The Emancipation Manifesto, 1861

The Emancipation Manifesto of March 3, 1861 released serfs from their serfdom. However, this improvement of the peasant condition was emphasized as gradual, leading to the establishment of many temporary measures and statuses to ensure the process of serfdom abolishment went smoothly. For example, the peasants were still required to fulfill obligations to the nobles, so much so that they were “temporarily bound” to their nobles, which hardly seems different from their situation previously. Language regarding the nobility was extremely courteous, praising the nobility for their generous hearts in voluntarily renouncing serfdom, implying that the renouncement may not have been as “voluntary” as it was portrayed to be. Furthermore, the nobles were given the task of much of the reorganization of land, meaning it unlikely that these land allotments would be decided in the benefit of the peasants.  The repetition of words such as “sacrifice”, “greater good”, and “obligation” seek to remind the nobles that their first priority is to the Russian state, and, accordingly, to the abolishment of serfdom as being in the best interests of the Russian state.

How effective was this document in promoting change? Were the peasant’s lives improved within two years or made worse?

3 thoughts on “The Emancipation Manifesto, 1861

  1. I decided to look at Alexander II’s emancipation of the serfs compared to Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Initially what struck me was how they both open their statements by mentioning “God” (Alexander II) or “the Lord” (Lincoln). It brings to light the question on whether they are using a widely- believed in higher power as their motivation for ending these institutions, as a way of convincing the conservative and religious people to agree with these positions, or a combination of both (and if they weren’t doing this specifically for the religious reasons- but rather for purely moral reasons- did they feel that they were able to manipulate the idea of God to better their society?). However, because Lincoln recognizes this issue in the midst of the Civil War he names the states who must release slaves and puts their actions on a display of immorality; whereas, like Aubrey said, Alexander II attempts to woo the nobility by applauding them for their support of this decision (which most- likely was not the case) as he states that “Russia will not forget that the nobility, motivated by its respect for the dignity of man and its Christian love of its neighbor, has voluntarily renounced serfdom, and has laid the foundation of a new economic future for the peasants.”

  2. I had a similar question regarding religion. Especially at the beginning of the document, I noticed a repetition with the words “divine” and “divinity” when discussing the conclusion to emancipate the serfs. My question is to whom is Alexander II referring? Is he referring directly to God with an intent on divine rule, or did he make the decision for emancipating the serfs with the consensus of the Russian Orthodox Church (which seems unlikely, since they probably still had a great deal of serfs at this time)?

  3. I thought it was almost humorous how gingerly Alexander was talking about the nobility, as they had no guaranteed work force any more. It is interesting to see Alexander balance appeasement, like many of his predecessors, but finally be able to make that one last step to free the serfs. I also thought it was interesting that Alexander continued to press the issue of everything and everyone must benefit the state, like his predecessors.

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