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First Meeting of the Duma (Russian Parliament Convenes), May 10, 1906-July 21, 1906 [historical document]

Дата публикации: 04 сентября 2007
Публикатор: Александр Павлович Шиманский
Рубрика: RUSSIA (TOPICS) - Imperial Russia →
Источник: (c) http://russia.by
Номер публикации: №1188913364 / Жалобы? Ошибка? Выделите проблемный текст и нажмите CTRL+ENTER!

First meeting of Russian representative assembly

Principal Personages

Nicholas, II, Tsar of Russia 1894-1917

Sergei Yulievich Witte, Count, first constitutional Premier of Russia November, 1905-May, 1906

Paul Miliukov, leader of the Constitutional Democrats, or Cadets

Aleksandr Ivanovich Guchkov, leader of the Octobrists

Ivan Longinovich Goremykin, who succeeded Witte in May, 1906

Pëtr Arkadevich Stolypin, who succeeded Goremykin in July, 1906

Summary of Event

The first Duma, or Russian parliament, met in May, 1906, to consolidate the constitutional government that had ostensibly been created by the Tsar, Nicholas II, by the October Manifesto of 1905. The Tsar granted the manifesto in the hope that further violence, such as that which occurred in the Revolution of 1905, would be avoided. Events, however, disappointed him. Less than two months after promulgation of the October Manifesto, the Tsar had been forced to suppress uprisings in Saint Petersburg, Moscow, and elsewhere. The relative ease with which Nicholas handled the rebellions indicated that he still held supreme power in Russia and made him cautious about granting further concessions to the constitutionalists. Thus, as 1906 dawned, two ideologies competed for political supremacy in Russia. The ideologies focused on a revised constitutional monarchy against the continuation and invigoration of an absolute monarchy.

While enthusiastic but inexperienced and uncompromising politicians prepared for the elections to the first Duma, the Tsar and his supporters were moving to undermine and circumvent the power of the soon to be elected Duma. This the Tsar sought to accomplish in a number of ways. The election laws, drawn up by the Tsar-appointed Count Sergei Witte, on the basis of those announced in an imperial decree of August, 1905, provided for indirect elections of representatives, a large proportion of whom were assigned to the rural elements of the population. The government believed that these landowners and peasants would adhere to more conservative views than would townspeople and industrial workers. In another attempt to ensure that conservative ideas were upheld, the Tsar elevated the state council to an upper legislative chamber with powers equal to those of the Duma. Half the members of this body were appointed directly by the Tsar, and the other half were elected by traditionally conservative groups such as the clergy, provincial zemstvos or assemblies, the nobility, and managers of businesses, the universities, and the Academy of Sciences. Finally, in the week before the first meeting of the Duma, the government issued the "Fundamental Laws" which specified the powers, or more accurately the lack of powers, of the legislative body. These laws upheld and strengthened the autocratic authority of the Tsar by decreeing that no bills could become law until they were passed by both houses and were signed by the Tsar. The Tsar's ministers were responsible to him alone and not to the Duma. Control of the budget was not to rest with the Duma alone; if the two houses approved different budget figures the Tsar could accept either, and if no budget passed the legislature, the government could continue to use the one adopted the previous year. The Tsar retained absolute control over foreign policy, appointments, censorship, the armed forces, the police, and the summoning and dismissal of the Duma. When the Duma was not in session, the Tsar could rule by decree, theoretically subject to review by the Duma when it reconvened. Altogether, Witte's election laws, the expansion of the state council into a conservatively oriented upper house, and the Fundamental Laws had the collective result of nullifying the October Manifesto and the constitutional government which it had promised to establish.

Meanwhile the various political parties and factions which had emerged in the wake of the Revolution of 1905 were making preparations for elections to the first Duma, planned for March, 1906. The two leading political parties, both of which could be described as moderate, were the Constitutional Democratic Party, or Cadets, and the Union of October 17, or Octobrists. Founded late in 1905, these two parties competed vigorously with each other in the election campaigns. The Cadets, led by the distinguished Russian historian Paul Miliukov, championed the establishment of a parliamentary government under a constitutional monarchy, full participation of the Duma in framing a new constitution, and the expropriation of large estates, whose owners were to be compensated. The program of the Octobrists, led by Aleksandr Ivanovich Guchkov, was generally more conservative and was critical of the land expropriation scheme of the Cadets. With some exceptions, the radical Social Revolutionaries and the Social Democrats boycotted the elections. When the votes were counted, the Cadets had won 180 of the 520 seats, while the Octobrists secured only twelve mandates. In all, some forty political groups comprised the first Duma.

Nicholas II, with a speech from the throne, formally convened the first meeting of the Duma on May 10, 1906, in the Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg. From the outset it was clear that the government had no intention of permitting the Duma to exercise any real authority. The government was especially disturbed by the fact that conservative elements failed to elect a single deputy to the Duma, which the Tsar naively believed would be largely conservative in tone. Hence he was surprised when the Duma, shortly after its convocation, presented an "address to the throne" in which it demanded universal suffrage, direct elections, abolition of the upper chamber, parliamentary government, and extensive land reform based on the expropriation of large estates.

Witte resigned as premier and was succeeded by Ivan Longinovich Goremykin. On May 26, Goremykin delivered an address to the Duma in which he categorically rejected all these demands. Undaunted, the Duma persisted in its demands for extensive reforms during the two months it was allowed to remain in session. During this period, a vacillating Nicholas considered a proposal to bring Cadets into the government as a means of quelling opposition in the Duma. But the reluctance of Miliukov to accept such a compromise, combined with the reservations of the Minister of the Interior, Pëtr Arkadevich Stolypin, led Nicholas to dissolve the Duma on July 21. Stolypin, appointed on the same day to succeed Goremykin, pursued a reactionary course in the wake of the Duma's fall.

Some two hundred deputies, however, refused to accept the dissolution of the Duma. Crossing the border into the Grand Duchy of Finland, they gathered in the town of Viborg and there signed the so-called "Viborg Manifesto," drawn up by Paul Miliukov. In this appeal, the deputies rejected the government's dissolution of the Duma as illegal. They further insisted, without any legal foundations for their claims, that the government could not collect taxes or draft conscripts for military service without the consent of the Duma. What is truly significant about this appeal is that it earned its supporters a three-months' term in prison which marked them as criminals and hence ineligible to stand for reëlection to any further Dumas, the second of which was to meet early in 1907. Deprived of some of its most competent political leaders, the cause of constitutionalism declined considerably in the years until the outbreak of the great Revolution of 1917.


Seton-Watson, Hugh. The Decline of Imperial Russia, 1855-1914. Frederick A. Praeger Publishers, Inc, 1952.

Florinsky, Michael T. Russia: A History and Interpretation. 2. The Macmillan Company, 1958.

Pares, SirBernard. "The Reform Movement in Russia," The University Press, The Cambridge Modern History. Ed. A. W. Ward. 12(1910)Ch. XIII.

Wren, Melvin C. The Course of Russian History. 3rd. The Macmillan Company, 1968.

Chamberlain, William Henry. The Russian Revolution, 1917-1921. 1. The Macmillan Company, 1935.
All the works cited above offer brief treatments concerning the meeting of the first Duma

Postgate, Raymond, ed. Revolution from 1789 to 1906. Grant Richards Ltd., 1920; in paperback, Harper Torchbooks.
A collection of documents which includes the text of the Viborg Manifesto

Опубликовано 04 сентября 2007 года

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