A Study On Alexander Third History Essay
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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016
Alexander III came into power following the murder of his father, Alexander II. Many historians believe that this event made him reactionary and anti-reformist. In order to sustain power and increase his powers of autocracy, he attempted to undo the reforms of his father. To a great extent, he was successful in undoing most of the reforms. Five areas of reform to discuss include: judiciary reform, educational reforms, censorship, Russification and government reform. The areas in which he did succeed to undo the reforms of his father include attempts to limit the power of the jury, which was introduced by Alexander II, succeeded. It is important to discuss this area, as the jury played a key role in deciding the fate of millions of Russians in the Empire. Another area where he succeeded was censorship, which was based on silencing any opposition using the secret police tool known as the Okhrana and controlling the press and literature. This continued the legacy of the secret police from the time of Alexander II. However, The Third Section was not as tough and reactionary as the Okhrana. Moreover, Alexander II had been lenient in allowing freedom of publication. The attempt to reduce the minority groups within Russia and to put primary school education under church control succeeded, which shows the importance of educating the Russians. Russification, which involved subjugating the people within the Russian Empire under Russian language and law, also succeeded. An example is the Jews, were often used traditionally as a scapegoat by the Tsars. In contrast, under Alexander II, Jews were allowed to go to school with other Russians and no harsh laws were passed against them. Alexander II had allowed minority groups to go to schools with Russians, however Alexander III removed the majority of minority groups from schools. In order to understand to what extent he did succeed, we must also understand why he wished to undo the reforms, to get a larger view of events. The reason why he wished to undo the reforms of his father, and possibly why he succeeded, was because he was determined that he would not have the same fate as Alexander II. The rise of opposition groups, mainly intellectuals, made him even more determined to be more reactionary. Also, the legacy of Tsardom, as being mainly autocratic, was something that he wanted to return to, thus ensuring that he remained in power. However, he failed in undoing the reforms of the government. Although the idea of the land captains managed to centralise administrative control in local provinces, the main aim of the government was to reduce the influence of the Zemstvo, local government introduced by Alexander II, which failed as they still had say in local government. The fact is that Alexander III had to deal with other problems in his government such as the rise of intellectuals and dissenters, which meant that there was no clear plan in place to fully succeed in undoing the reforms of the Zemstvo. Also, there were disputes and disagreements with the advisors. Thus, Alexander III succeeded in undoing the reforms of his father, in most areas.
One successful attempt by Alexander III in undoing the reforms of his father was evident with the judiciary. The most important area to discuss is trial by jury. The historian David Saunders suggests that Alexander II introduced trial by jury in order to increase fairness in verdicts and improve the sense of responsibility in people.  However, Alexander III wished to remove trial by jury, due to what Mansein, an advisor to Alexander III, claimed that jurors were ‘not better than before.’  Alexander III believed that jurors were not well-educated enough to give verdicts. Thus, he wished to limit trial by jury. Mansein passed a law in 1887 and 1889 limiting trial by jury. The following law was applied: He suggested raising the standard of jurors, by raising the qualification demanded in terms of income. The following qualification of income was suggested: no more than 1,000 rubles for the capital cities and 400 rubles for the countryside. Jurors also had to read and write Russian.  This meant that jurors had to have certain qualifications in order to become a juror. Such rigorous standardisation was not organised by Alexander II and Jurors were chosen due to their experience within government. For example, 35% of those who had served under Nicholas I had been given jobs as jurors.  These figures suggest that Alexander III did manage to successfully limit trial by Jury, as there were stricter measures under Alexander III for those who wished to be jurors. Also, in 1893, there were only 120,000 trials by jury compared to over half-a-million under Alexander II.  This large difference between both Tsars would suggest that Alexander III was successful in undoing a key reform of his father. Thus, Alexander III succeeded in undoing the reform of trial by jury, which was introduced by his father.
