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Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and Nationality: the reign of Tsar Nicholas I 2397 5939 Essay Nicholas I was a reactionary monarch,

pursuing an ultra conservative agenda through Russias apogee1. Under Nicholas, Russia suffered internal dissension from an ever growing serf class, while an aggressive foreign policy was continued in the traditional Russian style. Varying opinions exist as to why Nicholas maintained these policies. The disagreement varies between two opinions; the orthodox position maintains that Nicholas was motivated by a Russian nationalism, continuing his predecessors expansionist policies for his own glory at the expense of Russias people. A more revisionist stance would argue that Nicholas believed too much in the authority of the Tsar, and his attempts to control Russia, Europe and Asia were merely delusion of grandeur. Comparatively, the Orthodox standpoint proves far more tangible, given the weakness of the revisionist argument. Upon the death of Alexander I in 1825, Nicholas was lined up as the successor to the throne, ahead of his older brother, Constantine, as Constantine Lacked the imperial style2. Nicholas initially attempted to pass sovereignty back to his older brother, but eventually took the crown on the 25th December3. In the interregnum, this vacuum of power instigated the Decembrists into action. The Decembrists were a radical collection of the Russian intelligentsia, whom were comprised of nobles, army officers and members of the administration. The group was focussed towards alleviating the serfs plight, leading to an adoption of radical ideas to achieve their goals. On the 26th December, the revolt sprang into action. Through poor communication between rebellious elements4 it was effectively ended within 24 hours. In the aftermath, a long line of aristocrats were arrested and dealt with in typical Russian style5. The rebellion shocked the Tsar, and served to isolate the Tsar

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Lincoln, p151 Crankshaw, p35 3 This was retroactively extended to the death of Alexander on the 1st December. Confusions occur within the date because of the change between old and new calendars 4 Polish allies attempted to rebel in southern Russia, although poor communication allowed the Imperial forces to take them apart piecemeal 5 These significant members within the Decembrist revolution were either executed, imprisoned or exiled to Siberia, while others who werent in Russia were exiled.

from his peers6. The Decembrist revolt is depicted unanimously as being significant with Nicholas reign, as the Tsar was continually reminded about it in later events. Nicholas repressive nature was constantly backed up with the actions of rebellious factions with Russia, only reinforcing his reactionary standpoint against liberal movements. Particularly by 1848, the lessons Nicholas learnt from the Decembrist revolt allowed him to prevent a peasant revolt led by Nicholas Speshnev before any disturbance evolved. This has been looked upon as being the height of Nicholas police state, but a continuing paranoia escalated to the point where in 1851 musical scores were censored for fear of hidden messages being contained within7. The Tsar had clearly grown to distrust his own people, urged on by the fear of people rebelling in any way. This repressive nature is highlighted by Custines account of his visit to the fortress of Schlusselburg, where he was shadowed by a Russian agent during the visit8. This fear of Russia stemmed from Nicholas fear of change and of Europe, which began to realise itself within his policies.

Internally, Russia suffered under Nicholas I. Nicholas remained mostly oblivious to the problems within Russia; Serfdom, the ailing Russian economy, and the oversized beaurocracy. The economy of Russia under Nicholas was inefficient, and was intrinsically tied to the issues of serfdom. Serfs still worked acre blocks owned by a landlord, which proved inefficient in comparison with mass agriculture developing within Europe at the time. Tariffs weighed in heavily on the argument, where a debate between protectionists and free-traders (akin to that which occurred within England) divided policy decisions. The Tsar ultimately settled to preserve the status-quo, allowing some industry to develop, wary of the problems faced by England with industrialisation there. Crankshaw argues that Nicholas prevented the industrialisation of Russia as part of the traditional reliance of grain9 while Lincoln

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Crankshaw, p49 Crankshaw, p126 8 Custine, p321 9 Crankshaw, p65

