Constitution of 3 May 1791

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The Constitution of 3 May was adopted by the Great Sejm (parliament) of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, a dual monarchy comprising Poland and Lithuania. Drafted over 32 months beginning on 6 October 1788, and formally adopted as the Government Act (Ustawa rządowa), the document was designed to redress the Commonwealth's political defects.




  • [The] President seems a bad edition of a Polish King.
    • Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, 1787; on the office of American President under the draft U.S. Constitution, implying the President would prove as impotent as Poland's elected king [1]
  • … founded principally on those of England and the United States of America, but avoiding the faults and errors of both, and adapt[ed] as much as possible to the local and particular circumstances of the country.
    • King Stanisław August, according to a contemporary American newspaper account; describing the May 3rd Constitution
  • [It is] the noblest benefit ever received by any nation at any time. […] Stanislas II has earned a place among the greatest kings and statesmen in history.
    • Edmund Burke, in response to Prussian statesman Ewald von Hertzberg's expression of the fears of European conservatives: "[The Poles] have given the coup de grâce to the Prussian monarchy by voting a constitution. […] How can we defend our state… against a numerous and well-governed nation?"
  • The intentions of Her Highness the Empress of Russia [Catherine the Great], ally of the Polish Commonwealth, in introducing her army, are and have been none other than to restore to the Commonwealth and to Poles freedom, and in particular to all the country's citizens, security and happiness.
    • Original: Zamiary Naj. Imperatorowej rosyjskiej, aliantki Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej, nie inne są i były, wprowadzając swe wojska, tylko przywrócić Rzeczypospolitej Rzeczypospolitą, Polakom wolność, a w szczególności wszystkim kraju obywatelom bezpieczeństwo i szczęśliwość
    • The Establishing Act of the Targowica Confederation [2]
  • Every true Pole who has not been inveigled by the Prussian and royalist cabal, is convinced that the Country's salvation can come only from Russia, that otherwise the nation will be enslaved.
  • [I will speak no more] of the former Poland and the Poles. That country and that name are no more, as with so many others in the history of the world. I am now forever a Russian.
    • Original: o przeszłej Polsce i Polakach. Znikło już to państwo, i to imię, jak znikło tyle innych w dziejach świata. Ja już jestem Rosjaninem na zawsze
    • Stanisław Szczęsny Potocki, after Stanisław August's abdication and the demise of the Commonwealth
    • Z korespondencji Szczęsnego Potockiego
  • … the last will and testament of the expiring Fatherland.
    • Hugo Kołłątaj and Ignacy Potocki, two of the Constitution's authors, writing in exile after the Targowica Confederation's victory
    • On the Adoption and Fall of the Polish May 3rd Constitution (1793)


  • Despite all its shortcomings, this Constitution looms up against the background of Russian, Prussian and Austrian barbarism as the only work of liberty which Eastern Europe has ever created independently, and it emerged exclusively from the privileged class, from the nobility. The history of the world has never seen another example of such nobility of the nobility.
  • Today I am speaking to all the Poles all over the world. Today is the 150th anniversary of the Constitution passed by your parliament. You are right to celebrate this day as a national holiday because, at the time when your Constitution of 1791 was drawn up, it was a model of enlightened political thought. The passing of that legal act was seen by your neighbours at that time as a dawn of a revival of the Polish state. Therefore they hurried to partition your country in order to prevent the consolidation of the Polish nation.
  • It is difficult at this moment not to mention the long history of the Polish Parliament, reaching back to the 15th century, or that glorious witness to the legislative wisdom of our ancestors that was the Constitution of May the Third, 1791."
    • Original: "Trudno w tej chwili nie wspomnieć o długiej, sięgającej XV w. historii polskiego Sejmu czy też o chlubnym świadectwie ustawodawczej mądrości naszych przodków, jakim była Konstytucja 3 maja z 1791 r.
    • Pope John Paul II, 1999, to the Polish Sejm [3]
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