Rare Books Blog

March 13, 2012

Tomsinov, V. A. Kvestianskaia reforma 1861 goda v Rossii [Peasant Reform of 1861 in Russia]. Moscow: Zertsalo, 2012. Private Collection

Sometimes reforms are born in the bowels of revolution, but like as not also in the measured reflections of a leadership committed to change. The emancipation of Russia’s serfs is properly dated to 19 February 1861, when Alexander II issued the necessary documents to fundamentally reshape the legal relationship between landowner and serf that had subsisted for centuries. In the United States analogous legal relationships had led to a devastating Civil War.

The emancipation of Russian serfs opened a series of “Great State Transformations” that during the 1860-70s brought far-reaching changes to the socio-economic and political life of Russia. Out of a population of 67 million persons (1858-59 census), some 23 million were serfs. It was this segment of the population that was liberated and granted civil rights under Russian law. The reforms immediately demonstrated inadequacies in the judicial system, still appointed on the basis of the old system of estates and incapable of adapting to new circumstances without major changes in court organization and procedure. Other reforms would ensue in higher education, land assemblies, urban affairs, and the military.

Preparations for the emancipation of the serfs commenced as early as November 1857, and by January 1858 a Chief Committee of Peasant Affairs had been established together with numerous provincial committees, charged with reporting to the Government on peasant reform. Once the legislation had been prepared, the drafts were submitted to the State Council, which met on fourteen occasions to discuss them. Finally, on 19 February 1861 the Emperor signed and issued eighteen manifestos, edicts, statutes and rules to introduce and give effect to the emancipation.

The book shown here contains the principal preparatory enactments adopted from 1857 to 1860 and all of the enactments of 19 February 1861. The editor relates the volume to the contemporary issues confronting Russia: “Russia stands at present, as it did 150 years ago, on the edge of an era of Great Reforms” (p. xiv). Twenty years after emancipating the serfs, Emperor Alexander II remarked to his Minister of Finances, A.A. Abaze, on 20 February 1881: “Of all that I have been able to do, I consider the peasant reform the most important achievement of my entire reign”.

See: Alan P. Pollard (ed. & transl.), The Laws of February 18-19, 1861 on the Emancipation of the Russian Peasants (2008).

“Monuments of Imperial Russian Law,” curated by William E. Butler and Mike Widener, is on display Mar. 1 – May 25, 2012, in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

March 13, 2012

Wortman, Richard S. The Development of a Russian Legal Consciousness. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976). Lillian Goldman Law Library

The period 1864 to 1917 is widely known as “The Golden Age” of Russian law and the Russian legal profession. The reforms of the Russian judiciary and establishment of the “Advokatura” (the professional society of legal professionals who represented litigants) were perceived to be the principal reasons for this “Golden Age”.

Wortman’s study (recently translated into Russian) fundamentally altered our perception of these legal reforms. Doubting that a “Golden Age” could appear spontaneously and suddenly, he persuasively traced the reforms back to the professionalization of the Russian civil service under Alexander I, the foundation of law faculties in other urban centers besides Moscow (St. Petersburg, Kiev, Kazan, and others), the formation of a cadre of Russian jurists gradually appointed to administrative, judicial, and academic posts, the inclination of these jurists to regard law as an independent source of authority, the codification of Russian legislation, the publication of treatises and textbooks based on positive Russian law (rather than natural law), and the gradual emergence of an authentic Russian jurisprudence.

For Wortman the judicial reforms of 1864 were not the inexplicable commencement of a Golden Age, but the ultimate culmination of institutional modernization and the happy confluence of personalities. In due course these institutions, and the sense of legal consciousness which they encouraged, proved to be incompatible with the Russian brand of autocratic absolutism and contributed to the appearance of a constitutional monarchy in 1906.

“Monuments of Imperial Russian Law,” curated by William E. Butler and Mike Widener, is on display Mar. 1 – May 25, 2012, in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

March 13, 2012

 

Szeftel, Marc. The Russian Constitution of April 23, 1906: Political Institutions of the Duma Monarchy. Brussels: Librairie Encyclopédique, 1976. Yale University Library

The Russian defeat in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05 weakened the monarchy sufficiently for demands to introduce a “constitution” limiting the powers of the Emperor and creating a parliament called the State Duma to be realized. Although the word “constitution” was never used in the document itself, the expression “Basic Law” has come to mean the equivalent of a constitution in Russian political theory and practice.

Even though the canons of Marx, Engels, and Lenin did not contemplate the enactment of a post-revolutionary constitution, the Bolshevik Party together with the other Russian political parties and movements in existence after the abdication of the Tsar in February 1917 supported the preparation of a Constitution for the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic, ultimately introduced in 1918. In the post-Soviet era those who prepared the present 1993 Constitution of the Russian Federation looked back to the Basic Law of 1906 for inspiration and experience.

Marc Szeftel’s book contains the only English-language translation of the 1906 Russian Basic Law.

