Ståhlberg, Kaarlo Juho (1865 - 1952)
President of Finland
Kaarlo Juho Ståhlberg, the first president of the Republic of Finland, laid the foundations for the exercise of governmental power in accordance with the Form of Government of 1919; this constitution combines parliamentarianism and independent presidential powers in a very distinctive fashion. Ståhlberg put into regular practice this new form of government, the drafting of which he himself had directed. In particular he developed an interpretation of the way in which foreign policy should be conducted in accordance with this document.
On both sides of his family, most of Kaarlo Juho (Carl Johan) Ståhlberg's male forebears were clergymen and officials in Northern Ostrobothnia. When Ståhlberg's father, the assistant pastor Janne Ståhlberg, died at the age of only 40, the family was left in a difficult financial position. Despite this, the children were sent to school in Oulu; their mother Amanda Ståhlberg also moved there later, working first as a caretaker at a girls' school and then as a caterer to the provincial hospital. Ståhlberg's elder sister Alma later worked as a postmistress, and his younger brother Fredrik, who died young, graduated in Law and became treasurer of the Oulu provincial government.
Support for and use of the Finnish language were a tradition in Ståhlberg's family, so that in a way, of the three possible schools for him in Oulu, the natural choice was the private Finnish-language grammar school. Throughout his school days, the young Ståhlberg was dux of his class. In senior school he was one of the leading lights in activities organised by the pupils; he also wrote a great deal - both poetry and factual articles - for Toivon tähti ('Star of Hope'), the pupils' handwritten newspaper, also working as its editor. Ståhlberg was "spes nostratium et decus" - a hope and glory of our people - as the headmaster, Anton Oskar Forsman, wrote in the school roll. Ståhlberg graduated in Law, wrote his doctoral dissertation on 'Vagrancy under Finnish Law' and in 1894 was appointed an assistant professor in Administrative Law and Economics.
During his studies Ståhlberg had participated in student politics and had found a political home in a liberal grouping, the 'Young Finns'. After graduating as a lawyer, he had also come into contact with politics in his capacity as a committee secretary at the Finnish Diet. While working as secretary of the Finance Committee in 1891, he had begun courting a second cousin, the teacher Hedvig Wåhlberg, whom he married in 1893. Marriage and a permanent university position brought a settled life with them. The first of the couple's six children was born in 1894.
In 1894 Ståhlberg published the first of an originally three-part series of articles, Työkirjat ja irtolaisuus ('Workbooks and vagrancy') in the mouthpiece of the Young Finns, the newspaper Päivälehti; after this, and especially during the following two years, the initials 'K. J. S' appeared in the columns of a number of publications. Ståhlberg may be regarded as having entered active politics in the same year, when he participated in drafting the platform for a 'young party'. He continued to participate in the work of the Diet as a committee secretary.
As an assistant professor, Ståhlberg concentrated on teaching and paid side jobs. His writings during this period comprised six academic articles and translations into Finnish of two books on jurisprudence. In 1898, evidently for financial reasons, Ståhlberg applied for the post of protocol secretary (second-highest rapporteur) of the civil affairs subdepartment (ministry) of the Senate (government and supreme court; see below). Paradoxically, the approval of Ståhlberg's appointment was the first official act of the new governor-general of Finland, Nikolay Bobrikov. Bobrikov's arrival and the February Manifesto of 1899 ushered in the period of oppressive russification known as 'the years of frost'. Attitudes towards the Russians' actions divided Finnish civil servants and politicians into two camps - those prepared to comply and the constitutionalists. At the turn of the century, the Senate went over to the compliance camp. But for Ståhlberg, his constitutionalism was a natural continuation of the political line that he had previously adopted. He thus found himself "the constitutionalist protocol secretary of a compliance Senate". At this time Ståhlberg was given his first real political position of trust, when in 1901 he became a member of the Helsinki City Council.
Despite differences of opinion, relations between the senators and their protocol secretary were good. But although the Senate turned a blind eye on Ståhlberg's strict legalist line, in 1902 he succeeded in driving the situation into a dead-end street in a matter concerning a law on compulsory military service. Not content with suggesting as secretary that the sending of a certain official letter should be dropped as unlawful, he also forbade the drawing up and countersigning of a letter complying with a decision of the Senate. As a result of this, Ståhlberg lost his job at the Senate; but his dismissal left him neither idle nor indigent: he put the finishing touches to a commentary on tenancy law, sat on the board of the Suomi insurance company as chairman and fulfilled the few duties required by the post that had been arranged for him as an assistant at the Helsinki city treasury. After Russia's defeat in the war with Japan, a general strike in Russia and a large-scale strike in Finland, the government changed course in both in Russia and Finland. The 'Compliance Senate' resigned and was replaced by a constitutionalist Senate, with Leo Mechelin as chairman of the Economic Department (the 'domestic government' of the Grand Duchy of Finland within the Russian Empire) and Rabbe Axel Wrede as chairman of the Justice Department (the country's 'supreme court'). Ståhlberg was appointed a senator in the Economic Department and head of the trade and industry subdepartment.
