Catherine the Great
Domestic Policy, 1762-1796
Domestic Policy

Russia 1796-1815 : Domestic Policy

In 1796, Czarina Catherine II. died. She was succeeded by her son Paul, who was assassinated in 1801 which brought his son Alexander I. to the throne.
Paul was an insecure nature, issuing contradictory orders (especially his abrupt decision to turn from a French enemy into a French ally) and thus creating havoc in the administration, one reason for the plot that lead to his assassination.

Russia was still a country in transition. The nobility and intelligentsia had westernized; many spoke and read French, were aware of the changes which happened in Europe. There were those who sympathized with the ideals of the French Revolution and with the person of Napoleon Bonaparte. On the other hand, Russia proper was not much urbanized. The vast majority of the population lived on the countryside, according to ancient tradition, unfree farmers, Orthodox christians. Russia's Empire lacked institutions such as a common parliament, media spreading the news as well as political ideas. Too few could read and write, and the Russian Empire was a kaleidoscope of nationalities and religions, lacking a common identity necessary for a popular reform movement.

Alexander I. was a man who believed in having a mission; by many regarded a liberal, he was influenced by Freemasonry as well as by SWEDENBORGIANISM; he was a deeply religious man. Alexander I. was aware of the need to reform Russia, but was unwilling to have AUTOCRACY limited by political reform. He declared an amnesty for political prisoners (12,000 of them) and abolished the security police (which was reestablished in 1807) and outlawed torture. Alexander's advisors included Adam Czartoryski, a Pole, Victor Kochubey, Michael Speransky.
In 1804 the universities of Kazan and Charkov were founded; the old universities of Dorpat (1802) and Vilnius (1803) had been extended. The university of Warsaw would follow in 1819. The import of foreign books was permitted.
Reforms were attempted, foremost by MIKHAIL SPERANSKY, Czar Alexander's chief advisor. He proposed an extensive constitutional and judicial reform. His proposals for a REFORM OF THE ADMINISTRATION were implemented; those for a juridical reform not. The discussion about the abolition of serfdom did not lead to practical results (although serfdom was abolished in the Baltic provinces in 1816-1819).
Czar Alexander, like the Prussians, believed in REFORM FROM ABOVE. Freiherr vom Stein, main architect of Prussia's reforms, dismissed as Prussia's prime minister in 1808 at the insistence of Napoleon, went to St. Petersburg where he advised Alexander I. on reforms. Czar Alexander trusted more in himself than in M. Speransky, his main adviser, and dismissed him in 1812.

Russia's Czars, 1796-1815
Paul I.
Alexander I.

Russia's Chief Ministers, 1796-1815
Peter Ludwig von der Pahlen
Alexander Romanovich Vorontsov
Adam Jerzy Czartoryski
Alexey Andreevich Arakcheyev
Mikhail Barclay de Tolly
Nikolai Ivanovich Saltykov

Biography of Baron vom Stein, from Bezirk Spandau
Alexander the Sphinx, by G. Rempel
Monarch idealist - Emperor Paul I. of Russia, from Orthodox America
DOCUMENTS List of Russian chief ministers, from World Rulers by Ben Cahoon
Vladimir Borovikovsky, Czar Paul I., 1796, portrait; another portrait of the same from 1800 by the same painter, from Olga's Gallery
Print featuring Alexander I., from Histoire du monde du 1er siecle a nos jours
REFERENCE The Enigmatic Czar, pp.207-217, in : Melvin C. Wren, The Course of Russian History, Prospect Heights 1994
Simon Dixon, The Modernisation of Russia 1676-1825, Cambridge : UP 1999
Irene Neander, Grundzüge der Russischen Geschichte (An Outline of Russian History), Darmstadt 1970

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2000, last revised on November 8th 2004

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