Another area in which he did succeed in undoing the reforms of Alexander II was with regards to the press. It is important to understand why Alexander III wished to reduce the influence of the press. It can be argued that the rise of intellectual and opposition groups, such as ‘The People’s Will’ and ‘Land and Liberty’, made Alexander III more fearful that he might have a similar fate of his father. By reducing the powers of the press, the government could control what was published and thus reduce the influence of dissenters and thus retain Alexander III’s credibility as Tsar. Alexander II in the 1860’s had been tolerant with what was written by the press whether it was derogatory to the government or praiseworthy. For example, there were reports about the fractious behaviour of students and the rise of revolutionaries. Although editors could still be punished for what they wrote under ‘Temporary rules of 1865’, the government was still tolerant with what was written. However, Alexander III was not as tolerant. The historian Charles Lowe suggests that Alexander III wished to repress the rise of revolutionary thought and activity.  The following steps were taken by the state council: There was a ban on literature and discussions on government life, which elaborated on the peasantry, the courts and government administration. The main governing group who dealt with the press and censorship was The Main Directorate of the Press  . It is estimated that there were 65,237 newspapers and manuscripts which were checked by this group. Libraries, considered as breeding grounds for seditious ideas, were spied upon. For example, in 1882, 640 library rooms were under observation, and books which inspired national fervour, were removed.  This large number in itself shows the intolerant nature of the regime under Alexander III than Alexander II. Moreover, certain periodicals and literature was banned. For example, the magazine Russian Word was banned because it incited revolution by claiming that Alexander III was ‘polluting the Russian landscape and destroying our livelihoods.’  Writers and editors of the famous book, Notes of the Fatherland, were arrested or exiled from the capital. The Notes of the Fatherland invoked national and democratic fervour and thus was seen as a threat to Alexander III. Indeed, due to the legacy of the death of his father and the legacy of his own childhood, where he had experienced revolutionary activity, Alexander III was bound to be repressive towards written works which increased the possibility of a mass revolution, which suggests that Lowe’s view is valid. Thus, with the examples above it suggests that with the repressive treatment of publications, Alexander III successfully managed to undo the reforms of his father.
An area of censorship and control of society which shows that Alexander III did succeed in undoing the reforms of his father was the role of the secret police, namely the Okhrana. The historian Frederik Zuckerman suggests that the Okhrana were introduced by Alexander III, as a worse and more violent alternative to the Third Section, under Alexander II.  It can be argued that Alexander III’s main motive for introducing the third section was to control a minority of the population who were inspiring revolution and dissent against his rule. Mary Antin, a Jewish girl from the Russian pale, describes her experiences of the Okhrana, ‘In every congregation a prayer must be said for the czar’s health, or the chief of police would close the synagogue. On a royal birthday every house must fly a flag, or the owner would be dragged to a police station and be fined twenty-five rubles.’  This is a first-hand perspective from a member of a minority group, a Jew, in Russia and thus it gives us a different perspective on how the Okhrana worked. The punishments of closing the synagogue and people being ‘dragged’ to the police station suggest that the Okhrana were an unavoidable force within Russia. Moreover, the Okhrana had the power to keep people in custody whilst in prison; different and cruel types of torture were invented such as frying dissenters in hot oil; the spy network around Russia increased, and there was an estimated 150,000 Okhrana spies in St Petersburg alone.  In contrast, The Third Section was not as fierce. For example, dissenters would only be sent to prison and not tortured. Moreover, there were only 50,000 Third Section spies in St Petersburg in 1860.  Moreover, a lot of the opposition which was spread under Alexander III was suppressed by the Okhrana. For example, the thousands of members of the ‘People’s Will’ and ‘Land and Liberty’ , were arrested and put to death, whilst Alexander II was murdered showing that the Okhrana was a more effective manifestation of the secret police than the Third Section. This death of Alexander II helps us understand the determination of Alexander III to reduce and repress revolutionary ideas and thought, as Alexander III may have feared that he may have the same fate. These facts suggests that Alexander III did manage to undo the reforms of his father, because the secret police had a more overt and powerful presence under Alexander III than under his father. Moreover, the fact that Alexander III died of natural causes suggests that he did succeed in undoing the reforms of his father, as Alexander III lived a longer life.
