Author Topic: Should Nicholas have refused to abdicate?  (Read 10652 times)

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Offline edubs31

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Should Nicholas have refused to abdicate?
« on: April 12, 2013, 11:14:48 AM »
I'm sort of thinking out loud here but was wondering if anyone would care to comment. I was considering starting a topic on Abdication and how often in modern history it has worked out for the better, but decided to keep the focus mainly on Nicholas II's abdication in 1917.

Many rulers have abdicated throughout history and there have been various reasons why they have done so. Sometimes relating to something as simple as old age or failing health, other times becomes their empire was crumbling before their very eyes. I'm curious as to how often abdications in modern history have positively affected the course of events, how often they have had a mostly negative impact, and how often has it made little to no difference.

I've found the abdication of Nicholas II to be a rather curious case, and perhaps a good example of the difficulties involved in judging the success or failure of any abdication. There was little positive that came from the Tsar's abdication other than it allowed for his country to momentarily rejoice before the onslaught of the inevitable Civil War. One could easily argue however that his abdication meant little by March of 1917 since it was obvious to most (with the rapidly deteriorating situation in Russia) that he would either give up power voluntarily or be overthrown. The argument against the logic of his abdication comes from those who bear witness to the eventual Red victory in the Civil War and subsequently brutal Soviet regime.

Would Russia have been better served if Nicholas refused to abdicate but instead, with whatever loyalty he still commanded and resources he had left, launched a military invasion of St. Petersburg designed at restoring order? If there was even a slight chance of success would it have been worth the risk? Nicholas could have continued to reign, already having accepted (finally!) political concessions and the appointment of a responsible government (i.e. a strengthening of the Duma) to help guide Russia through the war and past any revolution.

Yes, no, maybe?
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Offline TimM

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Re: Should Nicholas have refused to abdicate?
« Reply #1 on: April 12, 2013, 11:27:49 AM »
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Would Russia have been better served if Nicholas refused to abdicate but instead, with whatever loyalty he still commanded and resources he had left, launched a military invasion of St. Petersburg designed at restoring order?

That was the main problem, Nicholas had lost the support of the military.  Had he said "Hell no, I'm not abdicating!"  They probably would have tossed him into prison somewhere.  By this point, solders were shooting their commanding officers and rioting.  There simply weren't enough left on the side of the Tsar for him to resist.
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Offline edubs31

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Re: Should Nicholas have refused to abdicate?
« Reply #2 on: April 12, 2013, 11:50:36 AM »
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Would Russia have been better served if Nicholas refused to abdicate but instead, with whatever loyalty he still commanded and resources he had left, launched a military invasion of St. Petersburg designed at restoring order?

That was the main problem, Nicholas had lost the support of the military.  Had he said "Hell no, I'm not abdicating!"  They probably would have tossed him into prison somewhere.  By this point, solders were shooting their commanding officers and rioting.  There simply weren't enough left on the side of the Tsar for him to resist.

Certainly that makes sense. But I'm struck at how spontaneously the revolution developed. Sure it was decades in the making, but when violence and protests broke out and when regiments abandoned the government to join the ranks of their comrades even the preeminent revolutionaries themselves, living mostly abroad at this point, were equal parts surprised and thrilled.

One day there were bread lines, grumblings, and occasional reports of violence, and then the next there was full scale rebellion. Anything that transforms this quickly leads me to believe that it is also extremely disorganized and vulnerable to a counter-attack. If there was anything less than mass confusion the Bolsheviks probably could never have seized power in the first place. So I wonder how successful a Nicholas ordered assault aimed at retaking his capital and securing (at least temporarily) his throne would have been had it been launched in the first few days after the riots began?

