On May 3rd Poland, and members of Polonia worldwide celebrate Polish Constitution Day. This day is also a day of celebration for all who believe in the principals of democracy, a pluralistic society, and the heritage and life of our democratic Church.
The annual commemoration of Polish Constitution Day commemorates the spiritual and moral renovation of the Polish nation, after a period of stagnation caused by foreign influences under the Saxon kings. This day has become a proud and integral part of the civic and patriotic activities for Poles and those of Polish descent in many cities throughout the world.
To the Poles and their descendants May 3rd is a national holiday for it bestows upon the Pole a priceless heritage of humanitarianism, tolerance and a democratic precept conceived at a time when most of Europe lived under the existence of unconditional power and tyranny exemplified by Prussia and Russia.
Poland’s parliamentary system actually began at the turn of the 15th century, but a series of defensive wars, internal stresses, outside influences, widespread permissiveness and excessive concern for the rights of dissent brought Poland to the brink of disaster and anarchy in the 18th Century. Urgently needed reforms became imperative.
The May 3rd, 1791 Constitution was the first liberal constitution in Europe and second in the world, after the Constitution of the United States.
Following the American pattern it established three independent branches of government – executive, legislative and judiciary. Throughout the constitution runs philosophy of humanitarianism and tolerance, such as perfect and entire liberty to all people, rule by majority, secret ballot at all elections, religious freedom and liberty.
The constitution curtailed the executive power of the King and State Council. It forbade them to contract public debts, to declare war, to conclude definitely any treaty, or any diplomatic act. It only allowed the Executive Branch to carry on negotiations with foreign courts, always with reference to the Diet (Parliament).
In terms of democratic precepts, the May 3rd Constitution is a landmark event in the history of Central and Eastern Europe.
The Polish Constitution was deemed too dangerous by the tyranny of absolutism still rampant in Europe. Thus Russia, Prussia and Austria decided to wipe out “the Polish cancer of freedom” from the face of the earth. In 1795 partitioned Poland ceased to exist as a state and in terms of national life, she lost the entire 19th Century, being reborn in 1918 at the conclusion of World War I.