Presidents And Czars

By the time the first U.S. president, George Washington (1789-97), took office, the capital of Russia had been moved from Moscow, in the heart of the nation, to the new city of St. Petersburg built in 1703 by Peter the Great on the Baltic Sea as his "Window to the West." In 1776, the United States was a newly independent nation beginning to expand westward, and Russia, under Catherine the Great (1762-96), greatly increased the empire by conquests and settlements, too. Cultural and literary life flowered during Catherine's reign. Earlier, in 1741, under Czarina Elizaveta Petrovna, daughter of Peter the Great, Russians discovered the Bering Strait and Alaska, calling it "Russian America."

Paul I (1796-1801), son of Catherine the Great, was czar during the term of John Adams (1797-1801). Russia continued to expand eastward into Siberia.

Alexander I (1801-1825) reigned during the presidencies of Thomas Jefferson (1801-09), James Madison (1809-17) and James Monroe (1817-25). Alexander I was noted for his defeat of Napoleon in the war of 1812 and the establishment of universities, secondary schools and other institutions of learning. His entire school policy was very liberal for his time. He died suddenly in the south of Russia at the age of 48 and is called "Alexander the Blessed." Some specialists said he did not die, but went to live as a saintly hermit in Siberia by the name of Feodor Kuzmich. When the Soviets opened his tomb a few years ago, it was empty. Alexander was childless and was succeeded by his brother, Nicholas I.

Nicholas I (1825-55). Decembrist uprisings in 1825 set the stage for a despotic reign. During the 30 years of Nicholas' rule, the United States had nine presidents: John Quincy Adams (1825-29); Andrew Jackson (1829-37); Martin Van Buren (1837-41); William Henry Harrison (1841 for one month); John Tyler (1841-45); James Knox Polk (1845-49); Zachary Taylor (1849-50); Millard Fillmore (1850-53); and Franklin Pierce (1853-57). Under Nicholas, Russia fought wars with Persia, Poland and the British, French and Turks in the Crimean War of 1854-55.

Alexander Nikolaevich (Alexander II 1855-1881) succeeded his father during the presidencies of James Buchanan (1857-61); Abraham Lincoln (1861-65); Andrew Johnson (1865-69); Ulysses Simpson Grant (1869-77); Rutherford Birchard Hayes (1877-81) and James Abram Garfield (1881 for six months). Under Alexander II, Russia sold Alaska to the United States in 1867 for $7.2-million. On January 3, 1959, Alaska became the 49th state of the United States. Alexander II was known as the "Czar Emancipator" for peacefully freeing 20-million serfs in 1861. In the United States, Lincoln freed 200,000 slaves when he signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, at the height of the Civil War. Lincoln was shot on April 14, 1865. Alexander II was assassinated by a bomb on March 13, 1881 and Garfield was shot on July 2, 1881.

Alexander III (1881-94) succeeded his father during the presidencies of Chester Alan Arthur (1881-85); Grover Cleveland (1885-89) and Benjamin Harrison (1889-93). Alexander III was known for his Russification and militant Orthodoxy. Both he and his son, Nicholas II, followed a policy of reaction to continual plots and uprisings which began with the Decembrists in 1825 and gained momentum toward the end of the century even though the czars enacted many economic and social reforms. Alexander III was deeply affected by the assassination of his father and he did not tolerate the many liberal movements gaining popularity in Russia. Under Alexander III, increased pressure was placed on non-Orthodox denominations, including pogroms (violent popular outbreaks) on the Jews living in southwestern Russian towns. The Jews were numerous in western Russia as a result of the invitation policy of late medieval Polish kings. Many Russian Jews emigrated to the United States because of the repressions. Alexander Ulianov, brother of Lenin, was executed in 1887 for his connection with a plot against the life of Alexander III. Nicholas II (1894-1917) succeeded his father Alexander III upon his death on October 20, 1894. Eighteen months later, after three days of fasting and prayer, Nicholas and Alexandra were crowned in the Dormition Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin on May 14, 1896. Nicholas ruled during the second term of Grover Cleveland (1893-97); William McKinley (1897-1901); Theodore Roosevelt (1901-09), William Howard Taft (1909-13) and Woodrow Wilson (1913-21). His reign saw the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-05, a horrible pogrom in Kishinev in 1903, the Revolution of 1905, World War I, the industrialization of Russia, the completion of the Trans-Siberian railroad, the Bolshevik Revolution and his abdication in 1917. Nicholas, Alexandra and their five children were assassinated by the Bolsheviks at the Ipatiev house, where they had been kept prisoners, on July 17, 1918, in Ekaterinburg in Siberia. After their death, according to Edvard Radzinsky, author of The Last Tsar, a handwritten poem copied out in Grand Duchess Olga's hand was found in a French book she had been reading:


Send us, Lord, the patience
In this year of stormy, gloom-filled days,
To suffer popular oppression
And the tortures of our hangmen.
Give us strength, oh Lord of Justice,
Our neighbor's evil to forgive
And the Cross so heavy and bloody
With your humility to meet . . .
In this unbearable dreadful hour
At the threshold of the grave
Breathe into the lips of Your slaves
Inhuman strength --
To pray meekly for our enemies.

Source: Treasures of the Czars education guide by Vera B. Espinola.

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