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Emancipation of the Peasants in Silesia and Saxony

by Bill Biar

Friday 18 November 2011 at 11:42 pm.

The emancipation of the peasants of Silesia was set in motion by the Oktoberedikt  of 1807.

This edict brought many reforms which abolished the feudal system.  It freed the peasants as of St. Martin's Day (November 11), 1810.  The emancipation set aside servile or compulsory labor and services of the peasant class.  Those peasants who did not have any or very little land and draft animals were no longer required to perform compulsory hand labor on the manorial estates.  Those with draft animals were no longer required to use them for the benefit of the lords’ demesne or other compulsory labor.  It did away with numerous rents and fees often levied by manorial estates and the redemption payments exacted for the freedom of peasants.  It set aside the peasants’ continuous adherence to the soil and their subjection to the will of the lords.  People were free to vote.  They could marry and bequeath, without manorial permission. It suspended the manorial estates from ownership of community-at-large property of the villages.  Manorial rights to forests, lakes, parks, etc., were dissolved.  Freedom of enterprise, first established in 1811, terminated the manorial estates' monopoly of milling, brewing and distilling.  The emancipation established fundamental rights for all classes of citizens and set aside the special privileges of the nobility and the clergy.  This led to the abolishment of the patrimonial courts, the lower courts for the lower classes.

One of the last strongholds of the feudal system on German lands was the Saxonian part of Upper Lusatia, the place from where many Wends migrated to Texas and Australia.  After the emancipation was set in motion in Saxony in 1832 it took another seven years, until 1839, before a final covenant was consummated to repeal servile hand labor and compulsory labor with draft animals.  And even then, in the village of Guttau, it took another nine years (1848) before the final separation agreement was reached between the count and the peasants.

The transition from an agrarian to an industrial and market economy had widespread ramifications for the rural population of Silesia and Saxony.  The reforms led to an over-supply of rural inhabitants, resulting in a steady migration to the cities and a stream of emigration overseas, to the United States, Australia and elsewhere.

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