Constitution of May 3, 1791: Wikis


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May 3 Constitution, by Matejko (1891). King Stanisław August (left) enters St. John's Cathedral, where deputies will swear to uphold the Constitution. Background: Warsaw's Royal Castle, where it has just been adopted.
Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth 1789-1792, after removal of Russian Empire protectorate

The Constitution of May 3, 1791 (Polish: Konstytucja Trzeciego Maja; Lithuanian: Gegužės trečiosios konstitucija) is generally regarded as Europe's first and the world's second modern codified national constitution, following the 1788 ratification of the United States Constitution (however, see also: Corsican Constitution).[1][2][3] [a] The May 3, 1791, Constitution was adopted as a "Government Act" (Polish: Ustawa rządowa) on that date by the Sejm (parliament) of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. It was in effect for only a year, until the Russo-Polish War of 1792.

The May 3 Constitution was designed to redress long-standing political defects of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and its traditional system of "Golden Liberty" conveying disproportionate rights and privileges to the nobility. The Constitution introduced political equality between townspeople and nobility (szlachta) and placed the peasants under the protection of the government,[4] thus mitigating the worst abuses of serfdom. The Constitution abolished pernicious parliamentary institutions such as the liberum veto, which at one time had put the sejm at the mercy of any deputy who might choose, or be bribed by an interest or foreign power, to undo legislation passed by that sejm. The Constitution sought to supplant the existing anarchy fostered by some of the country's magnates with a more democratic constitutional monarchy.[5] The document was translated into Lithuanian.[6]

The adoption of the May 3 Constitution provoked the active hostility of the Commonwealth's neighbors. In the War in Defense of the Constitution, the Commonwealth was betrayed by its Prussian ally, Frederick William II, and defeated by Catherine the Great's Imperial Russia allied with the Targowica Confederation, a cabal of Polish magnates and landless nobility who opposed reforms that might weaken their influence. Despite the Commonwealth's defeat and the consequent Second Partition of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, the May 3 Constitution influenced later democratic movements. It remained, after the demise of the Polish Republic in 1795, over the next 123 years of Polish partitions, a beacon in the struggle to restore Polish sovereignty. In the words of two of its co-authors, Ignacy Potocki and Hugo Kołłątaj, it was "the last will and testament of the expiring Motherland."[7][8]



The May 3 Constitution responded to the increasingly perilous situation of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, only a century earlier a major European power and indeed the largest state on the continent. Already two hundred years before the May 3 Constitution, King Sigismund III Vasa's court preacher, the Jesuit Piotr Skarga, had famously condemned the individual and collective weaknesses of the Commonwealth. Likewise, in the same period, writers and philosophers such as Andrzej Frycz Modrzewski and Wawrzyniec Grzymała Goślicki, and Jan Zamoyski's egzekucja praw (Execution-of-the-Laws) reform movement, had advocated reforms.

By the early 17th century, the magnates of Poland and Lithuania controlled the Commonwealth—or rather, they managed to ensure that no reforms would be carried out that might weaken their privileged status (the "Golden Freedoms"). They spent lavishly on banquets, drinking bouts and other amusements, while the peasants languished in abysmal conditions and the towns, many of which were wholly within the private property of a magnate who feared the rise of an independent middle class, were kept in a state of ruin.[9]

King Stanisław August, principal author of Constitution. A year later he acquiesced in its overthrow.

Many historians hold that a major cause of the Commonwealth's downfall was the peculiar institution of the liberum veto ("free veto"), which since 1652 had in principle permitted any Sejm deputy to nullify all the legislation that had been adopted by that Sejm. Thus deputies bribed by magnates or foreign powers, or simply content to believe they were living in some kind of "Golden Age", for over a century paralysed the Commonwealth's government. The threat of the liberum veto could, however, be overridden by the establishment of a "confederated sejm", which operated immune from the liberum veto. The Four-Year, or "Great", Sejm of 1788–92, which would adopt the Constitution of May 3, 1791, was such a confederated sejm, and it was due only to that fact that it was able to put through so radical a piece of legislation.

The Enlightenment had gained great influence in certain Commonwealth circles during the reign (1764–95) of its last king, Stanisław August Poniatowski, and the King had proceeded with cautious reforms such as the establishment of fiscal and military ministries and a national customs tariff. However, the idea of reforms in the Commonwealth was viewed with growing suspicion not only by the magnates, but also by neighboring countries, which were content with the Commonwealth's contemporary state of affairs and abhorred the thought of a resurgent and democratic power on their borders.[10]

Accordingly Russia's Empress Catherine the Great and Prussia's King Frederick the Great provoked a conflict between some members of the Sejm and the King over civil rights for religious minorities.[11][12] Catherine and Frederick declared their support for the Polish nobility (szlachta) and their "liberties," and by October 1767 Russian troops had assembled outside the Polish capital, Warsaw.[11][12] The King and his adherents, in face of superior Russian military force, were left with little choice but to acquiesce in Russian demands and during the Repnin Sejm (named after unofficially presiding Russian ambassador Nicholas Repnin) accept the five "eternal and invariable principles" which Catherine vowed to "protect for all time to come in the name of Poland's liberties": the free election of kings; the right of liberum veto; the right to renounce allegiance to, and raise rebellion against, the king (rokosz); the szlachta's exclusive right to hold office and land; and a landowner's power of life and death over his peasants.[10][11][12] Thus all the privileges of the nobility that had made the Commonwealth's political system ("Golden Liberty") ungovernable were guaranteed as unalterable in the Cardinal Laws.[11][12] The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth thus became an effective protectorate of the Russian Empire.[13] Nonetheless, several minor beneficial reforms were adopted, and the need for more reforms was becoming increasingly recognized.[12]

Not everyone in the Commonwealth agreed with King Stanisław August's acquiescence. On February 29, 1768, several magnates, including Kazimierz Pułaski, vowing to oppose Russian intervention, declared Stanisław August a "lackey of Russia and Catherine" and formed a confederation at the town of Bar. The Bar Confederation began a civil war with the goal of overthrowing the King and fought on until 1772, when overwhelmed by Russian intervention.[10]

Rejtan, by Matejko. In September 1773, Rejtan (lower right) tried to prevent ratification of the First Partition of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth by barring other Sejm deputies from the chamber.
In 1791, the "Great" or Four-Year Sejm of 1788–92 adopted the May 3 Constitution at Warsaw's Royal Castle.
Royal Castle Senate Chamber, where the May 3 Constitution was adopted

The Bar Confederation's defeat set the scene for the next act in the unfolding drama. On August 5, 1772, at St. Petersburg, Russia, the three neighboring powers—Russia, Prussia and Austria—signed the First Partition treaty. The Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth was to be divested of about a third of its territory and population (over 200,000 km² and 4 million people).[14] This was justified on grounds of "anarchy" in the Commonwealth and her refusal to cooperate with its neighbors' efforts to restore order.[15] The three powers demanded that the Sejm ratify this first partition, otherwise threatening further partitions. King Stanisław August yielded under duress and on April 19, 1773, called the Sejm into session. Only 102 deputies attended what became known as the Partition Sejm; the rest, aware of the King's decision, refused. Despite protests, notably by the deputy Tadeusz Rejtan, the First Partition of Poland was ratified.[14]

The first of the three successive 18th-century partitions of Commonwealth territory that would eventually blot Poland from the map of Europe shocked the inhabitants of the Commonwealth, and had made it clear to progressive minds that the Commonwealth must either reform or perish.[14] Even before the First Partition, a Sejm deputy had been sent to ask the French philosophes Gabriel Bonnot de Mably and Jean-Jacques Rousseau to draw up tentative constitutions for a new Poland. Mably had submitted his recommendations in 1770–71; Rousseau had finished his (Considerations on the Government of Poland) in 1772, when the First Partition was already underway.[16]

Supported by King Stanisław August, a new wave of reforms were introduced. The most important included the establishment, in 1773, of a Komisja Edukacji Narodowej ("Commission of National Education")—the first ministry of education in the world.[14][17][18] New schools were opened in the cities and in the countryside, uniform textbooks were printed, teachers were educated, and poor students were provided scholarships.[14] The Commonwealth's military was modernized, and a standing army was formed. Economic and commercial reforms, previously shunned as unimportant by the szlachta, were introduced, and the development of industries was encouraged. The peasants were given some rights. A new Police ministry fought corruption. Everything from the road system to prisons was reformed. A new executive body was created, the Permanent Council (Polish: Rada Nieustająca), comprising five ministries.[14]

In 1776, the Sejm commissioned Chancellor Andrzej Zamoyski to draft a new legal code, the Zamoyski Code. By 1780, under Zamoyski's direction, a code (Zbiór praw sądowych) had been produced. It would have strengthened royal power, made all officials answerable to the Sejm, placed the clergy and their finances under state supervision, and deprived landless szlachta of many of their legal immunities. Zamoyski's progressive legal code, containing elements of constitutional reform, facing opposition from conservative szlachta and foreign powers, failed to be adopted by the Sejm.[19]


Events in the world now played into the reformers' hands. Poland's neighbors were too occupied with wars — Prussia with France, Russian and Austria with the Ottoman Empire — and with their own internal troubles to intervene forcibly in Poland. A major opportunity for reform seemed to present itself during the "Great" or "Four-Year Sejm" of 1788–92, which opened on October 6, 1788, and from 1790—in the words of the May 3 Constitution's preamble—met "in dual number", the newly elected Sejm deputies having joined the earlier-established confederated sejm.

