May 3rd Constitution (see middle of Warsaw Gazette) / Konstytucja_3_Maja
The Constitution of May 3, 1791 (Konstytucja Trzeciego Maja) was drafted between October 6, 1788, and May 3, 1791, when it was adopted by the Great Sejm of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth . The contitution’s adoption was preceded by a period of agitation with the Convocation Sejm of 1764 and the election of Stanisław August Poniatowski as the Commonwealth’s last elective monarch.
The constitution had sought to prevail over and eliminate the anarchy, caused by the Liberum Veto, which had put the Country/King at the mercy of any single Sejm deputy who chose, or was bribed by an internal interest or external foreign power, to undo all the legislation that had been passed by the Sejm. The constitution’s adoption met with immediate hostilities, both political and military by the Commonwealth’s neighbors. In the War in Defense of the Constitution, the Commonwealth’s ally Prussia, broke its alliance with the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, which was effectively defeated by the three Empires: Russia, Prussia, & Austria-Hungary (aka Hapsburg).
[NOTE the parallels between this Sejm’s use of liberum veto and the U.S. Congresses of 2008-present who have abused/utilized omni-present obstructionist tools: filibuster and cloture to keep the Obama administration for achieving its goals.]
British historian, Norman Davies describes the legal document as “the first constitution of its type in Europe”; Other historians documented it as the world’s second oldest codified national constitution after the U.S. Constitution, which was effective on March 4, 1789 — just two years earlier.
The Commonwealth’s 1791 Constitution remained in effect for all of 14 months and 3 weeks. It would be a long time until the Second Republic would re-emerge after World War I and Poland would re-appear and be a free republic again.
[Source Material from Wikipedia]
Tomorrow is May 3rd and in Poland and Lithuania it is celebrated as Constitution Day (first celebrated jointly on May 3rd 2007). But Stanczyk is getting ahead of himself in this story.
This jester trusts by now that you know that Poland was country with the second constitution. I am also hopeful that you had read a prior blog article of mine: “Poland 1794, The Tempest, and Catherine The Great” . For the discussion on Poland’s Constitution, I’d like to try my hand at an even broader context.
Stanczyk maintains that 1732 was a very bad year for Poland. On 17 January 1732 Stanislaw Poniatowski was born in Wolczyn (which is in modern day Belarus). If the year had begun badly, then it would get much worse. On 13 September 1732, the secret treaty was signed at the Alliance of the Three Black Eagles. This was a secret treaty between Prussia, Russia and Hapsburg-Austria Empires (all three had Black Eagles as emblems — in stark contrast to Poland’s White Eagle). They agreed to maintain Poland in their “status quo” suffering from a non-functional szlachta with a Libretum Veto — meaning a single veto could derail any new law, further meaning that laws almost never got passed [sounds like 2009-2012 Washington D.C. does it not?]
Now let me narrate the rest of the story, before I give Constitution Day’s Timeline.
In 1750 Poniatowski met his mentor, the Briton, Charles Hanbury Williams . Williams was the British ambassador to Russia. They met again in 1753. Now while the Poniatowskich were a noble family, their family fortunes were not so great as the great magnate families. So they had to align themselves and hope for a strategic marriage for Stanislaw to a wealthier family. None the less, Stanislaw’s father was able to procure him some nominal titles. In 1755, the elder Poniatowski got his son Stanislaw, the title of Stolnik of Lithuania. Stolnik was a court office in Poland and Russia, responsible for serving the royal table. Keep that image in mind.
So armed with his new title of Stolnik of Lithuania, Stanislaw accompanied the British Ambassador to Russia, where the young Poniatowski met the also young (but very formidable) Catherine who had not yet become Empress of Russia (nor yet earned, her appellation, “The Great”). Stanislaw Poniatowski was only at the Russian court for one year. By 1756 Poniatowski was ordered to leave the Russian Court amidst some “intrigue”. It is thought that this intrigue resulted in the birth of Anna Petrovna (by Catherine the Great) on the 9th December 1757. It is also said that Stanislaw always hoped his bedding of Catherine would result in a future marriage for him. This jester thinks that Stanislaw deluded himself to think he had successfully wooed Catherine and that marriage was possible for the two of them. This jester also further thinks that Catherine, used this virtual “apron string” to manage Poniatowski to do her Russian bidding in Poland.
