Alexander II

views updated May 23 2018


(18181881), tsar and emperor of Russia from 1855 to 1881.

Alexander Nicholayevich Romanov is largely remembered for two eventshis decision to emancipate the serfs and his assassination at the hands of revolutionaries. That the same tsar who finally ended serfdom in Russia would become the only tsar to be assassinated by political terrorists illustrates the turbulence of his time and its contradictions.

education and the great reforms

Alexander was born in Moscow on April 17, 1818, the oldest son of Nicholas I. His education, unlike that of his father, prepared him for his eventual role as tsar from an early age. Initially his upbringing consisted primarily of military matters. Nicholas had his son named the head of a hussar regiment when Alexander was a few days old, and he received promotions throughout childhood. When he was six, Captain K. K. Merder, the head of a Moscow military school, became his first tutor. Merder was a career army man who combined a love for the military with a compassion for others. Both qualities attracted the tsarevich and shaped his outlook. Alexander also received instruction from Vasily Zhukovsky, the famous poet, who crafted a plan for education that stressed virtue and enlightenment. The young tsarevich

made journeys throughout the Russian Empire and in Europe, and in 1837 he became the first emperor to visit Siberia, where he even met with Decembrists and petitioned his father to improve their conditions. During his trip to Europe in 1838 Alexander fell in love with a princess from the small German state of Hesse-Darmstadt. Although Nicholas I desired a better match for his son, Alexander married Maria Alexandrova in April 1841. They would have eight children, two of whom died young. Their third child, Alexander, was born in 1845 and eventually became the heir.

Nicholas I included his son in both the symbolic and practical aspects of governing. Nicholas had not received training for his role and believed that he was unprepared for the responsibilities of a Russian autocrat. He did not want Alexander to have a similar experience, and he included his son in the frequent parades, military spectacles, and other symbolic aspects central to the Nicholavan political system. Alexander loved these events and he took pleasure in participating at the numerous exercises held by Nicholas I. In several important respects, this military culture shaped Alexander's beliefs about ruling Russia.

Alexander also became a member of imperial councils, supervised the operation of military schools, and even presided over State Council meetings when his father could not. In 1846, Nicholas named Alexander chairman of the Secret Committee on Peasant Affairs, where the tsarevich demonstrated support of the existing socio-political order. In short, Alexander grew up in a system that stressed the necessity of an autocrat for governing Russia and he learned to worship his father from an early age. His education and training gave no indication of the momentous decisions he would make as tsar.

Few would have predicated the circumstances in which Alexander became emperor. Nicholas I died in 1855 amidst the disastrous Crimean War. Russia's eventual loss was evident by the time of Nicholas's death, and the defeat did much to undermine the entire Nicholaven system and its ideology of Official Nationality. Alexander had absorbed his father's belief in the autocracy, but he was forced by the circumstances of war to adopt policies that would fundamentally change Russia and its political system.

Alexander became emperor on February 19, 1855, a day that would reappear again during the course of his reign. His coronation as Russian Emperor took place in Moscow on August 26, 1856. Between these two dates Alexander grappled with the ongoing war, which went from bad to worse. Sevastopol, the fortified city in the Crimea that became the defining site of the war, fell on September 9, 1855. Alexander began peace negotiations and signed the resulting Treaty of Paris on March 30,1856. Russia lost its naval rights in the Black Sea in addition to 500,000 soldiers lost fighting the war. The prestige of the Russian army, which had acquired almost mythical status since 1812, dissipated with defeat. The events of the first year of his reign forced Alexander's handCrimea had demonstrated the necessity for reform, and Alexander acted.

Immediately after the war, Alexander uttered the most famous words of his reign when he answered a group of Moscow nobles in 1856 who asked about his intention to free the serfs: "I cannot tell you that I totally oppose this; we live in an era in which this must eventually happen. I believe that you are of the same opinion as I; therefore, it will be much better if this takes place from above than from below." Alexander's words speak volumes about the way in which the tsar conceived of reformit was a necessity, but it was better to enact change within the autocratic system. This blend of reform-mindedness with a simultaneous commitment to autocracy became the hallmark of the era that followed. Once he had decided on reform, Alexander II relied on the advice of his ministers and bureaucracies. Nevertheless, Alexander did much to end serfdom in Russia, an act his predecessors had failed to enact.

