I’ve read this old thread with interest. The debate's good while no constitutional lawyers nor anyone claiming to be an expert of this subject took part. Also, I suspect that if eminent historians, lawyers and the ROC had taken part, people’s views would still differ and no decisive conclusion would have been reached.
I’m no expert either and, while I’m always open to argument, and not immovably entrenched in a dogmatic stance, let me say right now; I entertain not the slightest doubt that Alexei died as the last Tsar of Russia.
For me, the question is not if, but when did Alexei become Tsar? And the answer surely lay with the alleged abdication of Nicholas II.
“Alleged abdication”? I know of Russians who believe that the abdication documents themselves are actually faked and that the Tsar’s signature on one or both of those documents is a forgery. You can peek at this detailed debate at: http://warandpeace.ru/ru/analysis/view/37814/
but be aware, it is in Russian. However, using Google Chrome with the ‘translate to English’ facility enabled, you might get the gist of the arguments there, the images of the “abdication documents” and showing the comparisons of Nicholas’s signatures. My understanding of the rough Google translation is quite limited, but I do find the arguments there quite compelling, nonetheless.
From that comes the first doubt. Did Nicholas actually abdicate on 15 March 1917 or was he merely presented with an elaborate fait accompli where, even if he did not sign, he was forced by circumstances to go along with it anyway?
As previously mentioned by AGRBear on this thread, my understanding is that there were two “abdications”, the first coming at 3pm on 15 March, and the second allegedly signed by Nicholas at 11.40pm, but then marked to be timed at 3pm like the first document.
In the first document, the alleged 3pm abdication, Nicholas reportedly named Alexei as his successor. He surely needn’t have bothered because the laws of succession where quite clearly supportive of Alexei’s automatic accession to the throne without any need for Nicholas to name Alexei as the new Tsar. But, of course, due to Alexei’s young age a regent did need to be appointed and Nicholas chose his brother, GD Michael for that role.
If that first alleged abdication document was legally made and signed by Nicholas, then the business was all done… Nicholas was no longer Tsar and Alexei was. It would make anything subsequently written by Nicholas null-and-void, for he simply wasn’t the Tsar any more.
But we can’t ignore the alleged “second abdication document” supposedly signed by Nicholas at 11.40pm on 15 March, but then timed to 3pm so that it could replace the first “abdication”. There, Nicholas names his brother, Grand Duke Michael, as his successor… as the new Tsar. If the first alleged 3pm abdication legally took place, then this second “11.40pm abdication” document cannot be legal by any stretch of imagination. But if the first alleged abdication didn’t happen, some argue that this second alleged abdication can be considered as therefore legal.
Personally, I doubt that. I do accept that a Tsar or King has a right to abdicate of his own free will. But then it’s really just as though he died. Thereafter, the laws of succession were quite clear; “The King is dead. Long live the King.” (just apply it to Tsars in this case), and the rightful successor was Alexei, whether he was ill or not. My opinion is that Nicholas simply could not appoint his successor. Sure, Tsars had a lot of power. But we are talking “Absolute Monarchy” here, and if you believe in Absolute Monarchy absolutely (which I don’t, but they did then) Tsars are appointed (and anointed, I guess) by God, and God alone. And God gave Russia her Tsars through birth, and birth alone. You could say that an Absolute Monarch is always put there by God as his representative on earth. Nicholas never claimed to be God, only God’s servant. Nicholas could not overrule God’s will (shown through Alexei’s birth) when it came to his (Nicholas’s) successor.
I fully accept that if the second alleged abdication took place (and the first alleged abdication didn’t happen), then Nicholas naming Grand Duke Michael as his successor, bypassing Alexei, was an act of love and consideration for Alexei’s wellbeing. But that does not make it legal.
Here I am, talking about an alleged two “abdications” of Nicholas, made on the same day, only hours apart. However, we should also look at the circumstances Nicholas found himself in at that moment.
A “confession” to any crime made and signed under duress would not be considered legal. That duress needn’t come from torture. Duress can be a threat to oneself or ones family (or the mere suggestion of such a threat). Duress can also be imposed by restricting a person’s freedom of movement, making them stay where they are until the confession is signed… if you like, a kind of false imprisonment without a prison.
That’s a confession, but I suggest it is exactly the same with an abdication. Here was Tsar Nicholas, anxiously making his way home to his beloved family who were being held as prisoners by revolutionaries. Surely he had to fear for their safety? I don’t suppose we shall ever know precisely what pressures or duress (if any) were placed upon Nicholas when his train was forcibly brought to a halt. All I can say is that the circumstances for the revolutionaries were ideal for them to make threats as to the wellbeing of the Tsar and his family, and even disallowing him to continue his journey until he signed documents which they presented to him would be unacceptable duress. An abdication freely made would be legal. I’m of the opinion that the conditions in this case are not conducive to any freely made decision from Tsar Nicholas. It follows, if that is the case, that anything said or signed there by the Tsar would not be legally binding.
If the first alleged abdication document of 15 March 1917 were legal, Alexei would then be Tsar (with Grand Duke Michael as Regent for a time) until Alexei either died or abdicated himself.
If that first alleged abdication document never existed, but the second one did, I am of the opinion that Nicholas could only abdicate for himself and not legally abdicate on behalf of Alexei.
Here, in either case, Alexei became Tsar until he died.
If any alleged abdication documents, or the signatures upon them are forgeries, no abdication took place.
If such documentation were genuine but was written and signed under unacceptable duress, no abdication took place.
Here, in either case Tsar Nicholas remained the Tsar until he was murdered at Ipatiev, whereupon Tsar Alexei II became Tsar for a few seconds or minutes until he too was murdered.
Unless I’m missing something fundamental here, whatever way you look at this, Alexei was Tsar when he died. All there really is to debate is for how long Alexei was the Tsar. He was the Tsar when he died. He was Russia’s true last Tsar.
It is somehow important to me personally that Alexei II was the last Tsar. Almost each and every previous Tsar of the dynasty had, (rightly or wrongly), been tainted by allegations of wrongdoing. This Tsar, Alexei II was, everyone agrees, a total innocent, not corrupted in any way, and with no blood on his hands whatsoever. This thought kind of appeals to every spiritual molecule of my psyche.