Switching it up a bit on ritaLOVEStoWRITE. Instead of picking some one who was BORN on this day I picked some one who DIED on this day, Alexander II of Russia. In grad school we did a big group project where we developed a magazine concept. My group did a history magazine based on slices of time called Epoch. Our sample magazine’s Epoch was the year 1881 and I wrote an article and designed spreads on Alexander II.
“It is better to abolish serfdom from above than to wait for it to abolish itself from below”–Alexander II or Russia
He was the first-born son of grand duke Nikolay Pavlovich and his wife Alexandra Fyodorovna (who became Czar Nicholas II and Charlotte of Prussia in 1825). His father’s larger than life personality dominated family and palace life and Alexander was completely overshadowed by him. Alexander was schooled in a broad field of disciplines (his principal instructor was poet Vasily Zhukovsky), but he was a passive student. At 19 he did a tour of Europe and plus 20 of the Russian provinces. He was the first Romanov to visit Siberia. While he was in Europe he met his future wife Princess Marie of Hesse. The two married in 1841.
14 years later, after the death of his father, Alexander became Czar.
The country was in the throes of the bloody Crimean War. The war was both draining the country financially and costing a tremendous loss of life. Russia was clearly overpowered her British, French and Ottoman foes. The Czar negotiated for peace. “The Treaty of Paris ended the bloodshed but Russia lost its dominance in the Balkans and its warships were banned from the Black Sea.” [Russiapedia]
He embarked on a number of reforms in hopes of modernizing Russia. He:
- Improved the railway. When he took office there was one line from Moscow to St. Petersburg (about 600 miles). At the time of his death about 14,000 miles of track had been laid.
- Developed the Economy, promoting banks and join-stock companies.
- Freed the Serfs. Despite fierce opposition from the land owners he “took an active personal part in the arduous legislative labours that on February 19, 1861, culminated in the Emancipation Act. By a stroke of the autocrat’s pen, tens of millions of human chattels were given their personal freedom.” [Britannica.com] They were given a small amount of land. (Of course they had to pay taxes on those lands.)
- Modernized the judicial system
- Improved the Russian military
- Set up elective local assemblies known as Zemstvos
Their gradual introduction extended the area of self-government, improved local welfare (education, hygiene, medical care, local crafts, agronomy), and brought the first rays of enlightenment to the benighted Russian villages. [Ibid]
Political changes included:
- The release of political prisoners
- Greater religious freedoms for “Jews and sectarians.” [Ibid]
- Lifting of foreign travel restrictions
- Relaxing Russian rule over Poland
- Abolishing medieval punishments
Despite all the reforms and attempts at modernization there was great unrest in the country. The great land owners weren’t happy about loosing their free labor force. National pride was bruised over Poland — and there were riots in the streets. And anarchists and nihilists seemed to be on every street corner.
Alexander’s reforms were drawing more and more criticism. For some his extraordinary efforts to change his country were too much while others believed he didn’t go far enough. Alexander became a victim of numerous murder plots – one dramatic assassination attempt followed another. [Russiapedia]
The more people protested. The more he drew back, and the less reform minded he became.
There were four assignation attempts made on Alexander’s life. April the 4th 1866, April 20th 1879, December 1879, and February 5th 1880. Then…
In February 1880 Alexander announced that he was considering granting the Russian people a constitution. But the plan never went ahead. On March 13, 1881 the Tsar’s carriage was bombed in the streets of St. Petersburg by members of a revolutionary organisation People’s Will. He emerged shaken but unhurt and wanted to see the site of the explosion and check on the wounded Cossacks that accompanied him. As he made his way over, another terrorist threw his bomb. Fatally wounded, Alexander died an hour later. [Russiapedia]