Abdu’l-Aziz (1830-1876), was the 32nd sultan of the Ottoman Empire and 2nd sultan of the Tanzimat period of Ottoman reforms (1839-1876). This reform era was built on the changes instituted under Sultan Mahmud II, who sought to centralize and modernize government during his reign from 1808 to 1839. The Tanzimat period was inaugurated by Abdu’l-Aziz’s brother, Sultan Abdu’l-Medjid I. Abdu’l-Aziz succeeded Abdu’l-Medjid I to power in 1861. The reforms instituted by Abdu’l-Medjid and continued by Abdu’l-Aziz were numerous and affected many areas of the government, including the election of officials and military service. The reforms were supported by many countries throughout Europe. In the end, however, these reforms failed to contain nationalism or to stave off foreign aggression or internal corruption.
In administration, a highly centralized provincial organization and bureaucracy began to replace the old fief system. Central executive functions were gradually distributed to newly established councils of experts, which evolved from advisory councils to more modern ministries. In the field of justice, the "men of the Tanzimat," as the reformers were known, tried to assure security of life, honor, and property for all subjects, regardless of race, religion, or wealth. The old system of internal communal organization was preserved, but non-Muslim members, called rayas, were given legal equality with Muslims.
In addition, the dictatorial and sometimes oppressive power of government figures was being replaced by rule through elected councils. New civil codes of law based on European examples were introduced. However, these new codes retained many characteristics of the old Islamic law due to the influence of Ahmed Jevdet Pasha, the chairman of the judicial commission and close friend of Abdu’l-Aziz. In the military, a regular system of compulsory military service was established. Because the non-Muslim subjects were being given legal equality, they were obliged to participate in military service in the Ottoman army for the first time.
The reforms met with varying responses. They were only partly carried out, mainly because of the opposition of the military and administrative classes, who benefited from the old system. There was a widespread Muslim reaction against the new privileges, military and otherwise, given to the non-Muslim rayas, since many of the changes were being pressed on Abdu’l-Aziz and his ministers by the European powers. The non-Muslim minorities were glad to accept legal equality, but they sought to retain the privileges they had been given in return for inequality, such as that of exemption from military service.
The non-Muslims were supported in their position by several European powers, each of which used its influence to increase the special privileges of the minorities in order to advance its own position in the empire. Britain and France both tried to defend Ottoman territorial integrity by pressing new reforms on Abdu’l-Aziz, while Austria, Russia, and Prussia tried to prevent reforms.
Abdu’l-Aziz was content to accept the Tanzimat reforms so long as he was under the direction of his ministers. He was the first Ottoman sultan who was relatively accessible to his subjects and who even attended the social gatherings held by European residents in Constantinople (now İstanbul). The sultan’s tour of Europe in 1867 was the first such trip by an Ottoman ruler.
After the death of his trusted adviser, Ali Pasha, in 1871, Abdu’l-Aziz fell into the hands of less capable ministers, of whom the most influential was Grand Vizier Mahmud Nedim Pasha. Instead of maintaining the previously established friendship with Britain and France, Mahmud Nedim pursued close relations with Russia, whose ambassador in Constantinople, Nikolai Pavlovich Ignatiev, gained great influence over the sultan. As a result, many of the Tanzimat reforms in internal affairs were suspended or ignored. Corruption returned to the administration, and vast government extravagance was financed by foreign loans acquired at ruinous rates of interest. Mahmud Nedim's financial policies culminated in the empire’s virtual bankruptcy in 1875. In addition, at about the same time, the Ottomans were defeated in a war against their former Balkan subjects in 1875 and 1876.
A constitutional movement then dethroned Abdu’l-Aziz in 1876. A new constitution was announced on the grounds that it was the unchecked absolutism of Abdu’l-Aziz and the upper class that had caused the disasters that wracked the empire. Abdu’l-Aziz lived in Constantinople for a short time under his successor Murad V, but he was found dead with his wrists slashed on June 4, 1876. (Britannica Encyclopedia)