Polish History- The Rise and Fall of the First Republic


"It is by unrule that Poland stands."


 

The 1569 Union of Lublin represented the final stage in the creation of the Polish-Lithuanian federation, but the death of the last Jagiellon king in 1572 presented the first real test of the evolving political system.

 

As was common during past successional interregnums, the clergy and magnates provisionally wielded royal authority until a new king was crowned.[1] Although the magnates (rich nobles) were actively involved in the selection of king since at least the death of Casmir the Great in 1370, the process was a confusing mixture of precedent and personality. Technically free to select a king of their liking, for a host of practical reasons the nobility were limited to a short list of dynastic candidates typically recommended by the prior monarch. In effect, the Sejm confirmed the senior heir of the preceding king in a ceremonial pseudo-election.[2] There was, in fact, no uniform, legal procedure to assure a smooth transition and many feared that the occasion of Sigismund II's death would be used by separatist elements to divide and weaken the new union.[3] It was widely recognized that a more rational and orderly successional procedure was needed.

 

The crisis was averted when the nobility decided to use their temporary authority to define a new political system for the Commonwealth. In actuality the majority of the "new" system was the comprehensive codification of past privileges, precedents, and customs that resulted from over five hundred years of political evolution. Poland became a parliamentary republic of the szalachta, a gentry proto-democracy, by increments. The death of the last Jagiellon king was an opportunity to comprehensively define governmental institutions to create a constitutional united republic with a freely elected sovereign.[4]

 

Senator Jakub Uchanski, the Archbishop of Gniezno and Primate, head of the Catholic Church of Poland, assumed the role of Interrex and summoned a convocational Sejm called the Confederation of Warsaw to hammer out the details of the new government.[5] The term "confederation" was not selected casually. In general terms a confederation is an association of sovereign states, and since each Polish nobleman believed in the sovereignty of their individual liberty the term was indeed appropriate.  Moreover, in Poland a confederation was an ancient institution which had been employed many times in the past. A Polish confederation was a voluntary organization usually comprised of armed men who swore on their lives to champion a noble cause or correct an injustice.[6] The confederation was considered an incipient and ephemeral political party, formed ad hoc to address specific issues. The Solidarity movement in 1980 Poland, a spontaneous organization of concerned patriots opposed to tyrannical rule, has strong parallels with the confederations of the First Republic.[7]

 

The confederation was in essence a form of legalized rebellion, oddly enough necessitated by the tradition of unanimity among the nobility. The szlachta believed that the noble estate was indivisible, each nobleman processing sovereign power that could not be arbitrarily usurped by a majority or the edicts of a king. However in the inevitable event of disagreement it was considered perfectly acceptable for the discontented parties to withdraw from debate and form an opposing confederation. Significantly, confederations were bound to strict majority voting, perhaps a tacit admission that absolute unanimity, though ideal, was ultimately unworkable.

 

Any government in Poland-Lithuania had to consider the very unique nature of the Commonwealth, a cacophony of cultures that boasted one of the most religiously diverse societies in Europe. Although Poland later became almost pervasively and militantly Catholic, at the time of the Union of Lublin the Roman Church constituted only a statistically dominant minority, and an extremely tolerant one at that. Protestants, Orthodox, Moslems and Jews were well represented and unmolested in the Republic.[8] In fact, by the mid-16th century the majority of the non-clergy members of the Senate were Protestant as the elite seemed disproportionately susceptible to the Reformation.[9]

 

The Jewish community in Poland pre-dated Miesko's conversion to Christianity in 966 and was granted a general charter of Jewish liberties as early as 1264. Fleeing persecutions associated with the Crusades, the Black Death, and the Inquisition, to name a few, major influxes of Jews into Poland occurred between the late 11th and 15th centuries, vastly expanding the earlier settlements that developed as a result of a Polish special invitation to Jewish settlers in 1133. Another invitation was extended in the wake of the devastation following the Mongolian invasion and Casimir the Great issued a special charter in 1345 to safeguard Jewish liberties. Jews migrating from coastal Europe via Germany became known as Ashkenazim (German) Jews while those emanating from Spain were known as Sephardim (exiled) Jews, but both groups were widely accepted in their new home.[10] Tolerant and relatively under-developed Poland, in need of highly skilled craftsmen and merchants, welcomed the Jews who eventually formed ten percent of the population. By the mid-16th century Poland had the largest concentration of Jews in the world.

 

Given the circumstances it is perhaps not surprising that one of the most significant outcomes of the Confederation of Warsaw was a guarantee of religious freedom. Nonetheless the concept was one of the truly admirable and unique features of a government formed at a time of widespread violence associated with the Reformation and Counter-Reformation. The religiously mixed Sejm was particularly alarmed by the August 24, 1572, St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre, in which a violent Catholic mob in Paris, outraged at a recent inter-denominational royal wedding, rampaged through the city killing Huguenots, French Calvinist Protestants. The violence soon spread throughout much of France and lasted several months, killing as many as twenty thousand people. The Poles considered the massacres a despicable act of intolerance and were determined to prevent a similar occurrence in their country. In a memorable passage in which freedom of religion was enshrined in the constitution, the Toleration Act of Warsaw stated:

 

Whereas in our Common Wealth there is no small disagreement in the matter of the Christian faith, and in order to prevent that any harmful contention should arise from this, as we see clearly taking place in other kingdoms, we swear to each other, in our name and in that of our descendants for ever more, on our honor, our faith, our love and our consciences, that albeit we are dissidents in religion, we will keep the peace between ourselves, and that we will not, for the sake of our various faith and difference of church, either shed blood or confiscate property, deny favor, imprison or banish, and that furthermore we will not aid or abet any power or office which strives to this in any way whatsoever...[11]

 

The Poles were as good as their word. That year the Inquisition was banned in Poland. In the next hundred years, no more than twelve sectarian killings were recorded in the Republic while in Europe thousands were burnt at the stake for perceived heresies. In a telling example, in 1580 a radical Calvinist walked into a Catholic Church during mass and snatched the consecrated host, believed the actual body of Christ, from an astonished priest. The Protestant protester then spat on the Blessed Sacrament, threw it on the ground and stomped on it, and finally fed the soiled wafer to a passing mongrel. In virtually any other Catholic country the transgressor would have been invited to an unpleasant public barbeque, but in Poland the king simply reprimanded the miscreant and asked that he not do it again.[12] Perhaps as a consequence of toleration, anti-Catholic demonstrations were relatively rare in the Republic where the stimulating effects of prosecution were noticeably lacking.[13]

 

The Poles recognized that the separation of church and state was desirable in a Republic. Religion, anchored by non-negotiable dogma, is by its nature uncompromising while the essence of a representative form of government is compromise. Although most individual Poles were religious, they collectively believed that their government should be secular.

