Catherine The Great’s Enlightened Policies

From the minute Catherine the Great seized the thrown in 1762, enlightened policies were enacted. That very year, She published The Manifesto Freeing the Nobility From Compulsory Service. In this script she grants the release of all nobility from the Table of Ranks, and preserves this right for future generations to come. Within this document Catherine stresses the new right to travel, showing her desire for a more cultured and global perspective for the nobility. Although the Manifesto repeals Peter the Great’s Table of Ranks, it also praises his work for progressing the military as well as civil and educational affairs. These are certainly traits of Peter’s reformist campaign that Catherine wished to continue in later documents such as The State on Provincial Administration along with other enlightened values. In this document Catherine develops multiple administration positions within the Gubernii, after the Pugachev Revolution in the South revealed the lack of control the state had in these regions. She also creates programs that resemble a form of public welfare and programs that had never been offered to the lower class before. These structural adjustments include requiring a health care clinic to be in every region with at least one doctor and apprentice so the trait could be passed down. Education was now public and encouraged for all classes, and also in the control of the state by using administrative boards in each region. Article Sixty-Four includes the process of elections and terms in order to have new ideas always being in a position of authority. In 1785 the Charter to the Nobility provided many privileges to this group of people but also held them accountable for crimes committed as everyone in Russia was now under the law. Catherine’s vision of Russia was a perpetual state of progress where the Monarch continued to act as a patriarch for all of it’s citizens.

1.) Which one of Catherine’s reforms were most well perceived in Russia? How should the Nobility view Catherine after these laws were enacted?

2.) Is Catherine the Great the most effective Tsar in Russia’s History of reformist rulers?

Cynthia Whittaker’s “The Reforming Tsar”

Cynthia Whittaker explores how the autocracy changed their own definition of a traditional ruling body into that of one that changes and reforms Russia.  Whittaker claims that the fact that the Russian Autocracy was one of reformist ideals was one of the major reasons why autocracy was allowed to be the predominant governing body for over a century.

Whittaker begins her argument stating that the reforms that the autocracy put in place were “dynamic and progressive” in nature.  Peter was able to intertwine the  the crown and the new reforms that he was putting into place and that this tradition would continue with each new generation.  The Tsar would see to the needs of the people and reform the laws as he/she saw fit.  This way of thinking paved the way to the idea of an enlightened absolutist that would be emulated across Europe.

Whittaker also points out that while other ruler such as Louis XIV named ‘Divine Right’ and Reason d’ etat as the reason why he was allowed to rule, Peter cast away the divine right aspect of his right to rule, instead replacing it with “divine duty”, giving him a more secular and enlightened approach to absolutism.  Peters impressive work ethic also made him stand out among other despots.

Whittaker continues, stating that with this removal of the autocracy and religion, Peter changed the idea of the Tsar of being a paternal ruler, to that of one that is a servant to the state.  With this in mind, the populace now was not solely serving Peter, but they were serving the state that “he was entrusted with”.  He even forced his subjects to swear an oath to the ruler, as well as one to the state.  Additionally, Peter decided that he must determine who is to be the next Tsar and that it may not necessarily be his son.  This supported the idea that Peter was doing everything in his power to strengthen the state, even if it meant he must sacrifice some himself.

What other comparisons and contrasts can be drawn to other European Rulers at the time?

Do you agree with Whittaker?  Was the idea of reformation of law the predominant reason why Tsar’s were able to rule for about a century after Peter’s death?