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Tsar Nicholas II

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In 1894, at the age of 26, Nicholas II became Tsar of Russia as a result of his father, Alexander III's, passing away. When he acquired the throne he cried because he wasn't ready to be king. Spoken by Nicholas himself, he said, “I am not yet ready to be Tsar. I know nothing of the business of ruling” (Lieven, 1993). However, ascending the throne was something that Nicholas had to do with no other choice in the matter. Before Nicholas became Tsar the people of Russia already disliked the Romanov family, but when Nicholas took his father's place - the people of the nation became even more unsatisfied. Nicholas lacked the strength, character and the charisma that his father had possessed and that was necessary in gaining the fear and respect from the people of his country. Over the next two decades, the people's dissatisfaction toward the Tsar escalated until, in 1917, the autocracy fell. Tsarism collapsed as a result of the inability of the tsar and his advisers to handle the social, economic and political problems of Russia in the two decades leading up to and during the First World War. According to one historian "tsarism collapsed with a whimper." In a way, this historian is correct. While the tsar and his advisers did make attempts to handle the uprisings that took place; they only managed to add more problems in the end. The Tsar's personal characteristics, combined with the way he and his advisers handled such incidences as the Russo-Japanese War, the Revolution of 1905, and World War I, all contributed to the collapse of Tsarism. Every choice and decision of the tsar and his advisers ultimately led to the downfall of him and his empire.
Nicholas Alexandrovich Romanov, or Tsar Nicholas II, is commonly known as a victim of time. When Nicholas came to rule after his father Alexander III’s surprise passing, he was not fully prepared to take over. Shortly after Nicholas acquired the throne, he stated that he never wanted to rule and that he had no idea how to rule (Esthus, 1981). In 1894, on the day of his coronation, the crowds were so big that the police had to push their way through just so Nicholas and his wife, Alexandra, could get by. As a result, 1 300 people were crushed to death. Passing on by and noticing what was happening, Nicholas chose not to react and decided to keep smiling and waving. After his lack of carelessness, the people saw him as a man who cared more about appearance than his own subjects. Many of those who were close to Nicholas described him as a "sensitive and indecisive man who had the tendency to avoid confrontation and preferred the safety of his family over the public" (Esthus, 1981, p.400). Wanting to be like his father, Nicholas refused to change with the times. When Nicholas acquired the throne, the people expected a fresh and healthier rule that would come with his leadership. However, Nicholas kept on with the outdated, autocratic policies that of his father. Since Nicholas came to rule during the Industrial Revolution, he had to deal with many social issues that he failed to handle. At times he let his overbearing wife bully him into being a tyrant of a man, causing many dilemmas (Massie, 2011). Not only that, but the Tsar trusted his ministers too much when it came to handling numerous social problems; resulting in Nicholas gaining a bad reputation. The Industrial Revolution caused Nicholas to obtain imperialistic views, which gave him the urge to expand into the region Manchuria, China (Massie, 2011). This choice caused heavy conflict with Japan, thus leading to the Russo-Japanese War of 1904.
Nicholas' decision to instigate war with Japan was one of the first events that triggered agitation in the people on account of the embarrassing outcome. The war took place from 1904 to 1905 and was a very humiliating experience for the Romanov Dynasty (Mitchner & Tuffs, 1998). The Russo-Japanese War resulted in a major first for a powerful European country (Mitchner et al., 1998). For the first time in world history a great European country was defeated by non-Western nation; causing a great divide within Russia (Lensen, 1961). When the Tsar and his advisers prepared for war, they expected it to excite the nation and bring them together. However, the bulk of the population lived many hundreds of miles from the war and must have felt removed from it. Regardless of the people's feelings about war, the Tsar continued to fight with Japan.
