Emancipation in Russia
Two great nations are peculiarly entitled to be considered modern in their general character, though each is living under ancient institutions. They are the United States and Russia. Neither of these nations is a century old, regarded as a power that largely affects affairs by its action, and into the composition of each there enters a great variety of elements. The United States may be said to date from 1761, just one hundred years ago, when the American debate began on the question of granting Writs of Assistance to the revenue-officers of the crown. The struggle between England and America was then commenced in the chief court of the Colony of Massachusetts Bay, and the Declaration of Independence was but the logical conclusion of the argument of James Otis ; but that conclusion would not have established anything, had it not, been confirmed by the inexorable logic of cannon. The last resort of kings was then on the side of the people, and gave them the victory. The fifteen years that passed between the time when James Otis spoke in Boston and the time when John Adams spoke in Philadelphia belong properly to our national history, and should be so regarded. The grandson and biographer of John Adams says that Mr. Adams “ was attending the court as a member of the bar, and heard, with enthusiastic admiration, the argument of Otis, the effect of which was to place him at the head of that race of orators, statesmen, and patriots, by whose exertions the Revolution of American Independence was achieved. This cause was unquestionable the incipient struggle for that independence. It was to Mr. Adams like the oath of Hamilcar administered to Hannibal. It is doubtful whether Otis himself, or any person of his auditory, perceived or imagined the consequences which were to flow from the principles developed in that argument. For although, in substance, it was nothing more than the question upon, the legality of general warrants,—a question by which, when afterward raised in England, in Wilkes’s case. Lord Camden himself was taken by surprise, and gave at first an incorrect decision,— yet, in the hands of James Otis, this question involved the whole system of the relations of authority and subjection between the British government and their colonies in America. It involved the principles of the British Constitution, and the whole theory of the social compact and the natural rights of mankind.”
In the summer of 1762, about seventeen months after Otis had made his argument, the existence of modern Russia began. Catharine II. then commenced her wonderful reign, having dethroned and murdered her husband, Peter III., the last of the sovereigns of Russia who could make any pretensions to possession of the blood of the Romanoffs. A minor German princess., who originally bad no more prospect of becoming Empress-Regnant of Russia than she had of becoming Queen-Regnant of France, Sophia-Augusta of Anhak-Zerbst was elevated to the throne of the Czars on the 9th of July, 1762; and a week later her miserable husband learned how true was the Italian dogma, that the distance between the prisons of princes and their graves is but short. Catharine II. founded a new dynasty in Russia, and gave to that country the peculiar character which it has ever since borne, and which has enabled it on more than one occasion to decide the fate of Europe, and therefore of the world. Important as were the labors of Peter the Great, it does not appear to admit of a doubt that their force was wellnigh spent when Peter III. ascended the throne; and his conduct indicated the triumph of the old Russian party and policy, as the necessary consequence of his violent feeling in behalf of German influences, ideas, and practices. The Czarina, like those Romans who became more German than the Germans themselves, affected to be fanatically Russian in her sentiments and purposes, and so acquired the power to Europeanize the policy of her empire. She it was who definitely placed the face of Russia to the West, and prepared the way for the entrance of Russian armies into Italy and France, and for the partition of Poland, the ultimate effect of which promises to be the reunion of that country under the sceptre of the Czar. It was the seizure of so much of Poland by Russia that fixed the latter’s international character; and it was Catharine II. who destroyed Poland, and added so much of its territory to the dominions of the Czars. After the first partition had been effected, it was no longer in Russia’s power to refrain from taking a leading part in European polities ; and when her grandson, in 1814, was on the point of making war on England, France, and Austria, rather than abandon the new Polish spoil which he had torn from Napoleon I., he was but carrying out the great policy of the Great Catharine. If we look into the political literature of the last century, we shall find that Peter I.’s action had very little effect in the way of increasing the influence of Russia abroad. His eccentric conduct caused him to be looked upon as a sort of royal wild man of the woods, rather than as a great reformer whose aim it was to elevate his country to an equality with kingdoms that had become old while Russia was ruled by barbarians of the remote East. He was “a self-made man” on a throne, and displayed all the oddities and want of breeding that usually mark the demeanor of persons whose youth has not had the advantages that proceed from good examples and regular instruction. Of the courtly graces, and of those accomplishments which are most valued in courts, he had as many as belong to an ill-conditioned baboon. A railway-car on a cattle-train does not require more cleaning, at the end of a long journey, than did a room in a palace after it had been occupied by Peter and his clever spouse. Some of his best-authenticated acts could not be paralleled outside of a piggery. The Prussian court, one hundred and sixty years since, was not a very nice place, and its members were by no means remarkable for refinement; but they were shocked by the proceedings of the Czar and the Czarina, some of which greatly resembled those which are not uncommon in a very wild “wilderness of monkeys.” The last of Peter’s descendants who reigned and ruled was his daughter Elizabeth, who died in 1761, and who was a most admirable representative of her admirable parents. Neither the manners nor the morals of the Russian court and the Russian empire had improved during the twenty years that she governed ; and as to policy in government, she had none, and apparently she was incapable of comprehending a political principle. Had her reign been followed by that of some Russian prince of kindred character as well as of kindred blood, and had that reign extended to twenty years’ time, Russia would have fallen back to the position she had held in 1680, and never could have become a European power. Fortunately or unfortunately, — who shall as yet undertake to decide which, considering as well European interests as Russian interests ? — the reign of Peter III. was too short to be worth historical counting, and Elizabeth’s real successor was a foreigner, who not only was capable of comprehending Peter the Great’s ideas and purpose, but who had the advantage of understanding that world the civilization and vices of which Peter had sought to engraft on the Russian stock. The grand barbarian himself never could understand more than one-half of the work to which he devoted his life, as there was nothing in his nature to winch Occidental thought could firmly fasten itself. He knew little of that the effects of which he so much admired. His mind was essentially Oriental in its cast, and the creation of his Northern capital was a piece of work that might have been done by some Eastern despot; and in the preceding century something like it had been done by Shah Jehan, when he created the new city of Delhi. In no European country could such an undertaking have been attempted. It pleased Catharine II., in after-days, to say of Peter, that “he introduced European manners and European costumes amongst a European people ” ; but this was only a piece of flattery to her subjects, whom she did so much to Europeanize by making them believe that they were of Europe, and were destined to rule that continent. Site it was who did what Peter planned, and by making use of Russians as her agents. Her statesmen, her generals, and her “ favorites” were Russians; and it was after hercharaeter and purposes became known that the rulers of Western Europe were forced to the conclusion that a change of policy was inevitable. But for the occurrence of the French Revolution, that Anglo-French Alliance which has been regarded as one of the prodigies of our prodigy-creating age would have been anticipated by more than sixty years. By destroying Poland and humiliating Turkey, Catharine forever settled the character of the Russian Empire ; and her successors were enabled to solidify her work in consequence of the course which events took after the overthrow of the old French monarchy. Russian support was highly bidden for by both those parties in Europe which were headed respectively by France and by England ; and it is difficult to decide from which Russia most profited in those days, the friendship of England or the enmity of France. One thing was sufficiently clear,— and that was, that, when the war had been decided in favor of the reactionists, Russia was the greatest power in the world. In the autumn of 1815, a Russian army one hundred and sixty thousand strong was reviewed near Paris, a spectacle that must have caused the sovereigns and statesmen of the West to have some doubts as to the wisdom of their course in paying so very high a price for the overthrow of Napoleon, It was certain that the genie liad broken from his confinement, and that, while he towered to the skies, his shadow lay upon the world. The hegemony which Russia held for almost forty years after that date justified the fears which then were expressed by reflecting men. It only remained to be seen whether the Russian sovereigns, proceeding in the spirit that had moved Peter and Catharine, would take those measures by which alone a Russian People could be formed; and to that end, the abolition of serfdom was absolutely necessary, the masses of their subjects, the very population from which their victorious armies were conscribed, being in a certain sense slaves, a state of things that had no parallel in the condition of any European country.1
