For a thousand years, Russia has had a vision of Constantinople as the centre of Russian power. Her first descent upon it was made in the ninth century, while still a heathen nation; and her latest in the nineteenth. Can any parallel instance be found, in which a nation has held fast to one great idea for a thousand years, through all vicissitudes of fortune, and all changes in government, religion, and civilization? It has been called the dream of Russia, — is it not a marvelously prophetic dream?
Into the early and partly legendary period of her plans for reaching the Bosphorus we shall not enter. The first decided and solemn announcement to the world of her intentions was made in 1472 by Ivan III., when he married the Princess Sophia, niece of Constantine Palæologus, the last of the Greek emperors, and assumed the double-headed eagle of the Byzantine Empire as the symbol of the Russian. This bold assumption of right to the Byzantine throne was the more worthy of admiration from the fact that Mehmet, before whom Europe trembled, was the occupant of that throne; it was the distance and obscurity of the claimant that secured his safety. But he made the claim; and for five centuries Russia has prosecuted it with serene and invincible courage. She was then an unknown, insignificant power, but just casting off the trammels of the Tartar domination, and slowly gathering the elements of that mighty strength of which she alone was conscious. She is now the terror of the world. Her territory was then about 740,000 square miles; it is now more than eight millions! Every square foot of it has been won by the sword and stained with human blood.
The first time that she came into direct conflict with the Turks—although. she had had fierce and bloody wars with the Grim Tartars, vassals of the Sultan—was in consequence of a Turkish attempt to occupy Astrakhan in 1569. Selim II. had a Grand Vizier, Sokolli, who was the unsuccessful De Lesseps of his day. He determined to cut a ship canal, so as to unite the Don and the Volga, at the point where, one by a detour to the east, the other to the west, they approach each other within thirty miles.
The proposed canal was to connect the Black Sea, the Sea of Azoph, and thereby all the great maritime highways of the world, with the Caspian. This grand design of Sokolli may not have been entirely commercial in its intent. If successful, it would enable the Sultan to reduce the Shah to a vassal, and to form a strong northern border to his empire. Sokolli made preparations equal to the greatness of the venture. But, for its safe prosecution, it was necessary to take possession of Astrakhan, near the Caspian. The Russians, clearly apprehending the political designs of the enterprise, defended the place with such courage arid solidity, and attacked the expedition with such determination, that they held the post and drove back the Turks.
The Mohammedan historians affirm that the soldiers and workmen retreated rather from the place than from the Russians. The summer nights, in that latitude, were so short that between the evening service of prayer, two hours after sunset, and the daybreak service there were but three or four hours. If they said their prayers, they saved their souls, but ruined their bodies. If they neglected their prayers, they saved their bodies, but ruined their souls. As neither result was to be thought of, they abandoned the place in great disgust.
For a whole century, no decisive steps were taken by Russia in her advance towards Constantinople. She fomented wars between Austria and Turkey, kept the Danubian provinces in a chronic state of revolt, and wrested Ukraine from the Tartars. But when Peter the Great came to the throne, the Russian Empire was to put on a new character. Upon his assumption of the whole power of the government in 1689, he resolved to have an army and navy that should give the northern coasts of the Azoph amid the Black Sea to Russia. In 1695, he attacked the city of Azoph with a force of sixty thousand men, and was repulsed, with heavy loss. The next year, he took the city; and the forts and military establishments which followed were a clear indication that he had come to stay and to extend his conquests. After a fierce and terrible war with Austria, the peace of Carlowitz, 1699, gave the parties time to gather strength for renewed contests. In this peace Turkey, for the first time, had to descend to a level of equality with the Christian nations. The Christian powers were now the gainers. Austria recovered Hungary in part, and completed her occupation in 1718; Russia gained Kertch and the whole province of Azoph; and Poland had Kaminick and Podolio.
The Tsar was too much occupied with his great reforms to prosecute war with the Ottomans, until 1711, when he resolved to take possession of Moldavia and Wallachia. He was marching his forces down the right hank of the river Pruth, when the Grand Vizier entrapped him in a position from which there was no escape. He was without water or provisions, and made desperate but useless and disastrous efforts to cut his way out. The Vizier had no occasion to attack him, for the place itself furnished a terrible ally; and hunger, thirst, and disease would very soon compel an unconditional surrender, or annihilate Peter and his whole army.
