The reigns of Alexander I and Nicholas I

General survey

When Alexander I pertained to the throne in March 1801, Russia remained in a state of hostility with most of Europe, though its militaries were not actually fighting; its only ally was its typical enemy, Turkey. The new emperor conveniently made tranquility via both France and Britain and brought back normal relations through Austria. His hope that he would certainly then have the ability to concentrate on inner recreate was frustrated by the reopening of war through Napoleon in 1805. Defeated at Austerlitz in December 1805, the Russian armies fought Napoleon in Poland in 1806 and 1807, with Prussia as an inreliable ally. After the Treaty of Tilsit (1807), tright here were five years of peace, ended by Napoleon’s intrusion of Russia in 1812. From the westward advancement of its arms in the next 2 years of hefty fighting, Russia arised as Europe’s biggest land power and the first among the continental victors over Napoleon. The enormous prestige achieved in these campaigns was preserved till mid-century. During this period, Russian armies dealt with just versus weaker enemies: Persia in 1826, Turessential in 1828–29, Poland also in 1830–31, and the mountaineers of the Caucasus in the time of the 1830s and also ’40s. When Europe was convulsed by revolution in 1848 (see Revolutions of 1848), Russia and Great Britain alone among the great powers were uninfluenced, and in the summer of 1849 the tsar sent troops to crush the Hungarians in Transylvania. Russia was not loved, yet it was admired and also feared. To the top classes in central Europe, Nicholas I was the stern defender of autarchic legitimacy; to democrats all over the human being, he was “the gendarme of Europe” and the chief opponent of liberty. But the Crimean War (1853–56) proved that this huge had actually feet of clay. The vast empire was unable to mobilize, equip, and transport enough troops to defeat the medium-dimension French and English forces under very mediocre command also. Nicholas passed away in the bitter understanding of general faientice.

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Nicholas I, detail of a watercolour by Christina Robertchild, 1840; in the collection of Mrs. Merriweather Post, Hillwood, Washington, D.C.

Alexander I as a young male had actually longed to recreate his empire and advantage his topics. His hopes were disappointed, partially by the sheer inertia, backwardness, and also vastness of his domain names, partially possibly bereason of defects of his very own character, however likewise because Napoleon’s aggressive enterprises diverted Alexander’s attention to diplomacy and also defense. Russia’s plentiful manpower and also scanty financial sources were both consumed in battle. The early years of his regime saw two brief durations of attempted recreate. During the first, from 1801 to 1803, the tsar took counsel through 4 intimate friends, who formed his so-dubbed Unmain Committee, with the intention of drafting ambitious recreates. In the period from 1807 to 1812, he had as his chief adviser the liberal Mikhail Speranskies. Both durations produced some handy administrative inventions, but neither initiated any kind of standard redevelop. After 1815 Alexander was greatly pertained to through grandiose plans for global peace; his motivation was not just political but additionally religious—not to say mystical—for the years of battle and nationwide danger had actually aroprovided in him an interemainder in matters of belief to which, as a pupil of the 18th-century Knowledge, he had previously been indifferent. While he was therefore prelived in via diplomacy and also religious beliefs, Russia was ruled by conservatives and reactionaries, among whom the brutal but hocolony Gen. Aleksey Arakcheyev was exceptional. Success in war had strengthened those who uphosted the establiburned order, serfdom and also all. The mood was one of intense national pride: Orthodox Russia had actually defeated Napoleon, and therefore it was not just foolish but likewise impious to copy foreign models. Educated young Russians, who had actually offered in the army and watched Europe, who check out and also spoke French and Gerguy and knew contemporary European literature, felt otherwise. Masonic lodges and secret cultures flourimelted in the beforehand 1820s. From their deliberations arised a conspiracy to overthrow the federal government, motivated by a range of ideas: some looked to the USA for a design, others to Jacobin France. The conspirators, recognized as the Decembrists because they tried to act in December 1825 as soon as the news of Alexander I’s death came to be recognized and tright here was uncertainty around his successor, were beat and also arrested; five were executed, and also many kind of even more sentenced to assorted regards to imprisonment in Siberia. Nicholas I, who prospered after his elder brvarious other Constantine had ultimately refoffered the throne, was deeply influenced by these occasions and also collection himself against any type of major political change, though he did not refuse the idea of governmental redevelop. After the Revolutions of 1848 in Europe, his opplace to all change, his suspicion of even mildly liberal ideas, and his insistence on an obscurantist censorship reached their orgasm.

