Livonians are freed from serfdom

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23. March 1819

After Estonian peasantry had become free, the central government demanded similar actions to be carried out in Livonia and Courland. In Courland, the law was passed in 1817, but it took longer in Livonia, until 1819. The czar signed the new peasantry law of Livonia on March 23, 1819.

Livonian farmers were in a slightly better position than Estonians: they could start purchasing farms from very early on, although in limited numbers; unlike Estonia, parish courts survived in Livonia, which was the beginning of farmers' self governing.

On January 6, 1820, new laws were declared in Riga and Kuressaare, but significantly later in the parishes, on March 12. Parish pastors had to lecture the farmers not to misunderstand their freedom, and keep on working on estate fields.

The process of freeing the peasants in the Baltic Governorates has been often seen as a failure, but it was not entirely so: it was the first signal inside the Russian Empire, that the old serfdom based agriculture arrangement was outdated, and the processes in the Baltics became the basis of latter changes in both the Empire and Estonia. The position of the farmers remained relatively miserable until the 1860s, when Alexander II reforms were carried out: they remained under the will of the estate owners.

Source: Eesti ajalugu. IV: Põhjasõjast pärisorjuse kaotamiseni, lk-d 203–211.

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