Nicholas I

 

Source:  James Harvey Robinson and Charles Beard, History of Europe (Boston: Ginn & Co., 1921), pp. 408-10.

This is an excerpt from Robinson and Beard's classic history textbook of 1921.

 

735. Nicholas I and the Revolt of Poland (1830-1831). Alexander I died suddenly on December 1, 1825. The revolutionary societies seized this opportunity to organize a revolt known as the "Decembrist conspiracy." But the movement was badly organized ; a few charges of grapeshot brought the insurgents to terms, and some of the leaders were hanged.

Nicholas I, Alexander's successor, never forgot the rebellion which inaugurated his reign, and he proved one of the most despotic of all the long list of autocratic rulers. His arbitrary measures speedily produced a revolt in Poland. The constitution which Alexander I had in his liberal days granted to the kingdom was violated. Russian troops were stationed there in great numbers, Russian officials forced their way into the government offices, and the petitions of the Polish diet were contemptuously ignored by the Tsar. Secret societies then began to promote a movement for the reestablishment of the ancient Polish republic, which Catherine II and her fellow monarchs had destroyed (§§ 56‑6o). Late in 1830 an uprising occurred in Warsaw; the insurgents secured control of the city, drove out the Russian officials, organized a provisional government, and, appealing to the European powers for aid, proclaimed the independence of Poland, January 25, 1831.

Europe, however, made no response to Poland's appeal for assistance. The Tsar's armies were soon able to crush the rebellion, and when Poland lay prostrate at his feet, Nicholas gave no quarter. He revoked the constitution, abolished the diet, suppressed the national flag, and transferred forty‑five thousand Polish families to the valley of the Don and the mountains of the Caucasus. To all intents and purposes Poland became henceforth merely a Russian province, governed, like the rest of the empire, from St. Petersburg .

736. The Autocracy of Nicholas I. Nicholas I sincerely believed that Russia could only be saved from the "decay" of religion and government, which he believed to be taking place in western Europe, by maintaining autocracy, for this alone was strong enough to make head against the destructive ideas which some of his subjects in their blindness mistook for enlightenment. The Russian‑Greek Church and all its beliefs must be defended, and the Russian nation preserved as a separate and superior people who should maintain forever the noble beliefs and institutions of the past. Certainly a great many of his advisers were well content with the system, and his army of officials were loath to recommend reform.

737. Efforts of Nicholas I to check Liberalism. Accordingly, in the name of Russian nationality, the Tsar adopted strong measures to check the growth of liberalism. The officials bestirred themselves to prevent in every way the admission into Russia of Western ideas. Books on religion and science were carefully examined by the police or the clergy; foreign works containing references to politics were confiscated or the objectionable pages were blotted out by the censors. The government officials did not hesitate freely to open private letters committed to the post. It may be said that, except for a few short intervals of freedom, this whole system was continued down to the World War.

 

 

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