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Alexander II

Alexander II Nikolayevich. Was born on April 17 (22), 1818 in Moscow. Died on March 1 (13), 1881 in Saint-Petersburg. The Title: the Emperor and All-Russian Tsar, Tsar of Poland, Grand Duke of Finland etc., etc., etc. Years of reigning: February 18 (March 2), 1855 - March 1 (13), 1881. Chronology: on February 18 [March 2], 1855 he came to the throne according to the law about succession to the throne of 1797 after death of his father Nikolai I; on August 26 [September 7], 1856 he was crowned in Uspensky cathedral, Moscow. Prince Royal of emperor Nikolai I and empress Alexandra Fedorovna. After accession of the father (in 1825), he became the successor to the throne. On August 29 [September 10], 1831 he received the title of Cesarevitch (crown prince).

Alexander inherited the throne after Nikolai's I death in the full fling of the Crimean war (1853-1856), which ended in the defeat of Russia. He carried out abolition of serfdom (in 1861), a number of reforms: university reform (in 1863), judicial reform (in 1864), press reform (in 1865), military reform (in 1874); self-management in provinces (in 1864) and cities (in 1870) was introduced. After the Polish revolt (1863-1864) started a guarding internal political policy, in particular, strengthened the role of the III Department, headed by P.A. Shuvalov. During Alexander's II reign, annexation to Russia of Caucasus (in 1864), Kazakhstan (in 1865), the greater part of Central Asia (1865-1881) was finished. In 1867 Alaska was sold to the United States of America. In 1873-1874 the "Union of three emperors" (Russia, Germany and Austria-Hungary) was formed. With the purpose of influence strengthening in the Balkan and to help the national liberation movement of Slavic peoples, Russia successfully participated in the Russian-Turkish war of 1877-1878, but suffered diplomatic defeat at the Berlin congress in 1878.

A number of attempts had been made on Alexander II life(1866, 1867, 1879, 1880), but they were unsuccessful. On March 1, 1881 there was the last attempt organized by Executive committee of "National will". As a result of the bomb wounds, emperor died in Winter palace in Saint-Petersburg.

Revolution of 1848 and the reaction, which followed, left a deep trace in political views of the future tsar. Contrary to his own conservative beliefs Alexander Nikolayevich followed the way of realization of cardinal reforms, refusing political principles of his father. Owing to the historical situation, Alexander II became a reformer against his will. Evidently, it is from here that his major political principle, by which he was guided in reformation activity, comes: reforms should not result in destabilization of society, and the progress achieved due to them should not damage any stratum of society. The aspiration to take a position of progressive centre in realization of transformation of public life and to avoid extreme flanks in reformist activity frequently led to inconsistency of political line. Alongside with repeatedly expressed intention to solve peasantry question, Alexander II made statements, which inspired conservatives. All these testified to the presence of serious conservative opposition, embodied by nobility and bureaucracy, to the reforms.

In this situation Alexander II had nothing else to do but to lean on the force, which might put pressure on conservative-minded landowners. It could only be a public opinion, which had not existed in former Russia. Alexander II had to create something like a public opinion and even some kind of press. In this connection censorship was loosened and the opportunity for polite, loyal and rather respectful discussion was given; light and polite criticism of actions of officials was allowed. Liberal changes took place in censorship, cancellation of general prohibition on departure abroad for Russian citizens and destruction of huge duties for foreign passports, cancellation of oppressions in laws concerning military service, liquidation of other the most odious principles of Tsar Nikolai's politics, discussion of possible changes in position of peasantry made Alexander II extraordinary popular. His name united representatives of various progressive public ideas in Russia.

The day of the manifest signing - February 19, 1861 was the day of the people's greatest love for the Tsar, apogee of his popularity in the society. Exactly since 1861 the activity of conservative and revolutionary-democratic opposition became evident. Attempts of the emperor to keep liberal line and please conservatives led to the restriction of reformatory activity, to ambiguity of carried out reforms. The motto of the policy selected by the emperor - "neither weakness, nor reaction!" - in practice reduced it to concessions to conservative coalition.

It was reflected in the change of the Tsar's nearest environment as well. Successful beginning of his reforms was connected with the fact, that he found support in the associates, including the family. The brother of the Tsar - Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolayevich had been for a long time at the head of the reform supporters. Among active supporters of reformatory activity of Alexander II it is necessary to name J.I. Rostovtsev, who made a lot to prepare the peasantry reform, and D.A. Milyutin, who developed and implemented basic ideas of military reform, and also N.A. Milyutin, J.F. Samarin etc.

On January 1, 1864 Russia received local government, which solved major questions of life of provinces and uyezds. Judicial reform was one of the major reforms too. In April 1865 "temporal" press rules were published, they considerably facilitated work of periodicals. The last large reform of the government of Alexander II was the introduction of general compulsory military service that allowed to form army on more progressive principles (January 1, 1874).

In the process of curtailing reformatory activity the distance between the Tsar and the society extended. Having woken the public opinion, having given hope for drastic changes of life in Russia, Alexander II was already unable to stop movement started by him. Attempts of reforms curtailing caused active protest among radically minded youth. Complicated public situation, understanding of impossibility to struggle with revolutionary movement (even with a rather small group of terrorists) without support of the government by the society pushed the emperor to necessity of reforms' continuation. In the morning on March 1, 1881, he ratified the extensive program of reforms, planned by count M.T. Loris-Melikov, which provided significant concession to liberal layers of the society; the program received the name "constitution of Loris-Melikov". But it was not put into practice, because on March 1, 1881 terrorists gained their end: Alexander II was killed.

Dramatic life of Alexander II and reforms carried out by him became a prologue for Russian tragedy, which would happen in some decades.


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