Alexander II of Russia

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For other people who went by the same title, see Alexander II.
Alexander II Nikolaevitch
Emperor of the Russian Empire
Reign March 2 1855-March 13 1881
Coronation March 2 1855
Born April 17 1818
Moscow
Died March 13 1881
St. Petersburg
Predecessor Nicholas I
Successor Alexander III
Consort Marie of Hesse and by Rhine
Issue Grand Duchess Alexandra Alexandrovna
Grand Duke Nicholas Alexandrovich
Tsar Alexander III (Alexandrovich)
Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna
Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich
Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich
Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich
Grand Duke Pavel Alexandrovich
Royal House House of Romanov
Father Nicholas I
Mother Charlotte of Prussia

Alexander (Aleksandr) II Nikolaevitch (Russian: Александр II Николаевич) (born April 17, 1818 in Moscow; died March 13, 1881 in St. Petersburg) was the Tsar (Emperor) of Russia from March 2 1855 until his assassination in 1881. He was also the Grand Duke of Finland.

Born in 1818, he was the eldest son of Tsar Nicholas I of Russia and Charlotte of Prussia, daughter of Frederick William III of Prussia and Louise of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. His early life gave little indication of his ultimate potential; until the time of his accession in 1855, few imagined that he would be known to posterity as a great reformer.

Contents

[edit] Early life

In the period of thirty years during which he was heir apparent, the atmosphere of St. Petersburg was unfavourable to the development of any intellectual or political innovation. Government was based on principles under which all freedom of thought and all private initiative were, as far as possible, suppressed vigorously. Personal and official censorship was rife; criticism of the authorities was regarded as a serious offence.

Under supervision of the liberal poet Vasily Zhukovsky, Alexander received the education commonly given to young Russians of good family at that time: a smattering of a great many subjects, and exposure to the chief modern European languages. He took little personal interest in military affairs. To the disappointment of his father, who was passionate about the military, he showed no love of soldiering. Alexander gave evidence of a kind disposition and a tender-heartedness which were considered out of place in one destined to become a military autocrat.

[edit] Emperor

Alexander succeeded to the throne upon the death of his father in 1855. The first year of his reign was devoted to the prosecution of the Crimean War, and after the fall of Sevastopol to negotiations for peace, led by his trusted counsellor, Prince Gorchakov. Then he began a period of radical reforms, encouraged by public opinion but carried out with autocratic power. All who had any pretensions to enlightenment declared loudly that the country had been exhausted and humiliated by the war, and that the only way of restoring it to its proper position in Europe was to develop its natural resources and thoroughly to reform all branches of the administration. The government therefore found in the educated classes a new-born public spirit, anxious to assist it in any work of reform that it might think fit to undertake.

Fortunately for Russia the autocratic power was now in the hands of a man who was impressionable enough to be deeply influenced by the spirit of the time, and who had sufficient prudence and practicality to prevent his being carried away by the prevailing excitement into the dangerous region of Utopian dreaming. Unlike some of his predecessors, he had no grand, original schemes of his own to impose by force on unwilling subjects, and no pet projects to lead his judgment astray. He looked instinctively with a suspicious, critical eye upon the panaceas which more imaginative and less cautious people recommended. These character traits, together with the peculiar circumstances in which he was placed, determined the part which he was to, in great measure, brought to fruition the reform aspirations of the educated classes.

However, the growth of a revolutionary movement to the "left" of the educated classes led to an abrupt end to Alexander's changes when he was assassinated by a bomb in 1881. It is interesting to note that after Alexander became czar in 1855, he maintained a generally liberal course at the helm while providing a target for numerous assassination attempts (1866, 1873, 1880)..

[edit] Emancipation of the serfs

Though he carefully guarded his autocratic rights and privileges, and obstinately resisted all efforts to push him farther than he felt inclined to go, Alexander for several years acted somewhat like a constitutional sovereign of the continental type. Soon after the conclusion of peace, important changes were made in legislation concerning industry and commerce, and the new freedom thus afforded produced a large number of limited liability companies. At the same time, plans were formed for building a great network of railways — partly for the purpose of developing the natural resources of the country, and partly for the purpose of increasing its power for defense and attack.
Image:Chenstokhov.jpg
A monument to Alexander II in Częstochowa.

Then it was found that further progress was blocked by a formidable obstacle: the existence of serfdom. Alexander showed that, unlike his father, he meant to grapple boldly with this difficult and dangerous problem. Taking advantage of a petition presented by the Polish landed proprietors of the Lithuanian provinces, and hoping that their relations with the serfs might be regulated in a more satisfactory way (meaning in a way more satisfactory for the proprietors), he authorized the formation of committees "for ameliorating the condition of the peasants," and laid down the principles on which the amelioration was to be effected.

