Polish Partitions, 1772-1795 Duchy of Warsaw, 1807-1813

Poland : Constitutional Reform, 1788-1794

The FIRST POLISH PARTITION of 1772 had alarmed the Poles. Patriots, such as priests Stanislav Staszic and Hugo Kollotaj blamed the country's present constitution, especially the LIBERUM VETO, for the country's weakness. They demanded a reform of the constitution : the introduction of a hereditary monarchy, the abolition of the Liberum Veto, raising of the state's revenue and the introduction of a standing army.
An opportunity for reform arose when in 1788 the common policy of the partitioning powers broke. While Austria and Russia jointly fought the Ottoman Empire, Prussia chose the side of the Ottomans, and was willing to assist Poland.
In 1788 the GREAT SEJM met, to debate policy for the next 4 years. It decided to introduce a standing army of 100.000 men, and to nullify the constitution of 1768. On May 3rd 1791 it passed a new constitution turning Poland into a CONSTITUTIONAL MONARCHY. The Liberum Veto was abolished, as were Confederations and Lithuania's autonomous rights. While the position of burghers was improved, the nobles' rights remained untouched, and the farmers' position was not improved. The new constitution was passed with the consent of King STANISLAS AUGUST PONIATOVSKI and was ratified by a number of regional diets, thus becoming valid.
A Poland strengthened by constitutional reform was not in the interest of the partitioning powers. Polish noblemen opposing the new constitution established the CONFEDERATION OF TARGOWICA (23. 1. 1793) and invited Czarina Catherine to send Russian troops; Russia and Prussia soon agreed on the SECOND POLISH PARTITION. Poland's Diet had to concede to the cession of the territories and to cancel the constitution of 1791.

National Revival, from Library of Congress, Country Studies
DOCUMENTS Paper Money of Poland 1794, from napoleonicwars.com
Polish banknotes, from Was Nensberg's Collection of Russian Banknotes two more banknotes of 1794 Poland; others from Ron Wise's World Paper Money
Polish Constitution of 1791, from Polish World; from Verfassungen.de, in German
REFERENCE Enno Meyer, Grundzüge der Geschichte Polens (Main Features of Polish History), Darmstadt : Wissenschaftliche Buchgemeinschaft 1977

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2000, last revised on November 11th 2004

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