Thus the United States and Russia began their careers at the same time, as nations destined to have influence in the ordering of Western life. They were then, as they are now, very unlike to each other. In one respect only was there any resemblance between them: In this country there were some myriads of slaves, and in Russia there were many millions of serfs. Now who, of all the sagacious, far-sighted men then living, could have ventured to predict that at the end of one hundred years the American nation that was so soon to be should be engaged in a civil contest having for its object, on the part of those who began it, the perpetuation and extension of slavery, while Russia should be threatened with such a contest because her government, an autocracy, had abolished serfdom ? Many years earlier, Berkeley had predicted that Time’s last and noblest offspring would be the nation that was growing up in North America ; and when he died, in 1753, he would not have admitted that slavery was an institution which his favorite land could hug to its bosom, or that America would be less benevolent than that semi-barbarous empire which was rising in the East,— an empire, to use his own thought, which Europe was breeding in her decay. Franklin was then at the height of his fame as a philosopher, and his merits as a statesman were beginning to be acknowledged ; but, wise as he was, he would have smiled, had there been a prophet capable of telling him the exact truth as to the future of America. Probably there was not a person then on earth who could have supposed that that would be which was written in the Book of Fate. That freedom should come to a people from a despot’s throne was almost as hard to understand as that the rankest kind of despotism should rise up from among a people the most boastful of their liberty that ever existed. There are, unhappily, but too many instances of free nations that have behaved oppressively. The first African slaves that were brought into the territory of the American nation came under the flag of a people who had most heroically struggled for their rights, and the recollection of whose efforts has been revived by the brilliant labors of the most accomplished of living American historians. The Greeks, who had so much to say about their own liberty, believed that they had the right to enslave all other men ; and the Romans, who sometimes talked as if they had a Fourth of July of their own, assumed that it was in the power of society to enslave any race whose services its members required. The slaves of free peoples have generally fared worse than the slaves of men themselves despotically governed. Thus there is nothing so very strange in the conduct of those Americans who contend for their “right" to trade in black humanity, and to live on the sweat of black humanity’s brows. That which is strange in the condition of the world is the contrast which is furnished to the action of our Southern population by the action of the rulers of Russia. Some American democrats have endeavored to show that no such contrast exists, — that between the enslavement of black men and the granting of freedom to white men there is a close resemblance, — and that the two proceedings are one in fact, how much soever they may differ in name; that it is not because he is an enemy of slavery, as it is here understood, that the Czar has become an emancipationist, but because he is hostile to the slavery of white men,—that, were the Russian serfs as dark as American slaves, his heart would have remained as hard toward them as that of Pharaoh toward the Israelites when the plaguepressure was temporarily removed from his people,— that he would as soon have thought of washing the Ethiopian white with his own imperial hands as of conferring freedom upon this race. Such is the theory of those of our democrats who would still maintain their regard for the Czar and their worship of Czarism, Alexander has not, they aver, been so bad as the Abolitionists have drawn him. Like another illustrious personage, he is not half so black as he is painted. Nay, he is not black at all. He worships the white theory, and might run for the Montgomery Congress in South Carolina without any danger of being numbered among the victims of Lyneh-law. Other democrats are not so well disposed toward the Czar, their feelings respecting him having changed as completely as did those of certain earlier democrats in regard to Mr. O’Connell, when the great Irishman denounced slavery in America. It is a sore subject with our pro-slavery people, this faithlessness of Russia to the cause of human oppression. How they sympathized with her in the war with the Western powers, and prophesied the defeat of the Allies in the Crimea, is well remembered; but when the new Czar announced his purpose to abolish serfdom, they, as Lord Castlereagh would have said, “ turned their backs upon themselves,” and could see no good in the great Northern Empire. Russia as the great revolution-queller, reading the Riot Act to the liberals of Europe, and sending one hundred and fifty thousand men to “ crush out” the nationality of’ Hungary, and to revivify the power of Austria, was to them an object of reverence ; but Russia the liberator of serfs, and the backer of France in the Italian War, became an object of hate and fear. Nicholas might have patronized our Secessionists, for he was partial to rebels who supported his opinions ; but his son can have no sympathy with men whose every act is a condemnation of those principles which govern his conduct as a Russian ruler,— though in his bearing toward Poland and others of the conquered portions of his empire he may prove himself no more lenient than Mr. Jefferson Davis would toward a Northern State that had declared itself independent of Southern supremacy, could he “subdue” it.
It would, however, be most unjust so to speak of Russian serfdom as to convey the impression that it ever was quite so bad as American slavery is. It is the peculiarity of American slavery, that it has no redeeming features. Long before it had become so odious as we see it, and before its existence was found incompatible with the peaceful prevalence of a constitutional system of government, its character was emphatically summed up in a few words by a great man, who called it “ the sum of all villanies.” Time has not improved its character, but has made the institution worse, by extending the effect of its operations. The political character which American slavery has had ever since the formation of the Constitution has not only stood in the way of every emancipation project, but it has made slaveholders, and men who have sought political preferment through working on the prejudices of slaveholders, supporters of the institution on grounds that have had no existence in other countries ; and the contest in which this country is now involved is the natural effect of the more rapid growth of the Free States in everything that leads to political power in modern times. Had the Slave States in 1860 been found relatively as strong as they were in 1840, the Secession movement could not have occurred; for most of the men who lead in it would have preferred to rule the United States, and would have cared little for the defeat of any political party, confident as they would have been in their capacity to control all American parties. As slavery is the foundation of political power in this country, its friends cannot abandon their ideas without abdicating their position. Hence the fierceness with which they have put forth, and advocated with all their strength, opinions that never were held by any other class of man-owners, and which would have been scouted in Barbary even in those days when religious animosity added additional venom to the feelings of the Mussulmans toward their Christian captives, and when Spain and Italy were Africa’s Africa. The slavepopulation of the United States are forbidden to hope. They form a doomed race, the physical peculiarities of which are forever to keep them out of the list of the elect. They are slaves, they and their ancestors always have been slaves, and they and their descendants always must be slaves. Such is the Southern theory, and the practice under it does that theory no violence. In Russia the condition of the enslaved has never been so bad as this, nor anything like it. Between the slave and the serf the difference has been almost as great as that between the serf and the free citizen.
