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ethcoyn
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I recently wrote this as part of my AS level history Russia course and was wondering what I could do to improve. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Was Alexander II’s decision to emancipate the serfs in 1861 a result of peasant unrest?

After the crushing defeat suffered by Russia at the hands of the British and French in the Crimea, a series of inadequacies became clear. Alexander II faced military failures, the lack of real transport or communication links and a widely unsatisfied population. Whilst the decision to emancipate the serfs was somewhat inspired by peasant unrest, it is not the most important factor that led to the decision. Alexander felt the need to satisfy growing liberal ideologies, maintain his autocratic dominance over his empire and implement an economy that would allow Russia to catch up with the West. However, the most important driving factor leading to the emancipation of serfs in 1861 was the need to reform his military, allowing him to protect his power and keep control over the empire.

Alexander feared that he was losing power due to an increase in peasant unrest in Russia, which played a role in the decision to introduce his Emancipation Edict. In April 1856, the tsar famously said that ‘it is better to abolish serfdom from above than to wait for the time when it begins to abolish itself from below;’ this shows that Alexander was aware that peasant unrest posed a real threat to Russia’s reliance on serfdom and his autocracy. It is therefore clear that as peasant uprisings increased, peaking at 1859 in 1861, the Romanov would be looking to remedy the situation in order to maintain his level of power. However, peasant unrest had been prominent long before 1861, and nothing had been done to provide any liberation for the serfs that made up the majority of the population. This threat had been apparent for longer than Alexander had reigned over Russia, but no tsar had made compelling attempts to abolish serfdom beforehand; it is therefore clear that peasant unrest alone could not be the sole reason for the decision to emancipate the serfs, rather that Alexander himself, as well as Russia’s economic and political situation in 1961 played a part in the Emancipation Edict’s introduction.

Another factor that played a role in Alexander’s decision to emancipate the serfs, was the prominence of liberal ideologies, both within himself and his people. It was apparent that the Tsar himself felt passionate about the cause, this is illustrated by his tours around the countryside, making pro-emancipation speeches from 1859 onwards. There had been an increase in liberal ideas from the Russian Intelligentsia, who advocated the emancipation of the serfs; this however, was greeted with equally fierce opposition from the landowners, who would lose both property and influence if the decision were made. Alexander must have agreed with these liberal ideologies, as otherwise, he would not have taken on the momentous task of convincing and compensating the landowning elite to support emancipation. T.A. Morris describes Alexander as a ‘pseudo liberal’, presenting the idea that he did not emancipate the serfs for this reason, and that he had other incentives to implement his edict. Nicholas I, Alexander’s father and predecessor, described serfdom as ‘a flagrant evil which everybody realises;’ this shows, that he too, believed in the liberation of the serfs but goes on to argue that ‘to attempt to remedy it now would be, of course, an evil even more disastrous,’ this further implies that the tsar’s liberal ideas could not be the lone factor in the decision to emancipate the serfs, and that a number of other factors, including Russia’s economic and military situation, as well as peasant unrest were at play.

Alexander’s decision to free the serfs was influenced by Russia’s need for a thriving economy to maintain its power. Whilst Russia was still considered one of the 5 great European powers, its reputation was slipping due to its technical backwardness and failing economy. Internal market demand within the country was almost non existent, and Russia had failed to tap into its vast supply natural through industry to increase exports abroad. It was clear that the then current system of a serf based economy was failing. Alexander knew that if the serfs were given freedom over their land, that they would be able to make their own money and purchase goods from traders. This would also allow the peasants to move to the cities, allowing for an increase in industrialisation and communication links. However, the Russian economy had been in a poor state for many years, despite the rest of Europe’s increase in prosperity; therefore, there is arguably other factors at stake, otherwise more would have been done earlier on to give life to their economy, because of this, the need for an updated economy cannot the lone cause for the decision to emancipate the serfs in 1961.

Alexander was desperate to reform the Russian military and believed that emancipating the serfs would allow him to do so. Russia had faced crippling defeat to Britain and France in the Crimea in the wake of Alexander’s ascension to the throne, because of this, the tsar faced immense pressure in regards to the state of his army, which had previously considered incredibly strong. Before they were liberated, many serfs were conscripted into Russia’s army of 1,000,000 men, in which they would have to serve for 25 years in tough conditions. This massive army, however was not much use due to Russia’s lack of transportation systems. It also meant that the majority of the army lacked the passion to fight for their country. Alexander most likely believed that if serfdom was abolished and military service times were shortened, that each soldier would be better trained and better equipped. It is also likely that the tsar believed that freeing the serfs would increase patriotism amongst the peasants, and that they would be more willing to sign up for the army. It is clear that the need for military reform is a much stronger reason for the emancipation of the serfs than the increase in peasant uprisings.

Russia’s military failures were made clear after the Crimean War, and that Alexander needed to reorganise his military. Before these inadequacies had become highlighted, the tsars were fairly comfortable in their position, for as long as their military remained strong, they were able to ignore all of the other problems that Russia faced. The economic and industrial factors were mostly considered by Alexander as they would be needed in order to better equip the failing military. It is therefore clear that Russia’s weak military was the most prominent reason for the emancipation of the serfs. Alexander was arguably more liberal than any other tsar, but these traits were also apparent in his father, Nicholas I, who had done nothing to give the serfs their freedom; it therefore cannot be the lone factor leading to the decision. Multiple factors were at play when it came to Alexander’s decision to emancipate the serfs, and whilst the increase in peasant unrest was one of them, it cannot be considered the causing factor for the Emancipation Edict of 1961.
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(Original post by ethcoyn)
I recently wrote this as part of my AS level history Russia course and was wondering what I could do to improve. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Was Alexander II’s decision to emancipate the serfs in 1861 a result of peasant unrest?

