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Alexander I

§ Russian

Alexander I

Just after his birth Alexander was taken away from his parents by his grandmother Catherine the 2nd who meant to form out of him an ideal sovereign. Swiss F. Lagarp (republican by convictions) advised by D. Didro was invited as a tutor. Grand duke was brining up with romantic belief in Enlightenment ideals, sympathized with Poles deprived of the statehood resulted from Poland division. Alexander approved Great French revolution, criticized political system of Russian tsarist autocracy. Catherine the 2nd made him familiarize with French Human Rights Declaration and herself made him understand its meaning. At the same time, the last years of his grandmother’s reign Alexander found more and more discrepancy in her declared ideals and every day political practice. He had to carefully keep his feelings to himself and it formed in him such qualities as dissembling and slyness. And in its turn it reflected on his relationship with father during the visit to his residence in Gatchina, where the spirit of soldiery and strict discipline reigned. Alexander had to change so-said masks: one for the grandmother and one for his father. In 1793 they made him marry Princess Luis Baden (Elizaveta Alekseevna in orthodox) to whom Russian society felt drawn to but who wasn’t loved by the husband.

It is considered that not long before Catherine the 2nd died she had intended to bequeath Alexander the throne by passing her son. Apparently, the grandson had been informed posted about her plans, but had refused to accept the throne.

Alexander I

After Pavel’s assession to the throne Alexander’s situation got worse as he had to constantly demonstrate suspicious emperor his loyalty. But Alexander’s attitude to father’s politics had a critical character. Just that mood made him involve into conspiracy against Pavel but on condition that conspirators would save his father’s life and would only press his abdication. Tragic events of 11 March 1801 badly influenced Alexander’s emotional state: he had a sense of guilt at his father’s death till the end of his days.

Alexander the 1st ascended to the throne meaning to carry out a radical reformation of Russian political order by constitution elaboration, which would have guarantied every subject personal liberty and human rights. He quite assumed that such “revolution from above” would have resulted the autocracy liquidation and he was ready in case of success to take off his authority. However, he also understood that he needed certain social support and collaborators. He needed to escape the pressing of conspirators who had dethroned Pavel and he also needed “Catherine’s old men” supporting them. And the first days just after his assession Alexander declared that he would run Russia “upon the laws and the heart” of Catherine the 2nd. 5 April 1801 an Indispensable council- law consulting body, which got the right to protest tsar’s actions and decrees, was established. The same year in May Alexander made a suggestion for the council of a decrees project of landless peasants sell prohibition, but the members of the council let him understand that the adoption of such a decree will provoke nobles intellectual ferment and would lead to a new state coup d’etat. After that Alexander concentrated on reform elaboration in the circle of his friends (V. P. Kochubei, A. A. Chartoryiski, P. A. Stroganov, N. N. Novosilzev). By the time of Alexander’s coronation (September1801) The Indispensable council prepared a project of “Merciful Deed bestowing to Russian people”, containing the main subjects civil rights guarantees (freedom of speech, freedom of the press, liberty of conscience, personal security, private property guarantees, etc.) project of manifesto on peasant question (landless peasants sell prohibition, the peasants ransom setting). In the course of project discussion manifest contradictions between the members of Indispensable council were naked and as a result none of three documents was promulgated. They just announced about the cessation of state peasants distribution to the private owners’ hands. The following consideration of a peasant question resulted the “free ploughman” decree, which gave the landowners a permission to release the peasants and to allot them lands in property. This practice created the category of the personally free peasants.

Parallely Alexander was carrying out an administrative reform and an education reform.

