September 7, 2016 by AK
Gary Saul Morson’s piece on Crime and Punishment at 150 at The New Criterion is not available for free except for this snippet at the beginning:
Four years earlier , the “tsar-liberator” Alexander II (reigned 1855–1881) had at last abolished serfdom, a form of bondage making 90 percent of the population saleable property.
No, not really, not 90%. That’s quite an exaggeration. The serfs made up 34% of the empire’s total population and 38% of the total in its European part. (Siberia was the land of the free. Poland, Finland, Estonia and most of Latvia were excluded from these estimates.) In some governorates, however, serfs accounted for 50%-70% of the population according to the 1857-9 census. That was typical of Russia’s historical heartland: the governorates of Kaluga (62%), Nizhny Novgorod (59%), Vladimir (58%), Kostroma (57%), Ryazan (57%), and Tver (51%). The formerly border region of Smolensk and the old southern frontier land, Tula, topped the list with 69%.
Compare this with antebellum slavery in the United States: according to the 1860 census, the share of slaves in the population was the highest in South Carolina (57%) and Mississippi (55%), followed by Louisiana (47%), Alabama (45%), Florida and Georgia (44% each). These numbers are close to the share of serfs in some areas of the Russian empire (including parts of Belarus, Ukraine and Lithiuania) and far below the levels of the Smolensk and Tula governorates. Overall, slaves only made up 13% of US residents in 1860, much less than the 34% number for serfs in Russia.