Libmonster ID: RU-17180
Author(s) of the publication: Marina KHALIZEVA

One hundred and fifty years ago leaders of two powerful countries Russia and the USA-Emperor Alexander II (1818-1881) and President Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)-changed the course of global history. On February 19, 1861, Alexander II signed the Manifesto setting free 22 mln Russian serfs; the latter vesting himself with extraordinary powers, two years later signed the Declaration on Abolition of Slavery. These two milestones in the development of civilization were in the focus of the documentary exhibition "The Tsar and the President: Alexander II and Abraham Lincoln. The Liberator and the Emancipator", held under the auspices of the Bilateral US-Russia Presidential Committee of Medvedev and Obama at the Exposition Hall of the RF Federal Archives in February-March 2011.

The unknown exhibits throwing light on the relations of two state leaders were first exhibited for some months in the USA within the framework of celebrations dedicated to the 200th birth anniversary of Lincoln. The exposition opened in the USA in the summer of 2008 acquainted visitors with a unique collection of personal belongings and documents of the 16th century connected with the host of the White House and the Russian monarch. Many residents of the New World discovered "Russian aspects" in Lincoln's biography and were really surprised by fruitful relations of two countries in the 19th century. The exhibition was initiated by the American-Russian Cultural Cooperation Foundation; archives, museums and private collections of both countries also greatly enriched the exposition. The project supervisors of studies were James

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Symington, President of the aforementioned foundation, and Sergei Mironenko, Dr. Sc. (Hist.), Director of the RF State Archives. They also arranged a similar exposition in Moscow. Major American museums, libraries, funds and private collections provided personal correspondence of two state leaders, photos, sculptures and portraits of Lincoln and his relatives. As for the Russian sponsors, rarities kept at the RF State Archives, State Museum of History, the Hermitage, Russian Archives of the Navy, Russian State Archives of Ancient Deeds, Foreign Policy Archives of the RF Foreign Ministry were presented at the exhibition. All in all, 200 genuine showpieces from the American and Russian collections classified according to historical parallels were shown in three exposition halls.

"Pragmatism and friendship were the main characteristics of relations between the United States and Russia for more than 200 years," John Beyrle, the US Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador, said at the opening ceremony. "This exhibition and the history of personal relations between the President Abraham Lincoln and the Tsar Alexander II are the brightest illustration of this spirit of pragmatism and friendship."

It would seem not quite reasonable to draw parallels between lives of the two leaders. Lincoln was born in a poor family of farmers; he never studied at universities and was a self-taught person who reached the top as a result of political struggle using democratic procedures. The Emperor Alexander II inherited the throne and was one of the Romanov dynasty, the "anointed sovereign", who had a silver spoon right from the birth and was taught to become a leader of the nation. But despite of all these differences in the social status of their families, education, ways that led them to the supreme power, they both were staunch democrats. From Alexander's enthronement in 1855 and Lincoln's inauguration in 1861 till their deaths (both were assassinated), the two leaders implemented a policy of radical changes in social, economic and political aspects of public life. The former US congressman James Symington, who attended the opening ceremony (his great-grandfather John Hay was Lincoln's personal secretary and then the State Secretary of Theodore Roosevelt Administration in 1901-1909), called them "friends who never met but understood each other very well."



The concept of the exhibition is based on the similarity of two chronologically close documents: the Manifesto on Abolition of Serfdom in Russia and the Declaration on Abolition of Slavery in America.

After the Crimean War of 1853-1856 of Russia against the coalition of Britain, France, Turkey and Sardinia for

Science in Russia, No. 4, 2011

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supremacy in the Middle East, our country entered a new phase, called the Epoch of Freedom (or the Epoch of Great Reforms) by contemporaries. Indeed, the defeat in the war shattered the credibility of tsarism both inside and outside the country and sharpened social contradictions, which in the 1860s-1870s led to strengthening and renewal of the state foundation, including the abolition of serfdom. The reform was aimed to establish social bases of an enormous country, and the reigning Alexander II did not think appropriate to make such a serious step at his own risk. But Russia of that period had neither a constitution, nor a parliament, nor a Council of Ministers, and the tsar had to set up a cumbersome structure of central and local bodies to work out the Manifesto and the Regulations of February 19, 1861.