At the same years Alexander felt taste for authority and began to find advantage in autocratic government. The disappointment in the close surroundings forced him to look for a support of people personally devoted to him and having no connection with the exalted rank aristocracy. He approaches to himself first A. A. Araktcheev and later M. B. Barklai de Tolli who became a military minister in 1810; M. M. Speranski whom Alexander charged with the new state reform project . The project of Speranski assumed actual transformation of Russia in the constitutional monarchy, where two chambers legislative body of parliamentary type would limit the sovereign authority. The realization of Speranski plan began in1809, when the practice of court ranks to civil was cancelled and the educational qualification for the civil officials was set. January 1 1810 State Council was established and it replaced the Indispensable council. It was supposed that the initially wide powers of State council would be narrowed after the State Duma establishment. During 1810-11 the plans of financial, ministerial and Senate reforms offered by Speranski had been discussing. The realization of the first one resulted the budget deficiency reduction and by the summer of 1811 the reorganization of the ministries was completed. Meanwhile Alexander felt hard pressure of the court surroundings, including his family members, aspiring not to allow radical reforms. Apparently “Writings about ancient and new Russia” of N. M. Karamzhin had a certain influence on him. It gave the emperor an occasion to doubt of the correctness of the chosen path. The factor of international situation of Russia also had an importance. An augmenting tension in relations with France and the necessity to prepare for the war gave the opposition a possibility to treat reformist activity of Speranski as an antistate and to proclaim Speranski a spy of Napoleon. It resulted that compromise Alexander (though not trusting in Speranski fault) deferred him March 1812.

Having come to authority Alexander tried to pursue an external policy with a clean slate. The new Russian government aspired to create in Europe the system of collective safety, having all leading powers connected by the number of contracts. However in 1803 peace with France appeared for Russia unprofitable and in May 1804 Russian part withdrew the France ambassador and started preparing for the new war.

Alexander considered Napoleon a symbol of legality violation of world global order. But Russian emperor overestimated his opportunities and it led to catastrophe in the environs of Austerlitz in November 1805. Moreover the presence of emperor in the army, his inept orders had the most pernicious consequences. Alexander refused to ratify the signed peace treaties with France; and only the defeat in environs of Fridland in May1807 forced the Russian emperor to come to agreement. At his first appointment with Napoleon in Tilzit in June 1807 Alexander showed himself an exceptional diplomat and according to some historians actually “beat” Napoleon. Between Russia and France the union and agreement of division on influence zones was concluded. The further development of events showed that Tilzit agreement appeared to be more favorable for Russia giving it possibility to save forces. Napoleon sincerely considered Russia the unique possible ally in Europe. In 1808 parties discussed the plans of a joint campaign for India and Ottoman Empire. At the meeting with Alexander in Erfurt (September 1808) Napoleon recognized the right of Russia on seized during the Russian-Swedish war (1808-1809) Finland and Alexander in his turn recognized the right of France on Spain. However already at that time the relations between the allies turned to be heated because of imperial interests of both parts. So the existence of Warsaw duchy didn’t arrange Russia as didn’t the continental blockage which harmed Russian economics, including the fact that each of two countries had far-reaching plans on Balkan. In 1801 Alexander refused to give Napoleon his sister grand duchess’ hand in marriage (future queen of Netherlands Anna Pavlovna). And in 1801 Alexander signed a neutral trade rule, which brought to nothing the continental blockage. There is an assumption that Alexander was going to anticipatory deal Napoleon, but as soon as France made the allied contracts with Austria and Prussia, Russia started preparing defensive war. In June 12 1812 French armies crossed the Russian border. The Domestic war of 1812 started.

Intrusion of Napoleon armies in Russia (Alexander learnt about it in Vilno) was taken by him not only as the greatest treat to Russia but also as personal insult and from that time Napoleon became his personal fatal enemy. Having no wish to recur Austerlitz bad experience and submitting the pressure of surroundings Alexander left the army and went back to Saint Petersburg. During all the time when Barklai de Tolli was carrying out a retreat maneuver drawing fire of sharp criticism of the army and society, Alexander almost didn’t show any solidarity with the commander. After Smolensk was left, the emperor conceded to the society requirements and nominated Kutuzov to the post. With the exile of Napoleon’s armies from Russian territory Alexander returned to the army were he stayed during foreign companies of 1813-14.