While a new alliance between the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and Prussia seemed to provide security against Russian intervention,[20] King Stanisław August drew closer to leaders of the reform-minded Patriotic Party. A new Constitution was drafted by the King, with contributions from Stanisław Małachowski (Marshal of the Sejm), Ignacy Potocki, Hugo Kołłątaj, Stanisław Staszic, the King's Italian secretary Scipione Piattoli, and others.

The draft Constitution's advocates, under threat of violence from the Sejm's Muscovite Party (also known as the "Hetmans"), and with many contrary-minded deputies still away on Easter recess, managed to set debate on the Government Act forward by two days from the original May 5. The ensuing debate and adoption of the Government Act took place in a quasi-coup d'etat: many pro-reform deputies arrived early and in secret, and the royal guard were positioned about the Royal Castle, where the Sejm was gathered, to prevent Muscovite adherents from disrupting the proceedings.

The Constitution bill ("Government Act") was read out and passed overwhelmingly, to the enthusiasm of the crowds gathered outside.


The Constitution remained in effect for only a year before being overthrown, by Russian armies allied with the Targowica Confederation, in the War over the May 3, 1791, Constitution.

Wars between Turkey and Russia and Sweden and Russia having by now ended, Empress Catherine was furious over the adoption of the May 3 Constitution, which threatened Russian influence in Poland.[21] Russia had viewed Poland as a de facto protectorate.[22] The contacts of Polish reformers with the Revolutionary French National Assembly were seen by Poland's neighbors as evidence of a revolutionary conspiracy and a threat to the absolute monarchies. The Prussian statesman Ewald von Hertzberg expressed the fears of European conservatives: "The Poles have given the coup de grâce to the Prussian monarchy by voting a constitution."[23]

A number of magnates who had opposed the Constitution from the start, such as Feliks Potocki and Ksawery Branicki, asked Tsarina Catherine to intervene and restore their privileges abolished under the Constitution. With her backing they formed the Targowica Confederation, and in their proclamation denounced the Constitution for spreading the "contagion of democratic ideas". They asserted that "The intentions of Her Highness the Empress of Russia Catherine the Great, ally of the Polish Commonwealth, in introducing her army, are and have been none other than to restore to the Commonwealth and to Poles freedom, and in particular to all the country's citizens, security and happiness." On May 18, 1792, over 20,000 Confederates crossed the border into Poland, together with 97,000 veteran Russian troops.

The Polish King and the reformers could field only a 37,000-man army, many of them untested recruits. The Polish Army, under the King's nephew Józef Poniatowski and Tadeusz Kościuszko, did defeat the Russians on several occasions, but the King himself dealt a deathblow to the Polish cause: when in July 1792 Warsaw was threatened with siege by the Russians, the King came to believe that victory was impossible against the Russian numerical superiority, and that surrender was the only alternative to total defeat and a massacre of the reformers.

On July 24, 1792, King Stanisław August Poniatowski abandoned the reformist cause and joined the Targowica Confederation. The Polish Army disintegrated. Many reform leaders, believing their cause lost, went into self-exile. The King had not saved the Commonwealth, however. To the surprise of the Targowica Confederates, there ensued the Second Partition of Poland. Russia took 250,000 square kilometres (97,000 sq mi), and Prussia took 58,000 square kilometres (22,000 sq mi). The Commonwealth now comprised no more than 212,000 square kilometres (82,000 sq mi). What was left of the Commonwealth was merely a small buffer state with a puppet king and a Russian army.

For a year and a half, Polish patriots bided their time, while planning an insurrection. On March 24, 1794, in Kraków, Tadeusz Kościuszko declared what has come to be known as the Kościuszko Uprising. On May 7 he issued the "Proclamation of Połaniec" (Uniwersał Połaniecki), granting freedom to the peasants and ownership of land to all who fought in the insurrection.

After some initial victories—the Battle of Racławice (April 4) and the capture of Warsaw (April 18) and Wilno (April 22)—the Uprising was dealt a crippling blow: the forces of Russia, Austria and Prussia joined in a military intervention. Historians consider the Uprising's defeat to have been a foregone conclusion in face of the gigantic numerical superiority of the three invading powers. The defeat of Kościuszko's forces led in 1795 to the third and final partition of the Commonwealth.


Original manuscript of Constitution

King Stanisław August Poniatowski described the May 3 Constitution, according to a contemporary account, as "founded principally on those of England and the United States of America, but avoiding the faults and errors of both, and adapted as much as possible to the local and particular circumstances of the country."[24] Indeed, the Polish and American national constitutions reflected similar Enlightenment influences, including Montesquieu's advocacy of a separation and balance of powers among the three branches of government—so that, in the words of the May 3 Constitution (article V), "the integrity of the states, civil liberty, and social order remain always in equilibrium"—as well as Montesquieu's advocacy of a bicameral legislature.[25]

The Constitution comprised 11 articles.[26] It introduced the principle of popular sovereignty (applied to the nobility and townspeople) and a separation of powers into legislative (a bicameral Sejm), executive ("the King in his council") and judicial branches.[25]

The Constitution advanced the democratization of the polity by limiting the excessive legal immunities and political prerogatives of landless nobility, while granting to the townspeople—in the earlier Free Royal Cities Act of April 18, 1791, stipulated in Article III to be integral to the Constitution—personal security, the right to acquire landed property, and eligibility for military officers' commissions, public offices, and membership in the nobility (szlachta).[27]

1791 printed edition

The Government Act also placed the Commonwealth's peasantry "under the protection of the national law and government"[28]—a first step toward the ending of serfdom and the enfranchisement of that largest and most oppressed social class.[29]

The May 3 Constitution provided for a Sejm, "ordinarily" meeting every two years and "extraordinarily" whenever required by a national emergency.[30] Its lower chamber—the Chamber of Deputies (Polish: Izba Poselska)—comprised deputies and plenipotentiaries of royal cities; its upper chamber—the Chamber of Senators (Polish: Izba Senacka)—comprised senators (voivodes, castellans, government ministers and bishops). The numbers of deputies and senators were to be stipulated "by lower law."[31]

Executive power was in the hands of a royal council, called the "Guardians of the Laws" (Polish: Straż Praw). This council was presided over by the King and comprised 5 ministers appointed by him: a minister of police, minister of the seal (i.e. of internal affairs — the seal was a traditional attribute of the earlier Chancellor), minister of the seal of foreign affairs, minister belli (of war), and minister of treasury. The ministers were appointed by the King but responsible to the Sejm. In addition to the ministers, council members included the Roman Catholic Primate (who was also president of the Education Commission) and — without a voice — the Crown Prince, the Marshal of the Sejm, and two secretaries. This royal council was a descendant of the similar council that had functioned over the previous two centuries since King Henry's Articles (1573). Acts of the King required the countersignature of the respective minister. The stipulation that the King, "doing nothing of himself, [...] shall be answerable for nothing to the nation," parallels the British constitutional principle that "The King can do no wrong." (In both countries, the respective minister was responsible for the king's acts.)[32]

To enhance Commonwealth integration and security, the Constitution abolished the erstwhile union of Poland and Lithuania in favor of a unitary state and changed the government from an individually- to a dynastically-elective monarchy.[33] The latter provision was meant to reduce the destructive, vying influences of foreign powers at each royal election.[34] Under the terms of the May 3 Constitution, on Stanisław August's death the Polish throne was to become hereditary and pass to Frederick Augustus I of Saxony, of the house of Wettin, which had provided two of Poland's recent elective kings.[35]

The Constitution abolished several institutional sources of government weakness and national anarchy, including the liberum veto, confederations, confederated sejms (paradoxically, the Four-Year Sejm was itself a confederated sejm), and the excessive sway of sejmiks (regional sejms) stemming from the binding nature of their instructions to their Sejm deputies.[30]

The Constitution acknowledged the Roman Catholic faith as the "dominant religion", but guaranteed tolerance of, and freedom to, all religions.[36] The Army was to be built up to 100,000 men.[citation needed] Standing income taxes were established (10% on the nobility, 20% on the church).[citation needed] Amendments to the constitution could be made every 25 years.[30]

The May 3 Constitution recognized, as integral, the Miasta Nasze Królewskie Wolne w Państwach Rzeczypospolitej (Free Royal Cities Act) that had been passed on April 18, 1791 (Constitution, article III) and Prawo o sejmikach, the act on regional sejms (sejmiki), passed earlier on March 24, 1791 (article VI).[37]

Some authorities additionally regard, as parts of the Constitution, the "Deklaracja Stanów Zgromadzonych (Declaration of the Assembled Estates) of May 5, 1791, confirming the Government Act adopted two days earlier,[38] and the Zaręczenie Wzajemne Obojga Narodów (Mutual Declaration of the Two Peoples, i.e., of the Crown of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania) of October 22, 1791, affirming the unity and indivisibility of Poland and the Grand Duchy within a single state, and their equal representation in state-governing bodies.[24] The Mutual Declaration strengthened the Polish-Lithuanian union, while keeping many federal aspects of the state intact.[39]

The provisions of the Government Act were fleshed out in a number of laws passed in May–June 1791 on sejms and sejm courts (two acts of May 13), the Guardians of the Laws (June 1), the national police commission (that is, ministry; June 17) and municipal administration (June 24).[40]

The May 3 Constitution remained to the last a work in progress. Co-author Hugo Kołłątaj announced that work was underway on "an economic constitution…guaranteeing all rights of property [and] securing protection and honor to all manner of labor…" Yet a third basic law was touched on by Kołłątaj: a "moral constitution," most likely a Polish analog to the American Bill of Rights and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen.[41]


Medals commemorating the Constitution

The memory of the world's second modern codified national constitution (the first constitutional monarchy in the world)—recognized by political scientists as a very progressive document for its time—for generations helped keep alive Polish aspirations for an independent and just society, and continues to inform the efforts of its authors' descendants. In Poland it is viewed as the culmination of all that was good and enlightened in Polish history and culture. The May 3 anniversary of its adoption has been observed as Poland's most important civil holiday since Poland regained independence in 1918.[42]

Prior to the May 3 Constitution, in Poland the term "constitution" (Polish: konstytucja) had denoted all the legislation, of whatever character, that had been passed at a Sejm. Only with the adoption of the May 3 Constitution did konstytucja assume its modern sense of a fundamental document of governance.

