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Charter of the Cities


The Charter of the Cities (Charter on the Rights and Benefits for the Towns of the Russian Empire) was issued by Catherine the Great on April 21, 1785, together with the Charter to the Nobility; its importance is suggested by the fact that the date was Catherine's birthday. Also composed, but never issued, was a Charter for State Peasants. All three charters are parallel in structure, down to individual articles, indicating that they were intended as a single body of legislation establishing definitions, duties, rights, and privileges for three important legal estates.

The Charter has 178 articles, of which article 123 comprises an Artisans' Regulation of 117 articles. Building on earlier laws on urban administration, the Charter instituted an urban corporation comprising six categories of inhabitants: (1) owners of immoveable property (houses, shops, land);(2) merchants in three guilds (delineated by self-declared capital); (3) artisans in craft corporations;(4) merchants from other towns or governments;(5) "eminent" citizens (by education, wealth, or public service); and (6) long-time residents unqualified for other categories but earning a living in town. There are detailed instructions for establishing eligibility and compiling registries of all these groups.

Each category elected representatives to a town council and a single delegate to a six-man council that administered affairs between plenary assemblies of the larger body. Towns were given limited rights to raise taxes, although little was said in general about finances.

The Charter applied especially to St. Petersburg and Moscow, less so to small towns often lacking all six categories. Still it was instituted, at least on paper, in the more than four hundred towns in the empire. The Charter was replaced by a command structure of municipal administration by Emperor Paul (1797), but reinstituted by Alexander I (1802). As an example of grand principles applied across the board without regard to local circumstances, the Charter remained a poorly functioning basis for urban administration until 1870, when replaced by the reform of Alexander II.

See also: catherine ii; charter of the nobility


Griffiths, David, and Munro, George E., tr. and eds. (1993). Catherine II's Charters of 1785 to the Nobility and the Towns. Bakersfield, CA: Charles Schlacks.

Munro, George E. (1989). "The Charter to the Towns Reconsidered: The St. Petersburg Connection." Canadian-American Slavic Studies 23:1734.

George E. Munro

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