Alexander's opponents dreamt of getting rid of the reform this or that way. But the emperor showed himself as a persistent politician and appointed his brother Konstantin Nikolayevich, advocate of liberal reforms, Chairman of the Main Committee for Peasants. At the last meeting of the committee, the tsar decided to speak up for the main provisions of the document. On February 19, 1861, on the sixth anniversary of his accession to the throne, Alexander II signed all legal provisions on the reform and the Manifesto on

Abolition of Serfdom. The government was afraid of public disturbances and postponed a release of the documents for two weeks to get ready for preventive measures. The document was read in churches after the mass only on March 5. The tsar himself fulfilled this mission during the guard mounting at Mikhailovsky riding-school. That is how the serfdom was abolished in Russia. The Regulations of February 19, 1861, were valid for 45 provinces of the European part of Russia, where "22,253 thousand serfs of both sexes", after announcement of the document, ceased to be someone's property. The government declared them "free peasants" and vested them with certain rights: they could freely get married, enter into contracts and take part in legal proceedings, as well as purchase real estate.

As for Lincoln, he had to implement his reforms during the Civil War of 1861-1865 between the northern and southern states that polarized the Union. The president, who at that time held the White House, focused all his efforts to preserve the heritage of the founding fathers--values and principles of the republic, listed in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. It is absolutely clear that the slavery was the central controversy between the South and the North. The president who was eager to restore unity of the nation finally

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made a decision to do away with this disgraceful social phenomenon. As early as in July 1862, Lincoln was ready to issue a Declaration on Emancipation of Negroes, but he managed to realize this idea only in September right after the Battle of Antietam (Sharps-burg, Maryland) that changed the disposition in favor of the federal army. According to the document, all slaves in the "rebel states" were declared free. This geographical limitation was imposed deliberately to ensure loyalty of the population in the border states and occupied territories. Although some politicians criticized the Declaration that had come into force on January 1, 1863, everyone understood its explosive nature. By the way, this revolutionary measure was the first step to the end of confederation.

The Russian tsar liberated the serfs with a stroke of a goose-quill. According to Andrei Yanovsky, Head of the Department of the State Museum of History, "this goose-quill split the history of Russia into two parts: the feudal monarchy ceased its existence, and a bourgeois monarchy, a new form of government, came into existence." The US president signed the document setting all slaves in the rebel territories "forever free" with a pen. Both historic objects, kept in the State Museum of History and in the funds of the Historical Society of Massachusetts in Boston, are the central showpieces of the exhibition. The texts of the documents also attracted attention of the visitors. Unfortunately, the first copy of the US Declaration did not reach Moscow. "The insured value of the original is 6.5 mln USD," Sergei Balan, Deputy Director of the RF State Archives, said. "We could not afford paying such a big sum." Among other showpieces are exercise books, letters, reform documents of Alexander II (RF State Archives), official texts of the first amendments to the US Constitution that in fact completed the process of formation of the principal law--the 13th revision (1865) abolishing slavery, the 14th one (1868) protecting civil rights, and the 15th one (1870) guarantying equal voting rights irrespective of the skin color and race.

