After the death of Nicholas I, his successor, Emperor Alexander II, ascended to the throne, whose reign was a period named by his contemporaries the epoch of Great reforms.
The peasant reform of February 19, 1861, was of special importance, because it not only resolved the most painful problem in Russia, but also opened the road for an intensive economic development of the country. Case 16 contains materials devoted to the preparation and implementation of the peasant reform.
From the first years of the reign of Alexander II society began to actively discuss the need for transformations. In numerous political projects and deliberations, which were often distributed in hand-written form, the problem of the abolition of serfdom was put to the fore. This bolstered up the conviction of the emperor that the transformations he was thinking about were really necessary (some personal belongings of Alexander II are shown in case 17).
In 1858, gubernia committees were formed all over Russia which worked out proposals on the peasant reform. In order to examine them and draw up a project of the reform it was decided to set up editorial commissions which were headed by Y. Rostovtsev, and, after his death, by Count V. Panin. All the current matters connected with the preparation of the reform were in the hands of the deputy minister of the interior N. Milyutin.
Despite the opposition of the supporters of serfdom, the emperor displayed great persistence in the preparation of the reform. He appointed his brother, Grand Prince Konstantin Nikolayevich, chairman of the Chief Committee on peasant affairs, who was known as a supporter of liberal measures. In the left section of case 16, devoted to the preparatory stage of the reform, there is a photo of the liberal section of the Tula gubernia committee headed by Prince V. Cherkassky. There are also journals of the Chief Committee, and photos showing main fi gures in the implementation of the reform, as well as some political projects of the 1850s.
In case 7 there is the famous newspaper “Kolokol” published by A. Herzen and P. Ogaryov from 1857. From its very first issue the “Kolokol” took an active part in discussing and preparing the peasant reform. This newspaper became the peak of the public and political activity of A. Herzen, it was read by all educated people in Russia — from highly placed government officials to students. A full collection of the “Kolokol” was kept in the conference-room of Editorial commissions.
The emperor himself spoke in favour of the peasant reform at the last meeting of the Committee at the State Council. On February 19, 1861, the sixth anniversary of his accession to the throne, Alexander II signed the legal act on the reform and the manifesto on the abolition of serfdom. There is a pen beside the printed text of the manifesto and a note by the minister of the interior S. Lanskoi which read: “This pen was used to sign the record journal of the General Meeting of the State Council under the chairmanship of His Majesty on the abolition of serfdom on January 28, 1861. S. Lanskoi”.
Case 1 contains materials about the Central Asian campaigns of the 1860s–1880s. There are a Turkmen robe, matchlock guns and well-ornamented cold steel. The shield nearby was presented to the military governor of the Turkestan Region, General M. Cherniayev on behalf of the Muslim clergy in 1865. The message accompanying the present said: “It is over four months that you have conquered and ruled us on the order of the great White Tsar, and you do this in such a way as nobody did before…Your services are more precious than any present, but we hope that you will not refuse to accept this shield from grateful Tashkent. May it always protect you from all enemies of Russia and your personal enemies.”
There is another memorial object connected with General M. Cherniayev, namely, the sabre awarded him for the capture of Tashkent. Taking advantage of the struggle between Bukhara and Kokand for Tashkent, General M. Cherniayev, without any order from St. Petersburg, stormed and captured Tashkent with minimal losses. He was awarded the Order of St. George, Third degree, and a sabre decorated with diamonds.
Case I contains award medals “For Khiva campaign 1873”, “For Conquering Kokand Khanate 1875–1876”, “For Capturing Geok-Tepe 1881”. There is a letter by Grand Prince Mikhail Nikolayevich, commander-in-chief in the Caucasus, addressed to General M. Skobelev, hero of the Akhal-Tekin campaign and the storming of Geok-Tepe.
The letter congratulates him on his success and thanks for “the brilliant completion of one of the most difficult expeditions and the courageous storming of Geok-Tepe, which 120 37 Shield of General M. Cherniayev Central Asia. 19th century ended in victory, despite the great valour and resistance of the enemy”.
By the middle of the 1880s all former possessions of Kokand and Khiva khans, the emir of Bukhara, as well as the lands of Turkmen tribes became part of the Russian Empire. But Russia scored successes not only on battlefields. In 1871, thanks to the brilliant diplomatic move by Prince A. Gorchakov, the restricting clauses of the Paris treaty, which deprived Russia of the right to have a fleet and bases in the Black Sea, were repealed. This was a major step in overcoming the negative consequences of the Crimean war and restoring Russia’s international prestige.
