Questions Raised by the Emancipation--Expectations and Disappointments of the Nobility--Agrarian Laws--Was it Possible to Free the Serfs without Giving them Lands?--Reasons and Conditions of the Territorial Endowment of the Peasants.
IT was, then, a national movement which, under the pressure of defeat, urged on emancipation from all sides. Should the nation take a direct part in it? Should the Tsar, like Catherine II., and with design better defined, call together the delegates of the different classes into a sort of States-General? Some thought he should. It was announced that, by way of compensation for the loss of their serfs, the nobility were to be given political rights, and that, out of the emancipation, would grow a constitution. This hope did much to enlist the landlords and the nobiliary assemblies in favor of the project. In spite of appearances, it is probably fortunate that things did not take this course; that the government did not invite the delegates of the nobility to deliberate and to pass laws, but only consulted them. On the question of the necessity of the emancipation, opinion was nearly unanimous throughout the empire; on that of ways and means, and that of the position to be given the peasants when free, there was in the public and in the government itself a very Babel of confused and discordant views. An elective assembly, numerous and tumultuous, would have had some trouble in sifting and clearing such a chaos. Then, to be equitable or impartial, an assembly should have included representatives of the opposed parties--of both serfs and landlords. The former could not be called upon to ordain their own future; yet it would have been unfair to leave