We have before mentioned that Paul I. had three sons—Alexander, Constantine and Nicholas. The eldest of these, Alexander, was a very promising young man, of popular character, twenty-three years of age. His father feared his popularity and treated him with the greatest severity, and was now threatening him and his mother with imprisonment. General Pahlen, governor of St. Petersburg, obtained the confidence of the young prince, and urged upon him, as a necessary measure of self-defense, that he should place himself at the head of a conspiracy for the dethronement of his insane father. The sufferings of the young prince were so severe and his perils so great, and the desire for a change so universal throughout the empire, that it was not found difficult to enlist him in the enterprise. Alexander consented to the dethronement of his father, but with the express condition that his life should be spared. He might perhaps have flattered himself with the belief that this could be done; but the conspirators knew full well that the dagger of the assassin was the only instrument which could remove Paul from the throne. The conspiracy was very extensive, embracing nearly all the functionaries of the government at St. Petersburg, the entire senate, and the diplomatic corps. All the principal officers of the royal guard, with their colonel at their head, were included in the plot. The hour for the execution of the conspiracy was fixed for the night of the 23d of March, 1801.
A regiment devoted to the conspirators was that night on guard at the palace. The confederates who were to execute the plot, composed of the most distinguished men in the court and the army, met at the house of Prince Talitzin ostensibly for a supper. With wine and wassail they nerved themselves for the desperate deed. Just at midnight a select number entered the garden of the palace, by a private gate, and stealing silently along, beneath the trees, approached a portal which was left unbarred and undefended. One of the guardians of the palace led their steps and conducted them to an apartment adjoining that in which the tzar slept. A single hussar guarded the door. He was instantly struck down, and the conspirators in a body rushed into the royal chamber.
Paul sprang from his bed, and seizing his sword, endeavored to escape by another door than that through which the conspirators entered. Foiled in this attempt, in the darkness, for all lights had been extinguished, he hid himself behind a movable screen. He was however soon seized, lights were brought in, and an act of abdication was read to him which he was required to sign. The intrepid tzar sprang at Zoubow, who was reading the act, and cuffed his ears. A struggle immediately ensued, and an officer’s sash was passed around the neck of the monarch, and after a desperate resistance he was strangled. The dress of one of the conspirators caused him to be mistaken, by the emperor, for his son Constantine, and the last words which the wretched sovereign uttered were, “And you too, Constantine.”