Administrative History of European Russia 1796-1917

Note : the following text discusses the administrative history of the European part of the Russian Empire without Finland, Congress Poland and the Russian Caucasus, areas which are discussed elsewhere at WHKMLA.

Administrative Division : Gubernias
Note : the spelling of gubernias in Belarus, Ukraine applied here follows the English transcription of the Russian names as used in the 19th century.
Peter the Great introduced the division of the Russian Empire into (a few, large) gubernias (governorates) in 1708. Throughout the 18th century, the system got refined, then in 1776-1780 replaced by Viceroyalties (Namestichestvos); in 1796-1797 the latter were again transformed into (more, smaller) gubernias. With only a few modifications, these gubernias remained constant features in Russian administrative history from 1796 to 1917.

Modifications 1797-1917 :
1802 : Belarussian Gubernia partitioned into Vitebsk and Mogilev Gubernias
1802 : Grodno Gubernia split from Lithuania Gubernia
1802 : Ekaterinoslav Namestichestvo partitioned into Kherson, Taurida and Ekaterinoslav Gubernias
1807 : Bialystok Oblast annexed
1809 : Tarnopol Oblast annexed
1812 : Bessarabia Oblast annexed
1815 : Tarnopol Oblast ceded
1843 : Lithuania Gubernia split into Kovno, Vilna Gubernia
1843 : Grodno Gubernia annexed Bialystok Oblast, ceded Lida Uyezd to Vilna Gubernia, Novogrudok Uyezd to Minsk Gubernia
1851 : Samara Gubernia formed of territory ceded by Saratov Gubernia, Simbirsk Gubernia, Orenburg Gubernia; part of Saratov Gubernia annexed by Astrakhan Gubernia
1865 : Ufa Gubernia split from Orenburg Gubernia
1873 : Bessarabia Oblast elevated to Bessarabia Gubernia
1887 : Ekaterinoslav Gubernia ceded Rostov Uyezd to Don Cossack Host

The gubernias were administrated by governors. In 1864 the legislation preparing the zemstvo institution was passed, in 1865 the zemstvo institutions on gubernia level were established in core Russia, among others zemstvo dumas (parliaments), which were dominated by estate owners (.e. largely by nobles). The zemstvo dumas were responsible for administrating regional affairs.
In Courland, Livland and Reval Gubernia the zemstvo constitution was not introduced as traditionally the Ritterschaft had played a similar role and cntinued to function. In Kiev, Podolia, Volhynia, Mogilev, Vitebsk, Vilna, Minsk, Grodno and Kovno Gubernia, the zemstvo constitution was only introduced in 1911, as for a long time the Russian administration did not trust the local nobility, suspected of sympathizing with the Polish cause (the Polish Rebellions of 1830-1831 and 1863-1864 had affected the area). The zemstvo constitution was not introduced in Astrakhan, Orenburg Gubernia, the Ural Cossack Host and the Don Cossack Host, which in essence were regarded frontier country.

Cabinets of the Russian Empire

The cabinets of the Russian Empire were to administrate the country in the name and interest of the Czar. The Committee of Ministers was established in 1802. Until 1905 it was headed by the Chairmen of the Committee of Ministers. In 1906 the Committee of Ministers was elevated to Council of Ministers; from 1906 to 1917 it was headed by Prime Ministers. The Councils of Miisters since 1906, compared to earlier Committees, enjoyed a higher degree of authority, functioning as real cabinets (Wikipedia : Council of Ministers)

The State Duma of the Russian Empire

Until 1905, participation of the populace in the political process was limited to the gubernia level, and there electoral regulations limited participation to a tiny minority, ensuring that the landowning nobility dominated the zemstvo dumas.
In consequence of the Russian Revolution, the State Duma of the Russian Empire was introduced. The Czar and his administration soon had second thoughts, disbanding the First and Second Duma early, and not trusting the Third Duma although her composition by comparison had been the most conservative so far. Only in the February Revolution (March 1917) did the State Duma of the Russian Empire actually assume the position of a functioning parliament.

The Soviets

In 1905, in St. Petersburg the first Soviet (Soldiers' and Workers' Council) was established, as a municipal council forming a countermodel to city hall. One has to keep in mind that the local and regional councils in charge of local and regional self-administration were subject to a franchise which heavily favoured the landowning classes on the countryside, the wealthy in the cities. The establishment of Soviets in other cities, most notably Moscow, followed; until 1917 they remained debate clubs with limited authority.

Articles History of the Administrative Division of Russia 1708-1744, Russian Council of Ministers, Soviet (Council), State Duma of the Russian Empire, Zemstvo, from Wikipedia
Category Governorates of the Russian Empire
Article Zemstvo, Entries Gubernia, from Encyclopedia of Ukraine
Administrative-Territorial Division of Belarus : 18th to 20th Centuries, from Archives of Belarus
DOCUMENTS Atlasses printed in the 19th century, posted by Martin Hensen, M. Witkam
Map European Russia Administrative 1897, from Köztes Europa

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on March 29th 2008, last revised on September 17th 2008

Click here to go Home
Click here to go to Information about KMLA, WHKMLA, the author and webmaster
Click here to go to Statistics