Samuel M. (Samuel Mosheim) Smucker.

The life and reign of Nicholas the First, emperor of Russia online

. (page 4 of 23)
Online LibrarySamuel M. (Samuel Mosheim) SmuckerThe life and reign of Nicholas the First, emperor of Russia → online text (page 4 of 23)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

mined no longer to evade that duty; and on the
24th of December, 1825, consented to accept the
proifered sceptre. On the evening of the 25th, the
Council of State was convoked, to assume the oath
of allegiance to the new emperor. During the same
evening, a similar ceremony was performed both by
the Senate and the Holy Synod.

To these several bodies Nicholas made the follow-
ing declaration: "According to the fundamental
law of the empire, our heart being filled with re-
spect for the impenetrable decrees of an overruling
Providence, we ascend the throne of our ancestors,
the empire of all the Russias, of the kingdom of
Poland, and of the grand-duchy of Finland ; and


wo command that the oath of fidelity be taken to
us and to our heir, the Grand Duke Alexander;
and that the epoch of our accession be dated from
December 1, 1825. And we invite all our faithful
subjects to unite with us in fervent prayer to Al-
mighty God, that he may give us strength to sup-
port the burden thus imposed on us ; that he may
enable us to live and reign for the good of our sub-
jects ; and that the sacred memory of our deceased
sovereign may nourish in us a desire to merit the
blessings of heaven and the love of our country."

The critical moment had now arrived in which it
was necessary for that vast conspiracy against auto-
cracy in Russia, which had been in secret existence
for some years, to strike the decisive blow. The
death of Alexander was but the initiatory step in
the great and perilous drama which was about to be
enacted. It was proper now for the conspirators to
consummate their treason, and to finish what they
had begun.

The end proposed by the conspirators seems to
have been to throw confusion between the rival
claims of Constantine and Nicholas, and in the midst
of the uncertainty and suspense produced by it, to
intimidate the Senate, and induce it to aid them in
compelling Nicholas and Constantine to renounce
their rival claims to the throne ; then to call a con-



vocation of deputies from the provinces, who would
choose another sovereign, invested only with the
powers of a limited constitutional monarchy; and
establish, in co-ordinate power with him, deli-
berative bodies and a representative government.
These ends were to be obtained either with or
without the effusion of blood, as events might
render necessary. The assassination of the emperor
was resolved on, should he exhibit the least re-
sistance ; and Kyleieff, one of the leading conspira-
tors, was selected to strike the fatal blow.

On the 26th of December, uncertainty and gloom
overspread St. Petersburg. It was resolved by the
new czar, that early in the morning of that day the
important ceremony should be performed, of ad-
ministering the oath of allegiance to the regiments
of guards in the capital. On the night of the 25th,
the emperor had received a letter from Rostoftsof,
informing him that during the last two days, the
conspirators had been active in corrupting the
guards. The immediate outburst of the revolution
was apprehended; and that fear prevented Nicho-
las from publishing his manifesto at that moment.
This neglect was imprudent ; for the manifesto con-
tained a recital of the facts connected with Con-
stantino's refusal to accept the crown, and his own
proffered allegiance to Nicholas. This information


would have thrown great light on the real state of
the case, and on the duty devolving on the soldiery,
and on the nation.

But without that manifesto, and being in igno-
rance of these essential facts, the guards, when
called upon to swear allegiance to Nicholas, were
naturally surprised and apprehensive of wrong.
They had just taken the oath of allegiance to Con-
stantine; why should they turn traitors to that
solemn obligation, and assume another oath to a
different person? They had received no informa-
tion as yet, which justified such a course; and
hence a painful uncertainty and fatal delusion,
operated on the minds of thousands of brave and
loyal men. This uncertainty was most perilous to
the safety of the throne, and most favourable to the
treasonable designs of the conspirators.