The process of emancipation was a complicated and controversial affair. It began in 1856, when Alexander II formed a secret committee to elicit proposals for the reform and did not end until 1861, when the emancipation decree was issued on February 19. In between these two dates Alexander dealt with a great deal of debate, opposition, and compromise. Emancipation affected twenty million serfs and nearly thirty million state peasants, or 8 percent of the Russian population. By contrast, four million slaves were freed in the United States in 1863. Although the end result did not fully satisfy anyone, a fundamental break had been made in the economy and society of Russia. Even Alexander Herzen, who had labeled Nicholas I as a "snake that strangled Russia," exclaimed: "Thou hast conquered, Galilean!" Because of Alexander's role, he became known as the Tsar-Liberator.

Once emancipation had been completed, Alexander proceeded to approve further reforms, often referred to by historians as the Great Reforms. The tsar himself did not participate as much in the changes that came after 1861, but Alexander appointed the men who would be responsible for drafting reforms and gave the final approval on the changes. Between 1864 and 1874 Alexander promulgated a new local government reform (creating the zemstvo ), a new judicial reform, educational reforms, a relaxed censorship law, and a new military law. All were carried out in the new spirit of glasnost, or "giving voice," that Alexander advocated. The tsar relied on officials who had been trained during his father's years on the throne, and thus the reforms are also associated with the names of Nicholas Milyutin, Petr Valuev, Dmitry Milyutin, and other "enlightened bureaucrats." Additionally, Russians from all walks of life debated the reforms and their specifics in an atmosphere that contrasted starkly with Nicholas I's Russia.

This new spirit brought with it a multitude of reactions and opinions. Alexander, a committed autocrat throughout the reform era, had to deal with rebellions and revolutionaries almost immediately after launching his reforms. These reactions were a natural product of the more relaxed era and of the policies Alexander advocated, even if he did not foresee all of their consequences. In particular, Alexander's decision to reform Russia helped to fuel a revolt in Poland, then a part of the Russian Empire. Polish nationalism in 1863 led to a Warsaw rebellion that demanded more freedoms. In the face of this opposition, Alexander reacted in the same manner as his father, brutally suppressing the revolt. Unlike his father, however, Alexander did not embark on a policy of Russification in other areas of the Empire, and even allowed the Finnish parliament to meet again in 1863 as a reward for loyalty to the empire.

At home, the reform era only served to embolden Russians who wanted the country to engage in more radical changes. The educated public in the 1850s and 1860s openly debated the details of the Great Reforms and found many of them wanting. As a result of his policies, Alexander helped to spawn a politically radical movement that called for an end to autocracy. A group that called itself "Land and Liberty" formed in Russia's universities and called for a more violent and total revolution among the Russian peasantry. A similar group known as the Organization made calls for radical change at the same time. On April 6, 1866, a member of this group, Dmitry Karakazov, fired six times at Alexander while he walked in the Summer Garden but spectacularly missed. Although the reform era was not officially over, 1866 marked a watershed in the life of Alexander II and his country. The tsar did not stay committed to the path of reform while the opposition that the era had unleashed only grew.

later years

Alexander had let loose the forces that eventually killed him, but between 1866 and 1881 Russia experienced many more significant changes. Karakazov's attempt on Alexander's life came during a period of domestic turmoil for Alexander. The year before, the tsar's eldest son, Nicholas, died at the age of twenty-two. Three months after the assassination attempt, Alexander began an affair with an eighteen-year old princess, Ekaterina Dolgorukaia, which lasted for the remainder of his life (he later married her). Responding to the growing revolutionary movement, Alexander increased the powers of the Third Section, the notorious secret police formed by Nicholas I. The reform era and the initial spirit associated with it had changed irrevocably by 1866 even if it had not run its course.

