As Nicholas came into power in 1894, Russia was enjoying a mild industrial boom, thanks to Sergius Witte, the current prime minister’s policies. But the world price of grain had dropped and the discontent among the peasantry was growing. Nicholas was reigning in a time when political controversy was sparking under the noses of the imperial family. Socialist movements and thoughts of revolt were on the minds of many quietly planning out the best time to strike. Nicholas was untrained as a statesman and inept to take on the responsibilities of being the supreme power in Russia. Because of his inaptitude and inadequate decisions and inability to change with the times he paved the path for revolution. This revolution in 1917 led to the end of his family’s dynasty, the end of the autocracy in Russia.
1613, this year marked the beginning of a powerful family of rulers who would solely rule Russia for the next four centuries. This family was the Romanovs, the Tsars of Russia from 1613 to 1917. In Russia, the Tsar was seen as the ultimate power in a country where the citizens had no rights. He was deified, he was worshipped, he was glorified. As one Russian citizen said, “The Tsar is both Tsar and god, he was everything, you could do no further”. The last Tsar of this powerful Romanov dynasty was Nicholas II, son of Alexander II and Marie.
In Nicholas’s early years his life was a sheltered one. He was the oldest of four sons, although by a series of mishaps, he did not have the support which brothers could give a reigning monarch. Nicholas’s brothers consisted of Alexander who had died at infancy. The next was George who was Nicholas’s companion throughout his boyhood, it was often said that you could hear Nicholas laughing at George’s jokes. Unfortunately, George developed tuberculosis and was sent to live in the mountains of Caucasus. The youngest brother was Michael, ten years younger than Nicholas, who never became a serious companion to the Tsar.
Although the family lived in a 900-room palace, they lived a very simplistic lifestyle. The children woke in the morning, washed their faces, ate a porridge breakfast, and then got dressed in peasant clothes.
Nicholas received a well-rounded education. He spoke French, German, and English. He was very good at history, rode beautifully, danced gracefully, and had an excellent shot. At nineteen, Nicholas commanded a squadron of Horse Guards and went with them to Krasnoe Selo, a great military camp outside of St. Petersburg. One thing was missing from his education, the knowledge of being a statesman.
In these beginning years of his life Nicholas was not raised as if he were going to be the next Tsar of Russia. All of Nicholas’s childhood he was treated as an adolescent by his mother. She pampered him, looked over him and advised him on what decisions to make. Because of his mother’s treatment he lacked the maturity and experience to make his own decisions well. His father refused to teach him the work of being a statesman. He felt that he lacked maturity, but his mother prevented him from being mature. Nicholas was not ready to be Tsar of Russia because he was trained only as a soldier and not as a statesman. Nicholas himself even knew that he wasn’t ready to be Tsar. The day his father, Alexander II died he said, “My god, my god, what a day. My head is spinning, I don’t know how to be a Tsar, I have no idea about the business of ruling, I have no idea how to talk to the ministers.
As quickly as Nicholas realized he was not fit to be Tsar, so did the rest of Russia. He already was losing the faith of his people and officials. His own ministers talked of how he was incapable of making decisions to rule in his empire. Sergius Witte said of Nicholas that he was, “A ruler who cannot be trusted, who approves today what he will reject tomorrow, is incapable of steering the ship of the state.”
Many members of the intelligentsia were hopeful that Nicholas II would follow the liberal path of Alexander II, but the Prince of Wales told Lord Carrington that he was disturbed by the young man’s slavish adherence to his father’s autocratic ideas and fierce prejudices, and his total lack of worldly sense. Carrington replied back that revolution was inevitable. The Prince snapped back that nothing was inevitable if the Tsar would move with the times. The Russian people began to sense that the Tsar had too much power in their society. They had no rights, no way of expressing their grievances. Nicholas however, refused to move with the times, he would only make decisions that he thought his father would have approved, regardless of what he thought was right. He rejected the mildest form of representative government as a ‘senseless dream’ and declared that he would ‘maintain for the good of the whole nation the principle of absolute autocracy as firmly and strongly as his late lamented father. The citizens wanted representation that he would not grant to them. From that moment on every liberal person in Russia joined in battle against him to receive what they thought should be theirs: rights and representation.
