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“The Society of the North," as it was called-wished power, not less physical force would be required than for a monarchical constitutional government. “The for abolishing it altogether. And although he exSociety of the South" desired a federative republic pressed himself with such caution-a caution intercomposed of the various provinces of Russia. The preted as tergiversation by the Commission of Inquiry Society of the South had at its head a man who pos- —he was at last understood : and some men feared sessed an eminent intellect, a courage ready to face him. Alexander Murawieff left the society. The every danger, an unshakable energy, and a bound. members of the Alliance of Well-Being murmured. less ambition—namely, Paul Pestel. His truly su- The Society of the North began to fear the ambiperior mind had understood that a representative tion of Pestel. government is only solid and durable when it is so directed as to develop the well-being of the masses.
This was before the dissolution of the original While the members of the Society of the North, society in 1821. After its reorganization, Pestel though rejecting the odious principle of serfdom, had increased his activity with the most ardent conno fixed ideas as to how the manumission of the serfs spiratory zeal. At St. Petersburg, the reconshould be wrought, Pestel had induced the Society structed society had at first Prince Trubetzkoi at of the South to decide that the serfs should be eman- its head; then Nicholas Murawieff and Prince cipated with a grant of freehold land. This idea, Obolenski. It may be mentioned, incidentally, that which to-day is admitted in Russia by all those who the Trubetzkois and the Obolenskis are among wish for serious, not for fictitious reforms, was during those families who derive their origin from the the lifetime of Pestel, forty years ago, an innovation
once ruling house of Rurik, the Germanic founder of astonishing boldness.
of the empire. In the south, Pestel had the chief These words, written in 1860 by a Russian influence. Over and over again he insisted on author who himself belongs to the moderate con- the necessity of emancipating the peasants with stitutional party, are a testimony in honor of Pes- a grant of land. Only in this way, he said, the tel which those may reflect upon who believe revolution could be successfully accomplished. that Alexander II, was the initiator of the eman
XI. cipation idea. Before Prince Dolgorukoff, Alexander Herzen
BESIDES the occult associations mentioned, had written the following, in 1858, on Pestel :
there was one, called "The United Slavs," which
in Russia had for its leading spirit Sergius MuraFrom the day that he had entered the society wieff - Apostol. Another secret league having he became its center, its soul. Thanks to him, the been accidentally discovered in Poland by Bestuvague aspirations and liberal tendencies obtained an jeff-Rumin, a member of Pestel's society, it was aim, a practical determination. His great figure decided to establish a connection between the dominates over the whole conspiracy; it is a great Russian and Polish men of progress. figure even in the venomous accounts of the Commis. sion of Inquiry. An ardent republican and deter- the Russians should acknowledge the indepen
The agreement made was to the effect that mined revolutionist, he imposes and precipitates nu
dence of the Kingdom of Poland, as established thing. He acts with admirable prudence and reserve. He only seeks to better organize the asso
in 1815, as well as of those Polish provinces in ciation. He gives it regulations, and centralizes it. Russia which had not yet been quite Russified. Knowing well the still timid conscience of those gen- The Polish society promised to bring about an erous youths who are full of devotion, but scarcely insurrection as soon as a rising should be begun imbued with ripe political ideas, he grants to them in the Second Russian Army, and to effect the that the great thing would be to restrict the arbitrary arrest of the Grand Duke Constantine, the Govpower of the Czar. In the fragments of his conver- ernor of Poland. The proclamation of the resation with others—as quoted by the Inquiry—it is public in Poland was among the conditions laid impossible not to admire his tact and the richness of down by Pestel. But the Polish confederates, in his resources. Conceding to some that a constitu- whose name Krijanowski, Grodetzki, and Kartion on the English pattern would be very good, he, koski acted, refused to prejudge the question of as soon as an interlocutor expresses a doubt, adds the form of government. Nor would they enthat, for his own part, he would prefer the American
gage themselves to proceed to the more extreme Constitution, which, he says, would be good for everybody, and not only for lords and merchants.” How, which are said to have been insisted upon by the
measures against the Grand Duke Constantine ever, he thinks that if a charter could be imposed
Russian conspirators. These extreme measures, upon the Emperor, this would be a considerable progress. Then, in a few words, he refers, among
it is alleged, referred to the taking of the Grand the possible contingencies, to the Emperor's death. He Duke's life. doubts the possibility of forcing, by the sole pressure
Everything appeared now ready for decisive of public opinion, an absolute ruler to cede a portion action. Colonel Pestel was at the head of a regiof his power. He shows that by physical force alone ment whose men were considered to be entirely this could be done, and that, in order to limit his under his influence, whithersoever he might lead them. As the whilom adjutant of Marshal Witt- these words of promise to the ear, they were loath genstein, he had great opportunities of forming to agree to a programme of immediate revolution. good acquaintances with officers of rank. The Not having fully succeeded in his endeavor to Intendant-General of the Second Army, Yushneff- bring about unity of purpose, Pestel suggested ski, and two active generals, friends of his, Von that a general meeting of the delegates of the Viesen (of German extraction, like Pestel) and various societies should be held in 1826—under Prince Sergius Volkonski, were at one with him condition that action should then not be delayed in the desire of overthrowing autocracy. Then any longer. He thereupon went back to the there were, in the Society of the South, six colo- south. nels and two lieutenant-colonels, Sergius and Meanwhile, secret denunciations had reached Matthew Murawieff, among the leading members the Emperor at Taganrog. The Czar, ill, and in of the conspiracy.