Alexander began to concentrate on his role as emperor during the late 1860s and 1870s. In particular, he engaged in empire building and eventually warfare. He oversaw the Russian conquest of Central Asia that brought Turkestan, Tashkent, Samarkand, Khiva, and Kokand under Russian control. The gains in Central Asia came with a diplomatic cost, however. Expansion so near to the borders of India ensured that England looked on with increasing alarm at Russian imperialism, and during this period a "cold war" developed between the two powers.

Russia also pursued a more aggressive stance toward the Ottoman Empire, in part fueled by the rise of pan-Slavism at home. When Orthodox subjects rebelled against Turkey in 1875, numerous Russians called on the tsar to aid their fellow Slavs. Alexander, reluctant at first, eventually gave in to public opinion, particularly after Ottoman forces in 1876 slaughtered nearly thirty thousand Bulgarians who had come to aid the insurgents. Russia declared war on April 12, 1877. Although Russia experienced some difficulty in defeating the Turks, particularly at the fortress of Plevna, the war was presented to the Russian public as an attempt to liberate Orthodox subjects from Muslim oppression. Alexander's image as liberator featured prominently in the popular prints, press reports, and other accounts of the war. When Russian forces took Plevna in December 1877, they began a march to Istanbul that brought them to the gates of the Turkish capital. In the Caucasus, the final act took place on February 19, 1878, when Russian forces "liberated" the Turkish city of Erzerum. Russia and the Ottoman Empire signed the Treaty of San Stefano in March, which guaranteed massive Russian gains in the region. Alexander once more appeared to fulfill the role of Tsar-Liberator.

Alarmed by these developments, the European powers, including Russia's Prussian and Austrian allies, held an international conference in Berlin. Alexander saw most of his gains whittled away in an effort to prevent Russian hegemony in the Balkans. The resulting confusions helped to sow the seeds for the origins of World War I, but also provoked widespread disillusionment in Russia. Alexander considered the Berlin Treaty to be the worst moment in his career.

Alexander's domestic troubles only increased after 1878. The revolutionaries had not given up their opposition to the progress and scope of reform, and many Russian radicals began to focus their attention on the autocracy as the major impediment to future changes. A new Land and Freedom group emerged in the 1870s that called for all land to be given to the peasants and for a government that listened to "the will of the people." By the end of the decade, the organization had split into two groups. The Black Repartition focused on the land question, while the People's Will sought to establish a new political system in Russia by assassinating the tsar. After numerous attempts, they succeeded in their quest on March 1, 1881. As Alexander rode near the Catherine Canal, a bomb went off near the tsar's carriage, injuring several people. Alexander stepped out to inspect the damage when a second bomb landed at his feet and exploded. He was carried to the Winter Palace, where he died from massive blood loss.

Ironically, or perhaps fittingly, Alexander II was on his way to discuss the possibility of establishing a national assembly and a new constitution. This final reform would not be completed, and Alexander's era ended with him. The tsar's son and grandson, the future Alexander III and Nicholas II, were at the deathbed, and the sight of the autocrat dying as a result of his reforms would shape their respective rules. As Larissa Zakharova has concluded, the act of March 1 initiated the bloody trail to Russia's tragic twentieth century. Alexander II's tragedy became Russia's.

See also: berlin, congress of; black repartition; crimean war; emancipation act; nicholas i; paris, congress and treaty of 1856; people's will, the; russo-turkish wars; serfdom; zemstvo


Eklof, Ben; Bushnell, John; and Zakharova, Larissa, eds. (1994). Russia's Great Reforms, 18551881. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Field, Daniel. (1976). The End of Serfdom: Nobility and Bureaucracy in Russia, 18551861. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Lincoln, W. Bruce. (1990). The Great Reforms: Autocracy, Bureaucracy, and the Politics of Change in Imperial Russia. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press.

Moss, Walter. (2002). Russia in the Age of Alexander II, Tolstoy, and Dostoyevsky. London: Anthem Press.

Mosse, Werner. (1962). Alexander II and the Modernization of Russia. NY: Collier.

Rieber, Alfred. (1971). "Alexander II: A Revisionist View" Journal of Modern History. 43: 4258.

