Российская Империя
Rossiyskaya Imperiya

Russian Empire

Flag of None
Flag of None
Flag of the Ottoman Empire
Flag of None
1721–1917 Flag of Russia
Flag of Russia Coat of Arms of the Russian Empire
С нами Бог!
God is with us!
Боже, Царя храни!
God Save The Tsar!
Map of the Russian Empire
CapitalSt. Petersburg
Government Absolute monarchy
- 1894-1917Nicholas II
Chairmen of the Council of Ministers
- 1917Nikolai Golitsyn
Legislature Governing Senate
- Upper houseState Council
- Lower houseState Duma
May 7, 1682 Accession of Peter I
October 22, 1721Established
December 26, 1825Decembrist revolt
March 3, 1861Abolition of feudalism
May 6, 1906Constitution
March 15, 1917February Revolution
November 7, 1917October Revolution
Area23,700,000 km²
Flag of None Russian Tsardom
Flag of None Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth
Flag of the Ottoman Empire Ottoman Empire
Flag of None Swedish Empire
Provisional Government Flag of Russia

The Russian Empire (1721-1917) was an absolute monarchy with its main territory in Europe and Asia.

Government Edit

The Council of the Empire, or Imperial Council (Gosudarstvenniy Sovyet), as reconstituted for this purpose, consists of 196 members, of whom 98 are nominated by the emperor, while 98 are elective. The ministers, also nominated, are ex officio members. Of the elected members 3 are returned by the "black" clergy (the monks), 3 by the "white" clergy (seculars), 18 by the corporations of nobles, 6 by the academy of sciences and the universities, 6 by the chambers of commerce, 6 by the industrial councils, 34 by the governments having zemstvos, 16 by those having no zemstvos, and 6 by Poland. As a legislative body the powers of the Council are co-ordinate with those of the Duma; in practice, however, it has seldom if ever initiated legislation.

The members of the Duma are elected by electoral colleges in each government, and these in their turn are elected, like the zemstvos, by electoral assemblies chosen by the three classes of landed proprietors, citizens and peasants. In these assemblies the large proprietors sit in person, being thus electors in the second degree; the lesser proprietors are represented by delegates, and therefore elect in the third degree. The urban population, divided into two categories according to their taxable wealth, elects delegates direct to the college of the government (Guberniya), and is thus represented in the second degree; but the system of division into categories, according not to the number of taxpayers but to the amount they pay, gives a great preponderance to the richer classes. The peasants are represented only in the fourth degree, since the delegates to the electoral college are elected by the volosts. The workmen, finally, are specially treated. Every industrial concern employing fifty hands or over elects one or more delegates to the electoral college of the government, in which, like the others, they form a separate curia. In the college itself the voting - secret and by ballot throughout - is by majority; and since this majority consists, under the actual system, of very conservative elements (the landowners and urban delegates having 8ths of the votes), the progressive elements - however much they might preponderate in the country - would have no chance of representation at all save for the curious provision that one member at least in each government must be chosen from each of the five classes represented in the college. For example, were there no reactionary peasant among the delegates, a reactionary majority might be forced to return a Social Democrat to the Duma. As it is, though a fixed minimum of peasant delegates must be returned, they by no means probably represent the opinion of the peasantry. That in the Duma any Radical elements survive at all is mainly due to the peculiar franchise enjoyed by the seven largest towns - St Petersburg, Moscow, Kiev, Odessa, Riga and the Polish cities of Warsaw and Lodz. These elect their delegates to the Duma direct, and though their votes are divided into two curias (on the basis of taxable property) in such a way as to give the advantage to wealth, each returning the same number of delegates, the democratic colleges can at least return members of their own complexion.' The competence of the Russian parliament' thus constituted is strictly limited. It shares with the emperor the legislative power, including the discussion and sanctioning of the budget. But, so far as the parliament is concerned, this power is subject to numerous and important exceptions. All measures, e.g. dealing with the organization of the army and navy are outside its competence; these are no longer called " laws " but " ordinary administrative rules." Moreover, the procedure of the Houses practically places the control of legislation in the hands of ministers. Any member may bring in a " project of law," but it has to be submitted to the minister of the department concerned, who is allowed a month to consider it, and himself prepares the final draft laid on the table of the House. Amendments, however, may be and have been carried against the government. Ministers are responsible, moreover, not to parliament but to the emperor. They may be interpellated, but only on the legality, not the policy, of their acts. In the words of M. Stolypin, there is no intention of converting the ministerial bench into a prisoners' dock. If by a two-thirds majority the action of a minister be arraigned, the president of the Imperial Council lays the case before the emperor, who decides. The powers of the parliament over the budget are even more limited, though not altogether illusory. No legislation by means of the budget is allowed, i.e. no alteration may be made in credits necessary for carrying out a law. This deprives parliament of control over the administrative departments, all the ministries being thus " armour-plated " - to use the cant phrase current in Russia - except that of ways and communications (railways). The sum of 700,000,000 roubles per annum is thus excepted from the control of the chambers. Other exceptions are the " Institutions of the Empress Marie," which absorb, inter alia, the duties on playing-cards and the taxes on places of public entertainment; the imperial civil list, so far as this does not exceed the sum fixed in 1906 (16,359,595 roubles!); the expenses of the two imperial chanceries, 10,000,000 roubles per annum, which constitute in effect a secret service fund. Altogether, half the annual expenditure of the country is outside the control of parliament. Nor is this all. If the budget be not sanctioned by the emperor, that of the previous year remains in force, and the government has power, motu proprio, to impose the extra taxes necessary to carry out new laws. In certain circumstances, too, the emperor reserves the right to raise fresh loans.