Nothing certain is known as to the origin of Russian serfage. Able men have found the institution existing in very early times; and other men, of not less ability, and well acquainted with Russian history, are confident that it is a modern institution. Count Gurowski, whose authority on such a point he ought to be a very bold man to question, says, — “ In Russia, slavery dates, with the utmost probability, since the introduction of the Northmen, originating with prisoners of war, and being established over conquered tribes of no Slavic descent This was done when Rurik and his successors descended the Dwina, the Dnieper, and established there new dominions. In the course of time, the conquerors cleared the forests, established villages and cities. As, in other feudal countries, the tower, the Schloss, was outside of the village or of the borough,—so was in Russia the dwor or manor, where the conqueror or master dwelt, — and from which was derived his name of dworianin. That the genuine Russian of that time, whatever may have been his social position, was free in his village, is beyond doubt, — as, according to old records, the boroughs and villages, dependencies of the manor, were settled principally with prisoners of war and the conquered population. It was during the centuries of the Tartar dominion that the people, the peasantry, became nailed to the soil, and deprived of the right of freely changing their domicile. Then successively every peasant, that is, every agriculturist tilling the soil with his own hands, became enslaved. Only in estates owned by monasteries and convents, which were very numerous and generally very rich, slavery being judged to be opposed to Christian doctrine, it did not take root at once. Generally, monks were reluctant to the utmost, and even directly opposed to the sale of men in the markets, and the dependants of a monastery were never sold in such a manner.” The common view is, that Borys GudenofT, who reigned at the beginning of the seventeenth century, established serfage in Russia; but though the exact character of his legislation is yet in dispute, it is obvious that no Czar, and least of all one situated as was Borys, could have enslaved a people. His legislation is involved in as much doubt as for a long time were the Sempronian Laws of Rome. If we could believe that he instituted the system of serfage, or seriously strengthened it, we should find that Russian slavery came into existence but a few years before American slavery; but such a “ coincidence” cannot be rigidly insisted upon. It would, however, we think, be difficult to show that the condition of the Russian laboring classes was not made worse by the action of the usurper.
Peter the Great was so affected by the circumstance that men and women and children could be sold like cattle, as American slaves now are, that he sought to put a stop to the infamous traffic, but without success. Catharine II. was a philosopher, and a patron of that eighteenthcentury philosophy which so largely favored human rights, and she regretted the existence of serfage; but, in spite of this regret, and of some sentimental efforts toward emancipation, she strengthened the system of slavery under which so great a majority of her subjects lived. She gave peasants to her “ favorites,” and to others whom she wished to reward or to bribe. The brothers Orloff are said to have received forty-five thousand peasants from her, being in part payment for what was done by their family in setting up the new Russian dynasty founded by the German princess. Potemkin received myriads of peasants. Some outrageous abuses were practised by wealthy landholders, in consequence of the Czarina having proclaimed that the laborers in Little Russia should belong to the soil on which they were at that date employed. Thousands of persons were entrapped into serfdom through a measure which the sovereign had intended should lessen the evils of that institution. Catharine’s authority was never but once seriously disputed at home, and that was by the rebellion of Pugatscheff, which is sometimes spoken of as an outbreak against serfdom, which it was not in any proper sense, though the abuses of the owners of serfs may have contributed to swell the ranks of the pretender,— Pugatscheff calling. himself Peter III. The Czar Paul would not allow serfs to be sold apart from the soil to which they belonged. It is a curious incident, that, when Paul restored Kosciusko to liberty, he offered to give him a number of Russian peasants. The Polish patriot had no hesitation in refusing to accept the Emperor’s offer, for which, in these times, there are Americans who think he was a fool; but in 1797 certain lights had not been vouchsafed to the American mind, that have since led some of our countrymen to become champions of the cause of darkness.
Alexander, whose reign began in 1801, was moved by a sincere desire to get rid of serfdom. Schnitzler says that he “solemnly declared that he would not endure the habit of making grants of peasants, a practice hitherto common with the autocrats, and forbade the announcement in public papers of the sales of human beings,”— and that “ he permitted his nobles to sell to their serfs, together with their personal liberty, portions of land, which should thus become the bona fide property of the serf purchaser. This was a most important act; for Alexander thus laid the basis of a class of free cultivators.” A public man having requested an estate with its serfs as hereditary possessions, the Czar replied as follows :—“ The peasants of Russia are for the most part slaves. I need not expatiate upon the degradation or the misfortune of such a condition. Accordingly, I have made a vow not to augment the number; and to this end I have laid down the principle, that I will not give away peasants as property.” The Czar was determined to go farther than this. Not only would he not increase the number of the serfs, but he would lessen their number. The serfs of Esthonia were first favored, their emancipation beginning in 1802, and being completed in 1816, the year in which Alexander may be regarded as having been at the height of his greatness, for he had completed the overthrow of Napoleon, and had seen France saved from partition through his influence and exertions. The Courland serfs were emancipated in 1817. Two years later, the nobles of Livonia formed a plan of emancipation in their country, and when they submitted it to the Czar, his answer was, — “I am delighted to see that the nobility of Livonia have fulfilled my expectations. You have set an example that ought to be imitated. You have acted in the spirit of our age, and have felt that liberal principles alone can form the basis of the people’s happiness,” So long as Alexander remained true to liberal principles himself, there was some hope that he might abolish serfdom throughout his dominions. He abhorred the “peculiar institution” of his empire with all the force of a mind that certainly was generous, and which had a strong bias in the direction of justice. Once he made a solemn religious vow that he would abolish it. It is probable that he would have made an attempt at complete emancipation, if the circumstances of his time and his country had enabled him to concentrate his thoughts and his labors upon domestic affairs. Unhappily for Russia, and for the Czar’s fame, he was soon drawn into the European vortex, and became one of the principal actors in the grand drama of that age, so that Russian interests were sacrificed to ambition, to the love of military glory, and to the Czar’s desire to become Don Quixote with an imperial crown and sceptre. He wished to reconstruct the map of Europe, which had been so terribly deranged by those terrible mapdestroyers and map-makers, the French republicans. Catharine II. had had the sense to keep out of the war that had been waged against France, though no person in Europe—not even George III. himself—hated the revolutionists more intensely. She wished to see them subdued, but she preferred that the work of subjugation should be done by others, so that she might be at liberty to pursue her designs against Poland and Turkey and Persia. The destruction of Poland she completed, but she was called away before she could conquer the followers of Omar and of Ali. Paul was a party to