The defeat of Russia in the Crimean War unquestionably played significant role in urging Alexander II to trigger change, yet nothing could have been achieved in Russia had Alexander II refused to acknowledge the need for reform. Thus, Czar Alexander II accession to the throne in 1855, raised hopes for millions of peasants across the country.
These hopes were in effect justified. As early as 1861, Tsar Alexander introduced a series of reforms that were by far the most “radical and far-reaching of any attempted by a European government” (41).Political prisoners were released, censorship was relaxed, tax debts were annulled, and most importantly, serfdom was abolished. In 1864, a new legal system provided open trials, jury system, and an independent judiciary. In addition, Alexander II improved the stagnating educational system, wherein he repealed the harsh measures which were implemented during the rule of Nicholas I.
Religion and social class were no longer barriers for entry to school, the faculty had the authority to control their administrations, and women were permitted to teach.Also, the Crimean war exposed the need for the immediate reform in the army, and thus, the Czar reduced the term of service from 25 to 6 years, as well as established military schools to train officers. Nonetheless, the Czar’s reforms failed to generate stability or consensus in Russia. Both the peasants and the landowning nobles contended that the land lawfully belonged to them and were frustrated by the emancipation settlement that had ended serfdom.
cism of his reforms was incessant in young upper and middle class Russia, who maintained that the changes to the status quo did not go far enough as to improve the peasant’s standard of living, nor to allow Russia the right to express their political ideologies in government. Thus, Alexander II was caught in the middle of a crisis: on one hand he was expected to pacify the nobility, and on the other, to please the peasants. To limit ourselves to these failures would be wrong and unfair towards this autocratic leader.It was expected of him to carry out one of the most difficult tasks that could ever confront an absolute ruler, “to completely remodel the enormous state which had been entrusted to his care, to abolish an age-old order founded on slavery, to replace it with civil decency and freedom.
.. ” (56) The will to accept to changes is already a big alone a big deal, but to ask of him to turn back on the philosophy of his ancestors is too selfish of a request.Beyond a doubt, the political and social liberation that resulted from the reforms was not exactly how Alexander II had pictured it to be, yet it was liberation irregardless: Even if they did not resolve the problems that they addressed as thoroughly as the government anticipated, and even if they did not quite address the right problems, the reforms of the 1860s were staggering in the breadth of their conception and extremely far reaching in their impact (56).
Historians who have denied Alexander II acclaim as a great reformer argue that although the program new sense of personal and legal
freedom that was unknown in Russia, the main objective behind these reforms were the preservation of the Tsar;’s authority, and the consolidation of conservative interests. Such argument is unfair, and for the most part, unfound. In the words of historian Morris, “there is little in his life to suggest that he was cynical or Machiavellian” (55). In fact, crucial historic evidence indicates that this Czar was actually intellectually lazy.He lacked the wisdom that would allow him to maintain a facade of a reformer, had he wanted to maintain one, “when the Emperor talks to an intellectual he has the appearance of someone with rheumatism who is standing on a draught” (55).
This claim can be substantiated when analysing the inconsistent nature of Czar Alexander II reforms. He acknowledged the necessity for improve the system that had failed his people in the Crimean War, however, he was quite confused and anxious when he came across the more radical implications of his reforms.In the words of David Saunders, “the laws which freed the serfs emerged from a process that the Tsar barely understood and over which he had only partial control” (55). All in all, many of policies instituted by Alexander II were unconvincing, yet these failures cannot overshadow efforts. The intentions behind the implementation of these reforms was essentially driven by his will to assist his people, and not for his own self-interest.
And for this selflessness, he most certainly deserves the title of the “Great Reformer”.
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