Alexander II of Russia

Born: 1818-04-29 Russia

Died: 1881-03-13 Russia

Flourished: Russia

Alternate name: Nikolayevich

Alexander II was the czar of Russia. Born as Alexander Nikolayevich, in Moscow, Alexander ascended to the throne in March 1855 upon the death of his father, Nicholas I. Distress over the Crimean War and Alexander's liberal education convinced him that Russia needed reform, and Alexander embarked on a series of reforms to modernizing his empire. He supervised the construction of railroads, reformed the judiciary, promoted local government, encouraged education, and instituted universal military service. Alexander released political prisoners, relaxed restrictions against religious minorities, and allowed Poland and other subject states more self-determination. His greatest reform was the abolition of serfdom in 1861. Alexander was far from a liberal, however, witnessed by his suppression of a nationalist uprising in Poland in 1863. An abortive assassination attempt in 1866 tempered Alexander's enthusiasm for reform, and he increasingly turned his attention to foreign affairs. In 1867, he sold Alaska to the United States, and in the 1870s, he pursued a policy of peace alongside Germany and Austria-Hungary. In 1877, Alexander involved Russia in a war with the Ottoman Empire on behalf of Serbia and other Slavic peoples in the Balkans. Comparative military failure in this conflict and dissatisfaction with the outcome of the Congress of Berlin decreased Alexander's popularity. Internal repressive measures spurred the rise of revolutionary terrorist groups and organizations that targeted the czar for assassination. Alexander was considering additional constitutional and parliamentary reforms to counter this threat when he was assassinated at the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg.

W. E. Mosse, "Alexander II," Encyclopedia Britannica,, accessed 7 September 2022; Edvard Radzinsky, Alexander II: The Last Great Tsar, trans. by Antonina W. Bouis (New York: Free Press, 2005).