Nicholas because of the Boxer rebellion in 1900 had a pretext for occupying all of Manchuria, which he did against the advice of his ministers. This upset the Japanese, who had their eye on Tokyo. Nicholas could have reached an agreement with Tokyo by promising to remain within the boundaries of Manchuria and by recognizing Japan’s rule in Korea. Instead of trying to keep peace in 1903 he personally authorized the infantry of Russian troops into Northern Korea and the exploitation of timber concession near the Youu River. By 1904 Russia and Japan were at war. Everyone thought Russia would win, but the Japanese inflicted heavy losses upon the Russian army, and Russia’s disorganization and corruption became strongly apparent. “This country [Russia] has no real government,” said the British Charge d’ Affaires in 1904, he further continued:
Each Minister acts on his own, doing as much damage as possible to the other Ministers…It is a curious state of things. There is an Emperor, a religious madman almost - without a statesman, or even a council-surrounded by a legion of Grand Dukes-thirty-five of them and not one of them at war this moment, with a few priests and priestly women behind them. No middle class; an aristocracy ruined and absolutely without influence, an underpaid bureaucracy living, of necessity, on corruption. Beneath this, about 100 million of people gradually becoming poorer and poorer as they bear all the burden of taxation, drafted into the army in thousands…
In 1902 the government’s lack of attention to the people stirred up two large parties. The first were the social democrats that embraced Marxism and concentrated on their propaganda to the factory workers. This party because of quarreling between Lenin and Plenkanov split into two groups the Melsheviks and Bolsheviks. The second group, the S. R.’s, worked to provoke peasant uprisings advocating a socialist society. Their goals were to carry out “the will of the people”.
In January a strike broke out in the Putilov engineering works in St. Petersburg and spread rapidly to other factories. Father Gapon, who led the union, was forced with the choice of relinquishing his job or taking positive action. He decided to lead a peaceful demonstration of the workers to the Winter Palace to petition the Tsar. The petition called for an 8-hour day, freedom of speech and religion, and an amnesty for political prisoners. He had prepared it with the S. R.’s and 135,00 signatures.
Nicholas had been informed of the demonstration the night before but chose not to be present to receive the document, instead he left the responsibility of receiving the document to the St. Petersburg police. When the mob started to approach the palace the police opened fire, two to four thousand people were killed and wounded. This day was known as Bloody Sunday. As a result of Bloody Sunday an unprecedented number of strikes paralyzed Russian government. Street demonstrations struck at the heart of the autocracy. The people were beginning to realize that they all had something in common: they wanted rights in their society. With this common goal they worked together to slowly grasp the unlimited power of the Tsar.
The perfect time was approaching for the people of Russia to make their revolt. The military had lost a series of battles: in August of 1904 at Turenchen, in April in Maio-Yang, in December at Port Aurther, and in May of 1905 the emperor dispatched the Baltic fleet in to the far east and it was annihilated in the Battle of Tsushmia. The whole empire was disaffected and losing great faith in the decisions of their Tsar.
The people clearly did take advantage of these conditions. By mid-October the country was in strike: factories closed down, trains came to a halt, in St. Petersburg electric lights went out and food deliveries ceased. Peasants raided estates, burning the houses, stealing cattle. These events were not enough for the Tsar to grant the workers better conditions; therefore, the Russians took greater measures to change the empire. Leon Trotzky, a Marxist formatted a council representing the workers. This council threatened to shut down every factory that did not shut. Nicholas was still not moved when practically forced to grant rights to his citizens. It was as if he was blind to their needs. Finally, Sergius Witte, Russia’s Prime Minister, was moved by the uproar and implored Nicholas to give Russia a constitution.
Sergius Witte wrote this constitution called the 1905 Manifesto, which instilled several new rights for the people: “civil freedoms granted to the population, including real personal inviolability, freedom of conscience, speech, assembly and association…Participation in the Duma will be granted to those classes of the population which are at present deprived of voting powers…It is established as an unshakeable rule that no law can come into force without its approval by the State Duma and representatives of the people. Because of the Russian citizens’ new grasp of power revolutionaries saw power slipping from their hands and began to instigate pogroms.