These charters of government form an important milestone in the history of democracy. Poland and the United States, though distant geographically, showed some notable similarities in their approaches to the design of political systems.[1] By contrast to the great absolute monarchies, both countries were remarkably democratic. The kings of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth were elected, and the Commonwealth's parliament (the Sejm) possessed extensive legislative authority. Under the May 3 Constitution, Poland afforded political privileges to its townspeople and to its nobility (the szlachta), which formed some ten percent of the country's population. This percentage closely approximated the extent of political access in contemporary America, where effective suffrage was limited to male property owners.

The defeat of Poland's liberals was but a temporary setback to the cause of democracy. The destruction of the Polish state only slowed the expansion of democracy, by then already established in North America. Democratic movements soon began undermining the absolute monarchies of Europe. The May 3 Constitution was translated, in abridged form, into French, German and English. French revolutionaries toasted King Stanisław August and the Constitution—not only for their progressive character, but because the War in Defense of the Constitution and the Kościuszko Uprising tied up appreciable Russian and Prussian forces that could not therefore be used against Revolutionary France. Thomas Paine regarded the May 3 Constitution as a great breakthrough. Edmund Burke described it as "the noblest benefit received by any nation at any time... Stanislas II has earned a place among the greatest kings and statesmen in history."[43] In the end, the conservatives managed to delay the ascent of democracy in Europe only for a century; after the First World War, most of the European absolute monarchies were replaced by democratic states, including the reborn, Second Polish Republic.


May 3 was first declared a holiday (May-3rd-Constitution Day—Święto Konstytucji 3 Maja) on May 5, 1791.[44] Banned during the partitions of Poland (though still then occasionally celebrated),[45] it was celebrated in the Duchy of Warsaw.[44] It was again made an official Polish holiday in April 1919 under the Second Polish Republic—the first holiday officially introduced in the Second Polish Republic.[42] The May 3 holiday was banned once more during World War II by the Nazi and Soviet occupiers.

After the 1946 anti-communist student demonstrations, May 3 Constitution Day lost support with the authorities of the Polish People's Republic, who replaced it with May 1 Labor Day celebrations; in 1951, May 3 was officially rebranded Democratic Party Day and officially removed from the list of national holidays.[44] Until 1989, May 3 was a common day for anti-government and anti-communist protests.[42]

Polish Constitution Day has been a focal point of ethnic celebrations of Polish-American pride in the Chicago area, going back to 1892. Poles in Chicago have continued this tradition to the present day, marking it with festivities and the annual Polish Constitution Day Parade; prominent guests nationwide, most notably Bobby Kennedy, have attended over the years as a way to lobby Chicago Polonia. The anniversary of the May 3, 1791 Constitution has also for decades been observed in San Francisco with celebrations in Golden Gate Park.

May 3 was restored as an official Polish holiday in April 1990, after the fall of communism.[44] In 2007, May 3 was in addition declared a Lithuanian national holiday. The first joint celebration by the Polish Sejm and the Lithuanian Seimas took place on May 3, 2007.[46]

See also

Similar documents:


a ^  Scholars still debate the definition of "modern constitution"; some assert that there were other modern constitutions before the United States Constitution—thus pushing the May 3 Constitution back from second place. For example, in 1973 Dorothy Carrington published an article arguing that the 1755 Corsican Constitution should be considered the first modern national constitution.[47]


  1. ^ a b John Markoff describes the advent of modern codified national constitutions as one of the milestones of democracy, and states that "The first European country to follow the U.S. example was Poland in 1791." John Markoff, Waves of Democracy, 1996, ISBN 0-8039-9019-7, p.121.
  2. ^ Blaustein, Albert (January 1993). Constitutions of the World. Fred B. Rothman & Company. 
  3. ^ Isaac Kramnick, Introduction, Madison, James (November 1987). The Federalist Papers. Penguin Classics. ISBN 0-14-044495-5. 
  4. ^ Article IV (The peasants): "we accept under the protection of the law and of the national government the agricultural folk […] who constitute the most numerous populace in the nation and hence the greatest strength of the country [...]."
  5. ^ George Sanford, Democratic Government in Poland: Constitutional Politics Since 1989, Palgrave, 2002, ISBN 0-333-77475-2, Google print p.11
  6. ^ Lietuvos TSR istorija. T. 1: Nuo seniausių laikų iki 1917 metų. - 2 leid. Vilnius, 1986, p. 222. Transcript of original translation can be found on Senieji lietuviški raštai (Old Lithuanian texts), Lituanistica,
  7. ^ Hugo Kołłątaj and Ignacy Potocki, On the Adoption and Fall of the Polish May 3 Constitution, Leipzig, 1793.
  8. ^ "Ojczyzna" is in feminine form in the Polish language; therefore, it should be translated as "Motherland," and not as "Fatherland"
  9. ^ Will and Ariel Durant, Rousseau and Revolution, p. 474.
  10. ^ a b c John P. LeDonne, The Russian Empire and the World, 1700-1917: The Geopolitics of Expansion and Containment, Oxford University Press US, 1997, ISBN 0195109279, Google Print, p.41-42
  11. ^ a b c d Hugh Seton-Watson, The Russian Empire, 1801-1917, Oxford University Press, 1967, ISBN 0198221525, Google Print, p.44
  12. ^ a b c d e Richard Butterwick, Poland's Last King and English Culture: Stanisław August Poniatowski, 1732-1798, Oxford University Press, 1998, ISBN 0198207018, Google Print, p.163
  13. ^ Andrzej Jezierski, Cecylia Leszczyńska, Historia gospodarcza Polski, 2003, p. 68.
  14. ^ a b c d e f Jerzy Lukowski, Hubert Zawadzki, A Concise History of Poland, Cambridge University Press, 2001, ISBN 0521559170, , Google Print p.96-99
  15. ^ Sharon Korman, The Right of Conquest: The Acquisition of Territory by Force in International Law and Practice, Oxford University Press, 1996, ISBN 0198280076, Google Print, p.75
  16. ^ Maurice Cranston, The Solitary Self: Jean-Jacques Rousseau in Exile and Adversity, University of Chicago Press, 1997, ISBN 0-226-11865-7, Print p.177
  17. ^ Ted Tapper, David Palfreyman, Understanding Mass Higher Education: Comparative Perspectives on Access, Routledge, 2004, ISBN 0415354919, Google Print, p.14o
  18. ^ Norman Davies, God's Playground: A History of Poland, Columbia University Press, 2005, ISBN 0231128193, Google Print, p.167
  19. ^ Richard Butterwick, Poland's Last King and English Culture: Stanisław August Poniatowski, 1732-1798, Oxford University Press, 1998, ISBN 0198207018, Print, p.158-162
  20. ^ Piotr Stefan Wandycz, The Price of Freedom: A History of East Central Europe from the Middle Ages to the Present, Routledge (UK), 2001, ISBN 0-415-25491-4, Google Print, p.128
  21. ^ Paul W. Schroeder, The Transformation of European Politics 1763–1848, Oxford University Press, 1996, ISBN 0-19-820654-2, Google print p.84
  22. ^ Jerzy Lukowski, Hubert Zawadzki, Cambridge University Press, 2001, ISBN 0521559170, Google Print, p.84
  23. ^ Hon. Carl L. Bucki (May 3, 1996). "Constitution Day: May 3, 1791". Polish Academic Information Center. Retrieved September 21, 2008. 
  24. ^ a b Joseph Kasparek, The Constitutions of Poland and of the United States, p. 40.
  25. ^ a b Joseph Kasparek, The Constitutions of Poland and of the United States, p. 42.
  26. ^ Constitution of May 3, 1791.
  27. ^ Joseph Kasparek, The Constitutions of Poland and of the United States, p. 51.
  28. ^ Constitution of May 3, 1791, Article IV: The Peasants.
  29. ^ It bears noting that the contemporaneous United States Constitution sanctioned the continuation of slavery. Thus neither constitution enfranchised all its adult male population: the U.S. Constitution discriminated against America's slaves, and the Polish Constitution against Poland's peasants.
  30. ^ a b c Constitution of May 3, 1791, Article VI: The Sejm, or legislative authority.
  31. ^ Article VI. The Sejm, or legislative authority.
  32. ^ Joseph Kasparek, The Constitutions of Poland and of the United States, pp. 45–49.
  33. ^ Joseph Kasparek, The Constitutions of Poland and of the United States, pp. 45-46.
  34. ^ King Stanisław August himself had been elected in 1764 with the support of his ex-mistress, Russian Tsarina Catherine the Great — including bribes and a Russian army deployed only a few miles from the election sejm, meeting at Wola outside Warsaw.
  35. ^ Constitution of May 3, 1791, Article VII: The King, the executive authority.
  36. ^ Constitution of May 3, 1791, Article I: The dominant religion.
  37. ^ Joseph Kasparek, The Constitutions of Poland and of the United States, p. 31.
  38. ^ Jerzy Kowecki, ed., Konstytucja 3 maja 1791 (The Constitution of May 3, 1791), with foreword by Bogusław Leśnodorski, pp. 105-7.
  39. ^ Maria Konopka-Wichrowska, My, Litwa... "Ostatnim było Zaręczenie Wzajemne Obojga Narodów przy Konstytucji 3 Maja, stanowiące część nowych paktów konwentów — zdaniem historyka prawa Bogusława Leśnodorskiego: „zacieśniające unię, ale utrzymujące nadal federacyjny charakter Rzeczypospolitej Obojga Narodów”".
  40. ^ Polska Akademia Nauk – Biblioteka Kórnicka, Ustawodawstwo Sejmu Wielkiego z 1791 r., Kórnik, 1985.
  41. ^ Joseph Kasparek, The Constitutions of Poland and of the United States, pp. 231–32.
  42. ^ a b c (Polish) Rafał Kowalczyk and Łukasz Kamiński, Zakazane święta PRLu, Polskie Radio Online, May 3, 2008
  43. ^ Joseph Kasparek, The Constitutions of Poland and of the United States, p. 41.
  44. ^ a b c d (Polish) Konstytucja 3 Maja - rys historyczny, University of Warsaw
  45. ^ (Polish) Iwona Pogorzelska, Prezentacja na podstawie artykułu Romany Guldon „Pamiątki Konstytucji 3 Maja przechowywane w zasobie Archiwum Państwowego w Kielcach.” Almanach Historyczny, T. 4, Kielce 2002, 2005
  46. ^ (Polish) Rok 2007: Przegląd wydarzeń, Tygnodnik Wileńszczyzny
  47. ^ Dorothy Carrington (1973), "The Corsican Constitution of Pasquale Paoli (1755–1769)", The English Historical Review, 88:348 (July), p. 482.

