Nicholas and the Decembrists

At the very beginning of his reign, Nicholas I faced rebellion as his succession to the throne was called into question.  3,000 members of the Russian military stood against the state on the date which subjects were to pledge fielty to the new emperor.

As Alexander I had no heirs before his sudden death, the next logical successor was his brother Constantine.  Constantine was favored by Russian subjects as they viewed him to be more liberalized, mainly because he was living in Poland and isolated from St. Petersburg society.  A reign under Constantine would have been interesting, as he was the Viceroy of Poland, had more training to rule than his younger brother, Nicholas, and was married to a catholic Polish commoner.  Arguably, Constantine had the makings to be another reforming monarch; however, Constantine would never rule as he privately refused to rule.  Since Constantine’s decision not to become the next emperor, Russian subjects were left in the dark about the decision for Nicholas to rule instead.  As a result, rumors spread that Constantine may have been forced to denounce his rule, or that he was waiting to gather full support of the Polish army before taking the throne.

Either way, the Russian public, especially members of the Russian army, did not want Nicholas to come to power.  They witnessed his brash manner in the barracks, a dull personality, unnessecary brutality towards soldiers, and even the compete displacement of military groups as a part of “paradomania.”  This led to the formation of officer-led rebel groups within the ranks of the Russian army, which, unfortunately, were all defeated by Nicholas’ troops.

What was perhaps most interesting, as Marc Raeff mentions in The Decembrists, is that the Decembrists recognized the main issue with the state was the institution of Serfdom.  All agreed it needed to be abolished; however, no one could come up with a solution that would benefit both serfs and landowners.  Many were sore about how Alexander I had acknowledged the issue during his reign, but never acted upon ending it, like his grandmother, Catherine II.

Nicholas’ reign, as the Decembrists predicted, would be problematic in regards to the abolition of serfdom.  He had no training in statecraft, and his reign was one of conservatism and restrictions instead of progressive reform.  The start of his reign set a tone of reaction toward rebellion or notions of disapproval, meaning that instead of making state or social progress, he trammeled it severely.  Because of this, it pull Russia further into “backwardness” and continue the oppression of Russian serfs.