One of the first important tasks of the constitutionalist Senate was to deal with a proposal for parliamentary reform drawn up by a committee chaired by Professor Robert Hermanson. This suggested that the Diet of Estates should be replaced by a parliament elected on the basis of universal and equal suffrage, with women also having a vote in elections. Ståhlberg was not a supporter of a single-chamber parliament. His plans envisioned an upper house representing the aristocracy and clergy, and a lower house of burgesses and peasants; and at the Diet of 1904/05 he had, for reasons of election tactics, opposed female suffrage, regarding it as endangering the universal and equal (male) suffrage proposed for the house of burgesses and peasants. In the Senate he stated, however, that the proportional voting system had dispelled his doubts and that he now accepted both a unicameral system and women's suffrage; the committee's proposal was approved by the Senate in other respects as well, with only minor changes. Ståhlberg also participated in the Mechelin Senate's drafting of a proposal for a new form of government; though, as far as is known, the proposal never got further than the governor-general's office.
In 1907 the first elections held on the basis of universal and equal suffrage according to the parliamentary system approved in 1906 constituted a stinging blow for the 'government parties' - the Young Finns and the Swedish Party: together they won only 49 seats, a mere quarter of the total of 200. The largest party, with 80 MPs, was the Social Democrats. As far as the Senate's reaction to the election loss was concerned, there were two factions: a pro-parliamentarian group led by Ståhlberg and an anti-parliamentarian faction led by Wrede. At Ståhlberg's suggestion, the Economic Department decided to inform the parliamentary group "by private communication" that the Senate was prepared to resign; but Wrede and his Justice Department adopted a completely contrary stance, and the constitutionalist Senate did not resign because of the election results. However, Ståhlberg himself in effect practised a piece of parliamentarianism by resigning from the Senate in December 1907 on the grounds that Parliament had - contrary to the Senate line that he had pushed - approved a prohibition bill involving a complete ban on alcohol; the bill was not, however, sanctioned by the Emperor.
Having left the Senate, Ståhlberg was now for the second time without an official post. But one was arranged for him quite quickly. The only applicant for the vacant Chair of Administrative Law withdrew his application in favour of Ståhlberg, who was the only candidate when the post was readvertised. The referees, the former professor Leo Mechelin and the former assistant professor of Administrative Law Juho Kusti Paasikivi, considered Ståhlberg competent for the position, though they drew attention to his weaknesses in systematic and theoretical matters. The Faculty stated that Ståhlberg's "practical activities in official capacities should be viewed as a very important point in his favour", and Ståhlberg was appointed in 1908. During his time as a professor, Ståhlberg wrote his main work, Suomen hallinto-oikeus I ja II ('Finnish administrative law, vols I & II'; 1913, 1915), a massive and pioneering work which long remained a textbook in the Law Faculty. And as a professor he was able to participate actively in politics.
Ståhlberg was elected to the central committee of the Young-Finnish Party (Nuorsuomalainen puolue) in 1908. He was an MP for various periods in 1908, 1909, 1914 and 1917. In 1914 Ståhlberg was elected speaker of Parliament in place of Pehr Evind Svinhufvud, who had been elected speaker several times and had in practice paralysed the work of Parliament by holding inaugural speeches critical of Russian actions and thus causing the dissolution of Parliament, usually right at the beginning of its session.
The collapse of tsarist rule in Russia in March 1917 also led to the resignation of the partially russified 'Admirals' Senate' which had sat as a 'government of bureaucrats'. Since Parliament had been dissolved, the composition of the new Senate was determined by a delegation from the non-socialist parties and by the official bodies of the Social Democratic Party. Although Ståhlberg received the most votes within the non-socialist delegation for the post of chairman of the Economic Department, he did not gain the support of the Social Democrats, which he had made a precondition; instead the post went to the Social Democrat Oskari Tokoi, half of the members of the department being appointed from among representatives of the non-socialist parties and half from among the Social Democrats.