In this supreme exigency, the good genius of Russia did not sleep. The Empress Catherine collected her jewels and the decorations and jeweled ornaments of the officers, and sent them to the Grand Vizier to buy a peace. The Vizier yielded to the temptation, and allowed the great enemy of his country to escape; but the conditions of peace, too severe for grace, too lenient for statesmanship, were soon entirely disregarded, and Turkey found, to her bitter sorrow, that Russia was the same unchangeable enemy.
It was not till the years 1736-39 that Russia was disposed to strike again for Constantinople. In alliance with Austria, the Russian general, Marshall Münich, was sure of a triumphal entrance into the Ottoman capital. He marched into Moldavia, on his way to take possession of the great prize. But the defeat of the Austrian army and the demoralization of her forces compelled Austria to sue for peace, to the utter derangement of her plans and hopes and those of Russia. Again the prize escaped the Tsar’s hands. At the treaty of Belgrade, which followed, it was agreed that Azoph should be destroyed, that Russia should keep up no fleet either on the Sea of Azoph or the Black Sea, and that her conquests in Moldavia and Bessarabia should he restored; but she secured some increase of territory in the correction of her southern frontier.
The treaty of Belgrade, 1739, gave Turkey a chance to prepare for another struggle. The Crimea had been terribly desolated by Marshal Münich, but had not been taken possession of. When another contest in the Danubian provinces took place, the Russian was triumphant; and the treaty of Kainardji, 1774, was humiliating to the Porte. The Khans of the Crimea were declared independent of Turkey, and equally under the guardianship of Turkey and Russia. The right of Russia to have consuls in all parts of the Ottoman Empire, with the absence of any corresponding right on the part of Turkey, has ever since opened the way for Russian intrigue in every part of the Turkish Empire. Finally, all previous treaties, with their obligations, rights, and privileges, were declared null and void, and no claim grounded upon them was ever to be put forth. A diplomat of that day remarked upon the treaty that it foreshadowed trouble, not only for Turkey, but for Europe; and that, as the military importance of Turkey diminished, her diplomatic importance would increase, — a view which holds good to this day.
After the treaty of Kainardji, the Empress Catherine made no secret of her intention to expel the Turks from Europe. She had her grandson, Constantine, placed in the care of Greek nurses and Greek masters, that he might be fitted to ascend the throne of the Palæologi. In 1779, she announced her intention to take possession of the Crimea, a feat which was accomplished in 1783. The brave Moslem inhabitants were slaughtered by thousands, in order to give them rough notice to emigrate. Even the Armenian inhabitants were expelled in the depth of winter. Of seventy-five thousand, only about seven thousand wretched, ruined creatures reached a place of safety in Turkey. In 1787, the Empress Catherine made a triumphal progress through the Crimea, in company with the Emperor Joseph of Austria. Over a triumphal arch was inscribed, “This is the way to Constantinople.” The war with Turkey, which followed this occupation of the Crimea, was disastrous to the Ottomans. The conquest and wholesale slaughter of the inhabitants of Ismail and Ockzacoff shocked Europe, as a return to the most barbarous usages of war.
The empress had now the whole northern coast of the Black Sea, and a navy quite equal to that of Turkey. She signed the treaty of Jassy, 1792, in order the better to prepare for war. England was alarmed at this military growth and progress of Russia, and at her safe and magnificent position on the Black Sea. Mr. Pitt, who was then prime minister, endeavored to form a combination against her further advance towards Constantinople. He maintained the doctrine of the balance of power, as necessary to the safety of Europe. But Europe had become too much agitated by the French Revolution to take any positive part in Oriental affairs; and the Empress Catherine, although irritated by the course of Pitt, saw her opportunity to move directly upon Constantinople, and to accomplish at length what Ivan the Terrible and Peter the Great had so much desired.
