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Poland’s Last King and English Culture$

Richard Butterwick

Print publication date: 1993

Print ISBN-13: 9780198207016

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198207016.001.0001

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The Influence of the English Constitution on the Constitution of 3 May 1791

The Influence of the English Constitution on the Constitution of 3 May 1791

(p.275) 12 The Influence of the English Constitution on the Constitution of 3 May 1791
Poland’s Last King and English Culture

Butterwick Richard

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

Opponents of hereditary succession did not deny English freedom, but argued that a hereditary throne in Poland would lead to slavery. The majority of reformers justified a hereditary throne by citing England, but also wished to reduce the royal prerogative yet further. The ‘English model’ served as a pretext for certain reforms, especially for the introduction of hereditary succession to the throne. Stanislaw August stressed that the new law, passed unanimously, solemnly reiterated the Law on Government and therefore envoys who opposed the Constitution of 3 May would be contradicting themselves. The English influence upon the Constitution of 3 May was less than Stanislaw August would have wished. The king himself was most interested in the English example in the key spheres of the Seym and the royal prerogative.

Keywords:   hereditary succession, slavery, Constitution, Seym, English model

A change in the international order was heralded by Russia’s switch from a Prussian to an Austrian alliance in 1781. The long anticipated war with Turkey broke out in 1787. Prussia and England, isolated at the beginning of the decade, gravitated towards each other after the death of Frederick II, while the Prussian intervention in the Netherlands proved that France was financially and politically bankrupt after the War of American Independence. At Kaniów on the Dnieper in 1787, Stanisław August offered Catherine Polish troops to fight the Turks in return for fiscal reform and an increase in the army. Up-river in Kiev, a loose coalition of magnates led by Xawery Branicki and Ignacy Potocki tried to outbid him. Catherine gave only a tardy and partial acceptance of Stanisław August’s offer, but haughtily dismissed his opponents. Amid rising anti-Russian sentiments in Poland, the disappointed Potocki began to look to Prussia. The political temperature rose through 1788. The Seym, which was confederated to pass the Russian alliance, promised to be the stormiest in years. When the Prussian envoy Buchholtz read out a note from Frederick William II warning against an alliance with Russia and offering help, Stanisław August lost control. His majority evaporated, and the Seym decreed an army of 100,000 in scenes of delirious enthusiasm, without any consideration of how it was to be paid for. Having prolonged itself indefinitely, the Seym went on to abolish the hated military department, the department of foreign affairs, and in January, the Permanent Council itself. It had become a ‘ruling Seym’ (Seym rządzący). After destroying the old order, it could begin to think about constructing a new one. On 3 May 1791, after a long and winding road, a new constitution was passed.1

(p.276) From the moment in which the proposed Law on Government (Ustama Rządowa) was read out to the Seym by Stanisław Małachowski, the extensive influence of both the English and American systems of government upon the Constitution of 3 May 1791 has been asserted. For Małachowski said:

In this age we have two most famous republican systems of government; the English, and the American, which corrected the faults of the former. But that, which we are to establish today, will be still more perfect, because it unites in itself, whatever in both systems is best and most proper to be in our own.2

Małachowski’s statement, however, glossed over the fundamental differences in aim between the main authors of the Constitution—Stanisław August, Ignacy Potocki, and Hugo Kołłątaj. From the political point of view, it was as well for Małachowski to minimize the ‘monarchical’ elements in the constitution; the more ‘republican’ it could be made to look in the eyes of the noble nation, the better.3

That the marshal of the Seym should praise the American constitution somewhat at the expense of the English is in itself evidence, not only of Polish sympathy for the American cause, but also of the suspicions which advocacy of an English-style constitution could continue to arouse in some quarters.4 In the course of the fierce debate over the shape of the future form of government during the Four Year Seym, critics of the English model were not lacking. As this subject has already attracted the attention of historians,5 it is not necessary to provide a comprehensive (p.277) analysis. Nevertheless, in order to understand the difficulties encountered by Stanisław August and his fellow reformers in agreeing and forcing through the Constitution of 3 May, a review of the uses made of the English model in the polemical battles of the Four Year Seym will be helpful. From the outset those battles were dominated by the issue of hereditary succession to the throne. On that score, the publication of Stanisław Staszic’s Uwagi nad życiem Jana Zamoyskiego (‘Considerations on the life of Jan Zamoyski’) in 1787, which argued that granting the Polish crown with hereditary succession to a foreign prince was a price worth paying for a ‘natural ally’, put the spark to the tinder.6 In the ensuing debate, the English example was used as a tool in political polemics. Objectivity was in short supply.7


Among the critics, a few die-hard ‘old republicans’, as well as some enthusiastic, Rousseau-quoting supporters of the French Revolution like Gabriel Taszycki and Wojciech Turski,8 denied that a hereditary monarchy, whether in England or anywhere else, was compatible with freedom. The appearance in 1789 of Rousseau’s Considérations sur le gouvernement de Pologne in Polish translation undoubtedly encouraged opponents of the English model. ‘English freedom’ was a fiction! At best, it was restricted to elections. So stated Seweryn and Adam Rzewuski, Tadeusz Czacki, and the anonymous author of Uwagi nad rządem angielskim y inne dła wolnego narodu użyteczne (‘Considerations on the English government and other considerations useful to a free nation’). One reason was that no safeguards existed to prevent the king breaking the law and ruling tyrannically, in the manner of Henry VIII. Blackstone and Filangieri were ransacked to prove the point.9 If the English enjoyed any freedom at present, it was because the Hanoverian kings were weak. The second reason (p.278) was that the king of England had so corrupted Parliament by his powers of patronage that he did as he pleased without having to resort to tyranny. The much vaunted responsibility of ministers to Parliament was therefore worthless. In general, ‘a man would have difficulty in deciding if it would be better for him to be a citizen in England, or a subject under despotic rule.’10 The American colonists had evidently come to that conclusion and had revolted against royal tyranny. Why should not the Poles follow their example and suppress the institution of monarchy altogether?

Such confidence, whether apparent or real,11 was not shared by all the old republicans. Faced with the authority of Montesquieu, other opponents of the English model preferred to argue in the manner of Montesquieu that while the English enjoyed freedom, the English constitution was unsuitable for transplantation to Poland. One author, Olizar Wołczkiewicz, devoted 320 pages to this very subject.12 The islanders’ famed love of liberty (attributed by Montesquieu to the incommodiousness of their climate)13 was turned into an argument against the introduction of a hereditary throne in Poland. The English national character had led to civil wars against would-be absolute kings. The Poles, having, it was alleged, a milder temperament, would soon allow themselves to be enslaved, should the throne be made hereditary.14 Stanisław August, it may be recalled, had less faith in the proverbial English love of liberty. Other reasons advanced for the survival of English freedom included the country’s island situation—no foreign monarch could help the English king become a despot. The threat posed by the Pretenders forced the monarchs to seek the support of the nation, and the dependence of the economy on overseas trade supposedly inhibited royal efforts to seize the wealth of the citizens, as landed estates were easier to confiscate. Other hypotheses included the part allegedly played by the ‘common people’ (pospólstwo) in the legislature, the populousness of London, which deterred the use of a standing (p.279) army, and even the role of the king as head of the Church—he was forced to obey the voice of conscience!15

The influence of the English model, however, was such that one writer used the name of ‘Lord Burke’ (sic) to warn against its adoption, especially as regarded hereditary succession to the throne. Although he declared that England and Poland were animated by the same spirit of freedom, different in its philosophy from that of the French Revolution (an attempt at authenticity), he counselled: ‘do not take any example either from our form of government in England; for being separated from all our neighbours by seas, it is absolutely necessary that we should have a different system of government from you.’16

Opinion as to the merits of the English constitution had undergone a sea change. While Hetman Rzewuski and his supporters could still appeal to provincial anti-English prejudices, in the more enlightened capital their arguments lacked credibility. Rzewuski himself wrote that he heard the English constitution constantly praised and set before the Poles as a model.17 Hence the caution of other critics, and hence also the extensive use made of the popular American cause. That the English constitution reconciled hereditary monarchy with freedom had become a commonplace. Konarski’s old dictum to that effect was often quoted.18 In the Seym on 16 September 1790, Julian Niemcewicz backed up his call for a hereditary throne by citing the English example: ‘you have no freer nation under the sun.’ In reply, the conservative Wojciech Suchodolski did not deny the reconciliation of freedom with hereditary succession in England, but instead cited the examples of Hungary, Bohemia, Denmark, and Sweden, where the introduction of a hereditary monarchy had, in his opinion, led to slavery.19 At the beginning of 1791, Niemcewicz’s comedy, Powrót posła (‘The return of the envoy’), did more than any pamphlet to make opponents of a hereditary throne and the English system of government look ridiculous. Jan Suchorzewski’s outraged protests only produced outbursts of laughter in the Seym.20

(p.280) Thus far we have made no nice distinction between ‘the English system of government’ and ‘hereditary succession to the throne’. Nor did many of those who cited the English example. Among the leaders of the reform camp in the Seym, and also in diplomatic circles, the two had become virtually coterminous.21 This vagueness enabled the proponents of a hereditary throne to put to one side the question of the actual prerogatives of the King of England, which were uncomfortably closer to those attributed to him by Rzewuski and his supporters than they cared to admit.22 Kołłątaj shunted the issue into a long endnote of his answer to the hetman, where he argued cogently enough that England guaranteed perfect civil liberty to all its citizens and was therefore distasteful to the magnates. Political liberty was adequately guarded from the king by the division of the legislative power between king, Lords, and Commons, and by the right of the Commons to withhold taxes. Yet at least until 1791, Kołłątaj paid only lip-service to the separation and balance of the legislative, executive, and judicial powers, and his proposals would have resulted in a ‘ruling Seym’.23 Kołłątaj and Tadeusz Morski reconciled their admiration for the Americans with the English model by holding that the Americans had only claimed the rights of Englishmen.24 The ‘patriot’ leaders and publicists rejected the American-style king-less republic proposed by Rzewuski and Szczęsny Potocki by denying its applicability in Polish conditions. Poland had no ocean to defend her, and the loose federal system envisaged by the old republicans would mean the rule of each province by a magnate kingling. Moreover, as Kołłątaj reminded Rzewuski, in America there were no subjects or social estates, only men.25

Practically the whole current of reformist thought in the first half of the Four Year Seym flowed in fact towards further ‘republicanization’ of the form of government. The king would be stripped of most of his remaining powers in favour of a ‘ruling Seym’. There was some hesitation over (p.281) whether it should be constantly in session (trwały) or merely reconvenable (gotowy). While neither idea was foreign to Polish republicanism, the former was associated by both the king and some of his opponents with the English model. Stanisław Kostka Potocki thought that premature in Polish conditions and insisted on a reconvenable Seym.26 Any central executive body would have a purely supervisory function. In other words, the ‘shame’ of 1776 would be avenged.27 Within this framework, the responsibility of ministers to Parliament and the absence of the King of England from the cabinet, occasionally recommended by reformers, would help to reduce royal influence to nil (this appealed to old republicans as well).28 The new ‘enlightened republicanism’ was the product of traditional szlachta republican thought under the heady influence of Rousseau, combined with a craving to throw off the Russian shackles.29 The bitter experience of chaos, corruption, and foreign intervention during interregna, although it knocked away the intellectual props of royal elections, was not the primary source of the ‘patriot’ leaders’ desire to make the Crown hereditary. More pressing was the need to secure the Commonwealth against future aggression. This was to be done by making an alliance with another power. The bargaining counter was to be the offer of the Polish crown with hereditary succession. Too often, however, the reformers failed to appreciate that neither the Elector of Saxony nor anyone else would accept the Polish throne if its prerogatives were to be yet further whittled down. Nevertheless, the illusion persisted, even after 3 May 1791.30