the second coalition against France, and his armies tore Italy from its conquerors, and but for the stupidity of Austria there might have been a Russian restoration of the Bourbons in 1799. Alexander resumed the policy which his father had adopted only to discard, and though at one period of his reign he appeared well inclined to Napoleon, there never was any sincerity in the alliance between the two masters of so many millions. The Czar was easily induced to favor the strange scheme of an Italian adventurer for the rehabilitation of Europe, which had been adopted by his friend and counsellor, the Prince Czartoryski, and which ultimately furnished the basis, and many of the details, of that pacification which was effected in 1815. We have seen the treaties of that memorable year torn to tatters by Napoleon III., but the adoption of Piatoli’s project by Alexander affected the last generation as intimately as the French Emperor’s conduct has affected the men of to-day. It led the Czar away from his original purpose, and converted him, from a benevolent ruler, into a harsh, suspicious, unfeeling despot. Thera could be nothing done for Russian serfs while their sovereign was crusading it for the benefit of the Bourbons in particular and of legitimacy in general. “ God is in heaven, and the Czar is afar off! ” words once common with the suffering serfs, were of peculiar force when the Czar, who believed himself to be the chosen instrument of Heaven, was at Paris or Vienna, laboring for the settlement of Europe according to ideas adopted in the early years of his reign. Napoleonism and Liberalism were the same thing in the mind of Alexander, and he finally came to regard serfdom itself as something that should not be touched. It was a stone in that social edifice which he was determined to maintain at all hazards. The plan of emancipation had worked well in the outlying Baltic provinces, where there were few or no Russians, but he discouraged its application to other portions of his dominions. Some of his greatest nobles were anxious to take the lead as emancipationists, but he would not allow them to proceed in the only way that promised success, and so the bondage system was continued with the approbation of the Czar. In his last years, Alexander, though still quite a young man, — he was but forty-eight when he died, — was the most determined enemy of liberty in Europe or Asia.
Tbe Emperor Nicholas began his remarkable reign with the desire strong in his mind to emancipate the serfs,— or, if that be too sweeping an expression, so to improve their condition as to render their emancipation by his successors a comparatively easy proceeding. Much of his legislation shows this, and that he was aware that the time must come when the serfs could no longer be deprived of their freedom. Such was the effect of his conduct, however, that all that he did in behalf of the serfs was attributed to a desire on his part to create ill-feeling between the nobility and the peasants. Then he was so thoroughly arbitrary in his disposition, that he often neutralized the good he did by his manner of doing it. But that which mainly prevented him from doing much for his people was his determination to maintain the position which Russia had acquired in Europe, and to maintain it, too, in the interest of despotism, “ pure and simple.” A succession of events caused the Czar’s attention to be drawn to foreign affairs. The French Revolution of 1830, the Polish Revolution of the same year, the troubles in Germany, the Reform contest in England, the change in the order of the Spanish succession, the outbreaks in Italy,— these things, and others of a similar character, all of which were protests against that European system which Russia had established and still favored, compelled Nicholas to look abroad, and to neglect, measurably, domestic government. At a later period, he was one of the parties to that combination of great powers which threatened France with a renewal of those invasions from which she had suffered so much in 1814 and 1815. Turkey was the source of perpetual trouble to the Czar; and his eyes were frequently drawn to India, where one of his envoys half threatened an English minister that the troops of their two countries might meet, and was curtly answered by the minister that he cared not how soon the interview should begin. The extinction of Cracow served to show how close was the watch which the Czar kept upon the West, and that he was ready to crush even the smallest of those countries in which the spirit of liberty should show itself. Had San Marino lain within his reach, he would have been induced neither by its weakness nor its age to spare it. The struggle with the Circassians was long, vexatious, and costly. Finally, the Revolutions of 1848, leading, as they did, to the invasion of Hungary, in the first place, and then to the war with the Western Powers, operated to prejudice the Imperial mind against every form of freedom, and to provide too much occupation for the Emperor and his ministers to permit them to labor with care and effect in behalf of the oppressed serfs at home. It would have been a strange spectacle, had the man who was trampling down the Hungarians employed his leisure in raising his own serfs from the dust.
The Emperor Nicholas died in March, 1855, having lived long enough after the beginning of that great war which he had so rashly provoked to see his armies everywhere beaten and his fleets everywhere blockaded, while the Russian leadership of Europe was struck down at a blow, never to be resumed, unless there should be a radical change effected in Russian institutions. Nearly thirty years of the most arrogant rule ever known to the world came to an end in a moment, because the Emperor took "a slight cold.” A breath of the Northern winter served to stop the breath of the Emperor of the North. He slept with his fathers, and his son, Alexander II., reigned in his stead. The new Czar, who has the reputation of being a much milder man than his father, and to bear considerable resemblance to his uncle, as that uncle was in his best days, was soon reported to be an emancipationist; but as the same reports had prevailed respecting both Alexander I. and Nicholas, the world gave little heed to what was said on the subject. It was uot until he had reigned for almost two years that something definite was done in relation to it by the Czar; and then as many obstacles were thrown in the way of the reform as would have served to disgust any man who had not been in downright earnest. The Czar then took matters into his own hands, so far as that was possible, and the work was pushed forward with considerable speed. There was much discussion, and there were many disappointments, in the course of the business; but through all the Czar held to his determination, with a pertinacity that was not expected of him, and which leaves the impression that his character has not been properly understood. The history of the undertaking is yet to be written, but, from what little is known of its details, we should say that Alexander II. experienced more opposition, and that of an extremely disagreeable character, from the nobility, than Alexander I. would have encountered from the nobles of his time, had he resolved upon emancipation in good faith, and adhered to his resolution, as his nephew has done. Persons who suppose that a Russian Czar cannot be drowned, because belonging to that select class who are born to be strangled, would have it that the question would be settled by an application of the bowstring, or the sash of some guardsman, to the Imperial throat; and so a successful palace revolution lead to the postponement of the plan of emancipation for another quarter of a century. But Russian morality is of a much higher character than it was, and the members of the reigning house are models of decorum, and know how to defer to opinion. The nobles, too, are men of a very different stamp from their predecessors of 1762 and 1801. The Russian polity is no longer a despotism tempered by the cord. Fighting the good fight with something of a Puritanical perseverance, the Czar was enabled to triumph over all opposition to his preliminary project; and on the 3d of March, (N. S.,) 1861, the “ Imperial Manifesto ” emancipating the serfs was published.
