First Meeting of the Duma Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The first meeting of the Duma increased the political clout of Russian radical liberals, who lobbied for full parliamentary government and unsuccessfully pressured Czar Nicholas II to abandon attempts to preserve his personal autocratic rule.

Summary of Event

The first Duma, or Russian parliament, met in May of 1906 to consolidate the constitutional government that had ostensibly been created by Czar Nicholas II by means of the October Manifesto of 1905. The czar granted the manifesto in the hope of avoiding further violence such as that witnessed during the Revolution of 1905. Events, however, disappointed him. Less than two months after promulgating the October Manifesto, the czar was forced to suppress uprisings in St. Petersburg, Moscow, and elsewhere in Russia. 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. These ideologies pitted a revised constitutional monarchy against the continuation and invigoration of an absolute monarchy. Duma;first meeting October Manifesto [kw]First Meeting of the Duma (May 10-July 21, 1906) [kw]Duma, First Meeting of the (May 10-July 21, 1906) Duma;first meeting October Manifesto [g]Russia;May 10-July 21, 1906: First Meeting of the Duma[01640] [c]Government and politics;May 10-July 21, 1906: First Meeting of the Duma[01640] [c]Organizations and institutions;May 10-July 21, 1906: First Meeting of the Duma[01640] Goremykin, Ivan Logginovich Guchkov, Aleksandr Ivanovich Miliukov, Pavel Nicholas II [p]Nicholas II[Nicholas 02];formation of Duma Stolypin, Pyotr Arkadyevich Witte, Sergey Yulyevich

While enthusiastic but inexperienced and uncompromising politicians prepared for the elections to the first Duma, the czar and his supporters were moving to undermine and circumvent the power of the soon-to-be elected parliament. Drawn up by the czar’s appointee, Count Sergey Yulyevich Witte, on the basis of guidelines announced in an imperial decree in August of 1905, the election laws 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 czar elevated the State Council to an upper legislative chamber with powers equal to those of the Duma. Half the members of the State Council were appointed directly by the czar, 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,” Fundamental Laws (Russia) which specified the powers—or, more accurately, the lack of powers—of the legislative body. Although Russia would now have an elected legislature, Nicholas II insisted on keeping the title of autocrat. The Fundamental Laws consequently proclaimed: “The All-Russian Emperor possesses Supreme and Autocratic power. To obey His authority not only from fear but also from conscience is ordered by God Himself.” These laws stipulated that no bills could become law until they were passed by both houses and were signed by the czar. There was provision for the Duma to override the czar’s veto of legislation. The czar’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 czar could accept either. If no budget passed the legislature, the government could continue to use the one adopted the previous year. The czar 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 czar 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 seriously compromising the October Manifesto and the constitutional government it had promised to establish. The czar’s attitude did not bode well for the success of even limited representative government in Russia.

Artist's representation of the first meeting of the Duma in 1906.

(Library of Congress)

Meanwhile, the various political parties and factions that had emerged in the wake of the Revolution of 1905 were making preparations for elections to the first Duma, planned for March of 1906. The two leading political parties, both of which could be described as moderate, were the Constitutional Democratic Party, Constitutional Democratic Party (Russia) or the Cadets, and the Union of October 17, or the Octobrists. Octobrists (Russia) Founded late in 1905, these two parties competed vigorously with each other in the election campaigns. The Cadets, led by the distinguished Russian historian Pavel 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, in order to make more land available to the peasants. 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. The Octobrists were willing to work within the constitutional framework established by the Fundamental Laws and Witte’s election laws. With some exceptions, the radical Socialist Revolutionaries and the Social Democrats boycotted the elections. When the votes were counted, the Cadets had won 180 of the 520 seats, whereas the Octobrists secured only 12. In all, the first Duma comprised some forty political groups.

With a speech from the throne, Nicholas II formally convened the first meeting of the Duma on May 10, 1906, in the Winter Palace in St. 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 the conservative elements failed to elect a single deputy to the Duma, which the czar naïvely 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 Logginovich 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. However, the reluctance of Miliukov to accept such a compromise, combined with the reservations of the minister of the interior, Pyotr Arkadyevich 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.

Significance

Some two hundred deputies 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, Viborg Manifesto an appeal drawn up by Miliukov. In this document, the deputies rejected the government’s dissolution of the Duma as illegal. They further insisted, without any legal foundation 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-month term in prison. Their imprisonment then marked them as criminals and made them ineligible to stand for reelection 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 preceding the outbreak of the great Revolution of 1917.

When the second Duma turned out to be even more radical than the first, Stolypin quickly dissolved it and, in June of 1907, carried out a virtual coup d’etat against the Fundamental Laws. He had the czar use his emergency power to enact legislation when the Duma was not in session to issue a decree that redesigned the election system. Stolypin’s alteration of the election laws in this fashion was a violation of the Fundamental Laws. By increasing the representation of the nobility, Stolypin succeeded in producing a conservative majority in subsequent Duma elections, but the unconstitutional method he used to effect this change further undermined the viability of constitutional government in czarist Russia. Duma;first meeting October Manifesto

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ascher, Abraham. The Revolution of 1905: A Short History. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2004. Concise history by a highly respected scholar explores the factionalism among the czar’s opponents as well as that within the Russian government itself. Also discusses the restoration of order in 1906 and 1907.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Emmons, Terence. The Formation of Political Parties and the First National Elections in Russia. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1983. Scholarly monograph analyzes the workings of the liberal political parties and their election to the first Duma in 1906.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Healy, Ann Erickson. The Russian Autocracy in Crisis, 1905-1907. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1976. Study of the 1905 revolution includes a detailed account of the meetings of the first Duma.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Mehlinger, Howard D., and John M. Thompson. Count Witte and the Tsarist Government in the 1905 Revolution. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1972. Focuses on the months between the October Manifesto and Witte’s resignation in April, 1906. Includes an informative discussion of the writing of the Fundamental Laws.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rawson, Don C. Russian Rightists and the Revolution of 1905. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995. Focuses on the emergence of Russian right-wing groups that opposed liberal constitutionalism and radical social reform. Includes illustrations, tables, bibliography, and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Riha, Thomas. A Russian European: Paul Milliukov in Russian Politics. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1969. Political biography of the most prominent leader of the Constitutional Democratic Party focuses on the period from 1905 through 1917.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rogger, Hans. Russia in the Age of Modernisation and Revolution, 1881-1917. London: Longman, 1983. Focuses on the period of Russian history during the reigns of the last two czars, Alexander III and Nicholas II. Includes maps, selected bibliography, and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Verner, Andrew M. The Crisis of Russian Autocracy: Nicholas II and the 1905 Revolution. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1990. Traces the responses of the czar’s government in the face of growing opposition to autocracy.

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Bloody Sunday

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Assassination of Pyotr Arkadyevich Stolypin

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