By the mid-1870 an upsurge of the national-liberation movement in Bosnia, Herzegovina, Serbia and Bulgaria again drew Russia into a military conflict with Turkey (the war of 1877–1878). Grand Prince Nikolai Nikolayevich Sr. was appointed commander-in-chief of the Danube army. The successful start of the military operation in the Balkans was connected with the name of General M. Dragomirov (his portrait done by I. Repin is exhibited here). M. Dragomirov was a brilliant military theorist and he worked out and realized the plan of the forced crossing of the Danube on the night of June 15, 1877.
The uniforms on display, including one of a private first class of the Rifle Regiment of the Guards, the imperial family battalion, are very interesting exhibits (case 2). These riflemen had their history from 1855 when during the Crimean war it was decided to recruit an irregular corps and Nicholas I announced that “the imperial family also wished to recruit men for the defence of the Motherland”. A Rifle Regiment of the Guards of the tsar’s family (it was a battalion after the war) was formed of “tsar’s appanage” peasants of the Novgorod, Arkhangelsk and Vologda gubernias. They wore a special uniform resembling a Russian national costume: broadcloth blue-green caftans, crimson Russian shirts, and soft low boots.
cases 3, 5
The arms awarded the midshipman N. Shcherbatov tells about the military operation on the Danube (case 3). On the hilt of the sable there is an enamel red cross and a golden imperial crown — the sign of the Order of St. Ann. This sabre was equal to the order, Fourth degree, which N. Shcherbatov received for courage and skill which he displayed during the capture of the Turkish fortress of Sylistria. (Later he was the director of the Historical Museum for many years).
The uniform of the imperial riflemen was radically changed in 1867. Now it resembled a Cossack jacket decorated with crimson (golden for the officers) cords on the chest. (This uniform is on display). There was the cross of the irregular corps on the fur hats. These details of the uniform of the riflemen were used as elements of illustrations to the book by E. Bogdanovich “History of the 4th Rifle Battalion of the Guards” published in St. Petersburg in 1881 (case 3).
The Guards units took part in many difficult operations, one of which the siege of Plevna (a Bulgarian map of Plevna is in case 5). In September 1877, after three unsuccessful attempts of storming this Turkish stronghold, it was decided to blockade it. On October 12, after bitter fighting, Gorny Dubnyak, a Turksih strong point on the approaches to Plevna, was seized. General V. Lavrov, the commander of the Finland Regiment of the Guards, was mortally wounded in the fighting. His last words addressed to the regiment were engraved on a copper plate made especially for the regiment’s museum.
Many hardships befell the participants in the famous winter crossing over the Balkan Mountains. On December 13, the unit commanded by General I. Gurko, braving a terrible blizzard, started its march. On December 19, drowned in snow, the Guards unit succeeded in driving the Turks out from Tashkisen, despite a difficult mountain terrain. Case 3 contains memorial items connected with the event: a silver dish with the inscription “To Preobrazhensky Regiment of the Guards, its reserve battalion for Tashkisen December 19, 1877”, and a paper-weight made of a rock with the words “From Tashkisen”.
One of the most interesting relics of the Russo-Turkish war of 1877–1878 is the folding icon of the 1st company of the 2nd grenadier Rostov Regiment (central icon is St. George the Trumphant, left St. Vladimir, right St. Alexander Nevsky). On the bottom is the list of the privates of the company who fell in battles, on the crown of the central icon there are soldier St. George crosses of private first class Grigory Savelyev, private Khariton Astashin, and corporal Nikita Shornikov (case 5).
The military operations in the Balkans and the Caucasus ended in early 1878. On February 19 a preliminary peace treaty was signed in San Stefano, near Constantinople, under which Southern Bessarabia was returned to Russia, Romania, Serbia and Montenegro received independence, and Bulgaria was granted a broad autonomy. Although the international congress in Berlin revised the conditions of the treaty, having changed them to the detriment of Russia, the positive results of the Russo-Turkish war of 1877–1878 were quite obvious.
Case 6 contains materials connected with the attempts on the life of Alexander II: documents and pictures, memorial medals, a pamphlet about the “Constitution of M. Loris-Melikov”, which presupposed the inclusion of representatives of society in the government commissions working on the new legislation. A meeting of the Council of ministers to discuss the draft of Loris-Melikov was scheduled for March 4, 1881, but it did not take place due to the emperor’s death. The adoption of a constitution was thus postponed for several decades.
