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Decembrist Revolt

This entry is not about the rock band The Decemberists

The Decemberist Revolt was an attempt of an uprising by officers of the Russian Army, later known as the Decembrists, that led about 3,000 Russian soldiers in December, 1825. This uprising took place in the Senate Square, and in 1925, to mark the centenary of the event, it was renamed as the Decembrist Square.

Historians have generally agreed that a revolutionary movement was born during the reign of Alexander I. Young officers who had pursued Napoleon into Western Europe came back to Russia with revolutionary ideas, including human rights, representative government, and mass democracy. The intellectual Westernization that had been fostered in the eighteenth century by a paternalistic, autocratic Russian state now included opposition to autocracy, demands for representative government, calls for the abolition of serfdom, and, in some instances, advocacy of a revolutionary overthrow of the government. Officers were particularly incensed that Alexander had granted Poland a constitution while Russia remained without one. Several clandestine organizations were preparing for an uprising when Alexander died unexpectedly in 1825.

Following his death, there was confusion about who would succeed him. Alexander I died having left no direct heir to the throne. According to the law, his brother Constantine should have become emperor, but he abdicated in favor of his younger brother Nicholas I who accepted the throne.

A group of officers commanding about 3,000 men refused to swear allegiance to the new tsar, Nicholas I. proclaiming instead their loyalty to the idea of a Russian constitution. Because these events occurred in December 1825, the rebels were called Decembrists. Nicholas easily overcame the revolt, and the Decembrists who remained alive were arrested. the leaders were executed, and the rest were exiled to Irkutsk, Siberia.

To some extent, the Decembrists were in the tradition of a long line of palace revolutionaries who wanted to place their candidate on the throne. But because the Decembrists also wanted to implement a liberal political program, their revolt has been considered the beginning of a revolutionary movement. The Decembrist Revolt was the first open breach between the government and liberal elements, and it would subsequently widen.

The revolt suffered from poor organization and lack of focus. For example, the organizing generals had the mob under their influence chant "Constantine and Constitution" while rioting, but many of them, when questioned, professed to believe that "Constitution" was Constantine's wife.

Wives of many Decembrists followed their husbands into exile. Since this time the expression Decembrist wife is a Russian symbol of the devotion of a wife to her husband.

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Last updated: 11-07-2004 05:34:35