The new political parties that came about around 1901 saw no use in the Russo-Japanese War. They saw the spontaneous patriotism spreading amongst the people, and they took this opportunity to advance their political grasp (Esthus, 1981). The dissatisfaction toward the war reached it's climax on July 28th, 1904 when Vyacheslav Plehve, who was the head of the tsarist Russian police - was assassinated. Within all the chaos, Nicholas turned to Pyotr Dmitrievich Sviatopolk-Mirskii, the Minister of the Interior - also known as Prince Mirsky. Mirsky convinced Nicholas to let the political parties to speak and voice their opinions. By doing so and pleasing his people, his autocracy became disatissfied (Radzinsky, 2011). This was the first time that Nicholas' followers saw him as weak. The Tsar's first mistake was ignoring his peoples' wishes for pulling out of the war. His second was allowing political parties to speak their minds, thus causing a gap between him and his followers. In the end, as the humiliating war came to a close, the 1905 Revolution, led by Father Gapon, began.
The year 1905 would present the Tsar with a series of significant obstacles that would lead to numerous mistakes on his part. The revolution was sparked by a miniature and peaceful protest held on January 22nd, 1905 that was led by the Russian Orthodox priest, Father Gapon. On the day of the revolution, the Father spoke,
Comrades, Russian workers! . . . We no longer have a tsar. Today a river of blood divides him from the Russian people. It is time for the Russian workers to begin the struggle for the people’s freedom without him. For today I give you my blessing. Tomorrow I shall be with you. Today I am busy working for our cause (Father Gapon, 1905).

Grigori Gapon’s words influenced 150,000 protesters to march the cold and snow covered streets of St. Petersburg to speak out about their lifestyle (Ferro, 1995). They were not intent on making any form of political protest in the sense of calling for the overthrow of the government or the royal family. The petition they carried clearly showed that they were just merely pleading to their King to hear their call for help (Gurko, 1931). As the enormous crowd marched through St. Petersburg they were confronted by a group of soldiers who, in turn, were nervous to face such a crowd. As the crowd marched on, the soldiers were told to fire on them. There is little evidence as to why the soldiers fired on the peaceful crowd, and as to who even gave the command, but after the firing had finished several hundred protesters lay dead. This event later came to be known as "Bloody Sunday."
Many of the political parties inflated the number of deaths into the thousands to try to turn the people against the autocracy (Ferro, 1995). As the news of deaths began to spread, many more protests and strikes occurred throughout Russia. When the revolution started, the citizens wanted nothing more than the Tsar to improve their living conditions. However, by the summer of 1905, the protests and strikes became more political (Gurko, 1939). The people demanded that the Tsar grant them the freedom of speech, an elected Duma, and the right to form political parties (Davis, Harris, Perry, Von Laue, & Warren, 1988).
In October of 1905 a major strike occurred in Moscow that spread to other cities. Students, factory workers, revolutionaries, doctors and teachers - all manners of people took the streets demanding change. Nicholas and his advisers were left with two choices; more repression or some form of constitutional reform to please the people (Gurko, 1939). Not knowing what to do, Nicholas turned to Count Witte for advice. Witte believed that the military could not be fully trusted and advised Nicholas to go for a reform (Gurko, 1939). Witte drew up reforms and Nicholas signed the documents on October 17th, 1905. This document, in a whole, was called the 'October Manifesto.' This paper granted the people civil liberties, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and no laws to be introduced without the agreement of the Duma.
By December, the troops that took part in the Russo-Japanese War had returned to Russia. When they arrived at the palace Nicholas forced them to crush the mob within Moscow. Nicholas obviously wanted to restore law and order within his country. Though Nicholas catered to the people's wants and desires through the October Manifesto, in December it was clear that the tsar was not happy about having to comply to his own people. When he disbanded the mob, the people realized where him and his government stood.
The 1905 Revolution caused many of the Russian citizens to further question the Tsar's leadership. The Tsar's lack of control over the events at the beginning of the revolution showed his carelessness (Davis, et al., 1988). Although he and his adviser, Count Witte, tried to make it up to the civilians by creating the October Manifesto - the kind actions were contradicted when Nicholas forcefully dissolved the December protests. The poor reactions to the conflicts during 1905 caused tensions rise in Russia until World War I; when the people's patience finally diminished.
