Russia’s Increase In Power And Influence

While the Nineteenth Century has seen the decadence of the Latin race as represented by France and Spain, it has seen the rise to power and influence of a new rival, the Slav, to dispute with the Anglo-Saxon for the supremacy of the world. In spite of reverses toward the middle of the century, there has been a startling increase of Russian power during the last 100 years. The acquisitions of the Russian Empire during the Nineteenth Century are greater in extent and importance than the whole of European Russia before that time. Her frontier has been advanced toward Stockholm 630 miles, toward Berlin 700 miles, toward Constantinople 500 miles, toward India 1,300 miles. Her territory in Europe comprises more than one-half that Continent. It stretches across Asia to the Pacific Ocean. A well-known traveler gives a graphic illustration of the extent of the Empire of the Cossacks in Asia. He says : “You could take the whole of the United States from Maine to California, from Lake Superior to the Gulf of Mexico, and set it down in the middle of Siberia without touching its borders. You could then take Alaska and all the countries of Europe except Russia and fit them in little pieces of a dissected map round the edges of the United States as it lay in the middle of Siberia, and you would still have left more than 300,000 square miles of Siberian territory.” “In this vast region,” says Elizabeth Wormley Latimer in her history of ‘Russia and Turkey in the Nineteenth Century,’ “is every variety of climate, from arctic to tropical.”

It was held by many persons of political sagacity that the fall of Napoleon transferred the Empire of the world to Russia. Her magnificent success had raised her to a place of commanding authority in the direction of European affairs. A century before, Russia was unknown to the politics of Europe; now, through the Holy Alliance, she vas their supreme arbitress. Soon the belief was widely entertained that power so vast, guided by ambition, unbounded and unscrupulous, involved peril to all other European nations. Nowhere, perhaps, was this impression more firmly held than by the Russians themselves, who now indulged in arrogant con-tempt of the institutions and customs of their neighbors, and claimed for their own arms a supremacy which was wholly irresistible.

For forty years the National vanity suffered no abatement. The influence of Russia continued to in-crease, and it was centered more exclusively in the person of the Emperor. During the latter years of the reign of Nicholas his despotism was absolute almost beyond example. There was no will in the State but his. He could brook no contradiction; toward the close his most trusted counselors dared not offer any so terrible became the wrath of the aging tyrant. Mute submission was the attitude of the people.. Education was discouraged because the universities might be nurseries of liberal tendencies. The slightest breath of political criticism in a newspaper was instantly punished by the ruin of the too daring journalist. All the interests, material and intellectual, of a great Nation were fashioned according to the unrestrained pleasure of an honest but narrow and obstinate man. Nicholas learned to dislike Western ideas. Progress and culture were distasteful to him. He wished to shut out all foreign influences, and to that end he put a stop to the extension of railways. He avowed his contempt for the arts of peace, and deemed it the grand work of his life to enhance the military greatness of Russia.

The Peace of Jassy, in 1792, extended the Russian frontier to the Dniester; and after further war the Treaty of Bucharest, in 1812, gave Russia the possession of Bessarabia, and brought her border to the Pruth. Mahmoud II, a man of great ability and vigor, ruled Turkey from 1808 to 1839. In pursuit of internal reform he resolved to get rid of the turbulent Janizaries, and, having formed an army upon the European system, Mahmoud destroyed the dangerous Praetorians by massacre in June, 1826. The Turks lost Greece. In 1828 war with Russia began again, and, after alternations of success the Russian General Diebitsch, in 1829, captured Silistria, crossed the Balkans, and reached Adrianople, and the war ended in terms that further weakened the Ottomans. Turkey gave up to Russia much of the eastern coast of the Black Sea, and the virtual possession of Wallachia and Moldavia. About the same time Russia gained, by successes over Persia, increased command over the Caspian and the Caucasus. Mehemet Ali, Pasha of Egypt, and really master of both Egypt and Syria, rebelled against the Sultan, in 1833, and marched through Asia Minor to within 120 miles of Constantinople. The Porte, in distress, accepted Russian aid and Russian soldiers were encamped on the heights of Scutari, with the dome of St. Sophia before them, and the waters of the Golden Horn at their feet. After forcing Mehemet Ali to retreat, Russia withdrew her troops, but made a secret arrangement with Turkey (in the Treaty of Hunkiar-Skelessi) that the Dardanelles should be closed against the armed vessels of all nations except Russia. The other powers of Europe took alarm at Russian encroachment, and in 1841 the Treaty of Lon-don, sighed by Turkey, Russia, Austria, England, and France, provided that the Dardanelles should be closed against all ships of war whatsoever, so long as Turkey should remain at peace. In 1849 Russia obtained an-other agreement from Turkey, which allowed the Czar to “protect” Moldavia and Wallachia whenever he pleased.