Four years of active preparation brought her army and its supplies into a condition which fully satisfied her and her generals. She had a disciplined force of three hundred thousand, and an additional one hundred and fifty thousand in process of discipline for reinforcements. Her transports and fleet on the Black Sea were all in readiness. No such extensive arid vigorous preparations had ever been made in all the wars which had been waged since that day, three hundred and twenty years before, when her ancestor assumed the Byzantine double-headed eagle. The passionate empress, looking with pride upon this vast preparation, and having unbounded confidence in her general, Suwarrow, declared she “would have Constantinople in spite of Pitt and the devil!” Death put a sudden end to all her projects, 1796. The difficulties of the succession and the state of Europe thrust Constantinople out of view for a season. The Turks, backed by Pitt, were preparing for a desperate resistance. But the common saying was, “Death and Pitt have saved Turkey!”
The great empress was dead, and her purposes had been brought to naught; but how stood the account as between Turkey and Russia? The Christian Empire had grown strong by vast strides. Her territory, her population, and all the arts of war had advanced, to the astonishment of Europe. Her military resources were equal to her ambition. The strength of her great adversary on the Bosphorns had as steadily declined. The Sultan had lost Hungary, Transylvania, the Crimea, and all the northern coasts of the Black Sea and Sea of Azoph. Moldavia, Wallachia, and Servia were thorns in his side; Egypt was in open revolt; and the distant pashalics often defied his authority. His army and navy were in a state of insubordination. The old discipline had departed alike from the Janissaries and the common soldiers. Turkey was in the last stage of consumption, while Russia was “rejoicing like a strong man to run a race.”
During the wars of Napoleon Turkey had a partial respite. Russia was often at war with her, but was so absorbed by the great European conflict as to have no leisure for an effective aggressive policy. The internal condition of Turkey also offered some resistance. Selim III. ascended the throne in 1789, and made prodigious efforts to rescue the empire from its disorganized and despairing state.
One event changed the policy of Russia from a hostile to a friendly attitude toward the support of Turkey, in the most singular manner, for a brief moment. Napoleon resolved to plant the power of France in Egypt, and had magnificent schemes of an Eastern empire. Russia saw, at a glance, that this idea, once realized, might be an insurmountable obstacle to her own plans. The whole power of France would then be pledged to protect Constantinople and the Straits from Russia. When this dream of Napoleon vanished, after much bloodshed, unheard-of atrocities, and great displays of heroism on the part of Turks, English, and French, Russia returned to her policy of wearing out and exhausting her victim by the instigation of perpetual insurrections and border wars. She had assumed the name, and she played the part, of protectress of the Christians in the East. In consequence, Bosnia, Servia, Wallachia, and Moldavia were scenes of perpetual and bloody strife. It was her declared policy to induce the Christians to fight their own battles; and they had not the intelligence to perceive that they were fighting hers. Servia has often and vehemently accused Russia of getting her into trouble, and then leaving her “in the lurch.” The Russian use of the term “Christian” has not been well understood in this country. As the protectress of the Christians, how could she remorselessly destroy seventy-five thousand Armenian Christians in the Crimea? The explanation is that she gives the title to none but members of the Greek church. All others, Armenians, Jacobites, Catholics, Protestants, are heretics, and in the same category with Moslems. Nicholas, when wishing to avoid terms of indignity, called them “members of other confessions.” He never termed them Christians.
The great contest with Napoleon, who at one time proposed to the Tsar Alexander various impracticable schemes for dividing the Turkish Empire between them, — impracticable, because each of the robbers claimed the lion’s share, — kept Russia from any direct move upon Constantinople. Besides, the internal commotions of the Ottoman Empire were enough to make her content for a time. The enemy was destroying himself. He was beset with dangers from the Ulemas, the Janissaries, the Wahabees, the Mamelukes, the Druses, the Greeks, the Albanians, the Servians, and the Moldo-Wallachians. Selim III. had been murdered by the Janissaries; and the young Mahmoud II. was enthroned upon the wreck of an empire great only in ruins.
In 1812, Russia was induced by England to make peace with Turkey, and throw her whole weight upon Napoleon. Moldavia and Wallachia were given back to Turkey. The Pruth was made the boundary line between Moldavia and Russia. Servia was to pay a certain tax directly to the treasury of the Sultan, without the intervention of Turkish tax-gatherers. The fortresses were given up to Turkey; but Russia had Bessarabia and the mouths of the Danube. She cared little for the temporary advantages accorded to the Turks, or for the indefiniteness of the treaty with Servia. The treaty was sure to breed trouble, and that was always in Muscovite interest. When the splendid meteor that had long hung over Europe, “breathing from its horrid hair pestilence and war,” had fallen on St. Helena, and the Holy Alliance had sanctified anew the reign of despotism in Europe, Russia could safely renew her march upon Constantinople.
