‘THE TSAR REFORMER’ – ALEXANDER II (1855-81) : THE PERIOD OF REFORMS, 1855-66

Notes on the reforms of Alexander II, adapted from Sally Waller's textbook

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TOPIC TWO : `THE TSAR REFORMER' ­ ALEXANDER II (1855-81)
THE PERIOD OF REFORMS, 1855-66
Event Date
Crimean War 1853-1856
Death of Nicholas I
1855
Alexander II comes to power ­ Crimean War going badly
Treaty of Paris ends Crimean War 1856
Alexander instructs each province to consider reform 1857
Drafting Commission appointed to consider proposals 1859
Emancipation of the Serfs
Riots by peasants 1861
Beginning of school expansion
Public budget set and published
1862
Regional military commands established
Universities given significant autonomy 1863
Zemstva Introduced in Countryside 1864
Press given greater freedom 1865
Assassination attempt on Alexander II 1866
Second assassination attempt 1867
Duma established in towns 1870
First women admitted to Moscow University 1872
Introduction of Conscription 1874
Pobedonostsev fears constitution in letter to Alexander III 1879
Alexander II assassinated by Narodnya Volya 1881
A LIBERAL AGENDA?
Boris Chicherin (1828-1904) wrote Alexander II set out to transform Russia along liberal lines
and that if he had been successful Russia might have developed into a western-style society,
but this was perverted by Alexander III and Nicholas II.
THE NEED FOR REFORM
Nicholas I on his death-bed told Alexander `I hand over to you my command, unfortunately
not in as good order as I would have wished'. Russia had suffered two major defeats in the
Crimean War and lost the naval base of Sebastopol on the Black Sea, causing shock and
humiliation.
Russia had expected victory in war but failure showed inadequacies in military and
administration, ruined important trade through Black Sea, led to peasant uprisings, and
revealed backwardness of country compared to West.
War ended with Treaty of Paris (1856) ­ Russia lost dominance over Black Sea, which became
neutral zone, preventing Russian ships using it in peacetime. Showed Russia's greatness an
illusion.

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Led to Russian intelligentsia and enlightened officials to question state of Russian society and
reliance on army of serf conscripts. General Dmitri Milyutin, later minister of war (1861-81)
thought army needed modernising ­ meant new method for enlisting soldiers. Poor
communications and lack of railways blamed for war failure -- two-thirds of men in some
battalions died from starvation or sickness before even reaching front.
Changes to serfdom and communications raised prospect of developing Russia's economic
potential.…read more

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I ask you, gentlemen, to figure out
how all this can be carried out to completion.' Alexander was determined on emancipation,
but he shrewdly judged that ­ by making over to the landowners the responsibility for
detailing how this was to be done ­ he had made it very difficult for them either to resist his
command or to blame him if their plans were subsequently shown to be faulty.…read more

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Russia between 1826 and 1854. By granting some of the measures that the intelligentsia
had called for, while in fact tightening control over the peasants, Alexander intended to
lessen the social and political threat to the established system that those figures
frighteningly represented. Above all, he hoped that an emancipated peasantry, thankful
for the gifts that a bountiful tsar had given them, would provide physically fitter and
morally worthier recruits for Russia's armies, the symbol and guarantee of Russia's
greatness as a nation.…read more

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Intellectuals pressing for reform before 1855 but divided between Slavophiles who
believed in unique Russian way and Westerners who favoured more western approach.
Slavophiles believed in maintaining peasant society and tenets of Orthodox Church;
Westerners wanted to abandon some Russian traditions to absorb modern western values ­
economic and military reforms necessary and reforms to `civilise' society by providing
representative assemblies, reducing stranglehold of Orthodox Church and establishing civil
liberties.…read more

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Alexander I made it legal for landowners to sell peasants land ­ but only 100,000
bought freedom in this way.
1816-19 Baltic states of Estonia, Livonia and Kurland abolished serfdom but land not given to
freed serfs.
1840s saw attempt to regulate serfdom in Ukraine.
Nicholas I recognised serfdom as `evil palpable to all' ­ convened ten secret committees to
discuss issue ­ got nowhere.…read more

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THE TERMS OF THE EMANCIPATION UKASE
Decree only applied to privately owned serfs living on land.
State serfs had to wait until 1866 to receive complete freedom (had gained some freedoms
before 1861)
7 million serfs did not fit into above categories ­ terms for these worked out over following
years.
Basic provisions:
(a) Serfs released from bondage and set free to marry, own property, set up businesses,
travel and enjoy legal rights.…read more

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The Reforms of Tsar Alexander II, Carl Peter Watts, History
Review 1998)
THE POSITIVE RESULTS OF THE EMANCIPATION DECREE
Some peasants did well out of land allocation and bought extra land from less prosperous
neighbours ­ known as kulaks ­ increased land holding and sold surplus grain.
Some landowners used compensation to clear debts and to invest in industrial enterprises.…read more

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Many peasants resented paying redemption payment for land they saw as theirs, even
though payments roughly equal to previous feudal dues ­ although some did pay more.
Some peasants granted less land than they had previously farmed.
Even those ostensibly granted same amount of land found they lost use of common land,
right to graze cattle on pasture land, right to collect firewood and lost protection from
landlords in times of hardship ­ found it harder to cope without these `props'.…read more

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Mir system stifled innovation and agricultural progress as peasants had to co-operate with
others within commune and each male child born to family received share of family land,
thereby reducing size of holdings.
Mir also tended to restrict issue of internal passports which had detrimental impact on
industrial development due to lack of mobile labour force. Alexander Gerschenkron believes
that such developments contributed towards the retardation of Russian economic
development by preventing the emergence of a freely mobile labour force.…read more

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