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Catherine II of Russia (1729 – 1796)


Reigned as Empress of Russia for more than three decades; born Sophie Augusta Fredericka of Anhalt-Zerbst.
Catherine II of Russia
To tempt, and to be tempted, are things very nearly allied, and, in spite of the finest maxims of morality impressed upon the mind, whenever feeling has anything to do in the matter, no sooner is it excited than we have already gone vastly farther than we are aware of, and I have yet to learn how it is possible to prevent its being excited.
Flight alone is, perhaps, the only remedy; but there are cases and circumstances in which flight becomes impossible, for how is it possible to fly, shun, or turn one's back in the midst of a court? The very attempt would give rise to remarks. Now, if you do not fly, there is nothing, it seems to me, so difficult as to escape from that which is essentially agreeable. All that can be said in opposition to it will appear but a prudery quite out of harmony with the natural instincts of the human heart; besides, no one holds his heart in his hand, tightening or relaxing his grasp of it at pleasure.
What is the true End of Monarchy? Not to deprive People of their natural Liberty; but to correct their Actions, in order to attain the supreme Good.
The Form of Government, therefore, which best attains this End, and at the same Time sets less Bounds than others to natural Liberty, is that which coincides with the Views and Purposes of rational Creatures, and answers the End, upon which we ought to fix a steadfast Eye in the Regulations of civil Polity.
Catherine II of Russia
This princess seems to combine every kind of ambition in her person. Everything that may add luster to her reign will have some attraction for her. Science and the arts will be encouraged to flourish in the empire, projects useful for the domestic economy will be undertaken. She will endeavor to reform the administration of justice and to invigorate the laws; but her policies will be based on Machiavellianism; and I should not be surprised if in this field she rivals the king of Prussia. She will adopt the prejudices of her entourage regarding the superiority of her power and will endeavor to win respect not by the sincerity and probity of her actions but also by an ostentatious display of her strength. Haughty as she is, she will stubbornly pursue her undertakings and will rarely retrace a false step. Cunning and falsity appear to be vices in her character; woe to him who puts too much trust in her. Love affairs may become a stumbling block to her ambition and prove fatal for her peace of mind. This passionate princess, still held in check by the fear and consciousness of internal troubles, will know no restraint once she believes herself firmly established.




As a ruler, Catherine professed a great contempt for system, which she said she had been taught to despise by her master Voltaire. She declared that in politics a capable ruler must be guided by "circumstances, conjectures and conjunctions."
Catherine II of Russia
It is better to be subject to the Laws under one Master, than to be subservient to many.
They raised the Prince for the throne of Sweden in a court that was too large for the country in which it was located and that was divided into several factions, which hated each other and vied to control the Prince’s mind, which each faction wanted to shape. As a result, these factions inspired in him the reciprocal hatred they felt against the individuals they opposed.
Catherine II of Russia
The Equality of the Citizens consists in this; that they should all be subject to the same Laws.
This Equality requires Institutions so well adapted, as to prevent the Rich from oppressing those who are not so wealthy as themselves, and converting all the Charges and Employments intrusted to them as Magistrates only, to their own private Emolument....
I will live to make myself not feared.
Catherine II of Russia
A Man ought to form in his own Mind an exact and clear Idea of what Liberty is. Liberty is the Right of doing whatsoever the Laws allow: And if any one Citizen could do what the Laws forbid, there would be no more Liberty; because others would have an equal Power of doing the same.
Catherine II of Russia
The Usage of Torture is contrary to all the Dictates of Nature and Reason; even Mankind itself cries out against it, and demands loudly the total Abolition of it.
Catherine II of Russia
The education of Peter III was undermined by a clash of unfortunate circumstances. I will relate what I have seen and heard, and that in itself will clarify many things. I saw Peter III for the first time when he was eleven years old, in Eutin at the home of his guardian, the Prince Bishop of Lübeck. Some months after the death of Duke Karl Friedrich, Peter III’s father, the Prince Bishop had in 1739 assembled all of his family at his home in Eutin to have his ward brought there. My grandmother, mother of the Prince Bishop, and my mother, sister of this same Prince, had come there from Hamburg with me. I was ten years old at the time.... It was then that I heard it said among this assembled family that the young duke was inclined to drink, that his attendants found it difficult to prevent him from getting drunk at meals, that he was restive and hotheaded, did not like his attendants and especially Brümmer, and that otherwise he showed vivacity, but had a delicate and sickly appearance. In truth, his face was pale in color and he seemed to be thin and of a delicate constitution. His attendants wanted to give this child the appearance of a mature man, and to this end they hampered and restrained him, which could only inculcate falseness in his conduct as well as his character.




A Society of Citizens, as well as every Thing else, requires a certain fixed Order: There ought to be some to govern, and others to obey. And this is the Origin of every Kind of Subjection; which feels itself more or less alleviated, in Proportion to the Situation of the Subjects.And, consequently, as the Law of Nature commands Us to take as much Care, as lies in Our Power, of the Prosperity of all the People; we are obliged to alleviate the Situation of the Subjects, as much as sound Reason will permit. And therefore, to shun all Occasions of reducing People to a State of Slavery, except the utmost Necessity should inevitably oblige us to do it; in that Case, it ought not to be done for our own Benefit; but for the Interest of the State: Yet even that Case is extremely uncommon. Of whatever Kind Subjection may be, the civil Laws ought to guard, on the one Hand, against the Abuse of Slavery, and, on the other, against the Dangers which may arise from it.
Catherine II of Russia
From the age of ten, Peter III was partial to drink.
You philosophers are lucky men. You write on paper and paper is patient. Unfortunate Empress that I am, I write on the susceptible skins of living beings.
Catherine II of Russia
It seems too, that the Method of exacting their Revenues, newly invented by the Lords, diminishes both the Inhabitants, and the Spirit of Agriculture in Russia. Almost all the Villages are heavily taxed. The Lords, who seldom or never reside in their Villages, lay an Impost on every Head of one, two, and even five Rubles, without the least Regard to the Means by which their Peasants may be able to raise this Money.
It is highly necessary that the Law should prescribe a Rule to the Lords, for a more judicious Method of raising their Revenues; and oblige them to levy such a Tax, as tends least to separate the Peasant from his House and Family; this would be the Means by which Agriculture would become more extensive, and Population be more increased in the Empire.
Assuredly men of merit are never lacking at any time, for those are the men who manage affairs, and it is affairs that produce the men. I have never searched, and I have always found under my hand the men who have served me, and for the most part I have been well served.
Catherine II of Russia
Power without a nation's confidence is nothing.
The Laws ought to be so framed, as to secure the Safety of every Citizen as much as possible.
Catherine II of Russia
A great wind is blowing, and that gives you either imagination or a headache.
Catherine II of Russia
The Sovereign is absolute; for there is no other Authority but that which centers in his single Person, that can act with a Vigour proportionate to the Extent of such a vast Dominion.
The Extent of the Dominion requires an absolute Power to be vested in that Person who rules over it. It is expedient so to be, that the quick Dispatch of Affairs, sent from distant Parts, might make ample Amends for the Delay occasioned by the great Distance of the Places.
Every other Form of Government whatsoever would not only have been prejudicial to Russia, but would even have proved its entire Ruin.


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