On Sunday, January 9, 1905 (O.S.), the people of Russia marched to the palace of tsar Nicholas II with their leader, a priest named Father Georgi Gapon, on a day that came to be known as Bloody Sunday. They were the radical group The Russian Factory and Mill Workers who were searching for political changes to increase the role of the common man and to gain civil liberties. However, their mission to the tsar’s palace was unsuccessful. According to author Walter G. Moss in his book, A History of Russia, troops stationed near the palace killed one hundred men, women, and children. Bloody Sunday encouraged distrust in the people of Russia against their tsar Nicholas II. They stood firm against their government, which encouraged the tsar to respond to their anger. Several other factors contributed to their unhappiness with the monarchy. For instance, around four months after Bloody Sunday, in May 1905, the Japanese in the Russo-Japanese War defeated the Baltic Fleet. The people believed that the tsar was to blame for the loss because he insisted that the fleet use outdated battleships. The anger and discontent of the people grew until the tsar had to respond. On October 17, 1905, he issued The October Manifesto to keep his people content. He granted them civil liberties and gave the representative assembly, the Duma, an expanded electorate and rights. Although the document had some positive aspects for the people, it was negative for Nicholas II because it indicated the end of monarchist rule in Russia.
The October Manifesto is the document that Nicholas II issued to show the people what changes he was making to the government. An examination of the document is important to reveal what the intentions of Nicholas II were. For instance, he stated that the manifesto would “grant the population the inviolable foundations of civic freedom.” While additional freedoms were good in theory, he did not value all of his citizens equally. Some groups including the Jewish population still underwent discrimination. The anti-Semitism of the tsar was one reason he was pressured to write The October Manifesto. Other countries including Britain did not approve of his outlook. He was adamant that Jewish people were different from other Russian citizens because he believed that the majority of them were menaces to society. He also thought that Russia should eradicate them from the country. Other countries that criticized his racism encouraged Nicholas II’s thought that the monarchist policies needed to change. They did not approve of the violent rallies against Jews called pogroms. The anti-Semitic values of the tsar and some of the people reveal that only a minority of people cared about gaining civil liberties for everyone. The civic freedom the tsar granted to the people did not extend to the Jews who underwent hate and violence against them. Although not everyone had civic freedom resulting from The October Manifesto, the majority of the population saw their arguments get positive responses from the tsar. For instance, the political role he gave the people was positive for them, and it demonstrated the significant impact they made by rising against him. According to The October Manifesto, the tsar aimed “to establish as an unbreakable rule that no law shall become effective without the confirmation by the State Duma, and that the elected representatives of the people shall be guaranteed an opportunity to real participation in the supervision of the legality of the acts by authorities.” The significance of the role of the State Duma was that Nicholas II was stepping down from his place of absolute rule. The State Duma and the elected representatives of the people gained prominent roles in determining the laws of the nation. The political rights gained by the people were partially because of the Bloody Sunday riots. The rallies against the tsar put him in a predicament. The result was that he had nothing to do but to concede to their wishes. The monarchy was making significant changes to appease the angered masses, although the freedoms the tsar granted the people of Russia did not keep everyone satisfied.
An analysis of the reasons and events that led up to Bloody Sunday is important to understand why the tsar issued The October Manifesto. The choice he made to give up his absolute monarchy meant that he was reluctantly surrendering absolute political power and authority. He made his choice partly out of pressure from the people to change his leadership style and improve their status. According to author Beryl Williams in the article “Russia 1905” from History Today, the peasant’s “demands were economic, often for human rights, or more educational opportunities or pensions” after Bloody Sunday. The peasants did not believe that the tsar was running the country fairly, and they wanted a change in the style of government to a constitutional monarchy. Germany and England had what they saw to be successful constitutional monarchies. The people of Russia thought they should model their government after other countries’ successful governments, and they wanted a political change to bring the people civil liberties and improved work places. Peasants also had additional agendas they were pushing by “demanding land, reduction of rents and taxes, and the abolition of redemption payments.” They were dissatisfied with the arrangement of the commune. With the current system, they had to answer to land captains, the governor, and the tsar, while they were unable to own their land. The dissatisfaction of the peasants with the system was a significant reason that Bloody Sunday occurred, although it is not the only reason.
While an examination of the document The October Manifesto presents the political and social changes the tsar made, the article “Russia 1905” by Beryl Williams was important for putting the document into context. The October Manifesto was the result of events and issues that contributed to a general unease in the people of Russia. They showed their desperation with Bloody Sunday, and they continued with peasant revolts after it. The people protested because they were significantly unhappy with the liberties and rights they were receiving. They thought they should have a say in the laws of their country. While the peasants were an important reason for the creation of The October Manifesto, the document also came to be from the pressures Britain gave the tsar to stop his anti-Semitic behavior. Other countries did not approve of the anti-Semitic pogroms, which weakened the place of Nicholas II. Another reason that the tsar produced The October Manifesto was because he made a fool of himself with his behavior that cost the lives of Russian soldiers in the Russo-Japanese War. The October Manifesto was the outcome of numerous factors contributing to the weakness of the tsar.
Dmytryshyn, Basil. “Concessions of Nicholas II in the Revolution of 1905.” Imperial Russia. Gulf Breeze, Florida: Academic International Press, Volume 42, Edition 4 1999, 415.
Moss, Walter G. A History of Russia Volume II, Since 1855. London: Anthem Press, Volume 2, Edition 2 2005.
Williams, Beryl. “Russia 1905.” History Today. Volume 55, Issue 5 2005, 44-51. in Academic Search Premier… (accessed September 10, 2010).