After the crushing defeat suffered by Russia at the hands of the British and French in the Crimea, a series of inadequacies became clear. Alexander II faced military failures, the lack of real transport or communication links and a widely unsatisfied population. Whilst the decision to emancipate the serfs was somewhat inspired by peasant unrest, it is not the most important factor that led to the decision. Alexander felt the need to satisfy growing liberal ideologies, maintain his autocratic dominance over his empire and implement an economy that would allow Russia to catch up with the West. However, the most important driving factor leading to the emancipation of serfs in 1861 was the need to reform his military, allowing him to protect his power and keep control over the empire.

Alexander feared that he was losing power due to an increase in peasant unrest in Russia, which played a role in the decision to introduce his Emancipation Edict. In April 1856, the tsar famously said that ‘it is better to abolish serfdom from above than to wait for the time when it begins to abolish itself from below;’ this shows that Alexander was aware that peasant unrest posed a real threat to Russia’s reliance on serfdom and his autocracy. It is therefore clear that as peasant uprisings increased, peaking at 1859 in 1861, the Romanov would be looking to remedy the situation in order to maintain his level of power. However, peasant unrest had been prominent long before 1861, and nothing had been done to provide any liberation for the serfs that made up the majority of the population. This threat had been apparent for longer than Alexander had reigned over Russia, but no tsar had made compelling attempts to abolish serfdom beforehand; it is therefore clear that peasant unrest alone could not be the sole reason for the decision to emancipate the serfs, rather that Alexander himself, as well as Russia’s economic and political situation in 1961 played a part in the Emancipation Edict’s introduction.

Another factor that played a role in Alexander’s decision to emancipate the serfs, was the prominence of liberal ideologies, both within himself and his people. It was apparent that the Tsar himself felt passionate about the cause, this is illustrated by his tours around the countryside, making pro-emancipation speeches from 1859 onwards. There had been an increase in liberal ideas from the Russian Intelligentsia, who advocated the emancipation of the serfs; this however, was greeted with equally fierce opposition from the landowners, who would lose both property and influence if the decision were made. Alexander must have agreed with these liberal ideologies, as otherwise, he would not have taken on the momentous task of convincing and compensating the landowning elite to support emancipation. T.A. Morris describes Alexander as a ‘pseudo liberal’, presenting the idea that he did not emancipate the serfs for this reason, and that he had other incentives to implement his edict. Nicholas I, Alexander’s father and predecessor, described serfdom as ‘a flagrant evil which everybody realises;’ this shows, that he too, believed in the liberation of the serfs but goes on to argue that ‘to attempt to remedy it now would be, of course, an evil even more disastrous,’ this further implies that the tsar’s liberal ideas could not be the lone factor in the decision to emancipate the serfs, and that a number of other factors, including Russia’s economic and military situation, as well as peasant unrest were at play.

Alexander’s decision to free the serfs was influenced by Russia’s need for a thriving economy to maintain its power. Whilst Russia was still considered one of the 5 great European powers, its reputation was slipping due to its technical backwardness and failing economy. Internal market demand within the country was almost non existent, and Russia had failed to tap into its vast supply natural through industry to increase exports abroad. It was clear that the then current system of a serf based economy was failing. Alexander knew that if the serfs were given freedom over their land, that they would be able to make their own money and purchase goods from traders. This would also allow the peasants to move to the cities, allowing for an increase in industrialisation and communication links. However, the Russian economy had been in a poor state for many years, despite the rest of Europe’s increase in prosperity; therefore, there is arguably other factors at stake, otherwise more would have been done earlier on to give life to their economy, because of this, the need for an updated economy cannot the lone cause for the decision to emancipate the serfs in 1961.

Alexander was desperate to reform the Russian military and believed that emancipating the serfs would allow him to do so. Russia had faced crippling defeat to Britain and France in the Crimea in the wake of Alexander’s ascension to the throne, because of this, the tsar faced immense pressure in regards to the state of his army, which had previously considered incredibly strong. Before they were liberated, many serfs were conscripted into Russia’s army of 1,000,000 men, in which they would have to serve for 25 years in tough conditions. This massive army, however was not much use due to Russia’s lack of transportation systems. It also meant that the majority of the army lacked the passion to fight for their country. Alexander most likely believed that if serfdom was abolished and military service times were shortened, that each soldier would be better trained and better equipped. It is also likely that the tsar believed that freeing the serfs would increase patriotism amongst the peasants, and that they would be more willing to sign up for the army. It is clear that the need for military reform is a much stronger reason for the emancipation of the serfs than the increase in peasant uprisings.

Russia’s military failures were made clear after the Crimean War, and that Alexander needed to reorganise his military. Before these inadequacies had become highlighted, the tsars were fairly comfortable in their position, for as long as their military remained strong, they were able to ignore all of the other problems that Russia faced. The economic and industrial factors were mostly considered by Alexander as they would be needed in order to better equip the failing military. It is therefore clear that Russia’s weak military was the most prominent reason for the emancipation of the serfs. Alexander was arguably more liberal than any other tsar, but these traits were also apparent in his father, Nicholas I, who had done nothing to give the serfs their freedom; it therefore cannot be the lone factor leading to the decision. Multiple factors were at play when it came to Alexander’s decision to emancipate the serfs, and whilst the increase in peasant unrest was one of them, it cannot be considered the causing factor for the Emancipation Edict of 1961.
I think this is really good but I don't know what grade it would get. Maybe to improve this you could write a clearer conclusion and add a quote (from a person in the Russian military) maybe? If you read over it again then you might be able to think of some more ways to improve this.
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