The conspiracy comprised among its members
many officers and noblemen of high rank, as well
as a multitude of others of lower grade. Among
them were also men of letters ; and some whose
families had been connected with the glory of the
nation for several centuries. Prince Troubetskoi
had just been appointed military governor of Kief,
and at that time enjoyed the confidence of the
court. This nobleman was descended from that
Tchernigoff who was illustrious in the history of


Russia, and who had been a competitor for the
throne of the czars at the period when the free suf-
frages of the boyards, had elected the first Roman-
off to the cares and honours of empire. RyleiefF
was one of the most distinguished literary men
of Russia, being a poet of acknowledged genius.
Bestoujeff was amiable, accomplished, and beloved
for his many virtues. Jakoubovitch was savage
and ferocious in his temper, and had counselled
the most desperate measures to his associates in
the conspiracy. These misguided persons the pro-
fessed friends of freedom and republicanism had
thought it necessary, that the association should
have a dictator; and Troubetskoi was chosen to fill
that dangerous post, as if the hour had at length
arrived, when the ancient pretensions of his family
were to be fulfilled in the downfall of the Roman-
offs. But he seemed to be totally unfit for this
distinction; for the shrewd Ryle'ieff, being asked
whether the conspirators had not chosen an ad-
mirable chief, replied, sarcastically, "Yes, in
stature !"

The means contemplated by the conspirators for
accomplishing their purposes, were the corruption
of the soldiery, and also the seduction of the
mujiks, or populace, to unite with them. The
population in St. Petersburg was at that time com-


posed of 75,000 males, in addition to the military,
and a proportion of two-sevenths of that number
of women. These 75,000 mujiks are the deadly
enemies of the police, who brutally whip them OB
every possible occasion. They are constantly un
favourably affected toward the court; and brandy
liberally distributed among them, will, at any time
of danger or uncertainty in the government, ren-
der them the pliant and desperate tools of revolu-
tionary agitators.

On the morning of the 26th of December, the
conspirators had succeeded in drawing over to
their side the regiment of Moscow, the corps of
Marine Guards, and half the battalion of the Grena-
dier Guards. This small force was marched into
the immense Square of St. Isaacs, and took its
position in the rear of the statue of Peter the
Great. A large concourse of the populace accom-
panied them, among whom were many of the con-
spirators disguised, and a multitude of others, who
only waited to see the direction of events to deter-
mine their own conduct. All those who had de-
clared for the conspirators, had been won over by
the false statements of the conspirators, that the
Grand Duke Constantine had not refused the
throne; that both he and the Grand Duke Mi-
chael were then in chains ; and that Nicholas was


a usurper. Bestoujeff even declared to the sol-
diers that he himself had just returned from
Warsaw, and had been witness of the imprison-
ment of the grand dukes. " Long live the Em-
peror Constantine !" was shouted continually by
these misguided troops, while, for several hours,
they remained standing in the Great Square of St.
Isaacs, waiting for the military heads of the con-

These leaders were Troubetskoi and Bulatof ; but
neither of them appeared at this critical moment.
Bulatof remained during the whole day in the escort
of Nicholas, to which he belonged ; and had not the
courage to act the perilous part which he had under-
taken. Troubetskoi was indeed present among the
crowd, but did not come forward to take the com-
mand ; and fled, first to the house of his mother-in-
law, next to the Austrian ambassador, and last of all,
to the presence of Nicholas, surrounded by his staff.

In this condition, deserted by their leaders, the
misguided soldiers remained in St. Isaac's Square
until one o'clock. During this interval Nicholas
had remained in the Winter Palace, while the oath
of allegiance was being administered to the regi-
ments, consisting of thirteen thousand men, who
had not revolted. This task being finished, the
emperor was informed by Mirola Jovitch, the Gover-


nor-general of St. Petersburg, of the state of revolt,
in which a portion of the troops, amounting to about
three thousand men, then were. It was now time
to act on the offensive, and Nicholas began to
display those qualities of intrepidity and sagacity,
which rendered his conduct on this critical occasion

He immediately ordered Count Alexis Orloff to
bring into the square the squadrons of Horse-Guards
which he commanded, and which were then stationed
at some distance. He obeyed, and defiled into the
square with a rapidity which had a powerful effect
in directing the fortunes of the day. Nicholas then
ordered the commanding officer of the regiment of
Preobrajensk to conduct his troops into the square.
Several companies of the Grenadiers of Paolofsk,
the sappers of the Guards, the chasseurs of Fin-
land, all were summoned simultaneously by Nicho-
las to take up their positions in front of the revolt-
ing regiments.

