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Foreign Policy of the Czars

After the brief reign of Paul, Catherine's son, Alexander I came to the throne; and he was in many ways the first modern Czar. He had a plan for giving Russia a constitution, and consulted no less a person than Thomas Jefferson, President of the United States. Under Alexander Russia accepted a place as one of the Great Powers of Europe, and therefore was bound to take notice of the rise of Napoleon. In 1805 a Russian army, in alliance with Austria, met the world conqueror in the Baltic of Austerlitz, and was overwhelmingly defeated. In 1806 Russia came to the defense of Prussia, and again Russia and her ally were defeated.

The result was the famous meeting between the sovereigns of Russia, Prussia, and France on a raft in the river Niemen in 1807. Alexander seemed to be hypnotized by Napoleon, and they struck up a friendship and a sort of alliance, which lasted for five years. John Quincy Adams, then American Minister to Russia, later noted that the Russian Government was no longer friendly with the French; and while he was at St. Petersburg, in the fall of 1812, the Russians proved that Napoleon was made of human clay by grinding his Grand Army to pieces. Thus Russia was the only country in the world which unaided by allies defeated the greatest soldier in history in a land campaign.

Then the tide of conquest turned westward, and Russian armies joined in campaigns which brought about the abdication of Napoleon in 1814. In the Congress of Vienna which followed, Russia was the leading spirit and Alexander the most brilliant leader. In this period of exaltation, under the influence of Madame Kriidener, he evolved the famous " Holy Alliance," the principle of which was that the sovereigns of Europe were designated by the will of God to act as " elder brethren" (with appropriate disciplinary powers) towards their subjects. Thenceforward governments were to be conducted entirely on a basis of Christian brotherhood.

Just at this time ties were forming between Russia and the United States, and it was a rude interruption of concord to have this doctrine interpreted to mean that Europe ought to practice muscular Christianity upon the new Latin-American states. John Quincy Adams, almost the only man in America who knew the Russians, expressed his opinion of that doctrine in the preparation of the announcement commonly called the Monroe Doctrine of 1823. Alexander was an enlarger of his Empire. He secured Finland from Sweden in 1809, annexed a large part of the Caucasus, and pushed the Russian boundary to the mouth of the Danube.

His brother, Nicholas I, who became Czar in 1825, was a soldier rather than a diplomat; put down revolutions in his own country, and sent his army to force the Hungarians back to their relations with Austria in 1849. He pushed into Persia, took the side of the Greeks in their revolt from the Turks, and his fleet aided in smashing the Turkish power at the battle of Navarino in 1827, which made modern Greece possible.

Nicholas inherited the result of four centuries of conflict with the Turk. The " Sick Man of Europe," as Nicholas dubbed that Power, was on the point of decently dying, and thus conferring a favor on all his neighbors, when England and France made the political and social mistake of carrying on the Crimean War to prevent Russia from accelerating that demise. Nicholas died apparently of disappointment and grief.

Nicholas I's son, Alexander II, reigned twenty-six years, from 1855 to!881. He was a man of high character, and had a genuine desire to modernize and reform his Empire. He succeeded in at last breaking down the formal side of the system of serfdom under which twenty millions of his fellow-Russians had been bound to the soil on which they lived. The decree was solemnly made public, as it chanced, March 5, 1861, the day after President Lincoln became President. It was a period of agitation for popular rights in many parts of Europe, and Alexander in 1881 drew up a constitution for his people, when he was murdered by the bomb of Nihilist assassins. The creation of even the semblance of popular government was delayed for thirty years. Under him, and his son, Alexander III, Russian power, which had for two centuries been advancing into Siberia, was pushed all the way to the Pacific, into the heart of Asia, and to the gates of India.

Czar Nicholas II seemed to be an amiable and likable man for whom the surrounding forces were too strong. He passed through the ordeal of the Japanese War, ending in a military defeat and a diplomatic triumph, for somehow Russia came out of that struggle a stronger influence both in Asia and in Europe than before.

From Germany came many influences upon Russia. The situation of the country was very much like that of Japan centuries later: recognizing the power and success of the West, the people were eager to take anything that was Western. Many Germans settled in central Russia from Germany and from the Germanspeaking Baltic provinces of Russia; and, as they had a capacity for public business much above that of the ordinary Russian, they were used as ministers, diplomats, and administrators. In the peace negotiations at Portsmouth in 1905 the two Russian representatives were Rosen and Witte - both of them evidently of German origin.

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Page last modified: 10-04-2019 12:10:35 ZULU