 

Another hallmark of the new Republic was a respect for freedom of expression, even during trying times. During the Great Cossack uprising in the mid-17th century, Poland was ridiculed by the Czar for allowing the publication of subversive material. The Senate responded:

 

The King and we do not order books printed, nor do we forbid it: if a printer publishes good and fair material, we praise it; if fools publish something inferior, unworthy and untrue, we at the Council laugh at it. If no one were to publish books, our descendants would know nothing about us...Printing is free in our country, by law and by the custom of nations.[14]

 

Although the nobles did not share a common lifestyle, they held a common viewpoint on government and the prerogatives of their class that was reflected in the social contract constructed by the Confederation of Warsaw. It is perhaps surprising that Polish-Lithuanian nobles manifested such impressive group solidarity given their profound ethnic, religious, educational, and socio-economic differences.

 

The szlachta (nobles) were comprised of numerous ethnic groups, including Lithuanian and Ruthenian boyars, Germans, Prussians, Baltic gentry, Tatars, Italians and eventually even one American. Yet most nobles were considered "Polish", more as a symbol of class than ethnicity. Although the concept of nobility was historically associated with land ownership, significant numbers of szlachta became landless indigents, some virtually indistinguishable from their peasant counterparts. The magnates, who comprised only a few percent of the nobility, were obnoxiously wealthy and disproportionably represented in prior interregnums. It was not uncommon for individual magnates to own several villages, complete with self-sufficient economies, and command private armies largely comprised of their less fortunate fellow nobles. Despite the obvious disparity in wealth, the szlachta, who addressed each other as "brother", were theoretically socially and politically equal, a beautiful fiction that was pursued with passion.[15]

 

The glaring contrast between the reality and the theory created a mania for equality among the lower nobility that led to the conclusion that the entire noble class by right should participate as equal partners in the election of the King. For the first time the lower nobility were included in the electoral process, the most destitute szlactha's vote counting no less than that of the most powerful magnate.

 

At the time, the political power accretedto the Noble estate over the past centuries was unmatched anywhere in Europe. Unfortunately, unlike the modern concept of freedom based on universal citizenship and inalienable rights, the Poles still based their liberties on negotiated privileges which especially since the death of Casimir the Great in 1370 had come at expense of the king .[16] These privileges were typically negotiated, some would say extorted, during successional crisis or times of war when the king's bargaining power was at low ebb. Once granted, these rights became the irrevocable sacred property of the nobility. Some of the more significant past concessions included:

 

  • 1374- Statue of Koszyce: recognized that the nobility as a class were entitled to basic rights and privileges, including exemption from the land tax.
  • 1422- Privilege of Czerwinsk: prevented the king from confiscating noble private property without a court verdict.
  • 1430, 1433- Acts of Jedlina, Krakow: statue of "Neminem Captivabimus" stated that the King can neither imprison nor punish any szlachta without a viable court order. This is the equivalent of Habeaus Corpus, not codified in England until 1679.
  • 1454- Statue of Niezawa: stated no new tax or army could be raised without the consent of the Sejm, the Polish version of "no taxation without representation".
  • 1505- The Constitution of Nihil Novi (nothing new): forbade the king to pass new laws without the consent of both the Sejm and the Senate. This act effectively transferred legislative powers from the king to the nobility and is often cited as the world's first application of a democratic parliamentary system, anticipating the goals of the English Glorious Revolution (1688) and the American Revolution (1775) by centuries.[17]

 

          The Confederation of Warsaw provided the opportunity to reinforce, expand, and more importantly preserve in law the sacrosanct privileges of the noble class. These "Cardinal Laws", which long preceded many of their English counterparts, became the backbone of Poland's constitutional law. To assure the continued supremacy of the szlachta, the new government had the following new features:

  

  • The king would be elected by the entire noble class. Eligible candidates included any Commonwealth noble or foreigner of royal blood.
  • The king would be elected for life but must renounce any hereditary right of succession.
  • The king could not marry without the consent of the Senate.
  • Religious tolerance must be strictly observed.
  • Parliament would be called into session at least once every two years.
  • A group of senators would form an ongoing supervisory council to oversee governmental actions.
  • The judiciary in the form of a Supreme Court would be independent from the king.
  • Any declaration of war was to be approved by the Senate.
  • Parliament would control foreign policy.
  • If, in the nobility's opinion, the king violated any of the terms of the social contract, he would be subject to dethronement. Civil disobedience was in effect legalized.
  • The king would be required to publicly swear to uphold these basic principles spelled out in a Paca Conventa, essentially a Polish Bill of Rights, including any pre-election promises he may have made to win the crown.

 

The statues were designed to officially transfer sovereignty from the king to the constituent members, nobles, of the political nation, who adapted the then radical notion of "one nobleman, one vote".[18] The Cardinal Laws and the Paca Conventa collectively became known as the "Golden Freedoms" that formed the political soul the Noble Republic.

 

The new Republic was fashioned very consciously after ancient Rome. It is therefore no wonder that the political lexicon became saturated with terms such as "citizen", "senate", and "tribune". In fact the Latin term res publica, rzeczpospolita in Polish, was selected by the nobles to indicate that their political system was a direct descendant of the Roman Republic.[19] The parallels were well deserved, for as the historian R.H. Lord observed, the Polish state was:

 

...the largest and the most ambitious experiment with a republican form of government since the days of the Romans. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries this republic was the freest state in Europe, the state in which the greatest degree of constitutional, civic, and intellectual liberty prevailed...[20]

 

Unfortunately, Poland was to emulate Rome in a way she did not wish; the decline and fall of the noble republic was in many ways similar to the dissolution of the Roman Empire.

Despite coming to the party of Western Civilization relatively late, the Poles were determined to claim the cultural and political legacy of Rome as their own.

 

The glaring central theme in the new government was the limitation of the power of the king, who was perhaps more accurately described as a chief magistrate for life. The Chancellor Jan Zamoyski summed up this doctrine when he said that, "Rex regnat et non gubernat", "The King reigns but does not govern". Moreover, the fact that the ruled freely choose their ruler was literally a liberating idea. As the palatinates of Sandomierz and Krakow declared in their resolution of December 12, 1572, "...it is fitting and proper of us to consider our freedoms and liberties, perceiving the basis of them to be the free election of our King and Lord."[21] Although the king was elected for life and was technically responsible to no one, most high offices in the state also enjoyed life tenure. The lack of dependence was in theory another check on tyranny but often prevented reasonable compromise as neither side possessed enough leverage to realize their goals.

 

Fear of central authority seemed to be in the Polish genes but was perhaps more influenced by events outside Poland than within. Many neighboring countries were teetering on the brink of tyranny, developing absolutist monarchies who often claimed a divine right to rule. Habsburg, Hohenzollern, and later Romanov, Stuart, and Bourbon dynasties created centralized administrations with efficient and draconian taxation systems, designed to support large standing armies capable of political oppression or territorial expansion.[22] As the Confederation pondered the new Republic in 1573, the szlachta need only look at the neighboring monarch, Ivan the Terrible, to see the darkest side of absolutism.

