“Much must be done… Much must be changed…” these words Alexander II uttered in 1843 when he was acting as his father’s Regent (Caldwell). This desire related to the urgent changes that the Russian state needed served as a driving force for the reforms so skillfully implemented by the “Tsar Liberator”. But as it often happens, governors who strive for the state’s success are not accepted by the radical masses. The most common mistake that the assassinators usually make is to believe that the death of one person will lead to the crucial change in the society’s development and the more far-reaching reforms. The historical process proves that the assassination is usually followed by the hostile response to the reforms without which the society will just spin its wheels.
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The reforms that Alexander II has carried out during the years of his reign allow him to be ranked as one of the great makers of modern Russia. ”If the effect of Alexander’s reign is to be summed up in a single phrase, it may be said to mark the transition in Russia from a semi-feudal to an early capitalist economy”(Mosse 9). “ … Alexander II was probably the best Emperor Russia ever had. His reforms of 1861-4 … did more to set Russia on the road to a civilized form of polity than any before–or since” (Footman 9).
The steps that Alexander II has taken for the benefit of his state may be outlined as follows:
Emancipation: The Fundamental Reform.
Alexander II was not the first Russian governor who realized the necessity of the reform. Since the time of Nicholas I it became clear that the autocracy could not ignore the demands for reform. Having made considerable changes in legislation concerning industry and commerce Alexander II realized that the further progress of the state was impossible because of the existence of serfdom. But the problem of emancipation was not the one to be solved by one imperial proclamation.
This was an issue of a complex nature that embraced the economic, social and political aspects. Having studied all of the Alexander II reached out a conclusion that “It is better to abolish serfdom from above than to wait for the time when it begins to abolish itself from below” (Watts 18). As a result, the Russian peasantry was transformed into a class of independent communal proprietors. Though, Russia turned to be one of the last countries which managed to shake off serfdom, Alexander’s contribution to this historically significant event cannot be underestimated.
The abolition of serfdom was followed by the series of legal reforms, they included “the separation of judicial and administrative powers; trial by jury for criminal cases; trial of petty cases by Justices of the Peace in summary courts; the introduction of full publicity in tribunals; and the simplification of court procedure” (Watts 23). Though the new system suffered from a shortage of trained specialists, the existence of peasant courts did not correspond to the fundamental principle of equality before the law, it was more advanced than the previous one. Less corruption and a sense of fairness, were the results of Alexander’s deeds in the legal sphere.
The emancipation reform of 1861 also required a new local government system to be implemented. Alexander II appointed the Commission which decided on a system of district and local assemblies called zemstva. Though the preponderance of novelty in these organs was obvious, the zemstva operated successfully within the limited scope afforded to them and made sufficient improvements in the provision of local services.
Education and Censorship
One more sphere where Alexander II became notable is education. During his reign the number of primary schools has increased significantly; the quality of teaching has improved; the secondary education curriculum was modernized; the number of students engaged in it doubled; universities were allowed to exercise administrative autonomy; as preliminary censorship was relaxed, the publishing flourished.
Military reform remained a priority for Alexander’s policy. Actually, this was the most convincing factor that influenced the bureaucracy’s decision to abolish serfdom. The series of radical reforms introduced by the Minister of War Miliutin were directed to improve the efficiency and fairness of the Russian military system. Russian soldiers were encouraged to get the corresponding education; the morale in the Army was improved by various measures; the length of service was reduced. Considerable improvements were reached in the re-equipment the Army with modern weapons, in medical facilities and in construction of strategic railways.
Alexander’s contribution will not be fully analyzed without his achievements in the economic sphere. Introduction of a public budget in 1862 and establishment of a system of government exercise in 1863 facilitated economic growth. The growth of railway construction promoted by Alexander II contributed to the promotion of exports and the economy as a whole.
The social, administrative, educational and legal reforms would have been further extended by Alexander, but the revolutionists’ actions prevented the state from making a step on the road of constitutional government. Though history does not allow the usage of the subjunctive mood, in Alexander’s case the destiny of the whole country depended on the rash actions of the group of people who had nothing but a vague hope of a Revolution.
Caldwell, Lucy. “Assess the reign of Alexander II.” Web.
Footman, David. The Alexander Conspiracy: A Life of A. I. Zhelyabov. LaSalle, IL: Open Court, 1974.
Mosse, W. E. Alexander II and the Modernization of Russia. London: English Universities Press, 1958.
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Watts, Carl Peter. “Alexander II’s Reforms CAUSES AND CONSEQUENCES.” History Review 1998: 17.