(p.282) The Polish ‘patriots’ therefore interpreted ‘the English form of government’ very much as it suited them. For the most part they would graft a hereditary throne onto a republican system of government, and justify it by citing ‘England’. When they looked a little closer, they took their view of the English constitution from the opposition Whigs and from Montesquieu, whose common source was the Country or ‘patriot’ opposition to Walpole.31 Nevertheless, it was Montesquieu that royalists quoted in order to defend the Permanent Council from the ‘ruling Seym’.32 ‘Monarchist’ recommendations of the English example, that is, calling for an extension to the royal prerogative, were far rarer. Surprisingly, the most telling monarchist work of all, Józef Pawlikowski’s Myśli polityczne dla Polski (‘Political thoughts for Poland’) (1789), made no mention of England.33 Defending the Permanent Council, Roch Lasocki argued that

England has a hereditary king, who has control over the army and the power to make war or peace, and the nation, perhaps even more jealous than ourselves of its rights and liberties, does not complain about it; it has its tranquillity secured, without feeling the burden and power of the army, which the king controls, and which is the cause of its great importance in Europe.34

The best tract written about the English constitution was Ignacy łobarzewski’s Zaszczyt wolności polskiey angielskiey wyrownywaiący (‘The honour of Polish freedom equalling the English’), which was followed by a project for a ‘republican’ form of government, Testament polityczny.35 Their interest for us is heightened by the facts of łobarzewski’s having worked in a department of the Permanent Council until it was abolished in January 1789, and his receipt of a royal pension from the middle of that year.36 It is unlikely that Stanisław August was directly responsible for the works; he would not have agreed, as we shall see, with the proposal that members of the ‘custodial council’, or Straż, should be elected (p.283) by the chamber of envoys but should not take part in the deliberations of the Seym.37 Nevertheless, he was clearly pleased by them,38 and so in some measure they may be taken as an expression of the attitude of the king and his circle to the English constitution.

łobarzewski had toured England in 1786 with his late patron, August Sułkowski; he knew English, and was better informed than his rivals. He even brought back eighteen volumes of Parliamentary History for Stanisław August,39 but nevertheless he idealized the English constitution, especially parliamentary elections,40 and borrowed heavily from Montesquieu. He appealed to sentiments of noble equality and severely castigated the magnates. Apart from advocating a hereditary throne (although freedom was to be safeguarded by a short interregnum between the death of the old king and his successor’s taking the oath),41 łobarzewski proposed the extension of the royal prerogative to correspond with that of the king of England. In the legislative sphere, he urged that the king and the senate should each have a full power of veto. The apparent similarity of the three estates of the Seym to the king in parliament was, he wrote, fictitious, because in Poland the chamber of envoys had usurped all the legislative power to itself. (A similar view was expressed by the author of a project presented to the Seym deputation for the form of government in late 1789.) Quoting Montesquieu, łobarzewski argued that a ‘ruling Seym’ would lead inevitably to tyranny, as was already the case in that old szlachta favourite, Venice.42 He stressed the importance of the responsibility of ministers, not the king, to Parliament,43 and that members of the House of Commons were not bound by instructions. As a result, they acted as the representatives of the entire nation, and not merely of their constituents.44 He accompanied such proposals with a comprehensive account of the progress of liberty in England, seeing in the Commons’ control of the purse-strings liberty’s source and guarantee.45 One strong influence (p.284) of Montesquieu was in the definition of English freedom as submission to the law. łobarzewski held up the English judicial system as a paradigm of humanity and fairness, and made much of the execution of Lord Ferrers in 1760 for murdering his servant. He urged that, as in England, the king should be able to commute the death sentence.46 Many of these points also found expression in Stanisław August’s programme.

The English example also served writers urging the extension of political rights to burghers, and the abolition of serfdom. The flourishing of England’s trade and agriculture was attributed to the lack of a noble monopoly of political power and the absence of serfdom. Was the English nobility any less well off than the Polish as a result? ‘And what is the cause of this wealth? Freedom,’ wrote one author.47 It was difficult for Polish writers to grasp the informal and conditional control of England by the aristocracy. There was some exaggeration of English social mobility. One writer alleged that a tailor could rise to be a minister if he had the talent. The name of the House of ‘Commons’ caused confusion. Perhaps Staszic came closest, stating that it was composed of representatives of both the ‘szlachta’ and the towns.48 świtkowski wrote that if agriculture were to flourish, apart from freedom, farmers must have the incentive of the comforts provided by flourishing town life. He described, rather sanguinely, the lot of the English tenant farmer, who

lives like a prosperous Polish nobleman, he dresses and feeds himself honestly, he has the best horses, oxen, ploughs, and carts, and on holidays drinks English beer from a large silver beaker, and this is to be seen not just around London, but throughout the entire country.49

On social questions, therefore, the use made of the English model did not rise to as high a plane as in the debate over the nature of the monarchy. At its base, England’s social structure differed too greatly from Poland’s to be of much relevance.

(p.285) The polemics about England were therefore dominated by the question of whether a hereditary throne could be reconciled with freedom. Seweryn Rzewuski and a few others stated that it could not, and that ‘English freedom’ was a fiction. Other opponents of hereditary succession did not deny English freedom, but argued that a hereditary throne in Poland would lead to slavery. The majority of the reformers justified a hereditary throne by citing England, but also wished to reduce the royal prerogative yet further. Those advocating an increase in the prerogative to correspond with that of the King of England found themselves in a small minority. The noble nation’s suspicion of any form of strong executive remained intense.


The Constitution of 3 May was the outcome of a rapprochement between the king and the leaders of the ‘patriots’. Although the king had always trusted Stanisław Małachowski and, to a lesser extent, Kołłątaj, bringing together Stanisław August and Ignacy Potocki was not easy. Potocki had little regard for Stanisław August’s ability or character, and suspected that the monarch harboured despotic ambitions. In 1788–9 he had been the chief tribune of the ‘ruling Seym’ that had reduced the king to a virtual cipher. Stanisław August also remembered Potocki’s wounding attacks upon him during the 1780s, and feared being compromised in the eyes of the nation. The achievement of any sort of trust between them was extraordinarily difficult.50 The experience of the chaotic first two years of the Seym nevertheless forced Potocki to acknowledge that the road from old republicanism to ‘enlightened republicanism’ was maddeningly slow. Cracks soon began to appear in the opposition between the progressive elements and the filibustering supporters of the hetmans. For his part, Stanisław August refused to ‘reconfederate’ the country against the Seym as Stackelberg desired, and dropped his opposition to the Prussian alliance in order to preserve national unity and prevent a confrontation that might lead to Prussian intervention and a new partition. Trying to moderate rather than reverse the flow, he made full use of his powers of oratory in the Seym and steadily rose in authority.51 His powers of nomination were restored to him after much debate in September 1790.52 As (p.286) that year wore on, it became evident to Potocki that while it had been easy to overthrow the Permanent Council and the ambassadorial-royal duopoly, the ‘patriots’ were not strong enough by themselves to force constitutional reform through the Seym. Only with royal support was progress towards a new constitution possible. In fact, tentative efforts to effect a reconciliation began in the summer of 1789. The role played by the radical democrat Scipione Piattoli was crucial. He was originally sent to the castle to spy on the king, but while retaining the trust of Potocki, he became increasingly attached to Stanisław August.53 The last straw for Potocki was the conservative attitude of the provincial szlachta revealed by the instructions of the November 1790 seymiki. Stanisław August’s old distrust of the seymiki was underscored. A majority of the instructions defended free royal elections. Proposals to sequester the funds of the Commission for National Education and return schooling to monastic orders distressed both the king and Potocki. Stanisław August deplored ‘cette renaissance de barbarisme’,54 but was consoled by the electoral success of his own supporters and, it may be added, by Potocki’s discomfort. On 4 December 1790, Potocki visited Stanisław August at the castle, and invited the king to draw up his own project for a new constitution.55

Potocki’s change of heart was not just forced upon him by political necessity. He also underwent an ideological conversion. In 1789, he had been the chief author of the ‘Principles for the correction of the form of government’ (Zasady do poprawy formy rządu)—the first step taken by the Seym towards the creation of a new constitution. This was a logical conclusion of traditional republican political thought which also showed the strong influence of Rousseau and the phraseology of the French National Assembly, as Stanisław August discerned. Naturally, the organs of executive power were to ‘emanate’ from the Seym, despite the endorsement of the separation of powers. Nevertheless in legislation, even the concept of the ‘ruling Seym’ did not suffice, as all laws and taxes were to be passed by a simple or qualified majority (and in the case of ‘cardinal laws’ by all) of the seymiki instructions. It was through the seymiki that the ‘general will’ of the nation was expressed.56 Now, on 4 December 1790, Potocki (p.287) was proposing ‘une monarchic limitée’. Evidently, the results of the November seymiki had shaken his faith in pure noble democracy. He now thought that until such time as the nation could be enlightened, a compromise with the monarch would be better than trusting either the Seym or the seymiki.57 Kołłątaj’s views underwent a similar evolution from his extreme republicanism in his Listy anonima (‘Letters of an anonymous correspondent’) to his acceptance of a stronger executive in his work on the final form of the constitution.58 Both, however, continued to fear royal power.

The example of England played a role in the sparring between the king and the ‘patriots’ in 1789–90. As has been shown, the ‘English constitution’ was used very loosely by the latter. It is quite likely that this very vagueness of expression gave both the ‘patriot’ leaders, especially Potocki, and the king a flexible and respectable cover under which they could fence on the sensitive subject of the royal prerogative, which, if confronted directly, might have produced a swift rupture. Stanisław August used the pacta conventa in a similar way. During a conversation on 27 July 1789, Potocki was not yet in a mood for compromise, and the discussion was robust. After discussing which powers of nomination should be left in royal hands, Stanisław August asked: ‘Do you wish, Sir, to leave the king the right of veto, as has the king of England?’ Potocki answered categorically: ‘Oh no!’59 On 8 December 1789, the king conversed with the Prussian envoy Lucchesini, who was in close contact with Potocki:

W teyże konwersacyi gdy naturalnie [my italics] upadła pochwała Rządu Angielskiego, to mi dało powód powiedzenia: ‘…Szczęśliwym bym się zaiste sadził, gdyby moy los był przyrownany losowi Krola Angielskiego; ale się tego nie spodziewam.’ On na to zwrocił dyskurs na inszą materyę.

(In that conversation, naturally it came to pass that the English system of government was praised, which gave me an occasion to say ‘…I would consider myself truly happy, if my fate were to be compared with the fate of the King of England, but that I do not expect.’ At that he turned the discussion to other material.)60

The ‘respectable cover’ is well illustrated by the next incident. On 20 December 1789 the king pressed Potocki and Małachowski about his powers of nomination.

(p.288) Potocki po wielu nieiasnych wyrazach, między innemi y to powiedział, że w koncu roboty ja będę miał prawie tyle władzy iak Krol Angielski. Ja na to: ‘Nie czyn WPan żartow, a to wyraznie powiedz czy przynaymniey Pacta Conventa będą mi dochowane?’ Na to on, znowu generalnościami nieiasnemi odpowiedział.

