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Reign of Catherine II (1762-1796)
Reign of Pavel I (1796-1801)
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Reign of Pavel I (1796-1801)

Pavel I grew up in the atmosphere of fear and suspiciousness at the court of his mother, who removed him from state affairs and neglected him in an emphatic manner. He distinguished himself by an unbalanced character and hot temper. On the other hand, he got an acute call of duty and responsibility before the country, adherence to discipline and order.
The internal policy of Pavel I, who came to the throne at the beginning of crisis situations in the country and collapse of feudal regimes in the Western Europe, was directed on strengthening of bases of the social and economic life and the political regime of the empire. Trying to eliminate the opportunity of palace revolutions and to increase the stability of his power, in the day of crowning (the 5th of April 1797), Pavel signed the Decree of the succession of the throne that approved succession of power of the ruling dynasty through the male line. The main stake of the tsar in his attempts to overcome crises, inherited from the previous reigns, was made on the authorities given to him by the Russian crown. This meant refusal of former custom of imperial councils and tsar's aspiration to the maximum centralization of his power. The ministerial system of power replaced the collective one; the ministerial system was based on the one-man management and allowed a more effective control from above.
Pavel elaborated the plan of establishment of seven ministries: of justice, finance, defense, marine, foreign affairs, commerce and the state exchequer; however, it was completely fulfilled only after his death. 50 provinces existing in times of Catherine II were transformed into 41 but the Territory of Don Cossacks appeared.Thus management of 11 marginal provinces was carried out in account with national traditions and local features. The reorganization of the state system combined with the bureaucratization of administration caused infringement to the nobleman's self-management. The administrative and police functions were withdrawn from the noble assemblies, and in 1799 the provincial noble assemblies were abolished at all. In 1798 were cancelled highest local courts. The decree of the 23rd of August 1800 cancelled the right of noble societies to elect assessors in courts, thus participation of elective representatives of nobility in the legal proceedings was limited by low local courts. Provincial city councils were liquidated. The basic judicial establishments were bureaucratic establishments - chambers of criminal and civil courts. Striving for the maximal concentration of the power was conformed by the autocratic doctrine of the supposedly divine origin of the Emperor power, the idea of continuity of the power from ancient rulers, and also elements of the knight's conservative utopia. That was followed by attributes and ceremonial. So, during the ceremony of coronation Pavel was in command of the military parade with the crown and dalmatic (dress of ancient tsars).
Pavel's social policy testified of his ability to flexible maneuvering and adaptation to needs of the time not touching the foundations of the feudal and absolute state. On the 5th of April 1797 was promulgated the Manifest of three-day corvee, obliging landowners to use corvee labour no more than three days a week. The very fact of creation of such act was evidence of aspiration of the power to a legislative settlement of relations between landowners and peasants. The evolution of these undertakings was the interdiction to sell up house-serfs and peasants in 1798, replacement of bread tax from peasants by a moderate monetary due, demand of fealty of possessory peasants to the emperor.
On the other hand, unprecedented distribution of 600 thousand state peasants of both sexes for the period of incomplete five years to private possession, rigid suppression of peasants' complaints to masters, the custom of severe state guardianship applied to appanage peasants with use of principles of "landowners' rights", essentially were the logic continuation of the serf course of Catherine II. Contradictory tendencies were also observed in Pavel's policy regarding the nobility. Concern of the tsar to strengthen the economic situation of nobility were expressed in the material aid through the bank system and particularly the Auxiliary bank, creation of the regime of maximal favor to nobility at the service: by the decree of the 14th of December 1797 noblemen were ordered to serve military service in a rank of private soldiers not more than three months; the decree of the 17th of April 1798 forbade promotion to officers of corporals - not noblemen. The other tendency showed in restriction of class self-management and its absorption by the bureaucracy, cancellation of the major items of the Charter to the nobility of freedom from obligatory public service and corporal punishment, introduction of taxes from noble manors to maintain courts and other administrative establishments. Already since 1796 it was forbidden to enlist young children of noble families in regiments; that practice existed during Catherine's II reign. All "dead souls", enlisted in regiments and officers who did not come back in due time from leaves, were fired from the military service. Those soldiers, who served no more than a year as officers and wanted to be retired, were also dismissed.
During Pavel's reign every tenth nobleman in a civil or military service was punished for misdemeanour. It was forbidden to ex-servicemen retired after 1796 to be a candidate at the nobleman's elections. The purpose of full mobilization of the nobility to public service and rising of discipline spoke about the dependence of the supreme class from the throne, which Pavel tried to restore counter to aims of the nobility.
Finally, the infringement of concerns of the nobility was the crucial point that determined the destiny of Pavel I. Formation since 1797 of the plot against Pavel was the direct answer to the infringement of the balance between authorities and noble estate. That was frankly said by the outstanding diplomat S.R.Vorontsov after Pavel's death: "Nobility... is the nearest intermediary between the sovereign and people. It helps to bridle people and is a natural support of the throne... Weakening the nobility means to sap the foundation of the throne". On the night of the 12th of March 1801, Pavel I was assassinated in Mikhailovsky castle by a group of conspirators to which belonged Catherine's II former favorites, brothers Zubovs, general L.L.Bennigsen, commanders of Guardian regiments P.A.Talyzin and F.P.Uvarov, the St. Petersburg governor-general P.A.Palen, senator D.P.Troshinsky. The successor of the throne, grand duke Alexander Pavlovich, supported the plot too.

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