In the opening paragraph of this document, the Autocrat declares, that, on ascending the throne, he took a vow in his innermost heart so to respond to the mission which was intrusted to him as to surround with his affection and his Imperial solicitude all his faithful subjects of every rank and of every condition, from the warrior who nobly bears arms for the defence of the country to the humble artisan devoted to the works of industry,— from the official in the career of the high offices of the State to the laborer whose plough furrows the soil; and then proceeds to say, — "In considering the various classes and conditions of which the State is composed, we came to the conviction that the legislation of the empire, having wisely provided for the organization of the upper and middle classes, and having defined with precision their obligations, their rights, and their privileges* has not attained the same degree of efficiency as regards the peasants attached to the soil, thus designated because either from ancient laws or from custom they have been hereditarily subjected to the authority of the proprietors, on whom it was incumbent at the same time to provide for their welfare. The rights of the proprietors have been hitherto very extended and very imperfectly defined by the law, which has been supplied by tradition, custom, and the good pleasure of the proprietors. In the most favorable cases this state of things has established patriarchal relations founded upon a solicitude sincerely equitable and benevolent on the part of the proprietors, and on an affectionate submission on the part of the peasants; but in proportion as the simplicity of morals diminished, as the diversity of the mutual relations became complicated, as the paternal character of the relations between the proprietors and the peasants became weakened, and, moreover, as the seigneurial authority fell sometimes into hands exclusively occupied with their personal interests, those bonds of mutual good-will slackened, and a wide opening was made for an arbitrary sway which weighed upon the peasants, was unfavorable to their welfare, and made them indifferent to all progress under the conditions of their existence. These facts had already attracted the notice of our predecessors of glorious memory, and they had taken measures for improving the condition of the peasants; but among those measures some were not stringent enough, insomuch as they remained subordinate to the spontaneous initiative of such proprietors as showed themselves animated with liberal intentions; and others, called forth by peculiar circumstances, have been restricted to certain localities, or simply adopted as an experiment. It was thus that Alexander I. published the regulation for the free cultivators, and that the late Emperor Nicholas, our beloved father, promulgated that one which concerns the peasants hound by contract. .....We thus came to the conviction that the work of a serious improvement of the condition of the peasants was a sacred inheritance bequeathed to us by our ancestors, — a mission which, in the course of events, Divine Providence called upon us to fulfil.”
It will be observed that the Czar goes no farther back than the beginning of the reign of his uncle, sixty years since, in speaking of the measures that have been taken for the improvement of the peasants’ condition ; and he names only his father and his uncle as reforming Emperors, though his language is such as to warrant the belief that all his ancestors, who had reigned, had been friends of the serf, and anxious to promote their welfare. But Alexander II. is too well acquainted with the history of his family to venture to speak of the actions of either the Great Peter or the Grand Catharine toward the peasants. Gurowski tells us of the effect of one of Peter’s acts in very plain language. “In 1718,” he says, “Peter the Great ordered a general census to be taken all over the empire. The census officials, most probably through thoughtlessness or caprice, divided the whole rural population into two sections: First, the free peasants belonging to the crown or its domains; and, secondly, all the rest of the peasantry, the krestianins, or Serfs living on private estates, were inscribed khrepostnoie kholopy, that is, as chattels. The primitive Slavic communal organization thus survived only on the royal domain, and there it exists till the present day. The census of Peter having thus fairly inaugurated chattelhood, it immediately began to develop itself in all its turpitude. The masters grew more reckless and cruel; they sold chattels separately from the lands; they brought them singly into market, disregarding all familyties and social bonds. Estates were no more valued according to the area of land they contained, but according to the number of their chattels, who were now called souls. In short, all the worst features of chattelism, as it exists at the present day in the American Slave States, immediately followed the publication of this accursed census.”2 The same authority states that Nicholas in reality was the first Emperor who granted estates excepting therefrom the resident peasantry.
Alexander II., in his Manifesto, expresses his confidence in the nobility of Russia, which compliment is pronounced ironical, inasmuch as they did not yield their consent to emancipation until they discovered that the Czar and the serfs had united to extort it. “ It is to the nobles themselves,” says the Czar, “ conformably to their own wishes, that we have reserved the task of drawing up the propositions for the new organization of the peasants, — propositions which make it incumbent upon them to limit their rights over the peasants, and to accept the onus of a reform which could not be accomplished without some material losses. Our confidence has not been deceived. We have seen the nobles assembled in committees in the districts, through the medium of their confidential agents, making the voluntary sacrifice of their rights as regards the personal servitude of the peasants. These committees, after having collected the necessary data, have formulated their propositions concerning the new organization of the peasants attached to the soil in their relations with the proprietors. These propositions having been found very diverse, as was to be expected from the nature of the question, they have been compared, collated, and reduced to a regular system, then rectified and completed in the superior committee instituted for that purpose; and these new dispositions thus formulated relative to the peasants and domestics of the proprietors have been examined in the Council of the Empire.” Invoking the Divine assistance, the Czar says that he is resolved to carry this work into execution. In virtue of the new dispositions, the peasants attached to the soil are to be invested with all the rights of free cultivators. The proprietors are to retain their rights of property in all the land belonging to them, but they arc to grant to the peasants for a fixed regulated rental the full enjoyment of their close, or homestead; and, to assure their livelihood, and to guaranty the fulfilment of their obligations toward the Government, the quantity of arable land is fixed, as well as other rural appurtenances. In return for the enjoyment of these territorial allotments, the peasants are obligated to acquit the rentals fixed to the profit of the proprietors; but in this state, which must be a transitory one, the peasants shall be designated as “ temporarily bound.” The peasants are granted the right of purchasing their homesteads, and, with the consent of the proprietors, they may acquire in full property the arable lands and other appurtenances which are allotted to them as a permanent holding. By the acquisition in full property of the quantity of land fixed the peasants will become free from their obligations toward the proprietors for land thus purchased, and they will enter definitively into the condition of free peasants, or landholders. A transitory state is fixed for the domestics, adapted to their callings, and to the exigencies of their position. At the close of two years, they are to receive their full enfranchisement, and some temporary immunities. “ It is according to these fundamental principles,” says the Manifesto, “ that the dispositions have been formulated which define the future organization of the peasants and of the domestics, which establish the order of the general administration of this class, and specify in all their details the rights given to the peasants and to the domestics, as well as the obligations imposed upon them toward the Government and toward the proprietors. Although these dispositions, general as well as local, and the special supplementary rules for some particular localities, for the lands of small proprietors, and for the peasants who work in the manufactories and establishments of the proprietors, have been, as far as was possible, adapted to economical necessities and local customs, nevertheless, to preserve the existing state where it presents reciprocal advantages, we leave it to the proprietors to come to amicable terms with the peasants, and to conclude transactions relative to the extent of the territorial allotment, and to the amount of rental to be fixed in consequence, observing at the same time the established rules to guaranty the inviolability of such agreements.” The new organization, however, cannot be immediately put in execution, in consequence of the inevitable complexity of the changes which it necessitates. Not less than two years, or thereabout, will be required to perfect the work; and to avoid all misunderstanding, and to protect public and private interests during this interval, the existing system will be maintained up to the moment when a new one shall have been instituted by the completion of the required preparatory measures. To this end, the Czar has deemed it advisable,—
“1. To establish in each district a special court for the question of the peasants ; it will have to investigate the affairs of the rural communes established on the land of the lords of the soil.
