To what extent did Alexander II deserve his title of the Tsar Liberator

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“To what extent did Alexander II deserve his title of the ‘Tsar Liberator’?”

A ‘Liberator’ is defined in the dictionary as someone who “sets free, as from oppression, confinement, or foreign control”. That is, an individual who is willing to bring about a change in the way that things operate in order to make life radically more free and, ultimately, easier for everyone under that rule. When he came to the throne, there was a real necessity for such dramatic reform; the main driving point for this was his upbringing. Brought up by a liberal tutor and a love for western culture, it is little surprise that Alexander II was so passionate about reforming Russia.  Although often targeted with attempts on his life due to a lack of change, it cannot be denied that he was a Tsar who brought on a great number of reforms; however, whether he deserves such a strong title is indeed debatable.

Perhaps the most notable of his reforms was the emancipation of the Serfs in 1861. Many Russians saw this as an ‘urgent need’ as it prevented the growth of Russian industry and modern agricultural methods; the Crimean War highlighted the need for healthy men, and peasant revolts were rising to a worrying level. The reform involved freeing the serfs from the gentry and allowing them a minimum allotment of land. On the surface, this makes Alexander II the ultimate Tsar Liberator – he is setting the serfs free from confinement and oppression. However, if we look at it more closely, we discover that not only were the serfs made to pay redemption taxes for 49 years – or else continue to work 30-40 days to pay the taxes off – but the State peasants had to wait a further 5 years to receive their freedom, and the Household serfs crucially received no land. Arguably the Tsar had the best interests of the Russian serfs in mind. However, it is questionable whether he was simply freeing the serfs from their physical burdens to employ financial ones instead.

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The success of this reform can be judged on how it was received.  Peasant revolts increased; the peasants still had to pay taxes; landowners lost their ‘bank mortgages’ (the serfs), and the limitations of the reform sparked revolutionary activity. Of course, it cannot be ignored that the peasants were ecstatic at their new found freedom from their masters. Ultimately, however, this reform was a failure in that it caused more revolt that it suppressed – the aim was defeated.

It was not just the serfs that were to see reform; the army was in need of major change. The Russian ...

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