When the Emperor Alexander returned after the Treaty of Paris he was thirty-four years old. Many of the illusions of his youth had faded. His marriage with Elizabeth of Baden was unhappy. His plans for reform had not been understood by the people whom they were intended to benefit. He had yielded finally to the demands of his angry nobility, had dismissed his liberal adviser Speranski and substituted Araktcheef, an intolerant, reactionary leader. He grew morose, gloomy, and suspicious, and a reign of extreme severity under Araktcheef commenced. In 1819 he consented to join in a league with Austria and Prussia for the purpose of suppressing the very tendencies he himself had once promoted. The League was called the “Holy Alliance,” and its object was to reinstate the principle of the divine right of Kings and to destroy democratic tendencies in the germ. Araktcheef’s severities, directed against the lower classes and the peasantry, produced more serious disorders than had yet developed. There were popular uprisings, and in 1823 at Kief there was held secretly a convention at which the people were told that “the obstacle to their liberties was the Romanoff dynasty. They must shrink from nothing—not from the murder of the Emperor, nor the extermination of the Imperial family.” The peasants were promised freedom if they would join in the plot, and a definite time was proposed for the assassination of Alexander when he should inspect the troops in the Ukraine in 1824.
When the Tsar heard of this conspiracy in the South he exclaimed: “Ah, the monsters! And I planned for nothing but their happiness!” He brooded over his lost illusions and his father’s assassination. His health became seriously disordered, and he was advised to go to the South for change of climate. At Taganrog, on the 1st of December, 1825, he suddenly expired. Almost his last words were: “They may say of me what they will, but I have lived and shall die republican.” A statement difficult to accept, regarding a man who helped to create the “Holy Alliance.”
RUSSIA ORIENTALIZED—EASTERN QUESTION
As Alexander left no sons, by the law of primogeniture his brother Constantine, the next oldest in the family of Paul I., should have been his successor. But Constantine had already privately renounced the throne in favor of his brother Nicholas. The actual reason for this renunciation was the Grand Duke’s deep attachment to a Polish lady for whom he was willing even to relinquish a crown. The letter announcing his intention contained these words: “Being conscious that I have neither genius, talents, nor energy necessary for my elevation, I beg your Imperial Majesty to transfer this right to my brother Nicholas, the next in succession.” The document accepting the renunciation and acknowledging Nicholas as his successor was safely deposited by Alexander, its existence remaining a profound secret even to Nicholas himself.