The New International Encyclopædia/Alexander I., Pavlovitch
ALEXANDER I., Pavlovitch (1777-1825). Emperor of Russia from 1801 to 1825. He was born December 23 (12 Old Style), 1777, at Saint Petersburg, and was the son of Paul I. and Maria Feodorovna (born Dorothea of Württemberg). The violent and arbitrary reign of Alexander's predecessor produced a conspiracy to force his abdication in favor of his son. The Polish prince, Adam Czartoryski, a friend of Alexander, who gives a circumstantial account of the conspiracy, says that Alexander was privy to the plan of forced abdication, but not to the assassination. The news of the accession of Alexander was received, according to the Russian historian Karamsin, as “a message of redemption.” Alexander had been educated under the direction of his grandmother, Catharine II., by eminent instructors, chief among whom was the Swiss Colonel Laharpe, whose ability and liberal views made a strong impression upon the imaginative character of his pupil. His education, however, was still incomplete when broken off by the dismissal of Laharpe, on account of his sympathy with the French Revolution. Alexander received a military training which was equally incomplete. His defective education, his experiences in the courts of his great, but despotic and immoral grandmother and of his half-insane father produced a curious mingling of characteristics and tendencies. Czartoryski speaks of the frank avowal made to him in 1796 by Alexander of his sympathy with republicanism and his belief that hereditary power was unjust and absurd. The tragedy with which his reign began also made its impression.
He began his reign with sweeping reforms. He abolished the barbaric and excessive punishments in use under his predecessors, restrained the brutality of the police, did away with the secret tribunal, pardoned many of his father's victims, and in other ways reformed the laws and procedure. Restrictions upon literature, art, and trade were removed. “I would not place myself above the law, even if I could,” Alexander wrote to the Princess Galitzin, “for I do not recognize any legitimate power on earth that does not emanate from the law. . . . The law should be the same for all.” He was aided in his work by four intimate friends, young men of liberal views — Count Paul Strogonoff, Prince Victor Kotchubei, Nicholas Novossiltsoff, and Prince Adam Czartoryski. These Alexander called his “committee of public safety.” They deliberated the duties and the limitations of the imperial power — a new question in Russia, and not much considered since that time. In 1801 the Senate was made the supreme high court, its ukases to be subject only to the imperial veto. The first move of the Senate in opposition to the Emperor, however, met with a sharp rebuke, and Czartoryski well explains the attitude of Alexander: “The Emperor liked the forms of liberty as we like spectacles. . . . He would have willingly consented that the whole world should be free on condition that the whole world should submit voluntarily to his single will.” The Russian Senate, in which the idle nobility were shelved, was not the body with which to experiment in parliamentary government. Alexander and his associates discussed the emancipation of the serfs; but the time seemed hardly ripe for that measure. An imperial ukase of March 3, 1804, attempted to ameliorate their condition.
The real administrative achievement of Alexander was the creation by the ukase of September 8, 1802, of the ministries, eight in number: Interior and Police, Finance, Justice, Public Instruction, Commerce, Foreign Affairs, Marine, and War. This was a marked step toward an orderly government from the semi-Asiatic methods by which the growing Empire had been managed. Each department was in charge of a minister and an adjunct. Progress was made toward a codification of the laws. The privilege hitherto held by the nobles only, that their patrimonial estate should not be confiscated as a punishment, was made the common right of all subjects. An imperial bank was instituted, Odessa was made a free port, the laws regarding debt and mortgages were amended, and by the ukase of 1818 peasants were permitted to carry on manufactures. Alexander sent expeditions around the world, and made treaties with the United States, Spain, Brazil, and Turkey. Settlements were established on the northwestern coast of America, but the enunciation of the Monroe Doctrine in 1823 checked the Russian advance in the last direction. The new Ministry of Public Instruction meant much for the Empire. There had been but three universities in Russia — Moscow, Vilna, and Dorpat. These were strengthened, and three others were founded at St. Petersburg, Kharkov, and Kazan. Literary and scientific bodies were established or encouraged, and the reign became noted for the aid lent to the sciences and arts by the Emperor and the wealthy nobility.
The foreign policy of Alexander was marked, like his internal policy, by plans outrunning performance. He at first stood as an advocate of peace. He endeavored to obtain from Napoleon just compensation for the German States; but, becoming convinced of Napoleon's bad faith, he joined the coalition of 1805. He was the ally of Prussia against Napoleon in the campaign of 1806, carrying on wars at the same time with Persia and Turkey. His forces fought an indecisive battle at Eylau in February, 1807, and were totally defeated at Friedland in the following June. In July, 1807, Alexander signed the Treaty of Tilsit, in which he left Prussia to her fate. Dazzled by the genius of Napoleon and by his scheme for the division of the world into an Eastern and a Western Empire, Alexander joined the Continental System (q.v.), declared war on England (1808), and wrested Finland from Sweden. At Erfurt in the autumn of 1808 the two emperors met with great pomp, but the ill-assorted alliance soon lost force. The pressure of the Continental System on the material resources of Russia, the growth of the Napoleonic despotism, the existence and aggrandizement of the Duchy of Warsaw, were utterly opposed to Alexander's theories and to his sense of sound Russian policy. At length in 1812 a rupture ensued, and Napoleon's Grand Army entered Russia, only to be destroyed in the retreat from Moscow. Alexander threw himself into the struggle of Europe against the French Emperor, and raised an army of nearly 900,000 men. He took part personally in the campaigns, and was prominent in the negotiations at Vienna.
At Paris, in 1814, Alexander, who by nature had always been inclined toward religious mysticism, fell under the influence of Madame Krüdener (q.v.) . It was under this influence that he instituted the Holy Alliance (q.v.), the declared object of which was to make the principles of Christianity recognized in the political arrangements of the world, but which became through Metternich a mere means for the reëstablishment of political absolutism. The latter part of Alexander's reign presents a strong contrast to the earlier. The ardent young reformer was drawn into a reactionary course. He concurred in the Austrian policy of Metternich, and by repressing insurrection in Europe assisted in crushing the political progress of the nations. The spread of education and liberal ideas, and the disorder of the finances, due to Russia's active part in the Napoleonic wars, aroused popular discontent, which was put down by the censorship and police espionage. Alexander became morbid and embittered, and sought relief alternately in dissipation and in religious mysticism. Personal exposure during the inundation of St. Petersburg in 1824 undermined his health; the death of a favorite daughter and the discovery of a Russo-Polish conspiracy against the House of Romanoff aggravated his illness. With the Empress he sought rest in the Crimea, but was seized by an illness on the journey, and died at Taganrog, December 1 (November 19, Old Style), 1825.
Bibliography. Schnitzler, Histoire intime de la Russie sous les empereurs Alexandre I. et Nicolas I. (Paris, 1847); Bogdanovitch, History of the Reign of Alexander I., in Russian (St. Petersburg, 1860-71), the first four volumes of which are translated into French; Rabbe, Histoire d'Alexandre I. (Paris, 1826); Countess Choiseul-Gonflier, Mémoires historiques sur l'empereur Alexandre et la cour de Russie (Paris, 1829), English translation by Patterson, Historical Memoirs of the Emperor Alexander I. and the Court of Russia (Chicago, 1900); C. Joyneville, Alexander I.: His Life and Times (London, 1875); Mazade, Mémoires du prince Adam Czartoryski et sa correspondance avec l'empereur Alexandre I. (Paris, 1887); Vandal, Napoléon et Alexandre I., l'alliance russe sous le premier empire (Paris, 1890-96); and Bernhardi, Geschichte Russlands und der europäischen Politik 1814-1831 (Leipzig, 1863-77).