Back to my original question. Had Nicholas been thinking clearly...Had he realized that abdication would mean the end of the Romanov dynasty and, probably, the semi-autocracy altogether. Had he realized that no provisional government could have held together all the opposing factions of society and that Russia was destined to plunge into civil war. Had he realized that he and his family would be imprisoned, probably (he and Alix) tried for crimes, and possibly executed...would he not simply have ordered the invasion, crossed his fingers, and hoped for the best?
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Offline TimM

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Re: Should Nicholas have refused to abdicate?
« Reply #3 on: April 12, 2013, 12:11:42 PM »
Yeah, I could see that happening.  Had Nicholas realized the full scope, he might have been willing to throw the dice to see where they might land.  I don't know if it could have saved the autocracy, probably not.  However, it might have bought Nicholas more time for him and his family to get out of Russia.  Or perhaps, as you said, a compromise might have been reached, Nicholas keeps his throne, but as a Constitutional Monarch, no more autocracy.   
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Offline edubs31

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Re: Should Nicholas have refused to abdicate?
« Reply #4 on: April 12, 2013, 01:05:08 PM »
I've taken the liberty creating a list of other notable abdications that have come about since the start of the 19th century. I'm assessing whether each abdicated ultimately had a positive, negatives, or mixed impact on the affairs of one's respective country. I'll be adding to it periodically...

1802 - Charles Emanuel IV, King of Sardinia
1821 - Victor Emmanuel I, King of Sardinia
1848 - Charles Albert, King of Sardinia


I'd categorize these three abdications of Kings of Sardinia as having an positive impact in the course of history for Sardinia and, ultimately, Italy. Charles Emanuel was ill equipped to be King and could not overcome the death of his wife. He wisely abdicated in 1802 in favor of his younger brother Victor who reigned for nineteen years until he too abdicated. Those were under different circumstances as the liberal revolution forced his hand. The crown then fell to Charles Felix who died after a ten year reign in 1831 and was eventually succeeded by Charles Albert. Facing a losing war with Austria abroad and revolution at home he abdicated his throne in favor of his son, Victor Emmanuel II, one of the most successful monarchs in recent history and the eventual ruler of the reunified Italy in 1861. Verdict - Positive

1806 - Francis II, Holy Roman Emperor
1848 - Ferdinand I, Emperor of Austria


Francis II reigned over Germany and Austria from 1792-1835 with varying levels of success and failure. He abdicated his title as "Holy Roman Emperor" in 1806 but his reigned contained for another twenty-nine years. His son Ferdinand I was a dolt whose reign nearly ended in disaster. He was famously believed to have said "but are they allowed to do that" in response to revolutionaries who marching toward the palace. Ferdinand was wisely convinced to abdicate his throne in 1848, living the remainder of his 82-years in comfort, and turned it over to Franz Joseph who reigned for 67-years. Verdict - Positive

1808 - Charles IV, King of Spain

A King known for his limited abilities Charles faced opposition at home and the dominating influence of Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon forced both the abdication of he and his son Ferdinand in 1808 clearing a path for Napoleon's brother Joseph Bonaparte to declare himself King of Spain. After a series of military setbacks Napoleon was forced to recognize Ferdinand as the true King of Spain in 1813. The latter part of his reign was largely viewed a disaster. It did eventually pave the way for his daughter Isabella II to rule upon his death in 1833. Verdict - Mixed

1809 - Gustav IV Adolf of Sweden

Gustav IV lost Finland to Russia and suffered a series of setbacks against Napoleon's armies. A coup d'etat wisely removed him from power and installed his son at the throne. However the army declared his son to be unacceptable as well and instead his uncle Charles was declared King of Sweden after accepting a new liberal constitution and other reforms. Charles XIII reigned for less than nine years but successfully. He oversaw the Union of Sweden and Norway and spent the final 39-months of his reign, before dying in 1818, as ruler of both Sweden and Norway. Verdict - Positive
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Offline TimM

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Re: Should Nicholas have refused to abdicate?
« Reply #5 on: April 12, 2013, 03:05:55 PM »
Well, the verdict of Nicholas abdicating was certainly negative.
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Offline blessOTMA

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Re: Should Nicholas have refused to abdicate?
« Reply #6 on: April 12, 2013, 10:25:19 PM »
A large part of the problem ,I believe, was Nicholas wanted to abdicate . I believe he also thought civil war would be avoided, but  imo, he wanted the burden lifted. It had become beyond his strength.  I always maintain his being at HQ itself was a type of pre-abdication . He regretted it later, but it was too late of course. 