sees it as Nicholas continuing a policy of division with the west10, something he emulated within foreign policy. The lack of support from the Russian nobility was a factor in the Tsars lack of support for industrialisation, as Waller identifies the stratification of wealth within Russia didnt provide an incentive for the modernisation of Russias economy11. The backward view on industrialisation held by Nicholas I resulted in little progress, severely limiting the Russian economy. This indecisive economical move was linked to the problems of Serfdom. While the serfs languished in effective slavery, unrest over conditions played havoc with crops. In an attempt to alleviate this issue, Nicholas tried several times to emancipate the serfs. This led to little change for the peasants, as the Tsar ultimately abandoned any real changes to help the Serfs plight. Nicholas was driven by several factors for this change, where Lincoln maintains that Nicholas was primarily motivated to this inaction by a fear of reprisal from the nobility, the influence of the Decembrist plot playing upon the Tsars mind. Kochan points out the threat of peasant revolt also prevented Nicholas from making a decision12, as less than favourable terms might have provoked this event. Nicholas remained inherently indecisive on the matter of serfdom, even during the scattered peasant revolts of 1848-9. Maintenance of the Russian army under Nicholas was another problem associated with the Russian economy and Serfdom. In an obstinate manner, Nicholas commanded a standing army of roughly 1,000,000 soldiers, the majority of which were serfs. This proved to be a major economic sinkhole, and although Nicholas entertained ideas of reducing the size of the force, his fear of a peasant revolt and a fear of reducing Russias military strength kept the army together in this outdated manner. The conglomeration that was the Russian beaurocracy was another significant problem of Russia. As satirised in Gogols play The government Inspector corruption was inherent within the Russian administration. This resulted in the inertia caused by provincial Russia stalling any initiative to clean up the administrative system. Nicholas attempted to solve the problem with varying methods; he created ad10 11

Lincoln, p183 Waller, p165 12 Kochan and Abraham, p 162

hoc committees to combat minor issues ignoring normal process, and created the third section. The third section was initially created to improve the efficiency of the Russian administration, but as the Tsar became increasingly paranoid it evolved into a secret police force, and another censorship bureau. Initially designed to increase efficiency, the thirds section ultimately decreased it. Nicholas directed committees didnt improve the situation either, as the result was often insignificant given the amount of power invested into these endeavours. Both efforts to reduce the size of the Russian administration only resulted in making it larger. In initiating these alternative administrative organisations, Nicholas I was trying to solve problems rapidly following his reactionary approach. The inherent problems within Nicholas beaurocracy was made worse by his lack of understanding; Custine quotes Nicholas I as claiming The machine of government is very simple in my country13. This arrogant exclamation by Nicholas reveals a lack of understanding of his system, revealing his motivations as being based upon false pretences. This lack of understanding of administration in his country led to the creation of the third section. The absolutism of the reign is often overemphasised by those closer to the time period, particularly Nikitenko, a Russian censor under the Tsar. He recounts The administration was in chaos; moral inclinations were suppressed; abuses and embezzlement grew to monstrous proportions14. The poor conditions he expressed has shaped historical opinion on the aftermath of Nicholas reign, even given Nikitenkos relation to the Decembrists which certainly coloured his opinions of the Tsar. Nicholas I led a muddled administration system which suffered under his reactionary approach to solving it.

Nicholas maintained an inherently aggressive foreign policy, primarily following the doctrine of expansionism. Nicholas sought to extend his empire into Asia, continuing what was known as The Great Game with the British which roughly began in 1815 with the Caucasian war in the Caucasus. The Russo-Turkish war of 1828-1829 led to Russia making gains within the Danube, before returning to the Caucasian war which continued after Nicholas death. These advances within the east were seen as a threat
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Custine, p183 Nikitenko, p150

by the British to their hegemony over India. Russian dominance of the area was guaranteed after 1833 with the mutual-defence agreement that was the UnkiarSkelessi treaty. This allowed only Turkish and Russian access to the Dardanelles, a major concession from the Sultan, Mahmud II to Nicholas I in his expansionist policy. While Nicholas maintained that he was merely maintaining his position as protector of Orthodox Christians within the area, a point which Lincoln supports15. Nicholas was duplicitous in his approach towards foreign policy, acting much like the proverbial wolf in sheeps clothing. Within Europe, Nicholas attempted to follow a dual policy; Russian expansionism while positioning himself as Gendarme of Europe. This double policy was often contradictory, and the expansionism often took precedence cementing Nicholas image as a reactionary monarch, as is evident from the events prior to the November uprising. Nicholas, initially unwilling to respond was spurred on to crush the revolution over 1831. Crankshaw in particular sees this as Nicholas being incited by his memories of the Decembrists16, reacting in a way which continued into an expansion of Russias borders. This continues Crankshaws idea that Nicholas was turning away from his predecessors Eurocentric view, instead isolating Russia from the outside world. The isolation of Russia from Europe served to create the image of the Russian bear in Europe, especially given Nicholas relations with the continent. Albeit for the Caucasian War, Nicholas I experienced a rather peaceful period of time from the resolution of the November Uprising to 1848. During this time, Nicholas continued his expansionist objectives, particularly at the 1835 London conference. Here the Tsar repeatedly pushed the issue of the Turkish Empires decline, a point which Britain saw as a play within the great game which was beginning to develop towards the Crimean conflict. Nicholas motivations are constantly questioned over his interest in the Ottoman Empire. Lincoln argues that Nicholas was totally in line with his idealistic position as protector of all Christians within the Ottoman Empire17, citing the treaty of Unkiar-Skelessi as evidence of Russias disinterest in exploiting the ailing empire. This interpretation ignores the Tsars expansionist policy in favour of a more apologetic tone towards the Emperor.
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Lincoln, p335 Crankshaw, p105 17 Lincoln, p218

