Milyutin, Nikolai Alexeyevich

views updated


(18181870), government official and reformer.

Nikolai Milyutin was born into a well-connected noble family of modest means. One of his brothers, Dmitry, would serve as Minister of War from 1861 to 1881. Nikolai entered government service at the age of seventeen and served in the Ministry of Internal Affairs from 1835 until 1861. A succession of ministers, recognizing his industry and talent, had him draft major reports to be issued in their names. He was largely responsible for compiling the Urban Statute of 1846, which, as applied to St. Petersburg and then to other large cities, somewhat expanded the number of persons who could vote in city elections.

Until 1858, Milyutin was a relatively obscure functionary. In the next six years he was the principal author of legislation that fundamentally changed the Russian empire: the Statutes of February 19, 1861, abolishing serfdom; the legislation establishing elective agencies of local self-administration (zemstva ), enacted in 1864; and legislation intended to end the sway of the Polish nobility after their participation in the insurrection of 1863. He exercised this influence although the highest position he held was Acting Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs from 1859 to 1861"acting" because Alexander II supposed that he was a radical. He was dismissed as deputy minister as soon as the peasant reform of 1861 was safely enacted.

In the distinctive political culture of autocratic Russia, Milyutin demonstrated consummate skill and cunning as a politician. None of the core concepts of the legislation of 1861 was his handiwork. He was, however, able to persuade influential persons with access to the emperor, such as the Grand Duchess Yelena Pavlovna, to adopt and promote these concepts. He was able, in a series of memoranda written for the Minister of Internal Affairs Sergei Lanskoy, to persuade the emperor to turn away from his confidants who opposed the emerging reform and to exclude the elected representatives of the nobility from the legislative process. And, as chairman of the Economic Section of the Editorial Commission, a body with ostensibly ancillary functions, he was able to mobilize a fractious group of functionaries and "experts" and lead them in compiling the legislation enacted in 1861.

Almost simultaneously he served as chairman of the Commission on Provincial and District Institutions. In that capacity he drafted the legislation establishing the zemstvo, an institution which enabled elected representatives to play a role in local affairs, such as education and public health. The reform was also significant because the regime abandoned the principle of soslovnost, or status based on membership in one of the hereditary estates of the realm, which had been the lodestone of government policy for centuries. To be sure, the landed nobility, yesterday's serfholders, were guaranteed a predominant role, since there were property qualifications for the bodies that elected zemstvo delegates.

Concerning the "western region" (Eastern Poland), Milyutin rewrote the legislation of February 19 so that ex-serfs received their allotments of land gratis and landless peasants were awarded land, often land expropriated from the Catholic Church. He wished to bind the peasants, largely Orthodox Christians, to the regime and detach them from the Roman Catholic nobles, who had risen in arms against it.

Milyutin was well aware of the shortcomings of the reform legislation he produced. He counted on the autocracy to continue its reform course and eliminate these shortcomings. His expectations were not realized. It is the paradox and perhaps the tragedy of Milyutin that, despite his reputation as a "liberal," he saw the autocracy as the essential instrument to produce a prosperous, modern, and law-governed Russia.

See also: emancipation act; milyutin, dmitry alex-eyevich; peasantry; serfdom; zemstvo


Field, Daniel. (1976). The End of Serfdom: Nobility and Bureaucracy in Russia, 18561861. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Lincoln, W. Bruce. (1982). In the Vanguard of Reform: Russia's Enlightened Bureaucrats, 18251861. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press.

Zakharova, Larissa. (1994). "Autocracy and the Reforms of 18611874 in Russia." In Russia's Great Reforms, 18551881, eds. B. Eklof, J. Bushnell, and L. G. Zakharova. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Daniel Field