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the life of Nicholas, and Rieliev embracing Kahovsky, said to him, "My dear friend, you are alone in the world; you ought to sacrifice yourself for the sake of society: assassinate the emperor." At the same instant the other conspirators embraced him, and he promised to do it. He was to have gained access to the palace, disguised as an officer of grenadiers, or to have waited on one of the steps which his majesty was to have passed; but he discovered subsequently that the project was not feasible, and the conspirators concurred in his opinion.
It was known that the manifesto of the emperor Nicholas on his accession to the throne would appear on the 26th of December, and that day was fixed upon by the conspirators for the out-breaking of the revolt; trusting, notwithstanding their want of concert, that their own military influence, and the name of Constantine, the legitimate heir of the throne, whose refusal of the crown was to be represented as a falsehood, or as the effect of compulsion, would seduce the soldiery in the critical moment when they were about to take the oath to Nicholas. Even on the 25th they were sanguine as to their success. Baron Steinbell had already begun a manifesto, announcing that the two grand-dukes had given Up to a noble band of patriots the nomination of a sovereign; that the senate had ordered a general convocation of the deputies of the empire; and that in the interval there was to be a provisional government. As the moment approached, the greater number of the conspirators exhibited impatience, and their leaders betrayed irresolution, remorse, and fear.
It was decided that their chief should go the following day to the senate-house, and head the troops who refused to take the oath; but the two captains, who were to command under his orders, contrived to be absent; the one, because, having been but newly initiated into the conspiracy, he did not thoroughly understand its object; the other, because he suspected the majority of the leaders. Of the principal conspirators who were to have appeared at the rendezvous to take the command of the troops, Bulatov presented himself merely as a spectator; Yakubovitch did not remain an instant; and prince Trubetsky hastened to take the oath to Nicholas, thus hoping to efface a part of his crime; and then fled to the Austrian minister, his wife's brother-in-law, where count Nesselrode claimed him by order of the emperor. Batenkoff followed his example. The inferior traitors behaved with greater courage, and, at least, did not betray their cause, wicked and impracticable as it was, in the moment of danger. Rieliev had succeeded in seducing the officers in the marine barracks, who, after a long resistance, determined to take part in the insurrection; and the sailors, led away by them, refused to take the oath. General Schipo, who had been commissioned to administer it, placed the officers under arrest; but they were speedily liberated by the conspirators, exclaiming, "Do you hear those vollies? your comrades are being massacred!" At these words, the battalion darted from the barracks, and met with a lieutenant of the regiment of Finland, who cried out to them, "Form against the cavalry." Prince Stchapine, after having
eriaHira^ed MsTtoldSel^r directed litem to1 fill.tfeelr eartbucbe-boxes iad 'ittia': their arms with ball <J»*Widge'yrttti;iei2C'the grenadiers' flag, and to drive back the troops who remained faithful. In doing this, general Fredericks, majorgeneral Schenschin, and several other officers were wounded. The rebels succeeded in seizing the flag, and moved towards the senate house. Yet this traitor Stchapine, notwithstanding his conduct in the barracks, in the morning when he rose had addressed the following Iraye^to God:—"Oh God! if our enterprise is just, grant us Ay^Uppertj' if not, may thy will ^ atSWmpKshied/' Nearly similar means caused the revolt of the guard of grenadiers, who united themselves to the companies se"Atttied by prince Stchapine; and Jintfay* -persons armed indiscriminately with pistols, poignards, and sabres, mixed in their ranks. But the fidelity of the great body of the troops in Petersburgh, the energetic measures immediately adopted by those at their head, and the intrepidity and presence ■•flf toind of the new emperor himself, instantly crushed the momentary success of the mutineers; they had no longer a plan or leaders, trfid'any farther struggles were the mere efforts of individual frenzy or despair. A conspirator named Kahovsky, who mortally wounded general Miloradovitch, after committing another murder by killing colonel Sturler, threw away his pistol, saying "I have done enough to day; I have alyjaady two upon my conscience." i /The enterprise having failed, those who had been concerned in it hastened to give information against each other. The conspisnUsirg who were preparing for
r*volt;m the southern provinces, were arrested in consequence of the discoveries which had been made even before the death of Alexander. Some disturbance was excited at Vossilkov, by the brothers Muraviev, who from the beginning had been active in the conspiracy; escaping from their prison, and, in conjunction with some other officers, endeavouring to seduce the military, instead of seeking safety in flight. The mutiny was immediately quelled by a detachment of hussars: the conspirators being given up by their men, or killed in the action.