There was one great and fatal disadvantage suffered by Turkey in favor of her great enemy. More than half the population of Northern Turkey is Christian, composed of Roumans, Slavs of various divisions, Albanians, Greeks, and Armenians. The Slavic amid Albanian races are partly Moslem, partly Christian. We shall be safe in estimating them at twelve millions. Ubicini estimates them at nine millions, exclusive of Roumania. They are all the natural allies of Russia, and enemies of the Porte. They furnish not a soldier to the Turkish army; and the drain of war and of the pestilence of camps weighs heavily upon the constantly diminishing Moslems. The marvel is that the contest has been kept up so long.
Passing over many events, too intricate to be disintegrated here, we come to the next great move of Russia, — the independence of Greece. That the preparatory work was in Russia, and consisted in the formation of the Hetæria, or secret revolutionary societies, which spread with unnoticed but surprising rapidity throughout the entire Greek race, is well known. In 1821 the well-laid train was fired. Demeter Ypsilanti, a Greek by race, and a general in the Russian army, crossed the Pruth into Moldavia, and called the Greeks to arms. Unfortunately, the rising was characterized by atrocities unworthy of the cause. The Turkish merchants in Jassy and Galatz were cruelly slaughtered. Terrible reprisals were made by the enraged Moslems in other places. In Constantinople the Janissaries gratified their love of blood; and among other revengeful strokes hanged the venerable Greek Patriarch at his own door. The army of Ypsilanti, on the Danube, was soon destroyed by the Turks. But in Greece and the Greek Islands the heroic efforts of the Greeks were crowned with success, until the Sultan called upon Mehmet Ali, of Egypt, for aid. Nothing loath to have his forces in Turkey, the destroyer of the Mamelukes sent his son Ibrahim—his greatest general—with an army and navy that could take possession of any port held by the Greeks. Missolonghi, heroically defended, fell in 1826, and Athens in June, 1827. The Greek cause seemed lost. But the fleet of the allied powers entered the bay of Navarino, and destroyed the Turkish and Egyptian fleets.
This was a grand triumph for Greece, but a still greater one for Russia. She had used the fleets of those two powers most anxious to strengthen Turkey against Russia, and forced them to inflict upon Turkey a mortal wound. She had most successfully incited Austria to many wars, in which Austria gained nothing and Turkey lost much, in men and money, but now it was France and England that she was manipulating. The allies, made aware of their foolish position, tried to shelter themselves under the plea of humanity; but Russia has not ceased to laugh at them to this day. The liberation of Greece could have been secured by a united demand of the allies. The blow was struck without any declaration of war, and by powers with whom the Porte was at peace. The treaty of Akerman, between Russia and the Porte, 1826, and that of the allies, 1827, meant triumph to Russia, loss and humiliation to Turkey.
In the mean time there occurred in Constantinople events which seemed to offer to the Tsar the long-sought, the long-watched-for opportunity to restore the double-headed eagle to the Bosphorus, and to erect the Russian cross upon the dome of St. Sophia. The rebellion and entire destruction of the Janissaries in 1826, and the disaster of Navarino in 1827, had left the Ottoman Empire without army or navy, and with internal disorders of the most threatening aspect. The Sultan had destroyed his own army; his allies had destroyed his navy.
The Tsar joyfully recognized the hour. There was nothing but a few days’ march between him and the realization of Russia’s dream. In 1828, he sent an army of one hundred thousand to cross the Balkans and take Constantinople. He anticipated nothing but a feeble show of resistance. He had forgotten that every Moslem is by his religious faith a soldier, and that to him the shortest path to paradise is through a field of blood. The army crossed the Danube without opposition, but was annoyed at the fierce defense of Ibraila, which cost it four thousand men. They failed to take Shumla; Varna fell after a gallant fight. Count Moltké, then in the Turkish service, wrote, “If we consider the enormous sacrifices which the war cost the Russians [in 1828], it is difficult to say whether they or the Turks won or lost it. It remained for a second campaign to decide the value of the first.”