(After many unclear expressions Potocki among other things also said this, that at the end of the work I will have almost as much power as the King of England. In reply I said ‘Don’t joke, Sir, and tell me clearly: will at least my rights in the pacta conventa be kept?’ Again he replied in vague generalities.)61

When, in August 1790, Stanisław August via Piattoli sent his comments to Potocki upon the Seym deputation’s ‘Project for the form of government’ (Projekt do formy rządu), he did not pick up the gauntlet on the key questions of royal power and the composition and competence of the highest executive body, the Straż Praw (Custodial Council of the Laws). Instead, he raised a host of minor questions which tended to improve the day-to-day functioning of the Seym, showing himself a man of ‘great experience and knowledge of arcane political life in the Commonwealth, who sees the practical importance of apparent trivialities’.62 Stanisław August greatly admired the procedure in the English Parliament. As he told Deboli,

I always say, that in the procedure of the Seym, it would be best simply to adopt the English method, as only that is equally free from unnecessary delay and verbosity, and from unnecessary haste.63

He made use of his extensive knowledge of English parliamentary practice to suggest a number of beneficial amendments. Again via Piattoli, Potocki sent his replies back to Stanisław August, so that the exchange of views has been preserved.64

The king objected to rigorous measures to enforce attendance at the Seym, and recommended a low quorum of forty, as in the House of Commons. If important matters were at stake, then the English example might again be followed, and summonses could be sent to those envoys present in the city, with fines for unjustified absence. Potocki thought that the matter might be so resolved during discussion in the Seym. The French National Assembly’s practice of voting by standing up, proposed by the deputation, met with royal suspicion. Perhaps mindful of the agitation from the public galleries common to both the French and Polish (p.289) assemblies, Stanisław August objected that the practice could lead to genuine or deliberate mistakes in counting votes. Much better, he wrote, was the English method of voting ‘par Sécéssion’. Potocki, however, feared the English model, though he did not rule out other solutions. The English example may also be detected, although it is not explicit, in Stanisław August’s proposal that members of the outgoing Straż Praw (who were to be changed every two years at ordinary Seyms) should take part in the deliberations of the Seym if they were ministers, senators, or envoys, so as to share the benefits of their experience. To this Potocki objected on the grounds that members of the executive should be excluded from the legislature until their conduct had been approved, fearing royal corruption of the senate. Ignacy Potocki was capable though of using the English model against Stanisław August. When the king complained that unlimited freedom of speech in the Seym meant licence to slander the innocent, Potocki riposted that personal insults might be dealt with by ‘la police de la Chambre’. The example provided by the continual insults in the English Parliament might make things clearer, he added.

Stanisław August’s detailed knowledge and understanding of the English constitution, and particularly of the parliamentary process, stand out against the general run of publicists and politicians. To win support, he had Franciszek Bukaty’s second report on parliamentary procedure published as Opisanie porządku seymowania w parlamencie angielskim in 1790. Naturally, there were others who were well oriented in the English system of government, such as Ignacy Potocki—in his case without feeling much enthusiasm for it. Even Stanisław August’s erudition might have to take a bow to that of Adam Kazimierz Czartoryski. In general, however, the ‘English model’ served as a pretext or even as a synonym for certain reforms, especially for the introduction of hereditary succession to the throne. No Polish statesman understood so acutely, not merely from theoretical knowledge, but from hard political experience, how individual details of the English constitution might be adapted to Poland’s advantage, as King Stanisław August.


With the king and the ‘patriot’ leaders fully committed to co-operation in writing the new constitution, it is now appropriate to raise the question of the influence of the English constitution on the Constitution of 3 May. This is probably best answered by considering in turn each part of the Law on Government of 3 May 1791, and, where relevant, the associated detailed legislation, together with Stanisław August’s wishes, and thence (p.290) seeking to assess the extent of English influence. Two statements in particular are highly revealing of Stanisław August’s wishes and intentions. In his first draft of the constitution, probably dictated to Piattoli on 20 December 1790,65 regarding the form of projects, debates, and legislation in the Seym, he simply recommended ‘la ressemblance la plus grande que possible entre le Parlement d’Angleterre et notre Diete’.66 On 19 March, after Potocki had insisted upon further changes to the king’s final version, Stanisław August wrote tiredly to Deboli: ‘and so patching up now as best we can, though going round in circles, we will still get in the end to the English system of government.’67 Stanisław August’s intentions are not in doubt. As far as possible, he wanted to model the general shape of the Polish constitution upon the English.

The idea of a set of fundamental laws, grouped together in one document is the hallmark of a modern constitution. Contemporaries used the word konstytucya to describe the Law on Government, not only in the old Polish sense as any law passed by the Seym, but also in the modern sense of a single document.68 The English understanding of the word as being that which ‘constitutes’ the system of government was also current, and with the American, Polish, and French, the English constitution was listed as one of Cztery przednieysze konstytucye narodów wolnych (‘four foremost constitutions of free nations’).69 The fact of a single document, however, marks out the Polish constitution from the English, and shows the possible influence of the American.

The notion of a preamble70 is, obviously, likewise alien to the English constitution and probably taken from American usage. Nevertheless, the first words clearly show the difference between the old world and the (p.291) new. ‘In the name of the one God in the Holy Trinity, Stanisław August, King of Poland, Grand Duke of Lithuania, Ruthenia, Prussia, Mazovia…together with the confederated estates representing the Polish nation’71 contrasts vividly with ‘We the people’. The declared aims were, however, similar—the general good and the salvation of the country.72 In Article I, concerning religion, it is difficult to find any English influence, beyond the general role of the Enlightenment in reaffirming the Commonwealth’s traditions of toleration. We have seen that Stanisław August was critical of English treatment of Catholics and dissenters.73 The king wished to safeguard the Roman and Greek Catholic faiths by insisting that the children of mixed marriages be brought up as Catholics, while the Law on Government followed the deputation project and threatened punishment for apostasy in an equally unenlightened manner.74 Articles II, III, and IV, regarding social relations, merely serve to underline the huge gulf between England and Poland. The same is true of the ultimately unsuccessful attempts to reform Polish Jewry.75

Article III stated simply that the Law on Royal Towns, passed on 18 April 1791, was part of the constitution. According to that law, all public offices, commissions in the army, except for the ‘national cavalry’, and clerical situations bar bishoprics were opened to townsmen. The law of 1775 enabling the szlachta legally to engage in trade without the loss of noble status was confirmed. The opening of municipal office to nobles, the ability of townsmen to purchase landed estates, and the opening of wide possibilities of ennoblement through landowning or public service, might in the long run have contributed to the blurring of the border between the landowning classes and the higher strata of merchants and manufacturers, as in England. Kołłtaj’s ultimate aim was a nation based on property rather than birth. Behind his rhetoric was a phenomenon (p.292) of the upper and middling szlachta absorbing the richest and most able townsmen into its ranks, while arrogating to itself the best opportunities for enterprise and office in royal towns. The limited powers of the ‘plenipotentiaries’ (as opposed to envoys) who were to represent the towns at the Seym indicate that the szlachta was to remain firmly in charge. Nevertheless, the inevitable price of improved career opportunities was the hallowed idea of the exclusively noble nation. Stanisław August’s thoughts were rather traditional, and affected by political considerations. He wished to grant the estate of townsmen extensive rights, and to include noble- and church-owned towns within the scope of the law, but had no wish to see the gradual fusing of the townsmen with the szlachta through mass ennoblement; as a separate estate the townsmen would tend to side with the king against the szlachta.76

The Law on Royal Towns conferred the szlachta privilege of neminem captivabimus nisi iure victum, equivalent to the English habeas corpus, on townsmen able to provide bail, with the exception of bankrupts. A later administrative decision extended it to Jews. Article II of the Law on Government confirmed all the szlachta’s privileges, including ‘personal security and personal freedom’.77 Recent studies of protection against arbitrary arrest have revealed certain tendencies to limit the extent of neminem captivabimus in exceptional cases,78 but no one in Poland would have dared propose the English practice of a general suspension in times of national emergency.

Moving on to the general form of government, Article V declared that ‘all power in human society should derive from the will of the nation,’79 a clear sign of the common ground between Rousseau’s Contrat social and noble republicanism. The interpretation of the word ‘nation’ was kept deliberately vague. The declaration was added by Kołłątaj to Stanisław (p.293) August’s project. Then Montesquieu received his homage. Three powers, the legislative, executive, and judicial, ‘in balance for always’, were necessary to safeguard the integrity of the state, the liberty of citizens, and social order.80 In his final Polish version, Stanisław August added the clause ‘three powers should constitute the government of the Polish nation,’81 in order to guard against the domination of the executive by a ‘ruling Seym’.82

Article VI encompassed the Seym or the legislative power. Stanisław August gave up his own status as a separate estate of the Seym, but fought hard for the senate, over which he was to preside. He wished to make the rights of the chamber of envoys and the senate as equal as possible. The agreement of both houses, voting separately by simple or qualified majority, should be necessary to pass legislation. In the Law on Government, the senate received only a suspensive veto until the next ordinary Seym. Stanisław August was not merely concerned with his own influence over the Seym; he attached particular weight to the mutual correction of projects, which would reduce the necessity for the use of the veto,83 and greatly regretted the omission of this provision in the Law on Government. He told Glayre that ‘si au veto suspensif du Sénat on avait ajouté une forme de discussion réciproque entre les deux Chambres, nous nous serions rapproché davantage de la Constitution anglaise.’84 Stanisław August always valued the role of the House of Lords, and saw in the upper house of a parliament a place of calmer, maturer deliberation. He wrote to Mazzei that the ‘défaut radical’ of the French was ‘d’avoir fait une seule Chambre de I’Assemblée Nationale, et d’avoir anéanti absolument les prérogatives de la noblesse,’ and reminded his agent of ‘l’utilité d’une Chambre Haute’.85 Another reverse suffered by Stanisław August was the joint voting on all matters except general laws. The senate was only half the size of the chamber of envoys. In England, peers could accept or reject, but not amend money bills, while in Poland permanent taxes were removed altogether from the scope of the suspensive veto of the senate by the two laws concerning the Seym passed on 12 (p.294) and 16 May.86 Thus the House of Lords was much more powerful. James Durno thought the senate so emasculated that he preferred to compare it with the Privy Council.87

The Seym was ordinarily to meet every two years for ten weeks (an increase of four). If the king failed to convene the Seym, the marshal of the last Seym was empowered to do so. It could be reconvened in its current complement up to the end of the two-year term. Thus the idea of the permanent Seym, associated by the leading reformers with England, bowed to that of the reconvenable Seym. It was expressly provided for that the Seym could be reconvened against the will of the king,88 which was not the case in England. However, long annual sessions in England had been put beyond any doubt by the wars and massive debt-financed expenditure of 1739–63. At the same time, the amount of local and commercial parliamentary legislation increased to such a degree that Parliament became the natural forum of the nation’s business. Dispensing with Parliament was now unthinkable. A friendly Parliament could be kept for seven years. The king remained free, however, to dissolve a Parliament and call a new one before then, if he wished.89 Thus the King of England possessed the weapon of an appeal to the electorate at any moment, should the Commons be against him. The Polish legislators, in contrast, envisaged a reversion to biennial Seyms with fixed dates of elections; extraordinary Seyms (in the same complement) were reserved for emergencies. It is possible, however, that with the growth of business over time, a similar practice to the English might have evolved.

Article VI abolished those old bugbears, the liberum veto and confederacies. Nevertheless, the Laws on Seyms laid down that decisions were to be taken by simple majority vote only in matters of civil legislation. Criminal and political laws, together with declarations of war, the contracting of debts, and the making of alliances required the agreement of two-thirds, and new taxes…of three-quarters.90 ‘Old habits died hard.’ Despite Konarski’s labours, the English model of simple majority voting remained out of reach.91

Stanisław August lost his struggle, first to include the senate in the legislative initiative, and then to equal the King of England’s virtual (p.295) monopoly of it, but he did secure priority for royal proposals in deliberation.92 The king enjoyed a near-complete success, however, concerning the seymiki. The Law on Seymiki of 24 March, reaffirmed by the Law on Government, excluded impossessionati from participation, striking a blow at the power of the magnates. The king also wished to insist upon literacy. ‘Dangereux et choquant,’ commented Ignacy Potocki. Stanisław August ensured that elections took place before the drawing up of instructions. The effects of the opposite procedure in November 1790 had been that candidates had agreed to anything in order to get themselves elected. The vital issue for Stanisław August, however, was that the instructions should not be binding on the envoys. Although in the Law on Seymiki, the mandatory nature of instructions remained, in the Law on Government instructions were not mentioned at all. The envoys were declared to be ‘representatives of the entire nation,’93 endowed with a plenitude of legislative power, a clear allusion to English theory and practice.94

Article VII, on the executive power, was the most doggedly contested battlefield of all. Stanisław August’s proposed title of the article, ‘The king, that is, the executive power’, was even watered down by Kołłątaj to ‘The king, the executive power’.95 Stanisław August was responsible for the first three sentences, explaining to the szlachta the need for a strong executive:

żaden Rząd naydoskonalszy bez dzielney Władzy Wykonawczey stać niemoże. Szczęśliwość Narodów od Praw sprawiedliwych, Praw skutek od Ich wykonania zależy. Doświadczenie nauczyło, że zaniedbanie tey części Rządu, nieszczęściami napełnilo Polskę.

