Alexander II was the Tsar Liberator who, despite unflattering characterization by his contemporaries, undertook one of the biggest reforms in Russian history: the liberation of the serfs. Yet despite such a necessary and seemingly humanitarian reform, his life was abruptly finished by a successful terrorist attack following no fewer than ten unsuccessful ones.
The main challenge Alexander II faced in his projects towards modernization of Russia was a compromise between advancing his state thorough improving the lives of his subjects, without falling prey to the demand for further reforms he would be unable to satisfy. Westwood, revisiting Russian History in 1981 phrased the problem as follows: “how to advance the education of the state by educating the people, without educating the people to questions the state? ”.
After the crippling defeat in the Crimean War, Alexander II knew that Russia could not be allowed to lag behind the Western world any longer if it was to maintain its independence. The reform of the state had been advisable for a long time, but for Alexander III it was necessary. He knew that before any real changes could be achieved, the main problem had to be solved: the problem of serfdom. However many limits and imperfections his edict of Emancipation carried with it, most importantly it allowed for further modernizing reforms in the legal, government, education and military spheres.
The need to abolish serfdom was a persistent and, according to Mosse writing in 1958, biggest problem in Russian society since the reign of Peter the Great. All the problems of Russian Empire stemmed from serfdom and would automatically be solved with its removal .
To begin with, it was a natural step the development of Russian society since abolition of the obligation of the gentry towards the monarchy. When nobility did not have to serve the Tsar any more after Peter III’s reforms, the chain equation in which the serfs served nobility and nobility served the King had been broken. It was only natural for serfs to expect liberation from their feudal bonds as well . The expectation of the serfs to be granted freedom manifested itself in more frequent and violent demands. An overwhelming majority of the Russian population, the serfs were a force to be reckoned with. “Official Russia, westernized Russia, could ignore the real Russia; only when the peasantry flared into revolt was it noticed ”. The Pugachev rebellion of 1770s demonstrated very clearly that Russian monarchy could not keep ignoring demands for reform forever. Alexander alluded to the dangers of continuing serfdom when enlisting support from the gentry, drawing on recent instances of unrest: “It is better to abolish serfdom from above than to await the time when it will begin to abolish itself from below ”.
Alexander II’s loosening of censorship clearly demonstrated an overwhelming support of the public for the emancipation of the serfs. Both the young intellectuals of the day – Herzen,...