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Margrave Karl Friedrich von Baden, Proclamation of the Abolition of Serfdom in Baden (July 23, 1783)

With this edict, Baden’s ruler joined the contemporary Enlightenment-driven critique of serfdom and slavery by enunciating, in principle, the end of personal serfdom, which was still not uncommon in southwest Germany (if mainly a matter of fees levied on individual villagers subject to noble and state seigneurialism). But Margrave Karl Friedrich von Baden chose to let rents on land deriving from personal serfdom stand. The final dissolution of lord-subject legal relations in the countryside would have to wait for nineteenth-century liberalism.

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We have now arrived at the long desired moment in which We are able to make certain changes to the state and financial constitution to free Our dear subjects from overly burdensome obligations. We have thus resolved to provide Our subjects with significant alleviation by immediately abolishing personal serfdom.

For the sake of clarity, however, concerning what consequences this liberation should have, We hereby declare that We—with no intention to provide compensation for the income which has stemmed from personal serfdom—decree throughout all lands which are subject to Our sole, direct jurisdiction and authority that personal serfdom shall be abolished on this very day and Our subjects in said territories are hereby legally free in their persons.

Yet, for the protection of Our lands and maintenance of good order and other necessary and useful public institutions, Our subjects remain as before obliged to provide both military service and uncompensated labor for public works, unless freed from these by special privilege.

Furthermore, Our subjects are forbidden from leaving Our territory, moving to any place beyond Our jurisdiction without prior permission, and serving in foreign military forces. Infractions shall incur the same penalties as were customary under personal serfdom. In regard to those who petition for permission to move away, We also reserve the right to impose all the fines previously collected for manumission or permission to move away and the like until We are able to reach a fair agreement with other cities and territories concerning freedom of movement.

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