.’45

The Board of Trade, however, dismissed the arguments from the General Customs Lease Company. In their answer to the burgher estate, the board concluded that the Customs Company indeed had violated the terms of the contract and they supported the claims put forward in the grievances. The board stated that the burghers ‘will find that the Board of Trade have not permitted anything that may cause a change in the [Customs Company’s] agreed reduction [of the lease amount].’46

In the grievances from 1760, Stockholm yet again expressed criticism against the Customs Company for withholding money belonging to the town, emanating from various excise duties. This was a breach of the contract, since Stockholm was one of the towns, entitled to retain some of the excise levied in the town. The burghers repeatedly put forward criticism of this type, and in the preceding Riksdag in 1755-1756, when a new customs tariff was discussed, the mayor from Ystad, Carl Gustaf Boberg argued that, ‘we all agree that the differences in customs are troubling the towns. In addition, one customs officer interprets the regulations in one way, and another in a different way.’47 This type of critique against the Customs Company became even more articulated in 1760. Then several other towns criticised the private company for imposing various duties they did not have the right to, according to the lease contract and the regulations in the royal ordinances for customs and excise.

A specific point of contention was the excise duties on sugar and tobacco. This issue was put forward by the towns in Vâsternorrland and Vâsterbotten, located in the southern parts of northern Sweden. These towns had sent in joint grievances, and they criticised the Customs Company for levying customs and excise on sugar and tobacco. According to the towns, this was against the regulations in the customs and excise ordinance from 1756. According to the ordinance, sugar and tobacco should be exempted from excise fees in the towns (landtull), since the goods was supposed to have already been cleared at long-trade customs (s/ôîm//).48 In the grievances, the towns argued that several of the central boards within the state administration, among them the powerful Exchequer board (Statskontoref), had ‘explained this collection of fees [on sugar and tobacco] was illegal, and the towns are still not compensated for this custom [the collected money].’49

The towns in Vâsternorrland and Vâsterbotten requested that the rules and ordinances regulating customs and excise should be emphasised to the General Customs Lease Company, by the government and the king, so that ‘the Customs Lease Company be deprived the opportunity, to be able to extract custom duties for goods which are custom free for the subjects.’50 Joining in this request was the town of Arboga. The burghers in

Arboga also claimed in their grievances that excise fees had been collected on sugar and tobacco. As a consequence, some of the inhabitants in Arboga had paid money to the private Customs Company that, furthermore, had not reported these revenues correctly; both factors in direct violation of the applicable rules regulated in the customs and excise ordinance. The burghers of Arboga, therefore, demanded that ‘the General Customs Lease Company should be forced to repay the specific sums of the unduly collected excise duty, to the appropriate recipient.’51

Arboga as well as the towns in Vàsternorrland and Vàsterbotten criticised the Customs Company for its greediness. To levy excise on sugar and tobacco was explicitly prohibited, and, according to Vàsternorrland and Vàsterbotten, the private company had pursued this illegal strategy even further. In the general grievances from the burgher estate, one of the sections was devoted to the unwarranted excise paid to the Customs Company at the marketplaces in northern Sweden. Here, according to the customs and excise ordinance, several goods ought to be exempt from excise. However, the General Customs Lease Company had on numerous occasions levied excise at these marketplaces, sometimes even persecuting and harassing the merchants who were traveling in the north. In the general grievances, the burghers demanded that this should stop immediately.52

Conclusions and discussion

This study has shown that political conflicts about the operation and management of the Swedish customs service were recurrent between 1726 and 1762. The agents involved were the towns, the private General Customs Lease Company, and the state - i.e., the government and the central administration. Compared to the familiar conflict: local-central, this chapter has revealed more of a trilateral relationship: local-private-central, where the private company was one of the central agents.

When the General Customs Lease Company was confronted with the Swedish towns, apparent conflict areas became visible. These can be divided in four categories, based on various accusations put forward in the grievances from the towns: (1) imposing rules and regulations without the consent of the towns and the magistrates, (2) taking out more in customs duty than they were allowed, (3) trying to bend the rules when it came to accounting for the lease amount, and (4) conflicts on the legitimacy of the customs officials. All of these categories are directly related to the state building process and therefore highlight the triangle local-private-central. Specifically, the conflict about the maintenance of fences and customs buildings shows how the usual vertical state formation process evolved into a more complex political process. The privatisation of the customs service led to contestation from the towns against the private customs company and made it possible for the burghers and the town magistrates to protest and criticise the current order of the state.