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Re: Should Nicholas have refused to abdicate?
« Reply #7 on: April 12, 2013, 10:27:55 PM »
No. As it's been mentioned, he'd lost the support of the military. I think if anything, refusing to abdicate would have brought about his end quicker. Maybe not that of his family, but I think those who were rioting in the city would have been spurred to violence on the tsar.
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Offline Jen_94

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Re: Should Nicholas have refused to abdicate?
« Reply #8 on: April 13, 2013, 06:15:11 AM »
Definitely not, no. Abdicaitng was a good idea, especially if he wanted to do it and plus, he had lost the support of the people.

Offline edubs31

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Re: Should Nicholas have refused to abdicate?
« Reply #9 on: April 13, 2013, 09:52:04 AM »
Thanks for your replies.

I'm still not convinced. Certainly hindsight is 20-20 and had Nicholas realized the his own fate and that of both his family and country one would have to believe he'd have rolled the dice and pressed ahead with military action. I'll have to go and look back over some of my readings, but do we know for certain that the Tsar didn't command enough support to launch a counter-attack against the revolution in its early stages?

The fact that he was at HQ and most of his loyal subjects off fighting on the front is largely the reason why the revolution was successful in the first place. We also know that Nicholas had finally consented to changes in the government. Had Nicholas rallied what was left of his loyal troops and publicly promised a "responsible government" appointed once tensions subsided could he have put down the revolution?

I don't believe the "loyalty of the people" argument rests on a solid foundation. After Bloody Sunday Nicholas supposedly didn't have the loyalty of the people either and yet that didn't stop them from rallying around their Tsar like a conquering hero nine years later at the start of WWI. The Bolsheviks never obtained anything near a majority of the support of the people, and even the Nazi's never cracked 44% of the popular vote in any election...yet it didn't stop either of them from coming into power.

My first point? The will and loyalty of the people is perhaps a bit overrated. Most will fall back in line once they realize their efforts at regime overthrow (violent or not) can be sufficiently repelled, so long as they are given some small ounce of hope...and the promises Nicholas appeared ready to make would have been that hope. What's more, it's not like the Duma had the loyalty of the people either.

Into this confused mess stepped Kerensky, Lvov, Lenin, Trotsky, Kamenev, etc. The latter three of course representing the Bolsheviks and Petrograd Soviet. The most renowned of all, Lenin, was in Switzerland finishing up lunch and ready to head to a library (probably to philosophize more about a revolution that he wasn't part of and wasn't, to that point, happening) when he got the news of the revolution taking place in his homeland. Lenin couldn't even find his way back to Russia and needed others to negotiate safe passage (with the assistance of Germany) for him. The Provisional Government had an arrest warrant out for him. I read elsewhere that he once forced to hide from authorities in a barn. Another time he barely got past a surprise check point in the back seat of a car because the policeman/guard thought he looked too disheveled to be anyone of great significance!

My other point? No one planned more for the revolution than Vladimir Ilyich. Certainly not the disgruntled Russians in the bread lines or the regiments in Petrograd who spontaneously, and reluctantly in certain instances, finally turned their backs to the Tsar. Yet in spite of this Lenin had almost nothing to do with the events of March, 1917, and only with a lot of dumb luck was he able to avoid arrest, return home, and lead the movement. Bottom line is that the revolution in its early stages was extremely disorganized and vulnerable. And had Nicholas shown some muscle while appeasing (temporarily at least) the Duma via the concessions he was already prepared to make, I feel like he could hung onto power as an unpopular (think George W. Bush circa-2008) but semi-stable leader.
« Last Edit: April 13, 2013, 09:55:17 AM by edubs31 »
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Offline blessOTMA

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Re: Should Nicholas have refused to abdicate?
« Reply #10 on: April 13, 2013, 11:54:09 AM »
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Certainly hindsight is 20-20 and had Nicholas realized the his own fate and that of both his family and country one would have to believe he'd have rolled the dice and pressed ahead with military action.

