New Constitution of the Government of Poland, Established by the Revolution, the Third of May, 1791
GOVERNMENT of POLAND,
by the revolution,
the third of May, 1791.
Printed for J. Debrett, opposite Burlington House, Piccadilly.
GOVERNMENT of POLAND,
In the name of God, one in the Holy Trinity!
and the will of the nation, King of Poland, Grand Duke of Lithuania, Russia, Prussia, Masovia, Samogitia, &c. &c. &c. together with the Confederate States assembled in double number to representthe Polish nation,
Persuaded that our common fate depends entirely upon establishing and rendering perfect a national constitution; convinced by a long train of experience of many defects in our government, and willing to profit by the present circumstances of Europe, and by the favourable moment which has restored us to ourselves; free from the disgraceful shackles of foreign influence; prizing more than life, and every personal consideration, the political existence, external independence, and internal liberty of the nation, whose care is entrusted to us; desirous, moreover, to deserve the blessing and gratitude, not only of our , but also of future generations; for the sake of the public good, for securing our liberty, and maintaining our kingdom and our possessions; in order to exert our natural rights with zeal and firmness, we do solemnly establish the present Constitution, which we declare wholly inviolable in every part, till such period as shall be prescribed by law, when the nation, if it should thing fit, and deem it necessary, may alter by its express will such articles therein as shall be found inadequate. And this present Constitution shall be the standard of all laws and statutes for the future Diets.
The Dominant National Religion.
The Holy Roman-Catholic Faith, with all its privileges and immunities, shall be the dominant national religion. The changing of it for nay other persuasion is forbidden under the penalties of apostacy; but as the same holy religion commands us to love our neighbours, we therefore owe to all people, of whatever persuasion, peace in matters of faith, and the protection of government; consequently we assure, to all persuasions and religions, freedom and liberty according to the laws of the country, and in all dominions of the republic.
Nobility, or the Equestrian Order.
Revering the memory of our ancestors with gratitude, as the first founders of our liberties, it is but just to acknowledge, in a most solemn manner, that all the preeminence and prerogatives of liberty, both in public and private life, should be insured to this order; especially laws, statutes, and privileges, granted to this order by Casimir the Great, Lewis of Hungary, Ladislaus Jagellon, and his brother Wittoldus, Grand Duke of Lithuania; also by Ladislaus and Casimirus, both Jagellons; by John Albertus, Alexander, Sigisimundus the First, and Sigismundus Augustus, (the last of the Jagellonic race) are by the present act renewed, confirmed, and declared to be inviolable. We acknowledge the rank of the noble Equestrian order in Poland to be equal to all degrees of nobility—all persons of that order to be equal among themselves, not only in the eligibility to all posts of honour, trust, or emolument, but in the enjoyment of all privileges and prerogatives appertaining to the said order: and in particular, we preserve and guarantee to every individual thereof personal liberty and security of territorial and moveable property as they were formerly enjoyed; nor shall we even suffer the least encroachment on either by the supreme national power, (on which the present form of government is established), under any pretext whatsoever, contrary to private rights, either in part, or in the whole; consequently we regard the preservation of personal security and property, as by law ascertained, to be a tie of society, and the very essence of civil liberty, which ought to be considered and respected for ever. It is in this order that we repose the defence of our liberties and the present constitution: it is to their virtue, valour, honour, and patriotism, we recommend its dignity to venerate, and its stability to defend, as the only bulwark of our liberty and existence.
Towns and Citizens.
The law made by the present Diet, entitled, Our royal free towns within the dominions of the Republic, we mean to consider as a part of the present constitution, and promise to maintain it as a new, additional, true, and effectual support, or our common liberties, and our mutual defence.
Peasants and Villagers.
