The Tanzimat era began with the purpose, not of radical transformation, but of modernization, desiring to consolidate the social and political foundations of the Ottoman Empire. It was characterised by various attempts to modernise the Ottoman Empire and to secure its territorial integrity against internal nationalist movements and external aggressive powers. The reforms encouraged Ottomanism among the diverse ethnic groups of the Empire and attempted to stem the tide of nationalist movements within the Ottoman Empire.
The reforms sought to emancipate the empire's non-Muslim subjects and more thoroughly integrate non-Turks into Ottoman society by enhancing their civil liberties and granting them equality throughout the empire. In the midst of being forced to recognize the supremacy of Western power, the Ottoman elite intellectuals attempted to bring reconciliation between the West and the East within the framework of Islam.
Many changes were made to improve civil liberties, but many Muslims saw them as foreign influence on the world of Islam. That perception complicated reformist efforts made by the state.
During the Tanzimat period, the government's series of constitutional reforms led to a fairly modern conscripted army, banking system reforms, the decriminalization of homosexuality, the replacement of religious law with secular law and guilds with modern factories. The Ottoman Ministry of Post was established in Constantinople on 23 October 1840.
The reforms emerged from the minds of reformist sultans like Mahmud II, his son Abdulmejid I and prominent, often European-educated bureaucrats, who recognised that the old religious and military institutions no longer met the needs of the empire. Most of the symbolic changes, such as uniforms, were aimed at changing the mindset of imperial administrators. Many of the officials affiliated with the government were encouraged to wear a more western style of dress. Many of the reforms were attempts to adopt successful European practices. The reforms were heavily influenced by the Napoleonic Code and French law under the Second French Empire as a direct result of the increasing number of Ottoman students being educated in France. Changes included the elimination of the devshirme system of conscription in favour of universal conscription; educational, institutional and legal reforms; and systematic attempts at eliminating political corruption.
Also, a policy called Ottomanism was meant to unite all the different peoples living in Ottoman territories, "Muslim and non-Muslim, Turkish and Greek, Armenian and Jewish, Kurd and Arab". The policy officially began with the Edict of Gülhane of 1839, declaring equality before the law for both Muslim and non-Muslim Ottomans.