In great irritation at his poor success, the Tsar sent Marshal Diebitsch with forces sufficient to carry all before him. He crossed the Balkans with great loss, and arrived at Adrianople with an army exhausted by fighting, and so efficiently stricken with plague and cholera that the Turks needed only to wait a couple of weeks, or so, for it to perish. But Marshal Diebitsch, with consummate Russian skill, terrified the Porte and the ambassadors at Constantinople into the belief that he had one hundred thousand victorious troops ready to march upon the capital. A treaty was concluded; a war indemnity of twenty-five millions was imposed upon Turkey; and then ten or fifteen thousand demoralized, plague-stricken soldiers marched out of Adrianople, most of them to perish by the way. Of all the forces that crossed the Pruth, not more than ten thousand ever returned to their native land. Russia has such a vast population that she does not mind the loss of one or two hundred thousand men.
This treaty was an immense gain to Russia on many points, but Constantinople again escaped. Had the Sultan only held out a few days longer, Marshal Diebitsch would have been compelled to surrender; the campaign of 1829 would have been a most distinguished failure; the Polish insurrection of 1830 would have left Turkey in perfect safety from foreign foes; and a new Turkish army would have been formed, under the discipline of Moltké.
The Sultan might now hope for a little breathing spell. But his rebellious subject, the Pasha of Egypt, was making rapid progress through northern Syria, and had entered Asia Minor, almost unopposed. The Sultan applied in vain to England and France for aid. With inconceivable stupidity, they left him with no resource but Russia. The Tsar was graciously pleased to send 15,000 troops to occupy the Asiatic side of the Bosphorus. When Mehmet Ali found that the prosecution of his design meant war with Russia, he recalled his army. The treaty of Unkiar-Skélessi bound Turkey to Russia as a mere vassal. She must close the Straits against armed vessels of all other powers, and maintain an offensive and defensive alliance.
France and England united in settling the Egyptian question, and were not again to leave Turkey entirely in the hands of Russia. In the war of 1839, between the Pasha and the Sultan, Russia had no predominant influence; France and England being united to support the Ottoman Empire. In the Convention of 1840, for the pacification of the Levant, Great Britain, Austria, Russia, Prussia, and Turkey were in accord. Mehmet Ali was declared hereditary governor of Egypt, and thirteen years of rest were enjoyed by Turkey.
Under the inspiration of Sir Stratford Canning (Lord Stratford de Redcliffe), the young Sultan Abdul Adedjid (1839) instituted many reforms. The civil administration, the army, the navy, were reconstructed. The navy that had been treacherously given up to the Pasha of Egypt was returned, and the traitors shortly died a natural death, — facilitated, perhaps, by poison. The Turkish army had produced one soldier, Omar Pasha, of undeniable military genius. During the thirteen years of peace, he kept the Danubian provinces from revolt, in spite of Russian plots. He curbed the fiery Bosnians and Montenegrins; and when, in 1848, the revolutionary craze swept over Europe, and affected Moldo-Wallachia, the prudence and skill of this general defeated the plans of Russia, who had marched in an army of 40,000 men. After prolonged negotiations with England and Turkey, they were withdrawn.
But Nicholas became impatient, and perhaps alarmed, at these unexpected signs of recuperation and returning strength. His conversations with Sir Hamilton Seymour about “the sick man,” “the very sick man,” are too well known to need repeating. He persuaded himself that England would not interfere; he would give her Egypt and Crete, and he cared naught for France. Having, as he supposed, made himself secure against interference, the Tsar sent Prince Menschikoff to the Sublime Porte, to make, in the most insolent, undiplomatic, and ungentlemanly manner, a demand for the exclusive protection of all the Christian subjects of the empire. This was equivalent to requiring the transfer of twelve millions of subjects to the Tsar; and war of necessity followed.
