Peasants, Emancipation of: From the middle of the 18th century, personal and economic dependency of peasants on the feudal landowners was eased, and finally abolished in 1848. Although there were considerable differences in the Austrian lands (in North Tyrol and the mountainous areas of Vorarlberg the peasantry enjoyed many freedoms), and although serfdom had virtually died out, Maria Theresia generally eased statute labour (Robot) in 1778. With the so-called Untertansstrafpatent of 1781, which provided for the right to complaint and the right to replace statute labour, Joseph II further eased the lot of the peasants. In 1789 he decreed a tax reform in favour of the peasantry, which, however, was not implemented after his death. The feudal system was only abolished after the Silesian deputy H. Kudlich proposed the "abolition of the subordination of peasants with all its concomitant rights and obligations" in the Reichstag in 1848. A patent, signed by Emperor Ferdinand on September 7, 1848, abolished subordination and the relation of dependency and protection ("Schutzobrigkeitsverhaeltnis") between peasants and landlords and laid down that the charges on land were to be relieved through compensation for the previous owners. In the following years various commissions defined this compensation (two thirds of the estimated value) and the obligation of the peasants, now the new owners, who had to pay off this compensation over a period of 40 years. To replace the manorial lords, the state now had to set up municipalities, district authorities and courts.
For the peasants, the consequences of the emancipation were not only positive, for instead of paying to the lords of the manor they now had to pay taxes to the state, the provinces and municipalities. Moreover, the first generation was not familiar with market conditions, so that after 1868 many small farms emerged as a result of the sub-division of land, which were hardly viable, and the level of indebtedness rose sharply. Only the following generations were able to avert the decline of the peasantry and create new market organisations in the form of agricultural cooperatives.
Literature#Der steirische Bauer, exhibition catalogue, 1966; Hans Kudlich and die Bauernbefreiung in Niederoesterreich, exhibition catalogue, 1983.