Further reading

  • Jerzy Kowecki, ed., Konstytucja 3 maja 1791 (The Constitution of May 3, 1791), przedmową opatrzył (with foreword by) Bogusław Leśnodorski, Warsaw, Państwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe, 1981, ISBN 83-01-01915-8.
  • Polska Akademia Nauk – Biblioteka Kórnicka (Polish Academy of Sciences, Kórnik Library), Ustawodawstwo Sejmu Wielkiego z 1791 r. (Legislation of the Great Sejm of 1791), Kórnik, 1985. Compilation of facsimile reprints of 1791 legislation pertinent to the Constitution of May 3, 1791.
  • Joseph Kasparek, The Constitutions of Poland and of the United States: Kinships and Genealogy, Miami, American Institute of Polish Culture, 1980.
  • Adam Zamoyski, The Polish Way: a Thousand-Year History of the Poles and Their Culture, New York, Hippocrene Books, 1994.
  • Jacek Jędruch, Constitutions, Elections and Legislatures of Poland, 1493–1993, Summit, NJ, EJJ Books, 1998, ISBN 0-7818-0637-2.
  • Norman Davies, God's Playground, 2 vols., ISBN 0-231-05353-3 and ISBN 0-231-05351-7.
  • Paweł Jasienica, Rzeczpospolita Obojga Narodów (The Commonwealth of the Two Nations), ISBN 83-06-01093-0.
  • Emanuel Rostworowski, Maj 1791 - maj 1792: rok monarchii konstytucyjnej (May 1791–May 1792: the Year of Constitutional Monarchy), Warsaw, Zamek Królewski (Royal Castle), 1985.
  • Hugo Kołłątaj and Ignacy Potocki, On the Adoption and Fall of the Polish May 3 Constitution, Leipzig, 1793.
  • Will and Ariel Durant, Rousseau and Revolution: A History of Civilization in France, England, and Germany from 1756, and in the Remainder of Europe from 1715, to 1789, New York, Simon and Schuster, 1967.

External links



Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Quotes about the Constitution of May 3, 1791.


  • "[The] President seems a bad edition of a Polish King."
    • Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, 1787; on the office of American President under the draft U.S. Constitution, implying the President would prove as impotent as Poland's elected king [1]
  • "… founded principally on those of England and the United States of America, but avoiding the faults and errors of both, and adapt[ed] as much as possible to the local and particular circumstances of the country."
    • King Stanisław August, according to a contemporary American newspaper account; describing the May 3rd Constitution
  • "[It is] the noblest benefit ever received by any nation at any time. […] Stanislas II has earned a place among the greatest kings and statesmen in history."
    • Edmund Burke, in response to Prussian statesman Ewald von Hertzberg's expression of the fears of European conservatives: "[The Poles] have given the coup de grâce to the Prussian monarchy by voting a constitution. […] How can we defend our state… against a numerous and well-governed nation?"
  • "The intentions of Her Highness the Empress of Russia [Catherine the Great], ally of the Polish Commonwealth, in introducing her army, are and have been none other than to restore to the Commonwealth and to Poles freedom, and in particular to all the country's citizens, security and happiness."
    • Original: "Zamiary Naj. Imperatorowej rosyjskiej, aliantki Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej, nie inne są i były, wprowadzając swe wojska, tylko przywrócić Rzeczypospolitej Rzeczypospolitą, Polakom wolność, a w szczególności wszystkim kraju obywatelom bezpieczeństwo i szczęśliwość"
    • The Establishing Act of the Targowica Confederation [2]
  • "Every true Pole who has not been inveigled by the Prussian and royalist cabal, is convinced that the Country's salvation can come only from Russia, that otherwise the nation will be enslaved."
    • Original: "Każdy prawdziwy Polak, którego nie uwiodła kabała pruska i królewska, jest przekonany, że zbawienie ojczyzny może przyjść tylko ze strony Rosji, inaczej naród zostanie zniewolony"
    • Stanisław Szczęsny Potocki, co-founder of the Targowica Confederation
    • Z korespondencji Szczęsnego Potockiego
  • "[I will speak no more] of the former Poland and the Poles. That country and that name are no more, as with so many others in the history of the world. I am now forever a Russian."
    • Original: "o przeszłej Polsce i Polakach. Znikło już to państwo, i to imię, jak znikło tyle innych w dziejach świata. Ja już jestem Rosjaninem na zawsze"
    • Stanisław Szczęsny Potocki, after Stanisław August's abdication and the demise of the Commonwealth
    • Z korespondencji Szczęsnego Potockiego
  • "… the last will and testament of the expiring Fatherland."
    • Hugo Kołłątaj and Ignacy Potocki, two of the Constitution's authors, writing in exile after the Targowica Confederation's victory
    • On the Adoption and Fall of the Polish May 3rd Constitution (1793)


  • "Despite all its shortcomings, this Constitution looms up against the background of Russian, Prussian and Austrian barbarism as the only work of liberty which Eastern Europe has ever created independently, and it emerged exclusively from the privileged class, from the nobility. The history of the world has never seen another example of such nobility of the nobility."
  • "Today I am speaking to all the Poles all over the world. Today is the 150th anniversary of the Constitution passed by your parliament. You are right to celebrate this day as a national holiday because, at the time when your Constitution of 1791 was drawn up, it was a model of enlightened political thought. The passing of that legal act was seen by your neighbours at that time as a dawn of a revival of the Polish state. Therefore they hurried to partition your country in order to prevent the consolidation of the Polish nation."
  • "It is difficult at this moment not to mention the long history of the Polish Parliament, reaching back to the 15th century, or that glorious witness to the legislative wisdom of our ancestors that was the Constitution of May the Third, 1791."
    • Original: "Trudno w tej chwili nie wspomnieć o długiej, sięgającej XV w. historii polskiego Sejmu czy też o chlubnym świadectwie ustawodawczej mądrości naszych przodków, jakim była Konstytucja 3 maja z 1791 r."
    • Pope John Paul II, 1999, to the Polish Sejm [3]

Source material

Up to date as of January 22, 2010

From Wikisource

See also Constitution of May 3, 1791 on Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.
Constitution of May 3, 1791
Text of the Constitution of May 3, 1791. (Translated into English, from the Polish, by Christopher Kasparek.)
Title page of Piotr Dufour's 1791 printed edition of the Government Act (Constitution of May 3, 1791).


Government Act

Obl[ata] de 5 maii 1791 [Latin: "Registered, 5 May 1791"]


In the name of God, One in the Holy Trinity.

