Johan August Gripenstedt

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Johan August Gripenstedt
Johan August Gripenstedt.jpg
Minister without Portfolio
In office
7 April 1848 – 1856
MonarchOscar I
Preceded byClaës Günther
Succeeded byCarl Göran Mörner
Minister for Finance
In office
28 May 1856 – 4 July 1866
MonarchOscar I (1844–1859),
Charles XV (1859–1866)
Preceded byCarl Otto Palmstierna
Succeeded byGustaf Lagercrantz
Personal details
Born(1813-08-11)11 August 1813
Duchy of Holstein, German Confederation
Died13 July 1874(1874-07-13) (aged 60)
Stockholm, Sweden
Political partyIndependent
Alma materMilitary Academy Karlberg

Baron Johan August Gripenstedt (11 August 1813 – 13 July 1874) was a Swedish businessman and politician. During his political career, Gripenstedt was a member of the Swedish Estates Assembly (as a representative of the nobility) from 1840 to 1848, Minister without Portfolio from 1848 to 1856, Minister for Finance from 1856 to 1866, and Member of Parliament from 1867 to 1873. He is best known for his ten years tenure as Minister for Finance, during which he introduced many liberal economic reforms and fought for issues such as free trade and state owned railways.

Early life and military career[edit]

Johan August Gripenstedt was born in the Duchy of Holstein, then part of the German Confederation, where his parents lived at the time. His father Jakob Gripenstedt was a retired Swedish officer. His mother Helena Kristina (née Weinschenck) was the daughter of a German physician. The Gripenstedt family's earliest descendandt was a man named Hieronimus Berger, born in the Courland region of modern-day Latvia, who immigrated to Sweden and was ennobled with name Gripenstedt in 1691.

Johan August Gripenstedt came to Sweden with his family at the age of four. He grew up at the estate of Gräfsnäs in Västergötland and later, when the estate's fee tail ended following his uncle's death in 1821, at the nearby estate of Holmängen. Gripenstedt and his brothers were educated at home, and following his examination in the spring of 1827 he was registered at Uppsala University. However, Gripenstedt's plans for a civilian career promptly changed and in 1828 he left the university for the Royal War Academy in Stockholm. After completing his education at the Royal War Academy, Gripenstedt became a Second Lieutenant at the Göta Artillery Regiment in Gothenburg, in 1831. Following further education at the Marieberg Upper Military School from 1832 to 1835, Gripenstedt was in 1837 promoted to the rank of Lieutenant and, in 1841, to the rank of Artillery Staff Officer. At this time however, Gripenstedt had already started a new career as a politician. In 1846 he was at his own request released from military service.

Politics and entrepreneurship[edit]

Gripenstedt first entered politics as a representative of the nobility at the Riksdag of 1840–1841. He soon distinguished himself as a skillful speaker and was elected to the parliament's Committee on the Accords (Swedish: bevillningsutskottet). Through his marriage into the Anckarswärd family in 1842, Gripenstedt became affiliated with the "liberal landowners'"-faction of the parliament, led by Carl Henrik Anckarswärd. In the end of 1841, Gripenstedt was elected to the parliament's powerful Committee on the Constitution, which at this time worked on a new representative reform. As opposed to the conservative group of the parliament, Gripenstedt was a strong adherent of free elections and general suffrage long before this was realized in Sweden. During start of the Riksdag of 1847, Gripenstedt was elected to the Committee of the State.

As a trustee of Carl Henrik Anckarswärd, and later as the owner of estates such as Nynäs Castle in Södermanland, Gripenstedt became a successful entrepreneur within the grain exports and iron industry.

In 1848 Gripenstedt was selected, to many's surprise, by King Oscar I to serve as Minister without Portfolio (Swedish: konsultativt statsråd) in his cabinet. The post was first offered to the conservative Jacob Nils Tersmeden, who declined, and King Oscar wanted to rejuvenate his cabinet why he selected Gripenstedt instead. Gripenstedt also served as acting Minister for Finance from 10 January to 21 October 1851. On 28 May 1856 he was appointed as (permanent) Minister for Finance. Influenced by French liberal thinkers such as Alexis de Tocqueville and Frédéric Bastiat, Gripenstedt was a leading proponent of free trade and other liberal reforms. He succeeded in getting the Swedish parliament to gradually abolish tariffs and reduce customs duties. In 1865 he signed trade agreements with France, the German Customs Union and Prussia, which resulted in greatly reduced customs duties on many products. His optimistic descriptions in the Swedish parliament in 1857 of the economic situation of the country, the so-called "flower paintings" (Swedish: blomstermålningarna), paved the way for a fast expansion of the Swedish railroad network, which was financed by loans on the international market.

Gripenstedt opposed an activist foreign policy, which he saw as a threat to the economic stability of the country. As the Danish-German conflict over the Schleswig-Holstein Question grew more tense, Gripenstedt and then Prime Minister for Justice Louis De Geer (also a devoted liberal) stopped King Charles' plan for Swedish military support in the upcoming war.

Johan August Gripenstedt

Following his retirement as Minister for Finance on 4 July 1866, Gripenstedt served as a member of the lower house of the new bicameral parliament from 1867 to 1873. He died in Stockholm on 13 July 1874 (aged sixty), following a long period of illness. He is buried at Bälinge Church in Södermanland.

Family life[edit]

Gripenstedt married his wife Eva Anckarswärd, the oldest daughter of Colonel August Anckarswärd and Sofia Ulrika Anckarswärd (née Bonde), in 1842. Together with his wife he had five children.

Titles and honours[edit]

Gripenstedt was elected a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (Swedish: Kungliga Vetenskapsakademien) in 1858. He was ennobled by King Charles as a baron (Swedish: friherre) on 4 May 1860.


Gripenstedt is widely seen as one of the most decisive and influential persons in Swedish political history. As a great speaker and with a good sense of political intrigues and tactics, Gripenstedt was successful in almost everything that he took on. He is not only credited as the one who initiated and guided Sweden's transition to a capitalist economy, but also as one of the main architects of the "liberal revolution" of the 1800s. His reforms changed Sweden definitely into a new direction of liberalized economy and free trade. These new policies ultimately paved the way for the Swedish industrialization. The period from 1870 to 1970 is commonly referred to in Swedish history as the "Hundred Years of Growth". During this period Sweden developed from one of the poorest countries in Europe to one of the richest and most prosperous countries in the world.

In the book Historiens 100 viktigaste svenskar ("100 Most Important Swedes in History"), written by Niklas Ekdal and Petter Karlsson, Gripenstedt was ranked as the twelfth most important Swede in history.[1]


  1. ^ Ekdal, Niklas & Karlsson, Petter (2009), Historiens 100 viktigaste svenskar, Stockholm: Forum, ISBN 978-91-37-13402-4

Further reading[edit]

  • Gasslander, Olle (1949), J.A. Gripenstedt : statsman och företagare, Lund: Gleerup
  • Ohlsson, Per T. (1994), 100 år av tillväxt : Johan August Gripenstedt och den liberala revolutionen, Stockholm: Bromberg, ISBN 91-7608-650-X

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Claës Efraim Günther
Minister without Portfolio
1848 – 1856
Succeeded by
Carl Göran Mörner
Preceded by
Carl Otto Palmstierna
Minister for Finance
1856 – 1866
Succeeded by
Gustaf Lagercrantz