The sections that follow cover the advance under Alexander I and Nicholas I of the machinery of federal government, of social classes and also financial pressures, of education and learning and also political principles, of the connections between Russians and other peoples within the empire, and of Russian international policy.


The discussions of Alexander I’s Unmain Committee were component of an continuous debate that was to remajor necessary till the end of the imperial program. This might be dubbed the controversy between enlightened oligarchy and also enlightened autocracy. The advocates of oligarchy looked earlier to a somewhat idealized design of the regime of Catherine II. They wimelted higher power to be put in the hands of the aristocracy for the objective of achieving a certain balance between the monarch and the social elite, believing that both together were qualified of pursuing policies that would advantage the civilization as a whole. Their enemies, of whom the a lot of talented was the young count Pavel Stroganov, were versus any kind of limitation on the power of the tsar. Whereas the oligarchs wiburned to make the Senate an important centre of power and also to have actually it elected by senior officials and also nation nobility, Stroganov kept that if this were done the soveregime would have actually “his arms tied, so that he would no much longer be able to bring out the plans which he had actually in favour of the nation.” In any kind of event, neither enlightened oligarchs nor enlightened absolutists had actually their way: Russia’s government continued to be autocratic yet reactionary. Alexander, however, never before rather abandoned the idea of representative organizations. He encouraged Speransky to prepare in 1809 a draft constitution that had a pyramid of consultative chosen bodies and also a national assembly with some slight powers of regulation. In 1819 he asked Nikolay Novosiltsev, a previous member of the Unofficial Committee that had actually made a brilliant career as a bureaucrat, to prepare an additional constitution, which turned out to be rather equivalent to the initially, although rather even more conservative and much less centralist. Neither was ever applied, though Alexander took some features of the first, notably the college of the State Council, and used them out of their intfinished conmessage.

In 1802 Alexander instituted eight government departments, or ministries, of which five were essentially brand-new. The organization of the departments was dramatically boosted in 1811 by Speransky. In the 1820s the Ministry of the Interior came to be responsible for public order, public health and wellness, stocks of food, and the development of market and agriculture. Inadequate funds and personnel and the dominant position of the serf-owning nobility in the countryside considerably limited the efficient power of this ministry. Tbelow was no question of a formal council of ministers, or of anything corresponding to a cabinet, and also tbelow was no prime minister. A committee of ministers coordinated to some degree the affairs of the various departments, yet its importance relied on situations and also on people. When the tsar was abroad, the committee was in charge of inner affairs. Aleksey Arakcheyev was for a time secretary of the committee, but he did not cease to be the strongest man in Russia under the tsar as soon as he ceased to host this formal office. The committee had actually a president, but this office did not confer any type of considerable power or prestige.

Under Nicholas I the committee of ministers ongoing to operate, but the individual ministers were responsible only to the emperor. The centre of power to some extent shifted right into the emperor’s personal chancery, which was gathered into a formidable apparatus. The Third Department of the chancery, produced in July 1826, under Count Aleksandr Benckendorff, was responsible for the security police. Its head was also chief of gendarmes, and also the 2 offices were later on formally unified. The task of the security pressure wregarding obtain information on the state of political opinion and also to track down and also repress all political task that can be considered dangerous to the routine. The Third Department was likewise taken into consideration by the tsar as an instrument of justice in a large sense, the defender of all those unjustly treated by the powerful and also wealthy. A few of the department’s reports present that tbelow were officials that took these duties seriously, yet as a whole it confirmed even more talent for wasting time and initiative and also for repushing opplace and stifling opinion than for redressing the grievances of the powerless. In addition, the department was regularly on the worst of terms with other branches of the public service.

