19th Century Russian History


By: Kacey, Caitlin, Alyssa, Chiamaka, Deborah, Angela, Mckenna, Zech, Irvinn


Forms of Government

  • Started with a emperor in 1801 with Alexander the 1st
  • Treaty of Tilist created peace for 5 years
  • Nicholas I was the stern defender of monarchical legitimacy
  • Alexander II, the Czar-Liberator, moved serfdom to capitalism
  • Losing the Crimean War caused a revolution that overturned autocracy and serfdom.
  • Alexander II turned to the eastern monarchs to form the Dreikaiserbund confederation
  • the Great Reform consisted of grudging concessions wrung by necessity from an essentially paternalistic Czar.
  • The reforms were designed to preserved autocracy rather than to bring political and social modernization.
  • Alexander II was blown up by a group called the People's Will

Political Figures

  • Tsar Alexander I helped defeat Napoleon and made Russia a fearful power

  • Nicholas I enacted many reforms for the lower classes tried to reform government of Russia

  • Alexander II abolished serfdom, reformed army and government. Gets assassinated
  • Alexander III is a very conservative ruler; tried to reverse some of the reforms that his predecessor established.

Political Events

  • December 14, 1825: Decembrist Revolt. Russian army officers led about 3,000 soldiers in a protest against Nicholas I of Russia's assumption of the throne after his elder brother Grand Duke Constantine Pavlovich of Russia removed himself from the line of succession. This uprising took place in the Decembrists Square in Saint Petersburg.

  • 1853-1856: Crimean War. Ended in humiliation of Russia by combined alliance of Britain, Turkey, France, Austria, Prussia all of whom feared Russian expansionism towards the Mediterranean. War fought on Russian soil in Crimean province.

  • March 1856: The Treaty of Paris causes Russia to loses some territory on the shores of the Black Sea and the right to keep a navy in those waters.

  • 1858: Under the treaty of Aigun Russia is granted the Pacific coast from its Siberian border southwards to the frontier with Korea. Here Russia is now able to develop the naval base of Vladivostok.

  • March 1861: A law of March 1861 frees all serfs and obliges landlords to provide each family with a plot of land for a fixed rent after proposals for emancipation are thoroughly discussed and as many as forty-six provincial committees make recommendations to a drafting commission.

  • 1885: the ancient cities of Bukhara and Samarkand are in Russian hands.

Social Classes

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Russian Serfs

During the 19th century the ruling class of Russia lived in luxury while most Russians lived in the shadows of poverty. Until the 1870s when the emigration restrictions were lifted, many Russians were not allowed to leave. Unlike many of the European countries that were experiencing the Industrial Revolution, 85 % of Russian people lived as peasants on farm lands. The law bound many of them to be serfs to the land when they were born.

When Czar Alexander II came into power in 1861, his goal was the modernize Russia and he finally freed the serfs, but the peasants’ lives did not improve much. Many families could not make ends meet on farming alone, and families had even less to eat as the village councils made plots smaller. This caused many Russian families to starve especially after 1891 and 1909.

Some other Russian families left farms for the city, but life was not much better there. They had small one-room apartments and long labored factory hours for those who worked. Taxes were also much higher there, and law most young men to have military service. On top of all this, the Czar had a secret police force that would threaten anyone who opposed the government; and doing this would lead to death or exile to Siberia.


Russia’s royalty and aristocracy, who for the most part lived lives of comfort was isolated from the dissatisfactions of the lower classes. Noble titles and land ownership were the main determinants of privilege in tsarist Russia. The tsar himself was a significant landowner, holding the title of as much as ten per cent of arable land in western Russia. The Russian Orthodox church and its higher clergy also owned large tracts of land. The abolition of serfdom in 1861 allowed many landowners to increase their holdings, largely at the expense of the state and emancipated serfs. Protective of their wealth and privilege, Russia’s landed aristocracy were arguably the most conservative force in the empire. Many of the tsar’s ministerial advisors were drawn directly from their ranks and worked to block or shut down suggested reforms. Sergei Witte – himself an aristocrat, though one without large land holdings – claimed that “many of the aristocracy are unbelievably avaricious [greedy] hypocrites, scoundrels and good-for-nothings”.

Regardless of class or status, Russian society was deeply patriarchal. Men were dominant in the community, the workplace and the government. This was not just a product of social values, it was codified in law. The Russian legal code gave husbands almost unlimited power to make decisions within the family. Wives were expected to concede to and obey their husbands. Married women needed their husband’s express permission to take a job, apply for most government permits, obtain a passport or commence higher education. Russian women could not initiate divorce proceedings (though a husband’s legal authority over his family could be removed in cases of incompetence, such as alcoholism or mental illness). If a man died then his male children inherited most of his property; his wife and daughters received only a small share.