Nicholas did not give Witte’s policies sufficient time to help the situation in Russia and told him to write a second document, which was called the Fundamental Laws, relegate all the powers recently given to the Duma. One law read: “To the Emperor all Russians belongs the supreme autocratic power. With this document released he asked for Witte’s resignation. Witte was the only Prime Minister that Nicholas had who worked to help the people and to prolong his reign as Tsar.
With Witte’s resignation he replaced him with a new Prime Minister, Goremykin. The Duma that Witte had instated only lasted two months. When the Duma proposed ideas such as universal suffrage, land reforms, release of political prisoners, and a pledge to appoint ministers Nicholas was appalled by the lack of respect the Duma had for the Tsar. He would still not grant any of their requests. Goremykin then stepped down and a new Prime Minister, Stolypin was put into command.
Stolypin was greatly admired by the Tsar; Nicholas wrote to his mother, “I cannot tell you how much I have come to like and respect this man Stolypin was able to find a medium between the Tsars autocratic ideas and the people’s needs. He restored the October Manifesto, but also closely watched over the Duma. In the third Duma Stolypin abolished universal suffrage and put most of the power in the gentry. Under Stolypin’s leadership the country was calm, finally the Tsar had a Prime Minister who helped the people of his country and whose commands he could also agree with. Nicholas should have done everything he could to keep Stolypin as Prime Minister, but he began to let others interfere with the state of Russia.
By 1905 it was certain that Alexis, Nicholas’s son, had hemophilia. The wife of the Grand Duke, cousin to the Tsar, brought an illiterate holy man to the family. He was renown for his healing powers and was brought to the Imperial family in order to soothe the child, relieve his pain, and put him to sleep. He carried out his job well and the family became dependent on him for the health of their son. Nicholas said, “He [Rasputin] is just a good, religious, simple-minded Russian. When in trouble or assailed by doubts I like to have a talk with him, and invariably feel at peace with myself afterwards.
Not only was Rasputin a “miracle worker”, he was dirty, foul smelling, drunken, and lascivious. But the Imperial family refused to hear a harsh word spoken about Rasputin as they were becoming even more reliant on him. Alexandra believed that Rasputin was her personal emissary from God to her. He held a great deal of importance in her mind. In 1911 the police investigated Rasputin’s quarters and sent a shocking report to Nicholas, but the Tsar dismissed it on behalf of the Tsarina. Stolypin was so disgusted by Rasputin and the accounts discovered about him by the police he forced himself out of St. Petersburg. Nicholas once again lost a valuable Prime Minister on behalf of his slavish decisions. He gave up Stolypin for Rasputin. He gave up the man who built his government for the man who would destroy it.
In 1910 industrial unrest was once again growing. In 1910 there were 222 strikes, in 1914 between January and July, over 4000. The country discovered Alexis’s illness in 1912 when he almost died. With a call to Rasputin his pain was eased. Winning all of Alexandra’s faith now, she began not to only turn to him for her son, but to instruct the Emperor how to run his empire. In 1914 six revolutionaries from Bosnia who were encouraged by the Russian military upon orders of the Imperial Staff in St. Petersburg threw a bomb on the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian thrown. Austria was well aware that the terrorist activities were spurred on by Russia’s government and Tsar. Now Russia and Austria faced each other at war.
Within the first month of the war the army ran out of ammunition. “It was Romanov tradition to go to war in a hopeless sea of inefficiently and corruption, to spill oceans of blood, to endure the humiliation of defeat, yet to remain through sheer size, massively intact. During the first twelve months of the war the number of casualties-dead, wounded, and prisoner - came to 3,800,000 men.
While Nicholas was away Alexandra began to refer to Rasputin as ‘Our Friend’ and judged everyone’s goodness and capacity by their attitude toward Rasputin. The only Russian people who had trust in Rasputin were the Tsar and Tsarina. Since they trusted him, the Russian people had no trust in the Tsar and Tsarina for choosing to give such a despicable man so much power. They had no trust in the government. Even Nicholas’s cousin the Grand Duke despised him. When Rasputin asked the Grand Duke to visit the army he replied, “Yes do come. I will hang you.” When Alexandra heard of this she wrote to Nicholas “I have absolutely no faith in the Grand Duke - I know him to be far from clever”; on July 16, 1915, “and having gone against a man of God, his work can’t be blessed or his advice good…’ “Nobody knows who is Emperor now…It is though the Grand Duke Nicholas settles all”; on June 17, 1915, “Ah my Nicky, things are not as they ought to be and therefore the Grand Duke keeps you near to have a hold over you.” This criticism went on until in August of 1915 the Emperor made another mistake and relieved the Grand Duke of his functions and took over the command of the army himself.
