Peasant aristocrats? Wealth, social status and the politics of Swedish farmer parliamentarians 1769–1895
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Sweden was unique in early modern Europe, in that its parliament included a peasant farmer estate. It is commonplace in Swedish and international research to consider the peasant farmer politicians as guarantors of a liberal and egalitarian path of development. In the Swedish-language literature on political history, these people are often seen as rather narrow-minded, their common political programme limited to the issue of keeping (their own) taxes as low as possible and opposed to any expansion of social policy and citizenship rights. To revisit the role of peasant parliamentarians, this paper presents a novel dataset of their social and economic status, with benchmarks for the 1769, 1809, 1840, 1865 and 1895 parliaments. We show that the politicians were normally three to four times wealthier than their electorate, in the 1895 parliament even seven to eight times wealthier. They were more likely to take bourgeois surnames and their children were likely to move out of the peasant class and into the middle class. The exclusiveness of the peasant politicians, which increased over the nineteenth century, has implications for their policies and helps explain the increasing conservatism and rightward drift of Swedish farmer politics over the century.