(The most perfect system of government cannot be upheld without an effective executive power. The happiness of nations depends upon just laws, but the good effects of laws depend upon their execution. Experience has taught us that the neglect of this part of government has overwhelmed Poland with disasters.)96

(p.296) The introduction of hereditary succession to the throne was the riskiest part of the constitution, in view of its rejection by the November seymiki. To assuage szlachta prejudices it was disguised as ‘elective in regard to families’,97 and extensively justified by reference to the subversion of government and foreign intervention during interregna, by the memory of Poland’s greatness and happiness under ‘families reigning continuously,’98 and the necessity of diverting the ambitions of foreigners and powerful Poles from the throne. The actual order of succession was the outcome of a purely political compromise between Ignacy Potocki and Stanisław August. The Elector of Saxony was named successor, and his 9-year-old daughter—‘infantka’. As it was clear, despite the provisions for a male heir, that the elector would have no more children, there was to be no lasting reunion of Poland and Saxony (which besides an alliance, might have counted for something in a dynastic Europe). Stanisław August hoped that his nephew, Prince Stanisław Poniatowski, might win the hand of the infantka, while Ignacy Potocki was still hoping for a Hohenzollern. As the Seym was to approve the elector’s choice of husband for his daughter, another election was, de facto, foreordained.99 So much for the rhetoric about interregna? No part of the Constitution of 3 May has drawn so much criticism,100 yet had Stanisław August’s dreams come to pass and had Stanisław III ascended the throne, Poland would have enjoyed the rule of an enlightened yet ruthlessly clear-headed monarch, the protoplast of a native Polish dynasty.101

The formula ‘elective in regard to families’ bears a certain analogy to the English Act of Settlement of 1701, in which the already wounded principle of indefeasible divine hereditary right received a mortal blow. Parliament designated the mother of the Elector of Hanover heir presumptive to the throne of England, overriding the claims of numerous Catholics and even some Protestants, who by blood were nearer the succession. This time no convenient fiction, such as talk of James II’s ‘abdication’, was available to camouflage the irreparable breach. Thus the Kings of England, succeeding hereditarily by right of Parliament, were set apart from the absolutist monarchs of much of the Continent. The (p.297) Kings of Poland were henceforth to be in the same category, and Stanisław August’s old aim was to be achieved. Nevertheless, it should be stressed that in England, justifications abounded of George III’s hereditary right to rule by the divine right of Providence. On this, English and Polish political culture still differed significantly.102 The symbolic authority of the monarch was stressed, as it was in England. All public acts and judgments were to be made in the king’s name, and all seals and coins were to bear his head or arms. Soldiers, officials, and diplomats swore their oath of loyalty to him as well as to the Commonwealth and the constitution. After 3 May, laudations of Stanisław August and votes of thanks flooded in from the provinces.103 The road was opened, although it was not an aim, for transforming the Polish monarchy into the symbolic, ceremonial embodiment of national unity; a process initiated by George III in Britain and consummated in the house of Windsor.104

Supreme executive power was vested in the king in the Straż Praw. All other bodies were to obey its directives. Stanisław August envisaged a ‘Conseil du Cabinet’ or ‘Conseil privé’, composed of the king as president, one of the marshals as head of police, the chairman of the military commission, one of the chancellors as head of justice, one of the treasurers as head of finances, the minister of foreign affairs, and the primate as head of the Church and chairman of the Commission for National Education. Each was to preside in his own department, and each was to have a deputy. The king proposed no alternation, but a free choice between the Lithuanian and Crown ministers, and in the case of the Crown chancellors, between the layman and the cleric. Stanisław August also proposed scrapping the Crown–grand duchy duality in ministers, thereby removing half of them, but on this he was overruled. It would seem as though Stanisław August was edging towards removing the life terms of the old-style dignitaries—hetmans, marshals, chancellors, and treasurers—confusingly also called ministers. No doubt he would have preferred the free choice of person enjoyed by the King of England, but accepting the old-style ministers as the ministerial pool was better than letting the Seym elect counsellors into the Straż, as Potocki wished. The new-style ministers were to serve in the Straż for two years, extendable by the king for further terms of two years indefinitely. Decisions were to be taken by (p.298) majority vote. Various arrangements of two votes for the king, or a casting vote were considered.105

The end result, in the Law on Government and the Law on the Straż Praw, was, from the point of view of effective government, an unsatisfactory compromise. The king was to choose the members from the oldstyle ministers, without deputies. Ignacy Potocki objected to a ministry of justice as contrary to the principle of the separation of powers. Nevertheless, Crown Grand Chancellor Jacek Małachowski sat in the Straż with the portfolio of the ‘seal’ (pieczęć). The marshal of the Seym was added to the Straż as a republican sentinel. Unlike the Permanent Council, the Straż could not interpret the law. Ministers were not allowed to preside over their relevant commissions. Worse, those hetmans, marshals, and treasurers not chosen for the Straż, that is, the discontented ones, were to preside in rotation over the military, police, and treasury commissions, of which the Seym was to elect the membership. The Straż was not to be a flexible and informal English-style inner cabinet of directing ministers (pace Durno),106 but a legislatively defined body which was always likely to be in conflict with the theoretically subordinate commissions. Jerzy Lukowski has stressed that for Ignacy Potocki and his allies, this was the very point. The idea of a ‘guardian of the laws’ (the literal translation of Straż Praw) was common to virtually all their proposals since the start of the Seym. Power was to check power, as Montesquieu had recommended. What is more, the Laws on Seyms enabled the Seym directly to instruct both the Straż and the commissions, and to annul their resolutions. Luckily, the ministry of foreign affairs (under Chreptowicz) was made independent of the Seym, and the primate’s direction of education was strengthened.107 In practice, the Straż functioned reasonably smoothly, but it was never tested by a hostile Seym.108

A last-minute change of mind on the part of the ‘patriots’ led to the full and consequential expression of a principle that was implicit in the earlier projects of the constitution, that of the responsibility of ministers to the Seym. As the ‘patriot’ leaders trusted the king more than the likely members of the Straż, majority voting was replaced by the enactment that after all opinions had been expressed, the will of the king was to (p.299) ‘prevail’ (przeważać), with the proviso that one of the ministers should countersign the resolution. The person of the king was after the English fashion declared inviolable; the king was held ‘not to act by himself in anything,’ and could not ‘be responsible to the nation for anything’.109 This was based upon the medieval principle that the ‘king can do no wrong’. The recurrent consequence had been action against ‘evil counsellors’. For his counter-signature, the minister was answerable to the Seym. If he broke the law, then a majority of both houses joined together could commit him to be tried by the Seym Court. This was similar to the English process of impeachment, also adopted by the Americans. The example of Warren Hastings was still fresh in the minds of the Poles. An English minister could not even plead an express royal order; Danby’s impeachment in 1679 had settled the matter.110

The Law on Government also introduced, again on the English model, the principle of the political responsibility of ministers to the Seym. If two-thirds of the secret votes of both houses joined together so decreed, the king was bound to replace any minister in the Straż with another. This was a drastic and inflexible method enshrined in legislation. In England, if taxes were to be voted, the general business of the country to be carried on, and ultimately, the Mutiny Act to be passed, the king’s ministers as a whole had to be able to command the acceptance of the House of Commons. Failure to keep a majority generally meant resignation.111 It should be stressed, though, that more ministers fell as a result of the loss of royal favour than as a result of losing votes in the House of Commons. Parliament could not compel the king to dismiss his ministers. There was scope for flexibility, as George III’s dismissal of Fox and North and maintenance of Pitt in office in the face of a hostile—but shrinking—parliamentary majority demonstrated in 1783–4.112 The notion among independent backbenchers, as well as among the electorate at large, that they should support the king’s ministers unless there was an overwhelming reason not to do so was deeply ingrained.113 That was not the case in Poland. Despite the requirement of a two-thirds majority, (p.300) therefore, the principle of political responsibility was a good deal more threatening to royal ministers in Poland than in England.

Stanisław August fought hard for the royal prerogative, especially that of nomination. Like the King of England, he retained the right to nominate bishops and lay senators, but in the latter case only for life. The Laws on Seyms laid down that his successors were to choose from two candidates presented by the appropriate seymik (so that, for example, the Wilno seymik would present candidates for the Palatine and Castellan of Wilno). Whether the Elector of Saxony would have agreed to such a condition is another matter. The Law on Government laid down that the pacta conventa to be negotiated with the elector would cover royal prerogatives. Stanisław August, trying to defend the prerogative from erosion, had wanted the Constitution to be modified only with each new reign, but the concept of the ‘patriots’ prevailed, and a special constitutional Seym was to revise the Law on Government every twenty-five years.114 In the event, less than a month after 3 May, the king had already lost a part of his prerogative. The Law on Government had laid down that the king, ‘to whom ought to be left every power of doing good, shall have the right of pardoning those condemned to death, except for crimes against the state’.115 This was soon to be severely limited to the right to commute the death sentence to life imprisonment, and only then if the order was counter-signed by a member of the Straż. Moreover, those sentenced by the Seym Court or a court martial, as well as murderers and thieves of public funds, were excluded from all clemency.116 The King of England’s prerogative of pardon was, in contrast, very wide. Only those sentenced by impeachment could not be rescued, although, from 1689, the king could not suspend the law or dispense individuals from it, as James II had done.117

Article VIII reformed the judicial power. The retention of the Seym Court as the forum of political trials was broadly analogous to (but not taken from) the role played by the House of Lords, except that in Poland, members of the lower house were among the judges chosen by lot. The rest of the system showed little obvious English influence. Judges of the szlachta courts of the first instance were henceforth to be elected at seymiki, (p.301) and the king’s proposal that they should be confirmed by himself was overruled by the ‘patriots’. Royally appointed ‘Justices of the Peace’ (Sędziowie Pokoju), proposed by Stanisław August, were also rejected. Town courts of appeal were to include an eleven-man jury, which was probably taken from the English model. The promise of a civil and criminal code was a typical expression of the Enlightenment, and a negation of the English example. Work soon started on the ‘Code of Stanisław August’, and among its principles was equality before the law—although any English influence requires separate investigation.118

Article IX, concerning regency, laid down a clear procedure, in contrast to the chaos and controversy which surrounded the issue in England in 1788–9, during George III’s illness, of which Stanisław August had been well informed.119 Article X, on the education of royal children, introduced the interference of the Seym into their upbringing, which would have been unthinkable in England.

Article XI contained flighty rhetoric about the obligation of all citizens to defend the country and its freedoms (the thin end of the wedge against noble exclusiveness), the respect due to the army from the nation, and the duty of the army to protect the frontiers and public order (as was also the case in England). Stanisław August’s renewed attempt to create a militia for internal policing was rejected.120 Article VII had left to the king the right to commission and promote officers, and appoint them to their regiments, and to nominate the commanders in time of war—although the Seym could overrule him on the last point. The overall command of the army was granted to the king in wartime only. It peacetime the Seym-elected military commission, nominally under the Straż, had to be reckoned with.