The Russian army crossed the Pruth in June, 1853, in order to hold the Danubian provinces until Turkey should yield what the Tsar demanded. His fleet entered the harbor of Sinope, in a fog, and surprised and destroyed the Turkish vessels there at anchor. (FOOTNOTE HERE: The question was discussed at the time why Nicholas opened the war upon the sick man at that time. Sir Henry Austen Lavard said, in his place in Parliament, that the Tsar hastened the war in order to crush the nascent Protestantism that was taking root in the empire. The statement was pronounced by some absurd. The Hon. George P. Marsh, minister resident in Turkey, writing to a secretary of the American Board, September 8, 1855, said, “I have not the slightest doubt that the keen-sighted Layard is right in assigning to this manifestation of American institutions in the East a prominent place among the occasions of the political and military movements which have shaken Asia and Europe since 1853. The iron heel that crushed the rising hopes of Continental liberty in 1849 is again armed to tread out the glimmering spark of civil and religious freedom in the Oriental world. The friends of human progress in Asia meet their most formidable obstacle in the relentless hostility of ‘the great conservative power of Europe.’”
The Russian ambassador, Bauteneff, declared to an American missionary that the emperor his master would never allow Protestantism to set its foot in Turkey. A Russian colonel, prisoner to the English, was found to be possessed of the most accurate knowledge of every mission station in Turkey. He had visited them all in the most friendly manner, as a German traveler. He was an agent of the Russian government. The progress of Russia bodes evil to missions, and to all the institutions of education, and to the press.) The Sultan of course declared war. Omar Pasha boldly crossed the Danube, and attacked the Russians at Oltenitza and Citate and Kalafat, and gained such decided advantages as demonstrated to Europe that “the sick man’s” soldiers were alive and well.
In the spring of 1854, General Schilders crossed the Danube into Bulgaria with an army of 60,000, and attacked Silistria, which Omar Pasha had garrisoned with 8,000 choice troops, under Mousa Pasha, his most trusted general. The place was defended by earth-works; and General Schilders confidently expected an easy victory. After a month of unavailing effort, Marshal Puskievitch was sent with reinforcements, and orders to take the place at all costs. He had all the costs, but did not take the place. After three heroic assaults, he retreated in haste across the Danube, to save his army from being intercepted by Omar Pasha. Great was the surprise of the Russians. Their old enemy seemed to be sound to the core.
Thenceforth, the contest was transferred to Sevastopol. Todleben had learned, at Silistria, the power of earth-works, and proceeded with great skill to teach the lesson to the allies. St. Arnaud and Lord Raglan took command; and Omar Pasha had no further opportunity for distinction, save that, at Eupatoria, he severely chastised the Russian force of 40,000 men, which was sent to overwhelm him and take revenge for the campaign of the Danube. In the long and gallant defense of Sevastopol, Russia was finally conquered. Nicholas died from chagrin, — or “medicine,” — and Alexander II. came to the throne, announcing thenceforth a policy of peace.
Russia was compelled to submit to a series of humiliations. She had to acknowledge the right of Europe to interfere in Eastern affairs. The treaty of Unkiar-Skélessi, by which Turkey had been reduced to vassalage, was abolished. Her navy had been sunk at the entrance of Sevastopol, and she was bound not to rebuild it. The wonderful dock of Sevastopol was destroyed, so far as the engineers of the allies could do it. She lost Bessarabia, and was thus driven from the Danube. All this was submitted to from bitter necessity, but with the proud consciousness that it all amounted to nothing, compared with the immense resources of the empire. The omission of the allies to hold Russia responsible for the expenses of this war is inexplicable. The alarming fact to her was that Europe should unite and move with irresistible force against the Russian possession of Constantinople.
In reference to the result, a Russian diplomat declared that “Russia would not move again direct upon Constantinople. That would evidently arouse Europe. But she would have it by envelopment. European Turkey was naturally hers and she would expand into it. Now that she had driven the Circassians from the Caucasus, she would gradually—not in this generation, perhaps, but finally—expand into Asia Minor. When she had both sides of the Straits, where would be the capital?” “But,” it was objected, “Europe may unite against you.” “No,” he replied; “Europe does not concern itself with the natural growth of an empire. Constantinople will be acknowledged as belonging to us, when we take possession!”
