'The Tsar Reformer'-Alexander II

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'The Tsar Reformer'-Alexander II

  • He set out to remodel completely the enormous state which had been entrusted to his care.
  • To abolish an old-age order founded on slavery and to replace it with civic decency and freedom
  • To establish justice in a country which had never known the meaning of legality.

Motives for reform

  • The impact of the Crimean War
  • Alexander II's own views
  • Economic considerations
  • Moral and intellectual considerations
  • Political considerations

The impact of the Crimean War

  • Russia had just suffered two disastrous defeats in the Crimean War against Britain, France and Turkey and Piedmont-Sardinia at Balaclava in October 1854 and Inkerman in November 1854.
  • Russia's great naval base on the Black Sea had fallen to its enemies.
  • The country was in a state of shock and humiliation.
  • The Crimean War, undertaken in a spirit of utmost confidence, had proved a disaster in many respects.
  • The war had shown Russia's military and administrative inadaquencies ,
  • Disrupted much needed trade through the Black Sea.
  • Provoked peasant uprisings.
  • Thrown a gap between Russia and the West in sharp relief.
  • The war was concluded with the Treaty of Paris in 1856.
  • This treaty not only reduced Russia's influence in the Black Sea area but also declared the Black Sea, a 'neutral zone' preventing its use by Russian Warships in times of peace.
  • The Russian belief that it was one of the 'great powers' in Europe was seriously brought into question.
  • The shameful defeat and peace treaty led members of the Russian intelligensia and some of the more enlightened officials to raise questions about the state of Russian society and its reliance on an army of serf conscripts.
  • General Milyutin who eventually became minister of war 1861-81, took the view that the army needs to be modernised.
  • A new way of enlisting soldiers was needed.
  • Russia's inadequate communication systems and its lack of railways were also held responsible for the wartime failures.
  • If the system of serfdom were changed and the communications network opened up, there was also a possibility of developing Russia's economic potential.
  • The need to reform found willing ears among the St Petersburg 'Party of Progress', the loose title given to the more liberal civil servants.

Alexander II's own views

  • Alexander was no 'liberal' in the broad sense of the term.
  • Fully committed to maintaining the tsarist autocracy and upholding his 'God-given duties'
  • Felt it was his responsibility to enhance the power and prestige of Russia and restoring the country's dignity as a leading power of Europe.
  • Accepted that Russia needed to change
  • Believed that granting limited freedoms and reforms, he would help stimulate a more dynamic economy, withou altering the basic framework of his rule.
  • Alexander had taken control of government, particularly in his father's absence abroad.
  • He was on various committees over 10 years, including one on serfdom and another on railways.


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