Legislative Commission of 1767

Legislative Commission of 1767

 

an assembly of representatives of certain social classes of Russia which had consultative powers and was created to prepare a new code of laws. Catherine II sought to use the commission to strengthen her position on the throne. A decree on the election of deputies to the commission was issued on Dec. 14, 1766. The elections were direct except in the major cities, where they were conducted in two stages. Taxpaying state peasants (chernososhnye), peasants who paid taxes chiefly in furs (iasachnye), military servitors (sluzhilye liudi starykh sluzhb), farming soldiers (pakhotnye soldaty), and state peasants assigned to government-owned factories (pripisnye krest’iane) elected one deputy from each province, but the elections were held in three stages. Peasants belonging to the nobility, serfs assigned to factories (posessionnye), and other categories of the peasant population did not have electoral rights. The total number of deputies varied from 518 to 580, with state institutions represented by a total of 28 deputies (all from the gentry), the gentry by 189 (one from each district), towns by 216 (one from each town), peasants of various categories by 24, homesteaders (odnodvortsy) by 43, cossacks by 45, and settled non-Russian peoples by 34 deputies. As a consequence, about 450 deputies were elected by social classes constituting less than 5 percent of the population and 24 deputies represented 12–15 percent of the peasants. Between 85 and 88 percent of the peasants were completely denied representation. During the elections nearly 1,500 nakazy (instructions) were prepared. The gentry’s nakazy reflected their efforts to extend their rights and privileges, to strengthen their monopoly on landed property and on the possession of serfs, to create a closed gentry corporation with local self-government, and to obtain unrestricted rights in trade and industry. To further their interests the members of the gentry demanded that peasants be given broader rights in trade and industry. The towns’ nakazy emphasized that trade and industrial activity ought to be the exclusive right of the merchant class. Those from the state peasants were filled with complaints against the oppressive economic situation, against the shortage of arable land and seizure of the best land by landlords and factory owners, against the burden of taxes and obligations, and against arbitrary decisions by judges.

After the opening of the commission on July 30, 1767, in the Uspenskii Cathedral in Moscow, Catherine IPs Nakaz was read. The commission was transferred to St. Petersburg in February 1768. All preparatory work was concentrated in 19 commissions. During 204 sessions not a single resolution was adopted, most of the time being lost in the reading of nakazy. During the discussion of the peasant question some deputies criticized aspects of serfdom in Russia and put forward proposals for limiting serfdom, transferring part of the land to peasant ownership, reducing serfs’ obligations, and even removing the peasants from the authority of the landlords, all of which provoked the landlords’ strong resistance. The conflict of interests in the commission and the raising of sensitive questions did not suit the government. Using as a pretext the outbreak of war with Turkey, Catherine II dismissed the general assembly of the commission in January 1769, although separate commissions continued to function until 1773. The staffs of the commission and the statute providing for the election of deputies continued to exist for a long time, supporting the illusion of a policy of “enlightened absolutism.”

REFERENCES

Sbornik imperatorskogo Russkogo istoricheskogo obshchestva, vols. 4, 8, 14, 36, 43, 68, 93, 107, 115, 123, 134, 144, 147. St. Petersburg, 1869–1915.
Ditiatin, I. I. Ekaterininskaia komissiia 1767 g. “O sochinenii proektanovogo ulozheniia.” Rostov-on-Don, 1905.
Florovskii, A. V. Sostav Zakonodatel’noi komissii 1767–1774gg. Odessa, 1915.
Beliavskii, M. T. Krest’ianskii vopros v Rossii nakanune vosstaniia Em. Pugacheva (Formirovanie antikrepostnicheskoi mysli). Moscow, 1965.

L. V. MILOV

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