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How well does Alexander II deserve his reputation as The Tsar Liberator(TM)?

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Introduction

In 1861 the Tsar of Russia issued the Emancipation Manifesto to abolish serfdom that was significantly tarnishing the economy and wealth of the great nation. Three quarters of the population were serfs and there was no denying that the conditions they faced were in serious need of improvement. The Novelist Tolstoy proposed a toast to Alexander II the 'Tsar Liberator' who gave the serfs of Russia freedom and income: "we owe emancipation to the Emperor alone."1 Yet the question of Alexander's intentions and whether or not this emancipation and indeed his lateral reforms benefited Russia, creates a controversial debate; with the underlining desire to uphold autocracy and to modernise Russia, can Alexander II truly be named 'Tsar Liberator'? The historian Stephenson testifies Alexander's empathy for serf conditions in his craving to retain an autocracy: "Nothing Alexander did altered, or was intended to alter, the fundamental political fact of a God-created autocracy."2 Whereas Westwood claims that "no Russian ruler brought so much relief to so many of his people as did Alexander II"3 This essay will call upon similar and varying views in addition to sources in an attempt to conclude whether or not Alexander II was indeed a redeemer to the seriously suffering serfs of Russia. To asses Alexander II's reputation, his motives for reforming Russia must be called into question. First of all reform was necessary; few rulers have come to power under less promising circumstances than Alexander II. From the dying lips of his father he not only received the reins of 'command' but also an apology for the deplorable state of ...read more.

Middle

Most importantly perhaps is that the serfs were tied to the land, unable to move towards cities preventing the vital process of industrialisation. Undoubtedly the problem of serfdom could no longer be ignored; serfdom as a whole prevented industrialisation, harmed the economy, hindered agriculture and created apathy in the armed forces. Yet many Orthodox historians would use the Emancipation Edict of 1861 as strong evidence to suggest the Tsars humanitarian nature and motives as a 'Tsar Liberator'. The emancipation of the serfs was "the greatest single liberating measure in the whole modern history of Europe" according to M.S.Anderson. The question of serfdom, had for long been seen as central to the fate of Russia, described by Seton-Watson as "the knot which binds together all the things that are evil in Russia" It is thus a habit of Orthodox historians to depict Alexander as the passionate 'Tsar Liberator'. The Emancipation edict of 1861 gave personal freedom to 50million serfs; land was divided according to quality and each man of the community was given a share. Peasants were no longer owned by land lords, they were free to marry, trade and work as they pleased. These terms were certainly liberating and presented serfs with a freedom they had never experienced. It is for this reason perhaps that historians such as Carl Peter Watts admire the Tsar's actions, claiming that emancipation was "a moral improvement" and S J Lee who goes as far to say that Alexander "freed more slaves than Abraham Lincoln". ...read more.

Conclusion

This surge in freedom however was not appreciated by Alexander II; indeed reforms turned reactionary in the 1860s. After the attempt on the Tsar's life made by a student in 1866; reaction became Alexander's new regime. J.A.S Grenville describes that throughout, "his reign alternated between reforming impulses and reaction." Reforming ministers were replaced with more conservative figures in late 1860s and the already moderate reforms were restricted. Scarcely the actions of a 'Tsar Liberator'. In comparison to previous Tsars of Russia Alexander maybe given the crown of Tsar Liberator but considering the Western countries at the time Alexander II does not even compare... To conclude, Alexander himself illustrated that he was no liberator. In the Emancipation statue the Tsar crossed out the word "progress" to write "what is progress? I asked you not to use this word in official correspondence." The Emancipation edict mostly damaged serf's lives and agriculture only to streamline the autocracy. Other reforms were effective but most were vague and stemmed from the inefficiencies highlighted with the defeat during the Crimean War; not for the good of the people. Alexander negated any liberal behaviour prior to growing opposition, with his reactionary regime. In the words of Grenville; "To describe him in any meaningful sense as a liberal is thus very misleading." Word count 2,586 1 Quoted by W. Mosse (1970), Alexander II and the Modernisation of Russia, page 81 2 G. Stephenson. (1969), History of Russia 1812-1945, page 105. 3 J. Westwood (1973), Endurance and Endeavour, page 72. 4 Kropotkin, Memoirs of a Revolutionist, 1862 5 Alexander II in a speech to his nobles ?? ?? ?? ?? How well does Alexander II deserve his reputation as 'The Tsar Liberator'? ...read more.

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