The famous Lincoln's Gettysburg Address with his notes was one of the special exhibits. It is considered the best example of eloquence and rhetoric of the American leader and holds a special place in world literature. The address was delivered on November 19, 1863, in Gettysburg (Pennsylvania) at the opening of a big soldier's cemetery. In the summer of 1863 there was a battle between two armies numbering 160,000 soldiers near this town. The army of the North managed to benefit from its material and numerical superiority, and the confederates led by General Robert Lee retreated to Virginia. More than one forth of the total number of both armies died in that battle. Delivering a speech at the funeral, Lincoln formulated in ten sentences the significance of the Civil War and pointed out the main democratic values of the USA: equality, right to freedom and popular government. "These people did not die vainly-this nation, under God, shall witness revival of freedom and popular government, due to the people and for the people, shall never perish from the earth."

The exhibition visitors could not pass by the famous portrait of Lincoln by John Hill (its copy decorates the main dining room of the White House) and sculptures by Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907), who became famous after he created a monument to Admiral David Farragut, Hero of the Civil War (New-York, 1881).

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American historians consider the friendship of Alexander II and Lincoln a summit of US-Russian relations. They never met and were acquainted only by correspondence. There have been preserved 10 letters of the Russian emperor to the American president in French and Russian dated 1860-1864 (the originals are kept at the US National Archives) and Lincoln's letters to Alexander II (RF State Archives). Visitors could in detail examine "the stylistically brilliant messages both leaders of the nations exchanged," as James Symington said. The Russian tsar, in particular, informed the president on the birth of his son Grand Duke Pavel and his nephews grand dukes Mikhail, Vyacheslav, Georgi and Pyotr, ending each letter with a short phrase: "Your good friend." "My great and dear friend," Lincoln answered from Washington on September 26, 1862. "I received the letter Your Majesty sent to me on July 6 stating that on the 1st day of the month Her Imperial Highness Grand Duchess Alexandra Iosifovna, wife of the beloved brother of Your Majesty, His Imperial Highness Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolayevich, successfully delivered a son called Vyacheslav. Your Majesty reasonably estimates the feelings I have for this event, so important for Your Imperial Family... Please, take my cordial congratulations. I ask the God to protect you and your family. Your good friend A.L."

Both leaders dreamt of a better future for their countries, which is proved by documents of those times kept at the Foreign Policy Archieves of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Empire, Russian Archives of the Navy, State Archieves of the RF and the US National Archieves. Many of these documents made a part of the exposition. Here is a letter of Prince Alexander Gorchakov (classmate of the great poet Alexander Pushkin at the college), Foreign Minister of the Russian Empire, dated June 28/July 10, 1861, to Eduard de Stoeck, US Envoy to Russia: "Right from the start of the conflict that split the United States of America, our Sovereign has been monitoring evolution of the crisis. The Sovereign regretfully realizes that American citizens are ready to unleash a civil war in their country--this terrible scourge of political societies. For more than 80 years of its existence, the American Union has been obliged for its independence, its progress to the concord of opinions of its members, blessed by its famous founder (George Washington, the first US president.--Ed.), and institutions that managed to combine unity and freedom. It became an unprecedented example of prosperity...

In our opinion, the American Union is not only a significant component of global political stability, but it also represents a nation our Sovereign and the whole of Russia show friendly interest in, since two countries located at the ends of two worlds are as if united by natural solidarity of interests and sympathies, which has already been proved...

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I kindly ask you to speak out in this way before the President and members of the federal government."


According to the documents of the exposition, friendly relations of Alexander II and Lincoln played an important role at the critical moment of the Civil War in the USA. At the peak of confrontation between the northern and southern states, Russia turned out to be the only ally of the Americans, who gained independence not long ago, and Russian frigates sent to the USA by Alexander II prevented probable interference of the leading European states--England and France--in the bloody struggle. Documents shown at the exhibition give details of those events.

On September 24, 1863, the squadron of 3 frigates (Alexander Nevsky, Peresvet and Oslyabya), corvettes Varyag and Vityaz and a clipper Almaz with over 3,000 men on board led by Rear Admiral Stepan Lesovsky reached the port of New York. At the same time the squadron of 4 corvettes (Bogatyr, Kalevala, Rynda and Novik) and 2 clippers (Abrek and Gaidamak) under command of Rear Admiral Andrei Popov moored at San Francisco. Memo postcards representing the ships were exposed at the exhibition.

