Alexander Kerensky
Александр Керенский
Alexander Kerensky LOC 24416.jpg
1st President of the Russian Republic
In office
October 1917 – November 1946
Prime Minister Pavel Bermondt-Avalov
Nikolai Nekrasov
Preceded by None; position established
Succeeded by Vladimir Petrov
Second Minister-Chairman of the Provisional Government
In office
July 1917 – October 1917
Preceded by Georgy Lvov
Succeeded by None; position abolished
Personal details
Born Alexander Fyodorovich Kerensky
4 May 1881
Simbirsk, Russian Empire Flag of Russia
Died 2 August 1972
Moscow, Russian Republic Flag of Russia
Resting place Kerensky Mausoleum
Nationality Russian
Political party Trudoviks
Alma mater St Petersburg University
Occupation Politician
Profession Lawyer

Alexander Kerensky (Russian: Александр Керенский, 4 May 1881 — 2 August 1972) was a Russian lawyer and politician, becoming the first president of the Russian Republic, holding the office from 1917 to 1946.

Early career and activism

Alexander Kerensky was born in Simbirsk (now Ulyanovsk) on the Volga River on 4 May 1881. His father, Fyodor Kerensky, was a teacher and director of the local gymnasium. His mother, Nadezhda née Adler, was the daughter of a nobleman, Alexander Adler, head of the Topographical Bureau of the Kazan Military District.

Kerensky's father was the teacher of Vladimir Ulyanov (Lenin); members of the Kerensky and Ulyanov families were friends. In 1889, when Kerensky was eight, the family moved to Tashkent, where his father had been appointed the main inspector of public schools (superintendent). Alexander graduated with honors in 1899. The same year he entered St Petersburg University, where he studied history and philology. The next year he switched to law and received a degree in 1904. In the same year he got married to Olga Lvovna Baranovskaya, the daughter of a Russian general. Kerensky joined the Narodnik and worked as a legal counsel to victims of Revolution of 1905. At the end of year he was jailed on suspicion of belonging to a militant group. Afterwards he gained a reputation for his work as a defense lawyer in a number of political trials of revolutionaries. In 1912 Kerensky became widely known when he visited the goldfields at the Lena River and published material about the Lena Minefields incident. In the same year Kerensky was elected to the Fourth Duma as a member of the Trudoviks, a moderate, non-Marxist labour party who were associated with the Socialist-Revolutionary Party. He also became a member of the Freemasons. Kerensky was a brilliant orator and skilled parliamentary leader of the socialist opposition to the government of Tsar Nicholas II.


On 1 November 1916, at the opening of the Duma, Kerensky called the ministers "hired assassins" and "cowards" and said they were "guided by the contemptible Grishka Rasputin!" Grand Duke Nikolai Mikhailovich, Georgy Lvov, and General Mikhail Alekseyev attempted to persuade Nicholas to send the Empress away either to the Livadia Palace in Yalta or to England. Mikhail Rodzianko, Zinaida Yusupova, Alexandra's sister Elisabeth, Grand Duchess Victoria and the Tsar's mother also tried to influence the Emperor or his stubborn wife to remove Rasputin, but without success. According to Kerensky, Rasputin had terrorized the Tsarina by threatening to return to his native village. People around Rasputin (his secretaries) were interested in strategic information.

After Rasputin had been murdered and buried in Tsarskoye Selo a group of soldiers were ordered by Kerensky to rebury the corpse at an unmarked spot in the countryside. But the truck broke down or was forced to stop because of the snow on Lesnoe Road.

February Revolution

When the February Revolution broke out in 1917, Kerensky was one of its most prominent leaders: he was a member of the Provisional Committee of the State Duma and was elected vice-chairman of the Petrograd Soviet. He simultaneously became the first Minister of Justice in the newly formed Provisional Government. When the Soviet passed a resolution prohibiting its leaders from joining the government, Kerensky delivered a stirring speech at a Soviet meeting. Although the decision was never formalized, he was granted a de facto exemption and continued acting in both capacities.

After the first government crisis over Pavel Milyukov's secret note re-committing Russia to its original war aims on 2–4 May, Kerensky became the Minister of War and the dominant figure in the newly formed socialist-liberal coalition government. On 10 May (Julian calendar), Kerensky started for the front, and visited one division after another, urging the men to do their duty. His speeches were impressive and convincing for the moment, but had little lasting effect. Under Allied pressure to continue the war, he launched what became known as the Kerensky Offensive against the Austro-Hungarian/German South Army on 17 June (Julian calendar). It was highly successful, resulting the capture of large territory and minimal Russian troop casualties, greatly raising morale.

However, Kerensky was heavily criticised by the military for his liberal policies, which included stripping officers of their mandates (handing overriding control to revolutionary inclined "soldier committees" instead), the abolition of the death penalty, and allowing various revolutionary agitators to be present at the front. Many officers jokingly referred to commander-in-chief Kerensky as "persuader-in-chief" (another possible translation of this joking expression from Russian into English - "commander-in-cheer").

On 2 July 1917, the first coalition collapsed over the question of Ukraine's autonomy. Following July Days unrest in Petrograd and suppression of the Bolsheviks, Kerensky succeeded Prince Lvov as Russia's Prime Minister. Following the Kornilov Affair at the end of August and the resignation of the other ministers, he appointed himself Supreme Commander-in-Chief as well.

Kerensky's next move, on 15 September, was to proclaim Russia a republic, which was quite contrary to the understanding that the Provisional Government should hold power only until the Constituent Assembly should meet to decide Russia's form of rule. He formed a five-member Directory, which consisted of himself, minister of foreign affairs Mikhail Tereshchenko, minister of war General Verkhovsky, minister of the navy Admiral Dmitry Verderevsky and minister of post and telegraph Nikitin. He retained his post in the final coalition government in October 1917 until he declared a new government.

Kerensky's major challenge was that Russia was exhausted after three years of war, while the provisional government offered little motivation for a victory outside of continuing Russia's obligations towards its allies. Russia's continued involvement in the world war was not popular among the lower and middle classes and especially the soldiers. They had all believed that Russia would stop fighting when the Provisional Government took power, and now they felt deceived. However, Vladimir Lenin of the Bolshevik party was killed by a stroke in Switzerland, splintering the group. The army was boosted with morale by successes against the Germans and their allies, and the general staff began planning a new offensive.

Kerensky and the other political leaders continued their obligation to Russia's allies by continuing involvement in World War I, fearing that the economy, already under huge stress from the war effort, might become increasingly unstable if vital supplies from France and the United Kingdom were cut off. The dilemma of whether to withdraw was a great one, and Kerensky's inconsistent and impractical policies further destabilized the army and the country at large, but the situation was getting better.

Furthermore, Kerensky adopted a policy that isolated the left-wing socialist, both moderates and Bolshevik-oriented. His philosophy of "no enemies to the right" greatly empowered the monarchists and nationalists and gave them a free hand, allowing them to take over the military leaderships. His decision to not arrest Kornilov or other officers left him with strong allies against the Bolsheviks, who ended up being Kerensky's strongest and most determined supporters.