In their search for the origins of these Great Reforms, historians generally have focused upon two phenomena. The first of these was Russia's defeat in the Crimean War by a relatively small, ineptly commanded Allied expeditionary force. The second was the serf revolts, which increased dramatically in the 1850s. From these events, most historians have concluded that the economic failings of serfdom, the problem of preserving domestic peace, and the need to restore Russia's tarnished military prestige were the major forces that convinced Alexander II's government to embark upon a new reformist path.
As Lincoln's examination of the long-unstudied Russian archival evidence shows, there are good reasons to question whether such crises of policy and failings of Russia's servile economy impelled Alexander II and his advisers along a previously uncharted reformist path after the Crimean War. Further, in light of the Russian bureaucracy's slowness in drafting much less complex administrative reforms during the previous century, Lincoln argues that the Great Reform legislation simply was too complex and required too much sophisticated knowledge about the Empire's economic, administratvive, and judicial affairs to have been formulated in the brief half-decade after the war's end.