Domestic Policy

Domestic Policy

Russian Domestic Policy, 1855-1881

When Alexander II. succeeded to the throne in 1855, the CRIMEAN WAR was still going on. Technologically, Russia was backward, threatened to fall ever more behind. In order to catch up with rapidly industrializing England, things had to be changed.
Although not being a liberal, Alexander II., described as a man of short temper, engaged on a policy of thorough reforms. A peace treaty was signed in 1856 ending the Crimean War. In 1861 Alexander II. an act accomplished the LIBERATION OF THE SERFS, villages of whom were given adequate land, purchased from the nobles (the former owners of the serfs); as the ex-serfs had little to no money, 80 % of the land price was paid by the Russian government and had to be repaid over a period of 49 years (REDEMPTION). In 1864 local and regional administration was reformed in the ZEMSTVO ACT; the Zemstvo assemblies, elected, were to take responsibility for affairs in their respective region, such as road maintenance, hospitals, prisons, mail service, schools; they were to promote trade in the region. The JUDICIAL REFORM (1864) introduced a number of institutions shaped after western European models, such as trial by jury, representation by counsel for the accused; torture and physical punishments such as flogging were forbidden. Reforms in education (1863/64) were intended to open up universities to non-nobles and turn them into modern centers of science and study; a new censorship law of 1865 freed books over 10 pages of required presentation to the censor. The number of primary schools was extended. An ARMY REFORM was to make the army more efficient
Another important reform was the BUDGET REFORM of 1861 - all the reforms previously listed had to be paid for. This was accomplished by raising taxes, taking loans from foreign banks. The Russian government promoted the construction of RAILROADS (for which, again, Russia relied heavily on foreign investment).

While the reforms were welcomed by many Russian intellectuals, Russia was still a very autocratic state, limiting political participation of her subjects to the Zemstvo level. There were a number of political groups criticizing the political system; the radical NIHILISTS even advocated the assassination of those who were responsible for an administration they regarded oppressive and evil. Political NIHILISM - a theory blaming the state authority for abuse of power and social misery - began in Russia in 1862, had turned violent in 1866 and organized a series of assassination attempts since 1877. In 1881 a group of them succeeded in assassinating Alexander II..
The POLISH REBELLION of 1863 (which had extended into Lithuania) had lead the Russian administration to rethink their policy on religion and nationalities. The Catholic church was blamed for supporting the rebels; a policy of RUSSIFICATION included the Catholic dioceses forcibly placed under the Russian Orthodox Church, the introduction of Russian as language of education, an administrative reform etc. Polish noblemen in Belarus, Lithuania, Ukraine were deported, their estates confiscated, resettled with Russian or local peasants. This policy alienated the nationalities and, in the cases of Lithuania and Belarus, was responsible for causing Lithuanian etc. nationalism to emerge.

Russian Chief Ministers, 1855-1881
Alexey Fyodorovich Orlov
Dmitry Nikolaevich Bludov
Pavel Pavlovich Gagarin
Alexander Mikhailovich Gorschakov
Pavel Nikolaevich Ignatyev
Pytor Aleksandrovich Valuev

Article Nihilism, from Catholic Encyclopedia
Reform and Reaction under Alexander II. and III., by G. Rempel
DOCUMENTS List of Russia's Chief Ministers etc., from World Rulers by Ben Cahoon
Historical maps featuring the Russian Empire, from FEEFHS
Peter Kropotkin on the Assassination of Czar Alexander II. (publ. 1908), from SHSU
Portrait of Alexander II. (1850), from Helsinki University Museum
REFERENCE Reforms and Reaction, pp.260-293, in : Melvin C. Wren, The Course of Russian History, Prospect Heights 1994
John Channon and Robert Hudson, European Russia, 1801-1881, and Economic Development, in : , The Penguin Historical Atlas of Russia, London : Penguin 1995, pp.68-71
Article : Russia, in : Statesman's Year Book 1878 pp.363-399 (on events of 1877) [G]
Article : Russia, in : The American Annual Cyclopaedia and Register of Important Events 1862 pp.749-751, 1864 pp.727-731 [G]
John S.C. Abbott, The Empire of Russia, from the Remotest Period to the Present Time (1859), posted online by Gutenberg Library Online

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2000, last revised on October 16th 2007

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