Another area where he succeeded in undoing the reforms of his father was regarding primary and secondary school education. Following the defeat in the Crimean War, Alexander II wished to re-educate and re-build Russia with more intelligent people, who could lead Russia from her backwardness. He invested in universities, and higher education. Subjects such as Maths and science were introduced. The peasants were also educated, in order to make them a part of Russian society. However, in contrast, Alexander III restricted education opportunities. The historian Alexander Polunov suggests that Alexander III wished to re-educate the Russian people, because he believed that the rise of intellectuals was challenging to his government, and that Russians and particularly men, deserved a great education.  Alexander III appointed Ivan Delianov as Minister of Education, who created a plan for the ‘modern secondary school’. Delianov had two main aims: to change the social composition within secondary schools, with more emphasis on gender and race, and to place schools under church control. For example, under Alexander II there were a large minority presence in schools, with equality in Gender, however, under Alexander III there was a 54% reduction of women and minorities from the time of his father.  One reason why Alexander III wished to increase the male composition of students and reduce minorities, who learned, was possibly because he may have believed that men deserved more rights than women. Indeed, as a child, he learnt the legacy, about the male Tsar as the one and only absolute ruler. The wife, traditionally, did not get involved with politics. This ideology was transferred to education. Moreover, he believed in Russification and repressing minorities, thus minorities, had little time in education. Indeed, those minorities who were schooled were forced to learn Russian, whilst under Alexander II there was a large minority presence in schools. For example, in 1862 there were 200,000 minority students in St Petersburg, however in 1886, there were only 2,500 minority students in St Petersburg.  Antin, describes her experiences at school under Alexander III, ‘They (children) looked at me being from another world. No, the czar did not want us in the schools.’  This would reduce the opportunity of minority groups to rise against Alexander III’s rule, as different groups would not be able to get together and create a conspiracy, which is what Alexander III feared due to the legacy of his father’s death. This suggests that these aims were successful and was an undoing of a reform of his father.
Historians also suggest a secondary aim was to increase the number of primary schools under ecclesiastical control.  Alexander III wished to subordinate the primary schools under religion in order to control schools. An interpretation for controlling education under religion could be the legacy of Alexander III’s own education as a child, where his father made Alexander III pray before he actually started learning, thus he may have felt it important to re-educate young children about the importance of religious orthodoxy. Indeed, religious orthodoxy was a key part of the Russian autocracy, showing the attempt by Alexander III to tighten autocracy, which would, again, reduce the chance of dissent against his rule. It is estimated that there were, by 1890, 450,000 primary schools under jurisdiction of the churches, compared to fewer than 100 under the reign of Alexander II.  These figures suggest that Alexander III succeeded in undoing the education reforms of his father, as there was more control by the churches, under Alexander III.
Another area in which he succeeded in undoing the reforms of Alexander II was with regards to Russification. Russification was the process of forcing minorities within the Russian Empire to learn the Russian language and live under Russia’s law and order. One of the most important examples of Russification to discuss is that of the Jews, because traditionally, they had been targeted throughout Russian History. The historian Geoffrey Hosking suggests that the Jews were targeted by Alexander III following the death of his father.  This could have been an attempt to treat the Jews as a scapegoat, for the death of his father. Moreover, as Alexander II had given Jews relative freedom, it could have been an attempt by Alexander III to be more repressive towards minorities and thus undo the reforms of his father, thus Hosking’s view may be valid. For example, Alexander II had allowed Jews to have jobs, Jewish children could go to school with other Russians and were officially a past of the Russian Empire.  However, Alexander III successfully managed to limit the rights of the Jews. The ‘temporary rules, issued in 1882, forbade Jews to resettle, or acquire property. The police also had to restrict the Jews and take them to concentration camps. For example, in 1885, over 5,000 Jews were sent to concentration camps. Antin describes her experience, ‘The policeman kicked the door open with his great boot, and took my mother.’  Such experiences from a first-hand account reveal the conditions of fear in which Jews must have lived in. Jewish children were also barred, apart from those living in the Jewish pale, from going to school and from having jobs in high positions.  For example, the amount of Jews in jobs in 1884 compared to 1860 decreased by 60%. Such a large descreprency in figures between Alexander III counter-reform and his father’s reform on Jews reveals successfully undoing the reforms of his father. It was revealed by Hosking that Alexander III, believed that the majority of revolutionaries were Jews.  He accused Jews of murdering his father, and this may suggests another reason why he was successful in undoing the reforms of his father, as Jews had no opportunity to oppose Alexander III’s rule. Thus, regarding the Jews, Alexander III successfully undid the reforms of his father.
