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The Russian Committee of Ministers, 1802 to 1905 : a prosopographical study Darville, Kay Lee Orth

Abstract

This study is a prosopographical analysis of the Russian Committee of Ministers during the entire period of its existence, 1802 to 1905. Because the Committee was comprised of the highest officials within the Russian bureaucracy, its membership constituted a precisely defined elite group. Examination of the social and career backgrounds of the Committee's members allows for quantitatively grounded descriptions of the administrative elite, of the Russian Empire and the changes it underwent through the course of the nineteenth century. On the whole, the members of the Committee of Ministers are found to have been largely of Russian nationality, while Germans composed a sizable minority. The social class which dominated the Committee was the nobility, with few ministers not of noble or royal birth. Relative to the general population, the ministers also formed an educational elite, a majority of whom were schooled in an institution of higher learning. As a group the ministers had no other occupational activity than service to the Russian state, with ninety per cent of the ministers having entered state service immediately upon finishing their education. In their official careers the ministers spent over three decades in service before attaining membership on the Committee of Ministers, and most of them served in the military as well as the civil area of Russian government. While most of the ministers held only one position on the Committee of Ministers, a large minority held more than two, either simultaneously or consecutively; and the overall average for tenure in membership in one position was six years. While these features were determined for the entire membership of the Committee of Ministers, pictures of the Committee as constituted under each of the five tsars of the nineteenth century differed from each other, with Nicholas I's ministers most resembling the portrait drawn above. Through the course of four reigns, the base of the Committee's social composition widened somewhat to include groups of more diverse backgrounds, and the career pattern of simultaneous military and civil service shifted towards one of solely bureaucratic service in the civil administration. The importance of higher education as a qualification for elite status worked to moderate the influence of inherited social position, and the groups who most benefitted from this tendency were ministers of foreign, non-noble, and German birth, whose generally high level of educational attainment was suited to the needs of the expanding Russian bureaucracy. Under Alexander III, these changes were most in evidence within the Committee's membership, but in the following reign, under Nicholas II, the old patterns reasserted themselves as the percentages of landed nobility and militarily trained ministers increased. This resurgence of traditionally dominant patterns reflects the landed nobility's efforts to retain old privileges and to regain their former eminence, which had been undermined in 1861 by the emancipation of the serfs.

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