These orders being obeyed, Nicholas came fortb
from the Winter Palace. As he gazed from its
spacious portals toward the Admiralty and the
equestrian statue of Peter the Great, his eye beheld
a large portion of that vast square filled with the
soldiers who had revolted, surrounded by a tumultu-
ous multitude who had joined them, and were pro-


pared to act with the military. They continually
rent the air with loud and confused shouts of " Long
live the Emperor Coustantine !" A few of the lead-
ing conspirators, among whom was Ryleieff, the most
intrepid of all his associates, were active in going
from rank to rank, strengthening the resolution of
the soldiers to fight and to die for the cause of their
legitimate sovereign, Constantine.

At length, surrounded by his generals, Nicholas
advanced across the plain toward the disaifected
multitude. At this moment an officer was seen to
gallop forth from the midst of the insurgents, his
right hand thrust into the breast of his uniform. As
he approached, the emperor advanced to meet him ;
and when they had arrived at a sword's length from
each other, Nicholas inquired, " What do you bring
me?" The officer met the emperor's steady gaze;
his hand moved convulsively under his uniform ; he
trembled, and then, without saying a word, he turned
his horse and rode back again to his associates.
Said he, " The czar looked at me with such a terri-
ble glance that I could not kill him!" Nicholas
indeed seemed to have been anxious to spare the
effusion of the blood of his subjects. He requested
Count Miloradovitch to approach, and address the
rebels. He did so ; but his voice was drowned by
loud shouts of "Long live Constantine!" At this


moment, Rahhofski approached the aged general,
discharged his pistol, and wounded him mortally.
It was reserved for the most chivalrous soldier, the
Murat of Russia, who had escaped the shafts of death
on fifty-six battle-fields throughout Europe, to fall at
length hy the hand of a Russian assassin.

At this instant the multitude of rebels raised the
loud cry of "Constitution!" to which was appended
also the name of Constantine. It appears that in
Russ, the word constitoutzia or constitution has a femi-
nine termination; and the ignorant multitude sup-
posed that by the double phrase thus used by their
leaders, was meant Constantine and his wife I

The increasing acclamations of the multitude for
Constantine and the constitution, together with the
fall of Miloradovitch, aroused Nicholas from the
benevolent lethargy in which, until that moment, he
seemed to have rested ; and he determined at once
to take active and extreme measures. He ordered a
charge of cavalry to break the square in which the
troops of the revolt had been formed. He hoped
that by this charge the insurgents would give way,
and the multitude, now drunk with brandy, would
retreat from the impending danger. His expecta-
tions were i disappointed ; the rebels made a deter-
mined resistance. One of these attacked the Grand
Duke Michael in person, and would have dispatched



him, had it not been for the timely protection of
some marines of the guards. The savage and despe-
rate Jakoubovitch rushed forward, and struggled to
reach the person of Nicholas, determined to strike a
fatal blow. The shades of night were about to settle
down upon the lamentable scene of carnage and
confusion, without any decisive result having been
achieved by either side. Nicholas saw the necessity
of taking more active and determined measures. He
ordered the cannon to be brought into the Great
Square, whose white vesture of snow had already be-
come tinged with blood. The command to fire on
the insurgents was immediately given, and a deluge
of shot was sent into the thick mass of living flesh.
The effect was terrible. Discharge followed after
discharge. Hundreds of dead and wounded soon bur-
dened the wintry earth ; and the rest began in terror
and confusion to make their escape from the im-
pending havoc. The retreating multitude fled in a
tumultuous torrent to the Bassili Ostroff, an island
on the opposite side of the frozen Neva, near the
English quay. The pursuit continued down the
long street of Galernaia, and in the by-streets. The
pathway of their retreat was covered with dead
bodies. At length the pursuit was stopped, and a
thousand killed and wounded, and eight hundred


prisoners, testified to the fury and desperation of the

At six o'clock in the evening of this memorable
day, Nicholas returned to the Winter Palace. He
had dared the most imminent danger, had exhibited
the utmost intrepidity, and had achieved a decisive
victory over a powerful and dangerous conspiracy.
From that moment he was seated securely on his
throne. The power of revolt was crushed. Hence-
forth his sceptre of empire was undisturbed ; and a
glorious destiny began to open wide its enchanting
vistas of felicity and renown before him. Such, at
least, were then the prognostications of short-sighted








ON entering the palace after these perilous scenes,
Nicholas found the empress bathed in tears, and
trembling with terror. She might well have been
apprehensive of the dangers which surrounded her
husband, during that awful interval of suspense ; but
his safe return happily dispelled her fears, and she
united her congratulations with that of the court,
upon his fortunate escape.

