229th anniversary of the Constitution of 3 May
Adopted on 3 May 1791 in Warsaw by the Sejm of the Polish Republic (later known as the Great Sejm), the Polish Constitution was Europe’s first and the world’s second modern constitution.
The authors of the Constitution were inspired by the political thought and philosophy of the European Enlightenment and the American Constitution adopted in 1787. They believed that power should serve the good of the whole nation, not just the interests of privileged classes. The Constitution was meant to launch new reforms aimed at strengthening the state. Today, the measures taken to defend Poland at risk from its neighbours back then are an example of the responsibility and insight of society’s elites. The ultimate partition of Poland by Austria, Prussia and Russia in 1795 led to the loss of Polish statehood. Years later, the co-authors of the Constitution of 3 May, Ignacy Potocki and Hugo Kołłątaj, concluded that it was “the last will and testament of an expiring Motherland.”
The celebration of the Constitution of 3 May was banned in partitioned Poland. When Poland regained independence after World War I, the anniversary of the Constitution of 3 May was declared a national holiday in 1919. Under German and Soviet occupation it was illegal to observe 3 May Constitution Day. After World War II, the communist authorities in Warsaw sought to ban 3 May Day celebrations because they invoked the traditions of independent Poland and its national-Catholic spirit. Instead, propaganda promoted Labor Day. For many years there were no national ceremonies to mark the Constitution of 3 May, and all attempts to celebrate it usually ended with arrests and persecution. In 1990, after communism fell and Poland regained its sovereignty, the pre-war tradition was restored and 3 May was re-proclaimed a national holiday.
MFA Press Office
Constitution of 3 May – painting by Jan Matejko (1838–1893)