Such was the substance of the information collected from the papers and evidence of the conspirators themselves regarding the character, the constitution, the objects, and the proceedings, of these traitorous associations, from their first institution in 1816 down to their first open attempt at revolt in 1825. The success with which they were concealed for ten years, gradually augmenting their numbers, and extending their ramifications, exposed all the time to a strict and active vigilance, would lead us to think that their members must have been persons of no ordinary tact and prudence; were it not, that the consuming of these ten years, without having formed even the rudiments of any feasible plan—the fantastical arrangements and classifications of their internal economy—their vague and mystical philanthropy, while they looked upon assassination with indulgent eyes—the rashness of the attempt on which they at last resolved— and the want of concert and fidelity among themselves when it was actually made—compel us to acknowledge, that they neither knew very distinctly what -tfcdyiwished
to attain, nor had formed any rational judgment how it was to be attained. They were exaggerated copies of German originals; but they were more dangerous, because their strength lay in the army, to whose voice, if it once spoke in the language of disaffection, nothing could be successfully opposed, and because they numbered among their adherents a greater number of men whose rank and situation gave them influence, and ought to have given them education. With the most contemptible means, they speculated on carrying through the most extensive schemes, beset with innumerable difficulties. Their leaders acknowledged that their ideas were neither understood nor relished by the citizens of Petersburgh and Moscow: yet these citizens are wealthy, powerful, and well informed; but they displayed no predilection for the political theorists. To shake the fidelity of the army was the only hope of the conspirators; that object itself was to be effected by a momentary illusion acting on that very fidelity; and the whole plot, from its opening to the catastrophe, proved that a military revolution was the only one which Russia had as yet to fear. To the report of the commission of inquiry was subjoined a scale of the different degrees of guilt which it thought imputable to the various parties implicated; but it had been made no part of its duty to pronounce sentence. For this latter purpose the emperor appointed a special tribunal, whose members were taken from the council of the empire, the directing senate, and the synod, with the addition of some other persons both civil and military. To this high court was referred the report of the commission, that it might apportion the pu» nisbflaentiofi ,ths guilty.. By their sentence, out of one hundred and twenty convicted criminals, who* .Withe laws of Russia, were all worthy of death, five were condemned to the pain of death, to be inflicted by their being quartered, and thirty-one to death by decapitation; nineteen were condemned to political death, and to hard labour during life; thirty-eight, to labour hard for a limited term, and, at its expiry, to be exiled for life to Siberia; eighteen, to perpetual exile in Siberia, being first deprived of their nobility and disgraced; one individual, to serve in the ranks as a common soldier, being first degraded, and deprived of his nobility, with the faculty of future advancement, according to his service; eight individuals, to serve as common soldiers, without deprivation of their nobility, and with the faculty of future advancement. The clemency of the emperor, however, interfered to lessen the number of the capital punishments. The law was allowed to take-its course only against Pestel, Sesg Muraviev, and Rumeni, who, from the first institution of the societies, had been their most active and dangerous leaders; Rieliev, who had proposed, and Kahovsky, who had undertaken, the assassination of Nicholas, the last, moreover, having likewise been the murderer of general Miloradovitch and colonel Sturler, on the 26th of December. Even in regard to these the sentence of being quartered alive was changed into the punishment of the gibbet. The sentences of the other prisoners condemned to death were commuted, in the greater number of instances into hard labour forlife with degradation and loss of nobility, in
a Few cases into hard labour for twenty years with a similar degradation, and exile for life to Siberia, after these twenty-years shouldhave expired. Pestel and his accomplices were executed on the 26th of July; and, on the same day, in front of their gibbet, the ceremony of degradation was performed on the prisoners of whose sentence that punishment formed a part, except the naval officers, who were sent to Cronstadt, to be degraded on board a man of war. The fate of the officers condemned for life to labour in the mines, or drag out existence in Siberia, was scarcely to be envied in comparison with the lot of those who suffered on the scaffold. Any man may nerve himself to meet the mere extinction of life, and every man does it at last, whether he meet it on his couch, or on the scaffold; but protracted death, the lingering torture of hopeless banishment, the privation of all that can render life itself acceptable, permission to breathe, when every moment brings with it the wish to die, is an accumulation of misery at which the heart sickens. Yet this was the destiny to which many staff and superior officers of Russia were doomed, had not the well-judged policy of the emperor intervened. After a careful inquiry into the extent to which they had approved, or actively forwarded, the treasonable viewsof the conspirators with whom they were involved, he ordered them to be discharged from any sentence pronounced by criminal courts, and to be liable only to correctional punishments. The same merciful disposition, not more humane than wise, was manifested in the punishment of the conspirators implicated in the insurrection excited by MufavieV at Kiev. Baron
Soloviev, and two lieutenants, being condemned to death, their sentence was commuted into hard labour; one officer was sent to Siberia, and four were degraded to serve as common soldiers in distant garrisons. As those of Muraviev's band, who had fallen in the conflict with the troops who dispersed them, were beyond the reach of the executioner, gibbets, with their names, were ordered to be placed upon their graves instead of crosses. Of the officers not engaged in the conspiracy, prince Meschtchaki, and several others, were punished with imprisonment on account of their cowardice.