This agricultural class of people, the most numerous in the nation, consequently forming the most considerable part of its force, from whose hands flows the source of our riches, we receive under the protection of national law and government, from the motives of justice, humanity, christianity, and our own interest well understood; enacting, that whatever liberties, grants, and conventions, between the propritors and villagers, either individually or collectively, may be allowed in future, and entered authentically into; such agreements, according to their true meaning, shall import mutual and reciprocal obligations, binding not only the present contracting parties, but even their successors by inheritance or acquisition—so far that it shall not be in the power of either party to alter at pleasure such contracts importing grants on one side, and voluntary promise of duties, labour, or payments, on the other, according to the manner and conditions therein expressed, whether they are to last perpetually, or for a fixed period. Thus having insured to the proprietors every advantage they have a right to from their villagers, and willing to encourage most effectually the population of our country, we publish and proclaim a perfect and entire liberty to all people, either who may be newly coming to settle, or those who, having emigrated, would return to their native country; and we declare most solemnly, that any person coming into Poland from whatever part of the world, or returning from abroad, as soon as he sets his foot on the territory of the Republic, becomes free and at liberty to exercise his industry, wherever and in whatever manner he pleases, to settle either in towns or villages, to farm and rent lands and houses, on tenures and contracts, for as long a term as may be agreed on; with liberty to remain, or to remove, after having fulfilled the obligations he may have voluntarily entered into.
Form of Government, or the Definition of Public Powers.
All power in civil society should be derived from the will of the people, its end and object being the preservation and integrity of the state, the civil liberty, and the good order of society, on an equal scale, and on a lasting foundation. Three distinct powers shall compose the government of the Polish nation, according to the present constitution, viz.
1st. Legislative power in the States assembled.
2d. Executive power in the King and the Council of Inspection.
3d. Judicial power in Jurisdictions existing, or to be established.
The Diet, or the Legislative Power.
The Diet, or the Assembly of States, shall be divided into two houses, viz. the House of Nuncios, or Deputies, and the House of Senate, where the King is to preside. The former being the representative and central point of supreme national authority, shall possess the pre-eminence in the Legislature; therefore all bills are to be decided first in this house.
1st. All General Laws, viz. constitutional, civil, criminal, and perpetual taxes; concerning which matters, the King is to issue his propositions by the circular letters sent before the Dietines to every palatinate and to every district for deliberation, which coming before the house with the opinion expressed in the instructions given to their representatives, shall be taken the first for decision.
2d. Particular Laws, viz. temporal taxes; regulations of the mint; contracting public debts; creating nobles, and other casual recompence; reparations of public expences, both ordinary and extraordinary; concerning war; peace; ratification of treaties, both political and commercial; all diplomatic acts and conventions relative to the laws of nations; examining and acquitting different executive departments, and similar subjects arising from the accidental exigencies and circumstances of the State; in which the propositions, coming directly from the Throne into the House of Nuncios, are to have preference in discussion before private bills.
In regard to the House of Senate, it is to consist of Bishops, Palatines, Castellans, and Ministers, under the presidency of the King, who shall have but one vote, and the casting voice in case of parity, which he may give either personally, or by a message to the House. Its power and duty shall be,
1st. Every general law that passes formally through the House of Nuncios is to be sent immediately to this, which is either accepted, or suspended till farther national deliberation, by a majority of votes, as scribed by law. If accepted, it becomes a law in all its force; if suspended, it shall be resumed at the next Diet: and if it is then agreed to again by the House of Nuncios, the Senate must submit to it.
3d. Every particular law or statute of the Diet in matters above specified, as soon as it has been determined by the House of Nuncios, and sent up to the Senate, the votes of both Houses shall be jointly computed, and the majority, as described by law, shall be considered as a decree and the will of the nation.
Those Senators and Ministers who, from their share in executive power, are accountable to the Republic, cannot have an active voice in the Diet, but may be present in order to give necessary explanations to the States.
These ordinary legislative Diets shall have their uninterrupted existence, and be always ready to meet; renewable every two years. The length of sessions shall be determined by the law concerning Diets. If convened out of ordinary session upon some urgent occasion, they shall only deliberate on the subject which occasioned such a call, or on circumstances which may arise out of it.
No law or statute enacted by such ordinary Diet can be altered or annulled by the same.
The compliment of the Diet shall be composed of the number of persons in both Houses, to be determined hereafter.
The law concerning the dietines, or primary elections, as established by the present Diet, shall be regarded as a most essential foundation of civil liberty.
