Fundamental State Laws of the Russian Empire

Fundamental State Laws of the Russian Empire

 

(Osnovnye Gosudarstvennye Zakony), a codification of those legislative enactments that dealt with the basic principles of the constitutional structure of tsarist Russia.

The Fundamental State Laws were first classified and defined by M. M. Speranskii in the first edition of his Code of Laws of the Russian Empire (vol. 1, part 1: On the Sacred Rights and Privileges of the Supreme Autocratic Authority, arts. 1–81, and Enactment on the Imperial Family, arts. 82–179). A review of the Fundamental State Laws was undertaken in 1906. The formal objective of the review was to bring the traditional prerogatives of the monarch into conformance with the requirements of the Manifesto of October 17, 1905. The creation of the Council of Ministers and State Duma, as well as the reorganization of the State Council, also necessitated changes in the tsar’s historical prerogatives. This revision of the Fundamental State Laws reflected the evolution of autocracy toward a bourgeois monarchy under the influence of the Revolution of 1905–07.

Constitutional concessions were negligible. The legislative power of the State Duma was limited by the stipulation that all laws adopted by the Duma be approved by the tsar. The tsar retained unlimited authority to initiate legislation; he alone could issue new Fundamental State Laws. He had the right to enact emergency legislation when the Duma was not in session, but such legislation had to be ratified by the Duma within two months. The Duma’s budgetary prerogatives were violated by the tsar’s right to authorize emergency military expenditures and loans. The stated rights of Russian citizens, such as inviolability of person and freedom of speech and press, could be rescinded upon the tsar’s declaration of martial law or a state of emergency.

The laws strengthened the autocrat’s executive authority, which included supreme command of the country and the appointment and replacement of government administrations, which were responsible only to the monarch. The tsar possessed the right to direct foreign policy and to declare war or make peace. The Fundamental State Laws safeguarded the unity of the empire, declared Russian the official language, and confirmed the policy of oppressing national minorities. The laws were in force until the February Revolution of 1917.

SOURCES

Svod zakonov Rossiiskoi imperii [vol. 1] part 1: Osnovnye zakony i uchrezhdeniia gosudarstvennye. St. Petersburg, 1832.
Sobranie uzakonenii i rasporiazhenii Pravitel’stva, Apr. 24, 1906, no. 98. St. Petersburg, 1906.
Zakonodatel’nye akty perekhodnogo vremeni, 1904–1908: Sb. zakonov, manifestov, ukazov…, 3rd ed. St. Petersburg, 1909. Pages 615–67.
Osnovnye gosudarstvennye zakony (Svod zakonov, t. 1, ch. 1-ia), izd. 1906: Alfavitnyi ukazatel’: Dopolnenie. St. Petersburg, 1912.
Poln. sobr. zakonov, 3rd ed. vol. 26, 1906. St. Petersburg, 1909, section 1, no. 27805.

REFERENCES

Lenin, V. I. “O sotsial’noi strukture vlasti, perspektivakh i lik-vidatorstve.” Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 20.
“Protokoly sekretnogo soveshchaniia ν aprele 1906 g. pod predsedatel’stvom byvshego imperatora po peresmotru osnovnykh zakonov.” Byloe, 1917, no. 4 (26).

M. S. SIMONOVA

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