Tsar and President:
Two Reformers, Two Humanists

Emperor Alexander II and President Abraham Lincoln

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“Remembering and appreciating what Russia and America meant to each other” – such is the tacit motto of the exhibition, which is dedicated to two prominent political figures of the 19th century – Tsar Alexander II of Russia and The President of the United States Abraham Lincoln. The historical documentary exposition was already shown in the United States some time ago. And now, after new documents were added to the existing ones, it has opened in Moscow and will run until March 27th.

These two historical figures never met, but they actively exchanged letters. And still, American historians call their friendship “the peak of U.S. - Russian relations”. As regards their outward appearance, the two leaders hardly resembled each other in any way at all. Alexander II was a refined and elegant person, while Abraham Lincoln more resembled a simpler rural dweller. However, both of them were the leaders of their countries and both were reformers, which influenced the geopolitics of the times. The coordinator of the exposition and the Deputy Director of the State Archives of the Russian Federation Sergei Balan said in an interview with the Voice of Russia.

The two heads of state…One of them was born in a one room log cabin and the other one – in a palace. However both of them had tragic fates. Today , we should not forget that the two reformers made an outstanding contribution to world history.

The Tsar and the President exhibition enables visitors to have a look at rare documents and other items dating back to long ago, which remind us of the important historical events of the 19th century. Among the exhibits you can see two pens. One of them was used by Alexander II, while signing the Manifesto to abolish slavery in Russia, and the other one was used by President Abraham Lincoln 2 years later, when he put his signature on the Declaration to abolish slavery in the United States.

The Russian emperor considered the American president to be a humanist and felt respect for him. During the American Civil War Alexander II offered considerable support to Lincoln, who fought for the unification of Northern America and Southern States. “At that time, guided by the political, economic and cultural considerations of the moment, the European countries were ready to take the side of the South with its slave-owning system”, Sergei Balan says.

And as regards Russia, it unconditionally supported the North. Not only with dispatches and letters as such, but also with its fleet. Russia’s flotilla, under the command of Admirals Lisovsky and Popov entered the ports of New York and San Francisco. Although their warships didn’t take part in the hostilities, psychologically this circumstance was of great importance. At the exhibition in Moscow, you can see engravings and documents, showing Russia’s presence there. Incidentally, the Russian Navy’s archives have allowed us to display an Address of Gratitude by the residents of San Francisco. This was written after a fire broke out there in the autumn of 1863 and the courageous Russian sailors did their utmost to save the city.

Gradually the diplomatic relations between Alexander II and Abraham Lincoln developed into a personal friendship, continues Sergei Balan.

“My dear friend! My old friend!” – this is how Alexander II and Abraham Lincoln addressed each other. Alexander II told his friend about family affairs, about the births of children and deaths, including the death of the eldest son, the successor to the Russian throne. There is a copy of Lincoln’s letter to Alexander II, in which he asked to excuse him for not answering in time because he suffered a similar tragedy.

These two reformers and liberators, who did their utmost to ensure equal rights to their people and unbiased protection by the law, had much in common. This resemblance in their stories also accounts for their tragic ends. Their progressive views and deeds served as a motive for the murders of both of them. Abraham Lincoln was killed by those who were strongly opposed to reforms, and Alexander II was killed by terrorists.

The dress coat Alexander II wore on the day he was killed and the sabre which he had with him on that sorrowful day are kept as two relics, which present great significance to Russia’s history but which are kept in two different museums. Now after a 150- year lapse they have finally “met” at the exhibition in Moscow.

Source: The Voice of Russia
22 February, 2011