 

In an effort to disperse authority to prevent tyranny, the monarchal republic was in theory to combine the best parts of three basic government structures. The Sejm represented democracy, championing the will of the people or at least the nobility. The Senate represented oligarchy, a council of learned elders serving as custodians of the law. The king represented monarchy as commander-in-chief and chief executive.[23] The tripartite government of Poland was an early attempt at a separations of powers designed to prevent governmental abuse through a system of checks and balances, a concept refined in the American Constitution more than two hundred years later.

 

The Polish Nobility seized the opportunity afforded by the successional crisis to create a national government where power was concentrated in the parliament, a structure they believed secured and maximized individual liberty. Indeed, in the 16th century Poland was the freest state in Europe whose Sejm was significantly more empowered than its counterpart in the English Parliament. Although the Magna Carta, literally "Great Paper" of 1215, limited the power of the king and established the basis of English civil rights, contemporary Poland had many of the same rights and by the late 16th century the Noble Republic had advanced the concept much further.[24]

 

Unlike the later Cromwellian upheaval in England, to the great credit of the Polish gentry these momentous reforms were accomplished not by bloodshed or revolution, but by the quiet reason and cooperation of responsible citizens. The new social contract represented the culmination of a long liberal tradition characterized by limited government, property rights, parliamentary representation, government by the consent of the governed, and broad civil freedoms. No other European country can claim a liberal democratic pedigree more senior than Poland. Although some argue that the institutions of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, lacking full rights for the lower classes, was proto-liberal at best, in the context of the 16th century Poland was much advanced.

 

Yet the Noble Republic failed. Many came to believe that this outcome was the inevitable result of excessively liberal, in the sense of maximum personal freedom, principles applied in an increasingly irresponsible and self-serving society. But this is only hindsight history; the collapse of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was not pre-ordained. Many elements of the system existed for two hundred years before the Confederation of Warsaw and the Republic itself endured for another two hundred years. Poland's democratic traditions were hardly an unworkable flash-in-the-pan.

 

Democratic governments are notoriously difficult to implement, even in our age but the fact that the process is difficult does not mean that the effort is unworthy. The failure of new parliamentary systems in Italy, Yugoslavia, German, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Pilsudski's Poland within the twenty years after World War I is attributed to widespread economic distress and militant nationalism, but the Noble Republic was subjected to conditions at least as difficult as these advanced European countries and for a longer time. Similar failures of democratic governments in Africa after World War II, despite ample natural resources and foreign aid, demonstrate the difficulty of representative rule. Westerners can point with pride to successful democracies in America and Great Britain, but these governments were allowed to develop relatively unmolested during prolonged periods of prosperity. Poland had no oceans to protect her, yet by historical standards the Noble Republic was, if anything, remarkable for its longevity.

 

The failure of the Polish Commonwealth was the result of a cruel combination of related factors. It has been famously said the American Constitution is not a suicide pact. Under the circumstances, the Polish constitution proved to be just that.

 

An often cited underlying problem was that the Noble Republic was never able or willing to create a strong central government. In fact Polish political institutions were based on maximizing local control which had the goal of preserving the feudal system controlled by the nobility. The Polish elite who constituted the political nation never allowed the development of the universal bureaucracy needed to efficiently administer government and instead insisted upon radical decentralization as a way of preserving their own power. Poland's government was more concerned with obstruction than construction, always on the alert for any stirrings of tyranny that might threaten the supremacy of the szlachta. Healthy skepticism was replaced with outright paranoia, which prevented most actions by the irrational fear of being manipulated by hidden evil forces. But as the British statesman Edmund Burke observed, inaction does not assure good government, often the only thing required for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.

 

The obsessive desire to keep the king weak and his administration minimal made by default the Sejm the most powerful governing body, but even its effectiveness was limited by several curious parliamentary quirks. Debate in the Sejm was frequently pointless as deputies were commonly given irrevocable voting instructions from the dietines, local assemblies. The Sejm, therefore, resembled an assembly of sovereign states or a federation of neighborhoods than a national parliament.[25] More problematically, the szlachta were committed to the principle of unanimity, based on the belief that no genuine dissenting opinion could be ignored and that any measure not freely agreed to by all lacked full authority.[26] The Poles feared the tyranny of the many as much as the tyranny of the few. Incredibly, unanimity was commonly achieved as the minority recognized a moral obligation to submit to the majority after their grievances were aired and sufficiently considered. An individual's dissenting vote was more similar to a filibuster than a veto, designed to delay a decision for reconsideration or to ensure general consent. Many believed that if the cause was just it was the obligation of the majority to convince the minority.[27] If agreement was ultimately impossible the minority withdrew and invoked an alternate form of minority rights, the Confederation.

 

It may seem that the concept of unanimity limited the Polish deputies to a choice of compliance or rebellion, but in practice legislators usually found common ground. Unanimity survives today in the English jury system, where it functions quite well in limited applications. The Polish system worked because opposition was truly principled, unwilling to take unfair advantage of what was in effect a procedural flaw, and because the majority respected the opinions of the minority. The principle was both bold and delicate, relying on honorable men to act reasonably for the good of the nation. But ultimately there was nothing but honor to prevent an obnoxious deputy from destructive actions. The fact that the system worked so well for so long says volumes about the integrity of the Polish noble class.

 

However, the Sejm came to be plagued by a pernicious parliamentary devise that mutated from honorable unanimity. The liberum veto, "I freely forbid" or "I am free to veto", came into the Polish lexicon after an unfortunate incident in 1652. The Sejm was near the conclusion of an exhausting six-week session during the height of the Cossack Rebellion. The Marshall of the Sejm announced that the session was extended for another day to address unfinished business. As the deputies prepared to leave, a solitary voice, an obscure deputy from Lithuania, Wladyslaw Sicinski, secretly in the pay of the disruptive Radziwills, shouted, "I do not allow it!" After registering his vote the novice deputy mounted his horse and rode away. Many argued to simply ignore the absurd proclamation, but the Marshal, after consulting legal experts, ruled the veto legal. Attempts to locate Sicinski to convince him to change his mind failed as the young man had left to go home.[28] Despite displaying a general distain for authority, the Poles paradoxically were obsessed with legality. Not only did the Sejm fail to reconvene, but the entire legislative work of the extended war-time session was declared null and void. Most szlachta were shocked by the ruling but came to respect it as law.

