A brilliant civil servant in the reign of Alexander I, Speransky, pointed out that there were only two estates in Russia: the slaves of the Sovereign and the slaves of the landlord. The former are called free in relation to the latter; but in fact there were no free men in Russia, except the beggars and the philosophers. That is to say, throughout the 19th century, the peasants who were mostly serfs, contributed the majority of the population in Russia. During the period of 1801-1905, the main government policy towards the peasants was to emancipate the serfs, though the degree of carrying out this emancipation policy was quite different from Tsar to Tsar.
In 1801, Alexander I came to the throne. In this early years of Czardom, he was influenced by Speransky and took the emancipation of the serfs as his major concern in his reform programme. In 1803, he issued an edict that the landowners could, if they wished, emancipate the serfs with land allotments.
This resulted in emancipation of about 50,000 peasants. Then between 1816 and 1819, serfs in the Baltic provinces were also liberated with their legal rights clarified and improved. Besides, the sale of serfs as substitutes for army recruits was ended. Even when Speransky was replaced by the "narrow-minded conservative", Arakeheev, the Tsar still opposed to serfdom. In 1818, Arakeheev was asked to prepare for the emancipation of the serfs. The sale of serfs without land, except in Estonia, Courland and Lavonia was forbidden.
Alexander I's emancipation policy was genuine. However, as H.L. Ellison had said, "The will to transform the condition of the peasants remained strong, but the visible means of making major changes were lack of." Thus, the status and the situation of the majority of peasants remained unchanged whereas in the...