Jewels in Her Crown: Treasures of Columbia University Libraries Special Collections

Exhibition Themes > Law > 178. Catherine II

178.  Catherine II, Empress of Russia (1729-1796).  Nakaz Eia Imperatorskago Velichestva Ekateriny Vtoriya, Samoderzhitsy Vserossiiskiia dannyi Kommissii o sochinenii proekta novago ulozheniia. St. Petersburg: Akademii nauk, 1770. Arthur W. Diamond Law Library, Special Collections

After coming to power in 1762, Catherine II traveled across Russia to meet her subjects. During her journeys, she was struck by the pressing need to create a uniform body of laws for her country. This book is a publication of her instructions to the Commission on the Code of Laws which she called into being and charged with that responsibility. Her instructions were printed in columnar style in four languages: Russian, Latin, German and French. Montesquieu'sDe l'esprit des lois and Cesare Beccaria's Dei delitti e della pene, an essay on crimes and punishments, strongly influenced Catherine's ideas. In this spirit, she envisioned Russia as a European country; she endorsed lofty concepts of equality; and she asked for administrative and judicial reforms in the structure of government. Although members of the Commission on the Code met for many sessions and debates over several months, they failed to codify any laws. In the end, privileges of the nobility were not curtailed, nor were there land reforms, nor freeing of the serfs. Catherine's attentions had been drawn to expanding the borders of her Empire, fighting wars with the Turks, and responding to internal unrest.

Acquired in 1937

Columbia University Libraries / Butler Library / 535 West 114th St. / New York, NY 10027 / (212) 854-7309 /