With the Dagger and Dynamite: The Creation of the Heroic Terrorist in the American Anti-tsarist Movement, 1881-1894

Contact between Russians and Americans was limited before the mid-nineteenth century because of the vast geographical and ideological differences between the countries. Americans relied on European sources for information on Russia and Russians. As the Russian revolutionary movement escalated with the introduction of terrorist violence against the autocracy, reports, often conflicting, filtered into the United States from a variety of sources. The need for reliable information was filled by the publication in New York of Free Russia, the organ of the London based Society of Friends of Russian Freedom, from 1891 to 1894. Though it never enjoyed large subscription numbers, Free Russia exerted its ideological influence by ensuring its articles were reprinted in major American publications. Through the efforts of men like American George Kennan and exiled Russian revolutionary terrorist Sergey Kravchinskii (pseudonym Sergius Stepniak), a network of influential individuals encouraged Americans to support all revolutionary efforts, despite their sometimes violent manifestations. Americans involved with the movement conceived of the Russian “Nihilist” as a selfless idealist worthy of support and respect. Incensed over eyewitness reports demonstrating the corrupt and unjust penal system of the autocracy, a number of Americans organized support and relief groups, often excusing acts of terrorism against the Russian state in light of the autocracy’s offences against its people. This paper charts the growth of the American anti-tsarist movement and focuses on the sources of information that encouraged Americans to see the heroism in revolutionary efforts.