Monuments of Imperial Russian Law: Catherine the Great’s Legislative Commission

March 12, 2012


Medal awarded to deputies of Catherine II’s Legislative Commission. Private Collection

The Legislative Commission summoned to Moscow has been seen as a “major, highly personal political experiment” formed by election and intended to represent the “estates” of the Russian Empire (I. de Madariaga, Russia in the Age of Catherine the Great (1981), p. 139). Representation was accorded to state institutions, landowners, and social groups not otherwise included in the first two categories. Deputies were paid a salary, enjoyed certain privileges and immunities, and were awarded a badge of office that nobles were entitled to incorporate in their coats of arms.

Each member of Catherine the Great’s Legislative Assembly was awarded a medal in commemoration of their participation, such as the one exhibited here.

Aware that much of her population was illiterate, including some deputies elected to the Legislative Commission, Catherine II composed her Nakaz in a style suitable for reading aloud, imparting to the text an “urgent rhythm” in imitation of Montesquieu’s series of short staccato chapters in his Spirit of the Laws. The entire text was read aloud to the assembled deputies, who were said to have received the text with rapture. Many were moved to tears.

“Monuments of Imperial Russian Law,” curated by William E. Butler and Mike Widener, is on display Mar. 1 - May 25, 2012, in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

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