THE COASTS OF UTOPIA
THE easy triumph over the rebels failed to give the victors a sense of security. On the day Nicholas ascended the throne he is said to have addressed these words to his younger brother: 'The revolution is at Russia's gate, but I swear that it will not enter as long as there is breath in me....' if necessary, he was ready to lock up half the population to save the other half from revolutionary infection. There was in him no trace of the duality that marked his predecessor's character. The history of his reign is one of coercion and reaction. Across it lay the shadow of the gallows.
The military settlements were abolished. For the rest, the system remained intact. The Czar was not unaware of the drawbacks of serfdom. On one official occasion he observed that it was 'an evil perceptible and obvious to all.' The police reported to him that it was a 'powder magazine under the State,' that the idea of freedom was spreading among the serfs, and that cases of violence against the masters were on the increase. Some measures were enacted to improve the lot of the peasants, but they were half-hearted and largely ineffectual. The Emperor lacked the courage to take a step that seemed to threaten a social revolution, since emancipation would not only do away with the gentry's rights to the 'souls' they owned but would also encroach upon their claim to their lands. He heeded those of his counsellors who held the institution to be the keystone of the arch, the deeprooted tree that afforded shade to Church and Throne alike, as one of the ministers put it in arguing against laying the axe to serfdom. Nicholas thus threw away the opportunity for reform offered him by the long period of peace following the suppression of the Decembrist movement.
An innovation was a special department of political police, known as the Third Division of His Majesty's Chancery. Its avowed purpose was 'to guard the foundations of the Russian State'. Placed outside and above the network of administrative offices, it had a wide jurisdiction and was responsible solely to