Nicholas I continued to approach foreign policy within his reactionary manner, attempting to keep Europe out of his sphere of influence out of fear. The events of 1848 were trying for Nicholas, as his perceived position as Gendarme of Europe collapsed with the social unrest across Europe. Nicholas responded in typical fashion, as he sought to close the borders. Lincoln provides an apologist position about Nicholas actions in the time, arguing he was feeling the effects of old age18, misguiding his decision making process. Crankshaw disagrees, arguing that Nicholas was becoming increasingly paranoid about revolt, as is evident from the 12 censorship bureaus which existed in Russia at the time19. Events such as the arrest and subsequent torture of the Petravsky group20 show the extent of Nicholas drive to retain his status quo, even with repressive measures. The dnouement of the Tsars reign began with the Crimean War, as his reactionary actions within internal and foreign policy back lashed. The Crimean war was the result of Nicholas retaining his agenda of protection of orthodox Christians within the region, in the face of allied opposition. Kochan disagrees with this idea, citing the pretext of the November uprising Nicholas used to continue Russian expansionism into Poland21 as a reason for continued interest in the Ottoman Empire. Given the proximity to the Caucasus, this would show Nicholas as being overconfident in Russias military commitments, explaining the brash approach to the politicking prior to the war. Nicholas impetuous attitude led him to take control of military operations from the winter palace in St. Petersburg. Crankshaw argues that this move was inherently stupid, given the lack of the Tsars knowledge of conditions22. Lincoln ignores this change in command when assessing Nicholas impact upon the resolution of the Crimean war, continuing his apologetic approach towards the monarch, blaming the failures of the war on the Tsars subordinates. Lincoln ignores the Nicholas continuous attempts o solve all problems himself. The Marquis de Custine saw this trait within the monarch in 1839 He trusts too much in himself and too little in others to succeed23. This almost paranoid approach to all
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Lincoln, p273 Nikitenko, diary entry for 22nd March 1850 20 Nicholas psychologically tortured 39 individuals who were gathering within a treasonous group. 21 Kochan and Abraham, p 177 22 Lincoln, p146 23 The Marquis de Custine, p602

problems facing Russia proved counter productive for the autocrat, as Russia was ruined after the Crimean War. Nicholas rule has two distinctive interpretations over the nature of its application. The orthodox interpretation generally focuses on dividing his reign into three, distinctive sections, as Kornilov argues there was quasi reform (1825-30), strict conservatism (1830-48) and a system of reaction (1848-55)24. Lincoln disagrees with this segmented interpretation, instead supporting Polievktovs idea25 of a continuous progression from initial significant results fading to the internal and external tension which faced Nicholas in the post 48 era of his life. Lincoln supports this notion to further his argument that the Tsar had good intentions, but ultimately failed through the machinations of global politicking.

Nicholas I was a repressive autocrat who followed a highly reactionary approach to ruling Russia. His motivations for running such a conservatively oriented regime have been disputed over time. The orthodox interpretation argues he was unable to conform to changing times, reverting instead to maintaining the status quo which had contained Russia to a limited existence. Revisionists, extending Custines neutral views, argue that he was trapped under the inertia of Russian administration and dogma, constraining the monarch to traditional methods of rule. This view often ignores evidence, defaulting to the more convincing orthodox interpretation. Nicholas I was ultimately motivated by a fear of Europe, his nobles and the Russian serfs, culminating in the image which historians have attributed to him. Bibliography Kornilov, A.A., Kurs istorii Rossii XIX v, 3 vols, Moscow, 1918 Polievktov, M., Nicholai I: Biografia i obzor tsarstvovaniia, Moscow, 1918 Crankshaw, E., The Shadow of the Winter Palace, Viking Press: New York, 1976 Kochan L. and Abraham R., The making of Modern Russia, Penguin Books: England, 1983
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Kornilov, p24,28,101 Polievktov, p65-8

The Marquis De Custine, Empire of the Czar Doubleday: New York, 1989 Waller B., Themes in Modern European History 1830-1890 Unwen Hymen ltd: London, 1990 Lincoln W.B., Nicholas I(Indiana University Press: London, 1978) Nikitenko A., Diary of a Russian Censor(University of Massachusetts Press: Massachusetts, 1975)