Russian Government

In the late 19th century the Russian people were ruled by the Romanov Dynasty. The Tsar (Czar) took the title 'Emperor and Autocrat of all Russia' and imposed autocratic rule - government by one man. Unlike in most other European countries, power had not passed from the monarchy to the people. The Tsars of Russia did not take advice from an elected parliament. Instead, the country was run by a ten man ministerial council. Each minister was both appointed and dismissed by the Tsar.

The Tsar also appointed the Chief Procurator of the Russian Orthodox Church. In fact, since 1721, the Orthodox Church had been run as a government department.

The Tsar also had the power to grant hereditary titles. These usually went to men who had achieved high rank in the armed forces and the civil service. It 1900 it was estimated that there were about 1.8 million members of the nobility in Russia.

Civil servants in Russia in uniform.
Civil servants in Russia in uniform.

Alexander II became the sixteenth Romanov tsar in 1855. He attempted to bring in some political reforms. This included permitting each district to set up a Zemstvo. These were local councils with powers to provide roads, schools and medical services. However, the right to elect members was restricted to the wealthy.

Russia was divided into fifty provinces. Each province had a governor and below him were governors of districts and the commandants of towns.

At the end of the 19th century there were 128 million people living in Russia. To help the Tsar and the provincial governors to rule the people, the government employed a large number of civil servants. They were graded into fourteen different ranks with the Tsar's ministers at the top. Each rank had his own uniform and those that reached the fourth grade and above became members of the nobility.