The King of England enjoyed greater power over the military. Apart from overall command and a monopoly over appointments, still guarded from ministers by George III, the King of England could formally make war and peace of his own accord, being limited of course by the need (p.302) for funds. The prohibition by the 1689 Bill of Rights of raising and keeping a standing army in time of peace without the assent of Parliament was no obstacle in practice to an average peacetime establishment after the Seven Years’ War of 45,000, small by Continental standards, but easily multiplied in wartime and as large as the 45,000 that Poland could put into the field in 1792. For defence, there was in any case the fleet. The royal prerogative was kept from unwanted ministerial interference by the absence of anything resembling a ministry of defence. Control over the army was split between a bewildering array of different ministers and boards, although the admiralty was somewhat more logically ordered. It should be noted, however, that (as in Poland) the prevalence of jobbery in the army, especially the right to purchase commissions, in practice limited the patronage powers of the king. Under George III, old fears of a standing army in royal hands had virtually vanished.121

We have seen how, regarding the problem of the American colonists, Stanisław August, like contemporary British thinkers, had difficulty even in conceiving how a federative state could properly function. Likewise, from the start of his reign, he aimed at turning the Commonwealth of the Two Nations into a single state. In one of his constitutional projects, filled out by Piattoli from the initial outline dictated by the king, the two nations ‘ne seront désormais qu’une seule et même nation’, and all duplications between the Crown and Lithuania in offices and administrative bodies were to go. This met with the opposition of Ignacy Potocki, the Grand Marshal of Lithuania, who had a vested interest. The subject was not mentioned in the Law on Government, and some passages hint at a unitary state, prompting some historians to sing a requiem mass over the Polish-Lithuanian union. In fact, whatever the integrationist wishes of Stanisław August, avoidance of the subject was essential to buy the support of the Lithuanian Marshal of the confederated Seym, Kazimierz Nestor Sapieha, a hothead who opposed the hereditary throne and distrusted executive power in general. During the debate on 3 May, Sapieha was won over, his marshal’s signature was attached to the document, and the bill remained to be paid. Paid it was. The Laws on Seyms reserved every third Seym to Grodno, Sapieha entered the Straż Praw, two separate (p.303) codification commissions were established (the Lithuanians were very proud of the 1588 Third Lithuanian Statute), the police commission was named that of the Two Nations, and a third of its members were to be Lithuanians, while half the members of the treasury and military commissions were to come from the grand duchy. Lithuanian and Crown treasurers and hetmans would head them alternately. On 20 October 1791, these concessions were enshrined into a solemn law called the ‘Mutual Assurance of the Two Nations’ (Zaręczenie wzajemne obojga narodów), which was to form part of the future pacta conventa. Among the other provisions were reaffirmation of duality among the old-style ministers, and a separate Lithuanian treasury and treasury court. Stanisław August naïvely stressed to Deboli that the new law, passed unanimously, solemnly reiterated the Law on Government and therefore those envoys who still opposed the Constitution of 3 May would be contradicting themselves. Another factor was the attitude of the Lithuanian szlachta in the approaching international crisis. It is impossible to state whether separate Lithuanian identity was actually fostered, but it was certainly not weakened by the strengthened bond between the two nations.122 The Anglo-Scottish Union was always more unequal. Scotland could never have driven as hard a bargain, and its government was effectively grafted onto England’s. Like the Lithuanians, however, Scotland’s political élite after the Act of Union did not hanker after a separate Parliament, but the separate law and national identity of Scotland was preserved, and many Scots set the English an example in Enlightenment and industry.123


The news of the Constitution of 3 May was enthusiastically received in England. Edward Tatham, the Rector of Lincoln College, Oxford, was among those who pointed out that the Poles had taken the English constitution for their model. James Durno, in his enthusiasm to prove that the Poles had done so in almost every particular, exaggerated the monarchical content of the Law on Government. Above all, Edmund Burke set the Polish revolution against the French in a long passage in his Appeal (p.304) from the New to the Old Whigs in August 1791. He stressed that ‘this great good, as in the instant it is, contains in it the seeds of all further improvement; and may be considered as in a regular progress, because founded on similar principles towards the stable excellency of a British constitution.’ Nothing could have been closer to Stanisław August’s heart. The comparison was translated into Polish by Julian Niemcewicz and published in two Warsaw newspapers on 3 September.124 The resonance of Burke’s praises reached distant Owrucz in the Ukraine, where a dinner was held in his honour.125 Replying to Tadeusz Czacki’s criticism of the constitution, Ignacy Potocki quoted Burke’s opinion that the constitution was ‘probably the most pure and defecated [i.e. purified] public good which has ever been conferred on mankind,’ and reminded his readers of Burke’s defence of the Americans. He went on to deny the stark contrast between a republic and a monarchy. It was as if Czacki did not know

that in the forms of government there is a middle way between a monarchy and a republic, that a republic moderated by monarchy is consistent with liberty, that the English constitution is the incontrovertible proof of it, and that the present Polish constitution approaches the English.

Potocki then quoted Burke’s passage on the ‘similar principles’ as evidence. He had come a long way since 1789.126

Was Potocki’s abandonment of the quest for the republican Holy Grail part of a more general shift in political culture? The Law on Government ushered in a year of harmony and unity unparalleled in the Commonwealth’s history. Stanisław August was lauded as never before. His slogan of ‘the king with the nation, the nation with the king’ (król z narodem, naród z królem), which summed up his old aims of mutual trust and dependency, scored a general triumph. At virtually all the seymiki in February 1792, the szlachta voted thanks for the Constitution, and at a comfortable majority of them (73 per cent), pledged or swore to defend it. The new procedures for the seymiki were followed, despite their inconvenience. The new order clearly enjoyed the support of the nation. The Seym worked at unprecedented speed, a result not only of the new mood, (p.305) but also of an important procedural reform, influenced by English practice. The discussion of every clause of a bill was abolished in favour of drafting in committee, with the Seym voting to accept, reject, or send back the bill for amendment.127 Did all this amount to a significant shift in Polish political culture in an ‘English’ direction? Towards greater trust in the monarch, greater support for a strong monarchy at the head of an efficient executive, and a readiness to pay heavier taxes and admit the ‘monied’ and mercantile interests (in the Polish context, townsmen) into political partnership with the landed szlachta? The question is beset by the problems of measuring ‘political culture’, which is only a historian’s term of convenience.

The polemics for and against the Constitution after it was passed were written to influence rather than to reflect the opinion of the szlachta. Nevertheless, the issues on which debate centred offer some valuable clues. Apart from the hysterical outbursts of Jan Suchorzewski, the issue of hereditary succession was scarcely raised by the constitution’s opponents, whose fears were aroused by the extent of royal power. The ‘surrender’ of the executive to the king, his role in the legislature and his unanswerability all seemed to herald despotism, if not under Stanisław August, then under his successors. Even some of the constitution’s supporters felt uncomfortable about the power granted to the king, and suggested its limitation. Others countered by emphasizing the restrictions placed on the king. They preferred to argue that the constitution had replaced the unrestricted licence of the magnates with ‘ordered liberty’ (rządna wolność). On this point the reformers seem to have scored a success. A large number of seymiki witnessed speeches denouncing the abuses of the magnates and rejoicing in the end of ‘anarchy’, and many seymiki expressed such sentiments in their resolutions. The inability of the magnates to bring in cart-loads of illiterate, landless nobles led to a noticeable decline in corruption, drunkenness, and disorder, and an improvement in the standard of deliberations.128

The English model was less central to the debate than before 3 May, but it continued to provoke controversy. One author cited Filangieri on England, rousing the spectre of Henry VIII to demonstrate that in a ‘mixed (p.306) government’ the king could oppress the nation.129 Tadeusz Czacki and the author of the afore-mentioned Uwagi nad rządem angielskim y inne were trenchantly critical of the English constitution, especially regarding ministerial responsibility.130 Tomasz Dłuski, the 79-year-old chamberlain of Lublin, berated the adoption from England of ministerial responsibility and royal inviolability, but also argued that liberty was better secured in England than Poland, by the hereditary House of Lords.131 Stanisław August himself replied that ministerial responsibility was ‘the greatest shield of liberty’,132 as ministers needed the good opinion of the nation to survive. The King of Poland was limited in his appointments to the senate to filling vacancies, and the nation chose the treasury and military commissioners. The Seym, and not the king, decided on war and peace, as well as taxes and new laws. Stanisław August took Dłuski to task over the English constitution. He repeated his contention of 1776 that the King of England could appoint to, and dismiss from, all military, civil, and ecclesiastical positions. He reached for another argument from 1776, that the civil list was six times greater than the King of Poland’s income, and he corrected Dluski’s assertion that it was renewed annually; in fact it was voted for life. Stanisław August refuted the contention that England had no ‘empty offices’.133 On the contrary, lucrative sinecures were the English equivalent of starostwa as the ‘bread of the deserving’, with the difference that the king could take them away at will. He cited the Keeper of the Green Cloth, who in former centuries had laid green cloth before (p.307) the king when sitting in council. Yet England was free. Finally, Stanisław August rather mischievously informed Dłuski that the English Tower (of London) had not been destroyed like the Bastille, and that not even habeas corpus could save a Member of Parliament from imprisonment in it, if he ‘rose up against the form of government’.134

Perhaps the key argument was that by strengthening the state, the constitution had somehow ‘saved’ the Commonwealth from the threats of her neighbours. On important state and ecclesiastical occasions, preachers eulogized Stanisław August, condemned anarchy, pleaded for unity, and above all, demonstrated the beneficent workings of Divine Providence. The vast majority of poetry inspired by the constitution carried the same message. Ceremonies in honour of the constitution, particularly on 3 May 1792, allowed the reform camp to deploy a theatrical and rhetorical armoury to which the szlachta was extremely susceptible. Unfortunately, the unwarranted optimism, not to say naïvety, about the international situation was shared by the Commonwealth’s leaders, including the king. The national mood of euphoria and unity led the Seym to work faster, and helped ‘sell’ the constitution to the szlachta, but a more realistic assessment of the situation might have stimulated yet greater urgency, as well as a real financial sacrifice to raise, equip, and train a larger army.135

Preachers and poets tended to exalt Stanisław August, but their royalism did not translate into monarchism. On the contrary, many saw in the constitution a return to the best traditions of the Commonwealth. This was more than reassuring propaganda. Although the liberum veto had been abolished, the desire for unanimity remained. This was particularly evident at the seymiki. Appeals to the minority to accept the will of the majority and accept the constitution despite their misgivings were often successful. The most spectacular individual conversion was Wojciech Turski’s.136 The ‘Society of the Friends of the Constitution’ (Zgromadzenie Przyjaciół Konstytucji Rządowej), formed in mid-May to (p.308) defend the constitution and work for its implementation, has often been called Poland’s first modern political party, as it discussed issues and voted together.137 That would be a move in the English direction. However, it can also be viewed as the confederacy renascent.

The urban issue remained unresolved in May 1792. On the one hand, the leading townsmen and their szlachta allies (notably Kołłątaj and Wybicki) pressed to extend the rights granted on 18 April 1791. Many noblemen, led by Stanisław Małachowski, were received into the urban estate amid public demonstrations of fraternity. On the other hand, efforts to enlarge the political role of the towns ran into the opposition of most envoys, who feared the French example. The position of townsmen remained far weaker than in England, but the nation was no longer exclusively noble.138

The English influence upon the Constitution of 3 May was less than Stanisław August would have wished. The king himself was most interested in the English example in the key spheres of the Seym and the royal prerogative. He laid particular emphasis on the role of the senate, inspired by the House of Lords, but in that matter he was almost entirely unsuccessful. The king retained his powers of nomination, broadly comparable to those of the English king, but only for life. His fellow authors aimed to remove most of them from his successors. The apparent similarity of the Straż Praw to the English cabinet was fatally weakened by the lack of flexibility in its composition, and especially by the inability of most of the ministers to chair their own commissions. Effectiveness was sacrificed on jealous liberty’s altar. However, the king was to preside over the Straż, which the King of England chose not to do, and Stanisław August’s strong political (though not constitutional) position gave him the prospect of personally directing policy. The clearest case of English influence attributable to the king was the declaration that envoys represented the entire nation. The English model also played a central role in the introduction of the legal and the political responsibility of ministers to the Seym, and strengthened the case for the establishment of a reconvenable Seym. The pressure in these cases came as much from the ‘patriots’ as from the king, as they were expressions of the supremacy of the legislative over the executive power. For that modicum of independence (p.309) possessed by the executive, Poles were indebted to Stanisław August and his English inspiration. The limits of this achievement resulted from the szlachta’s almost pathological fear of royal power. This is amply demonstrated by the polemics about the English constitution. A hereditary throne, justified by the English example, certainly did not entail the wide prerogatives of the King of England. It seems justified to argue that Polish political culture moved significantly in an English direction in 1791–2, but the gap remained substantial. Comparing the noble nation’s shackling of its king at the outset of the Four Year Seym with the trust and power Stanisław August enjoyed at its close, the Constitution of 3 May must be reckoned a very great victory indeed.


