Story of Russia - R. Van Bergen

Russia Under the Present Czar, Nicholas II

Nicholas II


"Neglect nothing that can make my son truly a man!" This was the instruction given by Alexander to the tutors of his son. Consequently, Nicholas in his youth was allowed to indulge in manly exercises and sports, while special tutors taught him mathematics, natural philosophy, history, political economy, English, French, and German, besides his native language. Destined for the throne, he began his military career at the age of thirteen as hetman of the Cossacks, and passed successively through the different grades. In 1889, at the age of twenty-one, he was appointed president of a committee to prepare plans for the trans-Siberian railway, and the following year he made a tour in the Far East, visiting China and Japan. In the last-named country he was attacked and wounded by a police officer who had been brooding over the wrongs which his country had suffered at the hands of Russia. Nicholas recovered and proceeded to Vladivostok, where he initiated the building of the great continental line. He returned to St. Petersburg by way of Siberia and Moscow, and was the first czar who had ever visited his Asiatic empire.

Born on May 18, 1868, he was twenty-six years old when he was called to the throne. He announced that he would "promote the progress and peaceful glory of our beloved Russia, and the happiness of all our faithful subjects." On the 26th of November, 1894, the czar married Princess Alice of Hesse-Darmstadt, the granddaughter of Queen Victoria, who, on entering the Greek Church, received the name of Alexandra Feodorofna. The czar retained his father's ministers, except that Prince Khilkof, who had learned practical railroading in the United States, was appointed Minister of Public Works. Pobiédonostzeff continued as Procurator of the Holy Synod.

Nicholas showed greater leniency toward Poland and Finland than his father had done. He revoked several of his father's ukases and seemed to be willing to treat them fairly. Finland's forests are a source of great prosperity and the Russian officials have long been anxious to secure a share. When the Secretary of State for Finland resigned, General Kuropatkin became Minister of War, and he wished to introduce Russia's military system. General Bobrikof, a brusque and haughty man, was appointed Governor-general with instructions to proceed with the conversion of the Finns into Slavs. He convoked an extraordinary session of the Diet, January 24, 1899, and submitted Kuropatkin's scheme, with a strong hint that it must pass. The Diet ignored the hint and rejected the scheme, whereupon Bobrikof ignored the Diet and published it as a law to go into effect in 1903. An imperial ukase of February 15, 1899, reorganized the Diet according to a plan drawn up by Pobiédonostzeff. Bobrikof increased the rigor of the press censorship, but the Finns remained within the law. A petition was circulated which in ten days secured 500,000 signatures, and a delegation was sent to St. Petersburg to present it. The delegation was not admitted.

In January, 1895, the czar received a deputation of all classes of his subjects who hinted that the zemstvos might be used as the germ of a constitutional government. He replied that he believed in autocracy and that he intended to maintain it as his predecessors had done. On the 26th of May, 1896, he was crowned at Moscow with more than usual splendor, and in the same year he and the czarina made a tour through Europe. After visiting the German Emperor and Queen Victoria, they went to Paris where the czar, after reviewing 100,000 soldiers declared that the Empire and the Republic were united in indissoluble friendship. The visit was returned by the President of the French Republic, M. Faure, in August, 1897. On this occasion the world received notice that an alliance existed between the two powers, and that, if one of them was attacked by more than one power, the other would assist with the whole of its military and naval strength, and peace could be concluded only in concert between the allies.

Two great reforms are noticeable under the present reign. The sale of spirits has greatly decreased since the government took the monopoly of the manufacture and sale of liquor. The French loans made the establishment of the gold standard possible and speculation in Russian paper money ceased.

The completion of the Trans-Siberian Railway aroused great expectation for the future of Russia's commerce. The war with Japan has prevented the possibility of estimating the effect it will have upon oceanic trade. But Russia's manufactures have had a wonderful increase; its effect is shown in the population of the cities. In 1870, Russia contained only six cities with a population of over 100,000; their number was doubled in 1897. Warsaw, the old capital of Poland, had 243,000 inhabitants in 1865; in 1897, they had increased to 615,000. Lotz, also in Poland, rose from 12,000 to 315,000. This cannot fail to exert a powerful influence upon the future of the empire; first, on account of the creation of a middle class which, even at this early day, numbers nine per cent of the population; and next, because the mechanics and factory hands are recruited from among the peasants, who thus are brought into daily contact with more intelligent people, and acquire new ideas and new necessities. The official class is bitterly opposed to this new departure, because it foreshadows the day when the drag upon Russia will be cast off.

