Polish Rebellion, 1863-1864

A.) The Situation Preceding the Rebellion

Czar Nicholas, associated by Polish patriots with the suppression of the Polish Rebellion of 1830-1831 and with a repressive policy toward Poland, died in 1855. Hopes invested in the new Czar, Alexander II., labelled a liberal, regarding a liberalization of the Russian administration in Poland, were soon disappointed. Poland lacked representative institutions, and even the establishment of a Polish law school was objected to by the Russian authorities. The ongoing industrialization, although reaching Poland later than countries in western Europe, caused social and economic problems that were to ne addressed. Polish patriots split into the moderate whites who hoped to gain concessions from the Russian authorities and the Reds who pursued a policy of conflict.
The progress made by Italian patriots (Garibaldi) in their quest for national unification made a great impression on Congress Polish intellectuals. The years 1860 and 1861 were characterized by a series of political demonstrations; the atmosphere was explosive. Gorchakoff, the Russian governor, realized that concessions had to be made to avoid a revolution; conservative, pro-Russian magnate Alexander Wielopolski was placed in charge of a commission supervising an educational reform (opening resp. reopening of Polish schools and colleges). The measures were did not satisfy the Polish patriots.

B.) The Rebellion

Thousands of young men, in order to avoid conscription into the Russian army, hid in the forests. They organized themselves, were armed by the "Reds", and on January 22nd 1863 began the rebellion, in total c. 10,000 strong. Poorly armed and hardly trained, they faced regular government forces totalling 195,000 men. A PROVISIONAL GOVERNMENT was formed which proclaimed thorough political reforms and attempted to support the rebel army, which engaged in guerilla warfare. Abroad, the Poles registered a great degree of sympathy in public opinion; however no foreign government declared herself in favour of the rebels, Prussia even was to close her borders to prevent Polish patriots flee onto her territory.
In Poland, Bismarck's measure resulted in many Poles, among them magnates such as Wladislaw Czartoryski, taking up arms and joining the rebels; the rebellion spread into Lithuania, even affected Livonia, Belarus, the Ukraine.
The escalation of the rebellion had caused the Russian administration to alter her policy. Recognizing the division of the Polish rebels in a radical and a conservative element, the government proclaimed the emancipation of the serfs in the Polish areas (1863), a measure which alienated especially the non-Polish serfs in Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine and their Polish former owners. Russian forces proceeded with brutality against the rebels. The war ended in September 1864, with the execution of members of the Provisional Government; on the Polish side the number of victims is given at 25,000.

C.) Legacy

The border regulation of 1921 assigned western Belarussian and western Ukrainian territory to Poland (and the larger remainder soon to be included in the USSR). However, despite these inclusions, Poland became a unitary state; the federal concept was not implemented.

The Uprising of 1863 and the Era of Positivism, from History of Poland, by F. Kobylarz Biography of Joseph Dabrowski, from Catholic Encyclopedia
January Revolt in Polish Lands of Russia 1863-1864, from ACED
Deluge: Siberian Exile and the 1863 Polish Uprising, by Andrew Gentes, Rutgers
DOCUMENTS Medal for the suppression of Polish rebellion 1863-1864, posted by Ice Warrior, a commercial site

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on May 28th 2003, last revised on November 19th 2004

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