Tolstoy, Leo. (1995). Anna Karenina. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Wortman, Richard. (2000). Scnearios of Power: Myth and Ceremony in Russian Monarchy, Vol. 2: From Alexander II to the Abdication of Nicholas II. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Zakharova, Larissa. (1996). "Emperor Alexander II, 18551881." In The Emperors and Empresses of Russia: Rediscovering the Romanovs, ed. Donald Raleigh. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe.

Stephen M. Norris

Alexander II

views updated May 23 2018

Alexander II

Alexander II (1818-1881) was emperor of Russia from 1855 to 1881. He is called the "czar liberator" because he emancipated the serfs in 1861. His reign is famous in Russian history as the "era of great reforms."

Eldest son of Nicholas I, Alexander was born in Moscow on April 17, 1818. Vasili Zhukovski, the poet and courtier, was his principal tutor. Alexander spoke Russian, German, French, English, and Polish. He acquired a knowledge of military arts, finance, and diplomacy. From an early age he traveled extensively in Russia and abroad; in 1837, for example, he visited 30 Russian provinces, including Siberia, where no member of the royal family had ever been. Unlike his father, Alexander had experience in government before he acceded to the throne. He held various military commands and was a member of the state council (from 1840) and of the committee of the ministers (from 1842); during Nicholas's absence Alexander acted as his deputy.

Alexander's political philosophy eludes precise definition. However, there is ample evidence to indicate that he was an admirer of Nicholas's autocracy and bureaucratic methods.

Emancipation of the Serfs

Before he became czar, Alexander was not sympathetic to emancipation. He changed his mind because of Russia's technological and military backwardness in the Crimean War and because he believed that the liberation of the serfs was the only way to prevent a peasant uprising. Through a burdensome arrangement in which local commissions made studies and reported their findings to the government, an emancipation law was eventually formulated and proclaimed in 1861.

The new law stated that serfs were free to marry, acquire property, engage in trades, and bring suits in courts. Each estate proprietor had to prepare within a year an inventory determining the area of land actually in the possession of the peasants and defining the annual payment or services due from the liberated serfs. Each peasant household received its homestead and a certain amount of land (generally the same amount the family had cultivated for its own use in the past). The land usually became the property of the village commune, which had the power to redistribute it periodically among the households. The government bought the land from the owners, but the peasants had to redeem it by payments extending over 49 years. The proprietor kept only the portion of his estate that had been farmed for his own purposes.

The emancipation law of 1861, which liberated more than 40 million serfs, has been called the greatest single legislative act in history. It was a moral stimulus to peasant self-dignity. Yet there were many problems. The peasants had to accept the allotments, and generally they did not receive enough land and were overcharged for it. Since they became obligated for the payment of taxes and redemption reimbursements, their mobility was greatly limited. The commune replaced the proprietor as master over the peasants. The settlement, however, was on the whole liberal, despite some unsolved problems and the agrarian crises that emerged in part from its inadequacies.

Domestic Reforms

Because the emancipation of the serfs ended the landlords' rights of justice and police on their estates, it was necessary to reform the entire local administrations. The statute of 1864 created provincial and district assemblies, which handled local finances, education, scientific agriculture, medical care, and maintenance of the roads. The elaborate electoral system dividing voters into categories by class provided substantial representation to the peasants in the assemblies. Peasant and proprietor were brought together in order to work out local problems.

During Alexander's reign other reforms were initiated. The cities were granted municipal assemblies with functions similar to those of the provincial assemblies. The Russian judicial system and legal procedures, which were riddled with inequities, were reformed. For the first time in Russian history, juries were permitted, cases were debated publicly and orally, all classes were made equal before the law, and the court system was completely overhauled. Censorship was relaxed, and the universities were freed from the restrictions imposed on them by Nicholas I. The army, too, was reformed by Gen. Dimitri Miliutin, military schools were reorganized along liberal lines, and conscription was borne equally by all social groups.

Despite all these reforms, Alexander II became the target of revolutionaries in 1866. Terrorist activity continued throughout the 1870s. The underlying reasons were the lack of far-reaching social and constitutional reforms; the bloody suppression of the peasant uprisings, especially the slaughter of Bezna; the Polish insurrection of 1863 and its bloody defeat; and the general ultrareactionary trend of official policies. Conservatives and nationalists were welcomed by the Czar, but the liberals were alienated. The radicals went underground and espoused the cause of political and social revolution. A member of a terrorist group murdered Alexander II on March 1, 1881.

