April 01, 1998

The Tsar Liberator

April 17 is the 180th anniversary of the birth of Tsar Alexander II (who ruled from 1855-1881), well-known as an emancipator and reformer, and lesser known as a benefactor of America (more on that later).

When Emperor Nicholas I died in 1855, his son Alexander (then 36) ascended to the throne. Russia was in deep crisis. “I turn over my command to you,” Nicholas said to his son in the final hours of his life, “but unfortunately not in the good order that I would wish. I am leaving you many worries and troubles.”

Russia had just been defeated by the combined forces of Britain, France and Turkey in the Crimea, and, under the terms of the peace (signed in 1856), was denied use of the Black Sea. Peasant revolts were becoming increasingly frequent and the economy was in a shambles. Though at heart a conservative, Alexander II quickly grasped the reality of the situation and set about reforming Russia.

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