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Pehr Evind Svinhufvud

Pehr Evind Svinhufvud
Born December 15, 1861, Sääksmäki. Died February 29, 1944, Luumäki.

Master of Arts (History), 1881, Imperial Alexander University
Master of Laws (Roman and Canon), 1886, Imperial Alexander University
Master of Laws, 1888

Assessor, Turku Court of Appeals, 1902
Judge, Heinola Circuit, 1906
Judge, Lappee Circuit, 1908
Procurator, 1917–1918

Managing Director, Suomen Vakuus Ltd (finance), 1919–1920
President of the Senate, 27.11.1917–27.5.1918
State Protector, 18.5.–12.12.1918
Member, High Court of Impeachment, 1919–1931
Prime Minister, 4.7.1930–18.2.1931
President of the Republic, 1931–1937

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Written by Tero Juutilainen
Translated by John Calton

A politician and stickler for the law

Pehr Evind Svinhufvud was born in December 1861 into the aristocracy in Sääksmäki, Häme. His noble birth bore little relation to his material circumstances however. When he was just a few years old he lost his grandfather and father, who was a sea captain, and the family were forced to give up their estate in Rapola. His aunt Olga brought the family to Helsinki, earning her living working in the office of Hypoteekkiyhdistys, a Helsinki-based building society.

Svinhufvud was only sixteen when he enrolled for the Imperial Alexander University. He did not begin his legal studies immediately however, choosing first to take a lower degree in Finnish, Russian and Scandinavian history under the tutelage of Yrjö Sakari Yrjö-Koskisen. Then he did indeed transfer to the law faculty which was ultimately to shape his career path.  Juho Kusti Paasikivi was to follow the same academic progression about a decade later.

Svinhuvfud was not especially keen to take part in politics, not even the Diet. He had in mind an ordinary civil service career involving law. The work however directed him more fully towards politics than he might otherwise have wished, especially following the February manifesto, the 1899 decree according to which Tsar Nicholai II sought to limit Finland’s legislative autonomy. As a judge at the Turku Court of Appeal, he was forced to take a stand on the legality of the Imperial decree and later in his capacity as procurator he did indeed take a stand on the legality of dissolving the Finnish parliament in 1917.

In spite of everything, Svinhufvud bid for and was elected to stand for parliament during its first parliamentary session. Svinhufvud had already gained a reputation as an unswervingly exacting legal eagle, and he was immediately appointed as the speaker of the parliament. With his forceful rhetorical style he gave those in power grey hairs and on several occasions parliament had to be dissolved during his incumbency.

In 1913 Svinhufvud was no longer elected as speaker, because the political parties were concerned that he would prove too disruptive of parliamentary business. Svinhufvud withdrew from parliamentary activity, although he remained an MP.  Instead he turned his attention to justice, serving as a judge at the court in Lappee, eastern Finland. Svinhufvud refused to tone down his opinions, which eventually led to him being sent to Siberia under the orders of Governor-General Franz Seyn. The deportation came to an end in March 1917 with the Russian revolution. When Svinhufvud returned to Helsinki, he was greeted by a large crowd of wellwishers.

Svinhufvud was a seminal figure in Finland’s development towards an independent state, albeit his role was a conflicted one. Upon his return the interim Russian government appointed him procurator, the supreme law enforcer. Furthermore undere his leadership a so-called independence senate was formed, who task in March 1917 was to liberate Finland from the Russian yoke. As chairman of the new senate he was the prime minister de facto. This double role was not to last long however. After the 1918 Civil War he gave up both positions and resumed the life of a private person. In recognition of his service to Finland the Faculty granted him the title of honorary doctor in 1919.

P.E. Svinhufvud and the so-called independence senate. Svinhufvud is located in the middle. Photo: Finland's National Board of Antiquities.​​
P.E. Svinhufvud and the so-called independence senate. Svinhufvud is located in the middle. Photo: Finland's National Board of Antiquities.​​

Sources (mainly in Finnish):

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