The majority of votes shall decide every thing, and every where; therefore we abolish, and utterly annihilate, liberum veto, all sorts of confederacies and confederate Diets, as contrary to the spirit of the present constitution, as undermining the government, and as being ruinous to society.
Willing to prevent, on one hand, violent and frequent changes in the national constitution, yet considering, on the other, the necessity of perfecting it, after experiencing its effects on public prosperity, we determine the period of every twenty-five years for an Extraordinary Constitutional Diet, to be held purposely for the revision and such alterations of the constitution as may be found requisite; which Diet shall be circumscribed by a separate law hereafter.
The King, or Executive Power.
The most perfect government cannot exist or last without an effectual executive power. The happiness of the nation depends on just laws, but the good effects of laws flow only from their execution. Experience has taught us, that the neglecting this essential part of government has overwhelmed Poland with disasters.
Having, therefore, secured to the free Polish nation the right of enacting laws for themselves, the supreme inspection over the executive power, and the choice of their magistrates, we entrust to the King, and his Council, the highest power of executing the laws.
This Council shall be called Straz, or the Council of Inspection.
The duty of such executive power shall be to watch over the laws, and to see them strictly executed according to their import, even by the means of public force, should it be necessary.
All departments and magistracies are bound to obey its directions. To this power we leave the right of controling such as are refractory, or of punishing such as are negligent in the execution of their respective offices.
This executive power cannot assume the right of making laws, or of their interpretation. It is expressly forbidden to contract public debts; to alter the repartition of the national income as fixed by the Diet; to declare war; to conclude definitively any treaty, or any diplomatic act; it is only allowed to carry on with foreign Courts, and facilitate temporary occurrences, always with reference to the Diet.
The Crown of Poland we declare to be elective in regard to families, and it is settled so for ever.
Having experienced the fatal effects of interregna, periodically subverting government, and being or preventing for ever all foreign influences, as well as of insuring to every citizen a perfect tranquillity, we have, from prudent motives, resolved to adopt hereditary succession to our Throne: therefore we enact and declare, that, after the expiration of our life, according to the gracious will of Almighty, the present Elector of Saxony shall reign over Poland.
The dynasty of future Kings of Poland shall begin the person of Frederic Augustus, Elector of Saxony, with the right of inheritance to the Crown to his male descendants. The eldest son of the reigning King is to succeed his father; and in case the present Elector of Saxony has no male issue, a husband chosen by him (with the consent and approbation of the Republic) for his daughter, shall begin the said dynasty. Hence we declare the Princess Mary-Augusta Nepomucena, only daughter of the Elector of Saxony, to be Infanta of Poland.
We reserve the nation, however, the right of electing to the Throne any other house or family, after the extinction of the first.
Every King, on his accession to the Throne, shall take a solemn oath to God and the Nation, to support the present constitution, to fulfil the pacta conventa, which will be settled with the present Elector of Saxony, as appointed to the Crown, and which shall bind him in the same manner as former ones.
The King’s person is sacred and inviolable; as no act can proceed immediately from him, he cannot be in any manner responsible to the nation; he is not an absolute monarch, but the father, and the head of the people; his revenues, as fixed by the pacta conventa, shall be sacredly preserved. All public acts, the acts of magistracies, and the coin of the kingdom, shall bear his name.
The King, who ought to possess every power of doing good, shall have the right of pardoning those that are condemned to death, except the crimes be against the state.
In time of war he shall have the supreme command of the national forces—he may appoint the commanders of the army, however, by the will of the States. It shall be his province to patentee officers in the army, and other dignitaries, consonant to the regulations hereafter to be expressed, to appoint Bishops, Senators, and Ministers, as members of the executive power.
The King’s Council of Inspection is to consist,
1st. Of the Primate, as the head of the Clergy, and the President of the Commission of Education, or the first Bishop in Ordine.
2d. Of five Ministers, viz. the Minister of Police, Minister of Justice, Minist of War, Minister of Finance, and Minister for the Foreign Affairs.
