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Emperor Nikolai I signed the Manifesto ‘On establishment of a new estate of Honorary citizens’

22 April 1832

On April 10 (22), 1832 the Emperor Nikolai I singed the Manifesto ‘On establishment of a new estate of Honorary citizens’. The Honorary citizens are an estate of urban people of the 19-20th centuries Russian Empire.

The institution of honorary citizenship originates historically in the ‘Charter on rights and benefits for the Russian Empire cities’ of 1785 according to which among the average citizens free from corporal punishment an estate of the distinguished citizens was sorted out. These were the citizens who had distinguished themselves in some generally useful field of activity.

In 1807 under the decree of Alexander I the class of merchants was eliminated from the aspirants to the title of distinguished citizens. Now only scholars and artists could pretend for it. However later the ruling groups realized the necessity of promotion of the social status for people with secondary and higher education as well as for public servants of middle level of management who were not of noble origins but could in prospective form the main body of the educated middle class in the cities of the Empire. Thus in 1827 the Finance Minister E. F. Kankrin submitted for consideration of the Emperor the proposals on reforming the Institution of honorary citizens. As a result of long lasting discussions the Manifesto of 1832 introduced the honorary citizenship.

There were two types of honorary citizenship: a personal one (for life) and hereditary. It could be obtained by birth or granted upon the petition of the applicant. It could be acquired for service or upon special nominations. The title could also be attributed to foreign scholars, artists, traders who had been of benefit in the authorities’ opinion to the Russian state. Ranking among honorary citizens was made on the decision of the Senate or in some cases on the Emperor’s decree. Those ranked among honorary citizens were exempted from recruitment, poll tax, corporal punishment; they were granted the right to be named honorary citizens in all the documents and elected to social positions.

The group of honorary citizens was a small social stratum between the lower unprivileged classes and the nobility. It did not have its corporate organization like noble assemblies or merchants guild.

The status of honorary citizen did not provide any benefit for the state service. During the revolutionary events of 1917 the institution of honorary citizens was abolished. Today in Russia there is a title of ‘Honorary citizen’ of one or another city or region which is conferred by local authorities in honor of personal services to a particular municipality.

Lit.: Белокрыс А. М. Почётное гражданство в дореволюционной России // Московский журнал: история государства Российского. 2005. № 3; Беляев И. Н. Два века почётного гражданства России (XIX-XX вв.): История. Право. Современность. Смоленск, 2001; Нардова В. А. Институт почётного гражданства городов России (количественный и социально-профессиональный состав) 1863-1899 гг. // Проблемы социально-экономической и политической истории России XIX-XX вв.: Сб. ст. СПб., 1999; Полное собрание законов Российской Империи. Собрание 2-е. Т. 7 (1832). № 5284. СПб., 1825-1881; Рындзюнский П. Г. Городское гражданство дореформенной России. М., 1958.

From the Presidential library materials:

Новый закон о видах на жительство (паспортах) для дворян, чиновников, почётных граждан, купцов, мещан, ремесленников, крестьян и евреев: С дополнением нового закона об отмене сборов в пользу казны с видов на жительство / Изд. книгопродавца В. И. Губинского. 3-е изд., доп. СПб., 1897 .