The victory over Napoleon fortified the authority of Alexander and he became one of the most powerful governors of Europe. He felt his people liberator of whom the fulfillment of God’s will to prevent the following continent wars and destructions is required. He considered the tranquility of Europe one of the indispensable conditions for his reformist plans realization in Russia. To guarantee these conditions it was necessary to maintain status quo, determined by the decision of the Viennese congress (1815). According to those decisions the territory of Great Warsaw duchy departed to Russia, the monarchy in France was restored and Alexander insisted on establishment of constitutional monarchy order in that country which should serve as precedent for the establishment of similar regime in other countries. Russian emperor in particular, managed to enlist the support of allies on the idea to put into commission the constitution of Poland. As a guarantor of Viennese congress decisions observance the emperor initiated the creation of Sacred union (September 14, 1815)-a prototype of international organizations of XXth century. Alexander was sure that he owes the victory over Napoleon to Providence and his piety amplified. Baroness U. Krudener and archimandrite Fotii exerted a strong influence on him. According to some data his faith got an экуменистический character and he gradually became a mystic.

Alexander directly participated in Sacred union activity in Aachen (September- November1818), Tropau and Laibakh (October-December1820-January 1821), Verone (October-December1822). However the amplification of Russian influence in Europe caused counteraction of the allies.

Actually in 1825 Sacred union collapsed.

As a result of victory over Frenchmen Alexander fortified his authority and undertook the next series of reformist attempt in the internal politics of post war time. Already in 1809 Great Finland duchy was established, which became an autonomy with its own Sejm and Senate. Tsar couldn’t change the legislation and impose new taxes without the a consent of Sejm. In May 1815 Alexander declared the talent of constitution Polish Empire providing the creation of two chambers Seim, a system of local self-management and freedom of the press. In1817-18 a number of people (including Arakcheev) was carrying out according to Alexander’s decree the gradual serfdom liquidation project. In 1818 Alexander gave N. N. Novosiltsev a task to prepare the project of Russian constitution. The project of “State authorized letter of the Russian Empire”, providing the federal structure of the country, had been ready by the 1820 and was approved by the emperor but its implement was indefinitely postponed. Tsar complained to the closest surroundings that he had no assistants and that he couldn’t find suitable persons for the governor’s posts. The former ideals more and more seemed Alexander romantic dreams and illusions torn off the real political practice. News of Semenovski regiment revolt had a sobering effect on Alexander. He took that news as a menace of revolution outburst in Russia for the prevention of which it was necessary to undertake strict measures. Nevertheless dreams of reforms didn’t leave the emperor until 1822-1823.

One of the paradoxes of Alexander’s post-war internal policy was the attempt of Russian state updating by the police mode establishment later known as “arakcheevshchina” . Its symbol became military settlements, in which Alexander, however, saw one of the ways of liberating peasants of personal dependence, but which caused hate in the broad masses of society. In 1817 instead of the Ministry of education the Ministry of Spiritual affaires and national education was created. It was hold by the chief-public prosecutor of the most Holy Synod and Bible society A. N. Golitsin. Under his management the rout of Russian Universities was carried out and strict censorship reigned. In1822 Alexander forbade the activity of freemason lodges and other secret societies in Russia and ratified the offer of Senate giving permission to landowners to banish their peasants for the “bad acts” to Siberia. At the same time the emperor was informed of the first Decembrists organizations but he didn’t undertake any measures against their members, considering, that they share errors of his youth.

The last years Alexander again often spoke to his people about his intention to abdicate and separate from the world. And after his unexpected death of typhoid in Taganrog his words created the basis for the legend about aged man Fedor Kuzmitch. According to the legend Alexander’s double was buried in Taganrog while the tsar lived as a hermit aged man in Siberia and died in 1864. However there aren’t any documentary confirmations to this legend.

Translated by Catherine Koryanova