For what reasons and with what results did Alexander II try to reform Russian institutions? The ascension of Alexander II coincided with Russia’s defeat at the hands of the British and French in the Crimean War. The defeat had exposed Russia’s weakness and backwardness in comparison with more advanced nations like Britain and France. This prompted Alexander to embark on a series of reforms to “modernize” Russia. This essay will identify the causes and consequences of this period of reform. Although the peasants were grateful for their freedom, essentially they resented the terms of the Emancipation statutes and there were some serious disturbances following their implementation. Liberals were disappointed by the changes and although the government was aware of this, it declined to take the reforms further fearing “noble resentment would turn into noble antagonism”.
However, despite its flaws, it has been argued that Emancipation was a moral improvement. M.S. Andersen claims that “the grant of individual freedom and minimum of civil rights to twenty million people previously in bondage was the single greatest liberating measure in the whole history of Europe”. Alexander II has thus also been known as the “Tsar Liberator” and indeed Emancipation was an enormous step forward and opened the door to modernization.
Further administrative reform was needed as a consequence to the emancipation of serfs. The abolition of the legal and judicial control of the gentry over their serfs required a new system of local government. Rural district and provisional assemblies known as the Zemstva were established. Their functions included the administration of primary education, public health, local industry and the maintenance of infrastructure. Alexander II understood that improving the living conditions of the peasants decreased the risk of widespread unrest. However he also saw these Zemstva as props for the autocracy and they were not truly democratic. The vote...
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