Alexander II, Tsar of Russia
(1818–1881)
   Alexander II was tsar of Russia from 1855 to 1881, coming to the throne in the midst of Russia’s unsuccessful involvement in the Crimean War. Alexander occupied himself mostly with domestic affairs, and his reign became known as the Era of the Great Reforms. He carried out the emancipation of the Russian serfs in 1861 as the first step in a series of reforms designed to modernize Russia. His Zemstvo Reform of 1864 created an elected unit of local administration, the zemstvo. Alexander also created an independent judiciary and approved the introduction of universal manhood conscription for the Russian army in 1874. In the realm of imperial expansion, Alexander approved the military conquest of the Central Asian Khanates of Kokand, Bukhara, and Khiva during the 1860s and 1870s and efforts to extend Russian influence in Afghanistan. Kokand was annexed into the tsarist empire while the other two khanates were reduced to the status of Russian protectorates. Alexander oversaw the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–1878, which resulted in Russian territorial gains in the Caucasus and the creation of a Principality of Bulgaria under Russian influence.
   His reforming activities raised expectations for still greater reforms, but his maintenance of tsarist autocracy led to disappointment. Many student radicals joined revolutionary movements to generate a peasant uprising to overthrow Alexander. When this movement failed in 1874–1875, some revolutionaries trained their sights on the tsar himself. One of these groups, the Peoples’ Will, succeeded in assassinating him in 1881.
   See also <>; <>; <>.
   FURTHER READING:
    Lincoln, W. Bruce. The Great Reforms: Autocracy, Bureaucracy, and the Politics of Change in Imperial Russia. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1990;
    Lincoln, W. Bruce. The Romanovs: Autocrats of All the Russias. Reprint ed. New York: Anchor, 1983;
    Mosse, W. Alexander II and the Modernization of Russia. London: I. B. Tauris and Company, Ltd., 1995.
   JONATHAN GRANT

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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