Alexander Ll

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Alexander II held the title ‘Liberator’ due to his leading role in the radical reforms that took place in Russia from 1855. The Tsar greatly benefited from Russia’s autocratic style government and took the drastic changes as a way of preserving this. Russia was beginning to fall behind in comparison to other powers, e. g. in the delay of abolishing serfdom. This was highlighted after a humiliating defeat at the Crimean War in 1856, after losing on home ground, with poor military and training becoming apparent.

This loss acted as a major catalyst for change in Russia.

To have of fundamentally transform Russia, Alexander II would have to have improved Russia socially, politically, militarily and economically. The abolition of serfdom was phased over a period of 20 years, considering how in 1861, 50 million of the 60 million inhabitants of Russia were peasants, 23 million of them being serfs.

When in 1861 all serfs were given freedom, all control their owner had was lost. They were allowed to keep their own cottages and surrounding land, and often were hired by their previous landlord to work on their farmland.

Morally, granting freedom to 23 million people could be considered a fundamental transformation of Russia. However, Alexander II experienced economic and political disadvantages. While serfs had the right to their own land, surrounding land they had to buy. The small strips of land could be all an ex-serf would have, and in situations where landlords would keep surrounding land, serfs would be in a worse situation.

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Due to a lack in education and training, the ex-serfs would be unable to manage their land. The economy was therefore affected, with up to a 23% decline in agricultural holdings in some parts of Russia.

What Did Alexander Ii Do To Reform The Military?

Serfs would be tied to a village by the redemption paymentsthat were spread over 49 years. This contradicts Alexander II’s invention of expanding people’s culture by issuing passports. Passports caused additional problems as due to this and other effects of emancipating the serfs, other developments that could have taken place in Russia were hampered. While the emancipation of the serfs was a step in the right direction for Alexander II fundamentally transforming Russia, he failed to follow through and it was too little if Russia was to again be on the same level as other powers.

A reason Alexander II faced difficulties could be due to the lack of education in Russia at the time. How could the people of Russia move forward if only a very limited number knew how? The Russian government held back on education, due to a fear of new ideas spreading which would contradict that of the autocracy or orthodox church. However, soon Russia’s lack of education was clearly holding them back, as while England founded universities in the 13th century, they were not founded in Russia until the 18th century.

While Britain lead the world in the industrial revolution, Russia remained immensely unproductive, with peasants constantly tending to their fields to create enough substance to provide. Russia was already at a disadvantage agriculturaly due to Russia’s poor soil and inconsistent weather. Education was widely extended as a follow up the emancipation of the serfs. Schools were declared open to all and secondary schools and universities grew. By giving peasants an education, Russia could hopefully industrialise increase productivity: Russian farmers could no longer sell the huge quantities necessary to supply the western countries.

However, despite universities being given greater independence, revolutionary disturbances in the 1870s led to the state interfering with the autocratic government retaining the right to decline applications. It could therefore be considered Russia’s education wasn’t fundamentally transformed as AlexanderII wasn’t willing to fully commit to everyone having a right to a full education, Alexander kept tim continuation of the autocracy as the main priority. Censorship reforms also had limited success but was held back by the government’s hesitancy towards criticism.

By 1865 the press was allowed to discuss government policy and foreign publications were allowed into Russia (albeit only under political approval). The relaxation of censorship encouraged education also as the number of published books grew by ten times more by 1894, even matching British and American outputs combined. Although tight censorship returned, judicial reforms led to a more educated public as the conduct of trials became known. Russia’s previous judicial system was chaotic and cruel, and kept extremely secret from the public.

It suited the maintenance of serfdom and was in line with Russia’s autocratic government as the estate holder and was sole decider of the fate. By reforming the judicial system, Alexander II saw to transform the process in a fair and practical service. The new system made various classes more equal, higher classes were no longer given separate courts with different punishments and judges would no longer be bribed or abused as they were better trained with a more worthwhile salary.

Moreover, by reducing the cruelty of the sentences, Russia could begin a transformation in which the Russian public could less resent their country and it made a major contribution to the modernisation of Russia. However the system was still flawed as true equality between the rich and poor was not reached: juries were still made up of wealthy men with prejudice over the poor. As a recurring theme, Alexander II limited trials in that the bureaucracy could intervene and still have the final verdict.

The judicial reform of 1864 was indeed a crucial step in integrating Russia’s poor and wealthy groups but in the end they still remain vastly separate. Russia’s nobility dominated the courts when instead Alexander II should have aimed to secure a more universal system where each of his people could be represented. The necessity of military reforms became apparent after the defeat in the Crimean War and then again after the emancipation of the serfs drastically reduced conscription and therefore the size of the army.

Previous reforms could be considered to have made the military reforms easier as by making the Russia a fairer, better place to live then the military’s problem of a less than patriotic army could be solved. With a more systematic army with smaller divisions and better planning, the Russian army could be more prepared for defence. Alexander II put Dmitri Milyutin in charge as he introduced a number of reforms over a 20 year period. The military was given far more advanced weapons, proper training and promotions became more open in an attempt to make leadership more effective .

The biggest change, and most significant step towards a fundamentally reformed Russia, was in conscription. By ending the conscription of children and convicts and cutting conscription for men over 20 from twenty five years to six, Milyutin created a more motivated army. However, these reforms grew great criticism, notably from the merchants and nobility, where the idea of service was terrifying. This shows Alexander slowly attempting to close the social gap. In addition, the new army acted as a significant saving in government spending, lessening the strain on Russian economy.

It also acted in restoring some of Russia’s international reputation, lost after the Crimean War. In conclusion,Alexander II’s effort cannot be denied as he implemented a wide range of reforms but could not maintain them to the full extent. When it comes to Russia’s backwardness, Alexander II made little effect as other powers were so greatly advanced and his reforms were too little and too late. For example, despite exemplary efforts in the military, compared to Britain’s renowned army, Russia couldn’t compare.

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Alexander Ll. (2019, Dec 07). Retrieved from

Alexander Ll
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