As soon as he had returned their congratulations,
he hastened to the bedside of the dying Milorado-
vitch. An affecting scene ensued. Nicholas had
arrived in time to witness the dissolution of his
ancient friend, and to receive his last sigh. He had
but one request to make, and that was, that the em-
peror would provide for his only surviving relative
in the world, a widowed sister, Marie Alexieovna.


Nicholas promised to do so, and afterward granted
her a pension of 10,000 rubles. He also paid all the
general's debts, and ordered his funeral to be per-
formed with extraordinary magnificence. It was
attended by the who-le court, and all the regiments
in St. Petersburg.

Returning after his sad interview with Milorado-
vitch to the empress, the first exclamation of the new
czar was: "What a commencement for a reign!"
His apprehensions for the future were still most
gloomy; for he could not be assured that all the
ramifications of the conspiracy had been crushed.
Later in the evening he ordered a Te Deum to be
chanted in the chapel of the palace, at which the
whole court attended. He followed up his triumph
with the necessary precautions, and ordered every
approach to the palace to be securely guarded.
Many regiments passed the night in bivouac around
huge fires, in the Great Square before the palace, the
scene of the late conflict. The Cossacks of the
Guard traversed every part of the city during the
night, to maintain order and capture the fugitives.

The next duty which devolved on the new em-
peror, was the punishment of the unfortunate con- .

Every thing connected with the conspiracy was

revealed, through the cowardice and stupidity of



Troubetskoi, the Brutus, the dictator, who had
been chosen as the head and chief of the whole
movement. As soon as the revolt commenced, in-
stead of appearing at the head of the troops, he
hastened to the military office, at the "Winter Palace,
to take the oath of allegiance to Nicholas. A severe
nervous attack detained him for some time at that
office. As soon as he recovered from it, he has-
tened to conceal himself at his sister's house. His
terrors here again overcame him, and, under the
cover of the night, he took refuge in the house of
his brother-in-law, the Count of Lebzeltern, the
Austrian representative. But while he remained
there, he forgot that he had left all his secret papers
at his own house. These papers contained the
names of the conspirators, and the details of all
their plans. E"o better proof of the secrets of the
conspiracy could possibly have been desired. They
carried ruin to every one who had the slightest
connection with the movement.

The agents of the police soon reached the house
of Troubetskoi, and v these fatal papers were all
seized. Count Nesselrode, during the night, went
in person to the house of the Austrian minister,
and endeavoured to persuade him to influence the
recreant Brutus to make no resistance to the will
of the emperor. His arguments proved successful.


The vacillating Troubetskoi went, under the con-
duct of an aide-de-camp of the emperor, to the
palace, and after a short interval was admitted to
the presence of Nicholas. At first he denied all
connection with the conspiracy. His own papers
were then shown to him. Some of these were
written in his own handwriting ; others were signed
with his name. He was overcome by these proofs,
and, falling at the feet of Nicholas, implored his
mercy, and asked for his life. "It is granted,"
replied Nicholas ; " sit down, and write to your
wife." Troubetskoi, trembling from head to foot,
sat down, and waited for the dictation of the em-
peror. "Write; lam well." This he wrote. "My
life will be spared." Hearing these words, he hesi-
tated. "Write and seal the letter," continued
Nicholas. He obeyed. The emperor then said to
him, "If you have the courage to support a life
dishonoured thus, and devoted to remorse, I grant
it you, but it is all I promise ;" and he turned away
from the craven culprit with disgust.

During the 27th of December the public tranquil-
lity remained undisturbed. At nine o'clock in the
morning, Nicholas was observed to leave the palace
on horseback, accompanied by a single aide-de-
camp. He rode along the lines of the troops, who
still stood to their arms in the Great Square of St.


