from the American Consulate General in Petrograd
to the U.S. Secretary of State,
March 20, 1917

Telegram to Byrne, U.S. Secretary of State, March 20, 1917, frames 95-101
(National Archives Microfilm Publication M316, roll )
Records of the State Department, Record Group 59,
National Archives, Washington, DC

Hanover Historical Texts Project
Scanned and edited by David Traill.
Proofread and pages added by Jonathan Perry, March 2001.

No. 274

Petrograd, Russia, March 20, 1917
SUBJECT: Revolutionary Movement in Petrograd.
The Secretary Of State

I have the honor to report that as a result of serious economic, political, and military disturbances, the government of this city and district has been completely assumed by an Executive Committee of the Imperial Duma at least for the time being.

On the beginning of the week of March 4th, a shortage of black bread was noticeable. This at once caused unrest among the laboring classes. All other prime necessities within the means of the working classes had already gradually disappeared as the winter advanced: meat, sugar, white flour, buckwheat, potatoes. Fish, fowls, eggs, milk, cheese, and butter, had for a long time been so expensive that they were only within the means of the very well-to-do-classes. The unrest first took visable form in the outskirts and factory districts of the city Wednesday, March 7th, when the workmen struck after the dinner hour and met in groups to discuss the situation.

The next day, Thursday March 8th, there were spontaneous isolated demonstrations. In many places, a few of the working class, mostly women, tired of waiting in the bread lines in the severe cold began to cry, "Give [The following is the second page of the telegram] us bread." These groups were immediately dispersed by large detachments of mounted police and cossacks.

March 9th, large crowds of women marched to the Kazan Cathedral (opposite the Consulate) with bared heads, still crying for bread and shouting to the police "Give us bread and we will go to work." This crowd was peaceable and was dispersed.

Saturday morning the crowds, composed of working men and students visibly with a serious purpose, came from all districts to the center of the city. Besides calling for bread, these crowds shouted "Down with the Government," "Down with the Romanoffs, " and occasionally "Down with the War." The mounted police endeavored to drive the mobs from the Nevsky, the main street, but resistence was made and barracades built on the side streets. The police withdrew after firing on and charging the crowds with whips without success. Their place was taken by infantry who fraternized with the people. Announcement was made by the police that after 6o'clock that day, all groups of persons would be fired upon. The crowds did not disperse, and street battles took place, especially on the Nevsky, resulting in great loss or life.

At this time the infantry and cossacks refused to fire on the crowds or to charge them. Towards evening a detachment of cossacks actually charged and dispersed a body of mounted police.

Sunday, when it became known that the Emperor had proroged the Duma and that it had refused to recognize this order, there was disorganized and sporadic fighting all over the city, with heavy loss of life. The unmounted police were withdrawn from the streets. Many regiments which had been locked in their barracks, mutinied, during the night, killed some of their officers, and marched to defend the Duma, which was still sitting. [page 3 of the telegram] By Monday the disorganized riots developed into a systematic revolutionary movement on the part of the working men and the constantly growing numbers of mutinied troops, to capture the city of Petrograd. The fighting moved rapidly across the city from the Duma as a center, so that by Monday night, only isolated houses and public buildings, upon which machine guns were mounted, were held by the police and the few remaining loyal troops. At midnight the Duma had announced that it had taken the government into its own hands and had formed an Executive Committee to be the head of the temporary government.

Tuesday and Wednesday the fighting was confined to volleys from machine guns fired by the police from the isolated house tops, public buildings and churches, and the return fire by the soldiers, such fighting continuing until all police were taken. Violence necessary in arresting government, army and police officials, took place at this time.

During these two days the fighting around the Consulate was severe, and on several occasions it seemed as if nothing could save the Singer Building from total demolition. Machine guns were presumably being operated from points of advantage in this building by police agents, as well as from neighboring buildings, the revolutionists replying with volleys from their rifles and machine guns mounted in automobiles.

At 4:30 o'clock Monday afternoon troops, always without officers, entered the building. All the business offices in it had been deserted early in the day, except the Consulate. When the soldiers reached the third floor they were shown the location of the Consulate by one of the staff. They insisted on seeing the balconies of the Consulate, and several soldiers, with members of the Consulate staff entered the Consulate and satisfied themselves that no machine guns were [page 4 of the telegram] located there. No damage was done in the Consulate, but other offices and the building itself were considerably injured.

