Mikhail Mikhailovich Speranskii

Speranskii, Mikhail Mikhailovich

 

Born Jan. 1 (12), 1772, in the village of Cherkutino, now in Vladimir Oblast; died Feb. 11 (23), 1839, in St. Petersburg. Russian statesman; count (1839).

The son of a priest, Speranskii graduated from the Alexander Nevsky Seminary in St. Petersburg in 1791. He entered the government service in 1797. From 1803 to 1807 he was director of a department in the Ministry of Internal Affairs. He drew up several projects for governmental reform, the most important of which was the Memorandum on the System of Legislative and Administrative Institutions in Russia (1803). In 1807, Speranskii became secretary of state to Alexander I, and in 1808, a member of the Commission on Revision of the Laws and a deputy minister of justice.

At the request of Alexander I, in 1809 Speranskii prepared a plan of governmental reform, the Introduction to the Code of State Laws. In it, he recommended that in order to avoid potential revolutionary upheavals in Russia, the autocracy should adopt the outward forms of a constitutional monarchy. These would include the election of some officials, the reorganization of the courts and of governmental controls, and the separation of powers. According to Speranskii’s plan, political rights were to be conferred only on the dvorianstvo (nobility or gentry) and the middle class—the merchants, meshchane (middle-class urban dwellers), and state peasants. The middle class would elect a legislative state duma (representative chamber), administrative okrug (district) and gubernia (provincial) councils, and judiciary bodies. The working people—serfs, workers, and domestic servants—were given only limited civil rights, and the institution of serfdom was retained. Speranskii believed that serfdom would gradually disappear as industry, trade, and education developed. On his initiative, a decree was issued in 1809 that required all state officials to have a certain level of education.

Speranskii introduced a few administrative measures, the most important of which established the State Council (1810). His efforts displeased the conservative members of the dvorianstvo, who scorned him as an upstart, accused him of treason, and brought about his downfall. In 1812, Speranskii was exiled to Ni-zhny Novgorod, and later to Perm’. He was appointed governor of Penza Province in 1816. In 1819 he became governor-general of Siberia, where he initiated administrative reforms.

Speranskii was recalled to St. Petersburg in 1821 and appointed a member of the State Council and of the Siberian Committee and supervisor of the Commission on Revision of the Laws. By this time he had become a proponent of absolute monarchy. He wrote the manifesto of Dec. 13, 1825, concerning the accession of Nicholas I to the throne, and was a member of the Supreme Criminal Court that tried the Decembrists.

In 1826, Speranskii became the de facto head of the Second Section of His Imperial Majesty’s Own Chancery, which dealt with the codification of laws. He directed the compilation of the Complete Collection of Laws of the Russian Empire (Polnoe sobrante zakonov Rossiiskoi imperii), in 45 volumes (1830), and of the Code of Laws of the Russian Empire (Svod zakonov Rossiiskoi imperii), in 15 volumes (1832). Speranskii belonged to a number of higher governmental committees in the 1820’s and 1830’s. From 1835 to 1837 he instructed the future Alexander II in law. In 1838, Speranskii became chairman of the department of laws of the State Council.

WORKS

Obozrenie istoricheskikh svedeniio svode zakonov. Odessa, 1889.
Plan gosudarstvennogo preobrazovaniia (Vvedenie k Ulozheniiu gosudarstvennykh zakonov). Moscow, 1905.
Proekty i zapiski. Moscow-Leningrad, 1961.

REFERENCES

Korf, M. M. Zhizn’ grafa Speranskogo, vols. 1–2. St. Petersburg, 1861.
Chernyshevskii, N. G. “Russkii reformator (retsenziia na kniazia M. Korfa).” Poln. sobr. soch.,vol.7. Moscow, 1950.
Dovnar-Zapol’skii, M. V. Politicheskie idealy M. M. Speranskogo. Moscow, 1905.
Predtechenskii, A. V. Ocherki obshchestvenno-politicheskoi istorii Rossii v pervoi chetverti XIX v. Moscow, 1957.

N. P. EROSHKIN

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