a melancholy mood, had not sufficient energy to A number of officers could be reckoned upon. proceed to a strong and sweeping measure. Yet, Besides, it would not have been difficult, through one of the conspirators, Colonel Schweikoffski, the members of the League, to seize the regimen- was suddenly removed from his regiment without tal chests, the papers of the Staff, the Intendance, a cause being publicly assigned. Suspicion was and the Chancelry of the Marshal. Pestel's plan at once aroused by this act among the members was, to wait for the day when Alexander I., who of the League. For a moment, Schweikoffski was at Taganrog, would be present at the ma- thought of raising immediately the standard of næuvres, and then to act. On that day, Prince insurrection, in order to forestall the danger that Wittgenstein, the higher generals, and the Czar seemed to threaten them. The Report of the himself were to be arrested. The fortress of Bo- Judicial Inquiry asserts even that Schweikoffski bruisk was to be occupied. Then the events to proposed sending men to Taganrog to take the be brought about by the friends at St. Petersburg life of the Emperor. When the question is of and at Warsaw were to be waited for.
being killed or of killing, scruples otherwise In the capital, the Society of the North was to strong quickly vanish away. Colonel Artamon give the signal for the rising through the Imperial Murawieff is said to have offered himself for the Guards. That society had among its members deed. Bestujeff declared that he could find for some officers of rank-foremost among them, that task fifteen men among “The League of the Prince Trubetzkoi, Colonel Mitkoff, and Captain United Slavs.” The Report adds that the proNicholas Murawieff, as well as Prince Obolenski, ject was in the end abandoned. Bestujeff, and other men of influence and daring. This question of tyrannicide had gradually Among the highest nobility, in the upper ranks forced itself into the foreground in the secret of the civil administration, even in the immediate meetings. The Report of the Judicial Inquiry vicinity of the Court, there were associates of the alleges that it was mooted by some members as conspiracy. At Moscow, the chief of the Chan- early as 1817, but that others repelled these ideas. celry of Prince Gallitzin; at St. Petersburg, a close Of Colonel Pestel it is asserted that he remarked friend of Count Miloradowitch, the Governor- to one of the Murawieffs that one of the first General of the town, were affiliated to it. All things to be done was to “get rid of the impethe movements of Government could therefore rial family"; to which Murawieff is said to have be easily watched.
replied that he regarded such a plan as wholly Unfortunately, no full agreement was arrived barbarous and unfeasible.” at between the Societies of the North and the At one of the meetings the question was South, even in the reconstructed state of the raised openly as to what was to be done with the former. In 1824 Pestel went to St. Petersburg imperial family in case of success. Banishment in order to effect a thorough understanding and and imprisonment were in turn proposed. Pesa full amalgamation of the several leagues under tel, having listened to the various speakers, is alone direction. This was with difficulty attained. leged to have remarked that in destruction alone At the same time, the men of the North shrank there was safety. Others rejected the notion as from adopting his plans of action, which they de- a horrible one. “I know well that it is,” he is clared to be too violent. There were in the stated to have replied. The vote being taken, North few adherents of Pestel's democratic the majority were for him, but only a majority of views. Almost all the members there desired six. Again, he is asserted to have declared that constitutional government under a monarchy. “we must make the house clean,” and that his However, a number of these promised that if the project was to seize, by a surprise, the whole imCzar could not be made to accept a charter, they perial family; to seize also the members of the would go over to the democratic side, and that Senate and the Synod, to force them to proclaim in this case nothing was left but to banish the a new Government in the republican sense; to imperial family from Russian soil. Still, with all declare all higher officials and army leaders who
were not members of the secret society dis- stated that immediately after the arrival of the missed from their functions; and to replace them news of Alexander's death, he (Nicholas), acby members of the society.