“ 2. To appoint in each district justices of the peace to investigate on the spot all misunderstandings and disputes which may arise on the occasion of the introduction of the new regulation, and to form district assemblies with these justices of the peace.
“ 3. To organize in the seigneurial properties communal administrations, and to this end to leave the rural communes in their actual composition, and to open in the large villages district administrations (provincial boards) by uniting the small communes under one of these district administrations.
“ 4. To formulate, verify, and confirm in each rural district or estate a charter of rules, in which shall be enumerated, on the basis of the local statute, the amount of land reserved to the peasants m permanent enjoyment, and the extent of the charges which may be exacted from them for the benefit of the proprietor, as well for the land as for other advantages granted by him.
“ 5. To put these charters of rules into execution as they are gradually confirmed in each estate, and to introduce their definitive execution within the term of two years, dating from the day of publication of the present manifesto.
“ 6. Up to the expiration of this term the peasants and domestics are to remain in the same obedience towards their proprietors, and to fulfil their former obligations without scruple.
“ 7. The proprietors will continue to watch over the maintenance of order on their estates, with the right of jurisdiction and of police, until the organization of the districts and of the district tribunals has been effected.”
In the concluding portion of the Manifesto, the Czar expresses his confidence in the nobility, and his belief that they will so labor as to perfect the great work upon which all parties in Russia are engaged ; but there is something in the language he employs that sounds hollow, as if he were not altogether so certain of support as he claims to be. He speaks less like a man stating a fact than like one appealing to the controllers of powerful interests. He also warns those persons who have misunderstood the Imperial purpose, “ individuals more intent upon liberty than mindful of the duties which it imposes,” and whose conduct was not beyond reproach when the first news of the great reform became diffused among the rural population. The serfs are called upon, with much unction, to appreciate and recognize the considerable sacrifices which the nobility have made on their behalf. They are expected to understand that the blessings of an existence supported upon the basis of guarantied property, as well as a greater liberty in the administration of their goods, entail upon them, with new duties toward society and themselves, the obligation of justifying the protecting designs of the law by a loyal and judicious use of the rights which are now accorded to them. “ For,” says the Autocrat, “ if men do not labor themselves to insure their own wellbeing under the shield of the laws, the best of those laws cannot guaranty it to them.” These are “ noble sentiments”; but the shrewder portion of the serfs will probably attach more importance to the declaration, that, “ to render the transactions between the proprietors and the peasants more easy, in virtue of which the latter may acquire in full property their homestead and the land they occupy, the Government will advance assistance, according to a special regulation, by means of loans, or a transfer of debts encumbering an estate.”
Such are the principal details of this great measure, the most important undertaking of modern days, whether we refer only to the measure itself, or take its probable consequences into consideration. That forty-five millions of human beings should be lifted out of the slough of slavery, and placed in a condition to become men, would alone be a proceeding that ought to take first rank among the illustrations of this age. But we cannot consider it solely by itself. Every deed that is likely to influence the life of a nation, that is endowed with great vitality and energy must be considered in connection with its probable consequences. Russia stands in the fore-front rank of the leading nations of the world. In the European Pentarchy, she is the superior of Austria, the controller of Prussia, and the equal of France and England. The growth of the United States in political power having received a check through the occurrence of the Secession Rebellion, the relations of the great empires, which our advance had threatened to disturb in an essential manner, will probably remain unchanged; and so Russia, unless she should become internally convulsed, will maintain her place. Assuming that the work of emancipation is to be peacefully and successfully accomplished, it would be fair to argue that the power of the Russian Empire will be incalculably increased through the elevation of the masses of its population. The Czar is doing for his dominions what Tiberius Gracchus sought to do for the Roman Republic when he began that course of much misunderstood agrarian legislation which led to his destruction, and to the overthrow of the constitutional party in his country. As the Roman Tribune sought to renew the Roman people, and to substitute a nation of independent cultivators for those slaves who had already begun to eat out the heart of the republic, so does the Russian Autocrat seek to create a nation of freemen to take the place of a nation of serfs. If the Roman had succeeded, the course of history must have been entirely changed ; and if the Russian shall succeed, we may feed assured that his success will have prodigious results, though different from what are expected, perhaps, by the Imperial reformer himself. His motives of action are probably of that mixed character which governs the proceedings of most men. Undoubtedly he wishes well to the millions for whose freedom he has labored and is laboring; but then he would improve their condition in order that he may become more powerful than ever were his predecessors. He would rule over men rather than over slaves, because men make better subjects and better soldiers than slaves ever could be expected to make. The Russian serf has certainly’ proved himself to be possessed of high military qualities in the past, but it admits of a good deal of doubt whether he is equal to the present military standard ; and Russia cannot safely fall behind her neighbors and contemporaries in the matter of soldiership. The events of all the wars in which Russia has been engaged since 1815prove that her armies have not kept pace with those of most other countries. The first of Nicholas's wars with Turkey would have ended in his total defeat, if the Turks had been able to find a leader of ordinary capacity and average integrity. The Persian War was successful because Persia is weak, and she had not the means of making a powerful resistance to her old enemy. The Poles, in 1831, held the Russians at bay for months, and would have established their independence but for their own dissensions; and even then Russia was much assisted by Prussia. The invasion of Hungary was a military promenade, and the failure of the patriots was owing less to the ability of Paskevitch than to the treason of Görgei In the contest between Russia and the Western powers, (1854-6,) the former was beaten in every battle ; and when she had only the Turks on her hands, in 1853, her every purpose was foiled, and not one victory did her armies in Europe win over that people. The world saw that a new breed of men had taken the places of those soldiers who had been so prominent in the work of overthrowing Napoleon; and even the heroes of 1812-15were admitted to be inferior to their predecessors, the soldiers of Zürich and Trcbbia and Novi. It is the fact, and one upon which military men can ruminate at their leisure, that the Russian armies showed more real power and “pluck” a century ago than they have exhibited in any of the wars of the last sixty years. They fought better at Zorndorf and Kunersdorf, against the great Frederic, than they did at Austerlitz and Friedland, against the greater Napoleon, or than we have seen them fight, at the Alma, and at Inkerman, and at Eupatoria, against Raglan, and St. Annual, and Omar Pacha. There was no falling off in the soldiers of Suvaroff; but personal character had much to do with his successes, as he was a man of genius, and the only original Soldier that