The Russians entered upon the contest with England and France in the Crimean War convinced that their Emperor and his army were invincible. It was impossible to believe that the power which for forty years had wielded unlimited authority was now to stoop to defeat and humiliation. The Nation took up arms in the fullest confidence that their Emperor would lead them to victory. Nicholas periled upon. the issue of the war not only his military greatness, but the whole enormous fabric of despotism which he had builded so laboriously. The triumph of the Western powers during the Crimean War produced a vast change on Russian opinion. Not only was the believing devotion of the people to their Emperor overthrown, but the policy which he had established was utterly discredited. The ruthlessness of his despotism was lightly regarded in the days of success; now that the blight of defeat had fallen upon him, its enormous evils became at once the subject of deep and universal reprobation. And when the gloomy monarch had passed away from the ruins of his political system (1855) a sense of relief was experienced. It was deemed better that Nicholas should die; for he could never have adapted himself to the changes which his own blind obstinacy had rendered inevitable.

Under the rule of his successor, Alexander II (1855-1881), the despotic system of Nicholas was to an important extent departed from. The newspaper press experienced sudden enlargement. So urgent was the demand for political discussion, that within a year or two from the close of the war seventy new journals were founded in St. Petersburg and Moscow alone. The Government censors discharged their functions with the mildness which the liberal impulses of the time demanded. For a brief space the press enjoyed a virtual freedom from restraint, and availed itself boldly of the unprecedented opportunity. Western Europe had been shut out by the Emperor Nicholas. Its liberal ideas, the history of its recent political revolutions, its marvelous progress in science and the arts all were unknown to the Russian people. Educated Russians were eager to acquaint themselves with this long-forbidden knowledge, and a crowd of journalists, burning with a love of liberal ideas, hastened to gratify the desire,. An en-franchised press began to call loudly for the education of the people, for their participation in political power; for many other needful reforms. Chief among these, not merely in its urgency, but also in its popularity, was the emancipation of the serfs.

Forty-eight million Russian peasants were in bondage subject to the arbitrary will of an owner bought and sold with the properties on which they labored. This unhappy system was of no great antiquity, for it was not till the close of the Sixteenth Century that the Russian peasant became a serf. The evil institution had begun to die out in the West before it was legalized in Russia. Its abolition had long been looked forward to. Catherine II had contemplated this great reform, and so had her grandson, Alexander I; but the wars in which they spent their days forbade progress in any useful direction. Nicholas very early in his reign appointed a secret commission to consider the question; but the Polish insurrection of 183o marred his design. Another fruitless effort was made in 1836. In ][838 a third committee was appointed, but its work was suspended by “a bad harvest,” and never resumed. Finally, it was asserted that the dying Emperor bequeathed to his son the task which he himself had not been permitted to accomplish.

Thus when Alexander ascended the throne the general expectation of his people pointed to the emancipation of the serfs. The Emperor shared in the National desire. At his coronation he prepared the somewhat reluctant nobles for the change which to so many of them was unwelcome. A little later he nominated a committee chosen from the proprietors, whose duty it was to frame, in accordance with certain principles laid down for their guidance, the details of this great revolution. Three years followed of discussion, adjustment, revision, and then the decree was published (February 19, 1861), which conferred freedom upon nearly 50,000,-000 Russian peasants. The position of the Russian serf, although it had much to degrade, was without the repulsive features of ordinary slavery. The estate of the Russian land-owner was divided into two portions. The smaller of the two usually not more than one-third was retained for the use of the proprietor. The larger was made over to the village community, by whom it was cultivated, and to whom its fruits belonged. The members of that community were all serfs, owned by the great lord and subject to his will. He could punish them by stripes when they displeased him; when he sold his lands he sold also the population. He could make or enforce such claims upon their labor as seemed good to him. Custom, however, had imposed reasonable limitations upon such claims. He selected a portion of his serfs to cultivate his fields and form his retinue. The remainder divided their time equally between his fields and their own; three days in each week belonged to their master, and three days belonged to themselves. Many of them purchased for a moderate payment the privilege of entire exemption from the work of their owner. It was customary for these enterprising bondmen to settle in the nearest city, where occasionally they attained to wealth and consideration. Instances have occurred of wealthy bankers and merchants who still remained the property of a master, to whom a humiliating recognition of their servile estate was periodically offered.

