Alexander I Essay, Research Paper
Alexander I was born in St. Petersburg in 1777. His parents were Paul, son of Catherine the Great, and Maria Fyodorovna, the former Princess of Wurttemburg. At his birth he was taken to be raised by his Grandmother Catherine the Great. Due to Alexander s troubled childhood and life, he proved to be very insecure and unstable as the Tsar of Russia.
Alexander s childhood was troubled by divisions in the family. Both sides tried to use him for their own purposes. Alexander found himself in a difficult position between his half-mad father and his overwhelming and possessive grandmother. Alexander was obedient to both, learning early in life to conceal his true thoughts. From his father s end, which he preferred to forget, he learned to never trust anyone. Alexander was merely 17 when his grandmother married him to Princess Louise of Baden-Durlach, who was only 14. The premature marriage had been arranged to guarantee descendants to the Romanov dynasty. It was an unhappy relationship from the beginning. The sweet and charming girl was loved by everyone except her husband. As a wedding present, Catherine gave Alexander the Alexander Palace, showing her preference for his grandson over her son, Paul, by granting Alexander a larger court than his father’s. This further poisoned the atmosphere in the family. These experiences taught Alexander, early in life, how to manipulate those who loved him and he became a natural at changing his views and personality depending on whom he was with at the time.
Catherine was determined that Alexander would receive a Westernized education. This was a startling change for an heir to the Russian throne. Catherine expected that a liberal education would help Alexander to reign wisely for the benefit of the country. Alexander s primary tutor was Cesar La Harpe, a Swiss revolutionary and republican, who implanted in Alexander a strong emotional attachment for the philosophy of Enlightenment, but failed to familiarize him with Russian social and political reality. Alexander became an idealist in the tradition of the Enlightenment. Harpe’s focus on theoretical, abstract principals couldn t possibly have left Alexander with the character to truly be an effective leader. The contradictory nature of his education, the conflicting demands of his grandmother and loyalty to his father, and the confusion between his political ideals all contributed to his instability.
Catherine had already written the manifesto that deprived her son of his rights and designated her grandson as the heir to the throne, when she died suddenly on Nov. 17, 1796. Alexander, who knew of it, did not dare to disclose the manifesto, and Paul, his father, became the emperor. Paul’s reign was a dark period for Russia. He quickly instituted a number of new laws to undermine those aspects of his mother’s reign in which he disagreed with. Paul’s actions went much too far, he infuriated the country and especially the nobility. The monarch’s tyrannical and bizarre behavior led to a plot against him by certain nobles and military men. With the unspoken approval of Alexander, the Tsar was murdered at the Mikhailovski Castle in St. Petersburg during the night of March 11, 1801.
The next day, Alexander was crowned Tsar to succeed his father. His mother, Maria, refused to speak to her son for a long while, she never entirely forgave him for his complicity in his father’s murder. In his first years on the Russian throne, Alexander tried to rule in an enlightened way. After the darkness into which Paul had plunged Russia, Alexander appeared to his subjects as a radiant dawn. He was handsome, strong, pleasant, humane, and full of enthusiasm. He wanted his reign to be a happy one and dreamed of great and necessary reforms. The country was very excited at the prospects of Alexander’s reign. There were great hopes for the future of Russia and an anticipation of a more liberal form of government and increased freedom. Some hoped for an end to the institution of serfdom, which sapped the nation of its energy. At first, the Tsar did little to discourage these aspirations. Slowly, Alexander turned away from his childhood dreams and principals. Increasingly he found it easier to get results by using the power of autocracy. Once he began using autocratic power, administered through men who served at his will, it corrupted him. The longer he used this method of ruling Russia, the more difficult it became for him to return to the principals of good government and the role of the monarch he had learned in his youth.
Out of a sincere desire to innovate, Alexander considered a constitution and the limitation of the autocracy, but he recoiled before the danger of imposing sudden change on nobility, and then rejected it. Furthermore, he was a visionary who could not transform his dreams into reality. Because of his unstable personality, he would become exhilarated by the notion of grand projects, while hesitant at carrying them out. Finally, the western theoretical education of Alexander had not prepared him for gaining a clear vision of the realities of Russian life.
