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Abstract A large literature emphasizes that elite capture of political institutions hampered the spread of mass schooling in the nineteenth and twentieth century. We collect new data on investments in elementary education and the distribution of voting rights for more than 2,000 local governments in nineteenth-century Sweden and document that educational expenditure was higher where the distribution of political power was more unequal. In particular, areas governed by local landed elites–even those where a single landowner had de jure dictatorial powers–invested substantially more in mass schooling relative to areas where political power was more widely shared, or where it lay in the hands of capitalist elites. Our findings lend quantitative support to an earlier literature produced by economic and social historians which argues that landed elites advanced mass schooling as part of their historical role as patrons of the local community and as a response to the increasing proletarianization of the rural population, while also furthering our understanding of how Sweden maintained a high level of human capital despite its low level of economic development and restricted franchise in the nineteenth century.