Excluded from the Senate, Ståhlberg became the chairman of the constitutional committee already established in spring 1917. The committee's most important task was to discuss a new form of government. The main figures responsible for devising this form during the summer of 1917 were Ståhlberg (Young Finns), Wrede (Swedish National Party) and Anton Kotonen (Social Democrats). The foundation chosen for the form of government was the proposal made by Mechelin's constitutionalist Senate in 1907; this was basically a codification of the constitutional laws inherited from Gustavus III in the 18th century, and it provided for a division of powers. 'On top of' this, the committee constructed its model based on parliamentarianism, so that the proposal became a unique combination of the division-of-powers model and parliamentarianism. The 1916 elections had produced a socialist majority in Parliament. With its votes, Parliament passed an enabling act in summer 1917. When the Economic Department of Tokoi's Senate considered the matter, the governor-general, Nikolay Nekrasov, attended for the first and only time and supported the position of the rightists. On the basis of the resulting majority, the Russian Provisional Government did not confirm the enabling act - in which Parliament declared itself the supreme authority in Finland - and ordered the holding of new elections, in which a non-socialist majority was returned to Parliament.
After the decision on the enabling act, the Social Democrat senators resigned, and on 27 November 1917, following the October Revolution and a large-scale strike in Finland, there was a heated and bitter parliamentary debate, at the end of which the House approved Svinhufvud's non-socialist list of senators. On 4 December 1917 Svinhufvud's Senate presented Parliament with a declaration of independence and a proposal for Finland's form of government. Ståhlberg's constitutional committee had devised a republican form of government for a Finland still forming part of Russia; this had now been quickly reworked into a proposal for the form of government of an independent Republic of Finland.
During the summer of 1918, the post-civil-war parliament, in which there was now only one Social Democratic MP left, was involved in an intense conflict over the constitution, with the government pushing for a constitutional monarchy and the minority, led by Ståhlberg, advocating a parliamentary republic. The government rejected the republican constitution of 1917 and presented Parliament with a bill for a monarchical form of government. In their 'republican rejoinder', Ståhlberg and Santeri Alkio of the Agrarian Party reworked the new proposal into a republican constitution. The monarchical form was, however, approved, though it was left in abeyance until after elections because of a lack of the required five-sixths majority. The same fate befell the constitutional proposal presented to the extraordinary session of 1918 convened to elect a king.
Ståhlberg was the chairman of the constitutional committee during the 1917 session of Parliament, which continued in 1918 after the Civil War, but he was obliged to give up his work as an MP when he became the first president of the Supreme Administrative Court in 1918. He thus did not participate in the 'royal election' session in 1918. Germany's defeat in the World War changed the political situation in Finland. Svinhufvud, who had acted as head of state in his capacity as 'chairman of the Senate', resigned, and on 12 December 1918 the cavalry general Gustaf Mannerheim, who had acted as commander-in-chief of the Finnish White army, was appointed regent. Soon afterwards, Prince Friedrich Karl of Hesse, who had been elected king of Finland, declined the throne. The elections of March 1919 resulted in a republican majority in Parliament. A government formed by members of the Progressive Party, the Agrarian Party and the Swedish National Party presented a second proposal for a republican constitution to Parliament that summer. This, too, was left in abeyance, but finally Parliament revised it in such a way that after a few compromises it received the required five-sixths majority. After some hesitation, Mannerheim confirmed the Finnish Form of Government on 17 July 1919.
Ståhlberg's constitutional committee had been in favour of a directly elected president, but Paasikivi and Wrede, who had served on the committee and who later became the leaders of the monarchists had, in a dissenting opinion, called for an electoral college, since this would in their opinion both satisfy the requirements of democracy and allow the chance for negotiations. Alkio's Agrarians and the Social Democrats had for their part favoured election by Parliament. In the 'republican rejoinder', Ståhlberg and Alkio had reached a historic compromise, and as concessions, the monarchists had been given an electoral college and wide powers for the president. This was the solution adopted for the 1919 constitution, despite the fact that - as a concession to the Social Democrats - the government had proposed an election by Parliament.
The first election for a president of the Republic of Finland was held in Parliament on 25 July 1919. Ståhlberg had early been mentioned as a possible candidate, but he himself was reluctant to exchange his post of president of the Supreme Administrative Court for that of head of state. Personally, he believed that Mannerheim would be chosen; but delegations arrived both asking him to stand and urging him to decline in favour of Mannerheim. Initially he was genuinely opposed to standing, but by late June he appears to have reluctantly arrived at the conclusion that he was not entitled to refuse, especially as there were rumours that activist circles were planning a military provocation or a coup.