Since the Crimean war of 1854-55, the two combatants have followed courses which have disappointed the expectations of the world. Russia, it was believed, would pursue a policy of peace. The Emperor Alexander liberated the serfs. The conscription for the army would be greatly relieved; taxation would be lightened; internal improvements and universal peace would make everybody contented and happy. In point of fact, taxation gradually became heavier, and the conscriptions vastly increased the army. Expeditions into Asia gave it active employment. “Holy Russia” was rapidly pushing her borders towards Afghanistan. The thorough, practical, and scientific education, on a vast scale, of skilled workmen and engineers, mechanical and military, and such development of industries that Russia might be sufficient unto herself in time of a general European war, called forth and occupied the forces of this great empire. But the public burdens began to cause great discontent in certain classes. The liberation of the serfs was solely for the purpose of having better soldiers. The effort at universal education for boys had for its object an intelligent soldiery. All the arts centred in war. Siberia was the home of every one who dared to criticise the government. So Nihilism was born. It is the offspring of Militarism. Russia has become the great military power of the age; but the firmament over her is not clear of clouds.
Turkey started upon her new career with the best opportunities which a rescued nation ever had for securing a prosperous future, and with every motive to inspire her efforts. She had no public debt. She had a quiet, contented, and faithful population. How is it that she has descended straight to bankruptcy, disorder, and ruin?
First of all, she has been cursed by an incapable government. To have an infallible autocrat in the hands of a harem, changing the most responsible officer at a woman’s caprice, is quite enough to bring ruin to a nation. But, in the second place, the allies themselves have been able coadjutors in the work of ruin. Commercial greed and the plots of English and French capitalists, backed by their governments, have made havoc of Ottoman resources. The industries are handicapped by free trade, and have perished. But the government is bound by a treaty not to impose a tariff, and has been struggling in vain, for many years, to get free from the bondage.
Again, at the close of the Crimean war Louis Napoleon demanded the removal of Lord Stratford de Redcliffe from the embassy at Constantinople. His influence was too great in Turkey to be longer endured. Lord Palmerston, also, may have been ready enough to sacrifice a man every way his superior, and of a haughty, inflexible disposition. Sir Henry Bulwer, a man after Louis Napoleon’s own heart, was appointed to this most responsible post in English diplomacy. A master of intrigue and bribery, vain, ambitious, and of infamous morals, his main object was to undo all that De Redcliffe had done. Especially, he posed before England as the regenerator of Turkey, and he had newspapers to chant his praises. He instituted the era of great government loans. The ostensible object, greatly glorified, was internal improvements. The real object was to have a good time. These loans were issued at five arid six per cent.; but as only fifty to sixty pounds on the hundred were paidin, the actual interest to the bond-holders was ten to twelve per cent. Besides, for the fifty paid in, one hundred must be refunded in the end. This would seem to have been enough to satisfy even English greed. The loan era began in 1858, and in 1874 the public debt amounted to £184,981,783, or $924,908,915. At the same time there is an enormous floating or domestic debt, guessed at as amounting to $100,000,000, more or less. We are safe in saying that the downward path upon which Sir Henry Bulwer launched the empire, in the name of progress and reform, plunged it into the gulf of more than one thousand millions of dollars of interest-bearing debt.
All this pleased the Muscovites. Here was an English and French measure which General Ignatieff could favor with all his influence. When, in consequence, the Turkish Empire was bankrupted, he had the supreme satisfaction of telling the poor stupid Sultan that he must declare bankruptcy, and all for following his English and French advisers. It would doubtless cause a revolution; but he would send for a sufficient Russian force to guard the throne. It is well understood that the dethronement of Sultan Abdul Aziz was made necessary by this private bargain. He was considered guilty of treason to the empire and to Islam.
After twenty years of great progress on one side, and of degradation on the other, it was time for the Tsar to set out again for Constantinople. There would be no mistake this time. The Sultan was an imbecile, his empire bankrupt. European bond-holders were enraged; and besides, the Tsar would not so move as to draw in Europe. He would simply make a strong and permanent lodgment south of the Danube, and give Europe every assurance of his benign intentions.
The war of 1877, between Turkey arid Russia, was preceded by insurrections in Hertzgovina, Montenegro, and Servia. Turkey was driven into a war with Servia, when she had the most urgent reasons for avoiding it. She had neither money nor means; but for that very reason it was forced upon her. The old spirit of Islam awoke, and the Servians were very roughly used. This was just what Russia wished and expected. She had now religious and humanitarian arguments to plead in favor of intervention.
A convention of ambassadors and envoys, at Constantinople, vainly endeavored to restore peace, or rather to avoid war. Russia made demands which the Porte could not accept, and which the other powers would not support. The poor result of the conference was that Russia was left to act upon her own responsibility. Her diplomacy had gained a complete triumph, and all danger of a European combination against her passed away.