The lands which were in possession of the villagers were divided by lot among the separate families. As the number of claimants fluctuated, a fresh division was made every ninth year. A villager never lost sight of his right to participate in the common inheritance. He might be absent for years, seeking his fortune in the city, but when it pleased him to return and claim his interest in the lands of his native village, the claim could not be resisted. The law of emancipation bestowed personal freedom on the serfs. For two years those who were household servants must abide in their service, receiving, however, wages for their work. Those who had purchased exemption from the obligation to labor for their lord were to continue for two years the annual payment. At the end of that time all serfs entered on possession of unqualified freedom. The villagers continued in occupation of the lands they had heretofore possessed; but they became bound to pay a purchase price or a sufficient equivalent in rent or in labor.

In 1862 Russia completed a thousand years of National existence, and Alexander honored the great anniversary by enacting certain further reforms. Hitherto the administration of justice had been incredibly corrupt. All judicial proceedings were secret. Government officers could at pleasure arrest or modify the course of justice. A favorable judgment could almost always be obtained by purchase. Appeals were so numerous that a wealthy litigant could avert almost indefinitely a judgment which was not acceptable to him. The judges were ignorant; the forms and precedents by which they ought to be guided were cumbrous and in-accessible. The people had, with reason, utterly lost confidence in the courts of justice. Suddenly the Emperor applied a remedy to these disorders (September, 1862). In future competent judges were to be appointed by the State; all judicial transactions were to, be public; Government interposition was excluded; trial by jury in criminal cases was established, and a wholesome limit to the right of appeal was imposed. These reforms have proved to be of the highest value; and the newly appointed tribunals soon began to gain the confidence of the people.

Hitherto there had been no shadow of self-government even in municipal or provincial affairs. All depended on the arbitrary pleasure of the Sovereign and his Ministers. Outside the circle of individual interests there was no will but that of the executive. The peasant ploughed his field, the merchant directed his commercial affairs; but all beyond, whether local or imperial, was under the irresponsible control of the Government. This unhappy condition of affairs was now to experience a certain measure of amelioration. A system of district and provincial assemblies (Zemstvos) was organized. The district Assembly was chosen by all classes of the community proprietors, citizens, and peasants. These assemblies elected certain of their own members to form the provincial assemblies. The interests confided to the new organizations were wholly local. They were em-powered to maintain highways, to make arrangements for the welfare of local trade and industry, to levy those taxes which government had imposed. With politics they might not intermeddle, and the Government watched jealously any disposition to stray into this for-bidden field. The ignorant peasant class preponderates in these assemblies, and their action thus far has not been attended with any notable advantage to the community. The Russian peasant manifests little desire for the possession of self-government and no aptitude for its exercise. His performance of public duty does not therefore tend to educate and elevate his character. He seems to be contented with autocratic rule rather than those popular institutions which are the glory of the enlightened Western nations.

Nor were these the only reforms which Alexander bestowed on his people. Flogging in the army was discontinued. Some measure of toleration was extended to the strange and fanatical sects, who, by their irrepressible dissent, had long troubled the Orthodox Church. Considerable pains have been taken to improve the church herself and raise the standard of intelligence in the priesthood. An amnesty permitted the return of many of those who had suffered banishment under the savage rule of Nicholas. The construction of railways was promoted. The cost of a passport hitherto eighty pounds, four hundred dollars was reduced to a trifle which no longer restrained persons of moderate income from traveling. A milder and more liberal spirit pervaded all departments of administration.

The progress of Russian reform was, however, seriously interrupted by the Polish revolt of 1863. The Liberal party befriended the discontented Poles, but a powerful sentiment sprang up in favor of maintaining unimpaired the National unity and dignity. Under its influence the Poles were ruthlessly suppressed, and Liberalism was discredited.