In the election of 25 July 1919 Ståhlberg received 143 votes, Mannerheim 50 and Lauri Kristian Relander and Väinö Tanner one each; two Social Democrats did not cast a vote. Following parliamentary tradition, Relander, who was speaker, did not vote, and two deputies were absent. Ståhlberg received the votes of all the Progressive Party and Agrarian Party MPs and of almost all the Social Democrats. On the following day he made his solemn declaration to Parliament, beginning in characteristically modest fashion with the words: "It is my duty to comply with the decision taken by the national parliament of Finland in accordance with the constitution. It is my duty to take on the responsible position of president of the Republic of Finland." According to a hardy anecdote, Ståhlberg was obliged to return home on foot afterwards, but in fact he was able to use a car provided by the war minister Rudolf Waldén; the vehicle reserved for Ståhlberg had been grabbed by the Swedish envoy.
Many bouquets and telegrams arrived at Ståhlberg's home; but the tribute that particularly delighted him was a telegram from the monarchist and future president Juho Kusti Paasikivi which referred to their almost thirty years of acquaintanceship and most cordially wished Ståhlberg good luck and success. The periods of russification had divided non-socialist Finland into two mutually hostile camps - the compliers and the constitutionalists - which had been temporarily united by a common enemy during the Civil War. But after this conflict the dispute over a form of government had led to a new split between republicans and monarchists. During this battle the World War had swept away the real candidates for the monarchy, and the principle leaders of the monarchists, Wrede and Paasikivi, bore no grudge after their defeat. As Ståhlberg's real opponents there remained the monarchists and activists who supported Mannerheim; and relations between Mannerheim and Ståhlberg remained cool throughout Ståhlberg's term as president.
During his term of office, Ståhlberg came to be compared mainly with Mannerheim. Mannerheim was a soldier and a linguistically gifted 'foreign-affairs politician'; Ståhlberg, a lawyer and 'domestic-affairs politician'. Mannerheim was an aristocrat and man of the world, familiar with courtly ritual; compared with him, Ståhlberg was a stiff-mannered Fennoman bureaucrat. But contemporaries do report that Ståhlberg, too, made a majestic impression with his cool and distant behaviour towards his fellows. This may, of course, have been the result of a shyness concealed by strength of will and rigorous self-discipline. Ståhlberg avoided off-the-cuff speeches, because he feared his tendency to stammer on such occasions. In order to avoid this, he wrote all his speeches down on paper - even short statements and speeches for family occasions. This meant an enormous increase in his workload, but it fitted in well with the 'Protestant ethic' that characterised his official activities and the rest of his life - even though in his public appearances he carefully avoided any appeals to religion or references to God. He also had a distaste for official occasions, and it was not merely for foreign-policy reasons that he declined to make a state visit to Sweden.
A personal tragedy in Ståhlberg's life had been the death of his wife Hedvig in 1917. When he became president he was a widower, and his daughters were forced to take on the role of the country's First Lady. Ståhlberg courted Elli Wegelius - a widow and the sister of Maissi Erkko, the wife of his friend Eero Erkko - by letter, but he was rejected. When he received a letter from Ester Hällström, a widow and a friend from his youth, Ståhlberg began approaches to her in typically clumsy fashion. The result was a presidential wedding on 7 June 1920. It was a family event, held at Ester Hällström's home in Helsinki, and the couple received many messages of congratulation from various quarters. The marriage was no doubt a happy and sensible solution from the unpractical Ståhlberg's viewpoint, but Ester Ståhlberg had to pay a high price for her love, as Ståhlberg's children were hostile towards her. However, the marriage probably helped to promote Ester Ståhlberg's career as a writer, so that she was able to lead the latter part of her life not only as the wife of a former president but also as a respected and well-loved author, whose works were translated into a number of languages. It was typical of Ståhlberg that he also adopted the role of the 'impartial statesman' in regard to relations between his new wife and his children.
In his conduct of the office of president, Kaarlo Juho Ståhlberg inherited his modus operandi from the traditional procedures as modified during Svinhufvud's presidency of the Senate, and his protocol from Mannerheim's regency. His own task consisted of putting into effect the division of powers and the parliamentarianism provided for in the Form of Government of 1919 and especially of developing the 'correct' interpretation of this document's statutes relating to the conduct of foreign policy.