This step was followed by one still more significant. Without consulting his ordinary advisers, Alexander ordered the Minister of the Interior to send a circular to the provincial governors of European Russia, containing a copy of the instructions forwarded to the governor-general of Lithuania, praising the supposed generous, patriotic intentions of the Lithuanian landed proprietors, and suggesting that perhaps the landed proprietors of other provinces might express a similar desire. The hint was taken: in all provinces where serfdom existed, emancipation committees were formed.

The deliberations at once raised a host of important, thorny questions. The emancipation was not merely a humanitarian question capable of being solved instantaneously by imperial ukase. It contained very complicated problems, deeply affecting the economic, social and political future of the nation.
Image:Tsar-liberator-imagesfrombulgaria.jpg
The Monument to the Tsar Liberator in Sofia commemorates Alexander II's decisive role in the Liberation of Bulgaria from Ottoman rule during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78.

Alexander had little of the special knowledge required for dealing successfully with such problems, and he had to restrict himself to choosing between the different measures recommended to him. The main point at issue was whether the serfs should become agricultural labourers dependent economically and administratively on the landlords, or whether they should be transformed into a class of independent communal proprietors. The emperor gave his support to the latter project, and the Russian peasantry became one of the last groups of peasants in Europe to shake off serfdom.

The architects of the emancipation manifesto were Alexander's brother Konstantin, Yakov Rostovtsev, and Nikolay Milyutin. On March 3 1861, the sixth anniversary of his accession, the emancipation law was signed and published.

[edit] Other reforms

Other reforms followed: army and navy re-organization (1874); a new judicial administration based on the French model (1864); a new penal code and a greatly simplified system of civil and criminal procedure; an elaborate scheme of local self-government for the rural districts (1864) and the large towns (1870), with elective assemblies possessing a restricted right of taxation, and a new rural and municipal police under the direction of the Minister of the Interior. Alexander II would be the second monarch to abolish capital punishment, a penalty which is still legal (although not practiced) in Russia.

However, the workers wanted better worker conditions; national minorities wanted freedom. When radicals began to resort to the formation of secret societies and to revolutionary agitation, Alexander II felt constrained to adopt severe repressive measures.

Alexander II resolved to try the effect of some moderate liberal reforms in an attempt to quell the revolutionary agitation, and for this purpose he instituted a ukase for creating special commissions, composed of high officials and private personages who should prepare reforms in various branches of the administration.

Further information: Judicial reform of Alexander II

[edit] Marriages and children

Image:Cartetsar.JPG
Tsar Alexander II, his wife Marie and son, the future Alexander III

On April 16 1841 he married Princess Marie of Hesse in St. Petersburg, the daughter of Ludwig II, Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine, thereafter known as Maria Alexandrovna. The marriage produced six sons and two daughters:

NameBirthDeathNotes
Grand Duchess Alexandra AlexandrovnaAugust 30 1842July 10 1849
Grand Duke Nicholas AlexandrovichSeptember 20 1843April 24 1865engaged to Dagmar of Denmark
Tsar Alexander IIIMarch 10 1845November 1 1894married 1866, Dagmar of Denmark; had issue
Grand Duke Vladimir AlexandrovichApril 22 1847February 17 1909married 1874, Princess Marie Alexandrine Elisabeth Eleonore of Mecklenburg-Schwerin; had issue
Grand Duke Alexei AlexandrovichJanuary 14 1850November 14 1908married 1867/1870, Alexandra Vasilievna Zhukovskaya; had issue
Grand Duchess Maria AlexandrovnaOctober 17 1853October 20 1920married 1874, Alfred Duke of Edinburgh; had issue
Grand Duke Sergei AlexandrovichApril 29 1857February 4 1905married 1884, Elizabeth of Hesse;  
Grand Duke Paul AlexandrovichOctober 3 1860January 24 1919married 1889, Alexandra of Greece and Denmark; had issue - second marriage 1902, Olga Karnovich; had issue

On July 6 1880, less than a month after Tsarina Maria's death on June 8, Alexander formed a morganatic marriage with his mistress Princess Catherine Dolgoruki, with whom he already had three children. A fourth child would be born to them before his death.

  • George Alexandrovich Romanov Yurievsky (1872-1913). Married Countess Alexandra Zarnekau and had issue. They later divorced.
  • Olga Alexandrovna Romanov Yurievsky (1873-1925). Married Count George von Merenberg.
  • Boris Alexandrovich Yurievsky (1876-1876).
  • Catherine Alexandrovna Romanov Yurievsky (1878-1959). Married first Prince Alexander V. Bariatinsky and second Prince Serge Obolensky, whom she later divorced.

