Emancipation of Serfdom 1861


Why was there need for Reform?

  • Unification of Germany 1871
  • The Crimean War - lacked sufficient infrastructure, modern arms and lack of funds for war. Treaty of Paris 1856 led to loss of territory. The war also brought high inflation 
  • The Crimean War made it politically possible for reform, but deprived resources for effective change. 
  • Serfdom seemed to the Slavophiles as the key to the problem - "serfdom is a shackle which we drag around with us and holds us back when others are racing ahead." - Boris Chicherin 
  • Emancipation of serfdom made it possible to implement other reforms - educational, legal, conscription, taxation and censorship.
1 of 4

Why was there need for Reform? (2)

"We are a great and powerless country" - Alexsandr Gorchakev, 1876. 

If reform was done effectively, it would mark the end of kinship, tribute, patronage, hierarchy and would switch to the rule of law, meritocracy, personal rights and taxation of wealth

Alexander II was cautious and conservative, but saw the need for reform. 

2 of 4

The Process and Consequences

19th February 1861

  • Freeing serfs was the key to the whole process, as serfdom had cemented the whole framework of the system for 2 centuries 
  • Peasants and landowners had conflicting views. Government insisted that the peasants much own land, but also reserved substantial landholdings for landowners and gentry
  • Village commune and volost - elected elders and officials sustained the framework of state service. Responded to law and order. 
  • The volost was a peasant institution - a segerated class. Important peasant decisions were imposed from the outside, being alien to their world. 
3 of 4


  • Complex measures which satisfied nobody and left grievances. Freed roughly half of Russian peasants from personal boundage. Peasants should have been considered full citizens, but this was not the case within the political climate. 
  • The landowners received compensation for the land that they had "lost" and were allowed to keep a third of the land. 
  • Peasants were frustrated - land had been taken away from them and the land that they got to keep, they had to pay for. God's land was now subject to monetary exchange. 
  • Peasants become self-governing by bounds of joint responsbility and corporal punishment. This did give them renewed dependence. 
  • In economc sense, the emancipation marked the beginning of a period of decline for the landed gentry. Between 1862-1905, landholding reduced from 87 million to 50 millon. 
4 of 4


No comments have yet been made

Similar History resources:

See all History resources »See all Russian Autocracy in the 19th Century resources »