Reitern, Mikhail Khristoforovich

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(18201890), financial official during the reign of Alexander II.

As minister of finances, state secretary, member of the State Council, and chairman of the Council of Ministers, Count Mikhail Khristoforovich Reitern oversaw Russia's finances during the epoch of the Great Reforms. Reitern was born in the city of Poreche in Smolensk guberniya. His father, a Livonian-German nobleman who distinguished himself in Russian military service, died when the boy was thirteen, leaving his widow to raise fourteen children. Mikhail attended the prestigious Imperial Lyceum at Tsarskoe Selo on a scholarship and graduated in 1839. Like most of his classmates, he embarked upon a career in state service, joining the Ministry of Finance in 1840. Three years later he transferred to the Ministry of Justice, where he remained until 1854, when he joined the staff of the chief of the Main Naval Staff, Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolayevich (the second son of Emperor Nicholas I).

As one of the so-called Konstantinovtsy, the circle of reform-minded officials around the grand duke, Reitern carried out a variety of special commissions and inspections, and championed a series of innovations that included cutting the number of state-owned enterprises, abolishing obligated labor, and contracting with private firms. He was largely responsible for the Naval Ministry's establishing a pension fund for naval officers. In 1855 Reitern went abroad to study finance and administrative practices in Prussia, the United States, France, and England. His reports stressed the utility of private capital in the development of the national economy. On his return in 1854, he was appointed to the special committees on railroad development and the banking system. The latter led to the founding in 1860 of Russia's first central bank, the State Bank. Reitern subsequently returned to the Ministry of Finances as a senior official and in 1861 was named to the Commission on Financing Peasant Affairs, which worked out the financial arrangements for the emancipation of the serfs.

In 1862 Alexander II appointed Reitern minister of finances, a post he held until 1878. During his tenure he fostered greater glasnost in Russian state finances (including the first published budget in 1862) and reformed the tax system to include more indirect taxation, such as excise taxes on spirits and salt. He sought unsuccessfully to restore the convertibility of Russia's paper rubles into gold and silver, and in addition worked to balance the budget but did not succeed until in the sixth year of his tenure. Reitern was keen to sustain the empire's credit rating on international financial markets, but his efforts were frustrated by the economic consequences of the Polish Rebellion of 1863. Reitern promoted private railroad construction, shaped the policies of the State Bank to enhance private investment, and drafted legislation for joint stock companies. His tenure witnessed a great expansion of Russian railroads from a little more than a thousand miles in 1862 to close to fourteen thousand by 1878. He favored both the integration of the national economy into the world economy and the development of Russian industry as necessary to ensure the empire's welfare and security. In 1876, as war loomed with Turkey, Reitern warned Alexander II that the conflict would threaten Russia's credit and finances, offering to resign when Alexander II nonetheless decided upon war. At the emperor's request, he remained in office until the conflict was over and resigned in June 1878.

Reitern remained a member of the State Council, and in 1881 Alexander III appointed him chairman of the Council of Ministers, a post he held until 1886, when he retired because of poor health.

See also: economy, tsarist; great reforms; railways


Kipp, Jacob W. (1975). "M. Kh. Reutern on the Russian State and Economy: A Liberal Bureaucrat during the Crimean Era." Journal of Modern History 47 (3): 437459.

Jacob W. Kipp