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ignorance of the circumstances essential to the success of Chap
any enterprise, having for its object the establishment of representative institutions in their country. They were among the most highly educated and cultivated men in the Russian empire at the time; and yet their project, if successful, could not have failed to reduce their country to anarchy, and throw it back a century in the career of improvement and ultimate freedom. So true it is that the first thing to be inquired into, in all measures intended to introduce the institutions of one country into another, is, to consider whether their political circumstances and national character are the same. The conspiracy was headed by the highest in rank and the first in intelligence, 1 Rapport, because it was on them that the chains of servitude hung j^. ^ heaviest. "Envy," says Bulwer, "enters so largely into ^"'ji?the democratic passion, that it is always felt most strongly Documents
i i • i • -i , Historiques,
by those who are on the edge ot a line which they yet Partie 2. feel to be impassable. No man envies an archangel."1
Information, though in a very vague way, had been communicated to the late emperor of these societies; but informait was not suspected how deep-seated and extensive they o'fThfconin reality were, or how widely they had spread through- SSSder. out the officers of the army. The privates were, generally speaking, still steady in their allegiance. Wittgenstein, however, and Count de Witt, had received secret but authentic accounts of the conspiracy at the time of Alexander's journey to Taganrog, and it was that information, suddenly communicated during his last illness, which had so cruelly aggravated the anxiety and afflicted the heart of the Czar. The project embraced a general insurrection at once in the capital and the two great armies in Poland and Bessarabia; and the success of similar movements in Spain and Italy inspired the conspirators with the most sanguine hopes of success. The time had been frequently fixed, and as often adjourned from accidental causes; but at length it was arranged for the period of Alexander's journey to Taganrog, in autumn 1825. It was only pre
Chap, vented from there breaking out by the appointment of vm' Wittgenstein to the command of the army of the south, 1826- whose known resolution of character rendered caution necessary ; and it was then finally resolved it should take place in May 1826. The conspirators were unanimous as to an entire change of government, and the adoption \v$^)£c. of representative institutions; but there was a considered i^1TM' able division among them, at first, what was to be done Do'c8'mst with the emperor and his family. At length, however, ibid. 383; as usual in such cases, the more decided and sanguinary
Schnitzler, . '. . ,
ii. 87, si. resolutions prevailed, and it was determined to put them all to death.1
The death of Alexander at first caused uncertainty in
120. . . ii, .
pians of the their designs; but the long continuance of the mterregton!pira num, and the strange contest between the two brothers for the abandonment of the throne, offered unhoped-for chances of success of which they resolved to avail themselves. To divide the army, and avoid shocking, in the first instance at least, the feelings of the soldiers, it was determined that they should espouse the cause of Constautine; and as he had been proclaimed emperor by Nicholas and the Government, it appeared an easy matter to persuade them that the story of his having resigned his right of succession was a fabrication, and that their duty was to support him against all competitors. As Nicholas seemed so averse to be charged with the burden of the empire, it was hoped he would renounce at once when opposition manifested itself, and that Constantine, supported by their arms, would be easily got to acquiesce in their demands for a change of government. Their ulterior plans were, to convoke deputies from all the governments; to publish a manifesto of the Senate, in i*385?ilt' which it was declared that they were to frame laws for a 26 $1*' representative government; that the deputies should be J8~V J,'jid- summoned from Poland, to insure the unity of the emH"*- pire, and in the mean time a provisional government established.2 Constantine was to be persuaded that it was all done out of devout feelings of loyalty towards Chap. himself. '.