Nicholas’s Council of state was appalled. 8 of the 13 ministers sent a joint letter proposing their resignation, but the Tsar commanded them to remain in their positions. The ministers became servants to the Empress for all purposes because Nicholas was living at the army headquarters. The Empress continued to put forth Rasputin’s recommendations; she wrote to her husband, “I don’t like the choice of Minister of War, Polivanov. Is he not our Friend’s enemy? Rasputin held his own court, demoting anyone who offended, rewarding anyone who pleased. In the next eight months Russia had four Prime Ministers, five ministers of interior, four of agriculture, and three of war. Nicholas protested, “Occasionally you must agree that our Friend’s ideas are sometimes odd…complaints come from everywhere. People all over were losing faith in Nicholas for allowing Rasputin to have so much power. “After the middle of 1915, the fairly honorable and efficient group who formed the top of the bureaucratic pyramid degenerated into a rapidly changing succession of the appointees of Rasputin, said Michael Florinsky. Nicholas did realize that matters in his country were not running smoothly on behalf of Rasputin’s advice. But still Nicholas did not take the power out of Rasputin’s hands. J. B. S. Haldane, a Britizh geneticist said, “Rasputin took the empire by stopping the bleeding of the Tsarvich. This was the biggest mistake that the Tsar could have made.
Conditions worsened in Russia under the rule of Alexandra and Rasputin. Nicholas’s own family members came to him one by one and begged him to grant Russia a constitutional government for the people were irate under Alix and Rasputin’s rule. He still would not listen.
On December 2 Prince Felix Yusupov decided to take matters into his own hands and kill the ‘dark forces’ that were destroying Russia’s monarchy. One night they secretly poisoned Rasputin and dumped his body into the Neva. By December 16 the Russian army was facing total collapse. The casualties including dead, wounded, and prisoners, came to nearly 8,000,000-over half the total. The corruption, incompetence, and abysmal lack of leadership of Nicholas were responsible for a large proportion of these figures. Now Russia was losing trust in Nicholas’s army leadership skills as well.
With the unreliable government in Russia and very poor decisions by Nicholas in the army there was a shortage of food and fuel. The army had taken fifteen million men off the farms; the railway system had never been more than barely adequate; and now in a month of bitter cold, twelve hundred locomotives froze and burst. The inadequate supplies of flour, coal, and wood were decreasing into virtually nothing. On March 8, 1917 the people suddenly fired. People smashed their way into shops and helped themselves. The revolution had begun.
This marked the end of Nicholas’s dynasty. His poor decisions had led him to the corruption of his own rule. On March 14, Nicholas the II was forced to abdicate by the former President of the Duma, Rodzianko. He first abdicated in the name of his son, but when the separation of the boy was pointed out, his brother Michael. For the next sixteen months the Imperial family was constantly moved around. First under house arrest at Tsarskoye Selo, then as Lenin and Trotsky returned to Russia they moved the family to Siberia. Finally in May 1918 they moved into the Ipatiev House in Ekaterninburg. Here shortly after midnight on July 16, they were woken, asked to dress, and come to the basement. There they were asked to wait, but all that came was a Cheka squad carrying revolvers who said, “Your relations have tried to save you. They have failed and now we must shoot you.”
This was the death the last Tsar, Nicholas II and his family. This was the death of the Romanov dynasty. Although what happened to him was tragic it was his own mistakes that led to the ruin of his autocracy. He was too afraid of his wife to revoke the powers given to her and Rasputin when they were misused. He was power hungry and did not let the people have a Duma from the beginning of his reign and grant them any heights of freedom. He lost too many good Prime Ministers based on his inability to make them happy or see that they were helping him. Most of all, he couldn’t look at the consequences of his decisions and see how they would affect the empire. Because of all this Nicholas II allowed the autocracy of Russia to slip from his hands and go down with a bad name. All of Russia held the same view as from the start: Nicholas the II was never fit to be Tsar.