Stanisław August, by the grace of God and the will of the people King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania, Ruthenia, Prussia, Mazowsze, Żmudź [Samogitia], Kiev, Wołyń [Volhynia], Podole, Podlasie, Livonia, Smolensk, Severia and Chernihiv, together with the confederated estates in dual number representing the Polish people.

Recognizing that the destiny of us all depends solely upon the establishment and perfection of a national constitution, having by long experience learned the inveterate faults of our government, and desiring to take advantage of the season in which Europe finds itself and of this dying moment that has restored us to ourselves, free of the ignominious dictates of foreign coercion, holding dearer than life, than personal happiness the political existence, external independence and internal liberty of the people whose destiny is entrusted to our hands, and desiring to merit the blessing and gratitude of contemporary and future generations, despite obstacles that may cause passions in us, we do for the general welfare, for the establishment of liberty, for the preservation of our country and its borders, with the utmost constancy of spirit ordain this Constitution and declare it to be entirely sacred and inviolable until the people, at the time by law prescribed, by their clear will recognize a need to alter any of its articles. To which Constitution the further statutes of the present Sejm shall apply in everything.

I. The Dominant Religion

The dominant national religion is and shall be the sacred Roman Catholic faith with all its laws. Passage from the dominant religion to any other confession is forbidden under penalties of apostasy. Inasmuch as that same holy faith bids us love our neighbors, we owe to all persons, of whatever persuasion, peace in their faith and the protection of the government, and therefore we guarantee freedom to all rites and religions in the Polish lands, in accordance with the laws of the land.

II. The Landed Nobility

Reverencing the memory of our ancestors as the founders of a free government, we most solemnly assure to the noble estate all liberties, freedoms, prerogatives, and precedence in private and public life, and more particularly we confirm, assure and recognize as inviolable the rights, statutes and privileges justly and lawfully granted to that estate by Kazimierz the Great, Louis the Hungarian, Władysław Jagiełło and his brother Witold, Grand Duke of Lithuania, and no less those by Władysław the Jagiellonian and Kazimierz the Jagiellonian, by Jan Albert, the brothers Alexander and Zygmunt the First, and by Zygmunt August, the last of the Jagiellonian line. We acknowledge the dignity of the noble estate in Poland as equal to any degree of nobility used anywhere. We recognize all the nobility to be equal among themselves, not only in seeking for offices and for the discharge of services to the country that bring honor, fame or profit, but also in the equal enjoyment of the privileges and prerogatives to which the noble estate is entitled, and above all we desire to and do preserve sacred and intact the rights to personal security, to personal liberty, and to property, landed and movable, even as they have been the title of all from time immemorial, affirming most solemnly that we shall permit no change or exception in law against anyone's property, and that the supreme national authority and the government instituted by it shall lay no claims to any citizen's property in part or in whole under pretext of jurium regalium [royal rights] or any other pretext whatever. Wherefore we do respect, assure and confirm the personal security of, and all property by rights belonging to, anyone, as the true bond of society, as the pupil [źrenica] of civil liberty, and we desire that they remain respected, ensured and inviolate for all time to come. We recognize the nobility as the foremost defenders of liberty and of this Constitution, and we charge unto the virtue, citizenship and honor of every nobleman the reverence of its sanctity and the safeguarding of its durability, as the sole bulwark of the country and of our liberties.

III. The Cities and Their Citizens

We desire to maintain in its entirety, and declare to be part of this Constitution, the law passed at the present sejm under the title, Our Free Royal Cities in the States of the Commonwealth, as a law that provides new, genuine and effective force to the free Polish nobility for the security of their liberties and the integrity of our common country.

IV. The Peasants

Both from justice, humanity and Christian duty, as from our own self-interest properly understood, we accept under the protection of the law and of the national government the agricultural folk, from under whose hand flows the most copious source of the country's wealth, and who constitute the most numerous populace in the nation and hence the greatest strength of the country, and we determine that henceforth whatever liberties, assignments or agreements squires authentically agree to with peasants of their estates, whether those liberties, assignments and agreements be done with groups or with individual inhabitants of a village, shall constitute a mutual obligation, in accordance with the true sense of the conditions and provisions contained in such assignments and agreements, subject to the protection of the national government. Such agreements and the obligations proceeding therefrom, freely accepted by a landowner, shall so bind not only him but also his successors or purchasers of the right, that they shall never arbitrarily alter them. Likewise peasants, of whatever estate, shall not withdraw from agreements freely entered into, or from assignments accepted, or from duties therewith connected, except in such manner and with such conditions as stipulated in the provisions of said agreements, which, whether adopted in perpetuity or for a limited time, shall be strictly binding upon them. Having thus guaranteed squires in all profits due them from the peasants, and desiring as effectively as possible to encourage the multiplication of the people, we declare complete freedom to all persons, both those newly arriving and those who, having removed from the country, now desire to return to their native land, insofar as every person newly arrived from any part, or returning, to the states of the Commonwealth, as soon as he set foot upon Polish soil is completely free to use his industry as and where he will, is free to make agreements for settlement, wages or rents as and to such time as he agree, is free to settle in city or countryside, and is free to reside in Poland or to return to whichever country he wish, having previously acquitted such obligations as he had freely taken upon himself.

V. The Government, or Designation of Public Authorities

All authority in human society takes its origin in the will of the people. Therefore, that the integrity of the states, civil liberty, and social order remain always in equilibrium, the government of the Polish nation ought to, and by the will of this law forever shall, comprise three authorities, to wit: a legislative authority in the assembled estates, a supreme executive authority in a King and Guardianship, and a judicial authority in jurisdictions to that end instituted or to be instituted.

VI. The Sejm, or Legislative Authority

The Sejm, or the assembled estates, shall be divided into two chambers: a Chamber of Deputies, and a Chamber of Senators presided over by the King.

The Chamber of Deputies, as the image and repository of national sovereignty, shall be the temple of legislation. Therefore all bills shall be decided first in the Chamber of Deputies: primo, as to general laws, that is, constitutional, civil, criminal, or for the institution of perpetual taxes, in which matters proposals submitted by the throne to the provinces [województwa], districts [ziemie] and counties [powiaty] for discussion, and by instructions coming to the Chamber, shall be taken for decision first; secundo, as to resolutions of the Sejm, that is, temporary levies, degree of coin, contraction of public debt, ennoblements and other incidental rewards, disposition of public expenditures ordinary and extraordinary, war, peace, final ratification of treaties of alliance and trade, any diplomatic acts and agreements involving the law of nations, the quitting of executive magistracies, and like matters corresponding to the chief national needs, in which matters proposals from the throne shall come directly to the Chamber of Deputies and shall have priority of procedure.

The duty of the Chamber of Senators, comprising bishops, province chiefs [wojewodowie], castellans and ministers, presided over by the King, who is entitled to cast a votum [vote] of his own, and secondly to resolve paritas [parity: an equal division of votes] in person or by sending his judgment to that Chamber, is: primo, to adopt, or to retain for further deliberation by the nation, by the majority vote provided in law, every law which, having formally passed the Chamber of Deputies, shall immediately be sent to the Senate. Adoption shall confer the force and sanctity of law. Retention shall only suspend a law until the next ordinary Sejm, at which, if it be agreed to once again, the law suspended by the Senate shall be adopted; secundo, to decide every resolution of the Sejm in the above-enumerated matters, which the Chamber of Deputies shall immediately send to the Senate, together with the Chamber of Deputies by majority vote, and the conjoint majority, provided by law, of both Chambers shall be the judgment and will of the estates.

We stipulate that senators and ministers shall not have a votum decisivum [decisive vote] in the Sejm in matters concerning their conduct of office, either in the Guardianship or in commission, and at such time shall have a seat in the Senate only to give explication upon demand of the Sejm.

A legislative and ordinary Sejm shall be ever ready. It shall begin every two years and last as provided in a law on Sejms. A ready Sejm, convoked in exigencies, shall decide only about the matter in which it be convoked, or about an exigency befallen after it be convoked. No law shall be abrogated at the ordinary Sejm at which it has been enacted. A Sejm shall comprise the number of persons provided by lower law, both in the Chamber of Deputies and in the Chamber of Senators.

We solemnly confirm the law on regional sejms [sejmiki], enacted at the present Sejm, as a most essential foundation of civil liberty.

Inasmuch as legislation cannot be conducted by all, and the nation to that end employs as agents its freely elected representatives, or Deputies, we determine that Deputies elected at regional sejms shall, in legislation and in general needs of the nation, be considered under this Constitution as representatives of the entire nation, being the repository of the general confidence.

Everything, everywhere, shall be decided by majority vote; therefore we abolish forever the liberum veto ["free veto"], confederations of any kind, and confederate sejms, as being opposed to the spirit of this Constitution, subversive of government, and destructive of society.

Preventing on one hand abrupt and frequent changes of the national constitution, and on the other recognizing the need to perfect it after experiencing its effects upon the public weal, we fix a season and time for revision and amendment of the Constitution every twenty-five years. We desire that such a constitutional sejm be extraordinary in accordance with the provisions of a separate law.

VII. The King, the Executive Authority

No government, be it the most perfect, can stand without strong executive authority. The happiness of peoples depends upon just laws, the effect of the laws--upon their execution. Experience teaches that neglect of this part of government has filled Poland with misfortunes. Therefore, having reserved unto the free Polish people the authority to make laws for itself and the power to keep watch upon all executive authority, as well as to elect officials to magistracies, we confer the authority of supreme execution of the laws to the King in his council, which council shall be called the Guardianship of the Laws.

