Dr. A. S. Chessin, a graduate of the University of St. Petersburg, now teaching at Johns Hopkins University, delivered a lecture in Sever 11 yesterday afternoon on the Origin, Growth and Abolition of Personal Servitude in Russia.
Russia, said Dr. Chessin, is essentially an agricultural country. Not until the beginning of the sixteenth century was the peasantry reduced to bondage which gradually changed to slavery.
The emancipation from slavery was not sudden; it had its beginning in the reign of Alexander I, who gave liberty to 50,000 slaves and abolished personal servitude in the three Baltic provinces.
Alexander II made himself leader of the movement for the emancipation of the slaves. All that was now lacking was an impulse, which came through the defeat of the Russians in Crimea; the losses around Sebastopol; and the bankruptcy of the empire. Committees were appointed to decide upon reforms and on February 16, 1861, the decree was promulgated. It provided that the peasants were to have all the rights of free cultivators; nobles were to give each peasant between twenty and thirty acres of land, and the government was to remunerate the nobles. The peasants were to repay the government by equal annual instalments for forty-nine years.
The peasantry are now in a state of transition from servitude to freedom and will not be free for twenty years. The reform was accomplished almost without a struggle; it made Russia a new country by leading to the introduction of machinery and modern improvements.