Explain how and why American slavery and the Russian system of serfs were abolished within a few years of one another.

It is purely coincidental that American slavery and Russian serfdom were abolished within a few years of each other. Russian serfdom was abolished by Tsar Alexander II in 1861 as part of a program of modernization. Slavery in America was abolished by the 13th Amendment to the Constitution in 1865, a few months after the Civil War ended. In both cases, war was the impetus to the respective institutions' eventual abolition.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Plans to abolish serfdom in Russia had been floating around for many years. But for one reason or another they never came to anything. Yet the problem wouldn't go away. Aside from the moral considerations involved, a growing consensus was emerging in Russian society that the institution of serfdom was holding the country back. Most educated Russians were acutely aware of the country's economic backwardness in relation to other European states, and the feudal system represented by serfdom was generally thought to be mainly responsible for this unfortunate state of affairs.

The move toward the abolition of serfdom was given added impetus by Russia's poor showing in the Crimean War. The vast majority of Russia's soldiers were serfs, and the lack of Russian success on the battlefield was attributed to the inferiority of serf troops in relation to the British, French, and Ottoman Turks, who collectively defeated the Russian Empire.

It was largely in response to the Crimean debacle that Tsar Alexander II drew up plans to liberate the serfs, which he eventually did in 1861. Realizing that many of his nobles were dead set against the very idea of emancipation, Alexander proceeded with caution, giving the serfs their freedom while ensuring that the vast majority of land remained firmly in the hands of the nobility, whom the Tsar didn't wish to antagonize.

The abolition of slavery in the United States also emerged out of a war. Though initially fought to restore the Union after the secession of what became the Confederate states, the US Civil War provided an historic opportunity to destroy the institution of slavery once and for all.

The issue of slavery had been a running sore in American politics for many years. A number of political compromises had been tried to solve the problem, but none of them had worked. They'd simply kicked the can further down the road so that future generations would have to deal with the issue. Over time, it became clear to many that only some kind of armed conflict would be able to settle the issue once and for all. And so it proved.

The Northern victory in the Civil War sounded the death knell for slavery. The 13th Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1865, just a few months after the war's end, finally abolished the institution of slavery, ending a dark chapter in American history.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team