to Mr. Blaine.
St. Petersburg , May 23, 1881. (Received June 9.)
Sir: For the past few weeks the political affairs of this capital have been in quite an unusual state of excitement. Owing to the autocratic character of the Russian Government, the violent or sudden changes [Page 1018] Of ministries or of political policy which so often occur in the constitutional monarchies of Europe are almost unknown here. The changes of ministers which take place from time to time are usually from personal considerations or convenience. But the advent of the new sovereign, under such exceptional and tragic circumstances, with the empire in a state of excitement and alarm so great as to disturb all classes and interests, has forced upon the Emperor and his advisers in charge of the leading departments of government the consideration of the measures which ought to be adopted and the general policy to be pursued in view of the peculiar and changed condition of affairs. Owing to the strict censorship which is exercised over the press, and the privacy which attends all the deliberations of the ministerial and other government councils, the exact status of the questions discussed is not certainly known, but it is understood that the ministers were divided in opinion upon the policy of adhering strictly to the autocratic principle and adopting repressive measures to counteract the growing discontent, or, on the other hand, of recognizing in the disordered state of the country a necessity for such reforms as would ultimately result in a representative government and a responsible ministry.
This latter view is believed to have been maintained by General Melikoff, minister of the interior, Mr. Abaza, minister of finance, and others. The uncertainty as to which policy would be adopted by the Emperor was in part dispelled by the appearance, on the 11th instant, of a proclamation signed by him appealing to his faithful subjects to support the autocratic power and to unite with him in suppressing treason, conspiracy, disorder, and immorality in government and society. This was followed in a few days by a report that General Melikoff, Mr. Abaza, Count Milestine, Mr. de Giers, and others who advocated the adoption of liberal measures had resigned.
This report has been in part confirmed by the appearance of ukases on the 18th and 20th instants relieving, at their request, General Melikoff and Mr. Abaza from their respective offices, and assigning to the department of the interior General Ignatief, and to that of finance, Mr. Bunge, the under secretary of that department. Other changes it is expected will occur.
These events are interpreted as a plain indication of the Emperor’s resolution to allow no diminution of his autocratic power to encourage the conservative element, and to seek to restore confidence and order by rigorous and repressive measures.
The effect has been very marked and generally unfavorable. General Melikoff had come to be regarded as the man suited to the time and the emergency, and his retirement has increased the disquietude of society. The stock and exchange markets have been greatly depressed and the government credit considerably depreciated.
These changes, coinciding with wide-spread lawlessness and disorder in some of the most important provinces, as seen in the anti-Jewish riots, have increased the alarm, and in business circles especially the worst apprehensions appear to be entertained. The past winter has been a season of great suffering in large sections of the country, owing to the failure of crops, and just now many industries and manufactories are suspended or employ only a limited number of hands, and idle and hungry people add to the complication, of which it is feared the nihilists will be too ready to profit.
But it does not follow because the Emperor has negatived the proposition of a constitutional government that no reforms are to be made and no efforts for relief to the people are to be attempted. On the contrary, [Page 1019] it is still believed by many that the Emperor will in due time promulgate the land measure for the benefit of the peasants referred to in Mr. Hoffman’s No. 113, which would be a worthy concomitant of his father’s great emancipation act and a part of its consummation. It is understood, besides, that the Emperor is earnestly desirous of practicing and enforcing strict economy in government expenditures, and that he will seek to push forward to successful termination the investigations set on foot in the last reign to remedy the defects and corruption in the provincial governments.
It cannot be denied that the selection of General Ignatief as the chief of the imperial ministry has not been favorably received abroad. He is not a favorite in most of the capitals of Europe. He represents an idea which is considered as unfriendly to foreign influence; but this very fact is a reason why his appointment is highly acceptable to a large and influential class in this country, the Pan-Slavonic party, which is aggressive in its foreign policy and seeks to exalt purely Russian ideas and practices in internal affairs. While, therefore, the autocratic prerogative under the present administration may remain intact, it is claimed that an effort will be made to strengthen and enlarge local self-government in so far as it does not trench upon the crown, and that Russia is only prepared for this step in governmental reform.
The highest spot to be seen at present above the political and economic horizon is the promise of good crops in the great grain-growing districts. If this promise should be realized in abundant harvests it will greatly aid in a pacific solution of many troublesome questions. Meanwhile numerous arrests of nihilists continue to be made, not only in this city but in other parts of the empire, and new revelations of a startling character are being developed, which seem to disprove the allegation that this movement only represents a very small and unimportant part of the nation.
I am, &c.,