When using the instrument of grievances, the towns protested against the privatisation of the customs service. The grievances were the legitimate channel for political interaction; or as Michael Braddick puts it, the towns and the burghers used the official channels of the state to promote their own interest.55 Local communities and individuals utilised the legal authority of the state to solve various disputes. In doing so, the local community also sanctioned state authority - rather than the authority of the private customs company.54 An important part of this seems to be the legitimacy not only of both rhe customs service itself, but also of the officials working within it. The towns identified themselves as subjects of the king. They did not complain against the customs and excise as such, but they wanted to pay them to the king. This argument echoes those wielded by the Swedish peasants in the early 17th century when they contested the tax farmers.55

The early modern state has been described as an organisation that favoured centralisation and institutional stability. The towns, however, are often portrayed as protecting their independence and autonomy; the latter, an important political topic for the Swedish towns, stretching back to the medieval period and the laws in the 14th century.56 In stark contrast to this, the Swedish towns favoured centralisation and state control when it came to the General Customs Lease Company. Hypothetically, a decentralised customs organisation could have been an alternative. In that case, the possibilities for local elites to influence the customs would have been greater, making it possible to avoid paying customs. This did not happen and the preferred solution, argued by the burghers in the grievances at the Riksdag, was a state-controlled customs service.57

The explanation for this is that the towns defended their political leverage towards the state. The empowering interactions, described by Holenstein, benefit anyone who cooperates with the state and is able to control and utilise the political channels of interaction.58 When the Customs Company was launched, the towns found themselves disempowered, as these relations were transferred to the private company. To defend their (perceived) political rights, the towns attacked the private company, arguing for a state-controlled customs service. Consequently, when the towns contested the private company, the state was forced to mediate in the conflict, eventually leading to the dissolving of the company in 1765.

Some theoretical conclusions can also be drawn from the analysis above. Besides being described by the towns as a state matter, the customs service clearly appears as a matter of public concern, its publicness is apparent in the previous examples. The question of the political community shows that the towns, the magistrates, and their representatives at the Riksdag positioned themselves as a part of the political community. They emphasised their right to decide in matters regarding the organisation of the customs. This is a change, compared to the 17th century when this type of decision was seen as the prerogative of the king, or for a smaller group of royal councillors.59 When it comes to the form of organisation, the towns

Contested customs 303 favoured a state-managed customs service, making their position in the larger state organisation evident.

Perhaps most interesting is the connection between the discussions of the customs and the discourse of a consciousness of the public and values of political rights. The General Customs Lease Company was questioned due to its lack of legitimacy. The towns and their representatives opposed the private organisation because they saw themselves as subjects of the king. To pay customs was not only a duty but also a right, and this right was connected to the king and a more general perception of how the community should be organised. Therefore, the towns favoured a centralised position within the state organisation, contrary to a more decentralised model.

The example of the General Customs Lease Company highlights conflicts between various agents in the early modern state building process. The customs service is furthermore an example of something that was of great concern for the state as it generated substantial income for the Crown, but at the same time it was an activity that affected the common people to large extent. The development, and the contestation against the private company, is parallel to the development in other European states. Recent research on political economy, and the economic development of the early modern state, has discussed the cooperation between private agents and the state, mostly in connection to the pan European practice of borrowing money against future tax revenue.60 The obvious example is France and the ‘General Farms’ (Ferme générale), where a discussion on public debts and private gain, the latter at the expense of the ordinary taxpayers, lasted until the revolution.61 Also debating the inherent conflict between private and public was Spain, where the equipment of the fleet was a contested issue in the 17th century.62

