Centralization, meanwhile, was slowed by interference from the major European powers, who obstructed the Ottoman attempt to recover power in Bosnia and Montenegro in 1853, forced the granting of autonomy to Mount Lebanon in 1861, and considered, but eventually rejected, intervention to prevent the Ottomans from suppressing a Cretan revolt of 1868. Although Britain and France helped the Ottomans resist Russian pressure during the Crimean War (1853-56), the Ottomans derived no real benefits from the peace settlement; new arrangements helped to bring about the unification of the principalities (1859) and paved the way for the emergence of independent Romania.
In 1860 French troops appeared in Lebanon and Syria and new solutions were prepared for the problems in Lebanon. Meanwhile Abdulmedjid died, being succeeded by Abdulaziz. There were immediate rebellions in the Balkans but these were soon subdued. They were followed by further mutinies in Crete but these were solved by diplomacy rather than military might.
During this decade two influential newspapers were established, the Tercüman-i Ahval (1860) and the Tasvir-i Efkâr (1862); along with later newspapers, these became the vehicles for Young Ottoman ideas.
Drought in 1873 and floods in 1874 had produced widespread discontent and even famine among the Ottoman peasantry, who already were disturbed by the increased burdens of a landholding system that had spread in the Balkans in the 19th century and by increased taxation and greater liability to conscription resulting from the 1869 military reorganization. The burden of taxation had been aggravated by the Ottoman debt burden. The first Ottoman foreign loan was in 1854; by 1875 the nominal public debt was £200,000,000, with annual interest and amortization payments of £12,000,000, more than half the national revenue. The Ottomans could meet only about half of their annual obligation, however, because a world financial crisis in 1873 had made new credit difficult to obtain.
In 1876 Abdulaziz was dethroned after a rule of just 90 days. Abdul Hamid the Second succeeded him.
Balkan discontent was fanned by nationalist agitation supported by Serbia and by émigré Slav organizations. It culminated in uprisings largely of Christian peasants against Muslim lords in Bosnia and Herzegovina (July 1875) and in Bulgaria (August 1876). Ottoman efforts to suppress the uprisings led to war with Serbia and Montenegro (July 1876) and to attempts by European powers to force Ottoman reforms
Arising within the higher Ottoman bureaucracy itself, it was led by Midhat Pasa. Midhat and others became determined, because of their own exclusion from power and because of the disastrous results of Abdülaziz's policies, to impose some check on the sultan's power. The traditional check was deposition, and this was accomplished (May 30, 1876) following a riot by theological students and the removal of the hated grand vizier Mahmud Nedim Pasa, Abdülhamid was persuaded to agree to a constitution. The December 23 document was the first comprehensive Ottoman constitution and (except for a Tunisian organic law of 1861) the first in any Islamic country. The constitution was derived entirely from the will of the ruler, who retained full executive power and to whom ministers were individually responsible. In legislation the sultan was assisted by a two-chamber Parliament, the lower house indirectly elected and the upper house nominated by the ruler. Rights of ruler and ruled were set out, but the system it established might best be described as attenuated autocracy. Midhat has been criticized for accepting certain amendments demanded by Abdülhamid, including the then-notorious article 113, which gave the sultan the right to deport persons harmful to the state.
At this point Serbia and Karadagh declared war on Turkey but their forces were routed by the Sultan at the head of his army. Despite this the Serbian Khanate declared themselves independent and began war again. The Serbs, under Prince Milan, were defeated and peace terms agreed upon. The peace conference began on December 23rd, 1876 when the Ottoman administration announced the First Legitimacy. The meetings ended without any result and a new war broke out between Turkey and Russia (April 24, 1877). The war ended in defeat for the Ottomans, but their unexpected resistance at Plevna (modern Pleven, Bulg.; July-December 1877) allowed other European powers, led by Britain, to intervene. According to the Treaty of San Stefano (March 3, 1878), the Ottomans were to recognize the independence of Romania, Serbia, and Montenegro and cede territory to them, concede autonomy to an extensive new state of Bulgaria, cede territory to Russia in the Dobruja (west of the Black Sea) and eastern Asia Minor, introduce various administrative reforms, and pay an indemnity.
The Parliament summoned under the constitution in March 1877 was dissolved in less than a year and was not recalled until 1908. The liberals were exiled; some, including Midhat, were put to death. and Abdul Hamid took personal charge of the administration. The reign of Abdülhamid II (1876-1909) is often regarded as having been a reaction against the Tanzimat, but, insofar as the essence of the Tanzimat reforms was centralization rather than liberalization, Abdülhamid may be seen as its fulfiller rather than its destroyer
The Congress of Berlin (June-July 1878) concluded when England had invaded Cyprus and Austria had taken Bosnia and Herzegovina, whilst France seized Tunisia. England took the rest of Egypt and the province of Eastern Roumania was subjected to Bulgaria in 1885. The settlement was a major defeat for the Ottomans. The Ottoman territories in Europe were reduced to Macedonia, Albania, and Thrace, and European influence had attained new dimensions. Britain now proposed to supervise governmental reforms in the Asian provinces, although this was skillfully frustrated by Abdülhamid II (ruled 1876-1909).
In addition, the Ottomans were soon forced to accept new financial controls. By the Decree of Muharrem (December 1881) the Ottoman public debt was reduced from £191,000,000 to £106,000,000, certain revenues were assigned to debt service, and a European-controlled organization, the Ottoman Public Debt Administration (OPDA), was set up to collect the payments. The OPDA subsequently played an important role in Ottoman affairs, acting as agent for the collection of other revenues and as an intermediary with European companies seeking investment opportunities.
Ottoman lost Tunisia to France in 1881, and Egypt, occupied by Britain in 1882. In 1891 Colonel Bassos, with 10,000 men, invaded Crete, conquering the island in the name of the Greek Empire. He then turned to mainland Turkey, but the Ottoman forces under Edhem Pasha routed the Greeks in a number of battles. Greece asked for peace and in 1897 the Peace of Istanbul was signed. The European powers, however, forced Abdülhamid to concede autonomy to Crete. There were rebellions in Macedonia in 1902 and Abdul Hamid was more successful in obstructing European efforts to force the introduction of substantial reforms in Macedonia.
Several conspiracies took place against Abdülhamid. In 1889 a conspiracy in the military medical college spread to other Istanbul colleges. These conspirators came to call themselves the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP; Ittihad ve Terakki Cemiyeti) and were commonly known as the Young Turks. When the plot was discovered, some of its leaders went abroad to reinforce Ottoman exiles in Paris, Geneva, and Cairo, where they helped prepare the ground for revolution by developing a comprehensive critique of the Hamidian system.
The real origin of the Young Turk Revolution of 1908 lay in the discontent within the 3rd Army Corps in Macedonia. On July 3, 1908, Major Ahmed Niyazi, apparently fearing discovery by an investigatory committee, decamped from Resne with 200 followers, including civilians, leaving behind a demand for the restoration of the constitution. The sultan's attempt to suppress this uprising failed, and rebellion spread rapidly. Unable to rely on other troops, on July 24 Abdülhamid announced the restoration of the constitution.