Nicholas seems to have reversed his father's policy in the Balkan States. He also acted in concert with Europe in 1896, when trouble arose between Turkey and Greece. It began in Crete, where Turk and Christian could not agree. Stories of massacres infuriated the Greeks and the king had to choose between a revolution and a declaration of war. In April, 1897, an army of 80,000 men under Prince George crossed into Thessaly, but was driven back by a Turkish army of 150,000 men. Prince George had invaded Crete in February, but the powers compelled him to evacuate the island. The czar interceded with the sultan, and the absurd war was ended.

The Slavophils, after their failure in the Balkan provinces had excited the Armenians in the provinces near the Russian Caucasus. They attacked the Kurds, a nomadic tribe of Mussulmans, when the Turks took the side of their co-religionists and treated the Armenians with no soft hand. The Panslavists demanded autonomy for Armenia, but this did not suit Prince Lobanof, who had succeeded de Giers as Minister of Foreign Affairs, because he feared trouble in the Caucasus. In 1895, Russia, France, and England, presented a note to the sultan, suggesting the appointment of a high commissioner, the abolition of torture, and reforms in taxation. Turkey agreed, but Shakir Pasha, the high commissioner, failed to restore order and the disorder threatened to become a revolt. Even in Constantinople a condition of anarchy prevailed.

The atrocities committed by the Turks aroused indignation everywhere, when the Armenians seized the Ottoman Bank, but the conspirators were forced to flee from the building and to seek refuge on an English yacht. The Turks were furious and killed more than 5,000 Armenians. Again the powers remonstrated; but at this time it began to dawn upon the public that the Armenians were a least quite as much to blame as the Turks, and the interest subsided. Russia had discovered that the Armenians are undesirable citizens, and sent back some 40,000 of them who had settled in the Russian Caucasus. Germany, intent upon securing concessions from Turkey, left the sultan a free hand; meanwhile the British public was engrossed by the Boer war, and the Armenians, seeing that they were left to their own devices, subsided.

The civilized world was startled when, on August 24, 1898, Russia issued a note to the powers, declaring that "military and naval budgets attack public prosperity at its very source, and divert national energies from useful aims," and suggesting a conference to discuss the subject of displacing war by an International Court.

The note received generous applause, especially in the United States and Great Britain, the two foremost nations devoted to the arts of peace. The several governments agreed to participate in the proposed conference. The place selected was The Hague, the capital of the Netherlands, where the sessions opened on May 18, 1899.

Of all the great powers, the United States was the only one unreservedly in favor of an arrangement whereby war would be prevented. Most of the other powers looked upon an International Court as visionary, and so far as the ostensible purpose is concerned, the conference was a failure. Still, it bore fruit in defining and adding strength to international law. Among its most important results is the clause that "When a conflict seems imminent, one or several powers shall have the right to offer mediation, and its exercise shall not be regarded as an unfriendly act." A permanent Court of Arbitration was established at The Hague. It is composed of judges selected from a list on which every country is represented. On the 29th of July, the delegates of sixteen nations signed the protocol embodying the conclusions; it was afterwards signed by sixteen more. It remained, however, with the United States, to give vitality to an institution which was looked upon with ill favor by many governments.

Although the reign of terror from the nihilists has passed, political murder is still rampant in Russia, and recent events in the Far East have caused a renewal of the agitation for reforms. In 1904, the Governor-general of Finland was assassinated, and soon afterwards, the hated and dreaded Minister of the Interior de Plehve shared that fate. His successor seems to be anxious to grant greater liberties to the people. The united action of the zemstvos, and the final issue of the war in the Far East, may have important results. Nicholas II, amid all his perplexities, was made glad by the birth of a son and heir, who received the name of Alexis.