3d. Of two Secretaries to keep the Protocols, one for the Council, another for the Foreign Department; both, however, without decisive vote.
The hereditary Prince coming of age, and having taken the oath to preserve the constitution, may assist at all sessions of the Council, but shall have no vote therein.
The Marshal of the Diet being chosen for two years, has also a right to sit in this Council, without taking any share in its resolves; for the end only to call together the Diet, always existing, in the following case: Should he deem, from the emergencies hereunder specified, the convocation of the Diet absolutely necessary, and the King refusing to do it, the Marshal is bound to issue his circular letters to all Nuncios and Senators, adducing real motives for such meeting.
The cases demanding such convocation of the Diet are the following:
1st. In a pressing necessity concerning the law of nation, and particularly in case of a neighbouring war.
2d. In case of an internal commotion, menacing with the revolution of the country, or of a collision between Magistratures.
3d. In an evident danger of general famine.
4th. In the orphan state of the country, by demise of the King, or in case of the King’s dangerous illness.
All the resolutions of the Council of Inspection are to be examined by the rules above mentioned.
The King’s opinion, after that of every member in the Council has been heard, shall decisively prevail.
Every resolution of this Council shall be issued under the King’s signature, countersigned by one of the Ministers sitting therein; and thus signed, shall be obeyed by all executive departments, except in cases expressly exempted by the present constitution.
Should all the Members refuse their countersign to any resolution, the King is obliged to forego his opinion; but if he should persist in it, the Marshal of the Diet; and if the King will not, the Marshal himself shall send his circular letters as above.
Ministers composing this Council cannot be employed at the same time in any other commission or department.
If it should happen that two thirds of secret votes in both Houses demand the changing of any person, either in the Council, or any executive department, the King is bound to nominate another.
Willing that the Council of Inspection should be responsible to the nation for their actions, we decree that, when these Ministers are denounced and accused before the Diet (by the Special Committee appointed for examining their proceedings) of any transgression of positive law, they are answerable with their persons and fortunes.
Such impeachments being determined by a simple majority of votes, collected jointly from both Houses, shall be tried immediately by the comitial tribunal, where the accused are to receive their final judgement and punishment, if found guilty; or to be honourably acquitted, on sufficient proof of innocence.
In order to form a necessary organization of the executive power, we establish hereby separate commissions, connected with the above Council, and subjected to obey its ordinations.
These commissions are, 1st. of Education; 2d. of Police; 3d. of War; 4th. of Treasury.
It is through the medium of these four departments that all the particular orderly commissions, as established by the present Diet, in every palatinate and district, shall depend on, and receive all orders from, the Council of Inspection, in their respective duties and occurrences.
As judicial power is incompatible with the legislative, nor can be administered by the King, therefore tribunals and magistratures ought to be established and elected. It ought to have local existence, that every citizen should know where to seek justice, and every transgressor can discern the hand of national government. We establish, therefore,
1st. Primary Courts of Justice for each palatinate and dsstrict, composed of Judges chosen at the Dietine, which are always to be ready to administer justice. From these Courts appeals are allowed to the high tribunals, erected one for each of three provinces, in which the kingdom is divided. Those Courts, both primary and final, shall be for the class of nobles, or equestrian order, and all the proprietors of landed property.
2dly. We determine separate Courts and Jurisdictions for the free royal towns, according to the law fixed by the present Diet.
3dly. Each province shall have a Court of Referendaries for the trial of causes relating to the peasantry, who are all hereby declared free, and in the same manner as those who were so before.
4thly. Courts, curial and assessorial, tribunals for Courland, and relational, are hereby confirmed.
5thly. Executive comissions shall have judicial power in the matters relative to their administration.
6thly. Besides all these civil and criminal Courts, there shall be one supreme general tribunal for all the classes, called a Comitial Tribunal or Court, composed of persons chosen at the opening of every Diet. This tribunal is to try all the persons accused of crimes against the State.
Lastly, we shall appoint a Committee for the forming a civil and criminal code of laws, by persons whom the Diet shall elect for that purpose.
