Reforming the laws of the empire

[LOPUKHIN, Prince Petr, and Nikolai NOVOSILTSEV]

Mémoire Presenté par le Ministère de la Justice Relativement à L'Organisation de la Comission des Lois [...] Suivi d'un Extrait des Rapports [...] sur les Travaux de Cette Commission. Première Partie [All published]

Publication: Jean Charles Schnoor, Saint Pétersbourg, 1804.

[LOPUKHIN, Prince Petr, and Nikolai NOVOSILTSEV], Mémoire Presenté par le Ministère de la Justice Relativement à L’Organisation de la Comission des Lois […] Suivi d’un Extrait des Rapports […] sur les Travaux de Cette Commission. Première Partie [All published]

A fundamental work at the source of a clarification and homogenisation of the laws of the Russian empire at the turn of the 19th century. An excellent copy of this very rare publication: only one copy traced of this French issue of the first edition (Göttingen).

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£5,750

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Our Notes & References

Beautifully fresh example of this important work of constitutional law and history. Extremely rare: we could trace only one copy of this French issue of the first edition, at the Göttingen State and University Library (Worldcat) – no copy in the US, and none passing through the market

This is the founding document of a long process of juridical reform that culminated in the first systematic codification of Russian laws since the 17th century. It lays out the methodology of Tsar Alexander I’s Commission on Laws as it embarked on plans to compile a new law code for the Russian Empire. Such plans had first got underway during the reign of Catherine the Great, but little of substance was achieved and the existing commission was eventually disbanded. It was revived in 1796 under her son Paul I, but although the great urgency of rationalising and clarifying the legal system was widely recognised (the last code of laws had been completed in 1649), the new body quickly ran into many of the same problems as its predecessor, namely bureaucracy and the hugely complicated nature of the project.

Next in turn was Alexander I. Soon after coming to power in 1801, he decreed the formation of a new Commission of Laws (the 10th). In October 1803, after a slow start, responsibility for creating the new legal code passed to the Ministry of Justice, and the Commission then came under the direction of Minister, Nikolai Novosiltsev and his deputy Prince Lopukhin. The new body immediately set to work “collecting the best information on [compiling a code of laws] and duly weighing and considering all the circumstances connected with it” (our translation). The present work is the report of their findings.

“This report is divided into two parts. The first presents an historical account of the Commission and of its proceedings to the present times; the second explains the most promising means of ensuring success in the compilation of a Russian code of laws” (translation from the contemporaneous English edition]. Four fold-out tables follow the text, setting out in detail the proposed structure of the new legal system. The first deals with private law, the second with penal law, the third with legal procedure, and the fourth with common law.

The report is referred to on the title page as the “First Part”, but it is complete in and of itself, and there do not appear to have been any others issued. As announced on the title page, it was published in various languages, namely English, German, Latin, Russian and Polish – all equally rare.

Under the chairmanship of Baron Rozenkampf, Alexander’s Commission initially showed no greater efficiency than its predecessors. However in 1808, when Mikhail Speranskii took charge, and the Commission was again reordered, some significant progress was made. The first part of the criminal code was put before the State Council in 1813, followed by all three parts of the Civil Code the following year.

In recognition of the need to consolidate and make public all existing laws, a multi-volume Systematic Digest of the Current Laws of the Russian Empire was put together and published between 1815 and 1822. However, this work still did not comprise a complete record of Russian law. The Commission of Laws continued to operate until 1826, when it was reordered and renamed on the orders of the new Tsar, Nicholas I. The first full Digest of Laws was finally issued in 1830.

Item number

274

 

Physical Description

Quarto (25.5 x 20.3 cm). 88 pp. incl. title, [1] p. errata, and III folding letterpress tables, tab. I being formed of two separate folding parts (ie. 4 fold-outs in total).

Binding

Contemporary plain light blue wrappers (“chemise d’attente”).

Condition

Wrappers with minor abrasion; rare marginal dust, the odd small spot, a couple of inobstrusive, mostly marginal contemporary ink probes, otherwise crisp and fresh in its original condition.

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