During the reign of Alexander II the Russian Empire was widely extended in the Caucasus and in Central Asia. The capture of Schamyl, the famous Lesghian chief, in 1859 by Prince Bariatinski, closed the long struggle with the tribes of that country. The Caucasus was pacified, many of the Circassians, unable to endure the peaceful life of cultivators of the soil under the new regime, migrated to Turkey, where they have formed one of the most turbulent elements of the population. Russian supremacy was established gradually over all the states of Turkestan. In 1865 the city of Tashkend was taken, and (1867) Alexander II created the Government of Turkestan. In 1858 General Muravieff signed a treaty with the Chinese by which Russia acquired all the left bank of the River Amur. A new port was created in Eastern Asia (Vladivostok). During the Franco-German War of 1870-1871, Alexander maintained a sympathetic attitude toward Germany; a policy which was continued and extended in subsequent alliances, both with that country and with Austria. The misgovernment of her Christian subjects by Turkey and her cruel suppression of incipient rebellion in 1876 led to a conference of the European powers at Constantinople. Turkey rejected proposals made to her by the conference with a view to the better administration of the subject provinces; and Russia to enforce these con-cessions on Turkey, declared war in April, 1877. In 1876 the administration of the Baltic provinces was merged into that of the central Government; but the autonomy of Finland was respected and even extended.

The latter part of the reign of Alexander II was a period of great internal commotion, on account of the spread of Nihilism, and the attempts upon the Emperor’s life, which were at last successful. In the cities in which his despotic father had walked about fearless, without a single attendant, the mild and amiable Alexander was in daily peril of his life. On April 16, 1866, Karakozoff shot at the Emperor at St. Petersburg; in the following year another attempt was made by a Pole, Berezdwski, while Alexander was at Paris on a visit to Napoleon III; on April 14, 1879, Solovioff shot at him. The same year a train in which he was supposed to be traveling was blown up by an elaborate mine beneath the railway, and in 188o a destructive explosion was effected by dynamite placed beneath the imperial apartments in the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. This explosion killed sixty soldiers and wounded forty; but the Czar escaped. On March 13, 1881, however, he was injured by a bomb thrown at him while riding in a sleigh near his palace, and died within two hours. Five of the conspirators, including a woman, Sophia Perovskaia, were publicly executed. Thus terminated the reign of Alexander II, which had lasted nearly twenty-six years. He died leaving Russia exhausted by foreign wars and honeycombed by plots.

For some time after the elevation of Alexander III to the throne he lived in close retirement at Gatschina, being in dread of Nihilists. At length his coronation took place at Moscow, May 27; 1883. His reign was characterized, in contrast to the Liberal reforms of the last reign, by numerous reactionary steps; though strenuous efforts were made to put an end to the colossal plundering of State money and appropriation of State lands, common in the last half of the reign of Alexander II. The self-government of the Zemstvos was limited and put under the authority of the nobility; the justices of the peace were abolished, and an attempt at reintroducing manorial rights was made. The redemption taxes imposed upon the liberated serfs were slightly reduced, and banks for facilitating the purchase of land by the richer peasants were created; a special bank for simplifying mortgages by the nobles was created with the support of the State. Literature was submitted to a most rigorous censorship, and education to a still closer supervision; public expressions of sympathy with the last reign’s reforms were severely repressed. Rigorous measures were taken against the Jewish population of the Empire, leading to wholesale and compulsory emigration, and the autonomy of Finland was curtailed —the idea of the reign being a return to Nicholas I’s idea of the centralization of the State. The external policy of the reign was that of armed peace. During it the Dreikaiserbund (Austria, Germany, and Russia) was perfected. Alexander III was known to be truly de-voted to peace, and only his strong purpose held Russia back from war in more than one international contention. Attempts to take his life were made in 1887 by the Nihilistic societies, and in October, 1888, he and his family narrowly escaped death in an accident upon the Transcaspian Railway. Alexander III died at Livadia, in the Crimea, November 1, 1894, his eldest son becoming Czar as Nicholas II.

