Tsar Alexander II: Facts, History, Summary: Life, Achievements, Reforms:
Crimean War, Emancipation of Serfs, Foreign Policies, Revolutionaries, Assassination

Research Topics Presentation Tips History Essays Russia Tsar Alexander 2nd

In 1855, Alexander II became Tsar of Russia, King of Poland and Grand Duke of Finland.

At that time, Russia was involved in the Crimean War.

Alexander ended the war by signing the Treaty of Paris in 1856.

Significance of the Crimean War

The war proved that Russia was no longer a great military power

19th century Russian serf based economy could no longer compete with industrialized Britain and France

It was time for reform

Serf Emancipation

The nobility opposed emancipation of the serfs because the serfs were their livelihood.

Alexander told them, “It is better to abolish serfdom from above than to wait for the time when it will begin to abolish itself from below

In 1861, Alexander issued his Emancipation Manifesto. Serfdom was officially abolished.

It was Alexander’s greatest moment

Terms of Emancipation

The emancipation of the serfs had a catch

The peasants were to buy their freedom and land from their landlords

The state would advance the money to the landlords in a bond

The peasants would pay the state back in 49 annual installments known as redemption payments.

Problems with Emancipation

The former owners of the serfs had to sell their land because they did not know how to manage their estates without the serfs

Peasants fell behind in their payments to the state because the land they purchased from their landlords was of poor quality and did not produce as well as expected.

The government bonds lost their value because the peasants could not make their redemption payments

Many peasants died before their redemption were paid

Peasants paid far more for their land than it was worth

Government Reforms

In 1864, local councils called Zemstvo were set up.

These councils had power to provide medical services, schools and improve roads in the districts.

Councils consisted of representatives from all classes

They, also, elected representatives to serve in regional assemblies

Military Reforms

Before emancipation, serfs could not return to their masters after military training

Serfs became free peasants under the emancipation act which gave them more incentive to fight for country

Required military service changed from required 25 years to 6 years

Eliminated brutal corporal punishments

The army began to modernized weapons. However, Russia could not keep up with the west in technological developments in the construction of weapons.

In addition, many officers preferred their men use bayonets rather than guns because they feared the use of guns would make cowards

The army took a role in teaching many peasants to read and in pioneering medical education for women

Judicial Reforms

Established a new court system which was more unified

New order of legal proceedings

Recognition of equality of the parties involved

Public hearings

Trial by Jury

Defendant allowed legal representation

Free legal advice for poor

Financial Reforms

The Establishment of the State Bank which made the national currency more stable

The Peasant Bank was founded so farmers could buy more land

The Nobles Bank was founded to forestall foreclosures on mortgages

The Ministry of Finance supported railroad development which expanded markets for economic growth


Building of more schools

Encouraged scientific studies rather than classical in the Universities

Other Reforms

Relaxed censorship

Improved health care

Reduced controls on the press

Reactions to Reform

Most Russians thought that the reforms were not enough, Too Little too Late

Peasants Rioted

Students Rioted

Fires broke out

No one was happy

Opposition to Reform and the Regime

It began in the Universities

Anarchists, Socialists, Constitutionalists, Nihilists, Conservatives, Populists, Terrorists ….

The revolutions in Europe brought seditious ideas to Russia

Seditious literature circulated

Violence and assassination attempts


Executions & exiles


Product of the Universities

Nihilists rebelled against the older generation

Organization of Revolutionary Groups

•      Many women were members

•      Many members were from the Gentry

Land and Liberty Revolutionary Group

•      Some of the members advocated terrorism and assassinations targeting public officials especially the Tsar

•      Split over the issue of terrorism resulting in another organization called the People’s Will who favored terrorism

The People’s Will

Responsible for several assassination attempts on the Tsar.

In 1880, a member of the People’s Will, got a job in the Winter Palace. He smuggled dynamite into the Palace and set the charges. It killed 67 people but not the Tsar.

After the attempt, the People’s Will contacted the government with a proposal to stop further terrorism if the government would create a constitution and totally revoke all censorship

It didn’t happen so another assassination plan was drawn up.

Government Response

Stricter controls


Further control over the local governments

It was noted that scientific studies in the Universities tended to produce revolutionaries instead of the intended improvements in society so the Government insisted on a return to classical studies

Foreign Policy

Alexander exercised caution

Russia maintained friendly relations with both England and Austria

Military pushed expansionism

Expanded influence and domination in Central Asia reaching Afghanistan & then East towards China


Poland was apart of Russia

Alexander II introduced reform to Poland.

But, nationalists in Poland wanted complete independence

Rebellion breaks out in 1863

Poles proclaimed a national government

Russian troops crushed the rebellion

Western Europe sympathized with Poles

Russian Chancery told them to back off

Consequences of Polish Revolt

Police controlled state

Mandatory Russian language taught in Polish schools.

Forbidden to speak Polish

10% tax on Polish estates.

Confiscation of all Property of the Catholic Church

The Greek Catholic Church was forced to return to Orthodoxy

Russo Turkish War 1877-1878

Alexander went to war to liberate the Balkan Christians of Bosnia, Herzegovina and Bulgaria. Russia was the protector of the Slavic people and defender of the Eastern Orthodox Church.

At first, Alexander sent supplies, money and military advisors to help the rebels. He did not want to upset Britain and Austria. However, Turkish troops greatly outnumbered the rebels so the Russians sent troops anyway.

British and Austria called a conference. British upset cause Russia might control the straits of Constantinople which was too close to the Suez Canal, their trade route from India.

Result of War: Rumania, Serbia, and Montenegro gained independence. Russia gained Armenia, the Danube River, and the opening of the Straits to all nations

Alexander given the name the Great Liberator

Alexander II Assassination

As noted before, there were many assassination attempts made on Alexander II throughout his reign.

Assassins from the People’s Will were successful on March 13th, 1881 in front of the Church on the Savior on Blood.

Alexander was carried to the Winter Palace where he died in the presence of his son and heir, Alexander III and the future Tsar Nicolas II. This had a profound effect on the future of Russia

Consequences of Alexander’s Assassination

The revolutionaries involved in the assassination were rounded up and executed.

The People’s Will was crushed

Education was controlled by the Government

Under Alexander III, reform movements were set back.

Anti-Jewish pogroms and legislation implemented because one of the assassins was Jewish.

Suppression of Civil liberties

More Police brutality


Alexander made many reforms that benefited the Russian people, why then was there so much political unrest?

The Russian government noted a connection between scientific studies and revolutionaries. Do you think that encouraging the study of science in the Universities actually encouraged revolutionary thinking or was it just a coincidence? And if so, why?

Do you think the emancipation of the serfs was good for Russia or did it just stir up further unrest? Why?