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Jānis Čakste

The President of Latvia, 1922-1927

 

Jānis Čakste was the President of the Republic of Latvia within a period from 1922 to 1927. He was the first President of the Republic of Latvia and his task was to represent the new Latvian state. Čakste was aware that the president of the democratic and small state must not play up the ceremony with a pretentious theatrics in order not to become a comedian and also should not represent own Republic with the lowered head, simple manners and the lack of self-confidence, because then he and his state would not be respected either by fellow countrymen or foreign representatives, and the contemporaries gave evidence to the fact that he had managed to find the golden mean. 

 

 

Born on 14 September 1859 in Čakstu-Zirņu house of Lielsesava parish, Jelgava district. Received the basic education in Anna Elementary School, continued his education in Kurzeme province grammar school in Jelgava and graduated it in 1882. Just the same year he entered the Moscow University, Law Department, which he graduated from in 1886. During a period of studies, he established Latvian Students Association in Moscow and arranged Moscow Latvians’ parties. 

 

He worked as the secretary of Kurzeme province public prosecutor’ office, in 1888 – as an advocate in Jelgava. In 1887 he became the Head of Jelgava Latvian Society, took an active part working at the Committee of Jelgava Agriculture Academy, Kurzeme Bee-keepers Association and the Latvian Red Cross, drawing up the articles of association of new associations as the lawyer. Since 1889, he held the office of editor the most popular newspaper in Kurzeme “Tēvija” (“Motherland”). In 1895, he was one of the main organizers of IV All-Latvian Song Festival in Jelgava. He partially financed this event as well. In 1905, he took part in the development of the Latvia’s autonomy project.

 

In 1906, he was elected at the Russian Lower Chamber (State Duma). After its dissolution J.Čakste signed the so-called Vyborg Manifesto in Finland together with other 166 deputies, calling the citizens not to pay taxes and ignore the existing conscription procedure until the City Council was convened, for which he was imprisoned for three months. In 1915, J.Čakste moved to Tartu, where he took part in establishing the Central committee of Latvian refugees, in 1917 he became the Chairman of the committee. In 1917 he set out to the USA in order to propagate the idea of independence of Latvia; he wrote the pamphlet in Stockholm "Die Letten und ihre Latvia: Eine lettische Stimme" ("The Latvians and Their Latvia: What is the Latvian’s Voice ").

 

In 1918, J.Čakste was elected as the Chairman of the Presidium of People’ Council, organized the Latvian Diplomatic corps, headed the Latvian delegation at the Paris Peace Conference, which requested to recognize the independence of Latvia. In 1919, he returned to Latvia. Pursuant to the resolution of the Constituent Assembly and the Latvian State System Transitional Provisions (Provisional Regulations) J.Čakste was entrusted to perform the obligations of the State President and the Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Army. From 1920 to 1921, he was a Professor of the International law of the University of Latvia. 

 

On 14 November 1922, he opened the Saeima (Parliament) and was elected as the first President of the Republic of Latvia. On 25 March 1924, he promulgated the Law on the Order of Three Stars. On 6 November 1925, he was re-elected to be the President of the State of Latvia.

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He died on 14 March 1927 and was buried at Meža Cemetery in Riga. With his style of political actions, J.Čakste created authority of the office held by the State President. Within a period of his presidency, there were 402 laws promulgated, 549 convicts were granted an amnesty. 
 

Biography  

 

Jānis Čakste was the inhabitant of Zemgale, he was born on 14 September 1859 in Jelgava district, Lielsesava Čakstu-Zirņu house. His father Krišjānis was a farmer. Jānis Čakste obtained the basic education in Anna elementary school; afterwards he studied at Jelgava grammar school, where Latvian students took an active part in the school parties with reports. During the grammar school period, young Čakste was under a great impression of Māteru Juris, an ardent organizer of Kurzeme small farmers and the publisher and editor of “Baltijas Zemkopje”.

 

In 1882, he finished the grammar school at the age of 23; Čakste left for Moscow, where    he entered the Moscow University, Law Department, which graduated from in 1886. During a period of studies, he established the Latvian Students Association in Moscow, wherefrom later on the students’ society Austrums (East) and corporation Fraternitas Moscoviensis emerged. During a period of studies, he was active in the organization of Moscow Latvians’ parties jointly with Krišjānis Valdemārs, Fricis Brīvzemnieks and others, which were of major social, cultural, and national importance. During a period of studies, Jānis Čakste attempted in his research to turn to the ancient Kurzeme and Zemgale duchy colonies, in particular Tobago.

