Alexander II (1855-1881) Perhaps the greatest Czar since Catherine the Great Perhaps the most liberal ruler in Russian history prior to 20th century.
In the 1850s, Tsar Alexander II was an autocrat whose will was law. Russias aristocracy continued to own almost all the land and was exempt from taxes. Russia had a very small middle class. 95% of the people were peasants, most of whom were serfs.
Serfdom had prevented Russias modernization: agriculture had been poor for centuries 90% of Russian people worked in agriculture Serfdom had led to peasant uprisings, poor agricultural output, and exploitation of serfs by lords Serfs could be bought or sold with or without land in early 19th century Serfs could be conscripted into the army for 25 years.
Emancipation Act (or Emancipation Edict), 1861 Alexander believed ending serfdom was a key to Russias modernization Abolished serfdom: peasants no longer dependent on the lord; free to move and change occupations; could enter contracts and own property Most Russians were not impacted by the Emancipation Edict
Creation of Zemstvos In 1864- Alexander introduced a system of local and regional self-government through elected assemblies (Zemstvos) The zemstvos did provide opportunity for public discussion, they did not lead to the creation of a national assembly. Lords controlled the Zemstvos and had more power than the towns and peasant villages
Most Russians lived in communes which were highly regulated Collective ownership and responsibility made it difficult for individual peasants to improve agricultural methods or leave their villages Other reforms: Judiciary improved Censorship relaxed (but not removed Education liberalized
Industrialization in Russia was stimulated by railroad construction Russia had fallen behind major industrialized nations in Western & Central Europe Russia needed better railroads, better armaments and reorganization of the army Between 1860 and 1880 railroad mileage grew from 1,250 to 15,500
Railroads enabled Russia to export grain and earn profits for further industrialization Stimulated domestic manufacturing: industrial suburbs grew up around Moscow and St. Petersburg, and a class of modern factory workers began to emerge Strengthened Russias military giving rise to territorial expansion to the south and east
Alexander II increasingly turned to more traditional (conservative) values Radical populist movement emerged that sought a utopian agrarian order Many believed reforms still favored the aristocracy and did not do enough for the working classes Alexander II was assassinated in 1881 by radicals who bombed his carriage in St. Petersburg
Alexander III (r.1881-1894) was committed to the traditional policies of autocracy, orthodoxy, and Russification. As tsar, he reversed most of the liberal changes introduced by his father. He encouraged anti-Semitic attacks on Jews. He also weakened the power of the zmestvos (local administration).
Russia strengthened its military, but did not go to war under his reign. Alexander III was against foreign influence, especially German. Russia did continue to industrialize which led to political problems and the rise of socialism there.