In the war which followed, Russia met with a severe and bloody defeat in the attack upon Plevna. Prince Charles of Roumania, with his corps, saved the Russian army from destruction, and was repaid with base ingratitude. Russia cannot afford to acknowledge indebtedness to any one. Plevna was taken by siege, and the inhabitants and army suffered the extremes of famine and disease. Alexander II. left a dark stain upon his name by giving up himself and officers to three days’ revelry, before supplying the dying and famished prisoners of war with the slightest relief. Even Mr. Forbes, the war correspondent and able advocate of Russia, could not commend this amazing inhumanity in the treatment of a brave enemy.
When Plevna fell the object of Russia, as diplomatically stated, was attained. Bulgaria was in her possession. It was hers by conquest; and had she stopped there she could have expanded into European Turkey at her leisure, and Europe would not have interfered. But, as often before, her military officers and counselors—General Ignatieff especially, who has always known how to ruin success, and who was at that time supreme—cast aside all prudence, rushed across the Balkans in winter, with the loss of twenty thousand men, and were almost at the gates of Constantinople before astonished Europe could act.
At Buyuk Tchekmedje, the British iron-dads saved the city. The approaching army could not avoid them. Russia had broken the treaty of Paris, and was building a fleet, but had nothing in readiness to enable her to appear on the water. The army stopped, as stop it must. For there was a point where “the whale” could fight “the elephant,” but not the elephant the whale.
Then followed the celebrated treaty of San Stefano, between Russia and Turkey, March 3,1878. So soon as Europe had time to study the treaty, and to get at the geography of it, it saw that Turkey had ceased to exist. The fine phrases that showed the contrary had no substantial meaning. England demanded that the treaty be submitted to a convention of the great powers, signatories of the treaty of Paris, and received a courteous but haughty negative. General Ignatieff had boastingly said, “J’y suis; j’y reste!”
Lord Beaconsfield had, in the mean time, brought up seven thousand Sepoys from India into the Mediterranean, as an intimation of the vast number of Sepoys and Moslems at England’s command. The war had already made unlooked-for demands upon the army and the treasury. The indignation of Europe was rising to a dangerous pitch, and Russia changed her tone. “The treaty was elastic, and would admit of any modifications that the great powers might deem necessary.”
Hence the great Congress of Berlin, which required that Russia should withdraw all her troops from European Turkey within a specified time. Then the delimitations of the treaty were materially changed, and the principality of Bulgaria was organized. Unwisely, this enterprising, thrifty, and united people was divided, by the Balkan Mountains, into two governments. The portion between the Balkans and the Danube was the principality; that south of the Balkans, under the name of Eastern Roumelia, remained nominally under the Sultan, but with great municipal freedom. The principality was made self-governing. Its young patriots, many of them educated at Robert College, intelligent students of American history and of the Constitution of the United States, took the lead in the formation of the government, and greatly disgusted the Russian agents. They chose Prince Alexander, and he gradually fell in with the policy of these eager young Bulgarians. Russia’s firm purpose to upset this free government, and to expel the prince, beloved by all the people, is the cause of the present Bulgarian complication.
Our object has been simply to delineate enough of Russia’s achievements and of Ottoman resistance to present the two powers as they now stand: the one, mighty and aspiring; the other, impoverished, bankrupt, discouraged. The one, during the long conflict of four centuries, has increased her territory more than tenfold, and her population to a hundred millions. The other has lost in almost every war, until she has only a foothold in Europe; and her Asiatic possessions are growing beautifully less. As a combatant, she has ceased to be. As an auxiliary, she can still furnish splendid soldiers.
And yet the dream of Russia is not realized! United Europe stands in the way. The possession of Constantinople will, in time, if realized, make Russia great at sea. She would have the Black Sea, the Marmora, the Mediterranean. She would next grasp at Egypt and the Indian Empire; and England, France, and Italy would be reduced to comparative insignificance. As she would then command the Danube, and would crush the hated Hungarians, Austria and Germany have reason to look upon the future with solicitude. Putting off the evil day will not save them. The real contest is no longer between Russia and Turkey, but between Russia and Europe.
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