Russia under Alexander I and Nicholas I was ruled by its bureaucracy. The initiatives of succeeding sovereigns after Peter the Great to establish a government organization of the European type had had partial success. The Russian bureaucracy of 1850 combined some attributes of a central European administration of 1750 via some attributes of pre-Petrine Russia. One might soptimal of a “company ethos” and map this ago to 16th-century Muscovy. But the structure of this ethos was, for the excellent majority of Russian officials, servile obedience to the tsar and also not company to the state as that expression was taken in a country such as Prussia. The notion of the state as something distinct from and also exceptional to both ruler and ruled was incomprehensible to many government servants. Russian bureaucrats were obsessed with rank and also standing. Indeed, bereason salaries were rather meagre, this was the just inspiration that the government could provide. Rank was not so a lot a reward for reliable company as a privilege to be grasped and also jealously guarded. In order to proccasion able persons, specifically of humble origin, from climbing too quickly, excellent focus was inserted on seniority. Tbelow were exceptions, and outstandingly able, cultured, and also humane men did reach the optimal under Nicholas I, however they were few.

The rank and also file of the bureaucracy was mediocre, however its numbers steadily increased, probably trebling in the first fifty percent of the century. It continued to be poorly passist. The government’s poverty was brought about by the underemerged state of the economy, by the truth that no taxes can be asked of the nobility, and by the expense of waging wars—not only the good wars yet likewise the lengthy colonial campaigns in the Caucasus. Government officials were badly educated. They lacked not just specific understanding however also the sort of basic honest training that skilled officials need. They were reluctant to make decisions: duty was puburned higher and greater up the power structure, until countless minor matters ended on the emperor’s desk. Centralization of obligation supposed slowness of decision, and also delays of many years were not unusual; fatality often offered the answer. There were additionally many type of antiquated, discriminatory, and also inconsistent laws. Large categories of the populace, such as Jews and members of heretical Christian sects, suffered from various legal disabilities. Because not all those discriminated against were poor and since many kind of little officials were unable to support their households, bfinishing or evasion of the legislation had its industry price, and the needy official had a supplementary source of revenue. Corruption of this sort existed on a mass scale. To a particular level it was a redeeming feature of the regime: if tbelow had actually been much less corruption the federal government would certainly have been even slower, much less efficient, and also more oppressive.

Social classes

No significant changes were made in the condition of the serfs in the first fifty percent of the century. Alexander I, maybe from are afraid of the nobility and also with the memory of his father’s fate in mind, approached the problem through caution, though with a desire for recreate, yet initially battle and also then diplomacy diverted him. His follower, Nicholas, dischosen serfdom, however tbelow were political dangers in eliminating it. The power of the main federal government extfinished down to the provincial governors and also, more tenuously, down to the ispravnik, or chief main of the district, of which each province had several. The ispravnik was elected by the neighborhood the aristocracy. Below the level of the district, the administration practically ceased to operate: the sole authority was the serf owner. If serfdom were to be aboliburned, some various other authority would need to be put in its area, and also the existing governmental apparatus was plainly insufficient. The Decembrist conspiracy in 1825 had actually substantially enhanced the tsar’s distrust of the nobility. He was identified to protect against public discussion of reform, even within the top class.

The one essential exception to the general photo of bureaucratic stagcountry was the development of the Ministry of State Domains, under Gen. Pavel Kiselev. This became an embryonic minisattempt of farming, through authority over peasants that lived on state lands. These were a tiny less than fifty percent the rural population: in 1858 tbelow were 19 million state peasants and 22.5 million personal serfs. Kiselev put up a system of federal government administration down to the village level and also provided for a meacertain of self-government under which the mayor of the volost (a district grouping a number of villeras or peasant communes) was chosen by male householders. Tright here was additionally to be a volost court for judging problems in between peasants. Kiselev planned to boost medical solutions, construct institutions, create waredwellings for stocks of food in situation of chop faitempt, and also offer instruction in techniques of farming. Something was done in all these fields, also if much less than intfinished and also often in a manner that provoked hostility or even violent riots; the personnel of the brand-new minisattempt was no more experienced than the bureaucracy in its entirety.