Foreign Policy

Encroachments begun under Nicholas I against Chinese territory in the Amur River valley were regularized by treaty in 1860. The Russians successfully repressed the Polish uprising of 1863. In 1877 Alexander went to war against Turkey on behalf of the rebellious Balkan Christians of Bosnia, Herzegovina, and Bulgaria.

Further Reading

Two full-length biographies of Alexander II are E. M. Almedingen, The Emperor Alexander II (1962), and Walter M. Mosse, Alexander II and the Modernization of Russia (1958; rev. ed. 1962). Jerome Blum, Lord and Peasant in Russia, from the Ninth to the Nineteenth Century (1961), is a comprehensive study of the social and economic conditions of rural Russia from earliest times to the emancipation of the serfs in 1861. Geroid T. Robinson, Rural Russia under the Old Régime (1932), begins where Blum's book stops, and it discusses the peasant question from the emancipation act to the Revolution. George Fischer, Russian Liberalism, from Gentry to Intelligentsia (1958), traces the evolution of liberal forces from 1855 to 1905 as a transition from domination by the gentry to domination by professional groups. Hugh Seton-Watson, The Decline of Imperial Russia, 1855-1914 (1952), is a thorough and well-balanced survey of both internal and foreign policies.

The most thorough narrative of prerevolutionary Russian history available in English, particularly good for the 19th and 20th centuries, is Michael T. Florinsky, Russia: A History and Interpretation (1953). Alexander A. Kornilov, Modern Russian History from the Age of Catherine the Great to the End of the Nineteenth Century (1917; trans. 1943), gives an excellent picture of internal policies in the 19th century. □

Alexander II

views updated Jun 08 2018


ALEXANDER II (1818–1881; ruled 1855–1881), emperor of Russia.

Alexander II came to the Russian throne on the death of his father, Nicholas I (r. 1825–1855), in the middle of the Crimean War (1853–1856). Born on 29 April (17 April, old style) 1818, he was the oldest of seven children and had been brought up in the military tradition that was central to the life of both his father and grandfather, Paul I (r. 1796–1801). The immediate problem that faced the new emperor was Russia's poor performance in the Crimean War: British and French forces were inflicting a heavy defeat on Russia, made all the more humiliating because the war was taking place on Russian territory. The peace terms in the Treaty of Paris of 1856 represented a significant setback for Russia, but were not as harsh as they could have been. The new emperor's success in ending the war provided Alexander II with the springboard to introduce the most far-reaching set of reforms that Russia had experienced since Peter the Great's reign 150 years earlier.

Alexander II and his advisers were very aware of the symbolic impact of military defeat on Russia as a whole. During Nicholas I's reign, Russia had been seen as the preeminent European military power, and the outcome of the Crimean War forced a reevaluation of the foundations upon which Russian power had been built. Between 1861 and 1874, Alexander II implemented a set of reforms that reshaped Russian society. The most important reform was the emancipation of the serfs in 1861, which changed the legal status of the majority of the Russian population. The abolition of serfdom had important implications for other areas of policy as it established the freed peasantry as full members of Russian society. Local government was fundamentally reformed by the introduction in 1864 of zemstvos, elected local councils in the countryside, and this was followed in 1870 by the establishment of elected urban councils. The legal system underwent a fundamental overhaul in 1864 with the introduction of trial by jury, the establishment of an independent judiciary, and the creation of a court system with clear lines of appeal. Education also underwent reform: the secondary school curriculum was broadened to allow greater study of scientific subjects, and greater autonomy was given to universities. In 1874 a major military reform introduced a system of conscription aimed at creating a more professional army, and this was accompanied by improvements to military education.