In 1762 Catherine used her new position as the Russian Empress and she was able to get Stanislaw to be elected King of Poland on 6 September 1764. It has now been 32 years of managing Poland’s status quo by the Three Black Eagles. So by 17 February 1772 the Three Black Eagles agreed to partition Poland. On August 5th, 1772 the occupation manifesto was issued and foreign troops entered Poland’s sovereign territory and forced a cession Sejm to convene with King Poniatowski and agree to the partition manifesto (probably Stanislaw thought it was best to go along with Russia in this matter and that this obedience would be rewarded) on 9/18/1773. Not much leadership in this jester’s mind was exhibited, but opposition to three Empires was probably futile anyway.
Life goes on for another decade. Stanislaw uses what little wealth of the Kingdom to foster arts & science, but with Prussia’s control of the Baltic Ports, and using its control to extort high custom duties from Poland on 80% of Poland’s economic trades to further collapse Poland’s economy and that limits Poniatowski’s wealth/power. Poniatowski also continues his hope for a noble marriage, but he does engage in a morganatic marriage to Elzbieta Szydlowska in 1783 and thereby maintains his options for a royal marriage.
In 1788 the Four Year Sejm convenes and Stanislaw thinks he can help Catherine The Great in her war with the Ottoman Empire by raising an army in Poland — which Catherine quickly squashes, but leaves the Polish Sejm alone while she wars with the Ottomans. Left to their own devices, this “Enlightened” body of lawmakers passes a constitution on 3rd May 1791. Even King Poniatowski celebrates this event. If you have read my prior blog article listed above, then you know this will NOT end well for Poland (or Poniatowski who is forced to abdicate the Polish throne 11/25/1795).
I think you can see that Poniatowski, Stolnik of Lithuania, served up Poland as a feast for Catherine The Great to enjoy repeatedly until even she was forced to make him abdicate and spend the remainder of his three years of life as a nominal prisoner in St Petersburg, Russia (so he could not meddle further in Russian affairs). Poniatowski died 2/12/1798 in St Petersburg, Russia. Poniatowski’s remains were removed and re-buried in Wolczyn, Belarus — until that church fell into disrepair. Poland reclaimed Poniatowki’s remains and he was buried a third time (14 February 1995) in St. John’s Cathedral in Warsaw, Poland — the very site where he had celebrated the Polish Constitution on May 3rd 1791.
Timeline of the Constitution:
5/3/1791 – Constitution is Passed (2nd in the world).
May 1792 Constitution Day is celebrated.
July 1792 King Poniatowski joins the Targowice Confederation against Poland and his own nephew (and Kosciuszko too) who were fighting the War To Defend The Constitution with Russia and Catherine the Great who was now freed up from warring with the Ottomans and now able to show her displeasure.
1793-1806 – Constitution Day is banned during the the 2nd/3rd Partition years.
1807-1815 – Constitution Day is celebrated in the Duchy of Warsaw thanks to Napoleon.
1815-1918 – Constitution Day is unofficially celebrated / discouraged in Congress Poland
April 1919 – The re-emerged Polish Republic celebrates Constitution Day again until 1940.
World War II – Constitution Day is banned again.
1945 – Constitution Day is celebrated.
1946 – The Communists cancel Constitution Day. They substitue May Day (May 1st) as an attempt to replace the Constitution Day celebration.
April 1990 – Poland out from under the Communist yoke celebrates Constitution Day again.
May 3rd 2007 – Poland & Lithuania celebrate Constitution Day jointly echoing their former Commonwealth days. This is the first jointly celebrated Constitution Day.
Perhaps one day, the USA will celebrate with Poland on May 3rd as the two countries with the oldest constitutions. [Now, please I know Polonia all over the USA, but most notably in Chicago mark May 3rd annually.] Indeed you are reading this blog about May 3rd. So Polonia still mark the day, the old country adopted the second oldest constitution.
Happy Constitution Day!
May 3rd is also Feast Day of Mary Queen of Poland!
But that is another story.