Sadly you are talking about someone else besides Nicholas II. If he was capable of this , imo he would not have found himself on that train in March of 1917 awaiting the Duma officials in the frist place.  There was no Russian Revolution. There was a Romanov collapse and something else rushed into the void.

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Offline TimM

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Re: Should Nicholas have refused to abdicate?
« Reply #11 on: April 13, 2013, 12:13:58 PM »
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Had Nicholas rallied what was left of his loyal troops and publicly promised a "responsible government" appointed once tensions subsided could he have put down the revolution?


Hard to say, it depends on how much support he could get.  At that point, to say it was iffy would be an understatement.
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Offline blessOTMA

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Re: Should Nicholas have refused to abdicate?
« Reply #12 on: April 13, 2013, 12:43:58 PM »
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Had Nicholas rallied what was left of his loyal troops and publicly promised a "responsible government" appointed once tensions subsided could he have put down the revolution?

I don't think he would have been believed at that point. The many, many calls for a "responsible government" had gone unheeded for such a long time, that finally  a "responsible government" cobbled together from other sources was  now  driving up to Nicholas's  train . History had stopped waiting for him to see and understand. 

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Offline edubs31

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Re: Should Nicholas have refused to abdicate?
« Reply #13 on: April 13, 2013, 03:39:50 PM »
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There was no Russian Revolution. There was a Romanov collapse and something else rushed into the void.

Very well said Anne! It's too bad that "responsible government" never appeared to take the place of the Monarchy. Perhaps Nicholas and Alexandra had more foresight than we give them credit for...Russia clearly wasn't ready to leave the autocracy behind altogether (I'm not sure they are still).

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I don't think he would have been believed at that point. The many, many calls for a "responsible government" had gone unheeded for such a long time, that finally  a "responsible government" cobbled together from other sources was  now  driving up to Nicholas's  train . History had stopped waiting for him to see and understand.

Also a good point. It's worth noting that many members of the Duma were shocked and saddened when Nicholas dissolved the First Duma due to his dissatisfaction. It's understandable then that if they believed Nicholas was ready to change course in 1905 and did not, that they would not believed him a second time in 1917. That said had he launched a military campaign with whatever loyal resources he had left, stopped the rioting and protests in St. Petersburg and then followed it by signing a decree that officially transformed Russia into a Constitutional Monarchy (as opposed to the semi-Autocracy it was between 1905-1917), I wonder if many would have responded positively to such a bold measure.

There would have been nothing ingenious or heroic about this plan. It simply would have been a different course of action that I believe may have still been on the table for the Tsar. On one hand I admire him more for not doing this. As it would have shed innocent blood for no other reason than for he to retain his throne. On the other hand, and considering how events unfolded, I wish he could have grown a spine and done what was necessary not only for his throne but ultimately the good of his country.

He just didn't have it in him. Alexandra kept pushing him to be more firm with his ministers and advisers. Her advice might ought to have been followed this time.
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Offline TimM

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Re: Should Nicholas have refused to abdicate?
« Reply #14 on: April 13, 2013, 03:43:49 PM »
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Perhaps Nicholas and Alexandra had more foresight than we give them credit for...Russia clearly wasn't ready to leave the autocracy behind altogether (I'm not sure they are still).

I don't think any reasonable Russian would have wanted the likes of Joe Stalin, who made even the worst Tsar seem like a playground bully.  Of course, this is hindsight speaking.
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