 

It is important to note that despite the dangerous precedent, the liberum veto was not used for another seventeen years, and not again for another ten years.[29] At this time the veto was considered a dishonorable method of disruption that the civic-minded szlachta were reluctant to use.[30] Many considered the liberum veto a vehicle for lobbying or merely a device to cut short debates that became pointless or interminable, and besides most debates were carried out in private before a formal vote in the Sejm to insure unaminity.[31] But as Poland descended into chaos in later years the liberum veto was applied recklessly, typically on the orders of foreign powers with an interest in keeping Poland weak and disorganized. The principle of unanimity was shockingly simply to corrupt; only one bribe was needed to derail any legislation.[32] Lacking mechanisms to reform thanks to the paralyzing veto, Poland became trapped in a static governmental system. By the mid-18th century during the reign of Augustus III, only one Sejm in thirty years was able to pass legislation of any kind due to the illiberal application of the liberum veto.[33] When Poland finally tried to outlaw its use, foreign powers made sure the liberum veto was preserved, cynically citing their commitment to the Polish Golden Freedoms that were, of course, denied in their own countries.

 

Power was concentrated in the Sejm to prevent the monarchy from devolving into tyranny, yet the Sejm lacked the ability to effectively govern, hamstrung by a fatal idealism. The szlachta believed that no man had a right to tell another man what he could or could not do, with the monumental exception of anyone outside of their own privileged class. Unfortunately the opposite of tyranny is not freedom, but anarchy. Poland became a world power on the eve of the modern state operating largely on auto-pilot, relying on the individual good will of thousands of uncoordinated local interests. The "invisible hand" of capitalism did not appear as dexterous when at the controls of government. Known as the "Republic of Anarchy", the government of Poland's inability to muster a collective response had ominous repercussions.

 

The fear of tyranny reached absurd proportions. The Noble Republic was without equal in the theory of the law; however, enforcement, at least for the privileged class, was another matter. Poland retained separate courts for the five estates which handed out harsh punishment for the lower classes. The pugnacious Poles were famous for their brawling, in which half of the cases were between women. Whippings, banishment, torture, hangings, beheadings, and drownings were liberally dispensed.[34] The nobility, however, were not subject to these infringements on their sacrosanct rights.[35]

 

The noble judiciary system consisted of an elaborate network of elective judges and courts of appeal, which although independent of the executive branch, were in fact often powerless because of a lack of enforcement mechanisms. As in all things, the szlachta believed that no man or institution could tell them what to do. The extreme rejection of central authority prevented the creation of any policing authority, which might transform into Oprichnina-like terror. Consequently the law was enforced haphazardly or arbitrarily, creating a general disrespect for the institutions of justice. Because the threat of injustice was greater than the fear of lawlessness, in many cases the law was not enforced by the state, but by the offended party. Besides, the szlachta were expected to be fully armed and able to care of themselves. Even if the accused appeared in court, there was no means to compel him to do so with judgments typically lenient and relatively meaningless since not physically enforced. Consequently, vigilante justice and private wars were the norm. Piotr Skarga (1536-1612), first rector of the University of Wilno and the Chaplain at the court of Sigismund III, noted in 1597 that "Discipline and self-restraint have perished in this kingdom. No one fears the laws or institutions, no one even thinks of punishment. Everyone defends our noble freedom, whilst honest liberty is turned into disobedience and harlotry".[36] According to Skarga, there were only three good freedoms: to refrain from sin, to decline a foreign master, and to resist a tyrant. Prophetically he proclaimed that to live without law was a "Satanic freedom" that doomed the Republic to failure.[37]

 

To be effective, the rule of law requires that the government have a monopoly on the use of force, and be willing to use it when necessary. But Poland preferred a Wild West mentality rather than risk any abuse that might arise out of central authority.

 

The Sejm proved a poor forum for formulating foreign policy, as national security frequently was subordinated to conflicting local interests. Diplomatic missions abroad that peaked during the reign of Sigismund I, decreased in both quantity and quality as necessary funding was withheld by the parochial-minded parliament. Even in time of war, policy was subject to protracted debate that required a unanimous, and, therefore, almost certainly compromised, conclusion. Discretion and frank discussion, opposite but necessary diplomatic tools, were impaired in the Republic by the very public and widely published debates. Then as now legislatures in a public forum were often more interested in grandstanding than solving problems. Americans were to discover that sometimes parliamentary protocol was inadequate, even life-threatening, during wartime. In the Revolutionary War, as Americans stared at defeat during "the times that try men's souls" the Continental Congress recognized that they were ill suited to manage a desperate war effort and appointed George Washington as Commander-in-Chief with broad decision-making powers. As General Nathaniel Greene observed "The fate of the war is so uncertain, dependant on so many contingencies. A day, nay an hour is so important in the crisis of public affairs that it would be folly to wait for relief from the deliberative councils of legislative bodies".[38] But Poland did wait, frequently with disastrous results. At a time when her enemies were becoming increasingly aggressive, Poland's foreign policy became inconsistent, passive, and slow to respond.[39] Thanks in part to an absence of central authority, Poland's diplomacy became dangerously unbalanced.

 Moreover, although it was assumed that a democratic Republic would have an unaggressive foreign policy that would prevent unnecessary wars, paradoxically it created more conflicts as Poland's neighbors interpreted her passivity as weakness and an invitation to attack. In the difficult world of international competition there is no greater guarantee of safety from cautious passivity than bold action, too much of either is provocative.

 

Perhaps worse in the long term, Poland's new government did not establish an adequate or reliable source of income. To their credit the Poles implemented the concept of "no taxation without representation" several centuries before the phrase was coined by the American Reverend Jonathan Mayhew in 1750, but all too frequently the Republic refined the practice to simply "no taxes". The plea of the Bishop of Wilno to a member of the Sejm is typical of Polish elite, "For the love of the Lord on the cross, for His sacred glory, do not allow any taxation of the clergy".[40] The Bishop went on to imply that collection of any tax in arrears would also not meet with heavenly approval.[41]

 

The king could not, and the Sejm would not, tax except in extraordinary circumstances. Even when taxes were approved it was rarely voted for more than a year at a time, after which the revenue battle began anew.[42] Local councils often over-ruled the Sejm by evoking an institution known as the "appeal to the brethren," which simply meant they refused to pay national taxes.[43] Taxes needed to fund armies were frequently denied as Poles removed from the threatened areas were reluctant to pay for an enterprise that did not directly or immediately effect local interests Beginning in 1573 the king was denied traditional revenues from mining operations as the nobility granted themselves the exclusive right to natural resources on their property. Taxes were called the price of civilization but, characteristically, the szlachta considered taxes an infringement on their personal freedoms.

For comparison, contemporary France supplied ten times the revenue to the state as Poland.[44]. This chronic lack of funding became the Achilles heel of the Republic. While neighboring countries were spending up to sixty percent of their gross domestic product on military expenditures, the King fought for every zloty from the tight-fisted deputies in the Sejm. In the past the Nobility justified their generous tax exemptions based on their obligatory military service which they were expected to self-fund, however, by the end of the 16th century many of the szlachta refused to serve in any but a local cause. In many cases the King was forced to draft the previously exempt peasants or attempt to hire foreign mercenaries with money he could not guarantee.

