Russia is celebrating the 150th anniversary of the emancipation of the serfs by Czar Alexander II, tying this event to what the Czar’s contemporary, President Abraham Lincoln, would do soon thereafter in emancipating America’s slaves. From the Washington Post:
In this season of sesquicentennials, Russia is marking the liberation of 20 million serfs on March 3, 1861. That was one day before Lincoln was sworn in as the 16th president, assuming powers that he would eventually use to bring American slavery to an end. . . .
Alexander was intent on reforming the creaky Russian state, and the conservative owners of Russia’s vast land holdings passionately resisted him. Liberals couldn’t help but notice the parallels with the slave-holding plantation owners in the American South, said Andrei Yanovsky, a co-curator of the archive exhibit. In the 1850s, in fact, when censorship made it impossible to criticize conditions in Russia, newspapers and magazines devoted large amounts of space to denunciations of American slavery – and, Kurilla said, readers understood that this was a stand-in for the actual target, Russian serfdom.
His foreign minister said Alexander considered the outbreak of the Civil War to be “deplorable,” threatening the progress and prosperity that America had achieved in its 80 years of independence. The czar sent naval squadrons to New York and San Francisco as a show of support for the Union. Russia at the time was wary of British designs and feared that a Confederate victory would play into British hands. On this point he got no argument from Lincoln.
The president was under no illusions about Russian despotism – he once remarked, before going to the White House, that at least it was honest about its cruelty, compared with the hypocrisy that swirled around the American debate over slavery. For his part, Alexander seems to have been confident enough in the lasting power of the Russian royal family that he needn’t worry about befriending a republic that had cast off a king.