(1) On the international background, see T. C. W. Blanning, The Origins of the French Revolutionary Wars (London, 1986), 45–60, and R. H. Lord, The Second Partition of Poland (Cambridge, Mass., 1915). Much has been written on the opening of the Four Year Seym and the lead up to it, but the standard work remains Kalinka, Sejm Czteroletni. Also see Dembiński, Polska na przełomie; Rostworowski, Ostatni król, 114–54; idem, Sprawa aukcji wojska, 177–266; Michalski, ‘Sejmiki poselskie 1788 roku’, PH, 51 (1960); and idem, ‘Zmierzch prokonsulatu Stackelberga’ and ‘Opozycja magnacka i jej cele w początkach Sejmu Czteroletniego’ in J. Kowecki (ed.), Sejm Czteroletni i jego tradycje (Warsaw, 1991). Askenazy, Przymierze polsko-pruskie, and łojek, Geneza i obalenie Konstytucji 3 Maja (Lublin, 1986) should be treated with great caution, as they try to prove that the Prussian alliance offered Poland a real opportunity, which was wasted by the ‘cowardice’ of Stanisław August. The term sejm rządzący was used by Kalinka as the title of Book III of Sejm Czteroletni. See Michalski, ‘Kilka uwag o koncepcji Sejmu rządzącego w XVIII w.’, Sląski Kwartalnik Historyczny Sobótka, 37 (1982).

(2) Quoted by Rostworowski, Maj 1791–maj 1792, 5.

(3) A point also made by Michalski, Konstytucja 3 Maja (Warsaw, 1985), 49.

(4) Stanisław August was at pains to deny rumours in St Petersburg that he, the king, had recommended any foreign constitutions. SA to Deboli, 4 June 1791, Zb. Pop. 413, f. 113.

(5) See Grześkowiak, ‘Publicystyka’; Grześkowiak-Krwawicz, ‘Obce wzory ustrojowe w dyskusjach publicystycznych Sejmu Czteroletniego’ in Sejm Czteroletni i jego tradycje, 85–6; Libiszowska, ‘Model angielski’, 5–10; Rostworowski, ‘Republikanizm polski i anglosaski’, 100–3; R. Pilat, O literaturze politycznéj Sejmu Czteroletniego (1788–1792) (Cracow, 1872), 68–70; Konopczyński, ‘Polscy pisarze polityczni XVIII w.’, vol. 2 (unpublished typescript in BJag Akc. 52/61), passim; Leśnodorski, Dzieło Sejmu Czteroletniego (Wrocław, 1951), 59–64; Grobis, ‘Sukcesja tronu’, esp. 78–88; Zielińska, ‘Publicystyka pro- i antysukcesyjna w początkach Sejmu Wielkiego’, in Sejm Czteroletni i jego tradycje; eadem, ‘O sukcesyi…’, 24–41.

(6) Zielińska, ‘Publicystyka pro- i antysukcesyjna’, 109–12. Eadem, ‘O sukcesyi…’ 24–5.

(7) Grześkowiak, ‘Publicystyka’, 151.

(8) Turski is listed as a radical by Libiszowska, ‘Model angielski’, 8 and Rostworowski, ‘Republikanizm polski i anglosaski’, 102, but Grześkowiak places him closer to the old republicans, ‘Publicystyka’, 156 n. 37. This shows how blurred the boundaries could become.

(9) Konopczyński, ‘Polscy pisarze polityczni’, vol. 2, 134, 145, 174–5, 182. Zielińska, Republikanizm spod znaku buławy: Publicystyka Seweryna Rzewuskiego z lat 1788–1790 (Warsaw, 1988), 116–17. Walicki, The Enlightenment and the Birth of Modern Nationhood, 21, 23. The author of Uwagi nad rządem angielskim y inne dla wolnego narodu użyteczne (1791) added to one of his footnotes citing Blackstone (no. 5) that ‘dobrze jest wiedzieć, ze ten slawny Pisarz jest naywiększym wielbicielem Konstytucyi swego Kraju’ (‘It is as well to know that this famous writer is the greatest admirer of his country’s constitution’).

(10) Probably S. Rzewuski, Uwagi nad wyborem między elekcyą a sukcessyą tronu w Polszcze (1791), 35, quoted after Grześkowiak-Krwawicz, ‘Obce wzory’, 93 n. 27.

(11) The sincerity of their denial of English freedom was immediately questioned by Kołłątaj, Uwagi nad pismem…Seweryna Rzewuskiego…o sukcessyi tronu w Polszcze rzecz krótka (Warsaw, 1790), 100, and latterly by Grześkowiak-Krwawicz, ‘Rara avis czy wolni wśród wolnych’, 175–6.

(12) Co ma uwazać Rzeczpospolita Polska w prawodawstwie, tak przed dopuszczeniem jako i po dopuszczeniu składu rządu angielskiego. Stanu politycznego różnice i podobieństwa między sobą tych dwóch wolnych państw stosując. Przez L. W. O. (1791).

(13) Esprit des lois, Book XIV, ch. 13.

(14) Grześkowiak, ‘Publicystyka’, 158. Grześkowiak-Krwawicz, ‘Rara avis’, 175–80. Rostworowski, ‘Republikanizm polski i anglosaski’, 100. The author of ‘Myśli o Sukcessyi Tronu lub Elekcyi Króla’, which remained in manuscript, put the number of civil wars as ‘około [about] 40’, following K. Skrzetuski’s Historya polityczna, 327. APP 197, f. 149.

(15) Grześkowiak, ‘Publicystyka’, 158–9, 161. Libiszowska, ‘Model angielski’, 8.

(16) Lord Burke do Polaków. Pismo z angielskiego przełożone (1791), not paginated. See Libiszowska, ‘Lord Burke do Polaków’, in Kultura średniowieczna i kultura staropolska: Studia ofiarowane Aleksandrowi Gieysztorowi…(Warsaw, 1991).

(17) Zielińska, ‘O sukcesyi…’, 41. Grobis, ‘Sukcesja tronu’, 79.

(18) See above, pp. 148–9. Grześkowiak, ‘Publicystyka’, 157.

(19) Grześkowiak, ‘Publicystyka’, 157. Kalinka, Sejm Czteroletni, vol. 2, 386.

(20) Powrót posła, ed. Z. Skwarczyński (Wrocław, 1981), introduction, passim, act II, scene iv, lines 134–60, act III, scene v, lines 127–32, 219–20. SA to M. Poniatowski, 22 Jan. 1791, Zb. Gh. 801b, f. 123. SA to Deboli, 19 Jan. 1791, Zb. Pop. 413, ff. 13–14, 16. Printed in Rok nadziei i rok klęski 1791–1792: Z korespondencji Stanisława Augusta z posłem polskim w Petersburgu Augustynem Debolim, ed. J. łojek (Warsaw, 1964), 29–30.

(21) See Zielińska, ‘O sukcesyi…’, 71, 73, 79, 81.

(22) The use of Blackstone is revealing. For Blackstone’s monarchist credentials and further conservative views on the extent of the royal prerogative in England, see Dickinson, Liberty and Property, 43–9, 96–100, 130–2, 154–7, 273–9; Clark, Dynamics of Change, 449–53; and idem, English Society, 201–16.

(23) Kołłątaj, Uwagi nad pismem…Rzewuskiego, 99–113. Listy Anonima, in Wybór pism politycznych, ed. B. Leśnodorski (Wrocław, 1952), 102. M. Pasztor, Hugo Kołłątaj na Sejmie Wielkim 1791–1792 (Warsaw, 1991), ch. 5.

(24) Rostworowski, ‘Republikanizm polski i anglosaski’, 101–2. T. Morski, Uwagi o chłopach, in Materiały do dziejów Sejmu Czteroletniego, vol. 1, eds. J. Woliński, J. Michalski, and E. Rostworowski (Wrocław, 1955), 104.

(25) Kołłątaj, Uwagi nad pismem…Rzewuskiego, 65–77. Libiszowska, Opinia polska, 129–34. Rostworowski, ‘Republikanizm polski i anglosaski’, 101–2. Konopczyński, ‘Polscy pisarze polityczni’, vol. 2, 140–1.

(26) SA to Deboli, 5 Nov. 1788, Zb. Pop. 417, ff. 618–19. S. K. Potocki, Myśli o ogólnej poprawie rządu krajowego (1789), repr. in Kołłątaj i inni: Z publicystyki doby Sejmu Czteroletniego, ed. ł. Kądziela (Warsaw, 1991), 57–8. The annual sessions of the British Parliament actually averaged about five months in the later 18th century.

(27) This emerges particularly clearly from Myśli o ogólnej poprawie…, 51–3. See Michalski, ‘Opozycja magnacka’, 56–7, and Kalinka, Sejm Czteroletni, vol. 1, 159–62, 262.

(28) Czaja, Między tronem…, 350.

(29) Szczygielski, ‘Konstytucja 3 maja’, in Konstytucja 3 Maja w tradycji i kulturze polskiej, 10–13 and passim. Rostworowski, ‘Marzenie dobrego obywatela’, 407–10. Both Pilat, O literaturze polityczńej, 14–15, 60, and Lukowski, ‘Od Konarskiego do Kołłątaja—czyli od realizmu do utopii’, in Trudne stulecia, 187–94, have negatively assessed Rousseau’s influence as doctrinaire and utopian.

(30) A point made by Stanisław August to M. Poniatowski on 24 Nov. 1790, Zb. Gh. 801b, f. 108, and by Hailes to Grenville on 19 May 1791. PRO FO 62/4. See Zielińska, ‘O sukcesyi…’, esp. 222–3. K. Zienkowska has argued that the main motive of the ‘patriots’ was to create in a hereditary monarch a symbol of national unity and sovereignty; ‘Sukcesja tronu w Ustawie Rządowej 3 Maja 1791 roku—koncepcja władzy, czy symbol suwerenności?’, in Konstytucja 3 Maja. Prawo—Polityka—Symbol. Cf. Z. Zielińska (in the discussion), ibid., 114–15. The symbolic role played by the king after the passing of the constitution is unquestioned, but the evidence for it as a primary motive beforehand is scratchy. For the later hopes of the ‘patriots’, see Rostworowski, ‘Marzenie dobrego obywatela’, 462–3.

(31) See above, pp. 50–1, and also B. Bailyn, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution (Cambridge, Mass., 1967), ch. 2, and Dickinson, Liberty and Property, 207–10, 169–92.

(32) Czaja, Między tronem…, 347, 357–8. Also see Kalinka, Sejm Czteroletni, vol. 1, 222.

(33) In the same author’s O poddanych polskich (1788), we find only a short mention that England has a free government, but as that freedom was denied to the Americans, they rebelled and are now free. In Materiały do dziejów Sejmu Czteroletniego, vol. 1, 16. J. Lukowski wonders if the English monarchy was strong enough for Pawlikowski.

(34) 3 Nov. 1788, quoted after Czaja, Między tronem…, 351.