During 1914, Tsar Nicholas II faced the same issue he did before in 1905 with the Russo-Japanese War. He was unsure of how the citizens of Russia would react to the idea of Russia joining the Allied power against Germany in battle. Yet, when it was first announced that Russia were to enter the Great War - the people of Russia were filled with patriotic fervour (Hasegawa, 1981). However, this excitement was short-lived. The Russian people didn't know of the consequences and price that would come with the war. To accompany the lifestyle of war Russia had to mobilize all of their systems and resources toward the war effort. In other words, Russia geared itself towards total war (Hasegawa, 1981). This led to a great deal of social, economic, and political problems within the country. The underestimation of these issues by Nicholas II, and his choice of leaving Rasputin and tsarina in charge of the country - would ultimately lead to the downfall of tsarism.
When Russia entered the war the Tsar chose to enact conscription, this decision would lead to problems later on in time. The people of Russia didn't mind conscription at first, they felt honoured to serve their country. Except that feeling began to fade once Russia started to experience heavy losses on the Front (Mitchner et al., 1998). Hearing of the tragic toll, Tsar decided to leave to become commander on the Eastern Front. Once he left he left he placed his wife, Alexandra, and his adviser, Rasputin, in command. The people of Russia were quite perturbed by this decision. As Nicholas left to the battlefield, it escaped his mind that he left Alexandra in a country that had established total war. Total war comes with the costs of a highly inflated economy along with resource and food shortages. When Nicholas left his palace, the people were severely frustrated about the food shortages and the high prices on the food that was around (Mitchner et al., 1998). Alexandra didn't know how to handle this, so she left matters in Grigori Rasputin's hands . Those of Russia believed that Rasputin and the Tsarina had a love affair, and thought their rule as blasphemy (Bjornlund, 2005). Many despised Rasputin and believed that he was a dirty, rude, and ruthless German spy (DeMarco, 1987). As problems escalated, the February Revolution of 1917 broke out. This event, at first, Nicholas blew off and just told troops to handle it. This would prove to be a terrible reaction. As a result of this decision the Duma and his troops turned against him, leaving him, Rasputin, and the Tsarina hated.
The February Revolution during World War I was the last oversight of Tsar Nicholas II. Nicholas underestimated the people's hatred toward him and their desire to pull out of the war (Trotsky, 2008). Deciding not to immediately return home to Petrograd upon receiving the news of the protests, would prove to be Nicholas' last mistake (Ferro, 1995). By the time he realized the severity of the protests that were occurring and decided to leave the battlefront and make his way home, it was too late. While enroute to Petrograd, revolutionary forces were able to close off the railway line, trapping his Imperial train miles away from the city. “Nicholas (couldn’t) even command his railway train to get back to Petrograd….The dictatorial ruler now (sat) powerless in a siding” (The Russian Revolution, 2013). In the end, Nicholas was forced to abdicate his throne in that very railroad car - thus causing the end of the Romanov Dynasty. Stacked up one on top of the other, each event that Nicholas II and his advisers tried or refused to acknowledge ultimately led up to the downfall of tsarism. Nicholas' desire to follow his dad's footsteps and deny the change the people wanted was the first of these stepping stones. The Russo-Japanese War was the next; when the people clearly saw no use in the war and demanded that the Tsar pull out. When he didn't, and Russia experienced a humiliating loss, a revolution occurred that Nicholas reacted poorly to. His popularity dramatically dropped as a result of his failure to control his troops during the 1905 Revolution. Although he tried to fix this mistake with the October Manifesto, his actions were contradicted when he had the revolutionary mob dispersed by force. Nobody knows for sure, but some historians believe that if Nicholas did not enter World War I like the Duma advised - then maybe the tsar regime would have lasted longer. The Tsar was a victim of bad timing. Nicholas II's unpreparedness to become king, the way he avoided confrontation, his out of date autocratic policies, and his faith in his poor advisers; consequently led to the downfall of the Tsarist Empire.

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