Only minor steps were taken to advantage the serfs on exclusive estates. Opposition to serfdom thrived steadily, but, not just among persons of European outlook and independent believed however additionally among high officials. It seemed not just unjust yet intolerable that in a great country men and womales can be owned. Serfdom was likewise obviously an obstacle to economic development.

Whether serfdom was contrary to the interests of serf owners is a more complicated question. Those that wiburned to abolish it suggested that it was, since their ideal hope of gaining the the aristocracy to accept abolition lay in convincing them that their self-interest compelled it. Undoubtedly in parts of southern Russia wright here the soil was productive, labour was plentiful, and also potential revenues in the grain trade via Europe were high, a landowner would certainly execute better if he could rearea his serfs via paid farming work and also be rid of responsibilities to those peasants whom he did not need to employ. In various other regions, where the population was scanty, serfdom gave the landowner with an assured work supply; if it were abolimelted, he would have to pay more for his labour pressure or see it melt amethod. In large parts of north Russia wright here the land was negative, many serfs made a living from miscellaneous crafts—in cottage sector or also in factories—and also from their wages had actually to pay dues to their masters. The abolition of serfdom would certainly deprive the serf owner of this large income and leave him with just what he could make from farming and also from tenants via rather negative financial prospects. On balance, it appears most likely that the short-term interests of the good majority of serf owners favoured the maintenance of serfdom, and, in any kind of situation, tright here is no doubt that this is what most serf owners believed.

Indusattempt and also trade made slow-moving development throughout these years. In the last component of the 18th century, Russia had actually been, thanks to its Urals mines, among the main producers of pig iron. In the following 50 years, it was left much behind by Great Britain, Germany, and the United States. In cotton textiles and also sugar refining, Russia was even more successful. Count Egor Frantsevich Kankrin, minister of finance from 1823 to 1844, tried to encourage Russian market by high protective tariffs. He likewise erected schools and also specialized institutes for the advancement of business, design, and also foresattempt. Russia’s exports of grain boosted considerably, though its share of total people trade remained about the very same in 1850 as in 1800. The initially railmethods also appeared; rail web traffic in between St. Petersburg and Moscow was opened in 1851. The road mechanism stayed extremely poor, as was demonstrated in the Crisuppose War.

The city population prospered considerably. There were a few thriving vendors, well defended by the federal government. Some centres, such as Ivanovo in main Russia, via its textile market, had the starts of an industrial functioning class. The remainder of the occupants of the cities contained tiny tradesguys and artisans, along with serfs living in town with their owners’ permission as household servants or casual labourers.

Education and also intellectual life

Alexander I’s School Statute (1804) gave for a four-tier system of institutions from the main to the university level, intfinished to be open up to persons of all classes. Under its provisions several new colleges were started, and also gymnasiums (pre-university schools) were establiburned in a lot of provincial resources. Less was done at the lower levels, for the usual factor of insufficient funds. In the last part of Alexander’s reign, education and learning was supervised by Prince Aleksandr Nikolayevich Golitsyn, head of the Ministry of Education and also Spiritual Affairs. In an effort to combat what he believed to be dangerous irspiritual doctrines emanating from western Europe, Golitsyn motivated university students to spy on their professors and on each other; those that taught unacceptable concepts were typically dismissed or endangered with priboy. Under Nicholas I tright here was some improvement. Count Sergey Uvarov, minister of education and learning from 1833 to 1849, permitted a a lot freer intellectual setting, yet he likewise started the practice of deliberately excluding children of the reduced classes from the gymnasiums and colleges, a plan ongoing under his successors.