 

Although the concept of an elected king was admirable, the Polish manifestation had several disturbing weaknesses. As in all matters, the king had to be elected unanimously. Not surprisingly this proved difficult and resulted in several dually, as opposed to duly, elected kings and associated civil wars. Even when unanimity was achieved, frequently after the violent death of many of the contesting electors, the king's position was tenuous. Although elected for life, the king's limited powers were subject to termination at any time. The nobles pledged their loyalty only as long as the king honored the conditions elucidated in the Paca Conventa and Henrician Articles, social contracts guaranteeing the fundamental principles of governance outlined by the nobility that the king was required to sign before his coronation; however, whether or not the king was in compliance was subject to highly individualistic interpretation.

 

The Poles recognized that the right of civil disobedience was an essential element of a democratic society almost three centuries before Henry David Thoreau contemplated the subject on Walden Pond, however, the unconstrained application of the principle proved unnecessarily disruptive. Like many institutions in Poland, there were little legal means to prevent arbitrary abuse. If any szlachta, for any reason, believed that the king violated any of the conditions of his enthronement, than the nobleman invoked the right of de non praestanda obedientia releasing him from obligation to the crown. Although the nobility's right of armed resistance against the king was first established in Hungary as specified in the famous "Golden Bull" of 1422, the Poles took the principle to the extreme.[45]

 

The highly subjective criterion proved easy to abuse, a virtual invitation to legal rebellion that resulted in frequent anti-King confederations called a Rokosz, named after the site of a 14th century Hungarian revolt in the field of Rakos outside Buda. Sanctified by the Golden Freedoms, many of the Polish rebellions were based on obscure points of honor, needlessly dividing Poland at times when unified action was critical. The szlachta demanded a fatal purity that often ignored pressing realities. The perfect became the enemy of the good and allowed much greater evil to prevail.

 

In many ways the ancient Polish confederation presaged the principles that John Locke espoused in his 1689 masterpiece of political philosophy, The Two Treatises of Government. Locke believed that the relationship between society and its citizens took the form of a contract which was valid only as long as its terms were fulfilled. If the government, which could only be legitimately formed by the consent of the governed, overstepped its limits, citizens were not only free to but morally compelled to revolt. But Polish civil disobedience ignored some of the finer points of Locke's thesis, which recognized that the contract required sacrifices from, and had to be honored by, both sides. In exchange for the protection and order that only the state, under the guidelines of the rule of law, can provide, citizens must agree to surrender some individual freedoms. This is not because government is inherently evil, but because a small but irreducible number of individuals and foreign states are evil. In addition, according to Locke it was the duty of citizens to resist the arbitrary overthrow of the government by dissatisfied members of society, which are always present to some degree. But by the 18th century an unfortunately large portion of the Polish elite became unwilling to sacrifice any individual freedom for collective order, or to stand by the administration in times of trouble, and therefore, the social contract between the government and its citizens became a dead letter.

 

The king was elected for life, but was not allowed hereditary succession or to name the new King. The szlachta believed this policy served as a check against tyranny; however, the negative consequences were never properly addressed. Since the election occurred only after the king's death, the transition period was never smooth. The lack of fixed timetables added to the uncertainty. Although the Primate officially served as Interrex during the interregnum his authority was subject to interpretation. The process resulted in the steady erosion of the king's power as each new king was forced to make debilitating concessions to the nobility in order to get elected. Unlike much of European nobility, the szlachta had no tradition of service to the crown and believed that their main loyalty was to their own privileged class. As the Crown weakened, the political system became dangerously unbalanced. Worse, the power vacuum created after the death of the king served as an open invitation to political intrigue and foreign intervention, a temptation that was rarely declined.

 

Another problem with the elected monarchy was the Polish gentry's distinct preference to select a foreigner as king; to elect one of their own was offensive to their sense of equality. Only four of eleven elected Kings were native Poles. It seems incomprehensible to the modern mind to trust one's country to a foreign national, however, remember that 19th century nationalism did not exist yet. During the time of the Noble Republic kingship was considered a perfectly exportable commodity..[46] A foreigner of noble blood was considered a kindred spirit more aligned with the szlachta's interests than a lesser born native Pole. That Poles alternately served as kings of Hungary and Bohemia was not considered exceptional or contradictory as the limited scope of medieval politics was much more of a cosmopolitan than domestic affair.[47] In fact, foreigner born kings were expected to bring to the table valuable military alliances, and therefore had a distinct advantage in the Republic's elections. The unfortunate tendency to seek foreign solutions to domestic problems was a major contributing factor in Poland's loss of sovereignty in the 18th century.

 

Even if a qualified Polish candidate was available, the nobility was reluctant to elevate a domestic candidate to king for fear of giving unfair advantage to local factions that might result in a hereditary monarchy. The fear of dynasty seems overstated, given the fact that dynasties in the Polish past were hardly tyrannical. Apparently, the szlachta did not consider that a King who aspires to create a dynasty has a vested interest in the future of the country.

 

Although one of Poland's greatest kings, Stephen Bathory, was of foreign birth, most non-native rulers proved disappointing, even disastrous. Particularly dangerous was the military adventurism of foreign kings that embroiled the Republic in virtually continuous warfare, frequently with little advantage to Poland. The Saxon Kings who ruled Poland for most of the 18th century were largely absentee and negligent rulers, but when they bothered with foreign affairs they formed alliances with countries distinctly hostile to Poland. Foreign control eventually corrupted the electoral process, often blatantly ignoring the will of the majority of Polish nobility. A weak king, subject to highly conditional loyalty, frequently misaligned with the Republic's interests, was not a component of effective government.

 

The paranoia of oligarchic resistance to a strong central government evolved into an aristocratic parliamentary democracy made impotent by unanimity rule, creating an internal power vacuum that was unable to support a structured society and served as an irresistible temptation for outside powers to fill.

 

 Although "equality" was the catchphrase of the Nobility, it was a standing joke among the disenfranchised members of society. The szlachta were a very rights conscious group, but only for their own closed "estate". Even within the nobility fully half were denied full rights as women were not eligible to vote or hold office; of course, neither were they required to serve in the military. However, to the Republic's credit, noble women enjoyed many freedoms including inheritance and property rights that were typically denied in most of the 16th century world.[48]

 

Whether the social contract outlined by the Confederation of Warsaw was based on man's inherent right to self-government or the desire of the gentry to control society is up for debate but the fact that the majority of the Polish population was excluded from these lofty ideals castes doubt on the szlachta's altruistic motives. The primary function of Poland's government was to preserve the personal liberty of its citizens, which was rigidly defined as the szlachta which comprised no more ten percent of the population.[49]

 

In fact the nobility collectively referred to itself as narod meaning "the nation". Everyone else was referred to as "the people" who were in many regards looked upon as mere processions of the political state. Of course, no other society at the time came close to recognizing as many rights to as many people as Poland. Other sincere promoters of democratic ideals, such as ancient Athens or the American Founding Fathers, somehow reconciled the political equality of the ruling class with the enslavement of the underclass. Politics is after all the art of the possible that must be judged in historical context. But in Poland, as elsewhere, these inconsistencies eventually came to haunt their proponents.

