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Lecture 6

HIST 245 Lecture 6: HIST 245 - Week 3.1


Department
History
Course Code
HIST 245
Professor
Ana Siljak
Lecture
6

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HISTORY 245
IMPERIAL RUSSIA
Lecture 5: Catherine the Great, Part II
I. Enlightened Despotism?
-1762, June 28 - Catherine takes power in an early morning coup and has a quick coronation in
St. Petersburg
-She plans an elaborate coronation in Moscow (symbolic of the blending between old and new
Russia) —> full of public plays, fireworks, dancing, etc.
-This symbolizes who is ruling Russia now and symbolism for the rest of her reign
-The elaborate ceremony (coronation) was useful in establishing her rule, but it didn’t help/
disguise the difficulties that Catherine would face during her reign
-First place: Elizabeth had left the treasury nearly empty and Elizabeth wasn’t interested in
making sure that her rule was stable (never really looked at the sources of state revenue since
Peter I), The Russian administration was in disarray —> again something Elizabeth wasn’t
interested in
-Most importantly, dynastic politics continues to be an issue when Catherine takes power
-The two major factions at Court were The Panin family and the Orlov Brothers
-Nikita Panin - was originally appointed as the tutor to Catherine’s son by Elizabeth —> saw
this as a great position to become an advisor to Catherine once she took power and assumed
that she would be like Elizabeth (very willing to take advice from her Advisors) and he saw it as
his job to stir this new ruler into certain policies that he thought would be appropriate —>
however he misjudge Catherine (he did become a trusted advisor, but she made sure to keep
him in check during her reign)
- Orlov Brothers - these were the brothers that brought Catherine into power and for that reason,
thought it their due to get favours at Court (wanted important political positions at Court)
-These two parties were constantly in conflict —> within the Dashcova reading (was in the
Panin faction and didn’t like the Orlov faction at all)
-Catherine learns how to manage these court factions —> she would reward all of these people
for their services, distributed gifts (post-coronation) to both factions, appointed all of the Orlovs
to high rank in administration and gave important people in the Panin faction important roles at
court
-She would use spies to ensure that none of these factions were gaining the upper hand and to
report on them —> got this idea from Elizabeth
-Catherine, like Peter before her, uses traditional court methods to deal with Court factions at
court, but is also determined to tactical these types of problems (state revenue, administration,
court functions, etc.) through Enlightened solutions
-Tries to bring order into the administration, seeks to transform the Russian legal system by
using Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws, like Peter, she does not neglect culture (she feels that
if a state and a society are to be Enlightened, so to must the culture be Enlightened) - spread
of literacy and education, support of scientific scholarly research, the spread of medical
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advances, women’s education (can all be credited to Catherine) —> prof believes Catherine
was far more remarkable that Peter I in the culture reforms
-Catherine would travel through the country and learn about the needs of her subjects and how
best to improve their lives
-In this way Catherine, according to historians, is considered to be a classic Enlightened Despot
-There was similar rulers to Catherine like Frederick II of Prussia & Joseph II of Austria
(also enlightened Despots), who used their absolute power to introduce reforms that could
eventually undermine their absolute power, but they did so by force
-Enlightened Despotism was seen to be very intriguing as it introduced checks on
governmental power, progressive reforms in society, but done cohesively through the power
of the State
-The question becomes: What is Catherine? Was she an Enlightened ruler or was she a semi-
Machiavellian ruler who used the Enlightenment to service her own means?
II. Enlightenment at Home
-The first thing Catherine does is get rid of any previous understanding/thought about female
rulers
A. Great Instruction and Legislative Commission
-Panin wanted Catherine to just hand over the reins of power like Elizabeth had —> he argued
for an institute of a so-called council that he would head, which would be composed of 68
people, who would be appointed by Catherine for life and who would serve as the real
government of Russia
-However, Catherine, like Peter I in many ways, was a micro-manager, had no interest in any
sort of Council taking over her domain of authority
-was determined to control every aspect of State affairs and used her advisors for
consultations only —> quickly denies Panin’s proposal and appoints him with dealing with
Foreign Affairs (in a sense, exiling him to foreign affairs and domestic affairs would be
Catherine’s concern)
-She revives the old form of the Senate and she increases the number of senators and divides up
their tasks very specifically —> she like Peter before her, wrote them nasty letters if she felt
that they weren’t doing their jobs and government officials did fear of her
-The first thing Catherine does (inspired by Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws - her bible) was an
enormous project - the rationalization and reorganization of all Russia’s Laws
-The laws had been the same since Peter I’s reign - since 1649, all the laws passed by previous
tsars had just been complied into one large text
-Since 1649, thousands of laws have been passed
-The Great Instruction (Nakaz) was a statement of legal principles written by Catherine II of
Russia, and permeated with the ideas of the French Enlightenment (was to be a guide to the
codification of Russian law)
-contained 22 chapters in its final version - legal principles, that historians say were copies
from Montesquieu’s text
-Was an enlightened work - declares that all citizens in Russia were equal before the law, that
punishments for violations of the law should always fit the crime, that men are innocent until
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proven guilty, that torture and capital punishment should be abolished except in the most
extreme circumstances, that should be religious toleration, that laws should be clear and
consist so that they are understandable to the people, and that citizens should become
educated in the law
-This text was written for a Russian audience so that they could start a new legal culture in
Russia, but also written for a wider European context -
-She wanted to become a part of the Enlightened Republic of Letters - Frederick II of
Prussia praised it as being worthy of a great man
-Within the Instruction, Catherine declares that Russia is a European state - she gives her
reasons: Peter I introduced the manner and customs of Europe to the Russians, etc.
-The second point about Russia is that The Sovereign is absolute —> Russia is way too big to
be anything, ruled by anything, but a single all powerful ruler
-Its Enlightened in a number of ways, but certainly in a way that Catherine leaves enough
room within the Instruction that she is still the all powerful one within the State
-This was seen as a text that shock up Europe —> especially the enlightened thinkers of Europe,
they were quiet please with these ideas coming out of what seemed to be a wild country
-This Instruction was the introduction to Legislative Commission
-Here all free Russians, excluding serfs, would come to Moscow to discuss the codification of
Russian Laws —> this breaks all traditional president in Russia
-Each deputy represented their class (one for the nobility, one for the townspeople, one for the
free peasants, one for the non-christian populations) and these deputies would discuss the
codification of Russian law
-Catherine asked all the deputies to bring with them, petitions from the section of society that
they wanted Russian law to take into account or their worries —> hundreds of petitions were
brought to Moscow
-The Legislative Commission was more of a performance than an actual, partial, institution —>
many obstacles were faced: some people were illiterate or uneducated in politics, some of the
peasants had to leave to tend to their crops, debates were endless, too many petitions to
presented and hard to keep up with the demands, the nobility made sure that nothing in the
Legislative Commission would interfere with their privileges, etc. —> This commission was
disbanded in 1768
-Important after effects occurred because of this: codification of Russian law and reforming
the legal system became something monarchs would revisit time and again, it was seen to
make Russian law rational and work appropriately
B. Legal Reforms
-There were many reasons to reform the legal system - efficiency of government was a
concern of hers
-There was an event that inspired her to do Legal Reforms and that was the Pugachev revolt
-Emelian Pugachev - born in the area now known as the Ukraine, known as borderland
people, and declared that he was Peter III (who had escaped prison and was ready to come
back and take back his throne from Catherine) and was able to gain many followers
-In October 1773, Pugachev and his followers attacked the Russian territory and cities -
would destroy government buildings and noble estates
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