The whole progress of this judicial inquiry, as well as its termination, was most honourable to the character of the Russian government, and the new emperor. It was begun in no passionate or vindictive humour; it was prosecuted steadily and calmly, without those tedious delays which in some countries prevent the infliction of punishment till the impression made on the public mind by the guilt of the accused has been almost effaced by lapse of time. The sources of evidence* too, on which the commission seems to have relied, were trust-worthy. An allegation of political crime, under a despotic government,generally supplies the place of proof; fear and suspicion serve the purposes of conviction: but here there was displayed no disposition to condemn at random; no inclination to exaggerate imputed guilt, no attempt to force an improbable meaning upon actions and words, to combine artificially circumstances which had no connexion with each Other, and, in the absence of that precision and particularity, without which there can be no evidence, to
proceed upon vague and tyrannical maxims concerning the motives and tendency of acts. On the contrary, the government manifested a strong determination to avoid the conjuring up of imaginary plots and dangers, arid to deal only with what was substantial and certain, and a humane anxiety to lessen rather than to exaggerate, the number of the guilty; to separate their varying degrees of criminality from each other, and point out every circumstance of moral palliation, the irresolution of the leaders themselves, the weakness of their dupes, even their subsequent repentance and remorse. The report was the candid charge of a judge, not the partial statement of a public accuser. Hence, too, the government was able to give the utmost publicity not merely to the general results of the inquiry, for whose truth and justice their own assertion was to be the only guarantee, but all its details and evidence, from which every man could pass judgment for himself upon the government and its opponents. Nicholas acted as if he wished to convince, not to revenge: and his proceedings thus gained the confidence of the nation, the most essential of all results to the useful prosecution of political crimes. How different was this deliberate and discriminating inquiry, from the despotic and sanguinary measures, the precipitate punishments, the general proscriptions, the unrelenting love of penal vengeance, by which Ferdinand of Spain was making his kingdom recede from the comforts and securities of social life? The very publicity which the Russian government gave to the inquiry, the discrimination with which it apportioned punishment among the criminals, and the
lenity with which the emperor interfered to soften down the rigour of the law, proved that they were confident in the hold which they had upon such public opinion as existed. Nicholas found himself sufficiently secure to be able to be merciful; Ferdinand felt his power to be so feeble and tottering, that he could not even afford to be just. The interests of so many families of rank and respectability were involved in the result of this inquiry, that St. Petersburg, during its continuance, wore no air of gaiety. The Emperor had denied himself every kind of diversion, and public shew: even the birth-day of the empress had not been observed with the customary ceremonies, and the coronation of their majesties had been postponed. But justice and mercy having equally done their duty, the coronation took place at Moscow, on the 3rd of September, with all the pomp which the rites of the Greek church could bestow, and amid all the magnificence which the congregated representatives of all the crowned heads of Europe could display. The most striking occurrence was the unexpected presence of the grand-duke Constantino, who gave a very satisfactory confirmation 01 the good faith with wliich he acquiesced in his exclusion from the throne, by repairing voluntarily to Moscow, and bearing a principal share in the ceremony of placing upon the head of his younger brother, the imperial crown, which, by right of birth, ought to have glit teredonhisown brow. A n imperial manifesto immediately followed, by which, in the event of the emperor's death, leaving a minor son, the grand duke Michael was declared regent till the majority of the heir; or if the empress should be left