In 1832, an imperial manifesto established a new social estate (soslovie) of “honored citizens.” The new status was granted to successful merchants, professionals, and artists, and gave them permanent (and sometimes inherited) privilege. Honored citizens have been largely forgotten or discounted, both by literary authors of the nineteenth century and by historians. They were, however, a conscious effort on the part of the imperial state to create a middle class in the context of an estate-based social structure, an effort that followed several decades of previous experimentation and discussion. Thousands of subjects of the Russian Empire took on the new status, to the point that by 1897 honored citizens outnumbered merchants. They understood themselves as having an honorable place in the social structure, and were understood as a sign of the status of Russian towns. Honored citizen status gave a certain amount of stability to the new middle class, although not every honored citizen prospered. As a social estate, honored citizens were unique, for they were not unified in opportunity, and because they did not have a collective association—they were individuals in the law. They were, as a result, present and important but paradoxical: while defined by estate law, they were closer to individual subjects or even citizens than almost anyone else in imperial society. In addition, their lack of a collective voice muted their radical potential, masking them from contemporary and historical view.