 

“Monuments of Imperial Russian Law,” curated by William E. Butler and Mike Widener, is on display Mar. 1 - May 25, 2012, in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

 

March 13, 2012

The exhibit curators wish to thank the following individuals for their help in organizing this exhibit:

Karen S. Beck
Manager, Historical & Special Collections, Harvard Law School Library

Molly Dotson
Bookplate Project Archivist, Robert B. Haas Family Arts Library, Yale University

Paula Zyats
Assistant Chief Conservator, Yale University Libraries

Marjorie F. B. Lemmon
Risk Manager, Yale University

Shana Jackson
Lillian Goldman Law Library

Basia Olszowa
Lillian Goldman Law Library

“Monuments of Imperial Russian Law,” curated by William E. Butler and Mike Widener, is on display Mar. 1 - May 25, 2012, in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

March 13, 2012

 

Bentham, Jeremy (1748-1832). Papers Relative to Codification and Public Instruction: Including Correspondence with The Russian Emperor, and Divers Constituted Authorities in the American United States. London: Printed by J. M’Creery, 1817. Yale University Library

Bentham had genuine expectations of being invited to Russia to help codify the laws of the Russian Empire. The published translation of his work on codification had enjoyed the support of the Emperor himself, who was known to have read the work, and Bentham quietly lobbied his friends in London and in St. Petersburg to further this project.

Napoleon’s invasion of Russia derailed the project. Bentham perhaps did not appreciate how deeply the Napoleonic wars had antagonized the Russian court towards anything French, including the example of the Napoleonic codes. Rightly or wrongly, Bentham was seen as being part of the French codification movement. Emperor Alexander I did not pursue Bentham’s intimations that he would welcome a return to the project, whereupon Bentham, partly in annoyance, published his correspondence and the Reply of the Emperor, together with collateral correspondence conducted along the same lines with American politicians and statesmen – for Bentham likewise entertained hopes of contributing to codification in the United States. Bentham’s correspondents in the United States included Simon Snyder (1759-1819), the Governor of Pennsylvania, and James Madison (1751-1836), late President of the United States.

Rather than pursue codification of law based on abstract principles and logic, Russia turned to its own historical traditions in law. In this Russia was influenced by the thinking of, among others, Friedrich Karl von Savigny (1779-1861), a leading proponent of the historical method and severe critic of the Code system imposed on Europe by Napoleon. Savigny’s attack on codification was first published in 1814 and revised in 1828; for an English version, see Of the Vocation of Our Age for Legislation and Jurisprudence, transl. A. Hayward (1831).

“Monuments of Imperial Russian Law,” curated by William E. Butler and Mike Widener, is on display Mar. 1 - May 25, 2012, in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

 

March 13, 2012

Polnoe sobranie zakonov Rossiiskoi Imperii [Complete Collected Laws of the Russian Empire]. 1st series. 48 vols. St. Petersburg, 1830. Rare Book Collection, Lillian Goldman Law Library

Svod zakonov Rossiiskoi Imperii [Digest of Laws of the Russian Empire]. 16 vols. St. Petersburg, 1904-1905. Rare Book Collection, Lillian Goldman Law Library

Emperor Alexander I laid the ground work for major law reforms. He introduced ministerial reforms to supplant the collegial model of Peter the Great, accompanied by an expansion of the educational system, founding of new universities, and introduction of civil service examinations. Foreign law professors were gradually replaced by Russian-trained candidates. With the abandonment of codification models based on foreign schemes, codification work fell into desuetude. When revived in the spirit of von Savigny, progress was slow.

Nicholas I (1796-1855) acceded to the throne in 1825 and immediately accelerated the pace and altered the direction of systematization. Drawing upon the presence and talents of a small group of lawyers at St. Petersburg University, M.A. Balugianskii (1769-1847), of Hungarian origin, and M.M. Speranskii (1772-1839) brought to completion the most ambitious and comprehensive systematization of legislation attempted in the world.

First to appear was the volume exhibited here, the Complete Collected Laws of the Russian Empire (known by its Russian acronym: PSZ), a chronological collection of Russian legislation (more than 30,000 enactments) commencing with the 1649 Sobornoe Ulozhenie to 1825. The second series of the PSZ was published annually from 1826 to 1881, and the third series from 1881 to 1916. A four-volume addendum to the PSZ includes illustrations such as the guide to weights and measures shown here.

The PSZ formed the foundation for the next stage of systematization, the Digest of Laws of the Russian Empire.

“Monuments of Imperial Russian Law,” curated by William E. Butler and Mike Widener, is on display Mar. 1 - May 25, 2012, in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

March 13, 2012

Speranskii, Mikhail Mikhailovich (1772-1839). Rukovodstvo k poznaniiu zakonov [Manual for Knowledge of Laws]. St. Petersburg, 1845. Rare Book Collection, Lillian Goldman Law Library

M.M. Speranskii is the individual most closely associated with Russian achievements in the systematization of laws. He was deeply involved during the early nineteenth century in promoting Benthamite and Napoleonic models for Russia. Educated in theology rather than law, Speranskii acquired his formidable command of legal history and theory, Roman law, and skills in legal analysis while serving in various civil service positions. He assisted in drafting the reforms of Alexander I and from 1807 rose rapidly in rank and responsibility. During 1808-09 he helped prepare draft legislation that, if enacted, would have transformed Russia into a constitutional monarchy. Exiled from 1812 to 1816, upon his return he held a number of administrative posts. Emperor Nicholas I, however, directed him to undertake the systematization of Russian legislation, which resulted in the publication of the PSZ and Digest of Laws.

Speranskii’s archive in St. Petersburg contains more than 1,000 notes and articles devoted to legal matters, mostly unpublished. He left three major works on law, including the one shown here, which addresses legal history and codification.

See: Marc Raeff, Michael Speransky: Statesman of Imperial Russia 1772-1839 (2d rev. ed.; 1969); “Speranskii, Mikhail Mikhailovich”, in W.E. Butler & V.A. Tomsinov, Russian Legal Biography (2007).

“Monuments of Imperial Russian Law,” curated by William E. Butler and Mike Widener, is on display Mar. 1 - May 25, 2012, in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

 

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