companied by Count Miloradowitch, AdjutantThese statements are repeated, without any General Prince Trubetzkoi, Count Golanishtchefsdepreciatory remark, by later Russian writers fa- Kutusoff, and others, went to the great Court vorable to the cause of the so-called Decembrists Church, and there took the oath of homage to of 1825. The mouths of the chief men of the his brother Constantine, whom he assumed to conspiracy having been closed through death on be the Emperor now, according to dynastic law. the gallows, it is difficult to discover the real His example was followed by those who accomtruth.
panied him, and by other chief personages that In the nature of things—however opinions in happened to be in the palace. From the church the abstract may differ as to the legitimacy of the Grand Duke went back to the Dowager Emtyrannicide-such views and intentions will al- press to inform her of his act. ways come up whenever men, driven to despair “ Nicholas !” she exclaimed, “what have you by a blood-stained cruelty, have to do battle, done? Do you not know, then, that there is an single-handed, against a thrice-armed oppres- act which appoints you heir-presumptive?” sion.
In his memoir he professes to have “then
heard for the first time in a positive form" of the THE year 1826 having been fixed for the rev- existence of this act. The words “in a positive olutionary rising by secret agreement, the leagues form" are, however, a noteworthy qualification. did not stir after Schweikoffski's suspicious re- Matters were thus complicated enough. They moval from his post. Suddenly, however, Alex- became still more so when the Grand Duke ander died at Taganrog, on December 1, 1825. Nicholas resolved-probably for the sake of his Pestel's plan was thus once more thrown out of own personal safety-upon asking his brother to gear.
repeal his renunciation of the crown. This was The death of the Czar happened, neverthe- a strange step, almost incomprehensible when less, under circumstances which in a certain we remember the ambitious and arbitrary charmeasure favored the action of the members in acter of Nicholas; but perhaps he was afraid of the north. Had their measures been but better suddenly being met by a strong Constantine parplanned, Russia might, since 1825, have enjoyed ty which might deal with him as other Russian at last representative government. A doubt princes had before been dealt with by conspirawhich arose as to who was to succeed to the tors at court. Be that as it may, he thought it throne came to the aid of the friends of progress advisable to exhibit some hesitation. Communiin the capital. Alexander had secretly changed cation in those days, when there existed neither the order of succession—with the consent, it is railways nor telegraphs, was difficult. It had true, of the presumptive heir, but without de- taken ten days before the news of Alexander's signing to make the fact known to the millions death reached St. Petersburg. Fifteen days whose duty he thought it was always to obey, more were consumed by correspondence between and whom he did not therefore think it necessary the two brothers, one of whom was at St. Peto inform of what had been resolved upon as re- tersburg, the other at Warsaw. Nicholas had garded their future ruler. Great was the aston- taken the oath to Constantine! Constantine had ishment when, after Alexander's death, it was taken the oath to Nicholas ! Probably each missuddenly asserted that not Constantine, the eld- trusted the other. In the Imperial palace there est born, but Nicholas, had, by a decree until reigned the greatest consternation. The Grand then hidden, been designated Czar of all the Duke Michael went post-haste from St. PetersRussias. Men most devoted to the Crown were burg to Warsaw, and thence back again, in order for several days puzzled as to whom they were to to clear up the mystery. Public opinion, in the consider the rightful heir. Nicholas in person mean time, was utterly unsettled. All this was added to the confusion by at once declaring him- calculated to help the patriotic conspirators. self in public his eldest brother's subject.
