On 17th October, 1905, Nicholas II took the advice of Sergi Witte, his new Chief Minister, and published the October Manifesto. The manifesto granted freedom of conscience, speech, meeting and association. He also promised that in future people would not be imprisoned without trial. Finally it promised that no law would become operative without the approval of the State Duma.

Soon afterwards the Union of 17 October was established as a political association for the purpose of assisting the Russian government to implement the October Manifesto. Members of this association became known as Octobrists.

Led by Alexander Guchkov, the Octobrists commanded the greatest number of seats during the Third Duma (1907-1912). They initially supported Peter Stolypin and his government but became increasingly disillusioned by his reactionary policies.

During the First World War the Octobrists were critical of the way the country was run and in September, 1915, they joined with the Constitutional Democrat Party to advocate a comprehensive programme of reforms.