To what extent is the title “Tzar Liberator” a true description of Alexander II?


“I am not handing over the command in the good order I should have wished, and I am bequeathing you much worry and distress”[1]


These were the words of Alexander’s father on his deathbed. The condition of the empire as it was handed down to Alexander II was pitiful; the autocratic system was flawed and neglected. The country’s national debts were continuously ascending and the economy was not going all too well either. The main reason for the country’s economic problems was the medieval class system that consisted of the upper class dominating over the peasants – which consisted of 80% of the population. There was a minor middle class but its proportions were unimportant.


Serfdom functioned in the following manner, the peasants – serfs – cultivated the land that was given to them by rich landlords, in return the serfs had to work an average of three days a week for the landlord. The serfs were the equivalent of slaves; their masters had absolute power over them. They could seize their property, force them to marry, turn them into domestic servants, inflict punishment and conscript them to the army. This system wasn’t as lucrative as it could be because the serfs were not motivated to grow more than what they needed to survive for all the surplus was usually seized by the landlord. The system was inefficient and unbeneficial.


“From an economic point of view the agrarian system was wasteful and unproductive.”[2]


Alexander felt the increasing need to abolish serfdom; he felt that his power had become increasingly threatened by an uprising from the populace. Other reasons for the Tzar's necessity to abolish serfdom were that not only did it prevent the growth of Russia’s industry but also impeded the launching of modern methods, technology and techniques of agriculture. The defeat of the Russian army in Crimea proved that the army urgently needed to be reformed and the abolition of serfdom seemed the only way that could bring to an end the constantly rising peasant revolts.


“It is better to abolish serfdom from above than await the time when it will abolish itself from below”[3]


In 1861 Tzar Alexander II proclaims the Emancipation Edict, freeing over forty-four million serfs. This meant that now that they had become free citizens the peasant were authorized to marry whom they chose, they could own property, take legal action, engage in a trade or business and women were allowed to choose their husband. The problem with the Edict was felt among the upper class due to their massive loss of free manual labour. Not only this but a lot of serfs had been mortgaged by their owners and debts had to be paid to the bank. Furthermore the landowners had to give up and sell some of their land to the now freed serfs – they gave up the worse plots and kept the better ones. As a result the nobles demanded compensations from the Tzar. That was more money than the country had, so the Tzar decided to compromise; the land that the peasants had own called their own now had to be paid for and bought. The way this would function was that each peasant was given a land of three hectares that he had to pay for with a mortgage over forty-nine years. The village elders – the Mir – would be in charge of distributing the land amongst the peasants. Peasants were forced to carry passports, which were issued by the Mir. The Mir could withhold this passport if they wished as well as confiscate or redistribute the land. Furthermore pasture rights and free lumber had been removed from the peasant turning life worse than it had been in serfdom.


Redistribution is what did happen later towards the 1900’s. Thee population increase led to the distribution of smaller and smaller plots of land which proved to be inefficient and insufficient to make profit. The peasants were now forced to move to the cities and find employment there. The lack of agriculture led to food shortages and famines. These changes made very few people happy, they had expected much better than this, their conditions had been aggravated