'Meclis-I ÂLî-I Umûmî' (the Supreme Conseil-General) and the Transformation in the Ottoman Political Thought (1839 -1876)

By Seyitdanlioglu, Mehmet | Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies, Summer 2009 | Go to article overview

'Meclis-I ÂLî-I Umûmî' (the Supreme Conseil-General) and the Transformation in the Ottoman Political Thought (1839 -1876)


Seyitdanlioglu, Mehmet, Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies


As one of the most important episodes of change in the Ottoman Empire, the Tanzimat Era (1839-1876) was a phase when the state and its political and ideological formation witnessed structural transformation and reforms. During this period, privy councils were instituted at every level, as one of the basic changes in decision-making and the legislation process of the Ottoman State. Meclis-i Âlî-i Umûmî (the Supreme Council-General) is located at the top of the counsulting hierarchy of councils at the administrative pramid, instituted in 1838. The Supreme Council-General also functioned as an equivalent to that of a "senate" of the modern parliament for the first time in this transition period.

Key Words:

The Tanzimat Era, Tanzimat Reforms, the Supreme Council-General, senato-"ayân", legislative, executive and judicial

The Tanzimat Era (1839-1876) in the Ottoman Empire was a period when the state and its political, ideological and economic structures witnessed great transformation and reform. The Tanzimat reforms, in other words, were a process of change and reorganization designed to instate a centralized administrative structure. The main goal of these reforms, which enabled the changes in question, can be defined as a struggle by making use of its benefits for the Ottoman bureaucracy against European supremacy. The process of structuring shifted from the central into rural areas and was based on basic concepts expressed within the Tanzimat Decree, which was declared on November 3, 1839. The transformation, no doubt, intended to establish a new state and social structure, embracing concepts that reflected the Ottoman understanding of the European natural rights. These can be summed up as "the security of life, honor and property," "fair taxation" and "equality in military obligation." These new ideas served as the main goal of a transformation in the Ottoman political thought. The Tanzimat movement required the Empire to experience the transition from an understanding of an absolute sultanate and administration to a structure of an "enlightened absolute" state, and was interested in forming and institutionalizing in order to implement the concepts it had introduced.1

Since it was a semi-constitutional document, the Tanzimat Decree2 determined the rights and obligations of the Ottoman subjects while the sovereign's authority was limited with his own will (auto-limitation). Thus the edict followed the path of such absolute monarchies as Prussia, Austria and Russia, all of which had been affected by this change in Europe. Unlike liberal states of England and France, these traditional countries pursued a course which the Ottoman administrative elite could take as a model with the new institutions they had established. This notion which is openly seen in the writings of leading Tanzimat individuals as Sâdik Rifat Pasha and Mustafa Resit Pasha, appears as the main factor to determine the conception and the administrative understanding of the Tanzimat Era.

This is quite clearly seen in the reorganization of councils installed on a centralized level. The new reformation was established in a form of a pyramid structure extending from Istanbul - center to Ottoman bureaucracy, to the provinces and sanjaks, and from these locations back to the capital. Furthermore, through privy councils instituted at every level, the decision-making and the legislation (law making) process of the Ottoman state was also transformed accordingly to this pyramid hierarchy. A chain of decision-making - consulting hierarchy- had showed itself consisting of "Meclis-i Âlî-i Umûmî" (the Supreme Conseil General), located at the top, followed by the "Meclis-i Vâlâ-yi Ahkâm-i Adliye" (the Supreme Council of State of Judicial Ordinance), Police Councils and when required provisional councils as Meclis-i Imâriyye (the Assembly of Reconstruction) and Meclis-i Muvakkat (the Temporary Assembly) which had been established for short periods of time; and in the provinces Eyâlet Meclisleri (administrative-provincial assemblies) as Muhassillik Meclisleri (Assembly of Tax Collection, 1840-1842) and Büyük Meclisler (Great Assemblies, 1842-1849), also known as Memleket Meclisleri (the Councils of State), and Sancak Meclisleri (Councils of Sanjaks; 1842-1849 - 'Küçük Meclis' Small Assemblies).

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