The executive authority is strictly bound to observe the laws and to carry them out. It shall act of itself where the laws permit, and where they need supervision, execution, or even forceful aid. Obedience is owed to it always by all magistracies; we leave in its hand the power to press magistracies that be disobedient or remiss in their duties.

The executive authority shall not enact or interpret laws, impose taxes or levies by any name, contract public debts, alter the distribution of treasury revenues established by the Sejm, wage war, or definitive[ly] conclude peace or treaties or any diplomatic act. It shall be free to conduct only interim negotiations with foreign states, and to take temporary and timely measures requisite for the security and peace of the country, of which it shall inform the next assembly of the Sejm.

We desire and determine that the throne of Poland shall be forever elective by families. Experience of disastrous interregnums periodically overturning the government, the obligation to safeguard every inhabitant of the Polish land, the sealing forever of avenue to the influences of foreign powers, the memory of the former grandeur and happiness of our country under continuously reigning families, the need to turn foreigners away from ambition for the throne, and to turn powerful Poles toward the single-minded cultivation of national liberty, have indicated to our prudence that the throne of Poland be passed on by right of succession. We determine, therefore, that following the life that Divine beneficence shall grant to us, the present-day Elector of Saxony shall reign in Poland. The dynasty of the future kings of Poland shall begin with the person of Frederick Augustus, present-day Elector of Saxony, to whose male successors de lumbis [from the loins] we reserve the throne of Poland. The eldest son of the reigning king shall succeed his father to the throne. Should the present-day Elector of Saxony have no male issue, then the consort, with the consent of the assembled estates, selected by the Elector for his daughter shall begin the male line of succession to the throne of Poland. Wherefore we declare Maria Augusta Nepomucena, daughter of the Elector, to be infanta of Poland, reserving to the people the right, which shall be subject to no prescription, to elect another house to the throne after the extinction of the first.

Every King, on ascending the throne, shall execute an oath to God and to the Nation, that he will preserve this Constitution and the pacta conventa ["agreed-to agreements"] that shall be drawn up with the present-day Elector of Saxony, as destined to the throne, and which shall bind him even as those of the past.

The person of the king is sacred and secure from everything. Doing nothing of himself, he shall be answerable for nothing to the nation. He shall not be autocrat but father and chief to the nation, and as such this law and Constitution deems and declares him to be. The incomes as they shall be provided for in the pacta conventa, and the prerogatives proper to the throne as stipulated by this Constitution to the future Elect, shall not be touched.

All public acts, tribunals, courts of law, magistracies, coin and stamps shall go under the King's name. The King, to whom shall be left every power of beneficence, shall have ius agratiandi [the right to pardon] those sentenced to death, except in crlminibus status [in crimes of state]. To the King shall belong the supreme disposition of the country's armed forces in wartime and the appointment of army commanders, howbeit with their free change by the will of the nation; it shall be his duty to commission officers and appoint officials pursuant to the provisions of lower law, to appoint bishops and senators pursuant to the provisions of that law, and ministers, as the prime officials of the executive authority.

The Guardians, or royal council, added to the King for supervision of the integrity and execution of the laws, shall comprise: primo the Primate, as chief of the Polish clergy and as president of the Educational Commission, who may substitute for himself among the Guardians the first bishop ex ordine [in rank], neither of whom shall sign decisions; secundo five ministers, to wit, a minister of police, a minister of the seal, a minister belli [of war], a minister of the treasury, and a minister of the seal for foreign affairs; tertio two secretaries, of whom one shall keep the protocol of the Guardians, the other the protocol of foreign affairs; both without a decisive votum.

The Successor the Throne, having emerged from minority and executed an oath to uphold the Constitution, may be present at all sessions of the Guardians, but without a vote [voice?: the Polish głos may mean either].

The Marshal of the Sejm, elected for two years, shall be of the number serving among the Guardians, without entering into their decisions, solely in order to convoke a ready Sejm in the event that he recognize in the cases requiring the mandatory convocation of a ready Sejm, a true need, and the King demur at convoking it, when said Marshal shall issue to the Deputies and Senators circular letters convoking them to a ready Sejm and stating the causes of its convocation. The only cases requiring the mandatory convocation of a Sejm are the following: primo, in an exigency involving the law of nations, more particularly in the event of war hard by the borders; secundo, in the event of internal disorder that threatens revolution in the country or collision between magistracies; tertio, in evident danger of famine; quarto, in the country's bereavement by death of the King, or in his dangerous illness. All decisions in the council of Guardians shall be discussed by the above-mentioned body of persons. The royal decision shall prevail after all opinions have been heard, that there be a single will in the execution of law. Therefore every decision from the Guardians shall issue under the King's name and with the signature of his hand, but it shall also be signed by one of the ministers seated among the Guardians, and thus signed, it shall oblige obedience, and shall be carried out by the commissions or by any executive magistracies, but particularly in such matters as are not explicitly excluded by this law. In the event that none of the seated ministers wish to sign the decision, the King shall abandon the decision, but should he persist in it, the Marshal of the Sejm shall request convocation of the ready Sejm, and if the King delay convocation, the Marshal shall convoke it.

Even as to appointment of all ministers, so also is it the King's right to summon one of them from every department of administration to his council of Guardians. This summoning of a minister to sit among the Guardians shall be for two years, with the King's free reconfirmation of it. Ministers summoned to the council of Guardians shall not sit in commissions [i.e., ministries].

In the event that a two-thirds majority of secret votes of the two conjoint Chambers of a Sejm demand change of a minister either in the Guardians or in an office, the King shall immediately appoint another in his place.

Desiring that the Guardians of the National Laws be bound to strict accountability to the nation for any and all their misdeeds, we determine that, when ministers be charged with breach of law by a deputation designated to examine their deeds, they shall answer in their own persons and property. In any such impeachments, the assembled estates shall by simple majority vote of the conjoint Chambers send the inculpated ministers to sejm courts for their just punishment equalling the crime or, their innocence being demonstrated, their release from proceedings and punishment. For the orderly carrying out of executive authority, we institute separate Commissions, having connection with the council of Guardians and bound in obedience to it. Commissioners shall be elected to them by the Sejm to carry on their offices for a time set by law. These Commissions are: primo of Education, secundo of Police, tertio of the Armed Forces, quarto of the Treasury.

The provincial [wojewódzkie] commissions of order instituted at this Sejm, also subject to the supervision of the Guardians, shall receive orders through the above-mentioned intermediary Commissions, respective[ly] as to the objects of the authority and obligations of each of them.

VIII. The Judicial Authority

The judicial authority shall not be carried out either by the legislative authority or by the King, but by magistracies instituted and elected to that end. And it shall be so bound to places, that every man find justice close by, that the criminal see everywhere over him the formidable hand of the national government.

We institute, therefore: primo Courts of first instance for every province [województwo], district [ziemia] and county [powiat], to which judges shall be elected at regional sejms. The courts of first instance shall be ever ready and vigilant to render justice to those in need of it. From these courts, appeal shall go to chief tribunals that shall be for each Region [prowincyja], comprising also persons elected at regional sejms. And these courts, both of first and of last instance, shall be landed proprietors' courts [sądy ziemiańskie] for the nobility and for all landowners in causis juris et facti [in matters of law and fact] with anyone.

Secundo We secure judicial jurisdictions to all cities, pursuant to the law of the present Sejm on the free royal cities.

Tertio We shall have separate referendary courts for each Region [prowincyja] in matters of free peasants under former laws subject to this court.

Quarto We preserve chancery [zadworne], assessorial, relational and Kurlandian courts.

Quinto The executive Commissions shall have courts in matters pertinent to their administration.

Sexto In addition to courts in civil and criminal matters for all the estates, there shall be a supreme court, called a Sejm Court, to which persons shall be elected at the opening of every Sejm. To this court shall be subject crimes against the nation and the King, or crimina status [crimes of state].

We command that a new code of civil and criminal laws be drawn up by persons designated by the Sejm.

IX. Regency

The council of Guardians shall be also a Regency, headed by the Queen, or in her absence by the Primate. A Regency may have place in only three cases: primo, during the King's minority; secundo, during an infirmity causing permanent mental alienaton; tertio, in the event that the King be taken in war. Minority shall last only until 18 years of age; and infirmity respecting permanent mental alienation shall not be declared except by a ready Sejm, by majority vote of three parts against the fourth of the conjoint Chambers. In these three cases, the Primate of the Polish Crown shall immediately convoke the Sejm, and if the Primate be slow in this obligation, the Marshal of the Sejm shall issue circular letters to the Deputies and Senators. The ready Sejm shall arrange the order of seating of the ministers in the Regency and shall empower the Queen to take the place of the King in his duties. And when the King in the first case emerge from minority, in the second come to complete health, in the third return from captivity, the Regency shall tender him account of its deeds and answer to the nation for the time of its office, even as is prescribed of the council of Guardians at every ordinary Sejm, in their own persons and property.