According to the historians, in the first days of the visit Russians attended numerous ceremonies and galas. A gala dinner was organized in honor of our naval officers at the White House. The State Secretary William Stuart wrote to the US Envoy to Russia Kley: "The President really wanted to show all cordiality and friendship the American nation feels to Russia... and I'm happy to say he managed to do so. Arrival of the Russian fleet was actively discussed in the American press. The Russian sailors did not remain in debt. Both squadrons hosted on board people of different social layers: mechanics, manufacturers and founders, who showed them their achievements and invited to visit their companies and plants. American doctors established friendly contacts with ships' physicians."

As a sign of special sympathy to the guests, the US authorities arranged a visit of a group of Russian seamen to the acting Potomac Army. Russian officers headed by Captain Ivan Butakov were heartily received by the Commander-in-Chief General George Mid.

Celebrations held in Boston on June 19, 1864, served as a final accord of hospitality. At the farewell dinner, the Mayor of the city said: "The Russian squadron brought neither weapons nor shells to subdue the revolt, but it brought more than that--a feeling of international fraternity and moral support." According to another speaker "Russia showed itself as a wise, permanent and reliable friend".

In 1866, the US naval squadron under command of the Deputy Minister of the Navy Gustav Fox made a return visit to Russia.

Visitors of the exhibition could see an address of thanks drawn up by the American delegation, including the famous American writer Mark Twain, served to Alexander II on August 26, 1867, after the meeting in Livadia. "Russia made a lot for America--we understand

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that and are grateful for its firm friendship in the hard years," Americans wrote.--"We pray to God hoping to preserve this friendship; we are absolutely confident that the US is and will always be grateful to Russia and its Sovereign; even a thought to betray this friendship purposely, by an unjust behavior or incorrect policy would be a treason..."


Alexander II and Lincoln were assassinated, which was another coincidence, unfortunately a tragic one, in their lives. In 1865, five days after the end of the Civil War, during the performance of My American Cousin, the actor John Wilkes Brut, an advocate of southerners, penetrated the president's box and shot Lincoln into the head. The president died unconscious in the morning of the next day. Sixteen years later, in 1881, Alexander II was assassinated by a terrorist. He died of a fatal wound on March 1 in the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg: a bomb thrown by Ignaty Grinevitsky on the embankment of Yekaterininsky Canal exploded right under his feet--that day the emperor was going to approve a draft constitution developed by the Russian military commander Mikhail Loris-Melikov.

130 years after the assassination, visitors of the exhibition could see the jacket of the Life-Guards of the Engineer Battalion (this relic was never exhibited outside the Hermitage before) and the sable (the State Museum of History), Alexander II wore that fatal day. Fragments of the bomb damaged the cloth, the decorated collar is torn away, there are traces of blood of the emperor-liberator on the sleeve... The drawing by Alexander Lebedev, who painted the monarch surrounded by his family after the terrorist attack and the portrait of Alexander II on his deathbed by the famous Russian artist Konstantin Makovsky (1881, kept at the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow) remind us of those tragic days.

In the next showcase, there is an unused ticket to the performance at the Ford Theater held on April 14, 1865, where the emancipator was fatally wounded, a life-time mask of Abraham Lincoln (1860) from the Chicago Museum of History, the drawing called The Death of Lincoln by Alexander Ritchie (1868) kept at the John Hay Memorial Library, the Brawn University (Providence, Rhode Island, USA), a pass to the Eastern Room of the president's residence in Washington for the funeral ceremony.

And the last remark: no one could simply pass by a five-meter high sculptural composition by the people's artist of Russia Alexander Burganov: it represents two leaders shaking hands. And though this gesture is historically incorrect (they never met), nevertheless, it fully corresponds to the nature and idea of the exhibition.


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