REIGN OF CATHARINE II.
From 1765 to 1774.
Energy of Catharine’s Administration.—Titles of Honor Decreed to Her.—Code of Laws Instituted.—The Assassination of the Empress Attempted.—Encouragement of Learned Men.—Catharine Inoculated for the Small-Pox.—New War with Turkey.—Capture of Crimea.—Sailing of the Russian Fleet.—Great Naval Victory.—Visit of the Prussian Prince Henry.—The Sleigh Ride.—Plans for the Partition of Poland.—The Hermitage.—Marriage of the Grand Duke Paul.—Correspondence with Voltaire and Diderot.
The friends and the foes of Catharine are alike lavish in their encomiums upon her attempts to elevate Russia in prosperity and in national greatness. Under her guidance an assembly was convened to frame a code of laws, based on justice, and which should be supreme throughout all Russia. The assembly prosecuted its work with great energy, and, ere its dissolution, passed a resolution decreeing to the empress the titles of “Great, Wise, Prudent, and Mother of the Country.”
To this decree Catharine modestly replied, “If I have rendered myself worthy of the first title, it belongs to posterity to confer it upon me. Wisdom and prudence are the gifts of Heaven, for which I daily give thanks, without presuming to derive any merit from them myself. The title of Mother of the Country is, in my eyes, the most dear of all,—the only one I can accept, and which I regard as the most benign and glorious recompense for my labors and solicitudes in behalf of a people whom I love.”
The code of laws thus framed is a noble monument to the genius and humanity of Catharine II. The principles of enlightened philanthropy pervades the code, which recognizes the immutable principles of right, and which seems designed to undermine the very foundations of despotism. In the instructions which Catharine drew up for the guidance of the assembly, she wrote,
“Laws should be framed with the sole object of conducting mankind to the greatest happiness. It is our duty to mitigate the lot of those who live in a state of dependence. The liberty and security of the citizens ought to be the grand and precious object of all laws; they should all tend to render life, honor and property as stable and secure as the constitution of the government itself. It is incomparably better to prevent crimes than to punish them. The use of torture is contrary to sound reason. Humanity cries out against this practice, and insists on its being abolished.”
The condition of the peasantry, heavily taxed by the nobles, excited her deepest commiseration. She wished their entire enfranchisement, but was fully conscious that she was not strong enough to undertake so sweeping a measure of reform. She insisted, however, “that laws should be prescribed to the nobility, obliging them to act more circumspectly in the manner of levying their dues, and to protect the peasant, so that his condition might be improved and that he might be enabled to acquire property.”