He began a partial abolition of serfdom by emancipating the serfs in the German Baltic provinces, but without allowing the peasantry the liberty of migrating from one province to another. In 1818 he virtually presided at the congress of Aix-la-Chapelle, and from that epoch may be dated the complete abandonment of his once cherished liberal and reformatory ideas. Exhausted bodily by various excesses, and mentally by the pressure of the terrible events in which for more than ten years he had played a part requiring almost superhuman efforts, he became the leader of the reaction against all free tendencies. Met-ternich adroitly played upon his fears, and he almost wholly abandoned to his ministers the internal administration of Russia, while he devoted himself to suppressing liberal movements in Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Germany. At the congresses of Troppau (1820), Laybach (1821), and Verona (1822), he urgently sustained this policy. The constitution of Poland had been violated in its principal parts.
Irritation increased between the nation and the sovereign; conspiracies were formed in connection with the Carbonarism then existing in France and the south of Europe. At the same time new ideas were brought to Russia by the armies returning from the west, especially by those which had occupied France for several years. The political institutions and social state of other nations thus becoming better known, the desire spread rapidly for changes more in harmony with the spirit of the age. Discontent was increased by the absence of administrative ability and integrity. The army was disorganized. In imitation of Austria, and with the view of surrounding St. Petersburg with an immense military force, military colonies of the peasantry were created by Arakteheyeff, now the virtual ruler of the country. The censorship of the press was exceedingly severe. Alexander became more and more the prey of hypochondria, gloomy, distrustful, inaccessible. The man who once received with a smile the memorials presented by his subjects, now ordered that any one who approached him in public should be arrested and kept 24 hours in prison. Once an active freemason, he now suppressed the lodges throughout the empire.
The secret police, whose operations embraced not only Russia but all Europe, became more active than ever, the grand duke Constantine, brother of the czar, being at its head. The Jesuits, who, even after their suppression in the 18th century all over the world, had been tolerated in Lithuania and Russia, were expelled in 1821 and 1822, for spreading Roman Catholicism among wealthy Russian fami-lies, and their establishment at St. Petersburg-was handed over to the Dominicans. Alexander estranged himself from many who had once been his friends. Only Volkonski, a thorough absolutist, but otherwise noble-minded, and Arakteheyeff, a despot by nature, remained unshaken in his favor. Arakteheyeff, indeed, had been the favorite of Paul, and Alexander retained him near his person during his whole reign, as if to atone for his father's murder. Joseph de Maistre, the philosopher of absolutism, then residing at St. Petersburg, said of the czar after an interview that despotism was breathed out of his nostrils. Alexander accused his people, the Poles, and all Europe indeed, of ingratitude. He hated every spot in turn, quitting St. Petersburg and Russia to visit foreign countries, and returning equally dissatisfied.
Finally the outbreak in Greece fearfully increased the dissidence between the czar and the nation. The feeling and sympathies of the people were with the insurgents. For more than half a century the whole influence of Russia had been employed to stir up the Greeks. Now, when the moment of action came, Alexander, under the advice of Metternich and Nesselrode, opposed the natr-ral policy of Russia, abandoned the Greeks to their fate, and suffered one of their leaders, Alexander Ypsilanti, once his favorite aide-decamp and confidant, to pine in Austrian dungeons. The marriage of the czar being childless, he had become fondly attached to a natural daughter by Mme. Naryshkin. The death of this girl, coupled with a fearful inundation at St. Petersburg in 1824, destroyed his mental equilibrium. These catastrophes he considered as the punishment of parricide. In September, 1825, in compliance with the order of his physicians, he went with his wife on a journey to southern Russia. Arriving at Taganrog, he left the empress and continued his excursion into the Crimea. Attacked by the Crimean fever, combined with erysipelas, he returned to Taganrog, where he died.
A few weeks before his death Count Witt, one of the chief authorities of the military colonies in the south of Russia, disclosed to him the existence of a wide-spread conspiracy against the imperial family. He, however, was unmoved by the information, and his successor, his brother Nicholas, had to fight his way to the throne.