Recently, the concept of ‘contractor state’ has been applied to the early modern state building process, and governments’ solutions to various tasks. This is an expansion of the debate to include more agents and variables in the familiar dichotomy of centre and locality.63 This chapter has made an attempt to support this strand of research by introducing the private alternative in the Swedish equation. It is critical to the dichotomous concepts of rule - i.e., the above-below axis. The argument is that power in early modern society was exercised on many levels and that the proposed triangle between local-private-central helps one to understand these processes.64

One example is the overlooked role of the General Customs Lease Company in Swedish historiography. The introduction of a countrywide customs company in the 18th century was not simply an organisational innovation, affecting the top management of the state. Contrary, as has been shown in this study, the changed organisation of the customs service was contested by the Swedish towns. The grievances to the Diet descibed above prove that the political conflicts on the privatised customs affected everyday lives in the town. The organisation of the customs service was a contested matter and established a recurrent conflict between the local, theprivate, and the state. Consequently, state building is neither a one-way top-down process, nor a bottom-up equivalent; rather it is a messy web of political interactions.


  • 1 Report from the Customs deputation, 11 June 1723, BRP Vol. 2, p. 575, ‘arrendet eij kan hafwa andra effterföllgder än undersätarnes vexationer och tribulationer, och conseqventer involvera landetz och de städers, hwilka uti arrendet eij kunna eller willja intressera, ruin och undergang.’
  • 2 Amark 1961, pp. 490-491.
  • 3 Smith 1950, pp. 71-73.
  • 4 I have analysed the debate 1723-1766 in Linnarsson 2017, pp. 61-106.
  • 5 Amark 1961, pp. 486-487; Linnarsson 2017, pp. 89-91.
  • 6 Holenstein 2009, pp. 1-31.
  • 7 Blickle 1997, pp. 325-338. See also the introduction to this volume by the editors.
  • 8 Braddick 2000, e.g., p. 13.
  • 9 Cf. Holenstein 2009, pp. 25-26.
  • 10 Damen, Haemers & Mann 2018, pp. 4-5.
  • 11 Frohnert 1985, p. 255; Gustafsson 1994, p. 151. Another political channel was the petitions (suppliker). Compared to the grievances, the petitions were foremost used bv individuals and regarded specific questions. See Almbjär 2016, pp. 3-5.
  • 12 The processing is described in Fällström & Mäntylä 1982, pp. 264-265, and Almbjär 2016, pp. 76-77.
  • 13 Fällström & Mäntylä 1982, p. 266.
  • 14 Newman & Clarke 2009, pp. 1-15. See also Linnarsson 2017; Linnarsson Sc Hallenberg 2020, pp. 465-466.
  • 15 Amark 1961, pp. 487-510.
  • 16 Smith 1950.
  • 17 See e.g., Berggren 2000; Bengtsson 2006.
  • 18 Agren 2017, pp. 13-26.
  • 19 Agren 2017, p. 48, where the conflict is briefly touched upon.
  • 20 Agren 2017, pp. 139-140.
  • 21 Villstrand 2017, pp. 466-471. See also the introduction to this volume by the editors.
  • 22 Hallenberg, Holm & Johansson 2008, e.g., p. 250. More references and a discussion in Villstrand 2017, pp. 465-466. See also Agren 2017, pp. 3-6.
  • 23 ‘Städernas allmänna besvär,’ 1726-1727, 33 §, BRP Vol. 3, pp. 478-479, 'Säsom en del af de mindre Städerne [...] nu skola blifwit pälagde om slike staqueters förfärdigande, oachtadt de tillförne aidrig warit därmed beswärade.’
  • 24 Amark 1961, pp. 486-487.
  • 25 See, e.g., 'Städernas allmänna besvär,’ 1731, 30 §, BRP Vol. 4, p. 335-337; 'Städernas allmänna besvär,’ 1742-1743, 4 §, BRP Vol. 8:2, p. 1150; 'Städernas allmänna besvär,’ 1755-1756, 84 §, BRP Vol. 11:2, pp. 1408-1409; 'Städernas allmänna besvär,’ 1760-1762, 57 §, BRP Vol. 12:3, p. 2265.
  • 26 'Städernas allmänna besvär,’ 1734, И §, BRP Vol. 5, p. 372, 'Huru gener-altullarrendesocieteten kunnat lata innehälla och sig mäktiga gjöra sä ätskil-lige städers enskijlte andehlar af accijs.’
  • 27 'Städernas allmänna besvär,’ 1738-1739, 18 §, BRP Vol. 6, p. 639.