 

Immediately after the graduation in 1886, Jānis Čakste joined the newly established Kurzeme province Public prosecutor’ office as secretary. However, Čakste did not like the bureaucratic service and he quickly left the official’s career in order to be independent. Čakste started practicing as an advocate in Jelgava, which was a significant cultural and social life centre. Čakste took an active part in the social life of Latvians and already became the head of the Jelgava Latvians’ society in 1887. Čakste organized the agriculture department, which later developed into the Jelgava agriculture association and established many other societies. Čakste worked actively at the committee of Kurzeme Bee-keepers Association and the Latvian Red Cross. Being the lawyer, Čakste drawn up the articles of association of newly founded societies. 

 

Jānis Čakste actively worked over the consolidation of Latvian communities. The newspaper Tēvija that had emerged in Jelgava since 1888, which became the most popular weekly newspaper in Kurzeme facilitated these activities. Since 1889, Čakste was the editor of Tēvija and strongly fought against the noblemen’ privileges. Being the leader of small farmers’ delegates, he took part in a number of meetings, which were convened by the Russian government aimed at discussing the agricultural issues.

 

IV All-Latvian Song Festival played a great role in the cultural life of Latvians that was held on 15-18 June 1895 in Jelgava. The Song Festival was both a cultural and also a political demonstration. Jānis Čakste was the main organizer and partially the financier thereof.

 


Čakste was active within the period of the revolution of 1905. During this time, he was involved in the development of the Latvia autonomy project. In April 1906, Čakste was elected as the Member of Parliament to the new Russian Duma together with Jānis Kreicbergs, Arvīds Bremens, Jānis Ozoliņš and Francis Trasūns. Latvian Members of Parliament worked at the Duma in the liberal cadet fraction. When the Russian Tsar Nicholas II dissolved I State Duma in the beginning of July 1906, Čakste protested against that in the so-called Vyborg Appeal (Manifesto) in Finland together with other democratic deputies. In the summer 1908, Čakste was imprisoned for 3 months for this act in Jelgava jail. This disabled him to stand for elections at the second State Duma, as well as to pay holding the office of the editor of Tēvija. It should be noted that during the period of operation of I State Duma, Čakste submitted a bill, which provided for expropriation of the Baltic church land and allocation thereof to leaseholders.

 

Starting from World War I, Jānis Čakste renewed activities of the committee of Jelgava Red Cross in August 1914, arranging hospitals for 100 wounded soldiers and collecting donations for the needs of front-line fighters. Already at the third day of war, Čakste got together Latvian officers and practitioners of medicine at his place of residence and expressed his hope in a patriotic speech that the war could make it possible for the Latvians to get a certain freedom. In respect to two Daugavgrīva Latvian battalions, a decisive role in the defence of Jelgava played by Čakste was that in May 1915 he organized a patriotic manifestation, which paved the way for a sharp denunciation of the Kurzeme nobility marshal of the Russian Imperial Court.

 

In entering Kurzeme by Germans, Čakste moved to Tartu jointly with his family (his wife Justine (born in Vesere) and two children came from Piebalga), where he was elected as the Chief of the local Refugee Committee. Čakste took part in the foundation of the central committee Latvian Refugees and was elected as its Deputy Chief at the Congress of Refugees held on 30-31 August 1915 in Saint Petersburg. On 28 March 1917, after the death of Vilis Plutes-Olavs, the chairperson of the central committee, Čakste was designated to continue his work.

 

On 7 May 1917, Čakste was elected as the President of Kurzeme Land Congress in Tartu and he was nominated as the Commissioner of Kurzeme province soon after. As such, he moved to Kazan later on. Before the revolution, Čakste went to the United States together with Kreicbergs to defend the interests of Latvians and he was surprised with the news about the revolution in Stockholm. Čakste published a valuable overview "Die Letten und ihre Latvia: Eine lettische Stimme" ("The Latvians and Their Latvia: What is the Latvian’s Voice") in Stockholm. Čakste  declared there: "The Latvian nation wishes to protect Latvia, being their native land, to get an open-ended opportunity and freedom to rule for sure own natural, cultural, and economic development in Latvia.” 

 

Starting activities in the Latvian Transitional National Council in the fall of 1917, Jānis Čakste began to work at the Foreign Department, where he developed texts for memoranda aimed at submitting to Western embassies in Saint Petersburg and protested against the German annexation plans in the Baltic region. On 26 - 28 June 1918, Čakste leaded 3rd Session of the National Council already in the conditions of conspiracy. On 17 November 1918, Jānis Čakste was unanimously elected as Chairman of the Latvian People’s Council, who lived at his rural house “Auči” in Jelgava district at that time. By a telegram, he was invited to arrive for the Act of Proclamation of the Republic of Latvia on November 18, but the news came late, thus the event of the Act of Proclamation was opened by his comrade Gustavs Zemgals, later the second President of the Latvian State, and the government declaration was voiced by Kārlis Ulmanis, later the fourth President of the Latvian State.

