Mikhail Speransky

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Mikhail Speransky

Count Mikhail Mikhailovich Speransky (Михаил Михайлович Сперанский) (12 January 1772 – 23 February 1839)[1] was a Russian reformist during the reign of Alexander I of Russia, to whom he was a close advisor. He later served under Tsar Nicholas I of Russia. Speransky is referred to as the father of Russian liberalism.

Personal life[edit]

Speransky was born on 12 January 1772 in Cherkutino, Russia.

Speransky was the son of a village priest. He spent his early days in the ecclesiastical seminary in St. Petersburg, where he later became a professor of mathematics and physics. His skills led him to become the secretary to Prince Kurakin and a competent imperial official.

In 1839, he was awarded the title of Count. His daughter was permitted by special Imperial decree to carry the title into her marriage in the Cantacuzène family- she was the grandmother of Prince Mikhail Cantacuzène.

Speransky died in St. Petersburg on 23 February 1839. He is buried at the Tikhvinskoe Cemetery at the Alexander Nevsky Monastery.


In 1808, Emperor Alexander I took Speransky to the Congress of Erfurt and introduced him to Napoleon. Speransky and Napoleon discussed a possible Russian administrative reform. In his projects of reform, Speransky envisaged a constitutional system based on a series of dumas – the cantonal assembly (volost) electing the duma of the district, the dumas of the districts electing that of the province or government and these electing the Duma of the empire. As a mediating power between the autocrat and the Duma, there was to be a nominated council of state.

From this plan, the council of the empire came into existence in January 1810. The council dominated the constitutional history of Russia in the 19th century and the early years of the 20th. The Duma of the empire, created in 1905, and the institution of local self-government, (the zemstvo) created in 1864, were two of the reforms proposed by him. Speransky's plan also contributed to the constitutions granted by Alexander to Finland and Poland.

Downfall Under Alexander I[edit]

From 1809 to 1812, Speransky was all-powerful in Russia. He replaced the earlier members of the unofficial committee and practically became the sole minister. All concerns were discussed and decided upon by Speransky and the emperor. Even the once all-powerful war-minister Count Arakcheyev was thrust into the background. However, powerful though he was, Speransky did not use his immense influence for personal means. He was an idealist but, in this very fact laid the seeds of his failure.

The Emperor Alexander was also an idealist, but with a more selfish attitude; he dismissed talents that overshadowed his own. He believed himself to be a potent instrument for the attainment of the ideal objective of a regenerated Russia, which was his minister's sole preoccupation.

In 1810, Speransky was still in high favor and was the confidant of the emperor in the secret diplomacy which preceded the breach of Russia with Napoleon. He is depicted at this period in Tolstoy's novel War and Peace (he can be found in the second book; third part). Speransky then committed a serious mistake – he conceived the idea of reorganizing the masonic order in Russia to educate and elevate the Orthodox clergy. The emperor agreed to the first steps being taken, namely, the suppression of existing lodges, but he was naturally suspicious of secret societies even when ostensibly admitted to their secrets. Speransky's abortive plan only resulted in adding the clergy to the number of his enemies.

On the eve of the struggle with Napoleon, Alexander made Speransky his scape-goat. Alexander appeased Old Russian sentiment, the strongest supporters of the autocratic Tsar against revolutionary France. Speransky's indiscretions gave the final impulse to his downfall. He was surrounded by spies who reported none too accurately the minister's somewhat sharp criticisms of the emperor's acts. Speransky presumed to advise Alexander not to take the chief command in the coming campaign.

A number of persons in the entourage of the emperor were motivated to involve Speransky on a charge of treason, including the Grand Duchess Catherine, Fessler, Karamzin, Rostopchin, the Finnish general Count Gustaf Mauritz Armfelt and the Minister State Secretary of the Grand Duchess of Finland in St Petersburg. Alexander did not credit the charge but he made Speransky responsible for the unpopularity incurred by him in consequence of the hated reforms, and the still more hated French policy, and on the 17/29 March 1812 dismissed him from office.

From 1810 to 1812, Speransky was the Chancellor of the Imperial Alexander University in Turku, Finland.

Later career under Nicholas I[edit]

Reinstated in the public service in 1816, he was appointed governor-general of Siberia. As a governor-general, he drew up a new scheme of government.

In 1826, Speransky was appointed by Nicholas I to head the Second Section of His Imperial Majesty's Own Chancellery, a committee formed to codify Russian law. Under his leadership, the committee produced a publication of the complete collection of laws of the Russian Empire, containing 35,993 enactments. This codification called the "Full Collection of Laws" (Polnoye Sobraniye Zakonov) was presented to Nicholas I, and formed the basis for the "Collection of Laws of the Russian Empire" (Svod Zakonov Rossiskoy Imperii), the positive law valid for the Russian Empire. Speransky's liberal ideas were subsequently scrutinized and elaborated by Konstantin Kavelin and Boris Chicherin.

External links[edit]

Primary sources[edit]

  • Raeff, Marc. Michael Speransky : statesman of imperial Russia, 1772–1839 (1957). The Hague: Nijhoff
  1. ^ 12 January [O.S. 1 January] 1772 – 23 February [O.S. 11 February] 1839