List of Reforms in Russian Empire conducted by Alexander II in years 1855-1881

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Mahmudov Murad and Matthew Conrad

The International School of Azerbaijan

IB1 History

Mr. Rakochy

Friday, 28.10.2010

List of Reforms in Russian Empire conducted by Alexander II in years 1855-1881


Characteristics / How it was conducted

Social Reforms

Emancipation of the Serfs

  • Was the first and one of the most important reforms conducted with the reign of Tsar Alexander II of Russia

  • Liquidation of serf dependence previously suffered by Russian peasantry

  • 1861 Emancipation manifesto proclaimed the abolishment of all private estate and household domestic serfdom, practically giving liberty to more than 23 million Russian peasants.

  • Serfs were granted the full rights of free citizens, gaining the rights to marry without having to gain consent, to own property and to own a business.

  • Peasants would be able to buy the land from the landlords

  • Household serfs were the worst affected as they only gained their freedom and almost no land

  • State owned serfs - the serfs on the imperial properties - were emancipated in 1866 and were given generally better and larger plots of land

Judiciary reform

  • Before Alexander ll court officials were mostly ill-trained and in some cases even illiterate. Corruption was rife, and cases could have been dragged for years. Nobility were given more credence than any other group.

  • To avoid further bribery, judiciary officials’ salaries were set extremely high.

  • Trials became public

  • Trials by jury became introduced in the system

  • Oral evidence was now presented more frequently and cross-examination allowed

  • Justices of the Peace were elected by the district zemstva for a course of three years. They controlled local judiciary activities.

  • Judges, were nominated or appointed to regular courts by the Tsar

  • Much more freedom for judiciary system to operate in Russia overall

Military reform

  • Length of service in the army reduced (1859) from 25 to 16 years.

  • Universal military service introduced (1874)

  • New army schools (Junker schools) established (1864) were special army schools which were open to all. This was a significant liberal step forward. It is important to note that by 1872, 12% of the Junker students were not from the nobility.

  • This was a very important step away from special privileges and merits given to students solely based on their social class

  • Miliutin (the new minister of War appointed by the Tsar) was a good manager of military affairs and was a hard worker

  • He improved the efficiency of many aspects of the military and sought to humanize the military

  • In 1862, the military command in Russia was broken down to 4 key regions

  • This was one in a an attempt to decentralize military control and supplies from the North-East part of Russia solely

Education reform

  • Women admitted to universities (1875)

  • 1872 Moscow University organized first courses for women

  • 1881, 2000 women were studying in Russian universities

  • In 1871, Tolstoy, the minister of education, introduce a new “classical” curriculum into the gymnasia a new type of high school and pre-college educational institutions

  • New stronger emphasis was put on studies of Latin, Greek and Mathematics

  • Modem technical colleges were set up – called realschule

Censorship reform

  • During the reign of Nicholas II censorship was very harsh and oppressive

  • In the beginning of Alexander II’s ascension, the situation relaxed for some brief time, but later on, after the censorship control was passed to Valuev, the Minister of the Interior, the situation tightened very much as well. This is one of the other many examples of how we can see the duality of Tsar’s approach to many of his reforms, as it is known he wanted to mix aspects of social liberalism with aspects of political conservative autocracy.

  • 1865 – relatively progressive Press Laws were published

  • Most of the original writings of not less than 160 printed pages in length and many of the periodical publications were freed from most of censorship (In Moscow and St. Petersburg)

  • All academic, university and learned societies institutions and all publications in ancient languages and their translations together with diagrams and maps were also freed from censorship, everywhere.

Political Reforms

Rural local government reform (Zemstva)

  • Zemstva were locally elected councils (decree published in 1864)

  • Given responsibility for (on a local level):

  • Public education

  • Public health

  • Local economic development, Road building

  • Provision

  • Zemstva are to be given a voice in matters common to the whole empire, distributed in 40 or 50 bodies. This would expose the social order and be apparent to everyone.” – Valuev, Minister of Interior

  • District level: uezd

  • Provincial level: gubernia

  • Several district “Uezd” – 45% of nobility, 40% peasants, 15% townsmen – then elected the gubernia council members for the province

*Note: even with zemstva, not everyone was treated equally. The local taxes were still in favor of nobility. Nevertheless, zemstva did improve local government in areas where they were allowed to operate

*Note: zemstva gave some power on a local level to people of almost all classes; however, many historians see this reform as short-sighted, and not completed to the full extent. It is unfortunate for the peasantry and the middle classes that this reform was not taken further and a central representative government created.

Town government reform (duma)

  • Duma were elected male property holders over the age of 25 (Municipal Statute set up this reform in 1870)

  • Similar to zemstva but on a local level

  • Given responsibility for (on a city level):

  • Public health

  • Provision of services

  • Roads

  • Public education

  • Local city trade and industry

Economic Reforms

Reutern (new Minister of Finance)

  • Was appointed Minister of Finance in 1862

  • Created a unified Treasury and introduced a more efficient centralized financial administrative system.

  • Since 1862 full governmental budgets were published

  • In 1863, a system of excise duties replaced the medieval system of farming out licenses to sell certain goods

  • This minister modernized and streamlined the fiscal organization of the state.

Railway Network

  • When Alexander II came to the throne there were less than 700 miles of railway network in Russia

  • By 1881, there were over 14,000 miles of track

  • Much of the new railway system was designed to encourage grain exports, which were Russia’s chief source of foreign revenue. This was a great success.

Jewish people

  • Before the reign of Alexander II, the Jewish people in Russia lived under extremely harsh and strict conditions

  • During Alexander II’s reign, virtually nothing was ignored which could assist in economic development

  • Up to 1855, Jews in Russia were restricted to living in the border areas of Russia only; this was called, the “Pale settlement”

  • Under Alexander II, many of these restrictions were lifted.

  • In 1859 Jewish merchants and all foreign Jews living in Russia were allowed to live and trade throughout the Empire.

  • In 1860, this right was extended to all Jews who had served in certain regiments

  • In 1867, this right was extended to all Jews who had been soldiers

  • One of the most important and most significant laws was the Policy on Jewish Artisans issued in 1865. This law abolished almost all of the “pale” for Jewish artisans in the Russian Empire.

Winners of his reforms overall: The peasants and the middle class gained some benefits and improvements in their lives. However, they did not get their land back and their liberty to a proper extent for many years onwards. The nobility still was the most influential and richest group out of all classes.

Losers of his reforms overall: The emancipation didn't bring on any significant change in the condition of the peasants. In some regions it took peasants nearly 20 years to obtain their land. Many were forced to pay more than the land was worth. By 1900, around 85% of the Russian people lived in the countryside and earned their living from agriculture. The nobility still owned the best land and the vast majority of peasants lived in extreme poverty. As the country became more industrialized, its political system experienced even greater strain. Attempts by the lower classes to gain more freedom caused fears of anarchy and nihilism that were arising with people like Bakunin and other revolutionaries. As Russia became more industrialized, larger, and far more complicated, the inadequacies of autocratic Czarist rule became increasingly apparent. Liberals and radicals who wanted a parliamentary democracy and the freedom of expression that was enjoyed by most other European states were also not satisfied. In summary, Alexander’s reforms did improve the army, but the reaction from the different parties lead to severe rebellion and eventually death for him.

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