Nicholas was educated by private tutors and the reactionary Pobyedonostzev. Alexander III gave his son little training in affairs of state, and Nicholas proved to be a charming but ineffective and easily influenced ruler. In 1894 he married Princess Alix of Hesse (Alexandra Feodorovna).
Soon after his accession Nicholas stated that he intended to maintain the autocratic system. He continued the suppression of opposition, the persecution of religious minorities, and the Russification of the borderlands. Revolutionary movements were growing rapidly. The Social Democratic Labor party (later split into Bolshevism and Menshevism) was founded in 1898; the Socialist Revolutionary party was formed in 1901; the liberals pressed for constitutional government. In foreign affairs, Nicholas initiated the first of the Hague Conferences and supported an aggressive policy in E Asia.
The humiliating outcome of the Russo-Japanese War (1904–5) resulted in the peasant revolts, industrial strikes, and violent outbreaks known as the Revolution of 1905. In Jan., 1905, a crowd of workers who had come peaceably to petition the czar were fired upon in front of the Winter Palace; the government's action on that "Bloody Sunday" proved fateful. After the general strike of Oct., 1905, Count Witte, who soon became premier, induced Nicholas to sign a manifesto promising representative government and basic civil liberties. An elected duma and an upper chamber were set up, but neither the extreme revolutionaries nor the czar were disposed to support the parliament.
Nicholas soon curtailed the Duma and dismissed Witte in 1906, replacing him with I. A. Goremykin and then with P. A. Stolypin. The outbreak in 1914 of World War I briefly swept aside internal conflicts. In 1915, Nicholas took over the command of the army from Grand Duke Nicholas, leaving the czarina in virtual control at home. This act led to a constant stream of resignations from the ministers; their posts were filled by the sycophants of Alexandra, who was completely dominated by Rasputin until his murder in 1916.