There are such items as the pillow on which Alexander II died, the cross which was made of the glass blown off by the explosion of his carriage, the sabre of the emperor presented to him by officers of the Guards of his personal honorable convoy after the downfall of the Turkish fortress of Plevna. On the day of his death the sabre was on him and its handle bore the traces of the splinters of the bomb. These exhibits are really unique.
The strengthening of the central and local power was manifested, among other things, in greater control over the press and more privileges granted to the nobility in the system of education and local self-government, which essentially corrected the results of the reforms of Alexander II. The government of Alexander III, while implementing economic and financial transformations, evolved at the same time the working legislation designed to regulate the relationships between workers and employers and arrest the growing workers’ movement. Portraits of some ideologists of the “counterreformist policy” — the ober-procurator of the Holy Synod K. Pobedonostsev, a friend and teacher of Alexander III, and the influential conservative journalist M. Katkov can be seen in case 7.
Alexander III wanted to oppose “populist autocracy” to parliamentarism, because he regarded it a form of rule, which was the most acceptable to the original “Russian way” of state development. However, the principal refusal of the authorities to solve the “constitutional question” only exacerbated the contradictions between the government and society. Despite the resolute suppression of the revolutionary movement, the activity of revolutionary propagandists among the people continued; it was stepped by the unresolved social problems, poverty and the lack of rights of a considerable part of the country’s population.
There are medals in case 9 minted in honour of anniversaries of historic events, which were regarded as festive occasions by society: 100 years since the birth of A. Pushkin, 100 years of the 1812 war against Napoleon, 500 years of the Kulikovo battle, etc.
An example of a romantic approach to history can be seen in a model of the monument in honour of the millennium of Russia in Novgorod designed by M. Mikeshin.
A sculptural composition “Peter the Great in a Boat” was commissioned by the president of the Academy of Art, Grand Prince Vladimir Alexandrovich, to the sculptor M. Antokolosky for the jubilee of the Russian Navy. The composition was based on a historical fact: Peter the Great transferred the relics of St. Prince Alexander Nevsky from Vladimir to the Alexandro-Nevskaya Lavra (Monastery) in St. Petersburg. Peter the Great dressed in the uniform of the Preobrazhensky Regiment was at the helm of a little boat — “the grandfather of the Russian Navy”.
Fine art was distinguished by the abundance of “popular subjects”. This concerned, above all, the artists-peredvizhniki (travelling artists). The artist V. Perov, when working on his canvas “The Trial of Pugachev” made trips to the Volga area, the Orenburg gubernia and the Urals. The composition of his picture had almost similar subjects described by Pushkin in his “The Captain’s Daughter”: Pugachev’s massacre of the defenders of the Belgorod Fortress.
The picture “Spring. The Easter Service” by I. Repin was created under the impact of the assassination of Alexander II. “We were overwhelmed by the horrors of our time…” the artist wrote. With the coming of the “peasant tsar” Alexander III, society hoped for some benefits for the people. As I. Turgenev wrote, “the peasants will reap lavish boons”. Repin painted an epic picture of people’s calm and quiet life according to the natural train of events. This motive was in line with Dostoyevsky’s call to turn to the peasants, to “grey crude caftans” for the real truth. “…Let us learn from the people how to say the truth… Let us learn people’s humbleness, their industriousness and perseverance, the real and serious character of their mind.”
The organization of the History Museum was a vivid manifestation of society’s historical self-consciousness. On the wall of the room are portraits of the founders of the museum — Count S. Uvarov, archaeologist and collector, who played the leading role in its creation, and I. Zabelin, historian and archaeologist, the author of over 200 works on the history of medieval Russia. From 1885 Zabelin was the actual curator of History Museum. His portrait was painted by V. Serov in 1892, who took part in designing and decorating the Moscow Room of the museum. The artist’s sketch “The Field of the Kulikovo Battle” displayed in the museum was sold abroad in the 1920s and returned to Moscow only in 1992.
The museum building was designed by the architect V. Shervud (jointly with the engineer A. Semyonov). A special commission examined the design “The Motherland” and chose it from among several designs submitted to the competition, because it was in line with the task set, namely, to orient to monuments of the original national architecture of the 16th–17th centuries. The foundation of the building was laid in 1875 and it was opened in 1883. Its first visitors were Alexander III and Empress Maria Fyodorovna who arrived in Moscow for the coronation ceremony. The history of designing, building and interior decorating can be seen on the screen in the centre of the room.