Further, the emperor has the power to issue ordinances having the force of law, i.e. under extraordinary circumstances when the Duma is not sitting. These ordinances must, however, be of a temporary nature, must not infringe the fundamental laws or statutes passed by the two chambers, or change the electoral system, and must be laid upon the table of the Duma at the first opportunity. Since, however, the emperor has the power of proroguing or dissolving the Duma as often as he pleases, it is clear that these temporary ordinances might in effect be made permanent. Finally, the emperor has the right to proclaim anywhere and at any time a state of siege. In this way the fundamental laws were suspended not only in Poland but in St Petersburg and other parts of the empire during the greater part of the four years succeeding the grant of the constitution.

It should be noted, none the less, that the third Duma succeeded in establishing its position, and that in view of its useful activities even the extreme Right came to realize that there could be no return to the old undisguised absolutist regime.

By the law of the 18th of October (November i) 1905, to assist the emperor in the supreme administration a Council of Ministers (Sovyet Ministrov) was created, under a minister president the first appearance of a prime minister in Russia. This council consists of all the ministers and of the heads of the principal administrations.

The ministries are as follows:

  1. of the Imperial Court, to which the administration of the apanages, the chapter of the imperial orders, the imperial palaces and theatres, and the Academy of Fine Arts are subordinated;
  2. Foreign Affairs;
  3. War and Marine;
  4. Finance;
  5. Commerce and Industry (created in 1905);
  6. Interior (including police, health, censorship and press, posts and telegraphs, foreign religions, statistics);
  7. Agriculture;
  8. Ways and Communications;
  9. Justice;
  10. Public Instruction.

Dependent on the Council of Ministers are two other councils: the Holy Synod and the Senate.

The Holy Synod (established in 1721) is the supreme organ of government of the Orthodox Church in Russia. It is presided over by a lay procurator, representing the emperor, and consists, for the rest, of the three metropolitans of Moscow, St Petersburg and Kiev, the archbishop of Georgia, and a number of bishops sitting in rotation.

The Senate (Pravitelstvuyushchi Senat, i.e. directing or governing senate), originally established by Peter the Great, consists of members nominated by the emperor. Its functions, which are exceedingly various, are carried out by the different departments into which it is divided. It is the supreme court of cassation (see Judicial System, below); an audit office, a high court of justice for all political offences; one of its departments fulfils the functions of a heralds' college. It also has supreme jurisdiction in all disputes arising out of the administration of the empire, notably differences between the representatives of the central power and the elected organs of local self-government. Lastly, it examines into registers and promulgates new laws, a function which, in theory, gives it a power, akin to that of the Supreme Court of the United States, of rejecting measures not in accordance with the fundamental laws.[1]

