"SORT OF A BEACON LIGHT. . . ."
Americans first pondered the scope of Russian despotism more than a century ago, in 1849. In that year Czar Nicholas dispatched a mammoth army to help Austria crush a popular, seemingly republican revolution among the Magyar peoples of Hungary, and liberals throughout the United States--already convinced that the eloquent and magnetic rebel, Louis Kossuth, was nothing less than "the George Washington of Hungarian liberty"--demanded a vigorous U.S. response to that tragedy.
No one wanted war, of course; liberal politicians insisted merely that the Russian government halt its aggression and surrender peacefully to the prevailing American notions of democracy and self-determination of peoples. It was to achieve that utopian goal that Senator Lewis Cass of Michigan introduced a congressional resolution censuring the Czar's repressive acts and demanding that he endorse a humane, U.S.-sponsored standard of international morality. "I assume at once the duty of all Christian peoples to recognize its binding force," Cass told his colleagues with apparent conviction. 1
But despite its idealistic purpose, the Cass resolution evoked scorn among Senate conservatives. They recounted the Czar's sins as listed by Cass himself: his brutal razing of entire villages, his malign crusade against liberty, his reputed dream of world conquest in the name of Russian destiny. And then, having admitted all that, conservatives derided the Cass resolution as less than worthless. "Why, sir, the veriest monster that ever disgraced the image of God is an angel transformed into the brightness of light, compared with that miserable wretch [ Nicholas I], and yet the Senator from Michigan thinks there is virtue enough in this protest to rouse the moral sensibilities of such a devil,"