Case 10 displays personal belongings of outstanding scientists — D. Mendeleyev, I. Sechenov and N. Zhukovsky, whose work contributed to elevating Russian science to the world level. The portrait of D. Mendeleyev was made by his second wife, artist and musician A. Popova. In 1882 their daughter Lyubov was born, who would become the wife of the poet A. Blok.
Having worked at St. Petersburg University for over 30 years, Mendeleyev was forced to resign due to contradictions with the minister of education. He continued to work at the Palace of Measures and Weights. The reference meter of Mendeleyev is kept in case 10.
The rough copybook of N. Zhukovsky, the founder of aerodynamics, which he used as a student at the physics and mathematics department of Moscow University, is also in case 10.
In the epoch of transformations art and literature vividly reflected social problems. The public waited impatiently for the publication of new works by L. Tolstoi, F. Dostoyevsky and I. Turgenev, which were avidly discussed in the press. Case 12 shows the autograph of L. Tolstoi in 1875 to one of the oldest societies of Russia — Soviety of Lovers of Russian Literature. The writer thanked the society and its members for their high evaluation of his novel “Anna Karenina”. “In ‘Anna Karenina’ I like the idea of a family,” he would say. This subject was especially timely in the 1870s when the age-old family foundations began to crumble. The disintegration of the family was for Tolstoy a feature of a deep crisis of the epoch.
A water-colour image of Dostoyevsky was related to his stay in Siberia, where he had been exiled, sentenced to hard labour. In 1849 Dostoyevsky, already a well-known author, who became popular for his novel “Poor People”, was arrested for taking part in M. Petrashevsky’s circle. He was sentenced to death, which was commuted to penal servitude. He spent four years in the Omsk fortress in Siberia and after that was sent to Semipalatinsk as a soldier. While in Siberia, the writer suffered “not so much of heavy work, but because it was forced on him, under the lash, always under a close watch, always under lock and key”. The drawing was made by M. Znamensky, the son of the priest in Yalutorovsk, where the exiled Decembrists lived.
The mantelpiece clock with the poetic name “Marfinka” (case 12) was a present for the 50th birthday of the writer I. Goncharov. Having learned that a “grand jubilee ceremony” was about to be arranged by his friends, the writer begged them to play it down and not to make it public. His request was granted. On New Year day his friends came to his fl at and presented him this clock with a female figure called “Marfinka” in honour of the heroine of his famous novel “The Ravine”. Several days later Goncharov received the festive greetings “From Russian Women” in which they thanked him for his works helping women cheer up and develop “along the road of a conscious, intellectual life”. In 1884 a full collection of the writer’s works came off the press. Goncharov was received by Emperor Alexander III who presented him with a silver desk set with enamel decorations.
The exhibits of case 12 acquaint the museum visitors with the important development stage of musical culture — the creation of national music. A silver goblet and wreath were presented to N. Rubinstein by the admirers of his talent. In 1860, thanks to his efforts, the Moscow Society of Music was founded in Moscow, and in 1866 the higher music school, or conservatoire, which soon gained European recognition. Its students were the first to perform Tchaikovsky’s opera “Eugene Onegin”. Society highly praised the patriotic feelings and charity urge of N. Rubinstein, who gave performances in 33 cities and towns of Russia during the Russo- Turkish war of 1877–1878, with all the money donated to the wounded soldiers.
Among the exhibits there is a sheet with the score of the Liturgy of Vasily the Great (arranged by A. Poluektov), with Tchaikovsky’s remarks.
The tumultuous growth of interest in scientific knowledge gave rise to the emergence of numerous scientific societies. The criterion of science took an important place almost everywhere. The gorgeous albums and messages of greeting presented by scientifi c societies to the governor general of Moscow V. Dolgorukov in honour of his birth anniversary showed the favourable attitude of the municipal authorities to science and scientific institutions.
Case 13 shows the constantly changing objects from the museum funds. Visitors can get acquainted with some unique items from the great treasure-store of the museum full of monuments of Russian history.