Administrative divisions Edit

For purposes of provincial administration Russia is divided into 78 governments (guberniya), 18 provinces (oblast) and r district (okrug). Of these 11 governments, 17 provinces and 1 district (Sakhalin) belong to Asiatic Russia. Of the rest 8 governments are in Finland, ro in Poland. European Russia thus embraces 59 governments and 1 province (that of the Don). The Don province is under the direct jurisdiction of the ministry of war; the rest have each a governor and deputy-governor, the latter presiding over the administrative council. In addition there are governors-general, generally placed over several governments and armed with more extensive powers, usually including the command of the troops within the limits of their jurisdiction. In 1906 there were governors-general in Finland, Warsaw, Vilna, Kiev, Moscow and Riga. The larger cities (St. Petersburg, Moscow, Odessa, Sevastopol, Kertch-Yenikala, Nikolayev, Rostov) have an administrative system of their own, independent of the governments; in these the. chief of police acts as governor. As organs of the Police central government there are further, the ispravniki, chiefs of police in the districts into which the governments are divided. These are nominated by the governors,' and have under their orders in the principal localities commissaries (stanovoi pristav). Ispravniki and stanovoi alike are armed with large and ill-defined powers; and, since they are for the most part illiterate and wholly ignorant of the law, they have proved exasperating engines of oppression. Towards the end of the reign of Alexander II., the government, in order to preserve order in the country districts, also created a special class of mounted rural policemen (uryadniki, from uriad, order), who, armed with power to arrest all suspects on the spot, rapidly became the terror of the countryside. 2 Finally, in the towns every house is provided with a detective policeman in the person of the porter (dvornik), who is charged with the duty of reporting to the police the presence of any suspicious characters or anything else that may interest them. In addition to the above there is also a police organization, in direct subordination to the ministry of the interior, of which the principal function is the discovery, pre vention and extirpation of political sedition. A secret police, armed with inquisitorial and arbitrary powers, has always existed in autocratic Russia. Its most famous development was the so-called " Third Section " (of the imperial chancery) instituted by the emperor Nicholas I. in 1826. This was entirely independent of the ordinary police, but was associated with the previously existing corps of gendarmes (Korpus Zhandarmov), whose chief was placed at its head. Its object had originally been to keep the emperor in close touch with all the branches of the administration and to bring to his notice any abuses and irregularities, and for this purpose its chief was in constant personal intercourse with the sovereign. Actually, however, its activity, directed mainly to the discovery of political offences, degenerated into a hideous reign of terror. Its organization was spread all over Russia; its procedure was secret and summary (transportation by administrative order); and, its instruments being for the most part ignorant and largely corrupt, its victims were counted by thousands.

The "Third Section" was suppressed by Alexander II. in 1880, but only in name. In fact it was transformed into a separate department of the ministry of the interior, and, provided with an enormous secret service fund, soon dominated the whole ministry. The corps of gendarmes was also incorporated in this department, the under-secretary of the interior being placed at its head and at that of the police generally, with practically unlimited jurisdiction in all cases which, in the judgement of the minister of the interior, required to be dealt with by processes outside the ordinary law. In 1896 the powers of the minister were extended at the expense of those of the under-secretary, who remained only at the head of the corps of gendarmes; but by a law of the 24th of September 1904 this was again reversed, and the under-secretary was again placed at the head of all the police with the title of under-secretary for the administration of the police.

Local Elected Administrative Bodies. - Alongside the local organs of the central government in Russia there are three classes of local elected bodies charged with administrative functions: (I) the peasant assemblies in the mir and the volost, From Catherine II.'s time to that of Alexander II. they were elected by the nobles. This was changed in consequence of the emancipation of the serfs.

Secret police. Since 1870 the municipalities in European Russia have had institutions like those of the zemstvos. All owners of houses, and tax-paying merchants, artisans and workmen to their assessed wealth. The total valuation is then divided into three equal parts, representing three groups of electors very unequal in number, each of which elects an equal number of delegates to the municipal duma. The executive is in the hands of an elective mayor and an uprava, which consists of several members elected by the duma. Under Alexander III., however, by laws promulgated in 1892 and 1894, the municipal dumas were subordinated to the governors in the same way as the zemstvos. In 1894 municipal institutions, with still more restricted powers, were granted to several towns in Siberia, and in 1895 to some in Caucasia.

In the Baltic provinces (Courland (|), Livonia (|) and Estonia) the landowning classes formerly enjoyed considerable powers of self-government and numerous privileges in matters affecting education, police and the administration of local justice. But by laws promulgated in 1888 and 1889 the rights of police and manorial justice were transferred from the landlords to officials of the central government. Since about the same time a process of rigorous Russification has been carried through in the same provinces, in all departments of administration, in the higher schools and in the university of Dorpat, the name of which was altered to Yuriev. In 1893 district committees for the management of the peasants' affairs, similar to those in the purely Russian governments, were introduced into this part of the empire.[1]


  • Nicholas II () (November 1, 1894 - March 15, 1917)

Chairmen of the Council of Ministers

  • Nikolai Golitsyn () (January 9, 1917 - March 15, 1917)


Russian Polities

Neighbouring Nations


  1. Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.)

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