Why Did Catherine the Great`s Legal Reform Fail

Has Catherine set Russia on a new path? Over the past decade, questions about his true intentions have piled up. The official and writer Alexander Radishchev created a state of empire during his trip from St. Petersburg to Moscow. While Catherine read the work in 1790 as a “Jacobin” attack, Radishchev was a child of his reign and advocated further reforms rather than revolutions. The historiography of the nineteenth century and much of the Soviet Union was at best ambivalent, at worst critical. The accusation of hypocrisy was a feature of his reputation in the 19th century. Her initial reputation was held hostage by sexism, inherent in a biographical obsession with the private lives of leaders – like Marie Antoinette, she was ridiculed by continental and British cartoonists. An adequate assessment of their reign was difficult to form, as Catherine`s works, published by the Russian Academy of Sciences in 1901-1907, were very incomplete and omitted much of their correspondence and instruction. Historian Simon Dixon has observed that the reaction to the centenary of the two charters in 1885 led to a split between bourgeois nationalists, who viewed their heritage as constitutionalist, and defenders of the privileges of the nobility and the values of the empire.

For all her forward-looking reforms and claims to act in the name of the “common good,” Catherine did not always act in the best interests of those she governed. For example, serfs did not receive a representative in the legislative assembly created to discuss the implementation of the nakaz. The absence of serfs is particularly distressing, since the majority of Catherine`s subjects, more than five million people, were serfs (1). Their absence was justified, assuming that their masters would be able to speak enough for their needs. A remarkably regressive view, especially given Nakaz`s stated goal of incorporating modern and enlightened principles into the Russian legal system. Moreover, even some of Katharina`s attempts at modernization have led to public dissatisfaction. Surveyors were sent to ensure that as much farmland as possible was being used optimally. This placed great demands on serfs and peasants and forced them to work much harder than before, which led to widespread discontent. As such, the serfs rebelled against them in 1773, rallying behind Yemelyan Pugachev, a charismatic former officer in the Tsarist army who claimed to be Peter III who returned to claim his rightful throne.

Although Pugachev`s rebellion was eventually crushed, it lasted until 1775 and the scale of the rebellion undermined Catherine`s claim that she was always able to act in the best interest of her people. Catherine`s failure to abolish feudalism is often cited as justification for characterizing her as a hypocritical, albeit enlightened, despot. Although Hartley acknowledges that serfdom is “a scar for Russia,” she points to the practical obstacles the Empress faced in implementing such a profound reform, adding, “Where [Catherine] could do things, she did things.” A few years after her reign, Catherine embarked on an ambitious legal enterprise, inspired and partially plagiarized by the writings of great thinkers. The 1767 document, dubbed the Nakaz or Instruction, described the Empress`s vision of a progressive Russian nation and even addressed the intoxicating issue of abolishing serfdom. If all goes according to plan, Massie said, the proposed law would “raise the level of government administration, justice and tolerance within their empire.” But these changes did not materialize, and Catherine`s proposals remained so. Domestically, Catherine`s economic policies produced mixed results. Russia`s economic development has not met Western European standards. While there was an advent of industry, Russia had no free peasantry, no large middle class, and no legislation conducive to private enterprise. Catherine tried to impose a system of state regulation of traders` activities, but it failed. Their promotion of Volga German migration was more successful in modernizing the production and milling of wheat, tobacco, sheep farming and small-scale production. While the majority of serfs were peasants attached to the land, a nobleman could see his serfs sent to learn a trade or be educated in a school and employ them in companies that paid wages.

[62] This occurred more frequently during Catherine`s reign because of the new schools she founded. Only in this way, in addition to being drafted into the army, could a serf leave the court for which he was responsible, but this was used to sell serfs to people who could not legally possess them because there was no nobility abroad. Russia often treated Judaism as a separate entity, and Jews were subject to a separate legal and bureaucratic system. After the annexation of Polish territories, the Jewish population of the Reich increased considerably. Catherine imposed additional taxes on followers of Judaism, but when a family converted to the Orthodox faith, this additional tax was repealed. In 1785, it officially declared the foreign Jewish population with foreign rights. Catherine`s decree also denied them the rights of Orthodox or naturalized citizens of Russia. Taxes doubled again in 1794 for people of Jewish descent and Catherine officially declared that Jews had no relationship with Russians. The election of Princess Sophie as the wife of the future tsar was the result of the Lopukhina affair, in which Count Jean Armand de Lestocq and King Frederick the Great of Prussia actively participated. The aim was to strengthen the friendship between Prussia and Russia, weaken Austria`s influence, and overthrow Chancellor Alexey Bestuzhev-Ryumin, a well-known supporter of the Austrian alliance on which Russian Empress Elisabeth relied. The diplomatic intrigue failed, mainly due to the intervention of Sophie`s mother, Joanna Elisabeth von Holstein-Gottorf. Historical accounts portray Joanna as a cold, abusive woman who loved gossip and court intrigue.

Her lust for glory centered on her daughter`s prospects of becoming Empress of Russia, but she enraged Empress Elizabeth, who eventually banished her from the country for spying for King Frederick. Empress Elisabeth knew the family well and wanted to marry Princess Johanna`s brother, Karl August (Karl August von Holstein); However, he died of smallpox in 1727 before the marriage could take place. Despite Joan`s interference, Empress Elisabeth took great pleasure in Sophie, and Sophie and Pierre finally married in 1745.[11] As part of the governorate reform of 1775, new cities such as Odessa, Dnipro and Sevastopol were formed, while the administrative and territorial division of the entire empire was reformed. The main objective of the reform was to adapt the new administrative structure to fiscal and police issues, but it was also carried out to consolidate power among the nobility in order to stop peasant uprisings. The reform of the governorate also changed the judicial system of the Russian Empire. Catherine the Great was thus able to modernize herself by autocratic means. It demonstrates that the “old regimes” that preceded the era of revolutions were not entirely built on regressive principles. While failing to exercise his power in a form that met the needs of the serfs who constituted the majority of the population of his empire. There is no denying that their rule brought significant advances in the Russian legal and educational system.