Johan Vilhelm Snellman

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Johan Vilhelm Snellman
Statue of Johan Vilhelm Snellman in front of the Bank of Finland, Helsinki.

Johan Vilhelm Snellman (Swedish pronunciation: [ˈjuːhan ˈvɪlːhɛlm ˈsnɛlːman]; 12 May 1806, Stockholm – 4 July 1881, Kirkkonummi) was an influential Fennoman philosopher and Finnish statesman, ennobled in 1866.

Snellman was born in Stockholm, Sweden, as son of Kristian Henrik Snellman, a ship's captain. After the Russian conquest of Finland in 1808–09, and the promising establishing of the semi-autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland, his family moved there in 1813, to the Ostrobothnian coastal town of Kokkola, where his mother Maria Magdalena Snellman died only a year later.

In 1835, after academic work amongst followers of Hegel, Snellman was appointed lecturer at the University of Helsinki, where he belonged to the famous circle of Cygnaeus, Lönnrot, and Runeberg comprising the brightest of their generation. Snellman's lectures quickly became popular with the students, but in November 1838 his lectureship was temporarily recalled after a judicial proceeding that ultimately aimed at establishing the government's firm control of new and oppositional thoughts among the academics.

As a consequence Snellman exiled himself to Sweden and Germany, more or less voluntarily, from 1839 to 1842. By the time he returned to Helsinki, his popularity had increased further, but the political juncture did not allow the University to employ him. Instead he took up the position as headmaster for a school in distant Kuopio, and published starkly polemical periodicals, including the paper Saima in Swedish that advocated the duty of the educated classes to take up the language of the then circa 85% majority of Finns, and develop Finnish into a language of the civilized world[attribution needed] useful for academic works, fine arts, state craft, and nation building.

Saima was suppressed by the government in 1846. In 1848–49, Snellman was again rebuffed when applying for the position as professor at Finland's University in Helsinki. After having contemplated a renewed exile in Sweden, this time possibly definitive, Snellman in 1850 gave up the position in Kuopio and moved to Helsinki, where he and his family lived under economically awkward conditions until the death of Emperor Nicholas in 1855, when it again became possible for Snellman to publish periodical papers on political issues.

In 1856, Snellman was finally appointed professor, which was met with great satisfaction among politically interested Finns. Snellman's unparalleled popularity could however not remain. He was a generation older than the most active political opposition, and now a man of the government who had the brightest expectations for Finland under the rule of Emperor Alexander II. The language strife in Finland, which he was the chief initiator of, contributed also to substantial opposition against him and his views, and finally not the least his stance against the Polish rebels of the January Uprising of 1863 were by many seen as the ultimate sign of unprincipled ingratiation.[citation needed]

In 1863 Snellman was called to a cabinet post in the Senate of Finland, in effect as Chancellor of the Exchequer, where he became an energetic and valued senator, accomplishing a language decree from the Emperor, that gradually would give Finnish a position equal to that of Swedish within the Finnish government, and thereby practically in Finland at large, the re-establishment of the Parliament, that had remained inhibited since the Russian conquest, and finally the introduction of a separate Finnish currency, the Markka, in 1865, that came to be of the utmost value for Finland. Snellman's tenure as Finance Minister would however also be tainted by the worst famine in Finnish history, aggravated by the government's strict fiscal policy.

Snellman's inflexibility and high prolific position in the political debate would however, together with his old reputation as radical agitator of the 1830s–1840s, accumulate too much of resistance and aversion against his person and his policies. In 1868 he was forced to resign from the senate.

For the remainder of his life, he continued to participate in the political debate, and now ennobled he belonged to the Nobles' Chamber of the parliament. Snellman never lost in popularity among his fennoman followers, but had become a highly divisive symbol in Finland's political landscape.

Bust of J. V. Snellman

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Johan Vilhelm Snellman first appeared on a 1960 coin, commemorating the introduction of the markka denomination in 1860. He was recently selected as the main motif for another commemorative coin, the €10 Johan Vilhelm Snellman commemorative coin, minted in 2006 celebrating the 200th anniversary of his birth. The obverse depicts J.V. Snellman, It also depicts the logo of the Europe Coins Programme. The reverse design features represent the dawn of Finnish culture.


In 1842 Snellman published his foremost work "Läran om staten" (Study of the State).


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