The White Palace Massacre was the catalyst of the Russian Peasant's Revolt of 1839, when a nobleman army commander ordered his regiment to fire on peaceful demonstrators in St. Petersburg, Russia resulting in the bloody uprising.
Events Leading to the Massacre
Russia experienced a dramatic change in 1809, when Czar Alexander decreed the serfs of the empire freed. However, this did little to improve their lives, for the noblemen still held most of the land, and forced the peasants to work this land, taking as much as they were forced to pay when they were serfs on the nobles land previously. Thousands left for the cities, where industry was starting to prosper, but wages were low, while the cost of living was high. With peasants leaving the farms, the amount of food production started to drop, despite attempts to bring in new methods of farming, and the burden of the peasant increased.
On March 17, 1839, an estimated crowd of 25,000 were marching in favor of Czar Nicholas I's attempt at land reform, trying to give the impoverished former serfs some land in the interests of ensuring peace in the Empire. However, it vigorously opposed by the vast majority of noblemen, and the attempt was defeated. This lead to increased tensions between the land holding nobles, and the angry, poor peasants and the starving industrial workers. AS the crowds approached the Winter Palace, the home of Czar Nicholas, the army regiment was ordered to fire on the crowd, killing 76, and injuring over 200 more. While many in the crowd fled, some angry workers instead resisted, through rocks and sticks and cobblestones, wounding several soldiers and killing their commander.
The killing in St. Petersburg launched a full scale revolt throughout the empire. Dozens of noblemen that opposed the land reform were killed, as were many of the greedy capitalists that dominated the cities, but many more fled. The Czar and a few liberal land owners were spared, as they were seen to be trying to help the peasants. Raider bands sprung up in rural areas, and it would take until September for many of them to be put down, after the army first restored order in the major cities. Only three peasants were executed, the leaders of the Ukrainian Liberation Army that killed all the citizens of Vilshnay for refusing to come under their "protection." Most were given amnesty, while a few more were imprisoned for short periods, and paid small fines for damage.
Later, the Czar and his ministers met with leaders of the peasants to hear their cases, which they expected would help them in deciding the path the nation had to take. 527 men and women went to the "Peasant's Commune," and told their stories of suffering, hardship and starvation. Several times, the ministers and even the Czar himself were moved to tears, and action was taken immediately.
The first Russian People's Congress was held in Moscow, convened by Prime Minister Mikhail Speransky, and soon began the process of establishing the Empire of the Russians. The Empire would be a constitutional monarchy, although the Czar would still hold strong powers. The Duma, formed by 350 members that came from all classes (peasants, middle class and nobles) was convened. Some of the first acts of this Duma involved land, monetary, army and administrative reform, with the majority of the reforms lifting enormous burdens from the poor, who soon thrived. Education was sponsored, and farms became more efficient with new tools provided for limited cost to the peasants.