Tsar Alexander II: Facts, History, Summary: Life, Achievements, Reforms:
Crimean War, Emancipation of Serfs, Foreign Policies, Revolutionaries, Assassination
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
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
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
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
Established a new court system which was more unified
New order of legal proceedings
Recognition of equality of the parties involved
Trial by Jury
Defendant allowed legal representation
Free legal advice for poor
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
Improved health care
Reduced controls on the press
Reactions to Reform
Most Russians thought that the reforms were not enough, Too Little too Late
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.
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
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
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?