Isaac's, before the palace. He thanked them for
their fidelity and bravery; he released them from
their duty, and each company defiled before him
on their way to their quarters. He gave orders
for the issue of double rations of meat, fish, and
brandy. Their pay was also increased; and the
utmost enthusiasm prevailed throughout their

Toward those misguided regiments who had been
seduced by the conspirators, he determined to exer-
cise great clemency. They had been the victims
of the false representations of their leaders, and
they excited his pity. They had obeyed only their
duty, as they thought, in proclaiming the succession
of Constantine. The Marines of the Guards, who
willingly took the oath of allegiance to Nicholas,
he at once forgave. Their colours, thus stained by
revolt, were- taken from them, and consecrated
anew. The czar then returned them with his own
hand, and said: "You have lost your honour; seek
now to regain it !" All the other companies were
pardoned, on condition that their most active leaders
in the revolt should be given up, formed into a
single company, and sent to serve in the Cau-
casus ; that they might wash away the stains which
polluted their colours, in the blood of the fiercest
foes of the Russian power and name. Thus the


soldiery were disposed of, who had been beguiled
into the conspiracy.

But a much more difficult and unpleasant task
remained, with reference to the guilty leaders and
instigators of the revolution. Their arrest con-
tinued during the 27th and 28th of December.
The papers of Troubetskoi were the death-warrants
which sealed the fate of all. The fortress of St.
Petersburg soon became crowded with the sons of
generals, civil functionaries, literati, princes, and
officers. Among their number were Ryleieff, Rak-
hofski, Obolmski, the Bestoujeffs, Jakoubovitch,
Troubetskoi, Pestel, Muravief, and Suwarroff, a
son of the illustrious general. These were the
heads of the conspiracy, though they were accom-
panied by a vast herd of the subordinates. -

Nicholas himself conducted the first examination
of some of the conspirators. It was scarcely day on
the 28th of December when he summoned Bestou-
jeff to his presence. He addressed the conspirator
in these words : " General Bestoujeff, your father,
was a faithful servant ; he has left behind him de-
generate sons. Where were you on the 26th?"
"Near your person, sire; and had you shown any
weakness, I would have slain you; but you dis-
played such heroic fortitude, that I could not
strike." The emperor inquired, "Who were your


associates? and what were your resources?" He
answered, "Sire, such things should not be re-
vealed before witnesses." Nicholas retired with
him to a private cabinet ; but the issue of the con-
versation was not revealed.

Young Prince Tchernycheff, descended from one
of the most illustrious families of Russia, was among
the conspirators. Nicholas, on account of his youth,
desired to save him. "Is it possible," said the czar,
" that you have incurred this guilt ? Disavow the
principles which you have professed, and I will par-
don you." Tchernycheff refused. Said he: "I
have only acted according to my conscience !" He
was afterward exiled to Irkutsk, but was pardoned
in 1829, and sent to join the army of the Caucasus,
in the ranks. Such was the heroism, the intrepidity,
displayed by some of those who had been associated
together in this abortive revolution.

The emperor immediately appointed a commission
to try the leaders of the revolt, who were now in
prison. This commission consisted of the Grand
Duke Michael, Prince Alexander Galitsin, General
Tatischtcheff, Koutousoff, Governor of St. Peters-
burg, Potapoff, Benkendorff, and several others. This
commission sat for five months, and determined the
fate of one hundred and twenty persons. They
decided, after a careful investigation of all the facts,


that these hundred and twenty persons all deserved
the penalty of death. But the commission appealed
to the imperial clemency, and classed the criminals
under eleven heads, making an exception only of
five; whom they set apart in consequence of the
enormity of their crimes. These were Pestel, Ry-
leieff, Muravief, Bestoujef-Rumini, and Kakhofski.
These they condemned to be quartered alive.

Thirty-one persons the commission placed in the
first category, and were sentenced to be beheaded.
The second list were condemned to banishment to
Siberia for life ; and the other classes, to penalties
less severe, in proportion to the enormity of their

1 2 4 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23

Online LibrarySamuel M. (Samuel Mosheim) SmuckerThe life and reign of Nicholas the First, emperor of Russia → online text (page 4 of 23)