This morning I sent a note and the following to Gov. Daugaard as he thinks more this weekend about this execution on Monday. It is from my Ph.D dissertation. It’s the story of Tolstoy writing a letter to the Tsar to stop six executions. Here’s the backstory…

CZAR’S ASSASSINATION, 1881.
The assassination of Czar Alexander II at the Catherine Canal in St. Petersburg, 13 March 1881: contemporary wood engraving.

5.2 Letter #257; To the Emperor Alexander III, 8-15 March 1881

Tolstoy’s letter to Emperor Alexander III demonstrates the scope of Tolstoy’s Sermon on the Mount application extended to the furtherest point of application; that the Sermon on the Mount is best course for Tsars and nation-states also. In his letter to Alexander III appealing for mercy on behalf of the soon to be executed assassins of the Tsar’s father Alexander II, Tolstoy pens with passion and prophetic clarity a letter quite comparable to Martin Luther King Jr’s famous and widely-circulated Letter from a Birmingham Jail (King’s 1963 open letter written to fellow clergymen to defend his strategy of nonviolent resistance in the fight against racism). Alternatively it could be seen as Tolstoy’s Philemon in that as the Apostle Paul penned a mercy plea for Onesimus the runaway slave, Tolstoy penned a mercy plea for the doctrine of Jesus to be applied to matters of civil, criminal and social justice. Tolstoy’s letter to the Tsar has had virtually no circulation and consideration by Christians or people in government. This must change so a new generation can consider his prophetic epistle.
On the first of March 1881 in Petersburg, six members of the revolutionary party, The People’s Will, assassinated Tsar Alexander II. A little white package wrapped in a handkerchief was tossed on his carriage and exploded. He survived that initial explosion and emerged from the carriage unharmed, however the team of assassins had a second and third bomb ready and it was the second explosion that took down the Tsar. With his face mutilated, disemboweled and with his legs blown away, members of the Romanov family and a physician rushed to the scene. Lying in the snow, the Tsar bled to death shortly after being given Communion and Last Rites. The reaction to the assassination was violent on both sides. The new Tsar Alexander III, having witnessed his father’s gory demise, immediately ordered the suppression of civil liberties in Russia and a mean wave of police brutality ensued. Revolutionaries and anarchists took “their inspiration from the murder of Czar Alexander II in 1881, advocated ‘propaganda by deed’—the use of a spectacular act of violence to incite revolution.”
During the trial and execution preparations to come, as violence was begetting more violence, Tolstoy had another one of his prophetic dreams; “he lay down in his study one day after dinner, fell asleep and dreamed vividly that he was both the executioner and the victim in the punishment of the assassins.” Upon waking from this dream Tolstoy wrote his letter to Alexander III asking for mercy for those who killed the Tsar’s father. Initially the letter was blocked by Konstantin Petrovich Pobedonostsev, the Orthodox Church official and advisor in the Emperor’s court. Through an emissary, Tolstoy redirected the letter around the hostile and bloodthirsty church official to get it into the hands of the Tsar. After reading the letter, the Tsar sent an informal reply to Tolstoy to convey that because the criminal act was not against himself but against his father, he felt it was not in his right to pardon them.
Thirty-four days after the assassination, the assassins, one of whom was a General’s daughter, were executed. Unlike Tolstoy’s Letter to a Hindoo which was warmly welcomed in India and, through Gandhi, profoundly influenced an entire nation to heed the non-violent doctrine of Jesus, Tolstoy’s letter to the Tsar, to date, has had no discernible effect or further circulation. Had Russia heeded Tolstoy’s prophetic word (the doctrine of Jesus) as did India, perhaps they also would have known a peaceful revolution and been spared the horrible bloodbath to come.
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