Monuments of Imperial Russian Law: M.M. Speranskii

Michael Widener

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Speranskii’s archive in St. Petersburg contains more than 1,000 notes and articles devoted to legal matters, mostly unpublished.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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