The Polish Constitution of 1791

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The Polish Constitution of 1791…A Shining Example of Poland’s Quest For Freedom!!!
By Joseph P. Batory
On May 3, 1791, a startling new constitution was adopted by the parliament in Poland. This
document was unique and wonderfully different for Europe, an unprecedented landmark model
for freedom.
Similar to the newly adopted United States Constitution of 1787, this Polish Constitution of 1791
stated that government did not exist to benefit aristocratic rulers or monarchs or the wealthy
classes, but rather, government existed to enhance the lives of all people. Civil liberties were
extended to all citizens of Poland regardless of social class or ethnic origin. Three branches of
government were established, legislative, executive and judicial. Townspeople were given an
unprecedented right to own land and invited to participate in government. Freedom of religion
was guaranteed to all.
These basic ideas of the Polish Constitution---freedom for all, shared power, representative
government, and religious tolerance---shook the 18th century world of Europe.
The messages of the Polish Constitution --- of equality and liberty and justice --- so threatened
the monarchies and aristocracies of Prussia, Russia and Austria that armies from these three
nations soon invaded and devastated Poland and divided the Polish nation among themselves.
This outrage by Poland’s neighboring countries had the goal of crushing the Polish national
identity as well as its aspirations for liberty and freedom for all forever.
However, the human spirit of the Polish people could never be extinguished despite this tyranny.
Even without its sovereignty as a nation and despite 123 years of subjugation by foreign powers,
Poland’s egalitarian dreams and spirit lived on.
Then in the 20th century, more tragedy for Poland followed via the Nazi invasion at the start of
World War II and the Soviet oppression for more than 40 years after the end of the war.
Incredibly, despite all of the atrocities perpetrated on Poland by invaders, the ideals of freedom,
justice and equality inspired by the Polish Constitution of 1791 live on today in Poland. This is a
testament to the “heart and soul” of the Polish people.
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