10 Key Russian Events 1839-1901
The Victorian Era was a time of expansion. With expansion inevitably comes war. Russia was no exception. Her history of expansion was ancient, and by 1839, her boarders reached to the Pacific, Black Sea, Baltic Sea, and Arctic . She tried reform – failed – tried again – endured revolution, revolution, revolution, and held tightly to her land. Everything that happened here directly resulted in both WWI and in the 1917 Revolution. 50 years of policies, rebellions, reforms, setbacks, and power plays reshaped the world as they knew it into what we do today.
1. Crimean War 1853-1586 between Imperial Russia (and the Bulgarian volunteers) and the United Kingdom, Ottoman Empire, France, and the Kingdom of Sardinia. Really, it was all France’s fault…in 1851, a coup d’état put Napoleon III in power who then instructed his ambassador to the Ottoman Empire to force the Ottomans to recognize France as the “sovereign authority” in the Holy Land.
The Russians didn’t like this, made counterclaims, and reminded the Ottomans of two treaties, 1757 and 1774. The Ottomans then reversed their earlier decision, renounced the French treaty, and insisted Russia was the protector of the Orthodox Christians in the Ottoman Empire. Napoleon III responded with a show of force. England joined. France bribed Sultan Abdülmecid I. Russia eventually lost. It was a crushing blow to their moral, country spirit, and people.
2. The Treaty of Aigun 1858. Established the modern borders of the Russian Far East. Its provisions were confirmed by the Beijing Treaty of 1860. Significantly, the Treaty was never approved by the Xianfeng Emperor.
3. Emancipation reform of 1861. “It is better to abolish serfdom from above than to wait for the time when it will begin to abolish itself from below.” Though he carefully guarded his autocratic rights and privileges, Alexander II reformed. This particular one amounted to ending the serf dependence previously suffered by Russian peasants. The legal basis of the reform was the Tsar’s Emancipation Manifesto of March 3, 1861 (February 19, 1861 (O.S.)). The Manifesto granted full rights of free citizens to serfs and prescribed that peasants would be able to buy land from the landlords. It didn’t totally work.
4. Judicial reform of Alexander II 1864. Generally considered one of the most successful and the most consistent (along with the military reform), it created a completely new order of legal proceedings. The main results were the introduction of a unified court system instead of the cumbersome set of Estate-of-the-realm courts, and fundamental changes in criminal trials. The latter included establishment of the principle of equality of the parties involved, introduction of public hearings, jury trial and the institution of a professional advocate.
5. Alaska purchase 1867. Russia was in financial straits and feared losing their Alaskan territory without compensation in some future conflict, especially to their rivals, Britain. Therefore, Alexander II decided to sell the territory to the US. The purchase price was $7.2 million (about 1.9¢ per acre). American public opinion was generally positive, but some newspaper writers and editors had negative feelings about. Don’t they always? Can’t please everyone…but Washington approved it. After all, Russia had been a valuable ally of the Union during the Civil War, while Britain had been a nearly open enemy. It seemed wise to help Russia while sticking it to the British.
6. April Uprising 1876. Insurrection organised by the Bulgarians in the Ottoman Empire, the indirect result of which was the establishment of Bulgaria as an independent nation in 1878. What did this have to do with Russia? On July 8, 1876, a secret treaty prepared for the division of the Balkans between Russia and Austria-Hungary, depending on the outcome of local revolutionary movements. Almost makes you think of WWI, doesn’t it.
7. The Russo-Turkish War of 1877–1878. With a rise in nationalism in Balkans, the Russians used that unrest to see its goal of reversing territorial losses suffered during the Crimean War and reestablishing itself in the Black Sea. Russia annexed Southern Bessarabia and the Kars region.
8. Alexander II assassinated 1881. Ignacy Hryniewiecki of the Narodnaya Volya, or the People’s Will was responsible. Though he hesitated between strengthening the hands of executive power and making concessions to the widespread political aspirations of the educated classes, he tried, which was more than any tsar or tsarina had since Catherine the Great. (And she needed the support of the nobility, so her reforms were minor.)
9. Alexander III became tsar. Finally a man of self-control. Unfortunately, he had no intention of limiting or weakening the autocratic power he inherited. He knew what changes he wanted to implement before he became tsar, and let it be known. He wanted national principles in all spheres of official activity; a homogeneous Russia—homogeneous in language, administration and religion. He died in 1884…his son, Nicholas II became tsar, and we all know how that ended up.
10. Russification of Finland 1889-1905. Aimed at the termination of Finland’s autonomy. It was a part of a larger policy of Russification pursued by late 19th-early 20th century Russian governments which tried to abolish cultural and administrative autonomy of non-Russian minorities within the empire. Finland and Russia had several skirmishes throughout the beginning of the 20th century, even while both fought the Nazi’s in WWII.