One failed attempt by Alexander III in undoing the reforms of his father was evident with government reform, specifically the laws towards the zemstvo. The historian Peter Zaionchokovsky suggests that Alexander III wished to reduce the power of the zemstvo in order to increase centralisation of government, however he failed due to the lack of a coherent plan.  Alexander II had introduced the zemstvo, following the emancipation of the serfs, to give them more say in government. However, following the murder of his father and the rise of opposing intellectuals, Alexander III wished to increase centralisation, thus Zaionchokovsky view is valid. The aim of reducing the power of the zemstvo was a two-fold plan, written up by Tolstoi, an advisor of Alexander III. Another person who needs to be discussed in Pobodonostsev, an advisor of Alexander III, who also wrote up a plan. Firstly, the nobility would get increased responsibility of the zemstvo, whilst the peasants’ influence was reduced.  Secondly, the independence of the zemstvo would be abrogated, through the abolition of the executive boards, and the introduction of a new appointed zemstvo office.  However, none of these proposals were actually introduced, which suggests that Alexander III did not succeed in undoing the zemstvo reforms of Alexander II. There are many reasons as to why he did not succeed. Firstly, these proposals were introduced to the state council in January 1888, however not discussed until March, giving a delay of three months to any proper plan. Secondly, when it was discussed in the State Council, Alexander III advisors failed to come up with any coherent plan, and ideas which were discussed differed from the original aims outlined by Tolstoi. Moreover, no responses from the State Council to Tolstoi’s plan actually arrived until his death in April 1890, meaning that his proposals were now insignificant. Following Tolstoi’s death, Pobodonostsev wrote up the Zemstvo Statute of 1890.  He proposed a restriction of membership eligibility. For example, Jews and artisans would not be allowed to join the Zemstvo. He also suggested that the role of peasants should be reduced. However, although the statute was passed successfully, it still attracted Jews and others who were prohibited from joining, including criminals. Moreover, the executive boards were preserved and peasants still had a say in the zemstvos. Therefore, in the final analysis Zaionchokovsky’s view is valid, as it seemed that due to a lack of a clear coherent plan, Alexander III failed to undo the zemstvo reforms of Alexander II.
However, one successful attempt at undoing the government reforms of his father was with the introduction of the land captains. The historian Heide Whelan suggests that the land captains controlled the lifestyle and governing of the peasants.  Indeed, the land captains had the ability to arrest and put peasants on trial, which can be seen as a step backwards from the abolition of serfdom in of 1865 which allowed peasants freedom of their commune. Also the justices of the peace, which maintained order and control in the peasant commune, were abolished.  Therefore, this can be seen as undoing the reforms of Alexander II, as it was more reactionary and autocratic.
Thus, in most cases, Alexander III successfully managed to undo the reforms of his father. Following the death of his father and the increase in revolutionary activity, Alexander III wished to introduce a more reactionary form of governing Russia. He managed to limit trial by jury, control secondary and primary education, increase censorship with the press and force Russian language and culture upon Russian minorities, specifically the Jews. The Okhrana was also more effective and controlling than the Third Section. However, he was less successful when he tried to limit the influence of the zemstvo in local government, due to a lack of a clear plan. It seems that the total determination of Alexander III to avenge his father’s death and to repress opposition groups, made him succeed.
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