The emperor personally supported these reforms, but Alexander II's enthusiasm for reform waned during the second half of his reign. An assassination attempt in 1866 shook him, and he began to have doubts about the wisdom of making reform because it appeared to have provoked opposition to the tsarist regime, rather than ensuring universal support for the emperor and his government. The number of revolutionaries that emerged during Alexander II's reign was small, but they had a disproportionate influence. Opposition was intensified by the government's treatment of non-Russian nationalities in the growing empire. During Alexander II's reign, Russia expanded its empire in central Asia, bringing significant numbers of Muslims into the Russian state. In 1863 a rebellion in the Polish provinces of the empire was put down with great force by the Russian regime, and in Ukraine action was taken to stem the growth of separatist tendencies. In Europe, Russia recovered its confidence in the aftermath of the Crimean War, and the waning power of the Ottoman Empire encouraged Alexander II to test Russia's strength in the Balkans. After claims of Turkish ill-treatment of the Serbs and Bulgars, Russia declared war on Turkey in 1877, setting off the last of the Russo-Turkish Wars. Russia was victorious and at San Stefano imposed a peace treaty on Turkey that was extremely favorable to Russia. The other European powers objected strongly to this growth in Russian power, and at the 1878 Congress of Berlin subjected Russia to a diplomatic humiliation by putting a check on Russia's expansionist plans.

Alexander II's last years were a time of turmoil. His wife, the empress Maria, died in 1880; six weeks later the emperor married his long-time companion, Catherine Dolgorukova. The international reversals after the Russo-Turkish War were matched by renewed discontent at home and a series of assassination attempts on the emperor's life. Alexander II was persuaded that further reform was the best way to stem opposition and to restore social cohesion to the empire. Count Mikhail Loris-Melikov, the minister of the interior, persuaded Alexander that he should introduce a consultative national assembly to advise the emperor on legislation. On 13 March (1 March, O.S.) 1881, the very day that the emperor was to sign this decree into law, he was driving through St. Petersburg when a terrorist threw a bomb at his carriage. Alexander II was critically injured and died a few hours later in the Winter Palace with his family around him.

See alsoAlexander III; Crimean War; Great Reforms (Russia); Russia; Russo-Turkish War; Serfs, Emancipation of.


Eklof, Ben, John Bushnell, and Larissa Zakharova, eds. Russia's Great Reforms, 1855–1881.Bloomington, Ind., 1994.

Zakharova, Larissa G. "Emperor Alexander II, 1855–1881." In The Emperors and Empresses of Russia, edited by Donald J. Raleigh, 294–333. Armonk, N.Y., 1996.

Peter Waldron

Alexander II

views updated May 17 2018

Alexander II

Born: April 17, 1818
Moscow, Russia
Died: March 1, 1881
St. Petersburg, Russia

Russian emperor

Alexander II was emperor of Russia from 1855 to 1881. He is called the "czar liberator" because he freed the serfs (poor peasants who lived on land owned by nobles) in 1861. Alexander's reign is famous in Russian history and is called the "era of great reforms."

Alexander as a young man

Alexander II, the oldest son of Emperor Nicholas I (17961855), was born in Moscow, Russia, on April 17, 1818. Because he would become emperor one day, Alexander was taught many different subjects. Vasili Zhukovski (17831852), a famous Russian poet, was his principal tutor, or private teacher. Alexander learned to speak Russian, German, French, English, and Polish. He gained a knowledge of military arts, finance, and diplomacy, or the study of dealing with foreign countries. From an early age he traveled widely in Russia and in other countries. For example, in 1837 he visited thirty Russian provinces, including Siberia (a frigid, northern region of Russia) where no member of the royal family had ever visited. Unlike his father, Alexander had various military and government jobs throughout his younger days. In fact during Nicholas's absence Alexander was given the duties of the czar, or Russian emperor.

Freeing the serfs

Before he became czar, Alexander did not believe that freeing the serfs was a good idea. He changed his mind because he believed that freeing the serfs was the only way to prevent them from revolting. However, freeing the more than forty million serfs was not an easy task. In 1861 Alexander created an emancipation, or freedom, law, which said that serfs could now marry, own property, and argue court cases. Each landowner had to determine the area of land owned by the serfs. Landowners also had to pay the serfs for the work they did. Each peasant family received their house and a certain amount of land. Land usually became the property of the village government, which had the power to distribute it among the families. Peasant families had to make payments for the land for more than fortynine years. The original landowner kept only a small portion of the land.