 

Polish society was stratified not predominantly economically but functionally into five broad, largely hereditary "estates".[50] Despite the vital role played by each estate all but the Nobility, and the numerically insignificant Bishops in the Senate, were excluded from the institutions of government. Four of these estates: the Nobility, the Clergy, the Burghers, and the Jews, were at least partially autonomous, protected by their own royal charter. But most of society was populated by the fifth estate, the Peasants. Although some free holding landed peasants were better off economically than the lower nobility, they processed no rights.[51] The vast majority of the peasants, however, were debilitating poor. Peasants were largely at the mercy of their szlachta overlords, particularly after 1521 when the royal courts no longer had jurisdiction on Noble land. Equality before the law, a basic requirement in any free society, was not possible because each estate had different laws, applied unequally.

 

The peasants, unable to protect themselves or seek redress from the king, became increasingly exploited. Polish government became dominated by what was in effect one special interest group, the Nobility. While earlier there was some mobility between the estates, most notably by an expansion of the szlachta's ranks by several vehicles of ennoblement, by the mid-17th century the estate structure was frozen in place, making the inequities even harder to bear. The unbalanced, ossified society eventually wobbled and spun out of control.[52]

 

In an unfortunate feedback system, as the noble power grew, so did the incentives to enserf the peasants. The dramatic increase in the Polish grain trade led to a phenomenon called "export-led serfdom". The lucrative Vistula trade supplying Polish grain to an eager and expanding world market provided irresistible incentives for landowners to extract more work from their virtually captive labor force. The szlachta, who controlled a monopoly on the land and the law, pressed their considerable advantage and inflated the already considerable inequities to obscene dimensions. Polish nobility bound the peasants to the land, stunting the growth of urban centers while demoting the masses from mere poverty to penury. The "normal" medieval social relationship between the peasants and their masters, which entailed mutual obligations, became perverted into an ingrained injustice in which one class ruthless exploited another. The magnate's huge gains had no appreciable trickle-down effects as neither the captive peasants nor the country at large benefited from the largely tax-free profits generated from the new grain economy.

 

While earlier Polish political development stressed the rise of broad rights for the entire noble class, as the Republic aged government was dominated by an all-powerful oligarchy of magnates interested in preserving their advantage. In the face of glaring inequities, even the Orwellian facade of, "we are all equal but some are more equal than others" within the privileged class became increasingly difficult to maintain. Wealth became concentrated in the hands of a few large landowners, creating powerful "families" that operated as states within the state.[53] Making matters worse, the magnates themselves were deeply divided and often began making foreign policy based on their individual and conflicting self-interest.

 

Hence, the "golden freedoms" had a superficial appearance of modernity because they protected individual rights, relied on legal precedent, and emphasized limited government, but as applied in Poland these principles were actually ancient, a reaffirmation of a feudal system designed to limit the power of the king and keep the masses in check.[54]

 

The Poles unwittingly created a magnatial oligarchy controlled by a relatively small number of self-anointed families, whose vices rivaled the autocratic governments they so feared. The same nobility that served as safeguards against political tyranny were the engineers of an economic tyranny that was every bit as oppressive to the majority of Poles.

 

Technically serfs did not exist in Poland; no one owned anyone and work was theoretically a contractual arrangement for rent, however, the peasants had no objective legal recourse and had little choice but to work on szlachta land. Although not technically serfs, it would have been difficult to explain the fine distinction to the peasants toiling in the fields.

 

The situation is reminiscent of how the lucrative cotton trade perpetuated and expanded what would otherwise have been the dying institution of slavery in the American South.[55] Given the parallels, it is perhaps not a coincident that the southern states, after withdrawing from the Union rather than submit to the will of the majority, called their new country "the Confederacy". Like the South, the over-reliance on cheap agrarian labor, which required no great technical, mechanical, or manufacturing skill, ruralized the nation and retarded industrialist development. By the time the one dimensional trade dwindled, undercut by foreign sources and lack of demand, society was trapped in an antiquated economic system unable to compete. American slavery and Polish serfdom developed at about the same time and lasted about as long.[56] Like the Southern aristocracy the Polish gentry entertained lavishly and developed elaborate social customs. Both borrowed huge sums for foreign manufactured goods to furnish their ostentatious estates. Both considered themselves a warrior class and established an elite lifestyle isolated from the central government based on the servitude of the rural labor force.[57] Both displayed an exaggerated sense of honor and excessive sensitive to any perceived slight, perhaps due to the unspoken contradiction between their lofty ideals and the blatant hypocrisy behind their wealth. To preserve their privileged lifestyles, both became involved in disastrous wars that destroyed their nation's sovereignty.

 

The powerful Polish economy that was instrumental in allowing liberal political development faltered in the late 16th century for reasons other than the collapse of the grain trade. Spain's discovery of massive silver deposits in the New World made the Polish silver florin lose value, causing a damaging inflation. With their products worth less, magnates demanded their peasants work more, further exasperating social tension.

 

The vicious cycle of peasant enserfment was accelerated by the Polish tradition of partial inheritance. While most countries practiced primogeniture, in which the eldest son inherits the entire estate, the egalitarian Poles divided inheritance equally among all surviving children, including females. Although the Polish practice seems admirable to modern ears, the tradition actually worked to further impoverishment. Farms became unworkably divided, leading to an increasing number of landless rural laborers at the mercy of the magnates.

 

In addition to alienating Polish peasants, the Noble Republic was highly successful at creating long term animosity among its minorities in peripheral lands. Although the Poles were relatively tolerant and certainly more benevolent than later Russian and German occupiers, Ukrainian and Belarussian people under the control of Polish landlords did not necessarily consider the Commonwealth one big happy family. These people were predominantly Eastern and Orthodox, while their masters were Western and Catholic. In some ways the Polish drive to spread superior culture to the east is reminiscent of the German drive to the east, and was about as well received. The cultural divide between the Polish lords and their Orthodox servants did not heal with time, and this rift was a serious problem along Poland's eastern borders for centuries.[58] In a sense the demise of the Republic was a result of the age-old problem of imperial over-reach to which multi-ethnic, mulit-national, and multi-cultural empires are prone. The Habsburgs later grappled with the same problem and with a similar result.

 

Poland in the late 16th century became a polar anachronism, ahead of the time in one respect and behind it in another. While her neighbors developed centralized autocratic governments and distanced themselves from feudalism to lay the foundation of diversified, proto-capitalist economies, Poland was experimenting with de-centralized democratic rule while resurrecting serfdom based on an antiquated economic model. Perhaps the greatest difference in the divergent developments was that in Poland the nobility remained in power longer than anywhere else, resulting in a persistence of feudal structures which promoted political institutions based on weak central authority.[59] Poland's elite was freer than her neighbors, but she was less modern.[60]

The szlachta's philosophy of minimal government was theoretically appealing, but its application in Poland proved disastrous. Weak central governments do not always fail and absolutist governments do not always succeed, not even in general, but extreme examples of either are typically short lived.

