As his Sunday custom, the Czar traveled in his bulletproof carriage (a gift from Emperor Napoleon III of France) to the Mikhailovsky Manège to review the military roll call. He was escorted by the police as well as his own guard, including his Cossack personal bodyguard. In the crowd that gathered on the narrow pavement to watch Alexander pass were agents from the Narodnaya Volya ("People's Will") bent on assassinating the Czar to instill a new order of communistic anarchy. Nikolai Rysakov was the first to strike, throwing a bomb wrapped in a handkerchief. The explosion would kill one of the Cossack guards and injure onlookers and more guards, but Alexander would prove unhurt as he stepped from his carriage. The police hurriedly apprehended Rysakov, who shouted to someone else in the crowd. Feeling the Czar was still in danger, Police Chief Dvorzhitsky threw himself over Alexander, violating the royal space but proving to save his life as a second and third bomb exploded.
The attacks came despite, or perhaps because of, Alexander’s push toward reforms in his empire. He had grown up among the literati of St. Petersburg, becoming something of an enlightened ruler, and the Crimean War had left a foul taste in his mouth for military action. While he had been groomed to be an autocrat, Alexander finally refused and instigated legislation that would build railways, introduce commerce, and encourage corporations. He also improved local jurisdiction, reformed the legal code after the French fashion, updated the armed forces, and created municipal and rural police. Most famously, he liberated the serfs with his declaration on May 3, 1861, creating a class of communal, yet independent, freedmen.
This experiment with communism, which had always been among humanity in some form or another, encouraged further thought, making some historians credit the violent calls for revolt because Alexander was seen as someone who could be challenged, unlike the iron-fisted autocrats of before. After the attack on his palace, Alexander put Count Loris-Melikov in charge of solving the terrorist menace, and the count suggested implementing plans for a representative Duma as well as police action. Following his survival in 1881, Alexander announced his Duma, and elections were held that fall. With the institution of direct political reform, much of the support for revolt died away, and the Narodnaya Volya was brought down by sting operations by Loris-Melikov’s secret police. Radicalism settled as public outrage softened and Alexander proved iron-fisted enough to protect himself.
Alexander II would continue his reforms until his death in 1892, modernizing Russia into an effective competitor with the growing strength of Germany. When his son Alexander III came to the throne, the new czar sought to reign in some of the power lost to the royal house, but he would die in 1895 before doing more than clarifying public bureaucracy. Nicholas II would prove a weaker czar, seemingly uninterested in affairs of the state, though he was willing to perform any duty. His lackluster care for modernization of the armed forces would prove disastrous in World War I (begun after a border dispute over jurisdiction on stolen goods taken to Serbia), but advisers from the other Allies enabled Russia to achieve a trench system to stop the charging Germans from taking territory too deep into Russia. At the end of the war, Russia surged ahead economically, using its infrastructure from the legacy of Alexander II to supply masses of raw materials to Europe from increasingly developed Siberia. The development would work to Russia’s disadvantage, however, as Germany invaded in the Second World War. Nicholas III, weakened by hemophilia, died early in the war, leaving the young Alexander IV to manage the government-in-exile after German forces chased them from Moscow.
After the war, Russia’s empire would fade in a similar pattern to that of Britain and France with its many vassals of the Ukraine, Finland, Georgia, and over a dozen others becoming breakaway republics. A power vacuum would come into play later toward the 1960s, instilling a new generation appealing to conservatism while remembering the greatness that once was.
In reality, Alexander II was killed by the second bomb as he went to survey the blast site, and the third never needed to detonate. Alexander III took up a spirit of vengeance as well as his very different attitude toward autocratic rule. He canceled many of his father’s reforms, and it would not be until the Revolution of 1905 that public pressure would force Nicholas II to create a Duma. Still, it was not enough, and World War I would be the groundwork for the fall of the Russian Empire and the creation of the Soviet Union.