[edit] Suppression of national movements

At the beginning of his reign, Alexander expressed the famous statement "No dreams" addressed for Poles, populating Congress Poland, Western Ukraine, Lithuania, Livonia and Belarus. The result was the January Uprising of 1863-4 that was suppressed after eighteen months of fighting. Thousands of Poles were executed, tens of thousands were deported to Siberia. The price for suppression was Russian support for Prussian-united Germany. Twenty years later, Germany became the major enemy of Russia on continent.

All territories of the former Poland-Lithuania were excluded from liberal policies introduced by Alexander. The martial law in Lithuania, introduced in 1863, lasted for the next 50 years. Native languages, Lithuanian, Ukrainian and Belarusian were completely banned from printed texts, see, e.g., Ems Ukase. The Polish language was banned in both oral and written form from all provinces except Congress Kingdom, where it was allowed in private conversations only .

[edit] Rewarding loyalty and encouraging Finnish nationalism

Comparison with the treatment of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Finland is very interesting. In 1863 Alexander II re-established the Diet of Finland and initiated several reforms increasing Finland's autonomy from Russia including establishment of own currency, the Markka. Liberation of enterprise lead to increased foreign investment and industrial development. And finally the elevation of Finnish from a language for simple people to a national language equal to Swedish opened opportunities for a larger proportion of the society. Alexander II is still regarded as "The Good Czar" in Finland.

Alexander's attitude towards Finland should be seen as genuine belief in reforms. It can be that reforms were easier to test in a small, homogeneous country than the whole of Russia. The benevolent treatment of Finland can also be seen as a reward for the loyalty of its relatively western and Swedish-oriented population during the Crimean war and during the Polish uprising. Encouraging Finnish nationalism and language can also be seen as an attempt to weaken ties with Sweden.

[edit] Assassination attempts

In 1866 there was an attempt on his life in Petersburg by Dmitry Karakozov. To commemorate his narrow escape from death (that he referred to only as "the event of April 4, 1866"), a number of churches and chapels were built in many Russian cities.

On the morning of April 20 1879, Alexander II was walking towards the Square of the Guards Staff and faced Alexander Soloviev, a 33 year-old former student. Having seen a revolver in his hands, the Tsar ran away; Soloviev fired five times but missed. He was sentenced to death and hanged on May 28.

The student acted on his own, but other revolutionaries were keen to kill Alexander. In December 1879, the Narodnaya Volya (People's Will), a radical revolutionary group which hoped to ignite a social revolution, organised an explosion on the railway from Livadia to Moscow, but they missed the Tsar's train. Subsequently, on the evening of February 5, 1880 the same revolutionaries set off a charge under the dining room of the Winter Palace, right in the resting room of the Guards a story below. The Tsar was not harmed as he was late to the supper, and the explosion did not destroy the dining room either, although the floor was heavily damaged.The explosion did however kill or harm 67 other people.

[edit] Assassination

Image:Sankt Petersburg Auferstehungskirche 2005 d.jpg
The Church of the Savior on Blood commemorates the spot where Alexander was assassinated.

After the last assassination attempt, Count Loris-Melikov was appointed the head of the Supreme Executive Commission and given extraordinary powers to fight the revolutionaries. Loris-Melikov's proposals called for some form of parliamentary body, and the Emperor seemed to agree; these plans were never realized as on March 13 (March 1 Old Style), 1881 Alexander fell victim to an assassination plot. While the tsar's carriage travelled along one of the central streets of St. Petersburg, near the Winter Palace, a bomb detonated, injuring several civilians. Accounts claim that when Alexander got out of his bulletproof carriage (a gift from Napoleon III), he was hit by another suicide bomber, mortally wounded by an explosion of hand-made grenades and died a few hours afterwards. Nikolai Kibalchich, Sophia Perovskaya, Nikolai Rysakov, Timofei Mikhailov, and Andrei Zhelyabov were all arrested and sentenced to death. Gesya Gelfman was sent to Siberia. The Tsar was killed by Ignacy Hryniewiecki, a Pole from Bobrujsk (now Babruysk, Belarus), who died as well during the attack. It has been theorized[citation needed] that it was a result of the Russification process, which constituted a complete ban on the Polish language in public places, schools, and offices, led to Hryniewiecki's resolve to assassinate Alexander II.


[edit] References

[edit] Further reading

  • Moss, Walter G., Alexander II and His Times: A Narrative History of Russia in the Age of Alexander II, Tolstoy, and Dostoevsky. London: Anthem Press, 2002 (available online)
  • Radzinsky, Edvard, Alexander II: The Last Great Tsar. New York: The Free Press, 2005

[edit] External links

Wikisource has original works written by or about:
Preceded by:
Nicholas I
Emperor of Russia
March 2, 1855March 13, 1881
Succeeded by:
Alexander III
bg:Александър ІІ

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Alexander II of Russia

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