Nonetheless, in raising numbers the youngsters of minor officials, little tradesguys, and also especially clergymans were acquiring education. Together with the currently Europeanized nobility, they started to form a brand-new cultural elite. Direct political criticism was prevented by the censorship of publications and periodicals. Petty police interference made life disagreeable even for writers who were not much came to through national politics. Aleksandr Pushkin, Russia’s biggest poet, gained into trouble through the police for his opinions in 1824; he was additionally a frifinish of some leading Decembrists. After 1826 he lived an unhappy life in St. Petersburg, tolerated yet distrusted by the authorities and creating magnificent poeattempt until he met his fatality in a duel in 1837. The authors Mikhail Lermontov and also Nikolay Gogol were additionally objects of suspicion to the bureaucrats.

The censorship was not constantly effective, and some of the censors were liberal. It became possible to expush political principles in the form of philosophical arguments and also literary criticism. Thus, it was partially in intellectual periodicals and partly in discussions in the exclusive residences of Moscow nobleguys that the conflict in between “Westernizers” and also “Slavophiles” developed. It started with the publication of a “thoughtful letter” by Pyotr Chaadayev in the periodical Teleskop in 1836. One of the many brilliant esstates ever written around Russia’s historic heritage, it said that Russia belonged neither to West nor to East, neither to Europe nor to Asia:

Standing alone in the people, we have actually given nothing to the human being, we have actually learnt nopoint from the people, we have actually not added a single idea to the mass of huguy ideas; we have actually made no contribution to the progression of the humale heart, and also everything that has pertained to us from that soul, we have disfigured.… Today we form a gap in the intellectual order.

Nicholas declared that Chaadayev must be mad and also offered orders that he need to be confined to his residence and also regularly visited by a physician.

It is misresulting in recurrent the Westernizers as wishing to slavishly copy all things Western or the Slavophiles as repudiating everything European and also rejecting redevelop. The chief Slavophiles—Aleksey S. Khomyakov, the brothers Ivan and also Pyotr Kireyevsky, the brothers Konstantin and Ivan Aksakov, and Yury Samarin—were males of deep European culture and also, via one exemption, bitter adversaries of serfdom. Without a doubt, as landowners they knew more about the problems and sufferings of the serfs than did many kind of Westernizers. The leading Westernizers—Aleksandr Herzen, Vissarion Belinskies, and also Mikhail Bakunin—were for their component profoundly Russian. Belinskies was ill at ease via foreigners, and also Herzen and also Bakunin, despite many years’ residence in France, Germany, England also, and Italy, stayed not only hostile to the people of European bourgeois liberalism and democracy yet additionally strangely ignorant of it.

The difference between Westernizers and also Slavophiles was fundamentally that between radicals and conservatives, a familiar theme in the background of many European countries. It was the distinction in between those that wiburned to pull the totality political structure down and rearea it with a brand-new building, according to their very own admirable blueprints, and also those who desired to knock down some components and repair and also refurnish others, little by little. Anvarious other basic difference was that the Slavophiles were Orthodox Christians and also the Westernizers either atheists or, favor the historian T.N. Granovskies, Deists with their own individual belief. Belinsky defined the Orthodox church in his renowned “Letter to Gogol” (1847) as “the bulwark of the whip and also the handmassist of despotism.” He kept that the Russian populace was “by its nature a profoundly atheistic people” and that it regarded the priesthood via contempt. These were however half-truths: the church was indeed topic to the federal government and uporganized autocracy, and also priests were frequently unwell-known, however this did not suppose that the peasants and also a large part of the upper and also middle classes were not devoted to the Orthodox confidence.

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The Slavophiles idealized early Russian background. They thought that tbelow had actually when been a happy partnership in between tsar and also people: the tsar had consulted the civilization through their chosen spokesguys in the zemskies sobor. This had actually been adjusted by Peter the Great once he sought to copy foreign models and interposed an alien administration, staffed greatly by Germans, in between himself and his world. The Slavophiles hosted that Russia should go back to the means from which it had actually strayed under Peter. They asked not for a legislative body of the Western form, still less for parliamentary federal government, however for a consultative assembly to advise the emperor. This was quite unacceptable to Nicholas, who was proud of Peter the Great and thought himself his political heir. To the Westernizers, on the various other hand also, Peter the Great was a symbol of radical adjust, not of autocracy.