Notice was given that kerosene would be poured on the building and burned. At 5:30 o'clock the Consulate was closed after everything of importance had been placed in the safe and notices posted on a1l the doors, stating that the nature of the office was foreign and contained only property of the United States Government. The staff left the building under heavy fire and with a guard.

At 6:30 o' clock, when the firing had ceased, it was arranged to have a Consulate employee constantly on duty, day and night. This alone saved the Consulate from being violated, for Tuesday and Wednesday there was no order in the city and the Singer building was visited five times by armed soldiers, many of whom were intoxicated, looking for weapons.

A military guard has now been furnished the Consulate and the office is intact, and safe for the present at least. The fact that the Consulate is not in a separate building owned by the American Government is particularly unfortunate in this city, there the question of protection of Americana is so apt to arise and where prejudices against firms located in the same building endangers the Consulate and the lives of the staff.

The Singer building has been under suspicion since the beginning of the war as being German, the masses believing the Singer Company to be a German corporation.

I have had to defend the American eagle on the top of the building, as it was believed to be a German eagle and the crowd intended to tear it down until I explained in Russian the difference between the American and German eagle.

The Consulate is keeping in touch with the members of the American colony, none of whom up to the present have been injured. As the Consulate is not at all suitable for housing [page 5 of the telegram] purposes, having no kitchen, bath or sleeping accomodations, I have notified the members of the Colony that in case they are turned out of their homes or hotels or have to leave for protection, they may come to my home, which is centrally located, where I could protect them and make them fairly comfortable.

I shall make only a limited report of observations on the political situation leading up to the economic situation in this district. It being supposed the Embassy has already cabled a report in the matter.

Immediately following the assumption of national authority by the Executive Committee of the Duma, the Council of Workmans' Deputies challenged its exclusive authority. This council is a body which existed secretly during the old regime and represented the revolutionary workmen. Spontaneously a third authority appeared in the Council of Soldiers' Deputies which soon merged with the workmens' council under the name of the Council of Workmen's Soldiers' Deputies.

Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, (the 13th, 14th, and 15th,) were, up to the present, the most critical times of the revolution, when there was immediate danger of civil war in Petrograd between the Duma and the Council of Workmens' and Soldiers' Deputies. This crisis passed however, when, late on Thursday afternoon, a provisional agreement was reached. This agreement was based on a temporary ministry chosen from the members of the Duma with a political program of eight points:

On the 15th [the 2nd is crossed out-ed.] of March the Emperor abdicated for himself in favor of his brother the Grand Duke Michael. On the 16th [the 3rd is crossed out] the Grand Duke Micheal declined the throne unless it should be offered him by the Constitutional Convention. This again averted further civil war as it put all parties in agreement to await the Constitutional Convention.

The old police which was maintained by the national government as a part of the Ministry of the Interior, has been replaced by the City Militia, a volunteer organization under the auspice of the National Duma and the Board of Aldermen. It is now maintaining order throughout the city and cooperating with the Commissariats in the various wards. The Commissariats are under the control of the Council of Workmen's and Soldiers' and Deputies, which still sits in conjunction with the National Duma.

Passport regulations for foreigners have not been changed and are controlled by a new Gradonatchalnik (Chief of City or Chief of Police) who is now, as formerly, dependent on the Ministry of the Interior.

A new Mayor has been chosen by the Aldermen. He is attempting to control and improve the local food supply which is again the danger point as at the beginning of the revolution. All necessities have to be brought to Petrograd from the provinces and a serious food shortage now exists. If it is not relieved at once it will cause further serious disorders capable of developing into new revolutionary movements with greater [page 7 of the telegram] socialistic tendencies than heretofore.

Today, March 20th, for the first time in ten days, a very few electric street cars are running but not enough to constitute a resumption of the service. The workmen have not returned to the factories as was hoped.

I have the etc. ["the honor to be, Sir, Your obedient servant," is crossed out--ed.]

North Winship [signature]
["American Consul." is crossed out]

{Editor's Note: A stamp at the top of the page reads: "CLASSIFICATION CANCELED AUTHORITY LETTER OF 1-3-53 FROM W.H. ANDERSON, STATE DEP'T BY PAUL PLINKET [signature] DATE 5 Jan 1960 [written]"}

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