Alexander II and Reform

Imperial Russia

Fall 2003

Impact of the Crimean War

•       The war initially silenced opposition to the Nicholas I.

•       But the impact of the war changed that.

•       What did Russians see?

•       Their army was humbled.

•       Brining further discredit to the regime.

•       Officials now openly questioned policy.

•       Revolts increased among the peasants.

Alexander II’s Realization

•       Alexander II kept the crisis in hand.

•       Likewise he realized that reforms were needed.

•       Or Russia would face civil war.

•       Or worse.

•       But he knew that reforms had to come.

•       However, he did not have a plan in hand.

Ukaz of March 31, 1856

•      Alexander announced the treaty.

•      He indicated it could open a new period of hope and tranquility.

•      He also had proposals before him involving serfdom, education, and the legal system.

Questions, Questions, and More Questions

•      The serfs would not accept words any more.

•      The nobles wanted to know what he was about to do?

•      Alexander told them: better to abolish serfdom from above than waite till they begin to liberate themselves.

Who Was Alexander II?

•      Was he Tsar-Liberator?

•      Was he the Abraham Lincoln of Russia?

•      Was he properly trained for the tasks he faced?

•      But when he took the throne he was 36 and the best educated of the lot.

•      He was also more humane than his father.

The First Moves

•      The Ukaz of March 31, 1856, opened the debate.

•      But it took five years before action took place.

•      Much of the delay belonged to Alexander.

The Status of the Nobility

•       The nobility saw the need for reform.

•       But they delayed like the Tsar.

•       But they wanted the best for themselves.

•       The questions of the nobility delayed the process.

•       To reach his objective, he had to turn to his liberal ministers.

Committees of Nobles

•      These committees of nobles started the process in Jan. 1857.

•      Findings were forwarded to St. Petersburg.

•      There they were reviewed by the Private Committee of the Emperor.

•      Their was a delay because conservatives dragged their feet.

•      In 1858, the Committee was renamed the Main Committee.

•      Alexander pleaded to move quickly.

Drafting the Legislation

•      The actual drafting began in 1859.

•      The main spokesmen was Nicholas Miliutin, the Deputy Minister of the Interior.

•      A draft proposal was ready by Oct. 1860.

•      The Conservatives attempted more recommendations.

•      The final proposal was then sent to the Emperor to be discussed in the State Council.

•      The deliberations finally ended on Feb. 27, 1861.

•      Which had to be done by the time of Spring planting.

Vote of the State Council

•       Votes were made point by point.

•       Alexander II ordered that the Act would stand as the draft.

•       The final form consisted of the 17 articles and special sections.

•       The full act was known as “The Act on the Emancipation of the Peasants from Sefdom.

•       Signed on March 3, 1861.

•       The State Peasants would benefit in 1866.

Divisions of Serfs

•      1.4 Million household sefs.

•      21 million worked the land.

•      24.7 were state peasants.

•      22.4 Million serfs were given their personal liberty.

•      This effectively brought serfdom to an end.

More an Involved Process

•      The peasants retain the land they worked.

•      But they could not refuse.

•      The goal was to avoid a class of landless peasants.

•      The nobility was not to be paid for the loss of their serfs, but they would paid for the loss of their land.

•      The payment would be in either money or labor.

•      The peasants would get the “beggar’s quarter” and wave their claims to the rest.

Paying Their Debt

•       The serfs preferred to make a cash payment.

•       The government provided low interest loans to those who could not pay.

•       The “redemption payments” would cover 49 years.

•       By 1880, settlements were made on 85% of the land.

•       Most of their land was over valued.

The Devil was in the Details

•      The land did not go to the individual.

•      Instead it went to the commune.

•      One could leave the commune and sell their land.

•      While the Emancipation Manifesto ended the peasant/landlord relationship.

•      But it did not end the relationship between the peasant and the commune.

•      The commune was to collect the redemption dues, what was to be grown, and when the land tilled.

The Administrative Organ of Emancipation

•       Village commune was the organ.

