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Assassination of Tsar Alexander II (1881)

Czar Alexander II, the ruler of Russia since 1855, is killed in the
streets of St. Petersburg by a bomb thrown by a member of the
revolutionary “People’s Will” group. The People’s Will, organized in
1879, employed terrorism and assassination in their attempt to
overthrow Russia’s czarist autocracy. They murdered officials and
made several attempts on the czar’s life before finally assassinating
him on March 13, 1881.

As czar, Alexander did much to liberalize and modernize Russia, including the abolishment of
serfdom in 1861. However, when his authority was challenged, he turned repressive, and he
vehemently opposed movements for political reform. Ironically, on the very day he was killed, he
signed a proclamation–the so-called Loris-Melikov constitution–that would have created two
legislative commissions made up of indirectly elected representatives.

He was succeeded by his 36-year-old son, Alexander III, who rejected the Loris-Melikov constitution.
Alexander II’s assassins were arrested and hanged, and the People’s Will was thoroughly suppressed.
The peasant revolution advocated by the People’s Will was achieved by Vladimir Lenin’s Bolshevik
revolutionaries in 1917.

1st Person account-----

“The person of the Liberator of the serfs was surrounded by an aureole which protected him infinitely
better than the swarms of police officials. If Alexander II had shown at this juncture the least desire to
improve the state of affairs in Russia; if he had only called in one or two of those men with whom he
had collaborated during the reform period, and had ordered them to make an inquiry into the
conditions of the country, or merely of the peasantry; if he had shown any intention of limiting the
powers of the secret police, his steps would have been hailed with enthusiasm. A word would have made
him "the Liberator" again, and once more the youth would have repeated Hérzen's words: "Thou had
conquered, Galilean." But just as during the Polish insurrection the despot awoke in him, and,
inspired by Katkóff, he found nothing to do but to nominate special military governors--for hanging.

Then and then only, a handful of revolutionists, -- the Executive Committee, --supported, I must say,
by the growing discontent in the educated classes, and even in the Tsar's immediate surroundings,
declared that war against absolutism which, after several attempts, ended in 1881 in the death of
Alexander II.


It is known how it happened. A bomb was thrown under his iron-clad carriage, to stop it. Several
Circassians of the escort were wounded. Rysakóff, who flung the bomb was arrested on the spot. Then,
although the coachman of the Tsar earnestly advised him not to get out, saying that he could drive him
still in the slightly damaged carriage, he insisted upon alighting. He felt that his military dignity
required him to see the wounded Circassians, to condole with them as he had done with the wounded
during the Turkish war, when a mad storming of Plevna, doomed to end in a terrible disaster, was
made on the day of his fête. He approached Rysakóff and asked him something; and as he passed close
by another young man, Grinevétsky, the latter threw a bomb between himself and Alexander II, so that
both of them should be killed. They both lived but a few hours.

There Alexander II lay upon the snow, profusely bleeding, abandoned by every one of his followers! All
had disappeared. It was cadets, returning from the parade, who lifted the suffering Tsar from the snow
and put him in a sledge, covering his shivering body with a cadet mantle and his bare head with a
cadet cap. And it was one of the terrorists, Emeliánoff, with a bomb wrapped in a paper under his
arm, who, at the risk of being arrested on the spot and hanged, rushed with the cadets to the help of
the wounded man. Human nature is full of contrasts.”

From Peter Kropotkin, Memoirs of a Revolutionist. .