The Czar of Russia is master of the destinies of his people, or at least he shapes them during his life-time. So when Alexander III died, the world watched to see what would be his son’s policy. Large administrative reforms of a liberal nature were expected when he ascended the throne, for he had been educated in modern history, sociology, political and economic science, and during the famine of 1891, at his own request, had been in charge of the work of succoring the starving. These hopes seemed dashed to the ground when, on January 29, he announced, in a public address : “Let all know that in devoting my strength to the welfare of the people, I intend to protect the principle of autocracy as firmly and unswervingly as did my late and never-to-be-forgotten father.” Yet the new Czar has been better than his promise. When he wedded Princess Alix of Hesse, grand-daughter of Queen Victoria, he withdrew all police guards, and allowed the people to see his progress through the streets. He and the Czarina have mixed more freely with the people than have any other rulers of the Nation. There has been no prospect of his beginning the introduction of Parliamentary institutions, but he has given indication that he intends to improve the condition of the people. In 1897 he promulgated a ukase prohibiting, under severe penalty, the employment of any form of labor on Sunday, or on the fourteen chief feast-days of the orthodox calendar. He decreed that eleven hours are to constitute the maximum working day for adults, and eight hours for children. The Czar has also showed himself tolerant to other religions, and canceled his father’s decree that every non-orthodox person in Russia who married an orthodox person should sign a document declaring that the children of such a union would be baptized and educated in the orthodox faith. Restrictions against the Roman Catholic faith in Poland have been removed, and furthermore, Nicholas II has contended that the Polish rebellion of 1863 has been fully atoned for, and that the time has come when Poland’s rights and privileges, then forfeited, should be restored. The appointment of his intimate friend, Prince Imere-tinski, as Governor-General of Warsaw, was an indication of that policy, and instructions were issued that an official who interfered with the work of reconciliating Poland would be removed. Zemstvos, or County Councils, have been established in Poland, the press censorship has been made less rigid, and Sienkiewicz, the author of “Quo Vadis,” was made censor. As a result of these and other reforms, when Nicholas visited Warsaw he was received with a spontaneous burst of popular enthusiasm.

It is probable that Nicholas believes that the autocracy of the Czar is best suited for the promotion of reforms and the improvement of the condition of the people. A ukase by the Czar had liberated the serfs of Russia at the moment when America plunged into a long and costly war to settle the same subject, and the Government paid $520,000,000 as indemnity on account of the serfs, while the American war cost $6,844,000,000. In 1897, by a ukase, Russia settled the financial question by the adoption of the gold standard. So easy is it for a Czar to make a law in Russia. He wills it; it is done.

The autocracy of the Czar has aided in the great industrial development of Russia, which has been the most marked phase of the Nation’s recent history, and which has been so great as to disturb the statesmen of Europe and America. The Czar’s fostering influence on industries has been irresistible. In 1881 the United States produced four times as much petroleum. In 1898 the production of the two countries were about equal. Before the Crimean war (1853) agriculture was of the rudest kind, and machinery was unknown. Since 185o the agricultural capital has quintupled. The value of the output of the factories has tripled since 1864. The increase has been especially marked since the accession of Nicholas II. Within the last few years mills and factories have sprung up in all parts of the Empire. English machinery was imported, and English foremen placed in control. The English engineer was supplanted by German, and later American machinery followed. By this time Russia had started schools for the training of a special class of engineers, and they are said to be making as good machinery as can be made in America, England, or Germany.

Whereas, during the past quarter of a century, the French Parliament has been discussing, without reaching any definite solution, the question of the Paris Metropolitan Railroad, the Inter-Oceanic Canal, and of the proposed harbor for Paris, Russia during this time has been transformed. New railways have been built, others extended, harbors built, and new cities have arisen much in the same manner as in Western American States. In 1895, Russia, not including Finland and Siberia, had 36,585 kilometers of line, while France had 36,337 kilometers. On January 1, 1898, Russia had 40,300 kilo-meters, including Siberia. The great Trans-Siberian line, from the foot of the Ural to Vladivostok, on the Pacific, will have a length of 6,613 kilometers, or about 4,200 miles, and will be by far the shortest route from Europe to the Orient.

It is this desire to peacefully develop her enormous resources that led to the proposal of the Czar (August 28, 1898) that a limit be put upon the increase in armament of the great Nations of the world. The Czar called attention to the financial drains they entail upon Europe, and he invited all Nations to send representatives to a conference which should discuss the terms of the limitation of increase. The Czar, however, has found a better weapon than war in diplomacy of an underground nature. The firmness and audacity of Russia’s methods in China have, made her the master of the Orient, at least for the present. The Czar’s influence was shown at the time of the Cretan insurrection, and the Armenian affair, when he interfered to protect Turkey; for the present policy is to pre-vent Turkey’s dissolution until it can become the prey of Russia. The details of the treaties made by the Czar are secret, but his predominating influence in most of Europe is recognized, and Russia’s voice is a power in European conferences. In that realm of darkness and silence over which the Czar rules he can plot and work without making any sign. No Parliament is there to ask embarrassing questions, or press to print dangerous secrets. He is the State, and he does not tell its aspirations and purposes. But that Russia’s aim is the domination of the world is unquestioned. Already the Russians boast of their ultimate success, while in England and America the question is asked : “Slav or Saxon which shall rule the world?”