Declaration of the First Duma (1906)

Responding to Nicholas II‘s opening address, the deputies of the First Duma passed the following declaration, demanding sweeping changes such as the formation of a legislature elected on universal suffrage and the abolition of the death penalty:

Your Imperial Majesty,

“In your speech to the Duma, you were pleased to affirm your intention to protect the new institutions… This solemn promise of a monarch to his people is a firm guarantee that our legislative system will grow steadily, developing in accordance with strict constitutional principles.

The State Duma, for its part, will strive to improve the principles of popular government, and will submit for Your Majesty’s confirmation a bill establishing a popular legislature founded on the principle of universal suffrage, according to the unanimously expressed will of the people.

Your Majesty’s call to unity in working for the good of the fatherland finds a lively response in the hearts of all members of the State Duma. We have members from all classes and all peoples of Russia, and we are united by a common fervent desire to renew Russia and to create a state system founded on firm guarantees for civil liberties and on the peaceful coexistence of all classes and all nationalities.

The State Duma feels obliged to point out, however, that the conditions in which the country is living are such as to frustrate any truly fruitful work directed to the rejuvenation of the country’s strengths. The country has concluded that the arbitrariness of the administrative officials who separate the Tsar from the people is the fundamental shortcoming in national life.

With a united voice, the country has loudly declared that the renewal of national life is possible only on the basis of freedom, the right of independent popular action, popular participation in the legislative power, and popular control over the executive power.

In Your Majesty’s Manifesto of October 17th 1905, Your Majesty was pleased to proclaim from the height of the Throne a firm resolve to build Russia’s future on the basis of these very principles. The entire people met this news with a unanimous cry of joy. Yet the first days of freedom were clouded by severe trials. The persons responsible are all those who still deny the people access to the Tsar and violate the principles of the October Manifesto. They have covered the country with the shame of unjust executions, pogroms, firing squad shootings and imprisonments…

Now, as to urgent legislation: The State Duma, fulfilling the duties with which the people have charged it, considers it urgently necessary to agree upon precise laws guaranteeing personal immunity, freedom of conscience, freedom of speech and the press, freedom of union and assembly, and freedom to strike.

No reform of social relationships is feasible without precise guarantees and strict enforcement of these rights, which were promised to us in the October 17th Manifesto. The Duma likewise considers it necessary to secure the right for citizens to petition the popular legislature.

The State Duma holds firmly to the conviction that neither freedom nor order founded on right can be strong or lasting without strict observance of the principle of the equality of all citizens before the law, without exception. The State Duma will therefore work out bills for the full equalization of all citizens and for the abolition of all restrictions and privileges accruing to anyone by reason of class, nationality, religion, or sex.

The State Duma will also strive to emancipate the country from the administrative tutelage which obstructs her path, leaving limitations on civic freedoms to the independent judicial power alone.

The State Duma considers the use of the death penalty intolerable, even by judicial sentence. Capital punishment ought never to be meted out in any circumstances. The State Duma considers itself entitled to speak for the entire people in expressing the unanimous desire to see the day when capital punishment is abolished forever…

These are the demands of the popular conscience, which are impossible to deny and whose fulfilment cannot be delayed. Sire, the Duma awaits from you a full political amnesty, as a first guarantee of the mutual understanding and mutual agreement between the Tsar and the people.”