On October 17, 1905, Tsar Nicholas II issued the October Manifesto as a response to the Russian Revolution of 1905. The manifesto became the predecessor of the first ever Russian Constitution and effectively ended the 1905 uprising.
The revolution of 1905 grew out of an ongoing economic, political, and social crisis in Russia. The failure in the Russo-Japanese War intensified disorder, unrest among workers, political terrorism and growing discontent within Russian society.
On January 22, 1905, tsarist troops in St. Petersburg fired on peaceful demonstrators moving towards the Tsar's residence at the Winter Palace in an attempt to petition Nicholas II for protection against oppression, economic and civil rights. The day that became known as “Bloody Sunday” saw more than one hundred innocent civilians killed and many more wounded, including children and the elderly.
News of the bloodshed led to a furious revolutionary eruption, and during the next month strikes occurred in virtually every Russian industrial centre. Military units sided with the nation in revolt. In the summer of 1905, a mutiny aboard the Battleship Potemkin in the Black Sea triggered several similar military uprisings.
The revolution reached its peak in October 1905 when the country went into an all-Russian political strike. In an effort to knock down the heat of the revolution, the Tsar issued the October Manifesto (written by the Tsar's first minister – Sergey Witte).
Officially known as “The Manifesto on the Improvement of Order in the State” it opened with the following statement:
“The disturbances and unrest in St. Petersburg, Moscow and in many other parts of our Empire have filled our heart with great and profound sorrow. The welfare of the Russian Sovereign is inseparable from the welfare of the people, and nation's sorrow is his sorrow.”
The manifesto promised to grant civil liberties (personal immunity, freedom of speech, assembly and association), the creation of a State Duma (the Russian parliament) whose members would be popularly elected and whose approval would be necessary before the enactment of any legislation.
In 1906, Nicholas II approved the Fundamental Laws of the Russian Empire, which were to serve as a constitution and assigned the legislative authority to the State Council and the Duma.
With the restoration of order, Nicholas II and his government gradually limited the reforms and freedoms. The Tsar was determined to retain his autocratic power and continued to exercise veto power over the Duma, which he dissolved and reformed several times following the issue of the manifesto.
Only a small part of the Russian population considered the Manifesto as a win in the revolution. This part of the nation formed two right-wing political parties who defended autocracy – the liberal-monarchist bourgeois party (Constitutional Democrats or Cadets) and the party of officials, landowners and upper bourgeoisies – “Union of October 17” or “The Octobrist Party”.
However, the revolution did not run its full course until 1907. Many millions of peasants and workers continued the fight and separate revolutionary efforts took place until 1907 across Russia. The scenes of 1905-1907 will be evoked in 1917, with the establishment of the representative council (The Soviets).