Ståhlberg's presidency was characterised on the one hand by the teething problems of a newly independent nation and on the other by political problems specific to the times. The hostility of hardline supporters of the monarchists and Mannerheim supporters was totally immoderate. The status of Ahvenanmaa (Åland) led to a crisis with Sweden, a matter which was laid before the League of Nations for resolution. As commander-in-chief of the army, the president was in constant dispute with the officer corps; the order given to Major-General Karl Emil Berg to restore order in the Civil Guards was carried out, but it led to Berg's suicide. Later Ståhlberg also ran into difficulties with a mass resignation of officers. Worries were also created for him by the implementation of the Tartu Peace Treaty, concluded in 1920, and by the withdrawal of Finnish forces from Eastern Karelia; blood also flowed in this instance: Bobi Sivén, a law student acting as the police chief of Repola - which was returned to Russia under the terms of the treaty - shot himself when he heard the news.
In Finland, as in many other European countries, the unstable conditions of the 1920s made it necessary to rule on the basis of short-lived governments. Ståhlberg usually relied on centrist governments. When 'normal parliamentarianism' did not function, Ståhlberg took it upon himself to appoint 'parliamentarian governments of officials'. Acting against a majority of the government, he also dissolved Parliament when it became short of numbers following the arrest of the acting interior minister Otto Åkesson and the jailing by the Turku Appeal Court of all 27 deputies of the Socialist Workers' Party. In this connection, Ståhlberg did not hesitate to fall back on the independent position of the head of state and to act as a pouvoir neutre when parliamentarianism and the division-of-powers system were disrupted.
When his term of office came to an end, Ståhlberg did not stand again. His period as president had been so tough that the prospect of continuing was not attractive; and it is also possible that - as the 'father of the constitution' - he wished to establish the practice of single-term presidencies. Ståhlberg had himself been involved in the writing of a clause in the Form of Government stipulating that the president's salary could be neither increased or reduced during the holder's tenure of office. But it so happened that there was unprecedented inflation during his period as president, and the last years of his presidency thus meant outright financial loss for him. Accommodation for the ex-president was first provided by a flat bought with Ester Ståhlberg's money and later by a villa at Kulosaari financed by a loan. Amongst other positions, Ståhlberg was offered the post of chancellor of the University, which was well paid and involved little work; but he stated that, having escaped from the officers, he did not want to be bothered by students. Ståhlberg chose the job of senior member of the Law Drafting Committee, a position that also provided the opportunity to earn other income, and from 1926 to 1946 he devoted the equivalent of a further working lifetime - or even two - to this job.
Ståhlberg could have rested on his laurels as an elder statesman, but politics was still in his blood. In the presidential election of 1931, he received 149 votes out of 300 in both the second and third rounds, only to lose by the narrowest of margins to Svinhufvud. In the 1937 election he received 150 votes in the first round but was not elected: 'to be on the safe side', the Social Democrats voted for Kyösti Kallio in the second round in order to prevent Svinhufvud's re-election.
In the period between the 1930 and 1932 elections, Ståhlberg was an ordinary member of parliament, participating actively, for example, in the fight against bills aimed at abolishing parliamentarianism. The conflicts between the extreme Right and Ståhlberg did not subside over the years, and in October 1930 supporters of the extremist Lapua Movement attempted to forcibly transport Ståhlberg and his wife to the Soviet Union. This incident accelerated the decline of the movement.
After his retirement in 1946, Ståhlberg did not stop working entirely: he acted, for instance, as an adviser on difficult legal questions to his old friend President Paasikivi. A controversial politician for almost his whole life, Ståhlberg died in 1952 as a statesman universally respected by the whole nation. Self-discipline, a capacity for hard work, modesty and selflessness are characteristics of Kaarlo Juho Ståhlberg that later politicians have found hard to emulate.
Translated by Roderick Fletcher
Kaarlo Juho (Carl Johan) Ståhlberg, born 28.1.1865 Suomussalmi, died 22.9.1952 Helsinki. Parents: Johan Gabriel Ståhlberg, assistant pastor, and Amanda Gustafa Castrén. First wife: 1893 - 1917 Hedvig Irene Wåhlberg, died 1917, first wife's parents: Gustaf Wilhelm Wåhlberg, provincial surveyor, and Eva Fredrika Ståhlberg. Second wife: 1920 - 1950 Ester Hällström, born 1870, died 1950, second wife's parents: Karl Oskar Elfving, mayor, and Jenny Nyman. Children: Kaarlo, born 1894, Master of Science, professor; Aino, born 1895; Elli, born 1899, Licentiate in Medicine; Aune born 1901, child welfare inspector; Juho, born 1907, Master of Laws; Kyllikki (Tuominen), born 1908, senior teacher.