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It had long been appreciated that some land reform was necessary.
It was not they, but the landlords, who were the beneficiaries.
This should not surprise us: after, it had been the dvoriane who had drafted the emancipation proposals.
Alexander declared that the basic aim of emancipation was to satisfy all those involved in serfdom, serfs and land owners alike: Called by Divine Providence We vowed in our hearts to fulfil the mission which is entrusted to Us and to surround with Our affection and Our Imperial solicitude all Our faithful subjects of every rank and condition.
Impressive though these freedoms first looked, it soon became apparent that they had come at a heavy price for the peasants.
The first step on that path would be the removal of serfdom, whose manifest inefficiency benefited neither lord, peasant, nor nation.
Alexander declared that, despite Russia’s defeat, the end of the war marked a golden moment in the nation’s history.The serfdom that had operated in Russia since the middle of the seventeenth century was technically not slavery. This contrasted with the system in the USA where the negro slaves were chattels; that is, they were regarded in law as the disposable property of their masters.In Russia the traditional relationship between lord and serf was based on land.Two years later it suffered a heavy defeat at the hands of the Allied armies of France, Britain and Turkey. The nation had always prided itself on its martial strength. By an odd twist of fate, defeat in the war proved of value to the new Tsar.Although he had been trained for government from an early age, foreign observers had remarked on how diffident and unsure he appeared. Coming to the throne in 1855 in the middle of the conflict, Alexander II was unable to save Russia from military failure, but the humiliation convinced him that, if his nation was to have stability and peace at home and be honoured abroad, military and domestic reforms were vitally necessary.It was because he lived on his land that the serf was bound to the lord.The Russian system dated back to 1649 and the introduction of a legal code which had granted total authority to the landowner to control the life and work of the peasant serfs who lived on his land.They were to express that loyalty in practical form by serving the tsar as military officers or public officials.In this way the Romanov emperors built up Russia’s civil bureaucracy and the armed services as bodies of public servants who had a vested interest in maintaining the tsarist state. Some, known as slavophiles, rejoiced, claiming that holy Russia was a unique God-inspired nation that had nothing to learn from the corrupt nations to the west.Tsar Alexander II (1855-81) shared with his father, Nicholas I, a conviction that American slavery was inhumane.This is not as hypocritical as it might first appear.