Paul A. Hefti

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




The Treaty of Tilsit of 1807 between Russia and France was a minor slowing of the flow of the Napoleonic Wars that dominated Europe in the early nineteenth century. It united the two nations against Britain, but, in larger terms, it polarized continental Europe into two separate (or distinct) conflicting spheres. The treaty and its effects provided a foreshadowing of post-World War I Europe and the subsequent twentieth-century concept of peaceful coexistence.

The major personalities involved in making the treaty were Alexander I of Russia and Napoleon Bonaparte of France. Their meeting on a boat in the Niemen River had frequently been depicted as a romantic convergence of east and west, yet, the theatrical air of these conversations quickly disintegrated into the polarization of France and Russia after 1807. But the general mood of the period, at least for Russia, was one of hopeful anticipation.

The diplomacy of Polish Prince Adam Jerzy Czartoryski, who served as Alexander's Foreign Minister in the period leading up to the actual negotiations, suggested an uncanny understanding of European realities along with a heightened sense of idealism and a desire for continental peace. But the Treaty of Tilsit was never intended to bring peace and serve as a permanent agreement.

In the end, the treaty offered Russia the opportunity to join the theater of European affairs as an equal member. The treaty defined Russia, formerly an unknown quantity of the east, as a legitimate power in the affairs of the west and, therefore, worthy of Bonaparte's diplomatic consideration.