The same Council of Inspection is to compose the Regency, with the Queen at their head, or, in her absence, with the Primate of the kingdom. The Regency may take place only,
1st. During the King’s minority.
2d. In case of the King’s settled alienation of reason.
3d. In case of the King’s being made a prisoner of war.
Minority is to be considered till eighteen years are be declared in the existing Diet by the plurality of three-fourths of votes of both combined Houses against one-fourth., and the malady must
When the King comes of age, or recovers his health, or returns from captivity, the Regency shall cease, and shall be accountable to him, and responsible to the nation in their persons and fortunes, for their actions during their office.
Education of King’s Children.
The King’s sons, being designed successors to the Crown, are the first children of the country. Thence the care of their proper education, without encroaching, however, on the right of their parents, devolves naturally upon the nation.
During the King’s life, the King himself, with the Council, and a Tutor appointed by the States, shall superintend the education of the Princes.
In time of a Regency, it shall be intrusted with this direction, jointly with the above-mentioned Tutor.
In both cases this Tutor, named by the States, is to make his report before each ordinary Diet of the education and progress of the Princes. The Commission, or Board of Education, is obliged to bring before the Diet, for the approbation, an instruction or plan for the education of the Princes, founded on religion, love of virtue, of country, of liberty, and the constitution.
National Force, or the Army.
The nation is bound to preserve its possessions against invasion; therefore all inhabitants are natural defenders of their country and its liberties.
The army is only an extract of defensive regular force, from the general mass of national strength.
The nation owns to the army reward and respect, because of its devoting itself wholly for the defence of the country.
The army owes to the nation, to guard the frontier against enemies, and to maintain public tranquility within: in a word, it ought to be the strongest shield in the nation.
That these ends may be fully answered, the army should ever remain under the subordination and obedience to the executive power; it shall therefore take an oath, according to law, of fidelity to the nation, and to the King, and to maintain the national constitution. This national force, therefore, shall be employed for the general defence of the country, for garrisoning fortresses, guarding frontiers, and assisting the civil power in the execution of the law against those that are refractory.
DECLARATION OF THE STATES ASSEMBLED.
All laws and statutes, old and new, contrary to the present constitution, or to any part thereof, are hereby abolished; and every paragraph in the foregoing articles, to be a component part of the present constitution, is acknowledged. We recommend to the executive power to see the Council of Inspection immediately begin its office under the eye of the Diet, and continue its duties without the least interruption.
We swear before God and the country to maintain and defend, with all possible human power, the present constitution; and considering this oath as a proof of real love of our country, we command all magistrates and troops here present to take it immediately. The commission of war shall issue orders to the rest of the army quartered in the kingdom, and in the grand duchy of Lithuania, to do the same within one month at farthest from the date of the present law.
We recommend to our Bishops to appoint one and the same day of public thanksgiving to God Almighty in all churches over the kingdom; also, we appoint a day, N.N. for the solemn celebrating, by us and our posterity, of a commemoration anniversary for the mercies of the Supreme Being shewn to us after so many public calamities.
And that future ages may know and feel that it is by the assistance of the Supreme Disposer of nations we have surmounted the greatest difficulties and obstacles, and effected this happy Revolution, we decree, that a church shall be erected and consecrated to Divine Providence in memory of this event, and at the expence of the States.
Having thus satisfied our general feelings on this event, we turn our attention towards securing the same constitution, by declaring and enacting, that whoever should dare to oppose it, or to disturb the public tranquillity, either by exciting mistrust, or by perverse interpretation of this constitution, and much more by forming insurrections and confederacies, either openly or secretly, such persons or persons are declared to be enemies and traitors to their country, and shall be punished as such with the utmost rigour by the Comitial Tribunal. For this purpose we order this tribunal to sit uninterruptedly at Warsaw, proroguing their sessions from day to day, and to try all persons so accused by any citizen of property, with the assistance of the Attorneys General of Poland and Lithuania, seizing all indicted persons, with the aid of the national troops, which shall be ready to act on the first order from the executive power as they shall be directed, and occasion may require.
The Law concerning Dietines, or primary Assemblies of Poland, alluded to in the preceding publication, will be published in a few days.