In 1869 Russia was shocked by the so-called Nechayev case. The young teacher S. Nechayev, having secured support from Russian revolutionary emigrants, set up a clandestine organization among Moscow students called “Narodnaya rasprava” (“People’s Punishment”). A resulute, unscrupulous, absolutely free from any moral or humane obligations, Nechayev widely used methods of mystification and provocation. Having accused one of the students of the Petrovskaya Academy, I. Ivanov, a member of his organization, of being a traitor and apostate, Nechayev organized his assassination (the materials connected with the affair are in case 14). The trial forced many people to break with the revolutionary movement. Under the impact of the case, F. Dostoyevsky wrote his famous novel “The Possessed”. The Nechayev affair marked a radical turn in the Russian revolutionary movement and its transfer on to the path of terror.
Among those accused and sentenced in the Nechayev case was P. Tkachev. Having escaped from exile, he found refuge abroad where he began to publish the newspaper “Nabat” (“Tocsin”) (case 14). Tkachev maintained that the nearest aim of the revolutionaries should be the creation of a powerful and highly disciplined organization capable to seize power, suppress and destroy all conservative, reactionary elements in society, close down all institutions opposing the aims of the revolution, and set up a new state system. His ideas began to win many narodniks beginning from the late 1870s.
In 1876 a new revolutionary organization came into being, which had the previous name “Zemlya i volya” (“Land and Freedom”). In 1879 this organization was disbanded and a new one formed with the name “Narodnaya volya” (“People’s Freedom”) which was headed by A. Zhelyabov and S. Perovskaya. The main aim of the organization was the struggle against the government. On August 26, 1879, it passed a death sentence on Alexander II.
A virtual hunt on the emperor began. Members of the organization placed mines under the rails twice, along which the emperor’s train had to pass, and on February 5, 1880, they made an explosion in the dining room of the Winter Palace which caused many casualties. On March 1, 1881, another attempt on the life of the emperor took place. The first bomb thrown on to his carriage by N. Rysakov on an embankment in St. Petersburg did not bring any harm to the emperor. Having got from the carriage, he went to see the wounded and the seized terrorirt, but at that time I. Grinevitsky hurled another bomb. The emperor was heavily wounded and immediately taken to the Winter Palace with the smashed legs, where he soon died.
In the latter quarter of the 19th century the number of workers in Russia increased almost three times, but their situation was extremely difficult: the workday lasted up to 15 hours, and they suffered from low wages, bad living and social conditions, etc. Workers, who were mostly peasants in the recent past, brought to factories and plants deep discontent already accumulated during their village life. In the 1870s strikes began to break out at industrial enterprises, which bordered on revolts. The industrial crisis of the 1880s aggravated the situation still more. Workers’ unrest took place almost everywhere, and to cope with it the authorities used the armed police and units more frequently. During the reign of Alexander III, who devoted much attention to the industrial and workers’ problems (there is a water-colour by N. Shilder depicting the emperor’s visit to the Nobel plant in case 14), a number of laws was adopted which regulated the relations between the entrepreneurs and workers, and a factory inspection body was set up to supervise their fulfillment.
The worker question gave rise to interest in Marxism in Russian society, which led to creation of the first Russian social-democratic organizations. In 1883 a group named “Osvobozhdeniye truda” (“Emancipation of Labour”) under the leadership of G. Plekhanov was set up in Geneva. Its task was to popularize Marxism in Russia and rally the forces for the formation of a workers’ party (case 14).
Among the exhibits devoted to the struggle of the authorities with the revolutionary movement mention should be made of the oath of the brothers of the “Sacred Squad”, a clandestine organization created in 1881 especially for the protection of the emperor and opposition to the revolutionary movement. The “Sacred Squad” had a ramified network of agents in Russia and abroad, and among its members were Count I. Vorontsov- Dashkov, Prince A. Shcherbatov, Prince P. Demidov- San Donato, Count P. Shuvalov, composer P. Tchaikovsky, and others (case 14).
Among the rare exhibits are the door to a cell in the Butyrskaya prison in Moscow, the clothes of a political prisoner, as well as the album of the governor-general of Vyatka with the photos and characteristics of political detainees, one of whom was the student Vladimir Korolenko, a famous writer in the future (case 14).
Case 15 contains personal belongings of Emperor Alexander III: his uniform, family photographs, and items from a “personal set”. A heavy folding icon with pictures of the Saints bearing the names of members of the tsar’s family is an interesting exhibit. It was presented to the emperor by the regiment of the Imperial family after the crash of the train in which Alexander III and the members of his family remained alive by sheer miracle. This tragedy happened near the Borki station, Kharkov gubernia, on October 17, 1888. Twenty people were killed and 17 heavily wounded, but the tsar’s family didn’t suffer, except Grand Princess Xenia who remained humpbacked for life. Other exhibits were also connected with the train crash, among them, a silver glass with tsar’s monogram flattened in the crash.
