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Russian History: XX century

Russian History: XIX сentury

The Emancipation Manifesto, March 3 1861

Towards that end, We have deemed it advisable:

    * 1. To establish in each guberniia a special Office of Peasant Affairs, which will be entrusted with the affairs of the peasant land communes established on the estates of the nobility.
    * 2. To appoint in every uezd justices of the peace to solve all misunderstandings and disputes which may arise from the new arrangement, and to organise from these justices district assemblies.
    * 3. To organise Peace Offices on the estates of the nobles, leaving the peasant land communes as they are, and to open volost offices in the large villages and unite small peasant land communes under one volost office.
    * 4. To formulate, verify, and confirm in each village commune or estate a charter which would enumerate, on the basis of local conditions, the amount of land allotted to the peasants for permanent use, and the scope of their obligations to the nobleman for the land as well as for other advantages which are granted.
    * 5. To put these charters into practice as they are gradually approved on each estate, and to put them into effect everywhere within two years from the date of publication of this manifesto.
    * 6. Until that time, peasants and domestics must be obedient towards their nobles, and scrupulously fulfil their former obligations.
    * 7. The nobles will continue to keep order on their estates, with the right of jurisdiction and of police, until the organisation of volosts and of volost courts.

Aware of the unavoidable difficulties of this reform, We place Our confidence above all in the graciousness of Divine Providence, which watches over Russia.

We also rely upon the zealous devotion of Our nobility, to whom We express Our gratitude and that of the entire country as well, for the unselfish support it has given to the realisation of Our designs. Russia will not forget that the nobility, motivated by its respect for the dignity of man and its Christian love of its neighbour, has voluntarily renounced serfdom, and has laid the foundation of a new economic future for the peasants. We also expect that it will continue to express further concern for the realisation of the new arrangement in a spirit of peace and benevolence, and that each nobleman will realise, on his estate, the great civic act of the entire group by organising the lives of his peasants and his domestics on mutually advantageous terms, thereby setting for the rural population a good example of a punctual and conscientious execution of state regulations.

The examples of the generous concern of the nobles for the welfare of peasants, and the gratitude of the latter for that concern give Us the hope that a mutual understanding will solve most of the difficulties, which in some cases will be inevitable during the application of general rules to the diverse conditions on some estates, and that thereby the transition from the old order to the new will be facilitated, and that in the future mutual confidence will be strengthened, and a good understanding and a unanimous tendency towards the general good, will evolve.

To facilitate the realisation of these agreements between the nobles and the peasants, by which the latter may acquire in full ownership their domicile and their land, the government will lend assistance, under special regulations, by means of loans or transfer of debts encumbering an estate.

We rely upon the common sense of Our people. When the government advanced the idea of abolishing serfdom, there developed a partial misunderstanding among the unprepared peasants. Some were concerned about freedom and unconcerned about obligations. But, generally, the common sense of the country has not wavered, because it has realised that every individual who enjoys freely the benefits of society owes it in return certain positive obligations; according to Christian law every individual is subject to higher authority (Romans, chap. xiii, 1); everyone must fulfil his obligations, and, above all, pay tribute, dues, respect, and honour (Ibid., chap. xi, 7). What legally belongs to nobles cannot be taken away from them without adequate compensation, or through their voluntary concession; it would be contrary to all justice to use the land of the nobles without assuming responsibility for it.

And now We confidently expect that the freed serfs, on the eve of a new future which is opening to them, will appreciate and recognise the considerable sacrifices which the nobility has made on their behalf.

They should understand that by acquiring property and greater freedom to dispose of their possessions, they have an obligation to society and to themselves to live up to the letter of the new law by a loyal and judicious use of the rights which are now granted to them. However beneficial a law may be, it cannot make people happy if they do not themselves organise their happiness under protection of the law. Abundance is acquired only through hard work, wise use of strength and resources, strict economy, and above all, through an honest God-fearing life.

The authorities who prepared the new way of life for the peasants and who will be responsible for its inauguration will have to see that this task is accomplished with calmness and regularity, taking the timing into account in order not to divert the attention of cultivators away from their agricultural work. Let them zealously work the soil and harvest its fruits so that they will have a full granary of seeds to return to the soil which will be theirs.

And now, Orthodox people, make the sign of the cross, and join with Us to invoke God's blessing upon your free labour, the sure pledge of your personal well being and the public prosperity.

Given at St. Petersburg, March 3, the year of Grace 1861, and the seventh of Our reign. Alexander .

Source: From Polnoe sobranie zakonov Russkoi Imperii (Complete Collection of the Laws of the Russian Empire), 2nd Series, vol. 36, no. 36490, pp. 130-134.

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