Catherine II's Serfs

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Catherine II and the Serf Question

According to the historian Aleksandr Lappo-Danilevskii, along with Catherine II's self-proclaimed, Enlightened reason, it would seem likely that the political coup that placed her on the throne would improve conditions for the lower classes of society. This is because in her writings prior to accession she had stated multiple times her dissapproval of the oppression of the nobilty over the serfs and a desire for emancipation, and after her accession she had stated that “natural law commanded her to work for the well-being of all people” and she had only “one aim—the happiness of all her subjects. In addition, Danilevskii also wrote that, “Before her accession to the throne, Catherine had expressed views
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At this time, the Russian nobility had almost exclusive rights to own serfs. Russia had been becoming less dependent on serf service to the state and had freed the nobility from their requirement to serve the state, so serf bondage became much more of a private civil matter for the nobles that required their service on private lands and in new industries that had been growing since the time of Alexander the Great. So, though early in Catherine II's reign she began posing the question of serfdom to public debate, other political considerations and opposition to the cause soon took precedence and she ultimately abandoned the idea of emancipation, even aiding in worsening the conditions for the serfs and expanding serfdom to the greater …show more content…
Prisoners of war were protected from enserfment and Catherine II ordered that they should be able to freely choose their trades if they were willing to convert to Orthodoxy. In addition, because of war efforts, conscripted serfs and their families were granted their freedom after service to the state.

Still, as mentioned, Catherine II recognized the importance of the “tillers of the land” to provide a necessary service to the nobility and thus continued to keep them bound to the land and the estate that owned them. She also believed that it was necessary to preserve the existing class system and the privileges of the nobles for the purpose of keeping the people in order. In doing so, though, she continued to lower the status of the serfs as citizens but as the subjects, or in effect, the property of the

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