views updated May 29 2018


Mid-nineteenth-century Ottoman reform movement.

The Tanzimat-i Hayriye (Auspicious Reorganization) was a series of governmental reforms between 1839 and 1876 that sought to centralize and rationalize Ottoman rule and capture more tax revenues for the military defense of the empire. The Tanzimat period is usually associated with particular personalities in the central government: the sultans Abdülmecit II and Abdülaziz, and the high-ranking bureaucrats Mustafa Reşid Paşa, Ali Paşa, and Fuad Paşa. The Tanzimat was preceded by earlier reform efforts since the eighteenth century, particularly by Abdülmecit I and Abdülaziz's father, Mahmud II, between 1808 and 1839. And it would be followed by reforms in the early reigns of Abdülhamit II and the Young Turks.

Order and Justice

The thirty-seven years of the Tanzimat period are significant in this long process for establishing the basic principles and the governmental apparatus of reform. The bywords of the movement were justice and order, which were seen as prerequisites to effecting substantial social and economic change. The major product of the movement was a huge increase in the power of the central state. The major edicts of the Tanzimat significantly enlarged the scope of government activity by creating new fiscal, legal, and administrative instruments. For example, the edict that inaugurated the Tanzimat, the 1839 Hatt-i Şerif of Gülhane, proposed replacing inefficient tax farms with a centralized revenue service and establishing a new imperial council, the Meclis-i Vala, to formulate and direct reform policy. Subsequent edicts sought to promote justice and confidence in government, such as those of 1840, 1850, and 1870 to 1876 that laid out uniform codes of law for commerce, civil transactions, and criminal cases. A series of provincial reforms culminating in the 1864 Vilayet Law regularized the structure of local government and strengthened lines of authority to Constantinople (now Istanbul). And in the capital itself, government was reorganized into formal departments and specialized ministries. During the Tanzimat period, the Ottoman state also began to intervene in society in new ways. The 1839 Gülhane edict and other laws expanded military conscription. And the state established new elite secular schools. The 1869 Regulation of Public Instruction introduced an empire-wide school system intended to produce bureaucrats and military officers at every level of government equipped with the skills necessary to implement policy.

Defense and International Affairs

But the Tanzimat was not solely a project of administrative reform. Its goals of order and justice were often ancillary to other, more immediate goals. The 1839 Gülhane edict was issued when the Ottomans were fighting to regain territory captured by Egypt in 1832. Greece had already won its independence in 1839, and in the Crimean War (18531856) the Ottomans would again go to war with Russia. Hence, the 1839 edict would promise to continue the military buildup begun by Mahmud II to defend the empire from external threats. The military was reorganized in 1842 and 1869, producing a larger, more unified structure under the serasker, a combined chief of staff and war minister. And many other reforms were explicitly intended to raise more revenue for defense.

Tanzimat goals were further complicated by international affairs with the growing influence of France and England in the empire. The Ottomans sought European alliances for protection against Russian and Egyptian invasions. This alliance was bought at a price. For their own domestic reasons, and to further their interests in the empire, France and England pushed another set of often contradictory goals. While the Europeans advocated equal rights and democratic participation in the empire, they also acted to protect the privileges and separate status of non-Muslim millets. So, while the Gülhane edict and the 1856 Hatt-i Hümayun proclaimed equality of all citizens regardless of religion, and new secular courts were established to offset any prejudice in shariʿa (Islamic law) courts, in fact, society remained divided by religion in subcommuni-ties with separate legal and social institutions.

Economic Concerns

Missing from the great initiatives of the Tanzimat was serious fiscal and economic reform. Roger Owen explains the neglect of economic reform thus: "Limited financial resources, the lack of competent administrators, the growing technological gap between Europe and the rest of the world, and the constraints imposed by Turkey's social structure and weakened international position all combined to set strict limits on the types of economic politics pursued" (Owen, p. 116). Restricted in their development of policy, the Ottomans were also plagued by the misfortune that they were attempting reform precisely during a period of economic boom in France and England.

The Tanzimat coincided with the first wave of industrial imperialism. France and England used their diplomatic influence in Constantinople to facilitate imperialist expansion at the expense of economic reform within the empire. For example, the 1838 Anglo-Turkish commercial convention, which preceded British support in fighting Egypt, promoted the spread of European imports in Ottoman markets. In the 1850s and 1860s, the British and French established new kinds of investment banks equipped to funnel domestic savings into overseas loans and projects. These banks played no small part in encouraging Ottoman indebtedness. The first foreign loan was taken out in 1854, for 3 million British pounds, to pay war expenses. Twenty years later, the Ottoman government would devote more than half of its budget to servicing foreign loans totaling 242 million British pounds.

