HISTORY OF POLAND IN 10 STEPS:
#4 Reforms and the Constitution of 1791
Photo: Jan Matejko, The Fall of Poland, 1866
■ In 1764 Stanisław August Poniatowski was elected as the new king, however, with great support from Catherine the Great of Russia. The new Polish monarch was well educated and aware of the state’s fragility, hence he started shifting back and forth between the demands of various groups of Polish-Lithuanian nobles and his dominant Russian ally.
■ His policies brought much improvement in the fields of economy, culture and science, but due to discord among the magnates, it didn’t manage to prevent the First Partition of Poland, and the country’s outer provinces were appropriated by its three neighbours: the Russian Empire, the Kingdom of Prussia and and the Habsburg Austrian Empire.
■ The very last attempt to carry out the necessary state reform was to adopt the Constitution of 3rd May in 1791, the second such act in history! The document aimed to re-establish the relationship between the king and the nobles, and put a stop to the magnates’ ambition-driven anarchy but…
■ …it didn’t quite work out like that. Catherine the Great of Russia was deeply concerned about the direction of the reforms and, with the support of some of the Polish-Lithuanian nobility, forcefully stopped it by invading and conducting the Second Partition of Poland.
Soon, the surviving reformers decided it was time for their last resort and gathered under the lead of a veteran of the American Revolution – Tadeusz Kościuszko.
The insurrection they started was an act of great bravery and
desperation, yet it was doomed to failure from the very beginning. The
overwhelmingly superior military forces of the neighbouring powers
brutally suppressed the rising and divided the remnants of Polish
territory between themselves during the Third Partition of Poland. Thus in 1795, Poland ceased to exist.