Alexander I (czar of Russia)

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Alexander I (czar of Russia)

Alexander I, 1777–1825, czar of Russia (1801–25), son of Paul I (in whose murder he may have taken an indirect part). In the first years of his reign the liberalism of his Swiss tutor, Frédéric César de La Harpe, seemed to influence Alexander. He suppressed the secret police, lifted the ban on foreign travel and books, made attempts to improve the position of the serfs, and began to reform the backward educational system. In 1805, Alexander joined the coalition against Napoleon I, but after the Russian defeats at Austerlitz and Friedland he formed an alliance with Napoleon by the Treaty of Tilsit (1807) and joined Napoleon's Continental System. Alexander requested M. M. Speranski to draw up proposals for a constitution, but adopted only one aspect of Speranski's scheme, an advisory state council, and dismissed him in 1812 to placate the nobility. During this period Russia gained control of Georgia and parts of Transcaucasia as a result of prolonged war with Persia (1804–13) and annexed (1812) Bessarabia after a war with Turkey (1806–12). Relations with France deteriorated, and Napoleon invaded Russia in 1812. Alexander's defeat of the French made him one of the most powerful rulers in Europe. At first his foreign policy was liberal, but from 1812 on, Alexander was preoccupied by a vague, mystical Christianity, which contributed to his increasing conservatism. Under the influence of the pietistic Juliana Krüdener and others, he created the Holy Alliance to uphold Christian morality in Europe. Viewing revolutionary movements as challenging to the authority of legitimate Christian monarchs, the czar now supported Metternich in suppressing all national and liberal movements. Alexander's religious fervor was partly responsible for the establishment of military colonies, which were agricultural communities run by peasant soldiers. Intended to better the lot of the common soldier, the colonies became notorious for the regimentation and near-serfdom imposed on the soldiers. Alexander abrogated many of his earlier liberal efforts. His policies caused the formation of secret political societies, and when Alexander's brother Nicholas I succeeded him the societies led an abortive revolt (see Decembrists). After Alexander's death, rumors persisted that he escaped to Siberia and became a hermit. His tomb was opened (1926) by the Soviet government and was found empty; the mystery remains unsolved. In Alexander's reign St. Petersburg became a social and artistic center of Europe. Ivan Krylov and Aleksandr Pushkin dominated the literary scene. An excellent picture of Alexander's period is found in Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace.

See biographies by A. Palmer (1974) and H. Troyat (1986); study by C. Cate (1985).

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