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Tsar Alexander II
The Great Emancipator
Alexander II's Rise to Power
On February 18th , 1855 Russian Emperor Nicholas I died following a brief illness.
Quote: "He had ruled Russia with a rod of iron for 30 years"
Before passing, Nicholas warned his son of the troubles Russia faced. Getting out of the
Crimean war was the most pressing of all of the issues. There was the idea that Alexander II
was a harsh leader.
The Crimean War: Russia wanted to take over land in Eastern Europe. Countries like UK,
France etc. were worried, and were fighting for their land.
"The war-exhausted Russia was unable to fight on a par with the French and British and had to
conclude a humiliating peace treaty."
The Crimean war showed that Russia was still behind Europe in terms of military, education
and many other areas. Alexander knew that reforms in these areas were essential to his
family's survival as rulers. He knew that he would not be able to rule as country such as
Russia. Revolution was coming around when he was trying to rule.
Attempts at Reform
Alexander II was 36 when he became Tsar. He quickly set forth with some attempts at
improving Russian life. Some of the more significant changes were when he:
1. Abolished press censorship to an extent it was lowered so that stories were allowed to be
2. He authorized a free issuance of foreign travel passports. He was trying to promote trade and
also tourism by insuring that people actually had passports.
3. He announced an amnesty (forgiveness) to those who had attempted to kill his father,
Nicholas I. He did this to effectively get them onto his side appeasement.
4. Then he carefully got down to the main reform of his reign, the one that was long overdue
and a drag on Russia's economic development, namely the emancipation of peasants from
serfdom. ( serfdom obligated to work on a lords land... Like peasants, but poorer with no
The main issue that he could no longer neglect was the treatment of the peasantry and
serfdom. Without reform, Russia would no longer modernize. This was for industry to get
peasants on his side to push Russia forward. If he gave the serfs and peasants land, they
would get some freedom.
Through the nobles were nervous, he told them "it is better to destroy serfdom from above
than to await the time when it begins to destroy itself from below."
Alexander II formed a council to study to matter and urged the nobility to think over the best
way to carry out that important reform.
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Emancipation of the Serfs
Two years after the establishment of the committee on serfdom was established, they came up with a
plan on emancipation. The Emancipation Act of 1861 freed 52 million serfs, 45% of the Russian
population (for comparison, the US free d 4 million slaves two years later). This therefore gave them
opportunities which was very, very good PR for Alexander II.
1. Serfs still had to work on the land for two years, allowing for a smoother change. (?)