X. The Education of Royal Sons

Royal sons, whom the Constitution destines for succession to the throne, are the first sons of the nation, wherefore attention to their good education is a concern of the nation, without prejudice, however, to parental rights. Under the government of the King, the King himself, together with the Guardianship and with a supervisor of the education of the King's sons designated by the estates, shall see to their education. Under the government of a Regency, the Regency, together with the afore-mentioned supervisor, shall have the education of the Kings's sons entrusted to them. In either case, the supervisor designated by the estates shall inform every ordinary Sejm about the education and conduct of the royal sons. It shall be a duty of the Educational Commission to submit a scheme of instruction and education of the royal sons for confirmation by the Sejm, so that in their education uniform rules continually and early instill in the minds of future Successors to the Throne religion and love of virtue, country, liberty and the national constitution.

XI. The National Armed Force

The nation bears a duty to its own defense from attack and for the safeguarding of its integrity. Therefore all citizens are defenders of the national integrity and liberties. The military are nought but a defensive force drawn and ordered from the general force of the nation. The nation owes reward and esteem to its military because they dedicate themselves solely to the nation's defense. It is the military's duty to protect the nation's borders and general peace, in a word, to be its strongest shield. That the military fulfill this charge unfailingly, they shall remain always in obedience to the executive authority, as prescribed by law, and shall execute an oath of fidelity to the nation and to the King and to the defense of the national Constitution. Thus the nation's military may be used for the general defense of the country, for the safeguarding of fortresses and borders, or in aid of law, if any not be obedient to its execution.


Stanisław Nałęcz Małachowski, Great Crown Referendary, Marshal of the Sejm and of the confederation of the Crown Regions [prowincye koronne]. Kazimierz, Prince Sapieha, General of Lithuanian artillery, Marshal of the confederation of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Józef Korwin Kossakowski, Bishop of Livonia and Kurland, chief coadjutor of the Wilno Bishopric, as deputy. Antoni, Prince Jabłonowski, Castellan of Kraków, deputy from the senate of Lesser Poland [Małopolska]. Symeon Kazimierz Szydłowski, Castellan of Żarnów, deputy from the senate of the Lesser Poland Region [prowincya] mp [manu propria, Latin: "(signed) by his own hand"]. Franciszek Antoni Kwilecki of Kwilec, Castellan of Kalisz, deputy for the constitution from the senate of the Greater Poland [Wielkopolska] Region [prowincya]. Kazimierz Konstanty Plater, Castellan of Trakai [generalu trockiego], deputy for the constitution from the senate of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania mp. Walerian Stroynowski, chamberlain of Busko, Deputy from Wołyń [Volhynia], deputy for the constitution from Lesser Poland. Stanisław Kostka Potocki, Deputy from Lublin, deputy for the constitution from the Lesser Poland Region [prowincya] mp. Jan Nepomucen Zboiński, Deputy from the Dobrzyń district, deputy for the constitution from the Greater Poland Region [prowincya] mp. Tomasz Nowowieski, master of the hunt and Deputy from the Wyszogród district, deputy for the constitution from the Greater Poland Region [prowincya]. Józef Radzicki, chamberlain and Deputy from the Zakroczym district, deputy for the constitution from the Greater Poland Region [prowincya] mp. Józef Zabiełło, Deputy from the Duchy of Samogitia, deputy for the constitution. Jacek Puttkamer, Deputy from the province of Minsk, deputy for the constitution from the Grand Duchy of Lithuania Region [prowincya].

Our Free Royal Cities in the States of the Commonwealth

[A Sejm act, adopted 18 April 1791, and declared integral to the later May 3rd Constitution: see the Constitution, article III.]

Obl[ata] de 21 aprilis 1791 {Latin: "Registered, 21 April 1791"]

Article I. On the Cities

1-o We recognize all the royal cities in the lands of the Commonwealth as free.

2-o We recognize the citizens of these cities as free people, and the land within the cities inhabited by them, their homes, villages and territoria that lawfully now belong to them, as their hereditary property, which fact shall not impede pending litigation.

3-o We the King shall issue to cities whose foundation charters have been lost, upon proof of their previous existence, diplomata renovationis [renewed charters of privileges] together with the grant of land that they now indubitably possess.

4-o We the King shall issue foundation charters, if they do not yet have them, to royal cities in which district regional seyms are designated.

5-o If a settlement of free people in a happily situated place on royal lands shall give its abode the pleasing form of a city, in that event we the King shall issue to that settlement diploma erectionis [a founding charter] for the new city, together with a grant of land.

6-o Likewise squires on their lands shall have the right to establish cities or to confer freedom upon the husbandmen, and to make their cities locally hereditary; such settlements, however, shall not enter the rolls of free cities, except the squire shall by instrument of foundation grant them hereditary land, and then we the King shall, upon the squire's own request, issue diploma confirmationis [a document of confirmation] of this instrument and shall command the squire's instrument of foundation to be inscribed into said diploma.

7-o Inasmuch as there is a single law for all cities, a citizen of any city whatever shall enjoy equal privileges under the present law.

8-o All citizens of a city, whether of noble or civic birth, who wish to conduct commerce in pounds, cubits, etc., if they have or shall obtain property in the cities, of whatever dignity, profession or craft they may be, shall be obliged to accept and abide by civic law. Others of the nobility may accept civic law.

9-o Acceptance of civic law shall take place in the following manner. Everyone accepting civic law, on coming before the civic authorities in person or through a plenipotentiary, shall make declaration in the following words: "I, N.N. [Latin abbreviation for nomen nescio, "I do not know the name"], shall be faithful to His Majesty the King and to the Commonwealth, I take obedience to the laws and statutes of the Sejm as the strictest duty, I wish to be subject to the superior authority of the city of N [Latin abbreviation for nomen, "name"], to which I am joined in citizenship, and shall keep every obligation, all of which I pledge both for myself and for my heirs." After the execution of the declaration, he shall be inscribed into the book of citizens of the city.

10-o The cities shall not refuse admission to citizenship, and inscription into the civic book, of any honest foreigners, nor of any craftsmen, free people, or Christians not by law subject to anyone, and that without fee.

11-o Nobles by birth as well as those citizens of the civic estate who shall be admitted to the dignity of nobility, shall henceforth in no way be damaged or demeaned, either themselves or their heirs, in the dignity or prerogatives of nobility, by accepting civic citizenship, abiding in it, holding offices, conducting commerce, or maintaining manufactures.

12-o The election, by the citizens of the cities, of their own civic authorities, to wit, of mayors, aldermen and all and sundry officials, as an attribute of liberty, abides with the liberty of the city. Likewise shall the cities have power to make dispositions as to internal order and see to their execution, about which they shall inform the Commission of Police through reports.

13-o Wherefore all citizens of a city who are inscribed in the civic book and own a hereditary property, may elect and be elected to all civic offices by a majority of opinions. But no one may unite an executive office and a landed proprietor's function with the office and function of civic plenipotentiary, under pain of invalidating both; nor may a currently serving military person be a civic official.

Article II. On the Prerogatives of Townspeople

1-o We extend the cardinal law of neminem captivabimus nisi iure victum [Latin: "We shall imprison no one unless he be lawfully sentenced"] to persons residing in towns, save for guileful bankrupts who fail to post sufficient bail in court and who have been caught in the act.

2-o Cities wherein appellate courts are designated, shall before every ordinary sejm elect one plenipotentiary by majority vote from among citizens who own hereditary property in the cities, are suitable for public service, are crimine non notatos [not punished for a crime], are not under legal proceedings, and are distinguished by previous civic office, with freedom to choose said plenipotentiaries as well from other cities. These plenipotentiaries shall come on the day appointed for the sejm's opening to the city designated for sejms and shall give the marshal of the sejm the result of their election. At provincial [prowincjonalne] sessions, plenipotentiaries of the cities shall be elected to the commissions of Police, Treasury and the assessory, and at the selfsame sessions they shall be designated each to the commission and assessory to which they are to belong. But though all these may sit on the said commissions and the assessory as designated, still no more shall sit on the Commissions of Treasury and Police than two each, nor in the assessory more than three each from every province [prowincya]. The commissioners and assessors in these commissions and in the assessory shall have vocem activam [an active voice (vote?)] in matters pertaining to cities and commerce, and in other circumstances vocem consultivam [a consultative voice (vote?)]. If any or all the plenipotentiaries from the cities which have the right to elect plenipotentiaries shall be confirmed further, they may remain for a second two years. And in arranging the table of expenditures we shall establish a salary for these commissioners and assessors, for such number as is designated to sit on the commissions and on the assessory.

3-o That the government's solicitude for all the cities shall deal proper justice to their requests, we permit our cities to bring the desideria [desires] of the cities before the sejm through the civic assessors or commissioners serving on the assessory and on the Commissions of Treasury and Police; and these, when it become necessary and they desire it, shall ask the marshal of the sejm for permission to speak [głos], and this shall not be denied them, and they shall argue in the manner today practiced, whereby delegates from the commissions take the floor.

4-o After two years' public service in the aforesaid commissions or assessory, the plenipotentiaries elected by the cities shall at the next sejm immediately be ennobled, without fee for the patent nobilitatis [of nobility], if they not yet be nobles.

5-o Every townsman may henceforth acquire landed and other property as hereditament, own it entirely, and bequeath it to his heirs as his rightful successors, possess property by succession or iure potioritatis [by right of preference: a graduated priority of close family members in purchasing real property in the event of its sale by the current owner]; for which property, though they be townspeople, they shall be answerable to the court proper to property.

