The Romanov Dynasty had ruled Russia since 1613. Michael Romanov took the title 'Emperor and Autocrat of all Russia'. The Emperor of Russia became known as the Tsar (Czar) and imposed autocratic rule - government by one man. Unlike in other European countries, the Tsars of Russia did not take advice from an elected parliament. The country was run by a ten man ministerial council. Each minister was both appointed and dismissed by the Tsar.
The Tsar also appointed the Chief Procurator of the Russian Orthodox Church. In fact, since 1721, the Orthodox Church had been run as a government department.
The Tsar also had the power to grant hereditary titles. These usually went to men who had achieved high rank in the armed forces and the civil service. It 1900 it was estimated that there were about 1.8 million members of the nobility in Russia.
Alexander II became the sixteenth Romanov tsar in 1855. He attempted to bring in some political reforms. This included permitting each district to set up a Zemstvo. These were local councils with powers to provide roads, schools and medical services. However, the right to elect members was restricted to the wealthy.
Reformers in Russia wanted the same democratic rights as those enjoyed in other European countries. In 1876 a group of reformers established Land and Liberty. As it was illegal to criticize the Russian government, the group had to hold its meetings in secret.
In October, 1879, a new group, the People's Will was formed. Soon afterwards the group decided to assassinate Alexander II. They made several failed attempts on his life but were successful at killing several of his senior officials.
In January, 1880, the People's Will contacted the Russian government and claimed they would call off the terror campaign if the Russian people were granted a constitution that provided free elections and an end to censorship. On 25th February, 1880, Alexander II announced that he was considering granting the Russian people a constitution.
A year later Alexander II had still not published details of his reforms. The People's Will therefore decided to carry out their threat and the Tsar was assassinated by Ignatei Grinevitski on 1st March, 1881.
Alexander III now became the seventeenth Romanov tsar. He immediately cancelled his father's plans to introduce a representative assembly and announced he had no intention of limiting his autocratic power.
During his reign Alexander followed a repressive policy against those seeking political reform and persecuted other Jews and others who were not members of the Russian Orthodox Church. Alexander also pursued a policy of Russification of national minorities. This included imposing the Russian language and Russian schools on the German, Polish and Finnish peoples living in the Russian Empire.
Despite several assassination attempts Alexander died a natural death on 20th October, 1894. He was succeeded by his son Nicholas II who attempted to continue his father's policy of suppressing those advocating political reform.