Radical changes took place in the foreign policy of Russia in the mid-1850s. Having suffered defeat in the Crimean war, Russia gave up its previously active role on the European continent, concentrating its main efforts on tackling domestic problems. The new foreign-policy course was outlined in a memorandum of the minister of foreign affairs, Prince A. Gorchakov, on August 21, 1856, which was sent to all Russian embassies and missions. It emphasized the desire of the government to devote greater care and attention to internal affairs. It was said in the memorandum, among other things: “It is said that Russia is angry. No, Russia is not angry, it is concentrating…” This sentence meant that the lull in foreign policy was temporary. Russia simply mustered strength.
The Central Asian direction became one of the major lines of Russia’s foreign policy. Although it was not predominant, it became quite important in the 1860s. Having recovered from the setback in the European war in the mid-1850s, the Russian government gradually switched over to active offensive actions from cautious diplomatic reconnaissance in Central Asia.
Emperor Alexander III who acceded to the throne in 1881 began to pursue a course aimed at stabilizing the situation in the country. During his reign, along with reducing the sum of redemption payments and other measures designed to alleviate the burden of the agrarian problem, the government tried to bolster up the power of landlords, by supporting their economies. At a meeting with the peasant elders who gathered for the coronation ceremonies in 1883, Alexander III said: “Follow the advice and leadership of your nobility heads and don’t believe all that nonsense about free additions of land, and other foolish rumours.” This episode, which somehow summed up the peasant reform, is depicted on a lithograph shown in case 16.
The relations between peasants and landlords and the implementation of the reform were supervised by public mediators appointed by the Senate from among local landowners. A special chain served as a sign confirming their powers, and it is shown in case 16. There are a copy of the Redemption Act, a photo of one of the public mediators, G. Chertkov, a photo of the participants of the Tula gubernia committee on peasant affairs (these bodies considered complaints about public mediators, confirmed legal deeds, and worked out local rules and regulations dealing with the legal aspects of the peasant reform, etc.), and the medal “For Work in Liberation of Peasants” awarded to all participants in the implementation of the reform.
The abolition of serfdom had a great socio-economic and moral significance. It blazed the trail for other major transformations, but failed to resolve the agrarian question. Peasant plots of land were small (oft en even smaller than those they tilled on the eve of the reform), and this gave rise to a prolonged social problem which was not solved right up to 1917.
The reaction of the people and society to the reform was dual. On the one hand, the very fact of the liberation of the peasants was viewed with deep satisfaction. Often, peasants put up monuments to the Tsar-Liberator at their own expense. One of the exhibits of case 18 is a unique beaded gonfalon (or rather its dummy) made by young peasant girls of Ruza district, Moscow gubernia, in honour of their liberation, and in case 8 one can see a little table for playing chess presented by peasants to one of the participants in the preparation of the reform, the minister of the interior S. Lanskoi. On the other hand, the land question gave rise to a great wave of unrest among peasants and served as an incentive to the growing revolutionary sentiments among the intelligentsia.
The local and judicial reforms of 1864 and the municipal reform of 1870 were a continuation of the great reforms of the 1860s (case 18). The judicial reform introduced the principles of glasnost and competitiveness of the two sides in a trial and set up the institution of barristers and the jury. As a result, Russia received a classless, open, competitive and independent court. The Justice of the Peace was instituted to deal with simple civic and criminal matters.
Case 18 exhibits the official chain of a Justice of the Peace, portraits of the outstanding barristers A. Koni and F. Plevako, who were the initiators of new rules and regulations in legal matters which emerged in the course of the judicial reform of 1864, drawings and prints showing sessions of new courts, and materials of the trial of the participants in the attempt on the life of Emperor Alexander II on March 1, 1881.
In the central section of the case there is a unique copy of the Court Rules of Alexander II in a gorgeous silver setting made by the Moscow firm of A. Postnikov. This exhibit belonged to the chairman of the Moscow congress of Justices of the Peace, P. Grekov.
