THE DECEMBRISTS: INSURRECTION
O N 19 November, 1825, Emperor Alexander died at Taganrog, a town in Southern Russia. The news only reached the capital on 27 November, and as the Czar had been childless, the troops and the highest dignitaries of the Church and State immediately swore allegiance to Constantine, the eldest of his three brothers.
As a matter of fact, Constantine, who at the time was living in Warsaw, had previously renounced his claim to the throne in favour of the Grand Duke Nicholas, but the rescript which legalized this deviation from the order of succession had remained secret. Nicholas, though not unaware of the arrangement, acknowledged his brother as Emperor and took the oath of allegiance to him. On his part, Constantine failed to act promptly and unequivocally. He refused to make a formal announcement of his abdication or to come to the capital. This, coupled with delay due to slow communications, resulted in uncertainty and confusion. For over three weeks the country was 'in the strange predicament,' as the LondonTimes put it, 'of having two selfdenying Emperors, and no active ruler.' Not until 12 December was the situation clarified, and Nicholas felt free to signify his acceptance of the throne.
It will be recalled that from the first the plotters had looked forward to the Czar's death as the signal for revolt. Those at the helm of the Northern Society did not learn of Alexander's illness until the day before his demise became known in the capital, so that the news of his passing took them completely by surprise. At all events, Constantine's accession went off without any untoward incident. The Society was ready to suspend its activities. But when its leaders, who had informants in high places, became aware that the wrong Grand Duke had been proclaimed Emperor, and that the dynastic imbroglio had brought about a virtual interregnum, they could not help perceiving