 

In the final analysis the problem with the Noble Republic was probably timing. Poland developed its hyper-liberal government during a time when her enemies were weak and she was strong. Poland had the luxury of idealism because she was wealthy and smugly confident of national security, believing that the nobility could rise up as a spontaneous levee en mass and repel any invader. Polish nobles simply did not believe that their existence, or that of their state, could be seriously threatened, and therefore they refused to allow the king to form a standing army, which they feared might eventually be used against their interests. But the traditional feudal reliance on the szlachta for military protection was no longer adequate in the face of new realities, namely the professional standing armies of her neighbors, and in any case nobles often withheld their support based on self-concentered interpretations of their Golden Freedoms.[61]  

 

This false sense of security led to a warped or at least antiquated political model, an uncompromising and extreme end member that ignored the dark side of human nature. Unconstrained democracy progressed to demagoguery and eventually decadence, weakening the Republic from within long before she fell prey to her neighbors. The Pogo dictum, "we have met the enemy, and it is us," seems perfectly applicable to the Noble Republic.

 

Poland's national government, its powers dispersed to the point of impotency, lacked sufficient tax revenues even under normal circumstances was bankrupted by the almost continual series of foreign-induced wars. The Golden Freedoms facilitated not only liberty but apathy, as the self-focused nobility was forced neither by civic responsibilities to make hard choices nor processed the power to implement the choices they dared to make. The end result was the perhaps the nearest approximation of anarchy that any great nation achieved.

 

But Poland did not drift into anarchy, rather it embraced political anarchy as a guiding principle, reflected in its motto Nierzadem Polska Stoi, it is by unrule that Poland stands.[62] Poland chose anarchy because the nobles were convinced that the alternative was worse, and given the grotesque abuse of civil liberties in neighboring countries, perhaps they had a point. Miraculously the system functioned fairly well as long as the delicate inner workings of the Republic of Anarchy were protected by the hard outer shell of Polish militarism.

 

          Particularly after the 17th century, Poland's predatory neighbors became increasingly powerful while the Republic steadily declined.. While her neighbors developed modern centralized administrations, either as "enlightened" absolutism in France, Austria, and Prussia, or as naked despotism in czarist Russia, Poland maintained an essentially feudal system that was unable to centralize institutions of administration, finance, or defense.[63] The purposeful withering of state authority in the Commonwealth was not seen by its neighbors as an idealistic statement about Golden Freedoms, but as a golden opportunity. Poland's inclusive nature was used by enemies to infiltrate, emasculate, and ultimately destroy the Republic. Exploiting the weakness of the "Republic of Anarchy" they cynically used the Golden Freedoms against the Poles, recognizing that the love of individual freedom, taken to an extreme, threatens collective security.

 

On the eve of the partitions, the sometimes king of Poland, Stanislas Leszczynski, recognized the consequences of the lack of an effective military, saying,

 

I reflect with dread the perils that surround us; what force have we to resist our neighbors? And on what do we found this extreme confidence which keeps us chained, slumbering in disgraceful repose? Do we trust to the faith of treaties? How many examples have we of the frequent neglect of even the most solemn agreements! Either we shall be the prey of some famous conquers, or, perhaps, even the neighboring powers will combine to divide our states.[64]

 

Unfortunately for Poland, her time of maximum vulnerability coincided with the French Revolution. The autocratic governments of Russia, Prussia, and Austria who were deciding Poland's fate feared a Jacobin revolution in Poland, which by example might inspire their own oppressed people. In this context, Poland's harsh treatment and eventual demise was justified as self-defense.

 

Some historians fault Poland for being unwilling to reform its political systems but this is not entirely true. Although for centuries the szlachta were more concerned with maintaining privileges and insuring only the "execution" of existing laws, but by the late 1700s it was evident that progress, not simply preservation, was required. By the time Poland realized that reform was needed, she was not allowed normal political development because her foreign masters saw it as a threat to their power.

 

Ironically, it was not complacency but the recognition that constructive change was needed that doomed Poland. Valiant attempts at internal reform, culminating in the first modern European and only the second written constitution in history, post-dating the American Constitution by just four years, were brutally suppressed by the partitioning powers. Prussia and Russia could simply not tolerate a free Poland as part of their Empire any more than they tolerated the freedom of their own people. When Poland lost the ability to defend itself, all the precious personal liberties became meaningless in the face of collective enslavement. Ultimately, due to the nature of man, liberty is not possible without sovereignty.

 

Poland's experience was not unique. As Will Durant, the critically acclaimed author of the eleven-volume classic The Story of Civilization noted, "the freedom of individuals in society requires some regulation of conduct, the first condition of freedom is its limitation; make it absolute and it dies in chaos".[65] Absolutism and the human condition never mix well.

 

The szlachta's uncompromising stance resulted in Poland's liberty being completely compromised. Polish patriots were so fearful of the theoretical tyranny of their leaders that they were easy prey for the actual tyranny of their neighbors, who simply gamed the system with their unscrupulous legality. Poles could not balance the preservation of human rights with national security needs, which requires some reasonable compromises. For example, even in the rights conscious United States, virtually everyone who travels on commercial jets submits to a warrantless search, a clear violation of constitutional rights, for obvious security reasons. Reality has a nasty way of intruding on our absolutes, yet the secular absolutism of Polish political idealism was pursued with a purity that rivaled any religious fervor.

 

Unfortunately the freedom and welfare of the individual and the freedom and welfare of the nation are sometimes in conflict, and a society must chose under which circumstances which has priority. An interesting insight on this conumdrum was expressed by Stanislaw Staszic (1755-1826), a Polish priest, philosopher, statesman, and geologist. Defending his decision to support the provision in the 1791 Constitution that reinstated the herditary monarchy, Staszic wrote:

 

...there was never any doubt, namely, that election [of a king]is more suitable to the freedom of the nation than suuceesion to the throne...we should for the good of Poland, in order to prepare us for true freedom, for a length of time come under autocracy which would make us more equal to each other and erase these persistant superstitions and prejudices...True, succession to the throne is one step towards losing freedom. But the election of kings is halfway towards losing the nation. First, the nation − then freedom. First, life − then comfort.[66]

 

Ungoverned liberty is always short lived; maximum sustainable liberty requires a wise freedom anchored in individual responsibility and bound by law. But in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth personal freedom superseded all other concerns. Without the boundaries provided by the existence and enforcement of law, individual freedom is ultimately not possible. Even the idealistic French revolutionists recognized this basic requirement when they declared in the 1789 "Rights of Man and Citizen" that limits to liberty must be determined by law. The Poles considered virtually every law an infraction of liberty, as perhaps they are, but freedom paradoxically requires some accepted rules to exist. The paradox exists, in part, because liberal societies, founded on the bedrock of personal liberty, need the power of government to transform natural rights into civil rights. The rules of society must be enforced by an efficient and impartial government because ultimately goodwill alone is insufficient. Left unprotected by anything but honor society will always be corrupted by a small but irreducible number of evil men. The trick is to make sure that the government is not itself corrupted by that same ever present faction. In a perfect world, the limitation of laws and government is unnecessary, but human nature is maddening consistent and can be ignored only at one's peril. Imperfect human society is still searching for the perfect mix of maximum personal freedom and minimum government constraint.

