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Tsar Alexander II of Russia (1818- 1881) ascended the throne during the Crimean War (1853-56),
a war that left Russia exhausted, corrupt and humiliated. A period of radical reform followed, with the intention of restoring strength and pride to the country. These reforms included the freeing of serfs in the Emancipation Manifesto of 1861, the introduction of universal military conscription (1874) and the introduction of Zemstvos, local self-governing councils, firstly in rural districts (1864) and then in large towns (1870). Despite these reforms, Alexander II was required to suppress the ‘January Uprising’ of Poles (1863-64) and declare martial law in Lithuania in 1863, which would last for the next 40 years. Alexander II was the target of assassination attempts in 1866, 1879 and 1880. On 13 March 1881, Alexander II was assassinated by the Narodnaya Volya (People’s Will) movement.