Emancipation from Slavery and Serfdom, and Land Rights. The Americas and Eastern Europe Compared

Enrico Dal Lago


A comparative study of the complex processes of emancipation in the Americas and Eastern Europe shows that, in both cases, the established governments were the main agents that decreed the end of unfree labour, with the single exception represented by the case of the Haitian Revolution. As a result, in most cases, the governments’ provisions were conservative in conception and practice and tended to safeguard the interests of slaveholders and serfowners, rather than those of slaves and serfs, by providing the former with some type of compensation for their loss in capital and by keeping the latter in some transitional form of coerced labour before the achievement of their full free status. Here,the exception was the 1863 United States Emancipation Proclamation, which declared African American slaves immediately free and with no compensation for slaveholders, with some similarities with Brazil’s 1888 Golden Law. In the case of the ex-slaves’ and the ex-serfs’ rights to own land, however, all the governments enacting emancipation acted in remarkably similar ways, by providing no avenues for the liberated labourers’ immediate acquisition of landed property, and thus effectively preventing the formation of landed peasantries out of the newly freed populations of the Americas and Eastern Europe for many decades.


Americas; Eastern Europe; Slavery; Serfdom; Comparative Study; 19th Century

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.13154/mts.56.2016.5-23


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