Emancipation reform of 1861

A 1907 painting by Boris Kustodiev depicting Russian serfs listening to the proclamation of the Emancipation Manifesto in 1861

The Emancipation Reform of 1861 in Russia, also known as the Emancipation Edict of Russia, (Russian: Крестьянская реформа 1861 года, romanizedKrestyanskaya reforma 1861 goda – "peasants' reform of 1861") was the first and most important of liberal reforms passed during the reign (1855–1881) of Emperor Alexander II of Russia. The reform effectively abolished serfdom throughout the Russian Empire.

The 1861 Emancipation Manifesto proclaimed the emancipation of the serfs on private estates and of the domestic (household) serfs. By this edict more than 23 million people received their liberty.[1] Serfs gained the full rights of free citizens, including rights to marry without having to gain consent, to own property and to own a business. The Manifesto prescribed that peasants would be able to buy the land from the landlords. Household serfs were the least affected: they gained only their freedom and no land.

In Georgia the emancipation took place later, in 1864, and on much better terms for the nobles than in Russia. The serfs were emancipated in 1861, following a speech given by Tsar Alexander II on 30 March 1856.[2] State owned serfs, i.e., those living on Imperial lands, were emancipated later, in 1866.


Prior to 1861 Russia had two main categories of peasants:[citation needed]

Only those who were owned privately were considered serfs. They comprised an estimated 38% of the population.[3] As well as having obligations to the state, they also were obliged to the landowner, who had great power over their lives.

The rural population lived in households (dvory, singular dvor), gathered as villages (derevni; a derevnya with a church became a selo), run by a mir ('commune', or obshchina)—isolated, conservative, largely self-sufficient and self-governing units scattered across the land every 10 km (6.2 mi) or so. Imperial Russia had around 20 million dvory, forty percent of them containing six to ten people.[citation needed]

Intensely insular, the mir assembly, the skhod (sel'skii skhod), appointed an elder (starosta) and a 'clerk' (pisar) to deal with any external issues. Peasants within a mir shared land and resources. The fields were divided among the families as nadel ("allotment")—a complex of strip plots, distributed according to the quality of the soil. The strips were periodically redistributed within the villages to produce level economic conditions. The land however, was not owned by the mir; the land was the legal property of the 100,000 or so landowners ( pomeshchiks, an equivalent of "landed gentry") and the inhabitants, as serfs, were not allowed to leave the property where they were born. The peasants were duty-bound to make regular payments in labor and goods. It has been estimated[by whom?] that landowners took at least one third of income and production by the first half of the nineteenth century.[4]