Part I: History of 19th Century Russia

Category: Education

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Gendarme of Europe: 

Gendarme of Europe Problems in Imperial Russia


Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812 ends in disaster for him and the Empire he created when the Russians burned Moscow and deprived his army of shelter for the cold Russian winter.


Napoleon’s capture of Moscow was meaningless and in the burnt out city he was forced by conditions to retreat.


Napoleon entered Russia with nearly 800,000 troops. About 22,000 survived the journey to and from Moscow. Most died from disease and freezing in the -30 temperature.


The width of the line is the size of Napoleon’s invasion army. The orange color shows the size of his army as it marched to Moscow; the black color shows his army as it marched home from Moscow.


When Austria was unable to put a stop to the rebellion of Hungary, it called on Russian cossacks—dressed like these below. They crushed the rebellion of 1848.


Alexander II: Czar of Russia from 1855-1881


When Alexander II took over Russia, almost 80% of Russia’s population were peasants. Of the 62 million Russians in 1855, almost 23 million were serfs—bound by law to the land they lived on and the lord they worked for. In order for serfs to move they had to attain a government issued passport. Most were illiterate.


What are these serfs doing?


In 1861, Czar Alexander II abolished serfdom. In this picture, the announcement of the freedom of the serfs is announced in public…

The Emancipation of 1861: 

The Emancipation of 1861


In addition to freeing the serfs, Alexander II created local government—loosening the reigns of autocracy—called the zemstvo. They could levy taxes, control public programs, and created civil courts.


The creation of the zemstvo system was flawed, also. Although nobles were less than 2% of the population; 74% of the members of the ruling zemstvo’s were nobles. With landowners unsatisfied and the small middle class unsatisfied, some members of Russian society resorted to terrorism to attain their goals. One major terrorist group, called the People’s Will, wanted the abolition of the monarchy, redistribution of land, and the creation of a socialist state. They felt the best way to achieve this was to kill the Czar himself.


After six failed attempts to kill the Tsar, People’s Will succeeded in killing the Tsar on March 1, 1881.


It is known how it happened. A bomb was thrown under his iron-clad carriage, to stop it. Several Circassians of the escort were wounded. Rysakóff, who flung the bomb was arrested on the spot. Then, although the coachman of the Tsar earnestly advised him not to get out, saying that he could drive him still in the slightly damaged carriage, he insisted upon alighting. He felt that his military dignity required him to see the wounded Circassians, to condole with them as he had done with the wounded during the Turkish war, when a mad storming of Plevna, doomed to end in a terrible disaster, was made on the day of his fête. He approached Rysakóff and asked him something; and as he passed close by another young man, Grinevétsky, the latter threw a bomb between himself and Alexander II, so that both of them should be killed. They both lived but a few hours. There Alexander II lay upon the snow, profusely bleeding, abandoned by every one of his followers! All had disappeared. It was cadets, returning from the parade, who lifted the suffering Tsar from the snow and put him in a sledge, covering his shivering body with a cadet mantle and his bare head with a cadet cap. And it was one of the terrorists, Emeliánoff, with a bomb wrapped in a paper under his arm, who, at the risk of being arrested on the spot and hanged, rushed with the cadets to the help of the wounded man. Human nature is full of contrasts.


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