 

       First half of 1919, Jānis Čakste spent in Paris performing foreign policy tasks as he defended the new government interests at the Paris (Versailles) Peace Conference, magnificently cooperating with representatives of all directions. Čakste also elaborated the repatriation requirements from Germany. However, it did not get the Allied support.    F.Cielēns witnessed, “He did not thrust upon own official authority, was not in a hurry to express own thoughts covering any issue, he was a wonderful Chairman, who appropriately turned discussions to the rational working channel, always kept the spirit of unity and sympathetic treatment to all members of the delegation.” Having returned to Latvia, Čakste handed over the management of the delegation to the Minister for foreign affairs Z.Meierovics on June 21. On July 13, J.Čakste took over the management of the meeting of People’s Council in Riga. At that time, J Čakste politically belonged to the Farmers Union, which he left however very soon, as he could not reconcile to Kārlis Ulmanis’s overbearing party management style.

 

The academic activities of Jānis Čakste, which were commenced in September 1919 with the foundation of the Latvian High School, are less known. Čakste took an active part in establishing the national economics and law faculty, in the development of educational programme and plan, as well as in the selection of the academic teaching staff. Having the status of associate professor, Čakste was the first lecturer of the course of international public law at the high school. On 14 November 1919, he was appointed to hold the office of professor. Jānis Čakste delivered the course of lectures on the state law on officers’ courses free of charge. Celebrating the fifth anniversary of the high school on 28 September 1924, he was awarded Dr. jur. honoris causa (honorary doctorate) degree.

 

On 1 May 1920, Jānis Čakste was elected as Chairman of the first Latvian Parliament – the Constituent Assembly with 83 votes (the social democrat J.Rainis got 48 votes).

 

 


On 7 November 1922 after the adoption of the Constitution, the first meeting of Parliament (Saeima) took place and official elections of the State President of the Republic of Latvia took place on 14 November 1922. Jānis Čakste was elected at the second round by 92 votes and 6 votes abstained. At this time, Čakste had been already the head of the Democratic centre. At the age of 63, Čakste was elected to hold the post of the State President. His task was representation of the new Latvian state. Čakste was aware that a president of the democratic and small state should not play up the ceremony with pretentious theatrics in order not to become a comedian and also should not represent own Republic with the lowered head, simple manners and the lack of self-confidence, because then he and his state would not be respected either by fellow countrymen or foreign representatives, and the contemporaries gave evidence to the fact that he had managed to find the golden mean. 

 

On 6 November 1925, at the next presidency elections, three candidates were nominated already: the social democrat Rainis, K.Ulmanis from the Farmers’ Union, and Jānis Čakste from the Democratic centre. At the first voting with one vote abstained, they received 33, 32 and 29 votes respectively. Then the Social democratic fraction withdrew Rainis from the candidate pool. At the second round with tree votes abstained, Čakste got 60 votes, but Ulmanis got 31 vote.

 

During a period of his presidency, from 14 November 1922 to 14 March 1927, Jānis Čakste signed and promulgated 402 laws adopted by Saeima, he returned three laws for reconsideration. Pursuant to the rights granted by the Constitution, he pardoned 549 inmates and only once he received the public censure, when he had amnestied and released from jail Andrievs Niedre convicted for high treason, although banished him to live in exile, in April 1926. During the presidency of Čakste, the Latvian government changed seven times and it was he, who nominated the most appropriate politicians to compile the Cabinet of Ministers.

 

Čakste paid very much attention to foreign affairs. He requested that Latvian ambassadors first of all would come with their reports to him after returning from abroad rather than to the Minister for foreign affairs; he carefully studied the information received himself and even suggested particular candidates to hold the office of ambassador sometimes, as well as tried to achieve that the most appropriate and enabling officials world work at the diplomatic corps. 

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During the period of presidency, he paid two state visits. On 23-25 February 1925, Jānis Čakste met with the State President of Estonia Juri Jaakson in Tallinn.  The same year in Maya visit was repaid to Riga, although the two states did not sign any agreement at the end of negotiations; the visits noticeable dissipated the issue on the borders by the reason of tension arisen between the two nations. On 15-16 May 1926, Čakste paid the state visit to Finland, where he met with the State President of Finland Lauri Relander in Helsinki. The return visit in Latvia was paid in the same year on 21-24 June.

 

Čakste’s contemporaries characterized him to be an extremely active, loyal, and patriotic politician, a distinguished diplomat, peaceful, erudite and a caring human being. Čakste paid much attention to the youth, especially supported Boy Scout organization, actually took care of the welfare of warriors, followed the structure and needs of the army. Jānis Čakste was not a partisan; he considered corruption and the introduction of the ethos of clique in the social life to be the biggest challenge of the society.

 

Čakste still lively accepted the New Year wishes on 1 January 1927, and he died at the age of 68 on 14 March 1927. Around 150 thousand persons attended Jānis Čakste’s funeral; his grave in Meža Cemetery became the symbolic Latvian link with the past and the area of patriotic demonstration.