Czar Alexander II, his reign
Czar Alexander II began his reign in 1855. He succeeded his father, Nicholas I, after passing away during the Crimean war. Knowing well that Russia was defeated by Britain, France and Piedmont, Alexander II ascended the throne offering a peace treaty. After the peace negotiations through the Congress of Paris, the new Czar realized Russia's economy was coming apart. Urgent reforms needed to be made in order to strengthen and modernize Russia. With his reforms, Alexander II had a great influence in the modernization of Russia and became the greatest reformer since Peter the Great. Although his reforms and works would influence the future of Russia, the Czar was judged unfairly by his people and it's radicals, which in turn led to the birth of modern terrorism.
Alexander II was born on April 17th, 1818 in Moscow. Military training would be the basic foundation of the young boy's attachment to his father, Nicholas I. The child had learned a lot from his father about ruling Russia, but the Empress wanted young Alexander to have a tutor to help him become a more well-rounded person. Since his younger years Alexander would travel around Russia and other countries. Travelling to so many places, young Alexander learned to speak Russian, German, French, English and Polish.
Although Alexander II carried out many reforms during his reign to improve Russia, his most famous reform was the emancipation of the serfs. With this reform in mind, Russia was taking a big step towards modernization. When the new czar came into power he analyzed the structure Russia was built upon. Alexander II became aware and came to the conclusion that in order to move towards modernization, Russia had to rid itself of it's basis; serfdom. A year after ascending the throne the new czar stood before the Moscow nobility and stated, "It is better to abolish serfdom from above than to await the day when it will begin to abolish itself from below.(Eidelman, 2006) In 1861, Alexander II had finally abolished serfdom in Russia, freeing more than 23 million Russian peasants. Even though many before him, such as Catherine the Great knew the importance of change in Russia, it was not until Alexander II that real action was taken towards this crucial step.
When Alexander II inherited the throne, he knew a lot of damage was made in Russia. His father's reign was a troublesome one to the people. He oppressed and closely controlled the people and the media that spread to them. Coming into power Alexander tried to counteract the oppression that had taken place during Nicholas' reign, "Thirty years of repression by Nicholas I had failed to crush the unrest revealed by the Decembrist revolt and had left the country impoverished, backward, corrupt, and filled with fear of a serf uprising.(Moscow, 1962, p.121) Alexander tried giving the people more freedom by relaxing many of the laws his father had made, including the censorship over education and media. Unfortunately, this was not enough for the intellectuals and radicals of the time. They wanted change faster than it could happen, and were expecting a second emancipation. When they began to take advantage of his reforms and a threat of revolution was rising, Alexander II was forced to put a halt to these reforms and stated that there would not be a second emancipation for Russia's people.
As a young boy, Alexander was taught to respect his Russia and do what he could to improve it. The teachings he gained from his famous tutor would influence the way he would rule Russia in later years. Zhukovsky taught the future czar to always move forward rather than moving backward. It was because of this teaching that the czar decided it was time for Russia to be modernized, "Love and disseminate education. A people without education are a people without dignity. They are easily led, but it is easy to turn slaves into furious rebels.(Radzinsky, 2005, p.50) Vasily Zhukovsky 10 year plan of "Journey's for the young student led him to become a true Christian with a tender heart. Alexander II had become a realist, and did not let his personal views get in the way of what needed to be done in order to rule Russia well.
According to Alexander II in order to further modernize Russia, he needed to expand it. His various campaigns expanded Russian territory in the east, "Throughout his reign Alexander promoted vigorous expansion in the East. The conquest of the Ussuri region in East Asia was confirmed by the treaty of Beijing within China. Central Asia was added to Russia by the conquest of Kokand, Khiva, and Bokhara.(The Columbia Encyclopedia, 2000) These successful campaigns were a sign of improvement for the citizens of Russia. There was new hope that Russia would again become a new and modernized major European power.
Despite the fact that many thought he would fail, Alexander's reforms would become very important for the future. His many improvements brought industrial expansion for Russia in the future. With the freedom of the serfs, industrial expansion flourished, "...industrial expansion was tremendous. At the end of the century, there were more than 1,700 successful corporations in Russia.(Russia, 2007, p.41) Thanks to Alexander's reforms, Russia was slowly becoming modernized and prospering. In many ways the radicals had judged the czar's reign unfairly. The radicals wanted change in Russia right away, but they failed to realize that change comes about slowly and overtime.
Czar Alexander II had a major influence on the future of Russia. He ruled to the best of his abilities considering the way Russia was handed to him, impoverished, corrupt and filled with fear. Although he tried to improve the state the people of Russia were in, the time of the czar was slowly coming to an end, but his reforms would later bring positive effects for the nation. His reign gave birth to modern terrorism, but he also became the greatest reformer since Peter the Great. Alexander's attempts to modernize Russia had a great influence on the future, which in turn earned him the title of 'The Last Great Czar'.