Alexander II as Tsar Liberator

Alexander II as Tsar Liberator

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Alexander II as Tsar Liberator

When Alexander the second came to power in 1855, he inherited many of
the problems that augmented from his previous predecessor, Nicholas
the first. This led the tsar to undertake a series of great reforms,
which gave him the charming title of “Liberator”. However, were his
motives clearly to bring change and a better Russia or were there
other motives? Did he expect something in return? After all, for the
sake of autocracy he couldn’t just welcome liberation with arm wide
open, but rather with a wary handshake.

Perhaps the most significant reform was the emancipation of the serfs.
This sought to update the structure of the current serf system and in
turn reverse the fortunes of the failing nobility. As the peasants
made up 80% of Russia it thought to be wise to improve their situation
and as a result this would strengthen Russia as a whole. However, the
results of the emancipation of the serfs did not match its propose.

Peasants actually ended up with around 1/5 less land than before as
they now had to pay for it. They now had to pay direct taxes and land
was never really theirs to privately own. The nobles felt disgruntled
at having to give up 1/3 of their land. Alexander the second didn’t
really get any gratitude from the serfs and lost respects of the
nobility. This level of resentment did not, nevertheless, create a
strong challenge to the autocracy because of the largely uneducated
peasantry. Unrest would die down subsequently in the countryside.

Alexander the second did not fail entirely though. Nobles were
compensated with political power for the reduction of their land. One
must also consider the awful conditions already at the countryside
before reform. The tsar at least made an effort to combat the out-
dated structures.

The tsar also tried to reform the local politics and the economy. The
zenistra (local council) would govern over many issues such as
education. Despite early fast establishments of the council, by 1917
only 43 of the 70 provinces of Russia were converted.

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With the duma
(created in 1870), cabinet, the zenistra proved to be quite useful
with 15,000 extra schools being introduced by 1880. In addition, the
interest in local politics grew as forums and discussions within
assemblies grew to be frequent occasions.

A start was also made on improving the logistical side by building
railways. The treasury and an excise duty were passed as reforms in
1862and 1863 respectively. It seemed that despite the failure of
emancipation Alexander was recovering with some modernization on some
other fronts.

Other reforms brought mixed reactions. A consequence of emancipation
was that peasants were granted legal status. Nevertheless, they were
still subjected to traditional laws and regulations. The military
reforms of 1874 meant that men would have to serve at least six years
in the forces and be on reserve for an additional nine. These were
unpopular as men were the providers for their families, so their
families would also suffer because of their absence.

It may be unfair to name Alexander the second as a selfish
Machiavellian, as he did not have perhaps, the mental capacity. His
reforms seemed not to be measured but were reflections of his
personality, because of their blatant inconsistency. The tsar could be
seen in some context as a liberator, simply for attempting to develop
an undeveloped, traditional ruling philosophy.

As the lonesome ruler over Russia the tsars had to control and decide
its fate. Emancipation was at least given priority, which had been
demoted for many years. It may not have been the ideal end result,
especially for the peasantry, but it had reversed old age policies.

Liberation may have been instilled with some importance and
credibility, but above all else, autocracy had to be upheld.
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