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Emancipation, Edict of

Emancipation, Edict of, 1861, the mechanism by which Czar Alexander II freed all Russian serfs (one third of the total population). All personal serfdom was abolished, and the peasants were to receive land from the landlords and pay them for it. The state advanced the money to the landlords and recovered it from the peasants in 49 annual sums known as redemption payments. Until redemption began, the law provided for a period of "temporary obligation," during which the peasants held the land but paid for it in money or in labor. That initial stage dragged on for nearly 20 years in some regions. In many areas the peasants had to pay more than the land was worth, while in other areas they were given small plots, and many chose to accept "beggarly allotments"—i.e., one fourth of the prescribed amount of land without any monetary obligations. The peasants' landholdings were controlled by the mir, or village commune. The mir was responsible for redemption payments and periodically redistributed the land to meet the changing needs of the various households. The provisions concerning land redistribution produced the peasant discontent that eventually helped the Russian Revolution to succeed, despite the later reforms of P. A. Stolypin.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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