Unique to Nicholas' reign was the way that the bureaucracy was established. One's position or rank was based more upon service to the empire and less on heredity. Thus, peasants, who served the tsar well, found themselves among the ranks of the nobility, their former masters. Nicholas hated corruption but corruption was alive and well during his reign. Unhappy nobility (those who inherited their land and rank) oppressed their peasants so that they would not achieve noble rank.
These same nobles would paint for Nicholas a rosy picture of life in the country. Since Nicholas put such stock in faith and loyalty, the idea of his nobles misleading him was unthinkable. Nicholas considered the serf system to be a sickness of society but he did little, if anything, about it. His son, Alexander II, would be left to pick up this mantel of reform and produce Russia's Emancipation Edict.
Many consider Nicholas' reign, in the final analysis, a disaster. He worked tirelessly to try and improve Russia's status in the world and the condition of her people. However, both efforts fell short of even Nicholas' expectations. Basing all of his actions on faith and loyalty, instead of the inherent human nature of free will, created a state of disarray and a recipe for rebellion. In his later years, Nicholas was a worn, tired and disappointed man.
The final blow came when Russia found herself embroiled in a pointless conflict in Crimea (1853-56), facing an opposition comprised of the Turkish Sultan and his allies; England, France and Austria. The conflict was brought about by something called the Eastern Question. Russian and France had been battling over who should have control of the Palestinian holy lands which were part of the Ottoman Empire. The Turkish Sultan declared war on Russia when the latter took over Moldavia. The Crimean War centered around the Russian naval stronghold at Sevastopol. The tsar's forces were helpless against the combined foreign army. Nicholas considered this military defeat a personal one; his own failure on behalf of his people and in the Face of God. He died a broken and disturbed man on February 18, 1855, at the age of 60.
In defense of Nicholas I, he was an extremely devoted ruler who saw his absolute reign as a service to both God and country. Simply put, he approached his programs and efforts in a very narrow way. Failing to take into account the human element and nature, Nicholas' efforts to make Russia a better place to live and a respected giant in the world community failed and fueled the fires of future peasant and working class rebellion.
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