‘Städernas allmänna besvär,’ 1740-1741, 3 §, BRP Vol. 7:2, p. 670. ‘Städernas allmänna besvär,’ 1742-1743, 4 §, BRP Vol. 8:2, p. 1150.

RA (Sweden), Ständernas plena och kanslier, borgarständet, huvudarkivet, riksdagen 1742-1743, handlingar ang. ständens allmänna besvär, Vol. R1289, ‘Stockholms Stads Postulater ...’, No. 5, ‘at öfver förra wanligheten upprätta Staqueterne kring om staden, som icke utan en ansenlig omkostnad star att wärckställas.’

RA (Sweden), Ständernas plena och kanslier, borgarständet, huvudarkivet, riksdagen 1742-1743, handlingar ang. ständens allmänna besvär, Vol. R1289, ‘Stockholms Stads Postulater ...’, No. 5: ‘hwilkas aflöning jämte Staqueternes upbyggande och ständige wid macht hällande, aldeles utblot-tade stadens Cassa, och försatte sä wäl Staden utij brist, som de publique husen med Broar utij bofällighet, när af medel ingen tillgäng mera woro.’ ‘Städernas allmänna besvär,’ 1742-1743, 4 §, BRP Vol. 8:2, p. 1150.

RA (Sweden), Ständernas plena och kanslier, borgarständet, huvudarkivet, riksdagen 1742-1743, handlingar ang. ständens allmänna besvär, Vol. R1289, ‘Ödm-jukt Memorial,’ 16 May 1743: ‘En olimiterad skyldighet, at draga försorg för heia stängslen omkring staden sä wäl som heia Tullhus Byggnaden.’

RA (Sweden), Ständernas plena och kanslier, borgarständet, huvudarkivet, riksdagen 1742-1743, handlingar ang. ständens allmänna besvär, Vol. R1289, ‘Ödmjukt Memorial,’ 16 May 1743: ‘sä är det fullmäktiga aldeles obekant, at nägon enda af de Städer, som i gründ af deras ägandeandelar i accisen [...] äro skyldiga at undehälla Staqueter och tullhus, hafwa under arrende-tijden och aldraminst sedan ähr 1734 blifwit härutinnan belastade med nägot större besvär, än de warit under betieningstiden.’

RA (Sweden), Ständernas plena och kanslier, borgarständet, huvudarkivet, riksdagen 1742-1743, handlingar ang. ständens allmänna besvär, Vol. R1289, ‘Ödmjukt Memorial,’ 16 May 1743: ‘hwad angär de afdrag, hwilka det af Hans Kongl: Majtss och Riksens Ständers stadfästade General Tull-arrende Contractet tillätas att giöra.’

Minutes from the clergy, 28 September 1726, PRP Vol. 7, p. 53: ‘i tullarna swärt handterade och at de fördenskull wilja heldre erlägga til Konungen det contingent, som tullarna af sig kasta.’

Hallenberg 2009, pp. 263-264.

Several examples in Linnarsson 2017, ch. 3.

Ämark 1961, p. 54.

Ägren 2017, pp. 49-50.

Johan Hoffmeisters memorial, 25 March 1739, BRP Vol. 6, pp. 766-767, ‘Som da tullarne under betiening woro, [...] blefwo wid det gamla af urminnes tider brukade sätt bibehällne.’

RA (Sweden), Ständernas plena och kanslier, borgarständet, huvudarkivet, riksdagen 1760-1762, handlingar ang. ständens allmänna besvär, Vol. R1357, ‘Allraödmjukaste Memorial ...’, 1 December 1760: ‘inte äro skyldiga, att hälla flera eher mera stängsel, än de under Cronans betienings tid warit wana at giöra, jämwäl at deras inkomster af accis och tolag, med mera, ej bora, under nägon förevändning af ett eher annat, innehällas, utan mänadtligen til Magistraterne eller deras ombud af vederbörande upbördsmän tilställas.’