Russia has ever had; and the men whom he led to victory in Turkey, Poland, and Italy were trained by officers who had learned their trade of the warriors who had fought against Frederic. But in the nineteenth century the change in the Russian army was perceptible to all men, and in none could that change have produced more serious feelings than in the present Czar and his father. Nicholas is supposed to have died of mortification because his army, the instrument of his power over Europe, had been cut through by the swords of the West; and Alexander II. succeeded to a disgraced throne because his troops had proved themselves unworthy successors of the men of Kulm. Wishing to have better soldiers than he found in his armies, or than had served his father, Alexander II. hastened that scheme of emancipation which he had been thinking of, we may presume, for years, and which, he asserts, is the hereditary idea of his line. We do not suppose that he is less inclined to rule despotically than was his father, or that he would be averse to the recovery of the position which was held by his uncle and his father. We find not the slightest evidence, in all the proceedings of the Russian Government, that the people whom the Czar means to create are to be endowed with political freedom. A more vigorous race of Russians, morally speaking, is needed, and, except in some parts of the United States, there are no men to be found capable of arguing that any portion of the human family is susceptible of improvement through servitude. The serf is naturally clever, and can “ turn his hand ” to almost anything. The inference that freedom would exalt his mind and improve his condition is one that was logically drawn at St. Petersburg and Moscow, though they reason differently at Richmond and Montgomery. An army recruited from slaves could not, in these times, when even bayonets think and cannon reason much more accurately than they did when Louis XIV. was a pattern monarch, ever look in the face the intelligent trained legions of France or England or Germany. A combination of political circumstances, similar to those of 1849, might give victory to a grand Russian army, like that laurelless triumph which was then won in Hungary, when the victors were nothing but the bloodhounds and gallowsfeeders of the House of Austria; but of military glory the present Russians could hope to have no more. To regain the place they had held, it was necessary that they should be made personally free. That they might be the better prepared to enslave others, they were themselves to be converted into men. The freedom of the individuals might be the means of supplying soldiers who should equal the fanatics who followed Suvaroff, or the patriots who followed Kutusoff, or the avengers who followed the first Alexander to Paris. The experiment, at all events, was worth trying; and the Czar is trying it on a scale that most impressively affects both the mind and the imagination of mankind, who may learn that his works are destined greatly to bear upon their interests.
In war, it is not only men that are wanted, and in large numbers, but money, and in large sums. Always of importance to the military monarch, money is now the first thing that he must think of and provide, or his operations will be checked effectually. War is a luxury that no poor nation or poor king can now long enjoy. It is reserved for wealthy nations, and for sovereigns who may possess the riches of Solomon without being endowed with his wisdom. Having impressed so many agents into its service, and subdued science itself to the condition of a bondman, war consumes gold almost as rapidly as the searches and labors of millions can produce it. The only sure, enduring source of wealth is industry, —industry as enlightened in its modes and processes as imperfect man will allow to exist. Russia is an empire that abounds with the means of wealth, rather than with wealth itself. It is a country, or collection of countries, of which almost anything in the way of riches may be predicated, should intelligent labor be directed to the development of its immense and various resources. Russian sovereigns have frequently sought to do something for the people; but Alexander II., a wiser man than any of his predecessors, is willing that the people should do something for themselves, because he knows that all that they shall gain, each man for himself, will be so much added to the common stock of the empire. The many must become wealthy, in order that one, the head of all, may become strong. Time and again has Russia found her armies paralyzed and her victories barren because she was moneyless; and but for the gold of foreign nations she must have halted in her Course, and never have become a European power. With a nation of freemen all this may be, and most probably it will be, changed, — though it is not so certain that the change will be attended with exactly that order of results which the Czar may have arranged in his own mind. The mightiest of monarchs are not exempt from the rule, that, while man proposes, it is God who disposes the things of this world. Not one of those reforming kings who broke down the power of the great nobles of Western Europe, and so created absolute monarchies, appears to have had any just conception of the business in which he was engaged ; but all were instruments in the hands of that mighty Power which overrules the ambition of individuals so that it shall promote the welfare of the world.
The two years that are set apart for the completion of the plan of emancipation will be the trial time of Russia. They may expire, and nothing have been done, and the condition of the peasants be no more hopeful than it was in those years which followed the “good intentions ” of Alexander I. It is not difficult to see that there are numerous and powerful disturbing causes to the success of the project. These causes are of a twofold character. They are to be found in the internal state of the empire, and in the relations which it holds to foreign countries. There is still a powerful party in Russia who are opposed to emancipation, and who, though repulsed for the time, are far from being disheartened. One-half the nobility are supposed to bo enemies of the Imperial plan, and they will continue to throw every possible obstacle in the way of its success. There is nothing so pertinacious, so unrelenting, and so difficult to change, as an aristocratical body. The best liberals the world has seen have been of aristoeratical origin, or democracy would have made but little advance; but what is true of individuals is not true of the mass, which is obstinate and unyielding. There is nothing that men so reluctantly abandon as direct power over their fellows. The chief of egotists is the slaveholder, unless he happen to be the wisest and best of men. Man loves his fellowman — as a piece of property, as a chattel, above all things. It is a striking proof of superiority to be able, to command men with the certainty of being as blindly obeyed as was the Roman centurion. The sense of power that is created by the possession of slaves is sure to render men arbitrary of disposition and insolent in their conduct. The troubles of our own country ought to be sufficient to convince every one that there must be nobles in Russia who would prefer resistance to the Czar to the elevation of millions whose depression is evidence of the power of the privileged classes. But for the conviction that the United States could no longer be ruled in the interest of the slaveholders, the Secession movement would have been postponed for another generation, and certain traitors would have gone to their graves with the reputation of having been honest men. There are Secessionists in Russia, and for the next two years they may be able to do much to prevent the completion of the Work so well begun by Alexander II. But he appears to be as resolute as they can be, and even fanatically determined upon having his way. Supported by one-half the nobles, and by all the serfs, and confident of the army’s loyalty, he ought to be able to triumph over all internal opposition. What he has already effected has been extorted from a powerful foe ; and that costly step, the first step, having been taken, the Russian reformers, headed by the Emperor, ought to prove victorious in so vitally important a contest as that in which they have voluntarily engaged.
