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Reign of Catherine II (1762-1796)
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Reign of Catherine II (1762-1796)

Catherine II, nee princess of Anhalt-Zerbst, married by the successor of the Russian throne in 1744, already from the 2nd half of the 50-es gradually paved her way to power. Excellent educated, friendly and polite, great princess and then empress Catherine Alexeyevna knew how to gain confidence not only of close friends but also of foreign monarchs, diplomats, scientists, who called her 'Tsarskoye Selo Minerva' and 'Nothern Semiramida'.
Having come to power as a result of palace revolution, Catherine II was compelled to conduct a flexible policy taking into account the public opinion in the country and abroad. The new empress considered first and foremost the task of strengthening of her personal power connected with growth of her authority, that's why she made her steps to it during the first decade of her reign. First Catherine II tried to emphasize her loyalty to the supreme imperial bureaucracy through her personal presence at 16 senatorial sessions before her departure for crowning in September 1762, and her order to the Senate to reconsider decisions of the previous government.
In February 1763 Catherine II founded the Commission of rights of nobility in the structure of the prospective council, she solemnly named it "the assembly established at Her Majesty court yard". But soon the work of the Commission was frozen because of her fears of probable oligarchic aspirations of councilors. In 1768-1778 the Military Council operated but its field of competence were operations against the Ottoman empire and questions connected with war.
On the 15th of December 1763 the Senate was divided into 6 departments, two of which were moved to Moscow. Breaking up of functions of the Senate and its filling with obedient officers weakened its meaning. In "The top secret directions" to the new Prosecutor-general A.A.Vyazemsky Catherine II ordered to suppress any attempts of bureaucratic self-will and to "replace all shady and suspicious people without mercy". Thus, already in the beginning of her reign, she took measures to nip in the bud realization of the political reform connected with restriction of the autocracy.
In Catherine's II reign the absolutist tendencies to eliminate distinctions in management and social sphere became evident to full extent. In 1764 in reply to the petition of the Ukrainian nobility about securing of the hetman succession law of the Razumovskies' dynasty Catherine II attacked the remains of the Ukrainian autonomy. By her decree of the 10th of December 1764 the hetman system was abolished and replaced by the Small Russian college headed by the governor-general P.A.Rumyantsev. In 1765 - 1767 the manhood of the territory was imposed by a tax of one ruble; in the 70-es the general census of the population took place, and the decree of the 3rd of May 1783 prohibited transfers of slave-peasants. Thus, the serfdom established in Ukraine too.
The decree of secularization of church possessions and transfer of monastery peasants to the state category was adopted on the 26th of February 1764. Almost 2 million peasants of both sexes were transferred to the College of economy and were imposed by capitation taxes. In 1786 - 1788 monastery and clergy peasants of Ukraine appeared in the same situation.
In the second half of XVIII century the basis principles of absolutism were realized to full extent. One of the most vivid examples of liberal undertakings of Catherine II was establishment in 1765 of the Free Economic society called to popularize advanced agronomical knowledge and to promote efficiency of landowners. Catherine's "The Instructions" of the Code Commission of 1765-1767 became another step of the principles and wishes of absolutism. The empress stated her opinions cast by ideas of enlighteners: about expansion of education, eradication of lawlessness, cruelty, despotism, about increasing of people's well being.
"Instructions" was a manual for the commission (July 1767) in charge of preparation of the new Code. The commission was a temporary form for attraction of representatives of free classes to government on the administrative and bureaucratic bases. It consisted of 564 deputies, including 28 from official bodies, 161 from nobility, 208 from cities, 167 from peasants (except serfs). The questions on agenda raised by deputies, as a rule, did not exceed the limits of class needs. The nobility demanded affirmation of its exclusive right to possess land and peasants, the merchant class demanded the monopoly of commerce and production and permission to use serf labour in the industry.
In 1775 Catherine II ratified "Establishments for government of the provinces of the Russia Empire", according to which a serious regional reform was taken. Instead of the former three-element administrative and territorial division (government - province - uyezd) were created a new sub-division: a government with population of 300-400 thousand and an uyezd - 20-30 thousand people. The capital governments and large regions of 2-3 governments formed region ruled by governor-general. The governor with board headed the government administration. The local district court played the role of police. The Department of public assistance controlled by the provincial administration supervised schools, medical and charitable establishments and asylums. Many functions of the central establishments were given to local authorities. The reform of 1775 proclaiming separation of the court from the administration and being an appreciable step forward of the judicial system, nevertheless, did not remove many other basic lacks: unity of the court and prosecution, secret legal procedures, administrative principles of staffing of supreme courts.
In 1782 was published the 'Charter of obedience, or police charter", according to which in cities posts of quarter supervisors and non-commissioned police officers were introduced. They were subordinate to the town council, which was charged of 'vigil, in order to keep obedience, decency and order in the city'. The chief policemen were in charge of order in the city.
The 21st of April 1785 the Charter to nobles was published. In it the major privileges of the nobility were united and affirmed. The nobles got the right of petition of its needs to the provincial authorities and even to the Senate and the monarch. Simultaneously with the Charter to nobility the letter of privilege to cities of the Russian Empire was published.
At the end of Catherine's II reign a turn to the right was noticed in the government position as a reaction to the Great French revolution and growth of opposition moods in the country. In 1790 the director of the St. Petersburg customs house A.N.Radishev, the author of the book "Travel from St. Petersburg to Moscow" was arrested. The Empress detected in his composition "dissipation of French pest and repugnance against authorities". In 1792 the publisher and writer N.I.Novikov, accused of belonging to masonry, was arrested. Persecution of the advanced public thought, disarrangement of finances, disorder in management, bureaucratic arbitrariness, no more controlled by the senescent empress, marked the end of her 34-year reign.
Even her lovely grandson, the grand duke Alexander Pavlovich, was forced to state: " In our affairs there is extreme disorder, everyone steals, all parts are badly governed; it seems the order is expelled from everywhere, and the empire aspires only to the expansion of its territories". Catherine the Great died on the 6th of November 1796 having left the throne to her son, the 42-year-old Pavel Petrovich.

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