Serfdom, which was basically slavery, had almost disappeared in Western Europe by the 1700s, but stubbornly remained in other parts of the world; in particular Russia.
By 1855, there was strong support for the abolition of Serfdom within the Ministry of the Interior and a large number of landowners were of the same opinion. Even Nicholas I acknowledged that it had to be end.
Main reasons for the Emancipation Manifesto were:
- The rising population and an inefficient agricultural system meant that the serfs could no longer produce enough grain to provide for themselves as well as supply their masters with a surplus for sale.
- The nobility itself was falling into debt, by 1860 60% of private serfs were mortgaged to the State. As the nobles tried to drive their peasants harder, so the murders of landowners and bailiffs grew and serfdom became a source of disorder.
- It was also clear that the reorganisation of the army required the replacement of conscripted serfs with proper 'citizen soldiers'.
- It was believed that free peasants would have a greater incentive to work the land effectively. They would therefore provide a grain surplus, and the sale of this grain would provide money for investment. Investment and a more mobile peasantry, some of whom would move to the towns in search of work, would in turn encourage industrialisation and a greater prosperity.
- There was also a growing sense that slavery was an unethical system.
How it was carried out
In March 1856, Alexander II declared his intention to 'abolish serfdom from above rather than…