The Enigmatic Tsar and his Empire: Russia under Alexander I, 1801-1825
The aim of the edition is to establish general narratives for the Alexandrine Age, not so much from the traditional vantage point of the emperor and his inner circle but from the point of view of experts and elites, especially the local ones, who perceived the empire a laboratory. These “men on the spot,” whether officially sanctioned by the state or independently of it, drafted “maps” of the empire and its collective subjects, constructed social political and economic imaginaries of the empire. Actors, who envisioned the functioned of the state and imagined its future, doing it also in comparison and in entanglement with other states in Europe. Therefore, individual experts like local doctors, legal scholars, practical jurists, and amateur scientists would be considered alongside with collective actors such as the Decembrists and the members of the so-called “conservative elite” and other networks.
The early decades of the nineteenth century were a period of “proactive” improvement and “balance of the imperial situation,”1 both in the content of administrative projects and in their implementation in practices of territorial administration in the Russian Empire. However, Alexander I’s attempt at reforming local administration in 1816–25 remains understudied. The emperor, known for his cautiousness and indecision, endorsed the ideas of Aleksandr Dmitrievich Balashov2 and Viktor Pavlovich Kochubei,3 who called for introduction of viceroyalties (namestnichestvo) as administrative units in the empire. It is still unknown whether Nikolai Nikolaevich Novosil’cev or A.D. Balashov was the true author of the project,4, but without the political will of the monarch, implementation would have been impossible. The empire was to be structured in accordance with a document titled “The List of Governorates and Their Distribution across Viceregal Regions” (Spisok gubernii s raspredeleniem po namestnicheskim okrugam). Amended in 1823–24, it was included in the Book of Civil Statutes (Kniga shtatov po grazhdanskoi chasti)5 and preserved in the archives of the secret “Committee on December 6, 1826.” At the end of the nineteenth century, this list of governor-generalships—as found in the committee papers—was published in the Sbornik Rossiiskogo Imperatorskogo Obshchestva, with further amendments simply ignored.6 This version of the text is most referenced by scholars.
The diversity of the Decembrist projects of the Republican government assumed in Russia has not yet been fully studied. The Decembrists did’t have a common understanding of how to build a new political regime after the coup d'état. And it's not just the differences between P. Pestel and N. Muravyov. M. Orlov and N. Turgenev had their own projects of republics. Pushkin reflected on the ideas of eternal peace in connection with the unification of mankind into a single family (Republic).
Russian governors were appointed and dismissed by the emperor, and this act held a special significance. In practice, high-ranking state officials served as intermediaries at the appointments of governors. In the eighteenth century, the right to present candidates for the position of governor belonged to the Senate, but in 1802, when governors were made accountable to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, appointments also came to be managed by this department. From that time, the minister of internal affairs presented selected candidates for gubernatorial vacancies to the emperor. We will analyze the ministry’s mechanism of appointments in full detail through a careful reading of surviving documents: records of the Ministry of Internal Affairs,1 official correspondence, governors’ files, and private documents. A complete study of documents collected under the rubric “On the Appointment and Dismissal of Governors” at the Rossiiskii Gosudarstvennyi Istoricheskii Arkhiv (RGIA)2 made it possible to find form listings of candidates for gubernatorial positions. The form included information about a candidate’s administrative career, recommendations from a number of persons, and petitions from influential state officials and relatives. All this information helped establish formal parameters of gubernatorial appointments, allowing us to inspect the criteria used. Russian law provided only vague guidelines for the selection of candidates; a legal mechanism for this process was not fully developed. For example, the imperial decree of...
In this article, I will attempt to trace the semantic changes two key concepts (Constitution and Fundamental Laws) underwent at the turn of the nineteenth century and investigate how these European concepts were adapted and used in the political language of the Alexandrine period.
If we imagine that a society in its development moves towards a pre-selected point or a predictable visualization, then any part of the path that lies behind will be deemed incomplete and merely preparatory. What if this stretch is far from straight? Then the zigzagging path will seem deflected from the desired goal by concessions, reactionary advances, weak will or bad planning. Both personal wishes and historical evidence may push a historian of Alexandrine Russia to accept such logic of historical narrative and take the path of judgmental reasoning. The ideologues of Nicholas I’s reign – that is to say, everyone who set up its tasks and interests in the social sphere – indicated a breakaway from the previous practice of public administration.