(35) Zaszczyt wolności polskiey angielskiey wyrownywaiący z uwagami do tego stosownemi i opisaniem rządu angielskiego (Warsaw, 1789). Testament polityczny synowi oyczyzny zostawiony z planem beśpieczney formy republikantskiego rządu (Warsaw, 1789).

(36) Konopczyński, ‘Polscy pisarze polityczni’, vol. 2, 163. Zielińska, ‘Publicystyka pro-i antysukcesyjna’, 113. Also see J. Kowecki’s article on łobarzewski in PSB, 18 (1973), 370–1.

(37) Testament, 78–83.

(38) ‘łobarzewski,’ wrote Stanisław August to Deboli on 22 June 1791, ‘pisal kilka książek wcale użytecznych w duchu naszey Rewolucyi; y lubo był wychowankiem nieboszczyka Sułkowskiego, względem mnie y Oyczyzny, wcale dobrze się zachowywal od śmierci tegoż’ (‘wrote some very useful books in the spirit of our revolution, and although brought up by the late Sułkowski, since his death he has conducted himself extremely well as regards myself and the country’). Zb. Pop. 413, f. 126.

(39) T. Bukaty to dept., 1 Sept. 1786, AKP 81, f. 277. Libiszowska, życie polskie, 255.

(40) Zaszczyt wolności…, 107–9.

(41) Ibid., 244–53.

(42) Ibid., 10, 18, 147–51. Prospekt do ulepszenia formy rządu w Polszcze’, APP 98, ff. 172–6, cited by Zielińska, ‘O sukcesyi…’, 106.

(43) Testament, 118–21. Grześkowiak, ‘Publicystyka’, 164.

(44) Zaszczyt wolności…, 105, 194–5.

(45) Ibid., 38–41, 118–39. Testament, 128–32.

(46) Zaszczyt wolności…, 145, 160–82. Smoleński, Monteskjusz w Polsce, 80.

(47) PHP, Oct. 1789, repr. in Materialy do dziejów Sejmu Czteroletniego, vol. 1, 148.

(48) Grześkowiak, ‘Publicystyka’, 160–1. Nie wszyscy błądzą. Rozmowa Bartka chłopa z panem rzecz całą objasni (1790), repr. in Materiały do dziejów Sejmu Czteroletniego, vol. 1, 354. Staszic, Przestrogi dla Polski, in idem, Pisma filozoficzne i społeczne, ed. B. Suchodolski (Warsaw, 1954), vol. 1, 296. Idem, Uwagi nad życiem Jana Zamoyskiego, ibid., vol. 1, 47. Staszic’s approval of England’s social structure was mixed with criticism of its ‘despotic’ foreign policy and the conviction that such a government would turn Poland into a despotism.

(49) ‘Jak wiele od pomyslności miast zawisła powszechna szczęśliwość kraju i jak wiele rząd starać się powinien o ich zakwitnienie’, Pamiętnik Historyczno-Polityczno-Ekonomiczny, Mar.–Apr. 1790, repr. in Materiały do dziejów Sejmu Czteroletniego, vol. 3 (Wrocław, 1960), 256.

(50) Rostworowski, ‘Marzenie dobrego obywatela’, 285–6, 298–9. SA to Deboli, 11 Mar. 1789, Zb. Pop. 414, f. 125, 10 Mar. 1790, Zb. Pop. 420, f. 761, 2 Feb. 1791, Zb. Pop. 413, f. 23.

(51) See Rostworowski, Ostatni król, 150–92.

(52) SA to M. Poniatowski, 1 Sept.–15 Sept. 1790, Zb. Gh. 801b, ff. 52–66, passim.

(53) Rostworowski, ‘Marzenie dobrego obywatela’, 283–342. Zielińska, ‘O sukcesyi…’, 125, 132–6, 167, 170–2, 186–8, 197. Michalski, Konstytucja 3 Maja, 39.

(54) SA to M. Poniatowski, 20 Nov. 1790, Zb. Gh. 801b, f. 106.

(55) Zielińska, ‘O sukcesyi…’, 207–19. Rostworowski, ‘Marzenie dobrego obywatela’, 343–6. Kowecki, ‘Posłowie debiutanci na Sejmie Czteroletnim’, in Wiek XVIII: Polska i świat, 203. SA to Deboli, 17 Nov. 1790, 20 Nov. 1790, 27 Nov. 1790, Zb. Pop. 420, ff. 1085–9, 1091–3, 1099–1102. SA to Bukaty, 24 Nov. 1790, BCzart. 849, ff. 265–7.

(56) Rostworowski, ‘Marzenie dobrego obywatela’, 290–1, 295–8.

(57) Ibid., 317, 318, 322–3, 343–54, 458–9.

(58) Pasztor, Kołłątaj, 164–5.

(59) ‘Czy chcesz WPan krolowi zostawić facultatem vetandi, iak ią ma Krol Angielski?’, ‘Oh nie!’, SA to Deboli, 29 July 1789, Zb. Pop. 414, f. 388.

(60) SA to Deboli, 9 Dec. 1789, Zb. Pop. 414, f. 569. Also partly quoted by Rostworowski, ‘Marzenie dobrego obywatela’, 292.

(61) SA to Deboli, 26 Dec. 1789, Zb. Pop. 414, ff. 606–7. Also quoted by Rostworowski, ‘Marzenie dobrego obywatela’, 292–3.

(62) Rostworowski, ‘Marzenie dobrego obywatela’, 332.

(63) SA to Deboli, 16 Mar. 1791, Zb. Pop. 413, f. 53.

(64) Oss. 9675/I, ff. 243–57. Rostworowski, ‘Marzenie dobrego obywatela’, 328–32.

(65) Rostworowski, ‘Marzenie dobrego obywatela’, 401–2.

(66) APP 98, f. 775. Quoted in Polish translation by Rostworowski, ‘Marzenie dobrego obywatela’, 429, and Ostatni król, 212.

(67) ‘Azali łataiąc teraz iak można, choć okrążaiąc, trafiemy iednak na koniec do angielskiego rządu.’ Zb. Pop. 413, f. 54. Also quoted by Rostworowski, ‘Marzenie dobrego obywatela’, 369.

(68) Z. Szcząska, ‘Ustawa Rządowa 3 Maja’, Niepodleglość, 3/4 (1991), 42; e.g., ‘le plan de la nouvelle Constitution, proposé il y a plus d’un an’, SA to Glayre, 9 May 1791, Correspondance, 247.

(69) In the Piarists’ almanac, Kalendarzyk polityczny na rok przestępny (1792).

(70) I have made use of J. Kowecki’s critical edition, Konstytucja 3 Maja (Warsaw, 1981). All quotations are from Konstytucja 3 Maja 1791: Faksymile rękopisu z Archiwum Glównego Akt Dawnych w Warszawie (Wrocław, 1991), in order to retain the original spelling. Both include the Law on Royal Towns. I have consulted F. Bukaty’s translation, New Constitution of the Government of Poland (London, 1791), repr. in the Annual Register (1791) and elsewhere, but owing to its imperfections and omissions I have in many places made my own translation.

(71) ‘W imię Boga w Troycy świętey jedynego, Stanisław August z Bożey łaski y Woli Narodu Król Polski, Wielki Xiążę Litewski, Ruski, Pruski, Mazowiecki…, wraz z Stanami Skonfederowanemi…Naród Polski reprezentuiącemi.’

(72) I. Rusinowa, ‘Wpływ konstytucji Stanów Zjednoczonych Ameryki Północnej na Konstytucję 3 Maja’, Niepodleglość, 3/4 (1991), 112.

(73) See above, p. 273.

(74) SA to Bukaty, 20 Apr. 1791, BCzart. 849, f. 388. Rostworowski, ‘Marzenie dobrego obywatela’, 412–13.

(75) Vol. 6 of Materialy do dziejów Sejmu Czteroletniego, ed. J. Woliński, J. Michalski, E. Rostworowski, and A. Eisenbach (Wrocław, 1969), devoted to the Jewish question, contains only one comparison. Envoy Butrymowicz told the Seym in 1789 that in England, Holland, and other countries, Jews differed from other citizens only in their religion (p. 81). See Eisenbach, The Emancipation of the Jews in Poland 1780–1870 (Oxford, 1991), 1–112.

(76) K. Zienkowska, Sławetni i urodzeni: Ruch polityczny mieszczaństwa w dobie Sejmu Czteroletniego (Warsaw, 1976), passim. Pasztor, Kołłątaj, 71–85, 109–10, 156–7. Rostworowski, ‘Marzenie dobrego obywatela’, 414–19. James Durno expressed the hope in his ‘Letter’ (ch. 6, n. 78) that ‘the time is not far distant when the mercantile and monied interests will be here allowed, as in England, through the medium of the principal Towns and Cities, that direct and individual representation.’ Durno to Grenville, 11 May 1791, PRO FO 62/4, f. 137.

(77) ‘Bespieczeństwa Osobistego, y wolności Osobistey’.

(78) M. Mikołajczyk, ‘Z badań nad zagadnienieniem nietykalności osobistej w okresie Sejmu Czteroletniego’, in A. Lityński (ed.), W dwusetną rocznicę wolnego Sejmu. Ludzie—państwo—prawo czasów Sejmu Czteroletniego (Katowice, 1988). Lityński, ‘Tradycje i nowości w ustawodawstwie karnym Sejmu Czteroletniego (ze szczególnym uwzględnieniem Kodeksu Stanisława Augusta)’, in Konstytucja 3 Maja: Prawo—Polityka—Symbol, 40–4.

(79) ‘Wszelka władza w społeczności ludzkiey początek swoy bierze z woli narodu.’

(80) ‘W rowney wadze na zawsze’.

(81) ‘Trzy władze Rząd Narodu polskiego składać powinny’.

(82) Rostworowski, ‘Marzenie dobrego obywatela’, 419. Pasztor, Kołłątaj, 158.

(83) In a speech to the Seym on 5 Oct. 1790, Stanisław August argued openly for a power of correction. SA to Deboli, 6 Oct. 1790, Zb. Pop. 420, f. 1019.

(84) SA to Glayre, 25 June 1791, Stanisław August, M. Glayre, Correspondance, 263. Stanisław August wrote in the same tone to Mazzei, 1 June 1791, Oss. 9751/I, f. 65. Rostworowski, ‘Marzenie dobrego obywatela’, 429–31. Pasztor, Kołłątaj, 159.

(85) SA to Mazzei, 16 June 1790, 25 Aug. 1790, quoted after Fabre, Stanislas-Auguste Poniatowski, 511.

(86) Michalski, Historia sejmu polskiego, vol. 1, 409.

(87) ‘Letter’, loc. cit. (n. 76), ff. 136–7.

(88) Michalski, Historia sejmu polskiego, vol. 1, 410.

(89) Langford, Polite and Commercial People, 704.

(90) Michalski, Historia sejmu polskiego, vol. 1, 410.

(91) Lukowski, Liberty’s Folly, 251. Idem, ‘Od Konarskiego do Kołłątaja’, 188.

(92) Rostworowski, ‘Marzenie dobrego obywatela’, 426–9.

(93) ‘Reprezentanci Całego Narodu’.

(94) F. S. Jezierski explicitly distinguished between the Polish poseł, bound by instructions, and the English reprezentant, unbound by them. Niektóre wyrazy porządkiem abecedła zebrane (1791) in Jezierski, Wybór pism, eds. Z. Skwarczyński and J. Ziomek (Warsaw, 1952), 244–5. Rostworowski, ‘Marzenie dobrego obywatela’, 425–6; Lityński, ‘Status posła po Konstytucji 3 Maja’ in H. Kocój (ed.), Pierwsza w Europie: 200 rocznica Konstytucji 3 Maja 1791–1991 (Katowice, 1989); K. Baran and A. Partyka, ‘Rozwój angielskiego systemu rządów parlamentarnych a Konstytucja 3 Maja w Polsce’, ZNUJ, 625 (1982), 107, 112, 124. Bukaty’s translation, New Constitution, 18, completely omitted this important declaration.

