Young Folks' History of Russia - Nathan Dole

The End of the Krim War and the Beginning of Freedom

The burden of the new Emperor was indeed hard to bear. All Europe was arrayed against him. The money in his treasury was almost gone. The people were weary of war.

Alexander declared, however, that he was bound to accomplish the wishes and designs of his illustrious ancestors, "Peter the Great, Catherine, Alexander the Blest, and his father of imperishable memory." He was willing to renew the conflict, and go to destruction rather than yield a point of honor. A new conference of the Six Powers met at Vienna, but as no agreement could be brought about the Krim war went on.

Victor Emmanuel sent the allies an army of fifteen thousand Sardinians; General Pelissier assumed the chief command of the French, and announced that he was going to take Sevastopol. Sixty men-of-war cruised around in the Sea of Azof, where they ruined forts, arsenals, and granaries, bombarded many towns, destroyed hundreds of ships, and cut off the Russians from every base of supplies except Perekop. Sevastopol was doomed. There was not a building in the town left uninjured by the cannon-balls and bursting bombs. The garrison began to suffer from lack of provisions. General Pelissier carried the "White Works "on Mount Sapun and the redoubts on the Green Hill. The key of Sevastopol was the citadel of Malakof, which was protected by a palisade of sharpened stakes, a parapet of earthworks six meters in height, and three tiers of batteries separated from the parapet by a ditch seven meters deep and eight meters wide. On the anniversary of the battle of Waterloo the French attacked the Malakof, and the English hurled themselves upon the Great Redan. It was a bloody battle. The allied armies were driven back, and for the first time during the siege were compelled to ask for a truce to bury their dead.

In spite of this success Prince Gortchakof saw little hope of saving the city. He wrote to the war minister: "I have done my best, but the task has been too hard ever since I came to the Krim." Against his better judgment he gave orders to attack the allies on the Black River. He sent seventy thousand men to the Tavern bridge with the intention of capturing Mount Hasford, where nine thousand Sardinians were intrenched. General Read, however, without waiting for orders, crossed the river and tried to storm the Fediukin heights where the French were posted with eighteen field-pieces. The struggle for possession of the battery was terrible. Again and again the Russians rallied to the attack, gained the bridge, crossed the aqueduct, and dashed up the fire-swept slope. Again and again the French came down upon them "like an avalanche." The river and the canal were choked with the dead. The battle was lost.

[Illustration] from History of Russia by Nathan Dole


Meanwhile the French engineers brought the "parallels," or trenches, to within twenty-five meters of the Malakof. The final struggle was near at hand. The French batteries mounted six hundred cannon, the English two hundred; the Russians could reply with thirteen hundred and eighty. The bombardment began on the 5th of September and lasted three days. At night the lurid scene was made more weird by the beacon-light of a burning frigate loaded with alcohol which took fire from a red-hot shell. At noon of the third day the guns suddenly ceased their "infernal noise," the bugles sounded, the drums beat, the French Zouaves leaped from their trenches, mounted the slope, crossed the ditch, which was now choked with debris, and the French flag floated from the parapet! At the same time the English again assaulted the Great Redan, took it by storm, were driven out, twice again came to the charge, twice were repulsed with terrible loss.

Prince Gortchakof saw that further defence was vain. The Malakof, in the hands of the French, threatened "the only anchorage left to the vessels, as well as the only way of retreat open to the Russians." As soon as night came on the Russians began to withdraw from the city; across the bridge of boats which they had thrown from one shore of the harbor to the other poured a steady stream of soldiers, while one after another the forts were blown up, and the remainder of the fleet was scuttled and sunk. When the last man had crossed the bridge was severed from the shore and the army was safe. Prince Gortchakof told his men that "he would not willingly abandon that country where St. Vladimir had received baptism." Alexander promised the nobles of Moscow to continue the war for the sake of glory. The official newspaper, the Bee, announced that the war was becoming serious, and that since Sevastopol was destroyed a stronger fortress would be built.

The campaign dragged along. In October a strong French and English fleet cruised through the Black Sea, and destroyed immense quantities of provisions and timber. Its chief exploit was the capture of Fort Kinburn at the junction of the Bug and the Dnieper. The Russians, on the other hand, were successful in Turkish Armenia and Georgia. They took Kars after a long siege, and this victory somewhat flattered their pride and consoled them for the loss of Sevastopol. Napoleon was anxious to act as angel of peace. At his proposal a congress met at Paris and peace was signed. Russia gave up its exclusive right to protect the Danubian provinces and interfere with their internal affairs. The Danube was made free to all the Powers: its delta was given to Turkey and the Rumanian principalities. The Black Sea was opened to merchantmen of all nations, but closed to ships-of-war. No military or marine arsenals should be erected on its coasts. The Sultan agreed to renew the privileges of his Christian subjects.

[Illustration] from History of Russia by Nathan Dole


Thus ended the great Krim war. It had cost France eighty thousand men, England twenty-two thousand men and fifty million pounds sterling. But Russia suffered the most: two hundred and fifty thousand men had perished from the army; an irredeemable paper currency had driven out the precious metals; the banks paid only in paper; the credit of the government was at the lowest ebb. Such were the fruits of the narrow-minded ambition of Nicholas.

