The early 1860’s witnessed two similar events take place in different parts of the globe. Czar Alexander II of Russia published the emancipation edict in 1861 while the United States emancipation proclamation would be issued two years later by American President Abraham Lincoln. The two documents granted freedom to two oppressed groups, serfs in Russia and African slaves in America. The two documents pertained some other similarities and differences which are discussed below.
Russia had just been defeated in the Crimean War, exposing its military, economic and social shortcomings. Alexander II was concerned about Russia’s weakness and devised a plan to modernize the country’s economy. He was, however, keen to avoid an uprising by peasants that was certain if he went ahead with modernizing the economy and therefore decided to abolish serfdom. The Russian society at the time was feudalistic, whereby peasants (serfs) held no land but had to work for the landowners their entire lives. The emancipation edict issued by Alexander II freed the serfs and also gave them some other liberties. The document also created an office of peasant affairs whose role was to ensure the new rules were enforced.
In America too, President Abraham Lincoln proposed a similar proclamation that would free all slaves in the Confederate states. The proclamation stated, “…all persons held as slaves within any state or designated part of the state, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.” (Lincoln). It further stated that the Union government would recognize and make all effort to protect the freed slaves. Although one of the major reasons slaves were freed was so they could aid the union gain victory in the American Civil War, Lincoln was also a firm believer in equality and had always been opposed to slavery.
Although the conditions of slaves and serfs were different, the two proclamations aimed to end the degradation of humans and also improve their living conditions. American slaves were freed from bondage from slave masters while the serfs gained freedom from land owners. Following the proclamations, the slaves and serfs did not have to work for free and could not be sold by their owners. However, the two documents differ in their motives; even though he was a firm believer in equality, Lincoln’s main motivation for emancipation was so that former slaves would join the armed forces and help the Union win the American Civil War, while Alexander II wanted to avoid an uprising from the serfs. In the Russian proclamation, serfs could only labor for their former masters for only three days, and it also mandated a certain minimum allotment of land for the peasant families (Alexander II). Abraham Lincoln, on the other hand, did not provide any compensation for the former slave owners nor did it provide land to the freed slaves. An additional difference is that the while the Russian emancipation edict freed all serfs, the American emancipation proclamation did not free all slaves. At the time, there was an ongoing civil war pitting the Confederate States against the Union. A majority of the slaves were owned by masters from the Confederate states. Thus Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation did not free all slaves but only those in the union states.
United States. President (1861-1865 : Lincoln). The Emancipation Proclamation. Bedford, Mass. :Applewood Books, 1998. Print.
“Tsar Alexander II, Decree of Emancipation of the Russian Serfs (1861).” Wadsworth, n.d Web. 23 Apr. 2017.