(95) ‘Król czyli Władza Wykonawcza’ became ‘Król, Władza Wykonawcza’.

(96) Rostworowski, ‘Marzenie dobrego obywatela’, 431–2. Pasztor, Kołłątaj, 160–1.

(97) ‘Elekcyinym przez familie’.

(98) ‘Familij ciągle panuiących’.

(99) Libiszowska, ‘Międzynarodowe powiklania sukcesji saskiej’, in Konstytucja 3 Maja: Prawo—Polityka—Symbol. Rostworowski, ‘Marzenie dobrego obywatela’, 432–5.

(100) Notably Korzon, Zamknięcie dziejów wewnętrznych za Stanisława Augusta [1899], repr. in idem, Odrodzenie w upadku: Wybór pism historycznych, eds. A. F. Grabski and M. H. Serejski (Warsaw, 1975), 330, and Kalinka, Sejm Czteroletni, vol. 2, 527–9.

(101) See J. łojek’s thought-provoking speculation in Pamiętniki synowca Stanisława Augusta, 7.

(102) Clark, English Society, 173–89.

(103) Durno, ‘Letter’, f. 136. Szczygielski, ‘Konstytucja 3 Maja’, 18. The point is made rather too strongly by Zienkowska, Sukcesja tronu…symbol suwerenności?’. See above, n. 30.

(104) Colley, Britons, ch. 5.

(105) Rostworowski, ‘Marzenie dobrego obywatela’, 438–45.

(106) Durno, ‘Letter’, f. 138.

(107) Rostworowski, ‘Marzenie dobrego obywatela’, 444–7. Michalski, Historia sejmu polskiego, vol. 1, 409–10. Pasztor, Kołłątaj, 160–1. Szcząska, ‘Ustawa Rządowa’, 45. Szczygielski, ‘Konstytucja 3 Maja’, 17–18. Lukowski, ‘Recasting Utopia’, 75–7. Esprit des Lois, Book V, ch. 7.

(108) See J. Wojakowski, Straż Praw (Warsaw, 1982).

(109) ‘Nic sam przez Się nieczyniący, za nic w odpowiedzi Narodowi bydż niemoże.’

(110) Durno, ‘Letter’, f. 136, made the analogy very strongly. Baran and Partyka, ‘Rozwój angielskiego systemu…’, 114–15, 122. Szcząska, ‘Odpowiedzialność prawna ministrów w państwach konstytucyjnych XVIII–XIX w.’, in Wiek XVIII: Polska i świat, 340–3, 354. Idem, ‘Ustawa Rządowa’, 34, 45.

(111) Baran and Partyka, ‘Rozwój angielskiego systemu…’, 115–16, 122–3.

(112) Kołłątaj praised George III’s actions as necessary in an emergency and justified by public support. Uwagi nad pismem…Rzewuskiego, 110.

(113) Dickinson, Liberty and Property, 178–9.

(114) Rostworowski, ‘Marzenie dobrego obywatela’, 436–7, 455–60. SA to Deboli, 14 May 1791, Zb. Pop. 413, ff. 92–3.

(115) ‘Któremu wszelka moc dobrze czynienia zostawiona być powinna, mieć będzie Ius agratiandi na smierć wskazanych, prócz in Criminibus Status.’

(116) Rostworowski, ‘Marzenie dobrego obywatela’, 437–8. SA to Deboli, 14 May 1791, 1 June 1791, Zb. Pop. 413, ff. 92–3, 112. SA to Mazzei, 15 June 1791, Oss. 9751/I, f. 66.

(117) Declaration of Rights, clauses 1 and 2, in Holmes, Making of a Great Power, 426.

(118) Szcząska, ‘Ustawa Rządowa’, 45–6. Szczygielski, ‘Konstytucja 3 Maja’, 20–1. Pasztor, Kołłątaj, 160–2. Lityński, ‘Tradycje i nowości’ (n. 78). Idem, ‘Z zagadnień reformu prawa karnego’, 192–3.

(119) Not just by Tadeusz Bukaty, but also by Mazzei. Mazzei to SA, 22 Dec. 1788–29 May 1789, SA to Mazzei, 25 Feb. 1789, Lettres de Philippe Mazzei et du roi Stanislas-Auguste, vol. 1, 123–272, passim, esp. 185. The king thought that Fox would adopt a less anti-Russian policy than Pitt. SA to Deboli, 29 Nov. 1788, 31 Dec. 1788, Zb. Pop. 417, ff. 653, 687.

(120) L. Ratajczyk, ‘Sprawa wojska i obronności w Konstytucji 3 Maja’, in Konstytucja 3 Maja: Prawo—Polityka—Symbol. Rostworowski, ‘Marzenie dobrego obywatela’, 450–1. Stanisław August continued, without success, to press for a militia. SA to Deboli, 24 Aug. 1791, 12 Nov. 1791, Zb. Pop. 413, ff. 175, 235a. Also see Pasztor, Kołłątaj, 82–4.

(121) Brewer, Sinews of Power, 29–34, 42–5, 60. Langford, Polite and Commercial People, 208, 687–9. Brooke, George III, 31–3, 180–3. Taswell-Langmead, English Constitutional History from the Teutonic Conquest to the Present Time (11th edn., London, 1960), 450–1, 461, 596, 673–4. D. L. Keir, The Constitutional History of Modern Britain 1485–1951 (5th edn., London, 1951), 274, 303, 304–7. Stanisław August wished to end the purchase of commissions but lacked the funds. SA to Deboli, 1 June 1791, Zb. Pop. 413, f. 111.

(122) See Michalski, ‘Zagadnienie unii polsko-litewskiej w czasach panowania Stanisława Augusta’, Zapiski Historyczne, 51 (1986), 112–25; J. Bardach, ‘The Constitution of May Third and the mutual assurance of the Two Nations’, Polish Review, 36 (1991); and Rostworowski, ‘Marzenie dobrego obywatela’, 451–3. SA to Deboli, 22 Oct. 1791, Zb. Pop. 413, f. 215.

(123) A huge subject. Frost, After the Deluge, 7. See Holmes and Szechi, Age of Oligarchy, ch. 15; Pocock, ‘Clergy and Commerce’, and the literature cited therein; and in general, T. C. Smout, A History of the Scottish People 1560–1830 (1969, repr. London, 1985).

(124) See above, Ch. 6, n. 89. Libiszowska, ‘Polska reforma w opinii angielskiej’, in Sejm Czteroletni i jego tradycje, 68–71. Eadem, ‘Odglosy Konstytucji 3 Maja na Zachodzie’, in Konstytucja 3 Maja w tradycji i kulturze polskiej, 76–9. Eadem, ‘Edmund Burke a Polska’, 69–70.

(125) Szczygielski, Referendum trzeciomajowe: Sejmiki lutowe 1792 roku (łódź, 1994), 261.

(126) Na pismo, któremu napis O Konstytucji 3 Maja do JWW Zaleskiego…i Matuszewica…odpowiedź [1791], repr. in Za czy przeciw Ustawie Rządowej: Walka publicystyczna o Konstytucję 3 Maja: Antologia, ed. A. Grześkowiak-Krwawicz (Warsaw, 1992), 110–15.

(127) Kądziela, ‘Rok realizacji reform majowych (1791–1792)’, in T. Kostkiewiczowa (ed.), ‘Rok Monarchii Konstytucyjnej’: Piśmiennictwo polskie lat 1791–1792 wobec Konstytucji 3 Maja (Warsaw, 1993), 17–18, 22. Szczygielski, Referendum, is the definitive monograph on the reaction of the seymiki to the Constitution. Also see Lityński, Sejmiki ziemskie, 132–40.

(128) Grześkowiak-Krwawicz, ‘Walka publicystyczna o Konstytucję 3 Maja: Maj 1791–maj 1792’, in Sejm Czteroletni i jego tradycje, 102–4. Szczygielski, Referendum, 161, 194, 202, 227, 263, 285, 288, 310–11, 314–15, 322–5, 370–2.

(129) Zastanowienie się nad nową Konstytucją polską [1791], repr. in Za czy przeciw Ustawie Rządowej, 144–6. The author used the 1786 French edition of La scienza della legislazione.

(130) [Czacki], O Konstytucji Trzeciego Maja 1791 do JWW Zaleskiego trockiego i Matuszewica brzeskiego litewskiego poslów (1791), repr. in Za czy przeciw Ustawie Rządowej, 94, 98, 101–4.

(131) JW. JP. Tomasza Dłuskiego…usprawiedliwenie się przed publicznością z manifestu przeciwko Ustawie dnia 3 maja, repr. ibid., 62. The author of Myśl obywatela o nowej Konstytucji (1791), also noted the hereditary upper house; repr. ibid., 47.

(132) ‘Naywiększa tarcza wolności’. Uwagi nad pismem…Usprawiedliwienie się JW. Dłskiego…z manifestu, przeciwko Ustawie 3 Maja 1791 (1791). The pamphlet is signed ‘Jeden z tych, którzy zaprzysięgli Konstytucyę 3 Maia’ (‘One of those who swore to uphold the Constitution of 3 May’). Konopczyński, ‘Polscy pisarze polityczni’, vol. 2, 391 n. 6, noted that the example in the Biblioteka Jagiellońska bears a late 18th-century annotation that the king was the author. On this basis, Stanisław August’s authorship has been taken as probable by Grześkowiak-Krwawicz, Za czy przeciw Ustawie Rządowej, 14. The use of very similar arguments and rhetoric as in Stanisław August’s speech to the Seym on 23 Sept. 1776 (the repetition of ‘po staremu Anglia jest wolna’ (‘and still England is free’) in the place of ‘a wolność iednak cala’ (‘and yet freedom is still intact’), combined with the absence of any panegyric to the monarch, permit the establishment of Stanisław August’s authorship as certain. See above, p. 256.

(133) ‘Czcze urzędy’.

(134) ‘Przeciwko Formie Rządu powstawal’.

(135) See M. ślusarska, ‘Konstytucja 3 Maja w kaznodziejstwie okolicznościowym lat 1791–1792’; Kostkiewiczowa, ‘Sławni poeci polscy XVIII wieku wobec Konstytucji 3 Maja’; K. Maksimowicz, ‘Konstytucja 3 maja w anonimowej poezji politycznej lat 1791–1792’; F. Sawicka, ‘Uroczystości dla uczczenia pierwszej rocznicy Konstytucji 3 Maja’; Kądziela, ‘Rok realizacji’, 18–25, all in ‘Rok Monarchii Konstytucyjnej’; Gruszczyński, ‘Z problematyki politycznej w kazaniach’, 22–7; Michalski, ‘“Wszystko pójdzie wyśmienicie”: (O politycznym optymizmie po 3 Maja)’, in Losy Polaków w XIX–XX w.: Studia ofiarowane Profesorowi Stefanowi Kieniewiczowi…(Warsaw, 1987); and Rostworowski, Maj 1791–maj 1792, 14–19.

(136) Szczygielski, Referendum, 51–68, 374, 377, 379 and passim. Kądziela, ‘Rok realizacji’, 22–3. Grześkowiak-Krwawicz, ‘Publicystka lat 1791–1792 wobec Konstytucji 3 Maja’, in ‘Rok Monarchii Konstytucyjnej’, 147.

(137) See Kowecki, ‘Pierwsze stronnictwo polityczne w Polsce XVIII w.’, in Dzieje kultury politycznej w Polsce: Prace XI Powszechnego Zjazdu Historyków Polskich (Warsaw, 1977).

(138) Kądziela, ‘Rok realizacji’, 11–14. Zienkowska, Sławetni i urodzeni, part 3. Pasztor, Kołłątaj, 71–110. W. Zajewski, Józef Wybicki (3rd edn., Warsaw, 1989), 136–9.