As soon as peace was fairly established Alexander turned his attention to the long-needed reforms: he allowed foreign ships to enter Russian ports, he repealed the law limiting the number of students in the universities to three hundred, he abolished the excessive fee for passports, he put an end to the disgraceful military schools. He thus became greatly popular. A witty Russian said that if Nicholas had forbidden his subjects to appear in the streets and if Alexander had only repealed this law he would have been considered by his people as one of the most liberal monarchs of the age.

Great hopes were raised. The seed sown in the early part of the century were seen to be still alive. Every one was eager to eat of the fruit. Russia was compared to a strong giant awaking from sleep, stretching his brawny arms, collecting his thoughts, and making ready to atone for his long idleness by feats of untold prowess. "It was altogether a joyful time," says a writer who shared in the excitement, "as when, after the long winter, the genial breath of spring floats over the cold, stony earth and nature awakes from her death-like sleep. Speech, long held down by the laws of police and censors, now began to flow like a mighty river that has just been freed from ice."

The Story of the Emancipation

The first great question to be settled was that of the serfs. They were divided into two great classes: peasants of the crown, and peasants belonging to private individuals. The crown peasants paid a rent to the state, took charge of their own affairs in the commune, and were almost free men. Alexander proclaimed their personal liberty, and abolished the restrictions on their right of coming and going, acquiring new lands, and disposing of their goods. Thus by a stroke of the pen more than twenty-four millions of free men were created.

The case of private serfs was vastly more difficult. It was easy enough to give them personal liberty, but the division of the soil between proprietor and peasant was where the difficulty lay. Serfdom historically was an institution peculiar to Moscow. The Grand Prince of Moscow called himself proprietor of the nobles, and demanded of them military service; the revenues of the soil were their only pay, and the revenues depended on the number of hands to cultivate it. Hence the peasants were "fixed to the soil" as slaves; the nobles were by law only life-tenants, but they had, in time, become the actual proprietors of the soil and the owners of the serfs. The peasants, however, had a proverb which expressed their original right to the soil: "We are yours, but the land is ours." Serfage was long known to be Russia's weak point. The peasants believed that Napoleon was coming to give them their liberty. Nicholas saw the need of action in the matter. "However hostile he may have been to the doctrine of liberty," says Prince Dalgoruki, one of his enemies, "we must do him the justice to say that he never ceased throughout his life to cherish the idea of freeing the serfs." His attempts at investigating the question were interrupted, and he had to leave the task to his son.

Only a few days after the treaty of Paris was signed Alexander invited "his faithful nobles" to help him change the existing manner of owning serfs. Some of the nobles hoped that if their serfs were freed they would be given a share in the government. They wished to limit the supreme authority of the Emperor by the establishment of a national parliament, as was the case in England. Forty-six committees, aggregating thirteen hundred and thirty-six proprietors, called together by the government, voted to abolish serfage and give no land to the serfs. The wiser councillors saw that this selfish policy would not work. The Emperor interfered. He appointed an "Imperial Commission," who prepared the famous act of 1861.

[Illustration] from History of Russia by Nathan Dole


The peasant, by this act, was enabled to borrow money of the state and buy of his master the ground whereon his cottage stood and the soil which his ancestors had cultivated. The amount of land which each male peasant might buy averaged about nine English acres, but in the fat "Black Land" they received less. The authority of the masters was replaced by that of the commune, or mir;  the communes were grouped into cantons, with a population varying from three hundred to two thousand male members; the head of the canton was responsible for peace and order.

The sacrifices which this great reform entailed on both lord and serf were by no means small; if the good results expected have not been realized it must be remembered that it takes time to bring a slave to the knowledge of the meaning of liberty. Other reforms were enacted; a new system of justice was introduced; corporal punishment was abolished; the censorship was made less rigorous.

Note: The Emperor is the absolute head of the Russian State, Army, and Church. He is aided by a Privy Council and four Grand Councils,—the Holy Synod, the Eleven Ministers, the Council of the Empire, and the Senate. The provinces of the Empire are administered by governors; local affairs are in charge of officers elected by each commune. The commune, as a whole, is responsible for the taxes. Commune lands are of three kinds,—meadow land, allotted among all the male members once a year; arable land, allotted in periods varying from one to fifteen years, and the village lots with house and garden, which are hereditary and not affected by reallotment. The mir  is supplemented by the Semstvo, or assembly of deputies, elected once in three years by landed proprietors, village communes, and city corporations. This assembly, with its bureau, elects justices of the peace, and acts as a board of highways, health, and education. The dignities of the Empire are divided into thirteen classes, called the Chin, or table of rank. Each member has personal or hereditary nobility. The Holy Synod has charge of church affairs, and elects bishops at the nomination of the Emperor. The priesthood consists of the white clergy, who are allowed to marry, the village priests, and the black clergy, or monks of St. Basil. Besides Protestants, Roman Catholics, and Jews, there are thought to be ten million dissenters (Raskolniki) in Russia.