6-o Such townsman as shall purchase an entire village or town as hereditament that pays in taxes, every 10th grosz, at least 200 złotych, shall by virtue of the present law at the very first sejm, if he submit written application for it through the sejm marshal to the estates, be ennobled.

7-o Additionally, at every sejm 30 townspeople who own hereditary property in the cities shall be admitted to the privilege of nobility, with first consideration given to those who distinguish themselves in the military, serve on civilian-military committees of order, establish manufactures, conduct commerce in products of the country, and upon recommendation by landed deputies and upon recommendation by the cities.

8-o In all the armed forces (excepting the national cavalry), in every corps and regiment, citizens of civic condition shall henceforth be eligible to attain officers' ranks. And he who attains the rank of Stabskapitaen or company captain in the infantry, or captain of horse in a regiment, shall by virtue of the present law become a nobleman as well as his descendants, with all the prerogatives thereto pertaining, and we the King shall, upon showing of their commissions, issue diplomata nobilitatis [patents of nobility] to them, to which no stamp duty shall apply.

9-o Citizens of civic condition shall henceforth be eligible to serve in the chancelleries and palestras of all government commissions, court dicasteries, and other lesser courts, to act as court defender and to perform other services and to advance in rank in these offices according to their merits and abilities; and whoever of these attains the rank of chancellery regent in government dicasteries, shall at the very next sejm be ennobled, and we the King shall issue such diploma nobilitatis without fee.

10-o In the spiritual estate, persons of civic condition shall be eligible to hold prelatures and canonicates in collegiate churches, and doctoral canonicates in cathedrals, as well as all beneficia saecularia et regularia [secular and monastic benefices], excluding those that are established particularly for persons of noble birth.

11-o Commissioners from cities lying within the ambit of the commissions may be elected to the civilian-military committees of order of provinces, districts and counties, three apiece to each committee, be they of noble birth or of civic condition, provided only they own hereditary property in the city.

12-o Our cities of Gdansk and Torun, when they have requests, shall present them to the estates through their secretary to the marshal of the sejm or through their delegates, if they so choose, upon receiving from the marshal of the sejm permission to speak [głos], which shall not be denied them.

13-o The penalty for falsely claiming possession of property shall be as follows: whoever give someone hereditary landed property in exchange for a promissory note, shall forfeit it in perpetuity, and the court shall grant the said property to him who demonstrates the promissory note. Even should it be the same person who holds the property in exchange for a promissory note who proves this status of the property, it shall be granted to him in perpetuity. And the landed-property court shall judge such cases praecisa appellatione [without appeal].

14-o We abrogate all previous laws and statutes contrary to the present law on cities, and we proclaim the present act on cities to be constitutional law.

Article III. On Justice for Townspeople

1-o Leaving the cities to their proper jurisdictions within the city limits, we remove and exclude the cities with their suburbs from under all other jurisdictions, to wit, tribunal, landed-property, provincial, county [starościńskie] and castle [zamkowe], except for pending postcommission matters that have been sent to tribunals. We refer the marshal's jurisdiction, as pertaining only to the residential city of us the King, to the descriptions of the authority of that jurisdiction.

2-o We abrogate secular and ecclesiastical jurisdictions and small towns created within lands initially granted to cities, if they are hitherto within the property, only as to judicature and police; we subject these jurisdictions to the jurisdiction of the civic authorities, while we reserve all rents and incomes of any nature for the owners of these lands in the jurisdictions.

3-o Where, however, cities have hereditary landed villages, they shall answer in matters of those villages in jurisdictions proper to property.

4-o All citizens owning property in a city and engaged in any commerce or craft shall submit to civic jurisdiction and pay taxes equally, without regard to any exemption.

5-o In each city, the elected civic authorities shall constitute the judicial jurisdiction. In these magistracies, matters of all kinds shall be tried in prima instantia [in the first instance]. Cases not exceeding 300 złotych or in a misdemeanor case entailing a punishment of three days' imprisonment, shall be concluded definitively in these magistracies without possibility of appeal. In larger cases, appeal to higher appellate courts shall be permitted.

6-o For such appellate courts we designate the following cities, namely, in the Lesser Poland Region [prowincya małopolska] the cities of: Kraków, Lublin, Lutsk, Zhitomir, Vinnitsa, Kamenets-Podolskiy, Drohiczyn. In the Greater Poland Region [prowincya wielkopolska], the cities of: Poznań, Kalisz, Gniezno, Łęczyca, Warsaw, Sieradz, Płock. In the Lithuania Region [prowincya], the cities of: Vilnius, Grodno, Kaunas, Novogrudok, Minsk, Brest-Litovsk, Pinsk. To the appellate court in Kraków shall belong the cities lying in Kraków Province [województwo] and in the counties of Sandomierz, Wiślica and Chęciny. To the appellate court in Lublin shall belong the cities lying in Lublin Province, the Stężyca district, the counties of Radom and Opoczno, and the Chełm district. To the appellate court in Lutsk shall belong the cities in the provinces of Volhynia and Belz. To the appellate court in Zhitomir shall belong the cities of Kiev Province. To the appellate court in Kamenets-Podolskiy shall belong the cities of Podolia Province. To the appellate court in Vinnitsa shall belong the cities of Bratslav Province. To the appellate court in Drohiczyn shall belong the cities of Podlasie Province. To the appellate court in Poznań shall belong the cities of Poznań Province and the Wschowa district. To the appellate court in Kalisz shall belong the cities of Kalisz Province and Konin County, and to Kalisz shall belong the cities of that part of Pyzdry County that is on that side of the Warta River. To the appellate court in Gniezno shall belong the cities of Gniezno Province, Kcynia County, and that part of Pyzdry County that is on the Gniezno side of the Warta. To the appellate court in Sieradz shall belong the cities of Sieradz Province and of the Wieluń district. To the appellate court in Warsaw shall belong the cities of the Duchy of Mazowsze and of the province of Rawa. To the appellate court in Łeęczyca shall belong the cities of the provinces of Łęczyca, Brześć Kujawski and Inowrocław. To the appellate court in Płock shall belong the cities of Płock Province, the Zawskrzyń district, and the Dobrzyń district. To the appellate courts in the cities of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania Region [prowincya], namely: to the appellate court in the city of Vilnius shall belong the cities of Vilnius Province, the counties of Oshmiana, Lida, Ukmerge and Braslav, the province of Trakai and the county of Trakai. To the appellate court in the city of Grodno shall belong the cities of the counties of Grodno, Volkovysk and Merech. To the appellate court in the city of Kaunas shall belong the cities of the Duchy of Samogitia, of the counties of Kaunas, Prensk [?: powiat preński] and Upita. To the appellate court in the city of Novogrudok shall belong the cities of Novogrudok Province and the counties of Slonim and Slutsk [?: powiat słuczoreski]. To the appellate court in the city of Brest-Litovsk shall belong the cities of Brest-Litovsk Province and of Kobrin County. To the appellate court in the city of Pinsk shall belong the cities of the counties of Pinsk, Transriverine Pinsk [powiat pińsko-zarzeczny], Mozyr and Rechitsa. To the appellate court in the city of Minsk shall belong the cities of the provinces of Minsk, Polotsk and Vitebsk, and of Orsha County.

7-o In these appellate cities, every two years, shall be elected 5 persons each, noble and non-noble, property-owning townspeople, even persons from the civic authorities of those cities, or from other cities of that department that are assigned to those appellate courts. And the persons elected shall constitute the appellate court, with the proviso that persons from the civic authorities and aldermen elected to the appellate court, while serving in appellate office, shall not sit on or judge in courts primae instantiae [of first instance] of the civic authorities from which they are chosen.

8-o These courts shall judge matters on appeal from the civic authorities, whose value exceeds 300 złotych or the penalty--3 days' prison, and does not exceed the value of 3,000 złotych or the penalty--3 weeks' prison, and that, with finality, without possibility of appeal. In all matters of value greater than 3,000 złotych, and penalty--than 3 weeks' prison, appeal as hitherto from the civic authorities primae instantiae we desire by the present law to proceed not to the appellate courts of the cities but to our chancery [zadworne] courts, both in the Crown [Poland proper] and in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.

9-o Civic authorities shall not judge criminal matters but shall send them directly to appellate courts, which have power to judge these criminal matters, with the stipulation that a criminal sentenced to a term in prison shall be subject to execution of the decree. But when he is sentenced to perpetual imprisonment or to death, the appellate court shall send the inculpatory evidence and the decree to the assessory court. If the assessory court deems the decree of the appellate court, sentencing the culprit to perpetual imprisonment or to death, to be proper, only then shall the decree be executed. And we retain with the chancery courts matters of malfeasance by civic offices, as well as of owners' incomes from cities, and all others stipulated by the laws of the Commonwealth.

10-o We stipulate that cities shall be subject to the Commission of Police in matters of internal government and general civic incomes.


[The signers of the Free Royal Cities act are identical with those of the Government Act, except for the absence of Józef Korwin Kossakowski, Antoni Jabłonowski, Franciszek Antoni Kwilecki, and Tomasz Nowowieski.]

Translated from the Polish by Christopher Kasparek.

Note about the translation:

Heckert GNU white.svg This work is licensed under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.

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