In contemplation of these changes, the greatest efforts ]o] had been made for several days past to gain the regi- Continued, ments of the guards, upon whose decision the success of all previous revolutions had depended; and they had succeeded in gaining many officers in several of the most distinguished regiments, particularly those of Preobrazinsky, Simoneffsky, the regiments of Moscow, the bodyguard grenadiers, and the corps of marines. Information, though in a very obscure way, had been conveyed to Nicholas, of a great conspiracy in which the household troops were deeply implicated, and in consequence of that the guard had not been called together; but it was determined that, on the morning of the 26th, the oath of allegiance should be administered to each regiment in their barracks. The Winter Palace, where the emperor dwelt, was intrusted to the regiment of Finland and the sappers of the guard, instead of the grenadiers-du-corps, to whom that charge was usually confided, and all the posts were doubled. But for that precaution, incalculable evils must have arisen. In truth, the danger was much greater, and more instant, than was apprehended. Prince Troubetzkoi, Ryleif, and Prince Obolonsky, the chiefs of the conspiracy, had gained adherents in almost every regiment of the guards, especially among the young men who were highest in rank, most ardent in disposition, and most cultivated in education; and the privates could easily be won, by holding out that Constantine, who hadigchniuler already been proclaimed, was the real Czar, and that >• 201,202;' their duty required them to shed their blood in his i*.385,386. defence.1
Matters were brought to a crisis by the return of the Grand-duke Michael from Livonia with the intelligence A revolt u of the final refusal of the throne by Constantine. It by the conwas then determined to act at once; and Troubetzkoi r?ec?2TM' was named dictator—a post he proved ill qualified to fill,
Chap, by his want of resolution at the decisive moment. The _j_ emperor published a proclamation on the 24th December, 1826. jn which he recounted the circumstances which bad compelled him to accept the empire, and called on the troops and people to obey him; and on the same day a general meeting of the conspirators was held, at which it was determined to commence the insurrection without delay. It was agreed to assassinate the emperor. "Dear friend," said Ryleif to Kakhofski, "you are alone on the earth; you are bound to sacrifice yourself for society; disembarrass us of the emperor." Jakoubovitch proposed to force the jails, Uberate the prisoners, and rouse the refuse of the population by gorging them with spirits; but these extreme measures were not adopted. Orders were sent to the army of the south, where they reckoned on a hundred thousand adherents, to raise the standard of revolt. On the following evening, very alarming intelligence was received, in consequence of which it was agreed immediately to adopt the most desperate measures. They learned that they had been betrayed, and information sent to government of what was in agitation: thus their only hope now was in the boldness of their resolutions. "Una spes victis nullam sperare salutem." "We have passed the Rubicon," said Alexander Bestoujif, "and now we must cut down all who oppose us." "You see," said Ryleif, "we are betrayed; the court is partly aware of our designs, but they do not know the whole. Our forces are sufficient; our scabbards are broken; we can no longer conceal our sabres. Have we not an .„,,., admirable chief in Troubetzkoi V "Yes," answered Ani3,H Bt: Jakoubovitch, " in height '—alluding to his lofty stature, ix. 385,386. At length all agreed upon an insurrection on the day when the oath should be tendered to the troops.1
On the morning of the 26th, the oath was taken
Commence- without difficulty in several of the first regiments of the 5«. 26."' guards, especially the horse-guards, the chevalier guards, and the famous regiments Preobrazinsky, Simoneffsky, Imailoffsky, Pauloffsky, and the chasseurs of the guard. But the case was very different with the regiment of Moscow, the grenadiers of the body-guard, and the marines of the guard. They were for the most part at the devotion of the conspirators. The troops were informed that Constantine had not resigned, but was in irons, as well as the Grand-duke Michael; that he loved their regiments, and, if reinstated in authority, would double their pay. Such was the effect of these representations, enforced as they were by the ardent military eloquence of the many gifted and generous young men who were engaged in the conspiracy from patriotic motives,* that the men tumultuously broke their ranks, and, with loud hurrahs, " Constantine for ever!" rushed into their barracks for ammunition, from whence they immediately returned with their muskets loaded with ball. They were just coming out when an aide-de-camp arrived with orders for the officers to repair forthwith to the headquarters of the general (Frederick) and the Grand-duke Michael. "I do not acknowledge the authority of your general," cried Prince Tchechipine, who commanded one of the revolted companies, and immediately he ordered the soldiers to load their pieces. At the same instant Alexander Bestoujif discharged a pistol at General Frederick himself, who was coming up, and wounded him on the head. He fell insensible on the pavement, while Tchechipine attacked General Chenchine, who commanded the brigade of the guard of which the regiment of Moscow formed a part, and stretched him on the ground by repeated blows
* Alexander Bestoujif, brother of Michael Bestoujif, ono of the leaders of the revolt, addressed the following prayer to the Almighty, as he rose on the eventful day: "Oh God! if our enterprise is just, vouchsafe to us thy support; if not, thy will bo done to us." It is difficult to know whether to admire the courage and sincerity of the men who braved such dangers, as they conceived, for their country's good, or to lament the blindness and infatuation which led them to strive to obtain for it institutions wholly unsuited for the people, and which could terminato in nothing but temporary anarchy and lasting military despotism. — Scbnitzus?, j. ?21, note.