The greatest danger to the emancipation project proceeds from the side of foreign countries. As we have seen, both Alexander I. and Nicholas were led away from the pursuit of a policy that might long since have converted the Russian serfs into a Russian people, through their desire to interfere in the affairs of other nations. They could not reform Russia and crush reformers elsewhere. That they might decide grand contests in which Russia had no immediate interest, it was necessary that Russians should remain enslaved. What was it to Russia whether Bourbons or Bonapartes should reign over France ? If she had an interest in the question, it was rather favorable to the Bonapartes, whom she overthrew, than to the Bourbons, whom she set up in order that the French might again overthrow them. The old Bourbons were never friendly to Russia, and would gladly have headed a coalition to drive her back to her forests; and the first Bonaparte was very desirous of being on good terms with the Northern Colossus, as it he were dimly forewarned of his coming fate at its hands. Led away from the true path, Alexander I. squandered on foreign affairs the time, the industry, and the money that should have been devoted to the prosecution of those internal reforms that were necessary to convert his subjects into men. Nicholas inherited from his unwise brother that policy which he so vehemently supported, and which caused him to waste on France and Austria the attention and the energy which, as a conscientious sovereign, he was bound to bestow upon Russia. The danger now is that Alexander II. will walk in the same wrong path that was found to lead only to destruction by his uncle and his father. The world was never so unsettled as it is now, and wars of the most extensive character threaten every country that is competent to put an army into the field. The Italian question is yet to be solved, and its solution concerns Russia, which is strongly interested in every movement that threatens to break up the Austrian Empire, or that promises to create in the Kingdom of Italy a new Mediterranean nation. The Schleswig-Holstein question is yet to be settled, and Russia has an immediate interest in its settlement, as Denmark, she expects, will one day be her own. The Eastern question is as unanswerable as ever it has been, and it is but a few weeks since the belief was common that Russia and France were to unite for the purpose of settling it, which could have meant nothing less than the partition of the Turkish Empire, — the union of one of the “sick man’s’’old protectors with his enemy, for the perfect plundering of his possessions. This arrangement, had it been completed, would have led to a war between France and Russia, on the one side, and England and Austria on the other, while half a dozen lesser nations would have been drawn into the conflict. But it an alliance for any such purpose was ever thought ot by the Autocrat and the Stratoerat, it is supposed that it fell through in consequence of the occurrence of troubles in Russian Poland,—the Polish question, after having been kept entirely out of sight for years, having suddenly forced itself on the attention of Europe’s monarchs, to the no small increase of their perplexities. Here are four great questions that are intimately connected with Russia’s interests, any one of which, if pressed by circumstances to a decision, would probably plunge her into a long and costly war, one of the effects of which would be to postpone tlie emancipation of the serfs for many years. No empire could effect an internal change like that which the Czar has begun, and at the same time carry on a war that would require immense expenditures and the active services of a million of men. The Czar is in constant danger of being “ coerced ” into a foreign war; and the enemies of emancipation would throw all their weight on the side of the war faction, even if they should feel but little interest in the fortunes of either party to a contest into which Russia might be plunged. Leaving aside all the questions mentioned but that of Turkey, that alone is ever threatening to bring Russia into conflict with some of her neighbors. Neither England nor Austria could allow her to have her will of Turkey, no matter how excellent an opportunity might be presented by the death of the Sultan, or some similar event, to strike an effectual blow at that tottering, doomed empire. So that war ever hangs over the Czar from that side, unless he should, for the sake of the domestic reform he so much desiderates, disregard the traditions and abandon the purpose of his house. Were he to do so, it would be a splendid example of self-denial, and such as few men who have reigned have ever been capable of affording either to the admiration or the derision of the world. But could he safely do it ? Then it does not altogether depend either upon the Czar or upon his subjects whether he or they shall preserve the peace of their country. Suppose Poland to rise, — and she has been becoming very wakeful of late, — then war would be forced upon Russia; and that war might be extended over most of Continental Europe. A Polish war could hardly fail to draw Prussia and Austria into it, they being almost as much interested in the maintenance of the partition as Russia ; and France could scarcely be kept out of such a contest, she having been the patron of Poland ever since the partition was effected.
Considering the matter in its various bearings, and noting how inflammable is the condition of the world, and observing that a Russian war would be fatal to emancipation, we can but say, that the freedom of the serfs is something that may be hoped for, but which we should not speak of as assured. Alexander II. wishes to complete his work, but he is only an instrument in the hands of Fate, and things may so fall out as to cover the present fair prospect with those clouds and that darkness In which have been forever enveloped some of the best undertakings for the promotion of man’s welfare. We may hope and pray for a good ending to the reform that has been commenced, but it is not without fear and trembling that we do so.
- At what precise time Russia’s policy began to influence the action of the European powers it would not be easy to say. Unquestionably, Peter I.’s conduct was not without its effect, and his triumph over Charles XII. makes itself felt even to this day, and it ever will be felt. “ Pnltowa’s day” was one of the grand field-days of history. Sweden had obtained a high place in Europe, in consequence of the grand part she played in the Thirty Years’ War, to which contest she contributed the greatest generals, the ablest statesmen, and the best soldiers ; and the successes of Charles XII. in the first half of his reign promised to increase the power of that country, which had become great under the rule and direction of Gustnvus Adolphus and Oxenstierna. This fair promise was lost with the Rattle of Pultowa; and a country that might have successfully resisted Russia, and which, had its greatness continued, could have protected Poland, — if, indeed, Poland could have been threatened, had Russia been unsuccessful at Pultowa, — was thrown into the list of third-rate nations. Poland was virtually given up to Russia through the defeat of Charles XII., just as, a century later, she failed of revival through the defeat of Napoleon I. in his Russian expedition. But the effect of Sweden's defeat was not fully seen until many years after its occurrence. Prussia became alarmed at the progress of Russia at an early day. The War of the Polish Succession was decided by Russian intervention, in 1733. In 1741 Maria Theresa relied on Russia, and in 1746 Russia and the Empress of Germany formed a defensive alliance. The Cotillon Coalition of the Seven Years’ War, formed for the destruction of Frederic II., and the parties to which were the Czarina Elizabeth, Maria Theresa, and Madame de Pompadour,— a drunkard, a prude, and a harlot, — brought Russia famously forward in Europe. In the Eighty-Seventh Letter of Goldsmith’s Citizen of the World, published a century ago, are some very just and discriminating remarks on “ the folly of the Western parts of Europe in employing the Russians to fight their battles,” which show that their author was far in advance of his time, and that he foresaw the growth of Russia in importance before she had seized upon Poland. In Catharine II.’s time, the Russian Empire was the object of much adulation from Western envoys, and the English sought to obtain the assistance of the barbarians in the American War, but with not such success ns they desired, though they managed to keep our envoy from the court, and to make Russia unfriendly to us. Our diplomatic relations with Russia did not begin until a generation after the Declaration of Independence.↩
- Slavery in History, pp. 245, 246.↩