On the 26th of December, 1825, the revoluIn the memoir * which the present Czar has tionary attempt was made in the streets of St. ordered to be published from notes of the Em- Petersburg. During the preceding days, the peror Nicholas, and from the recollections of members of the Secret League-Prince Trubeseveral members of the imperial family, it is tzkoi, Ryleieff the poet, Bestujeff, Prince Obolen
ski, Prince Rostoffski, Kahoffski, and other men *“ Die Thronbesteigung des Kaisers Nicolaus I. von
of the military and civic class—had repeatedly Russland im Jahre 1825. Nach seinen eignen Aufzeichnungen und den Erinnerungen der kaiserlichen Familie met in the evening to concert a plan. Young auf Befehl Sr. Majestät des Kaisers Alexander 11.,” Prince Odoeffski, an officer of the Horse Guards, herausgegeben von Baron M, von Korff, Berlin, 1857. kept them informed of what occurred at the
palace—even of the very words spoken there. Manifestoes to this effect had been printed in The meetings of the conspirators were stormy, the night before the proposed rising, at the office as is usual in moments of supreme danger. The of a printer who was in the League, but who, more decided men proposed strong measures from the following day, became a traitor and incalculated to insure success, while others shrank former. These prints were afterward burned by back from what they regarded as cruel violence. Government order. The compositor whose serBetween the 24th and the 25th there was a fall- vices had been used by the conspirators“ died ing off in the number of those attending the noc- suddenly." turnal assembly. Only seventeen came—but all
XIII, of them men of energy and influence. This The day of revolution dawned. Palace conthinning of the ranks, too, is a feature character- spiracies had formerly been carried out in the istic of all conspiracies just previous to action. dead of night. The New Russia, of which these
At the house of Prince Obolenski there ap- patriots dreamed, was to be initiated in the light peared officers of the various regiments of the of the sun. This resolution-as most friendly Guards as associates of the League. Obolenski writers aver-became fatal to the movement. announced that, by order of the Directorate, “Better," they say, “would it have been had their duty was, on the day fixed for the public they chosen one of the long wintry nights of St. ceremony of homage to the new Emperor, to Petersburg for their bold deed!” lead as many troops of their regiments as they A portion of the Guards, and several comcould to the square before the Senate, and to panies of the Marine Troops, actually followed make them refuse the oath to Nicholas. With their officers to the public place. Count Milorathe first regiment gained over, other regiments dowitch, an honest, worthy man, who had seen were to be approached. At the same time, the danger on many a battle-field during the Napopeople were to be gathered by drums being beat- leonic wars, and who at first had pledged himen throughout the town. This latter proposal self to Nicholas for the security of the town, now was made by Prince Trubetzkoi.
hurried to the Czar with the ominous words : “We are going to meet death,” exclaimed “Sire! things are turning out bad! They suryoung Odoeffski enthusiastically, embracing his round the monument of Peter the Great. But I friends in Russian fashion ; "but what a glorious am going to address them !" In vain was he death it will be !"
warned not to expose his life. He answered, Others, of sterner stuff, like Kahoffski, a “What good would there be in a governor-genbrooding and rather sinister man, said: “We eral if he did not know how to sacrifice his blood can not do anything with those philanthropists. in case of need!” The only question now is, to kill !”
Meanwhile, scenes of riot had been rife among “I have passed the Rubicon!” said Bestu- the people. It was not yet a distinct awakening jeff; “and I shall strike down with the sword among the enslaved mass, No popular agitators all that cross my path!”
came forward with words of fire on their tongue, It was assumed by the members of the con- or the promise of energetic deeds in their gesspiracy that Nicholas, seeing the military revolt tures. Yet, somehow, the sluggish soul of that before him, would enter into negotiations, per- inert multitude felt a sympathetic thrill. Genhaps renounce the crown. Thereupon a Pro-. eral Miloradowitch, seeing the danger, rode tovisional Government was to be established, com- ward and addressed the mutinous soldiers who posed of three members. Old Admiral Mord- had been drawn into the “Constitutional” movewinoff, one of the most moderate, nay, ultra- ment by the use of “ Constantine's " namemoderate men, Prince Sergius Trubetzkoi, and a words which among the more ignorant served as high Church dignitary were to be offered seats in a helpful confusion. In the midst of his pathetic this Government. Colonel Batenkoff was to oc- harangue, the aged warrior all at once sank down cupy the post of Chief Secretary. A constitu- on his horse. His outstretched arm fell as if it tional monarchy—not a republic—was the aim were of lead. A pistol-shot fired by Lieutenant of the leaders in the capital. There were to be Kahoffski had mortally wounded him. two Parliamentary bodies : an Upper House, Masses of the population suddenly turned up whose members were to be appointed for life now. St. Petersburg was in commotion. Cries (Batenkoff was in favor of an hereditary House of arose for a charter. Peers), and a House of Commons. The Coun- Shots were fired at General Woinoff-ay, cil of the Empire, as hitherto existing, was to be even, as Baron Korff's publication asserts, against replaced by a Council of Thirty-six. Elections the Emperor Nicholas himself, when he tried to were to be held for the House of Commons; bring back the troops to obedience. In this danand Parliament was to frame a constitution and gerous crisis, Prince Eugene of Würtemberg disto choose the new sovereign.
