The Constitution of 3 May 1791

229 years ago, The Constitution of 3 May 1791 has been adopted for Poland and Lithuania (that were essentially a commonwealth back then). It was the very first such document in Europe and second in the world (shortly after United States Constitution from 1789). It’s a bit ironic as it happened 19 years after first partition of Poland between Russian Empire, Kingdom of Prussia and the Habsburg Monarchy (Austria) and merely 2 years before second (1793) and 4 years before third and final (1795) partition — Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was no more.

It took 123 years for Poland to get back on maps of Europe which happened with the end of World War I in 1918. There was an episode though, of some kind of country creation on the old, pre-partition lands called Duchy of Warsaw, that was a puppet state of Napoleon’s I France. It existed between 1807 and 1815 (after that everything went essentially back to where it was, i.e. Poland partitioned between three major powers of that time).

There are two quite cool things to both of these, rather sad, stories. Number one, Poland still treats Napoleon Bonaparte as almost a national hero. In plenty other European countries he is not treated as such, to say the least. He is even mentioned, tho this day, in the polish anthem:

“We’ll cross the Vistula, we’ll cross the Warta, We shall be Polish. Bonaparte has given us the example Of how we should prevail.”

This anthem was written in 1797, two years after Poland being wiped out of existence, by Jan Dąbrowski who was serving in Polish Legions of Napoleon’s army in France during revolution (it is said that Bonaparte held polish soldiers and officers in high regard).

Number two, because Poland was not existing on the maps for 123 years, the polish language was taught mainly in the underground. This brought one side effect which is that not a lot of changes/evolution happened because of that. This way modern polish kids can read almost anything from that era and understand majority (if not everything) of it.

In any cases, the Constitution of 3 May was there to provide hope and inspiration for regaining sovereignty. Picture attached to this post was painted by Jan Matejko 100 years after constitution was adopted, in 1891. To this day, 229 years later, 3rd May is a bank holiday in Poland to celebrate this special event and appreciate having a country.

Filip Chabik @hadret