The Tanzimat Reforms: The Problem of Political Authority

Reforms marked the XIX century for several Eastern countries like Turkey and Iran, China, and Japan. Their study is essential and relevant today since such experience could become a tool for analyzing the reformist aspirations of modern humanity. It is precious for situations determined by the trend of rapid economic, scientific, and technological progress. The reforms of the Tanzimat marked and caused the most critical economic, political, social, and cultural transformations in the life of Ottoman society. They were significant results of Turkey’s slow, sometimes imperceptible, but progressive socio-economic and political development along the bourgeois path at a turning point in its history.

The Anglo-Turkish Convention of 1838 and trade agreements, concluded later with other European powers, significantly accelerated the involvement of the Ottoman Empire in the world economic system. This circumstance had significant consequences for both the Turkish and other peoples of the Empire, whose further progress increasingly began to depend on the development of world capitalism (Goodwin, 2006). Due to its socio-economic backwardness, the Turkish Empire was forced to turn into an agrarian and raw material appendage of Europe. The further development of trade and the formation of a single internal market was hindered by the domination of feudal orders and the instability of the economic situation in the Empire. The appearance of the capitalist element in Ottoman society was also hampered that the ruling elite preferred not to invest considerable funds in economic initiatives.

Under the leadership of Mustafa Reshid Pasha, a plan of new reforms was developed designed. Their goal was to strengthen the central government and prevent the development of the national liberation movement in the Balkans by adapting the existing system to the norms of Western European life. The Gulhan Khatt-i Sherif proclaimed three main goals of the reforms:

  • Ensuring the safety of life, honor, and property for all subjects of the empire, regardless of religious affiliation.
  • Proper distribution and collection of taxes.
  • Streamlining recruitment and reducing the period of military service.

To improve the country’s economy, Mustafa Reshid Pasha turned to the revision of the tax system (Goodwin, 2006). Emergency taxes and serfdom were abolished, and the poll tax collection of non – Muslims-jizya was regulated.

At the same time, the attempt to abolish the tax-paying system, which is ruinous for the national economy and very profitable for enriching taxpayers at taxpayers’ expense, failed. The same fate befell the projects of organizing metalworking, textile, and paper enterprises in the Istanbul area, Izmir and Bursa. The failure also happened to measures of improving agriculture and finances by creating a state bank and a stable monetary system. Nothing was done to ensure the protection of local production from the competition of cheap foreign goods. The military reform was more successful, as regular recruitment was introduced based on universal military service. The period of active service in the army was reduced from 15 to 5-7 years.

Mustafa Reshid Pasha took some steps to spread the system of secular education. On his initiative, primary and secondary schools, pedagogical and other schools were created. These innovations caused particular dissatisfaction among the clergy, and the Western powers did not support the reformers either. As a result, there was little progress in education, few secular schools were created, and any attempt to open a university failed due to a lack of funds and teaching staff. The first stage of the Tanzimat was a time of the most intensive transformations in administrative and public administration in the sphere of economy and culture. Objectively, all these measures helped clear the way for the bourgeois development of the country and the decomposition of traditional institutions in the countryside and the city. The innovations also contributed to a broader introduction of the achievements of European civilization.

The reforms of the Tanzimat, despite all their inconsistency and limited nature, still managed to create conditions for a specific rise in the economic life of the Ottoman Empire. The reforms of the Tanzimat did not justify the hopes placed on them, however, and the successes achieved were of great importance for the further historical development of the state (Sowards, 2015). The consequence of the administrative reforms was a noticeable increase in the civil bureaucracy, which had a broad impact on reforms. In the early 50s, the disappointment of the Ottoman government as a result of the reforms was associated with the inflation that had manifested by that time, a chronic deficit in fiscal affairs, and an economic depression. This fact prompted many dignitaries to speak out in favor of refusing further reforms.

The lack of strict accounting in finance, the preservation of almost unchanged principles of the tax policy of the medieval state, negligence, and abuse prevented the regulation in the financial field. Since the abuses of government officials persisted and even increased when collecting taxes, broad segments of the population were also dissatisfied with the reforms, identifying them with abuses (Sowards, 2015). The reforms of the Tanzimat were ideologically incompatible with sharia law, which hindered the development of capitalism and the local bourgeoisie, which could lead to the implementation of reforms. The struggle of bourgeois institutions with feudal traditions in the conditions of the Ottoman Empire took many decades.


Goodwin, K. (2006). The Tanzimat Reforms and the Problem of Political Authority in the Ottoman Empire: 1839–1876. Rhode Island College.

Sowards, S. W. (2015). Lecture No. 11: Macedonia and the failure of Ottoman reforms. Twenty-Five Lectures on Modern Balkan History.

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DemoEssays. "The Tanzimat Reforms: The Problem of Political Authority." August 26, 2023.