In 1864, the local bodies of government (zemstvo) were set up. The gubernia and district local assemblies and management committees were in charge of the economic matters: the construction and maintenance of roads, schools, hospitals, alms-houses, as well as organization of food aid to the population in the years of poor harvests. The reform of municipal self-government was carried out on similar conditions in 1870. City Dumas and management bodies dealt with urban improvements, education, medical service, and charity and cultural institutions. Exhibits connected with these reforms are contained in the left section of case 18. The materials about the activity of the Moscow Duma which was headed by the city mayor N. Alexeyev in 1885–1893 are of special interest.
As a result of the liberal reform of higher education, the universities received considerable autonomy. Among the new educational establishments emerged in the post-reform period was the Petrovskaya agricultural academy. According to its first charter, it was a school of higher learning open for representatives of all classes and sections of society without exception, with the free choice of subjects to be studied, and without entrance or graduation examinations. It was only after the “Nechayev affair” of 1869, in which students of the Petrovskaya academy were involved, its charter became less liberal.
From 1862 gymnasiums for girls began to open, which gave them a quite decent secondary education. By the end of the 19th century their number was over 140. The foundations were laid for a higher education of women. The general educational women’s courses of Gerier worked in Moscow from 1872. Soon the higher educational courses for women were opened in St. Petersburg and other cities. Thanks to the work of local government bodies, rural primary schools were opened and the number of urban schools increased. The problem of secondary education caused heated debates between the supporters of real, down-to-earth education and those who preferred classical education. The former insisted on the need to teach natural sciences and modern languages, the latter advocated teaching classical Ancient languages and the humanities. With the support of the minister of education Count D. Tolstoi, the supporters of classical education got the upper hand. Case 8 contains materials connected with Russian education in the 1860s–1880s, including a water-colour cartoon depicting Tolstoi’s educational reform painted by the artist I. Vsevolozhsky.
The epoch of Great reforms caused an unusual upsurge of Russian public life which was expressed in political turmoil among young people, especially students. At the same time the transformations were carried on slowly and cautiously, because it was necessary to take into account the interests of different classes and social groups. The traditional destruct of the authorities concerning public initiatives caused irritation amount the radically-minded members of society, especially young people. As a result, revolutionary sentiments in the country were on the increase. Besides, the main question — that of land, was not resolved. Shortage of land and, as a consequence, the mass impoverishment of the peasants exacerbated the already existing social problems, and gave rise to new ones.
At the turn of the 1860s Russia was on the verge of a revolutionary explosion. Numerous clandestine political circles and organizations sprang up, which carried on active revolutionary propaganda among the people. The most vivid confirmation of the exacerbation of social conflicts was the spreading of the terrorist methods of struggle. This was a kind of war declared by the revolutionaries on the government.
In the early 1860 the revolutionary society “Zemlya i volya” (“Land and Freedom”) emerged. Its members hoped for and relied on a peasant uprising in the near future. When these hopes did not materialize, “Zemlya i volya” ceased to exist, but several of its members set up a new organization which was headed by the students of Moscow University N. Ishutin and his cousin D. Karakozov. Their aim was to prepare a peasant socialist revolution. On April 4, 1866, Karakozov shot at Emperor Alexander II, but missed. The government replied with stepping up reactionary measures. Almost all liberally minded ministers were fired, and Count D. Tolstoi was appointed minister of education, who placed the universities under police control, which made it difficult for young people from poor families to enroll.
At the turn of the 1860s, the type of a nihilist described by I. Turgenev in his famous novel “Fathers and Sons” became quite popular among young people. Rejecting the prejudices of the nobility and official ideology, young people, carried away by natural sciences, strove to study at universities. The government’s decision to introduce payment for education and ban student meetings stepped up young people’s activity. Student unrest began to grow at universities. Many students were expelled from universities for their participation in the youth movement and joined the ranks of the revolutionaries.
In those years the ideology of the narodnik (populist) movement took shape, at the sources of which stood A. Herzen and N. Chernyshevsky. The aim of that movement was the defence of people’s interests, primarily, the peasants. Among the founding fathers of the various trends of the narodnik movement were M. Bakunin, P. Lavrov and N. Mikhailovsky. Case 7 contains the famous revolutionary leaflets of the early 1860s. The “Young Russia” leaflet, which became very popular among young people, written by the student P. Zaichnevsky, called for “a bloody, implacable revolution which should radically change all foundations of modern society and destroy the old system and its supporters”. It was supposed to establish a communist system in the country with social production and social upbringing and education of children, and abolish marriage and the family.