See ‘Städernas allmänna besvär,’ 1760-1762,57 §, BRP Vol. 12, pp. 2265-2268. RA (Sweden), Frihetstidens utskotthandlingar 1719-1772, riksdagen 1760-1762, kammar-, ekonomi- och kommersdeputationen, förordningsutskottets handlingar, Vol. R3222, ‘Ödmjukt Memorial,’ 1 February 1762: ‘at Städerna ej woro skyldiga, at bestä Staqueter pit annan plats och Ställe, än där Staquet förut under Crono Betiäningstiden statt.’

  • 45 RA (Sweden), Frihetstidens utskotthandlingar 1719-1772, riksdagen 1760-1762, kammar-, ekonomi- och kommersdeputationen, förordningsutskottets handlingar, Vol. R3222, ‘Ödmjukt Memorial,’ 1 February 1762: ‘pä lika satt skall det och böra under arrendetiden därmed tilgä.’
  • 46 RA (Sweden), Frihetstidens utskotthandlingar 1719-1772, riksdagen 1760-1762, kammar-, ekonomi- och kommersdeputationen, förordningsutskottets handlingar, Vol. R3222, ‘Ödmjukt Memorial,’ 1 February 1762: ‘lärer finna det Kongl Commerce Collegium icke gifvidt anledning till nägot, som skäli-gen kan sägas medföra rubbning i det med herrar fullmägtiga giorda förbe-häll om afskrivning af sig sielf lärer förfalla.’
  • 47 Minutes from the burghers, 27 October 1755, BRP Vol. 11:1, p. 80: ‘Wi äro alle ense, at olikheten i füllen plägar städerne. Dessutom är det eij minsta plägan, at den ene tullbetiänten uttyder förordningarne sä, en annan ater annorlunda.’
  • 48 See 4 § in Kongl. Maj:ts Nddige Land-Tulls Och Accis-Ordning, 17 December 1756 (Stockholm: Momma, 1756).
  • 49 RA (Sweden), Ständernas plena och kanslier, borgarständet, huvudarkivet, riksdagen 1760-1762, handlingar ang. ständens allmänna besvär, Vol. R1357: ‘Wästernorrlendske och Westerbottniske städernas underdänige besvär’: ‘förklarat denna upbörd för olaglig, huru medan städerne äro ändock i saknad av denna Tull.’
  • 50 RA (Sweden), Ständernas plena och kanslier, borgarständet, huvudarkivet, riksdagen 1760-1762, handlingar ang. ständens allmänna besvär, Vol. RI357: ‘Wästernorrlendske och Westerbottniske städernas underdänige besvär’: ‘hvarigenom Tüll arrende societeten blifva betagit tillfälle, at kunna läta upbära tull för de varor, som för undersätarne äro befrijade.’
  • 51 RA (Sweden), Ständernas plena och kanslier, borgarständet, huvudarkivet, riksdagen 1760-1762, handlingar ang. ständens allmänna besvär, Vol. R1357: ‘Förklaring uppä de besvär, som Arboga stad ...: ‘sä anhällas, att General Tull arrendesocieteten mätte förbindas specifice upgifvna summer af den obehörigt incasserade füllen, och den summa till wederbörande äterbetala.’
  • 52 ‘Städernas allmänna besvär,’ 1760-1762, 68 §, BRP Vol. 12, pp. 2281-2282.
  • 53 Braddick 2000, pp. 162-163; Gustafsson 1994, pp. 130-132.
  • 54 Holenstein 2009, p. 24.
  • 55 Hallenberg 2009, pp. 263-264.
  • 56 Fällström & Mäntylä 1982, pp. 185-187.
  • 57 See further in Linnarsson 2017, pp. 100-102.
  • 58 Holenstein 2009, p. 26.
  • 59 Linnarsson & Hallenberg 2020, pp. 477-478.
  • 60 Cheney 2010; Reinert & Roge 2013.
  • 61 White 2004, pp. 640-641; Sonenscher 2007.
  • 62 See the seminal study by Thompson 1976, pp. 256-273.
  • 63 See Torres Sanchez 2016, pp. 7-8.
  • 64 See also the discussion in Holenstein 2009, pp. 16-17.


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