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Constitution of May 3

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Constitution of May 3


The Constitution of May 3 was passed in 1791 as a Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth regulatory legal order. It is widely accepted that the Constitution of May 3 was the first modern, written constitution in Europe and second in the world (after the American constitution from 1787).

It was planned in order to eradicate the long-standing defects based on the right to a free election as well as the democracy of nobleman’s political system within the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The constitution changed the structure of the state to a hereditary monarchy, which in turn significantly limited the nobles’ democracy, taking away the right to vote. The constitution formally abolished the practically unused for 27 years (since the establishment of the Confederate Sejm Labour Organisation in 1764) liberum veto. At the same time, the constitution was translated into Lithuanian.

A lot of historians think that the main reason behind the collapse of the country was the abuse of the liberum veto law, which from 1652 allowed each MP to break up Parliament and for the rejection of all the acts that have been passed by Parliament.  By using such an opportunity, magnats, and even agents working for the neighbouring countries, were easily able to bribe one or more people, to reject every reform that they deemed as inconvenient. Only the so called, “confederate parliament” was free from liberum veto. The Four-Year Sejm (also known as the Great Sejm), which accepted the Constitution of May 3rd, which was exactly like such sejm, and only this allowed for the acceptance of rather radical (for the given times) reforms.

Supporters of the constitution, in fear of the threat of using force by the Muscovite Party, accelerated the date of the meeting regarding the documents by two days (the planned date was May 5th 1791) using the fact that the main opponents have not yet come back from the Easter break. The date of the start of the session was not announced, and instead the supporters were called by name for the 3rd May meeting.

On the evening of May 2nd, a meeting took place in Radziwiłł Palace at which the project of the constitution was read out. During the night from the 2nd to the 3rd May at Marshal Małachowski’s house a “assekuracy” was signed (the commitment of supporting the constitution) regarding his true intentions of recovering his homeland

Parliamentary proceedings and the acceptance of the constitution took place during the time of the coup. The place of the proceedings, which was the Royal Castle in Warsaw, was guarded by the Royal Guard and military units led by prince Joseph Poniatowski, who alongside a group of officers found himself in the castle chamber near the throne.

182 MPs and senators (general count of around 500) gathered at the castle, from which 72 were opposed to the project of the constitution.

The constitution was passed by a majority vote, which was enthusiastically accepted by the crowd that gathered outside the castle. The protest against the enactment of the fundamental law was signed by 28 people, however, some later withdrew their signatures.

The constitution was obligatory for 14 months, in which the Four-Year Sejm passed a range of laws, which were an expansion of its decisions. The Grodno Sejm, through a written act in Grodno on the 23rd November 1793, regarded the Four-Year Sejm as void and annulled all the legal acts that were laid down through them.

The acceptance of the monarchical Constitution of May 3 resulted in the opposition of the republicans and also provoked the hostility of the Russian Empire, which from 1768 was the protector of the Republic of Poland and the guarantor of the inviolability of its regime. During the war in defence of the constitution Poland, betrayed by its Prussian ally Frederick William II, was defeated by Catherine the Great’s Russian army, who were in support of the Targowica Confederation – a conspiracy by Polish magnates against the change within the regime of the Republic of Poland. After the loss of independence in 1795, the struggle for independence was recalled for 123 years of partition. According to the two co-authors, Ignacy Potocki and Hugo Kołłątaja, it was the, “last will and testament of the extinguishing homeland”.

Source: Wikipedia

 Author: Waldemar Tański


John Paul II Polish Saturday School in Liverpool decided to join the project of “Polish Heritage Day”, which intends to establish annual celebrations related to the May 3rd National Holiday, within Great Britain. The purpose of the action is mutual celebrations by the Polish community on May 2nd the day of Polonia and Poles Abroad and the day of the Republic of Poland Flag as well as the Constitution of May 3 Day. Children from reception right through to high school have received pendant templates, which were designed and prepared by Ms Lucyna Zacharz. The pendants were decorated by children using their own drawings which kept in mind the day of Polonia and Poles Abroad, Republic of Poland Flag Day and the Constitution of May 3 Day. Through this, a wreath will be made which will decorate the school on May 6th. Pre-school children will prepare their own pendants based on their own design.

On the 6th May, an assembly will also take place to celebrate Constitution of May 3 Day, which will be prepared by Year 2 this year.