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It is only in the Republic of America that the people, imbued with the spirit of liberty, are the recognized, uncontrolled, unquestioned sovereign power.
It is only in Russia that the Emperor is met by the cheerful, unquestioning, submissive and affectionate devotion of the people. They worship in his person the embodied sovereignty of the nation; and in the tempest of an insurrection his simple words to his children have sufficed to calm them.
On the spirit and character of the government the discontent and restlessness of the Polish provinces in the one case exert no more disturbing influence, than the millions of slaves in the Southern States do in the other. The despotism and the republicanism respectively are quite as absolutely pure and free with, as they would be without those elements of discontent. They are both sources of possible danger and of certain weakness: neither of them affects the character or the spirit of the government: neither is so powerful as to make either government pause in its career or vary from its course.
The progress of each of these powers has been equally rapid and equally illustrative of the spirit and principles which animate their policy. The one has thriven amid the arts of peace and industry. The other has gorged its greatness by the spoils of war and the fruits of intrigue.
At the date of our Revolution, Russia was just entering on her career as an European power: and her fit introduction was a deed of blood and shame. At the opening of the eighteenth century the Muscovite was confined in his northern home-barred off from civilized Europe by the colossal republic of Poland which pressed him behind the Dwina and the Dnieper, and excluded from the Baltic and the Euxine by the Swede and the Turk.
Thus for centuries pent up in the desolate north, the Dukes of Moscow had consolidated their power on the ruins of the Empire of the Mongol. They nourished the lust of conquest by ceaseless aggression on their neighbors, and trained their people to the habitudes of war while expanding the sphere of their power. But their quarrels and their conquests were alike almost unknown and uninteresting to civilized Europe till the triumph at Pultowa securely seated Peter the Great on the Baltic. The provinces of Livonia, Esthonia, Ingria and Karelia, the spoil of that day, in 1710 brought him into direct connection with the maritime nations of Europe. His genius and his ambition inspired the hope and provided the means of playing a high part on this new theatre; and from that day to this, the eyes of Peter and of his successors, whether in the ship yards of Saardam and Deptford or in the palaces of St. Petersburg, have turned with longing eagerness to the West, till their arts and their arms and their hereditary and unscrupulous ambition have consolidated a colossal Empire extending to the very heart of Europe and nowthe arbiter of its destinies.
Poland and the Ottoman Empire were at once the chief obstacles and the most alluring objects of Russia’s far-seeing ambition.
For eighty years she waged a war alternately of arms and of intrigues against the Turk—now
advancing with rapid flight on the wings of fortune, now pausing in her career to secure her conquest, or with feigned moderation concealing defeat by voluntary restorations of parts of her prey—till time and opportunity should give the signal of advance. The flood of her conquest has risen and rolled onward over neighboring nations—like the tides of the ocean-each wave rolling high on the shore and sinking back to the sea with alternate advance and retreat—yet each higher than the former and steadily gaining in the midst of apparent fluctuations.
Her pretexts have been as Protean as her purpose has been single. Religion, humanity, liberty, national independence, national institutions, social order, have, each in turn, been under the disguise of protection the pretexts of aggression, and finally, the victims of her infernal devices.
Peter not only made Russia an European power: he set the example of stretching its roots towards the soil of the East. He seized Azoff and overran the Crimea: but was compelled to relinquish them. Ann followed his example and met his fortune: she again grasped at, but was obliged to abandon their possession; and to content herself with confirming her dominion over the territory of the Zaporagua Cossacks.
Catharine renewed the contest : and conquered the Crimea, Moldavia and Wallachia : but she was able to hold only Azoff and the coveted access to the Euxine. Yet true to the instincts of her Empire, what she relinquished she did not restore. She declared the Crimea, Kuban and Budjek independent of Turkey, and so effectually secured the future dominion of Russia.
For awhile she contented herself with setting up and pulling down Kahns of the Cossacks, till they sought refuge from her caprice in rebellion. The vengeance of the enraged Semiramis was slaked in the blood of thirty thousand people; and the Turks paid the penalty of their intermeddling by securing to Russia the sovereignty of Kuban and the unlimited right to navigate all the Turkish seas. The Euxine ceased to be a Turkish mare clausum.
These humiliating terms goaded the Turks into a renewal of the unequal conflict : and Catharine retired at the peace of Jassy in 1792 with a confirmation of her former conquests augmented by the territory of Oczakow and the shores of the Euxinewhich the combined power of England and Prussia failed to tear from her iron hand.
She could not at a blow prostrate an empire so wide at the foundation, so lofty in its battlements as the Ottoman; but besides the fragments rent away, great crevices and cracks shewed the power of the assault and facilitated the success of the next. Russia could not hold Moldavia and Wallachia: she therefore stipulated for their national rights under her protection : and so loosened their allegiance on Turkey and linked their sympathies to her arms.
While all Europe was immersed in the struggle with Napoleon, Alexander pushed his conquest on the south; and at the peace of Buckarest in 1812 he secured the province of Bessarabia and the mouths and line of the Pruth.
The Greek revolution excited by Russian intrigues gave the occasion of renewed hostilities: and the treaty of Adrianople dictated within a day's march of Constantinople and only submitted to because English ships lay at the Dardanelles—transferred to Russia the delta and mouth of the Danube, cut off by a quarantine the principalities of the Danube from Constantinople, secured a perpetual right of administrative interference, and laid Turkey at the mercy of the Czar-whenever the great powers of Europe should happen to be lukewarm or engaged or unable to protect her.
Thus has Russia pressed downward from her boundaries in the time of Peter into the Turkish territory five hundred miles, swept round three-fourths of the Euxine sea, crossed the isthmus between that and the Caspian sea, and eaten deep into Armenia and the Persian territory. A few years more and the Euxine will be a Russian lake.
Her westward march over prostrate kingdoms and slaughtered nations—has been not less terrific, nor less rapid, but vastly more menacing to the seats of civilization and the home of freedom.
The miserable dissensions of the Polish aristocracy gave access to her intrigues; and pretexts for her interventions. She fomented factions that she might be called on to quell the disturbances. She set up and pulled down candidates for the tottering throne: and from the centre of Poland organized her deadly conspiracy against its existence.
The same victory of Pultowa which opened the way of Russia to the Baltic, secured the influence of