•       The district/canton government supplement the commune.

•       The local government included assessor, judge, clerk, and elder.

•       Elected by delegates from the villages.

•       The court handled original jurisdiction and handled appeals from the assembly.

•       The goal was to become the self-government for the peasants.

Class Status of the Peasants

•      Socially they were at the bottom.

•      There clothes set them apart.

•      Which made them second class.

•      If not lower.

•      Restricted from entering public buildings.

•      And still liable for corporal punishment.

Long-Term Consequences

•       Established a free peasantry but could not support themselves.

•       Accelerated the collapse of the nobility.

•       But exposed the nobility as incompetent agronomists.

•       Some tried to become gentlemen farmers.

•       Rural areas continued to decline.

General Thoughts

•      Emancipation was just the first step.

•      The improved status of the serfs required strengthening of local government.

•      Nicholas Miluitin adopted many of Speransky’s proposals.

•      Miluitin had too many enemies and was replaced byh Peter Valuiev.

•      Valuiev championed the dominance of the nobility.

The Zemstvo Law

•      Proposed by Valuiev.

•      Established elected assemblies on the district level.

•      Composed three classes of voters – landowners, wealthy townspeople, and peasants.

•      Each class voted separately.

•      The nobility had the edge in numbers.

•      In the first elections – 43% nobles, 38% peasants, and 18% from other classes.

•      Zemstvos had no jurisdiction over cities.

•      And only applied to European Russia.

Powers of the Zemstvos

•       Authority to impose limited taxes on real estate and business.

•       Work on roads.

•       Local construction.

•       Local welfare.

•       Had no police powers.

•       Liberals thought this would work and lead to other reforms.


General Overview

•      Most of the earlier reforms only existed on paper.

•      Earlier on 10% of eligible voters ever voted.

•      A draft reform was ready by 1866.

•      But a conservative reaction forced Alexander II to retract this measure.

•      The Statute of 1870 allowed for suffrage for males who paid taxes.

•      A three-class system was organized according to wealth.

•      The emperor appointed the mayors in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

The Duties of Municipal Governments

•      Education.

•      Social Welfare.

•      Public Safety.

•      Limited taxing powers.

•      But not chief political functions.

Legal Reforms

•      Alexander realized the old system had to be reformed.

•      So in 1862, work was started on a new legal code.

•      By 1864, the new legal system was introduced on the French system.

•      Which provided for:

•      Open trials.

•      Jury system

•      Independent judiciary.

•      Justice-of-the-peace system to handle petty offenses.

Some Weaknesses in the Legal System

•      Did not apply to the peasantry.

•      Juries could not handle cases involving treason.

•      Censorship was an other issue.

•      Partially lifted, but not completely.

•      All books of over ten pages were subject to preliminary censorship.

•      Some books got through…like Marx’s Das Kapital.

Educational Reforms

•       Harsh measures of Nicholas I were repealed.

•       Schools were now open to children of all classes.

•       Religion was no longer a bar to entrance.

•       Autonomy was now restored.

•       Faculties had the authority to control their administrations.

•       Admissions were liberalized.

•       Women were allowed to become teachers.

Army Reforms

•       The Crimean war exposed Russia to the necessity of reform of the Army.

•       This was the work of D.A. Miliutin.

•       He was war minister from 1861-1881.

•       Earlier the bulk of the army came from urban poor or peasants.

•       Who served for 25 years.

•       And discipline was harsh.

Miluitin’s Objectives

•      Raise the dignity of service.

•      Improve the quality of the officer corps.

•      Eliminate corporal punishment.

•      Reduce the length of service to sixteen years.

Miluitin’s Reforms

•      Established military schools to train officers.

•      Including specialized schools for the infantry, artillery, and cavalry.

•      Still the nobility monopolized the officer billets.

•      The major change came in 1874 with universal military service.

•      All males eligible for military service at 20.

•      Some were excused or exempted.

•      Following active service, a reserve commitment was required.