Nicholas I has been portrayed, and perhaps rightfully so, as a strict and reactionary tsar. Indeed, his internal policies were often repressive -- he sought to nip any liberalism in the bud, often brutally. His approach to solving problems in the Empire and keeping control was to create the "Nicholas system", a bureaucratic system defined by and completely based on absolute monarchy. Nicholas revamped govermental structure by strengthening and centralizing bureaucratic structures to an unprecedented degree. He did this as an attempt to deal with all of Russia's problems himself. At most importantly the structure known as "His Majesty's own Chancery," which was the nerve-center of the empire's administrative mechanisms. With his new governmental structure, he hoped to create a machine that would, in theory, more quickly and efficiently carry out his will. The reality, however, was a little bit different than what he planned.
However strict or repressive Nicholas may have been, his policies are somewhat understandble considering what domestic and foreign events marked his reign. His accession in 1825 was threatened by an uprising of a group of noblemen who came to be known as the Decembrists. He dealt with the uprising quickly and firmly. He and his administration sentenced the five most important rebel leaders to death by hanging and sentenced many others to hard labor in Siberia. Later in 1830 Europe went through some revolutionary crises.
The youth of Poland had been restless since July 1830.
The fever rose greatly when they heard that the Polish army was to march with the Russians to crush the revolution and prevent the Belgians from acquiring their independence. On the night of November 29, a conspiracy of young cadets seized the residence of the Grand Duke Konstantin, the brother of the Tsar.
The rebels demanded a constitution and independence from Russia. There demands would have been politically disadvantageous to Nicholas - Poland was the one European country in his Empire. If he lost Poland, he would lose his foothold in Europe and Russia would easily be classified as simply an Asiatic empire. At first, Nicholas' attempts to squelch the rebellion were disastrous-- his general was not effective at all in battle strategy and many of his men were being killed by cholera. In fact, his brother Konstantin was killed by the same disease. Finally, after switching generals, Nicholas was able to regain Poland. However, his Polish policies made him unpopular with France and England. Public opinion was decidedly on the side of the Polish insurgents.
Furthermore, Russia experienced a cholera epidemic in 1830-1, a potential cause for disorder. Nicholas retreated to his summer residence in Peterhof to avoid the plague. The populace was left in the care of an inefficient administration and started to grow restless. Rumors started going around that there was no real cholera problem, but rather people had been hired to go...