After the death of Nicholas I (1855), his son Alexander II was to succeed the throne at the age of 37. He had been well prepared for taking over from his father, described by historian Lionel Kochan as ‘the best prepared heir the Russian throne ever had’. Although at his accession he was greeted warmly by many, once he introduced a series of radical reforms of many of Russia’s institutions over his reign (1855-1881) in order to liberalise/modernise Russia, it caused his life to be threatened on many occasions by assassins. Since when he was met with opposition to his authority, he turned repressive towards the people. But realistically to change a system which had been the same for such a long time, it was an almost impossible task undoubtedly going to be challenged by someone. Unlike other leaders before him, he realised the status quo couldn’t continue and the necessity to bring his reforms was vital. However, it’s debateable whether or not he actually deserved the epithet “Tsar Liberator”. Even though to some degree the reforms (e.g. army, education, law etc.) Alexander brought were an improvement to society and enhanced people’s lives in some aspects. On the other hand, it is clear parts of these reforms fell short and did not bring the necessary changes to autocracy and society which people hoped for, and really posed more failures than successes.
Alexander II’s most fundamental reform was the Emancipation Edict in 1861, which brought an end to serfdom; this in turn gave peasants a new sense of freedom and basic human rights which they had never before experienced. Serfdom had prevented Russia from developing into a modern state and be a great power which could equal other European countries, so to Alexander it was crucial to abolish serfdom in Russia. As suggested by Alexander in an announcement to the Moscow gentry, in March 1856, he stated that, “it is better to abolish serfdom from above than to wait for it to begin to abolish itself from below” which suggested his realisation for the need of reform and to ultimately prevent a revolution later on. For instance in the 1830’s Marquis de Custine says Russia was “a cauldron of boiling water…becoming hotter and hotter; I fear an explosion” this suggests that the atmosphere in Russia is very tense, and a revolution seems very likely if everything was allowed to continue to get out of control. As Alexander hoped this reform would put a stop to the rising number of peasant revolts which had totalled 1467 since 1800, and enable Alexander to retain his control.
From this point of view it can be seen Alexander had ulterior motives wanting to make changes to benefit his regime, rather than simply improving the lives of the peasants. Subsequently, by doing this it could push forward industrialisation, not obstruct free flow of labour and enterprise and allow the introduction of modern methods of agriculture so that Russia was no longer lagging behind the rest of Europe. However, others believed that peasants “will take to drinking and villainy” as suggested by Karamzin, ‘Memoir on Ancient and Modern Russia’ 1811. However, this view seems partisan, since it originates from someone who is either a noble or supporting them. He speaks of the nobility in a positive manner, as he says they “assist the sovereign in preserving peace and order”, while Karamzin criticises the peasants. But, his view is a long time before Alexander II succeeds the throne in 1855, and long before they were given any freedoms and so his view should not be taken as an accurate portrayal of the peasants in Russia, as this is only Karamzin’s judgement, not fact.
In addition, there must have been some selfless motives to be liberating such a vast number of people and the majority of Russia’s population. To some degree I think that Alexander hoped that the emancipation would improve peasant quality of life and standard of living, and