The Tanzimat reforms had not yet produced a government apparatus capable of mounting an economic defense. For example, attempts to increase collection of taxes (and avoid foreign loans) faltered without trained personnel until well after 1859, when the Mekteb-i Mülkiye school to train bureaucrats was established. And although the 1858 land code sought to encourage more efficient exploitation of agriculture by promoting private land ownership, poor administration derailed it. In many areas, wealthy absentee landowners succeeded in registering large tracts of land, taking control away from the peasants who, if they had owned the land, might have found incentive to improve efficiency in cultivation. Instead, sharecropping discouraged investment in the land.

This is not to say that there was no effort at economic development, but rather that these efforts were overwhelmed by external factors. The Tanzimat period saw the first boom in building roads, ports, and other economic infrastructure that facilitated the transport of goods. But the tariff structure made the new transport more profitable to foreign traders than domestic merchants. While Ottoman exports increased nearly 500 percent between 1840 and the 1870s, these exports represented less than 10 percent of total production in the empire and were largely in the form of raw agricultural materials sent to England and France. In the meantime, the empire's terms of trade with Europe actually worsened. Ottoman industry, especially textiles, was undermined by unprecedented foreign competition. Although Ottoman officials established an industrial reform commission in the 1860s, they produced no significant industrial policy. So while Ottoman port cities boomed in this period, producing the first bloom of bourgeois culture, their wealth came from the profits of international trade, not from local production. The empire still relied overwhelmingly on an agricultural economy, and peasants remained as destitute as ever. And despite pockets of prosperity, the empire as a whole would sink so far into debt that it would declare bankruptcy in 1875.

It would be misguided, however, to conclude that the Tanzimat was the handmaiden of European imperialism. Older theories that it was primarily European pressure that forced the Tanzimat on the "sick man of Europe" have been substantially revised. Scholars like Shaw and Ortayli have suggested that the main impetus for reform came from bureaucrats, most prominently Mustafa Reşid Paşa, author of the 1839 edict. They acted from alarm at internal corruption and weakness, as well as from the desire to advance their own interests and protect their rights against the power of the sultan. Hence the 1839 edict abolished the sultan's right to confiscate property, commonly practiced on bureaucrats. Disenchanted bureaucrats led a second reform movement, the Young Ottomans, who in the 1860s and 1870s advocated liberalization and curtailment of the sultan's power. This led to a coup in 1876 that established a short-lived constitution and parliament.

European Influences and Internal Motivations

European influence, while not a primary motive of reform, was nonetheless significant. French and British diplomats repeatedly contributed to drafts of the various Tanzimat reform edicts, particularly those issued in times of war, as in the 1839 expulsion of the Egyptians and in 1856, at the end of the Crimean War. And Ottoman reformers often turned to European institutions for inspiration, as in the 1864 restructuring of provincial administration, the 1868 Council of State, and the 1869 Education Law, all modeled on French institutions.

Finally, a motive for reform came from the peoples of the empire. Dissatisfaction with Ottoman military weakness and a growing perception of alternatives to the current regime promoted unrest. This included not only the often cited Balkan nationalist movements, but smaller intermittent outbreaks, like the 1860 riots in Mount Lebanon and in Damascus that grew out of economic upheaval. Religious leaders, too, organized protest, as in the 1859 Küeli Incident in Constantinople. And religious minorities agitated against the oppressive and often corrupt rule of their state-sponsored patriarchs, leading to reform of the millets in the 1860s. Provincial notables used the local councils established in 1840 as a forum for protest and as a vehicle for negotiating the path of reform.

Design and Implementation of Efforts

In assessing the success of the Tanzimat, it is important to recognize that it was not a coherent, prefabricated plan; the Gülhane proclamation was not a blueprint. The Tanzimat took shape through efforts in Constantinople and in the provinces of Ottoman officials and notables to reconcile the many pressures on the empire. In Istanbul, the Meclİs-İ Vala, in concert with the grand vizier and sultan, had to weigh a variety of simultaneous and often conflicting interests, including military challengers like the Russians, Egyptians, and separatist movements in the Balkans; entrenched interests like those of landowners and the religious hierarchy; and the expanding aims of France and England. In the provinces, local representative councils and governors faced their own spectrum of interests to satisfy: landowners, ulama (Islamic clergy) who resented the new secular courts and schools, artisans hurt by European imports, and peasants who could not pay the new taxes.