 

Perhaps with the Polish example in mind, the American Constitution established a federal government not only to secure the blessings of liberty, but "to establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, and promote the general welfare", elements woefully absent in the Noble Republic.[67]

 

 

 



[1] Pawel Jasiencia, Calamity of the Realm: The Commonwealth of Both Nations II, Alexander Jordan, trans. (Miami, FL.: American Institute of Polish Culture, 1992), 29.

 

[2] Jędruch, Constitutions, Elections and Legislatures of Poland, 73.

 

[3] Ibid., 105.

[4] Johnson, Central Europe: Enemies, Neighbors, Friends, 109.

 

[5] Jędruch, Constitutions, Elections and Legislatures of Poland, 105.

 

[6] Stone, The Polish-Lithuanian State, 183.

 

[7] Jędruch, Constitutions, Elections and Legislatures of Poland, 136.

[8] Davies, God's Playground: A History of Poland, I, 153.

 

[9] Davies, Heart of Europe: The Past in Poland's Present, 259.

 

[10] Tihany, A History of Middle Europe, 189.

[11] Need a source for this quote.

 

[12] Zamoyski, The Polish Way: A Thousand-Year History, 91.

 

[13] Davies, God's Playground: A History of Poland, I, 154.

 

[14] Jasienica, Calamity of the Realm: The Commonwealth of Both Nations II, 60.

[15] Davies, God's Playground: A History of Poland, I, 184.

 

[16] Maciej Janowski, Polish Liberal Thought before 1918 (New York: Central European University Press, 2004), 2.

[17] Haller's Army-p384 Need book info

 

[18] Taras, Consolidating Democracy in Poland, 29. The concept of the sovereignty of "the people" would have to wait another two hundred years

 

[19] Ibid., 27.

 

[20] C.H. Haskins and R.H. Lord, Some Problems of the Peace Conference, (Cambridge MA.: PUBLISHER, 1920), 160-167.

 

[21] Need reference for quote

 

[22] Jędruch, Constitutions, Elections and Legislatures of Poland, 124.

[23] Zamoyski, The Polish Way: A Thousand-Year History, 95.

 

[24] Interestingly, the Magna Carta, touted as the cornerstone of civil liberties, was actually a very limited document that only applied to the priviledged class, similar in many ways to the Paca Conventa. At the time, the English King John (ruled 1199-1216), was exceedingly unpopular. He had been excommunicated by the pope, defeated in France, and vilified for punishing vassals without trial. The English barons demanded that the King accept a list of demands or face revolt. The concessions granted, or extorted, were specific to the special interests of the feudal class, not a general statement about the rights of man. It was only much later, during the English Civil War of 1642-1649, that the clause "no scutage or aid, save the customary fedudal ones, shall be levied except by the common consent of the realm" was interpreted to mean that taxation without representation was tyranny. However, even the radicals of the 17th century believed that this requirement only meant that the King had to consult a council of barons and bishops before levying taxes. Crane Brinton, John B. Christopher and Robert Lee Wolff, Civilization in the West: Part 2 1600 to the Present, 4th ed. (Englewood Cliffs, NJ.: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1964), 150.

 

 

[25] Janowski, Polish Liberal Thought before 1918, 5.

 

[26] Zamoyski, The Polish Way: A Thousand-Year History, 101.

 

[27] Stone, The Polish-Lithuanian State, 181.

[28] Jasienica, Calamity of the Realm: The Commonwealth of Both Nations II, 78.

 

[29] Zamoyski, The Polish Way: A Thousand-Year History, 207.

 

[30] Lukowski and Zawadzki, A Concise History of Poland, 71.

 

[31] Johnson, Central Europe: Enemies, Neighbors, Friends, 109; Taras, Consolidating Democracy in Poland, 31.

 

[32] Snyder, The Reconstruction of Nations, 25.

 

[33] Davies, God's Playground: A History of Poland, I,265.

 

[34] Stone, The Polish-Lithuanian State, 207.

 

[35] Ibid., 188.

[36] Need source and infor for this quote.

 

[37] Davies, God's Playground: A History of Poland, I, 273.

 

[38] Need source for quote.

 

[39] Zamoyski, The Polish Way: A Thousand-Year History, 103.

[40] Need source for quote.

 

[41] Jasienica, Calamity of the Realm: The Commonwealth of Both Nations II, 249.

 

[42] Lukowski and Zawadzki, A Concise History of Poland, 68.

 

[43] Janowski, Polish Liberal Thought before 1918, 5.

 

[44] Zamoyski, The Polish Way: A Thousand-Year History, 177.

[45] Lendvai, The Hungarians: A Thousand Years, 47.

[46] Jędruch, Constitutions, Elections and Legislatures, 79.

 

[47] Johnson, Central Europe: Enemies, Neighbors, Friends, 47.

[48] Davies, God's Playground: A History of Poland, I, 185.

 

[49] This number is actually impressively high as in Western Europe at this time only about one percent of the population was considered "noble". Hungary was the only other country with an unusually large percentage of nobility, numbering four to five percent. Johnson, Central Europe: Enemies, Neighbors, Friends, 49.

 

[50] Davies, God's Playground: A History of Poland, I, 158.

 

[51] Zamoyski, The Polish Way: A Thousand-Year History, 213.

[52] An exception to this phenomenon was the Grand Duchy's 1588 Statue which ennobled Jewish converts to Christianity. Snyder, The Reconstruction of Nations, 20.

 

 

[53] Davies, Heart of Europe: The Past in Poland's Present, 264.

 

[54] Johnson, Central Europe: Enemies, Neighbors, Friends, 110.

[55] Davies, God's Playground: A History of Poland, I, 215.

 

[56] Ibid., 215.

[57] Ibid., 282.

[58] Johnson, Central Europe: Enemies, Neighbors, Friends, 53.

 

[59] Ibid., 49.

 

[60] Ibid., 108.

[61] Ibid., 156.

[62] Davies, God's Playground: A History of Poland, I, 286.

 

[63] Johnson, Central Europe: Enemies, Neighbors, Friends, 51.

[64] James Fletcher, The History of Poland: From the Earliest Period to the Present Time (New York: Bradley Company Publishers, n.d.), 209.

 

[65] Will and Ariel Durant, The Lessons of History (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1968), page number.

[66] Janowski, Polish Liberal Thought before 1918, 13-14.