03.05.

1791: The First Modern Constitution in Europe was Made in Poland, not France

1791: The First Modern Constitution in Europe was Made in Poland, not France
Photo Credit To Wikipedia Commons / In 1791 the "Great" (Four-Year) Sejm (1788–92) and Senate adopted the Constitution at Warsaw's Royal Castle

Story Highlights

  • Historical event
  • 3 May 1791
  • Poland surpassed even the revolutionary France for four months. Specifically, although the revolution in France started back in 1789, the first constitution in France was adopted only in September 1791.

On this day the first modern constitution in a European country was adopted. Recall that the first in the whole world was the U.S. Constitution of 1787.

So, Europe was only four years behind America. Interestingly, the country in which the constitution was adopted was not any of the Western European countries, but Poland. Thus, Poland surpassed even the revolutionary France for four months.

Specifically, although the Revolution in France started back in 1789, the first French constitution was adopted only in September 1791. With this modern constitution, Poland became a constitutional monarchy.

Probably the most important achievement of that constitution was the abolishment of “liberum veto”, a rule according to which any nobleman in the Polish parliament could put a veto on any joint decision.

The veto, namely, practically blocked the work of parliament for years, because it was enough to bribe only one nobleman in order to halt any decision. It was used maliciously, particularly by foreign forces.

While the U.S. Constitution is still in force, the sad fact is that the said Polish constitution was in force for only 14 months and 3 days. Poland was soon dismembered by the great powers: Imperial Russia, Prussia, and Austria.

On this day a big national holiday is held in Poland to commemorate the first constitution.

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