played, as Russian army-leader, the sternest cour
age. He first advised a cavalry attack. When
XIV. this proved of no avail, grape-shot was employed against the body of rebel troops that occupied In the mean while other tragic events occurred the Senate Square.
in the south. Before the word of command to discharge the Pestel, the two Murawieffs, Bestujeff-Rumin, guns was given, General Suchosannet, at the or- and some others, had been arrested in conseder of Nicholas, rode toward the insurgent sol- quence of the denunciation sent to Alexander at diers, offering to spare their lives if they laid Taganrog. Officers, placing themselves at the down their arms. He was received with the cry, head of some companies, hastened to free their “ Have you brought the constitution with you?” comrades-in-arms. In the struggle that ensued, and with a volley of shots.
the Lieutenant-Colonel who had effected the ar “ Your Majesty !” Suchosannet reported, rest of Pestel and his friends was wounded. The “these madmen call out for a constitution!” liberated leaders then endeavored a bold stroke.
The Emperor, shrugging his shoulders, and After taking the town of Vasilkoff, they tried to raising his eyes to heaven-so he says in his own gain over fresh regiments, but were attacked, “Memoir"- -now gave the order to fire, but im- near Belaja Tzerkoff, by the division of General mediately recalled it. On the final order being Geismar. In this battle Sergius Murawieff was given, the gunner did not execute the command! one of the first that were wounded and made “ They are our brethren!” the simple soldier prisoners, together with his brother Matthias, exclaimed. “And if I myself stood before the Another of the Murawieffs fell. gun," the officer cried, “and you were ordered to A political catechism had been drawn up for fire, how could you dare to hesitate ?"
the insurgent troops, in which the democratic Upon this the shot was fired. The battle form of government was proved to be, according was begun. It ended with the defeat of the in- to the teaching of the Old Testament, the only surgents.
government acceptable to God. This teaching “The danger,” says the “Memoir" published did not make a good impression on the rather by Alexander II. in 1857, " was obvious. Guards bigoted mujik-soldiers. Their resistance, when fought against Guards. The Emperor, the only attacked, was a weak one; a number of them support of the empire, risked his life during sev- acted treacherously toward their own chiefs. eral hours. The people were in the utmost ex- The movement in the south thus quickly colcitement, and it was difficult to learn the true lapsed. Moreover, no plan of action had been state of public feeling. The conspiracy was a concerted between the leaders in the north and fact, but its head and its extent were yet hidden. the south. Pestel's original advice having been Everything was still enveloped in impenetrable disregarded, each section was thrown on its own secrecy; and the whole outbreak might have resources to deal with an unexpected emergency recommenced any moment. These considera- as best it could. tions were far from encouraging; but there was The end was the usual scene of horrors. the firmness, the presence of mind of the young Pestel, Sergius Murawieff, Ryleseff, Bestujeff. monarch, which the officers marveled at, and Rumin, and Kahoffski suffered death on the galwhich inspirited the soldiers. The victory re- lows. Prince Trubetzkoi was, at the prayer of mained with the throne and with loyalty; and his wife, “pardoned ”—that is, transported to the soldiers heartily attached themselves to their Siberia, with eighty-three other leaders. The new master."
soldiers of the Guards that had taken part in the Under this self-praise it is easy to recognize rising were sent against the mountain tribes in the true situation and the greatness of the perils the Caucasus, and against Persia. which surrounded the “only support of the em- Russia now became once more a prison-house pire "—that is, of the absolutistic form of govern- in which utter silence reigned. Only the blows ment.
of the knout were heard in the drear solitude. The same “Memoir" says that the Czar was The very groans of the victims seemed to be not able on that day, from morning till late at stifled. night, to partake of any repast, and that he never It only remains to say a few words on the went to bed during the whole night. He re- bearing of the originators of the December rismained up, in uniform, with his sash on; per- ings, as described in the Report of the Commissonally examining the chief prisoners that were sion of Inquiry. brought in, receiving reports, and giving orders. It has en remarked that the confessions The Empress Alexandra Feodorowna had, from made by these men incriminated them even more the excitement, “ lost her voice and all strength.” than the facts that were proved against them. “All the imperial children passed the night in Were these confessions the result of a sublime two rooms, as in a bivouac."
heroism in the face of death? or had they been