Born in 1818, he was the eldest son of Nicholas I and Charlotte of Prussia.
Under supervision of the liberal poet Vasily Zhukovsky, Alexander received the education commonly given to young Russians of good family at that time. He took little personal interest in military affairs to the disappointment of his father, who was passionate about the military. Alexander gave evidence of a kind disposition and a warmheartedness which were considered out of place in one destined to become a military autocrat.
Alexander II succeeded to the throne upon the death of his father in 1855. He began a period of radical reforms, encouraged by public opinion but carried out with autocratic power. All who had any pretensions to enlightenment declared loudly that the country had been exhausted and humiliated by the war, and that the only way of restoring it to its proper position in Europe was to develop its natural resources and thoroughly to reform all branches of the administration. The government therefore found in the educated classes a newborn public spirit, anxious to assist it in any work of reform that it might think fit to undertake.
Fortunately for Russia the autocratic power was now in the hands of a man who was impressionable enough to be deeply influenced by the spirit of the time, and who had sufficient prudence and practicality to prevent his being carried away by the prevailing excitement into the dangerous region of Utopian dreaming. Unlike some of his predecessors, he had no grand, original schemes of his own to impose by force on unwilling subjects, and no pet projects to lead his judgment astray. He looked instinctively with a suspicious, critical eye upon the panaceas which more imaginative and less cautious people recommended.
However, the growth of a revolutionary movement to the "left" of the educated classes led to an abrupt end to Alexander's changes when he was assassinated by a bomb in 1881. It is interesting to note that after...