The emancipation law of 1861 has been called the greatest single law in history. It gave the serfs a more dignified life. Yet there were many problems. In many cases the serfs did not receive enough land and they were over-charged for it. Since they had to pay for the land, they could not easily move. Still, overall it was a good law for the Russian people.

Reforms at home

Because the serfs were now free citizens, it was necessary to reform the entire local system of government. A law in 1864 created local assemblies, which handled local finances, education, agriculture, medical care, and maintenance of the roads. A new voting system provided representation to the peasants in these assemblies. Peasants and their former landowners were brought together to work out problems in their villages.

During Alexander's reign other reforms were also started. Larger cities were given governmental assemblies similar to those of the villages. The Russian court system was reformed, and for the first time in Russian history, juries, or panels of citizens called together to decide court cases, were permitted. Court cases were debated publicly, and all social classes were made equal before the law. Censorship (or the silencing of certain opinions) was eased, which meant that people had more freedom of speech. Colleges were also freed from the rules imposed on them by Alexander's father Nicholas I.

Foreign policy

Alexander also had success in foreign relations. In 1860 he signed a treaty with China that ended a land dispute between the two nations. Russia successfully ended an uprising in Poland in 1863. Then in 1877 Alexander led Russia to war against Turkey in support of a group of Christians in the areas of Bosnia, Herzegovina, and Bulgaria.

A violent end

Despite the many reforms Alexander II made to improve the lives of the Russian people, in 1866 he became the target of revolutionaries, or people who fight for change. Terrorists, or people who use violence to achieve their goals, acted throughout the 1870s. They wanted constitutional changes, and they were also upset over several peasant uprisings that the government violently put down. A member of a terrorist group murdered Alexander II on March 1, 1881, in St. Petersburg, Russia.

For More Information

Almedingen, E.M. The Emperor Alexander II. London: Bodley Head, 1962.

Mosse, W. E. Alexander II and the Modernization of Russia. Rev. ed. New York: Collier, 1962.

Van der Kiste, John. The Romanovs, 18181959: Alexander II of Russia and His Family. Stroud, Gloucestershire, England: Sutton, 1998.

Alexander II

views updated May 23 2018

Alexander II (1198–1249), king of Scots (1214–49). Son and successor of William the Lion, his ability as a ruler was ‘above average’. He swiftly asserted himself against King John by allying with the barons of Magna Carta, who formally recognized Scottish claims to Northumberland, Cumberland, and Westmorland. In 1216 the Yorkshire rebels paid homage to him, and he marched as far south as Dover to meet Prince Louis of France who, as claimant to the English throne, acknowledged his right to the border counties (but not to Yorkshire). Following John's death and the royalist victory at Lincoln, the ground was cut from beneath the Scots, and in December 1217 Alexander made peace with Henry III and relinquished his war gains. These events introduced a new realism into Anglo-Scottish relations, and both kingdoms adopted more conciliatory policies. Unlike John, Henry III accepted Scotland's right to exist as a separate sovereign state, and Alexander recognized the futility of continuing to pursue the traditional Scottish goal of southern expansion. His marriage to Henry III's sister Joan reinforced the new understanding between the crowns, and by the treaty of York (1237) he renounced all claims to the border shires. Scottish resources were now concentrated on the vigorous assertion of authority in the north and west of Scotland, which were thereby brought more firmly under royal oversight and control. Alexander campaigned in Argyll in the early 1220s; Ross and Caithness had finally been pacified by the early 1230s; and Galloway was at last brought to heel in 1234–5. He died of a fever on the island of Kerrera in Oban Bay while leading a major expedition against the Western Isles.

Keith J. Stringer

Alexander II

views updated May 17 2018

Alexander II (1818–81) Russian tsar (1855–81), known as the ‘Tsar Liberator’ for his emancipation of the serfs in 1861. He warred with Turkey (1877–78) and gained much influence in the Balkans. He sold Alaska (1867), but expanded the eastern part of the empire. Alexander brutally suppressed a revolt in Poland (1863). He was assassinated by revolutionaries.

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