From a Bright Child to an Autocratic Ruler: Paul I

It was bizarre to interview a tsar who changed perspective on Russian culture.  As we may know, his mother has contributed to great events which has “enlightened” Russia.  As a result, the Russian economy became better and St. Petersburg, became the capital of a huge economic sector.  Unfortunately because of Paul I’s ideas, the country took a step back.

When I met Paul, I thought of him as a person with meandering thoughts: he was quite sensitive and selfish. We shook hands and he invited me to his castle.  After, he and I took a seat and clung our cups together as we discussed our lives.  Many topics arose the table, one of them mainly about being how much “Paul disagreed with his mother” (Kamensky). But what stood out to me was Paul’s life, and the situations that have happened to him.

He told me about how “His tutor, Nikita Panin wanted him to be young, energetic and well educated.  However, he noticed that he did not agree with his mother on a trip to Europe.  In 1781-82, he criticized his mother frequently” (Kamensky).  From this conversation, I noticed Paul’s pessimistic attitude.  I decided to ask if he wants a break, but he refused and decided to continue.  I continued to ask him questions, and he told me that: “He lived in a constant state of fear.  He did not like how society turned out, and decided to add discipline to it, which led to an autocratic outcome” (Kamensky).

After two cups of tea, he continued to explain his ideas.  “He allowed populism since he wanted everyone in the society to behave normally.  I was pretty aware of the word normal, as I believed the definitions for that word were highly subjective.  Along with that, he decided to introduce order to the capital” (Kamensky).  He probably wanted others to conform to his ideas.  As a result, his changes have greatly impacted the capital since “St. Petersburg did not look like a thriving city anymore, but rather a old town” (Kamensky).
Another fact which differs from his mother is his view of the nobility class.  “Paul assumed that non-serving gentry would become interested in freedom or poverty.  As a result, he criticized them.  He began to forbade non-serving gentry from running in elections to organs of local self administration” (Kamensky).  Along with that, he criticized serfs since he believed that the serfs lived better than people in the state. “In 1797, Paul established the Ministry of Appanages, which allowed him to choose the land owned by the Tsar’s family.  On the same year, it became mandatory for the nobility to pay taxes.  The Manifesto on the Three Day Statute was also created, which prohibited landowners forcing serfs to work on the Sabbath.  His next mission was to try to create an ‘ordinary’ state.   Therefore, he transferred several serfs into private hands.  In 1798, Serfs could be sold to merchants to work in factories” (Kamensky).

What I observed about Paul during the interview was mainly his craving for fashion.  He made sure that he matched the right clothes in a decent manner.  Perhaps, this can be explained by why he liked external appearances.  When I was interviewing him, he criticized me for wearing my shirt, which he deemed was French-like.  This can be explained since “He paid great attention to them and banned revolutionary clothing, which consisted of French dress coats and round hats” (Kamensky).

During this time of the interview, I felt that Paul wanted power in order to control the world.  He wanted his own ideas to be praised.  “As a result, he changed laws.  He resurrected the collegia that Catherine cancelled. In 1800, the Ministry of Commerce was created.  Unlike his mother, he believed that leaders had too much dependence.  In order to stop this, he liquidated the position of governor and Social Charity boards. Paul concentrated more on the deified Russian monarchy, than allowing each state to govern their own” (Kamensky).  As we can see, he did not like his mother and rather, decided to do the opposite as she did.  Catherine believed that power should be distributed equally, while Paul believed that power should be handled by one person. Paul had a different idea of power than Catherine, and he sure exposed it to the Russian Empire.

What really surprised me was when Paul told me about how religious he is.  “He thought that Orthodox and Catholic churches should be unified in order to make it more convenient” (Kamensky).  He seemed to be passionate more about religion than the actual society in Russia.  However, his idea has led to numerous conflicts.  Both religions have different ideologies that are hard to combine.

When I asked Paul about international relations, he told me that Russia should be isolated.  For example,”He banned foreign books from being imported to Russia. Therefore, Russians did not have access to the foreign world through education” (Kamensky).
Despise his craving to isolate Russia, one truthful event stood out to me.  “In 1800, Paul signed an alliance with Russia, Denmark, and Sweden against England.  France and Russia negotiated against a British campaign to support India” (Kamensky).  I was happy that Paul was able to support a country.
Another action we must remember is when Georgia became a region of the Russian Empire.  “After George’s death, Paul signed a manifesto on the annexation of Georgia to Russia on January 18, 1801.  Different cities began to become a part of Russia.  For example, in 1803, Mingrelia became a subject of Russia.  In 1804 it was Imeretia and Guria together with Ganja khanate and Zagatala region.  More regions became occupied by the Russian Empire” (Presidential Library).  I asked him about these events and he told me that Russia could become better. 

I barely know Paul I, and on the day of his assassination, I was aware of what had happened.  From what I heard, “Paul I was assassinated by intruders while sleeping because he was an aristocrat” (Kamensky).  WE can never agree with Paul’s decisions.  It may be because of the stress he suffered through when he was young, or the fact that he was scared of what would happen if he continued with ideas he disagreed.

Although it was a period of killing and executions, we can learn a lot from this change.  Sometimes, a child might not agree with his parents.  Paul never agreed with Catherine and decided to do the opposite of what she did.  I guess that, perhaps, Paul I wanted to make the Russian Empire “homogenous,” with one leader controlling the country along with one religion being practiced.  After three hours, it was hard to analyze him and come to a straight conclusion to what he was thinking.  The only way is to look in the future to see what is more to come.


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