“Much must be done… Much must be changed…” these words Alexander II, the emperor of Russia (1855-81) 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.
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On March 1, 1881, when the emperor signed the proclamation announcing his intentions to implement the so-called Loris-Melikov Constitution he was mortally wounded by bombs in a plot sponsored by the opposing People’s Will. Our point is that Alexander II was a great man and he should have not got killed because of at least three reasons: the reforms that he has carried out during the years of his reign allow him to be ranked as one of the great makers of modern Russia; he built the base needed for the emergence of capitalism and industrialization in the Russian empire; the death of one person does not lead to the crucial change in the society’s development and to the more far-reaching reforms.
Alexander’s importance lies chiefly in the reforms he has carried out during the years of his reign. “ … 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 took the form of social, administrative, educational, and legal reforms.
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. Less corruption and a sense of fairness were the results of Alexander’s deeds in the legal sphere. Zemstva as a new form of local government that Alexander introduced operated successfully and made sufficient improvements in the provision of local services.
More spheres wherein Alexander II became notable is education and censorship: 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 was a priority for Alexander’s policy. This was the most convincing factor that influenced the bureaucracy’s decision to abolish serfdom. As for Alexander’s achievements in the economic sphere his introduction of a public budget in 1862 and establishment of a system of government exercise in 1863 facilitated economic growth.
Further, Alexander II can be regarded as the great man of his time because during his reign the Russian Empire built the base for entering the industrial stage of its development. Not only was the modernization of Russian institutions in the direction of industrialization intensive during Alexander’s reign, but the development of Russian imperialism in Asia as well. The definitive subjugation of the Caucasus (in the 1860s), and the conquest of central Asia in the 1870s paved the way for the further development of Russian imperialism in Asia.
Serf emancipation and creation of zemstvos, the introduction of universal service, the establishment of jury trial, and judicial statutes promoted the development of productive forces and created social-economic preconditions for entering the industrial way of development. During the reign of Alexander II Russia demonstrated stability in industrial development.
There exists a common mistake among assassinators: they believe that the death of one person will lead to a crucial change in society’s development and the more far-reaching reforms. The historical process, however, proves that the assassination is usually followed by the hostile response to the reforms without which the society will just spin its wheels. Alexander’s reforms would have been further extended by him, but the revolutionists’ actions prevented the state from making a step on the road of constitutional government.
Alexander II’s assassination caused a great setback for the reform movement. The day before the assassination Alexander II completed his project of an elected parliament or Duma. The assassination hampered the release of the plans to the Russian people; only the next tsar to come was destined to tear up those plans.
The assassination also led to anti-Jewish pogroms, as one of those who were implicated in the association, was of Jewish origin. Another consequence of the assassination was the flourishing of police brutality and suppression of civil liberties that under the reign of Alexander II were restrained. Alexander II’s son, Alexander III, and his grandson, Nicolas II relied on the actions of the Okhrana to arrest protestors and seek suspected rebel groups in the society that contributed to the suppression of personal freedom in the Russian empire.
Everything stated above considered we conclude that the reforms that the tsar carried out and the way he fostered industrial development of his country empowers one to call him the great person of his day. Still, even 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.