Throughout Alexander s reign, he and his close advisers corrected many of the injustices of the preceding reign and made many administrative improvements. Their principal achievement was the initiation of a vast plan for public education, which involved the formation of many schools of different types, institutions for training teachers, and the founding of three new universities. Alexander also abolished torture in Russian courts, repealed the prohibition of foreign books, and even allowed private printing presses to be established. Nevertheless, despite the humanitarian ideas implanted in him by La Harpe and despite his own wish to make his people happy, Alexander lacked the energy necessary to carry out the most urgent reform, the abolition of serfdom. The institution of serfdom was a disgrace that kept Russia in a disastrously backward state. But to liberate the serfs, who composed three-quarters of the population, would arouse the hostility of their noble masters, who did not want to lose the slaves on whom their wealth and comfort depended. Serfdom was a continuing burden on the Russians. It prevented modernization of the country, which was at least a century behind the rest of Europe.
The war with Napoleon, which ravaged Russia taking hundreds of thousands of lives and destroyed some of the Empire’s finest cities, took it’s own, personal toll on Alexander. He was troubled by the loss of life and the war itself, which he saw as a not only a battle between nations, but also a spiritual battle between the forces of good and evil. After many battles and setbacks, the victory of the Allies over Napoleon was crowned by a formal entry of the triumphant generals into Paris. Alexander rode at their head. He was at the peak of his reign. Instead of resting and enjoying the hero status he enjoyed across Europe, Alexander was more and more troubled spiritually. While in Western Europe with the Russian Army he sought out and came under the influence of spiritual advisors from foreign countries. He became religious, reading the Bible daily and praying often. It was his frequent visits with the pietistic visionary Barbara Krudner in Paris that turned him into a mystic. She considered herself a prophetess sent to the Tsar by God. He then toyed with some of their concepts and ideas, eventually discarding them for the Orthodox faith of his own country. Alexander nevertheless retained his newly found fixation and came to profess a universal religion.
Alexander I, inspired by devotion and his universal religion, proposed the Holy Alliance at the Congress of Vienna after the French Revolution. The alliance was supposed to bring about a peace based on Christian love to the monarchs and peoples of Europe. It was a joke. The other members of the congress, except Britain, signed it out of pity for Alexander. He had clearly begun to lose his wit.
Alexander s idealistic vision came to a sad end, for the alliance became a league of monarchs against their peoples. Its members following up the congress with additional meetings and revealed themselves as the champions of despotism and the defenders of an order maintained by arms. This marked the end of his liberal dreams, because from then on, all revolt appeared to him as a rebellion against God. He shocked Russia by refusing to support the Greeks, when they rose against Turkish tyranny, maintaining they were rebels like any others.
After his return to Russia, he left everything in assistant s hands. For Alexander, it was a period of fatigue, discouragement, and dark thoughts. For Russia, it was a period of reaction and struggle against real and imagined revolution. Alexander thought he saw “the reign of Satan” everywhere. In opposition, secret societies spread, composed of young men, mostly from the military, who sought to regenerate and liberalize the country. Plots were made. Alexander was warned of them, but he refused to act decisively. Alexander left Russia in poor condition.
At the end of his reign he left his Polish mistress of 13 years, Maria Naryshkina, and returned to his wife, Elizabeth, who had suffered from his unfaithfulness and neglect for years. He was a troubled and broken man. One fall, he and Elizabeth traveled to southern Russia. There, on November 19, 1825 in the town of Taganrog, it is claimed to have faked his own death, disappearing to become a monk named Kuzmich, wandering the forests of Siberia for years afterward as a hermit. The Soviet Government fanned the flames of these rumors when it announced his coffin had been opened in the 1920’s and was found to be empty.
Alexander I lacked the consistency of character needed to carry out his position as the Tsar of Russia. His childhood was corrupted by family and education rendered him unstable as a leader. Alexander alienated liberals by encouraging expectations that he could not, or would not, fulfill. He confused conservatives by arousing fears that proved unjustified. Carrying his faith to extreme lengths, and pursuing peculiar fantasies, Alexander neglected the affairs of Russia. When he died, he left a legacy of poverty-stricken serfs, dangerously situated nobles, and had set a precedent for active discontent for the system in which Russia lived.