Page:Economic Development in Denmark Before and During the World War.djvu/21

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CONDITION OF THE PEASANTS

and the burden arising therefrom was increased in 1733 by the introduction of bondage (Stavnsbaand), whereby all peasants between the ages of fourteen and thirty-five were bound to remain on the estate. In this way it came about that military conscription rested entirely in the hands of the landlords, who were thus enabled to keep their labourers. In the course of time, moreover, the oppression of bondage was increased by the extension of the age limit; and when to these heavy burdens were added the tithes levied for the support of the church, the sum-total greatly hampered the pursuit and development of agriculture. Moreover, other misfortunes, such as cattle-plague, contributed to aggravate conditions, so that profits were reduced to a minimum and the work of the peasants was characterized by laziness and stupidity.

Towards the close of the century, however, things began to look better. In France economists were pointing with increasing emphasis to the great importance of agriculture, and in line therewith were developing the physiocratic doctrine. It was not physiocratism, however, which eventually dominated politico-economic theory in Denmark, for the physiocrats are scarcely mentioned in the Danish literature of the eighteenth century. The foreign ideas which may be said to have influenced the literature of Denmark are rather those of the encyclopaedists. But it is more in accord with the truth to say that the humane ideas which subsequently led to the emancipation of the peasants sprang forth spontaneously when the time was ripe for them. These ideas were then, as it were, in the air.

In 1761 the Dowager Queen, Sophie Magdalene, took the first step toward reform by exempting the peasants on her estate of Hörsholm, in the north of Zealand, from all services and tithes against the payment of a fixed rent, and by making them hereditary leaseholders with the right to sell and mortgage. The peasants on her estate were thus placed, in all essentials, in the position of freeholders. Some years