Tanzimat goals were thus formulated and implemented through bargains made among opposing forces. Policy steered between the simultaneous aims of central control and provincial autonomy, between the ideal of a universal and equal Ottoman citizenry and reality of divisive religious social structures and nationalist particularisms, between the need to appease international challenges and the need to protect domestic interests, and between the efficacy of autocratic, top-down reform and the equally necessary participation of the public in effecting change.

Summary of Accomplishments

In the end, the reform program succeeded most in its goal of order: reorganizing the central and provincial bureaucracy, restructuring the military, and building infrastructure for trade and transport. Less auspicious was its progress toward justice; while law codes were rationalized and venality in office reduced through improved salaries, economic inequalities increased and political participation remained minimal. The concentration of power in Constantinople lent itself to abuse. The Tanzimat period would conclude with a far more effective administrative and legal apparatus, but one that would be commandeered by an autocratic sultan, with the accession of Abdülhamit II in 1876. And in some ways, the Tanzimat was too little, too late. Efforts to strengthen the military and to integrate a population riven with religious and ethnic differences would not proceed quickly enough to avert the dismemberment of the Balkan provinces and the disastrous Russo-Turkish War of 1877/78.

The Tanzimat was, however, a bold and often impressive attempt to restructure the Ottoman polity; it simply did not have the time or opportunity by 1876 to effect significant social and economic change. Much of what the Tanzimat started, however, would bear fruit under Abdülhamit, who continued the Tanzimat's pursuit of order. And while Abdülhamit would leave behind other significant aspects of the Tanzimat, like justice and political participation, these would be taken up again with the rise of a new generation trained in the Tanzimat's schools and the 1908 constitutional revolution.

see also millet system; young ottomans.


Davison, Roderic H. Reform in the Ottoman Empire, 18561876. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press 1963.

Lewis, Bernard. The Emergence of Modern Turkey, 3d edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Owen, Roger. The Middle East in the World Economy, 18001914. New York: Methuen, 1981.

Pamuk, Şevket. The Ottoman Empire and European Capitalism, 18201913: Trade, Investment, and Production. Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

Shaw, Stanford J., and Shaw, Ezel Kural. History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey, Vol. 2: Reform, Revolution, and Republic: The Rise of Modern Turkey, 1808-1975. Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1977.

Thompson, Elizabeth. "Ottoman Reform in the Provinces: The Damascus Advisory Council, 18441845." International Journal of Middle East Studies 25, no. 3 (August 1993).

elizabeth thompson


views updated Jun 08 2018


The Tanzimat (meaning reorganization, reordering) was a reform period in the Ottoman Empire lasting from 1839 to 1871. Its aims were modernization, centralization, increasing revenue, and forestalling fragmentation and conquest. Its main agents were the influential grand wazirs Mustafa Resit Pasa (1800–1858) and his protégés, Fuat (1815–1869) and ˓Ali (1815–1871). Sultan Mahmud II's 1826 destruction of the old janissary military corps, which resisted change and deposed those who advocated change, and the introduction of Western-language education paved the way for these reforms.

The 1839 Imperial Rescript (Hatt-i Serif) of Gülhane guaranteed security and equal justice to all subjects, regardless of religion. He also proposed reforms in taxation and military conscription and created a lawmaking body. A new class of modern-educated men staffed a reorganized bureaucracy and military, and standardized provincial government and taxes. The Crimean War (1853–1856) interrupted progress, but at its end a new reform rescript (Hatt-i Hümayun, 1856) reiterated and expanded earlier reforms. Councils of State, Justice, Education, and Reform were established at various points in time, charged with the task of overseeing the process. Provincial councils were also established, including representatives of different religious and social groups.

Tax reforms were insufficient to prevent bankruptcy (1876), but communications and education gradually improved, and a new lawcode (Mecelle) was prepared, which codified Islamic law in the Western style. Reforms were stringently applied, leading to complaints of tyranny. The Young Ottomans proposed a constitutional government, but were suppressed by the absolute monarchy of ˓Abd al-Hamid II. Technical modernization continued, but political liberalization was postponed until the twentieth century.

See alsoEmpires: Ottoman ; Modernization, Political: Administrative, Military, and Judicial Reform ; Young Turks .


Lewis, Bernard. The Emergence of Modern Turkey. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1961.

Shaw, Stanford J., and Shaw, Ezel Kural. History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey, Vol. II: Reform, Revolution, and Republic: The Rise of Modern Turkey, 1808–1975. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977.

Linda T. Darling