Domestic Policy

Russian Domestic Policy, 1815-1855

A.) The Later Years under Alexander I., 1815-1825

The Russian Empire had, in a short period of time, gained two major territories - Finland and Poland proper. When Alexander I. granted a constitution for Poland, many hoped that Russia herself would be granted a similar constitution; a number of options for such a constitution were discussed, but Alexander believed conditions in Russia (BONDAGE, widespread illiteracy) to be very different from those in Poland and AUTOCRACY to be better fitted for Russia. Yet in Estonia serfdom was abolished in 1816, in Courland in 1817, in Livonia in 1819; plans to liberate Russia's serfs, however, did not materialize.
Jews had to move into concentrated settlements (referred to as SHTETL in Yiddish) where police observation was easier; in the Russian Empire the Jews had not been emancipated. The region where most of the Jews settled, former Polish-Lithuanian territory, was referred to as the PALE.
In order to keep a large force under arms, Alexander I. had MILITARY COLONIES established - settlements where all peasants between 18 and 45 simultaneously were soldiers; these military colonies at the end of his reign would account for one third of Russia's army.
In the last years of Alexander's reign, reform-oriented conspirators in secret societies , known to history as the DECEMBRISTS (Dekabrists), planned a revolution and the reorganization of society. Alexander, informed about their plans by secret agents, died before they acted.

Russian Chief Ministers, 1815-1855
Nikolai Ivanovich Saltykov
Pytor Vasilyevich Lopukhin
Viktor Pavlovich Kochubey
Nikolai Nikolaevich Novosiltsev
Ilarion Vasilyevich Vasilchikov
Vasily Vasilyevich Levashov
Aleksandr Ivanovich Chernyshev

B.) Nicholas I., 1825-1855

Alexander I., in his will, had appointed his brother Nicholas successor. This being unknown, his (absent) brother Constantine was first proclaimed emperor; he (who knew of the will) declined the honour and declared his allegiance to Nicholas. When the troops, in a public parade, were ro swear allegiance to Nicholas, the troops (instigated by the Decembrists) declared their loyalty to Constantine. Nicholas ordered the artillery to clear the square; the coup had failed.
The Decembrists had had two conflicting visions of a future Russian society, one Russia a federal constitutional monarchy, the serfs liberated, but without the right to vote, which would lie only with property owners; the other a centralized state with the Orthodox church as state church and Russian as the exclusive language, liberated serfs, a republic (all possible claimants to the throne removed by execution), elimination of privileges etc.
The events around the Decembrist coup were to have a lasting impact on Nicholas' reign. When in 1830 revolution broke out in France and Belgium, Nicholas ordered his Polish troops to march off and help crushing these revolutions. Instead, the Poles rebelled themselves; it took Russian forces until 1831 to crush the rebellion. This was the second time troops were openly defiant to him.
Nicholas I. was determined to stick to autocratic government. In 1833 a collection of Russia's laws was published. For a time, Nicholas considered political reforms, a secret committee lead by VICTOR KOCHUBEY was to prepare. These plans were cancelled after Europe lived through the revolutions of 1848.

Decembrists in Irkutsk, from WWW Irkutsk
Biography of Czar Nicholas I., from St. Petersburg Times
DOCUMENTS Table of Russian Chief Ministers etc., from World Rulers by Ben Cahoon
Petr Chaadaev, Philosophical Letters Addressed to a Lady (1829), from Documents in Russian History at Seton Hall
V. G. Belinskii, [Open] Letter to N. V. GogolĄŻ (1847), from Documents in Russian History at Seton Hall

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2000, last revised on August 24th 2006

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