Published online by Cambridge University Press: 01 November 2008
On 19 March 1877, the first Ottoman parliament opened at Dolmabahçe Palace when Sultan Abdülhamit II crossed a velvet carpet to stand beside a golden throne. Seen later as the finale of the Tanzimat reform era, the parliament appeared to diplomatic observers as the strategy of former grand vizier Midhat Paşa. Midhat's constitutionalism was a plan for “reform, revival, and indeed survival” that included seeking allies against Russia and containing Russian influence in the Balkans. Abdülhamit listened as his secretary charged the new body: “The progress effected by civilised states, the security and wealth they enjoy, are the fruit of the participation of all in the enactment of laws and in the administration of public affairs.” Among the most urgent priorities was “the development of agriculture and industry, and the progress of civilisation and of public wealth.” Parliament later responded with a pledge to deliver the empire from its malaise, to “eliminate the last traces of abuses, the heritage of the regime of despotism.”
Author's Note: For their helpful comments, I thank Carter V. Findley, Robert Vitalis, my Colorado State University colleagues and graduate students, and the anonymous reviewers for IJMES. The Earhart Foundation provided valuable research support.
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