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28: The Congress Kingdom

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THE Grand Duchy of Warsaw perished with the Grand Army in the retreat from Moscow in 1812. The Polish troops had taken a prominent part in the invasion of Russia, and their share in the plundering of Smolensk and of Moscow had intensified the racial hatred felt for them by the Russians. Those of them who survived or escaped the disasters of the retreat fled before the tsar's army and followed the fortunes of Napoleon in 1813 and 1814. The Russians occupied Warsaw on the 18th of February 1813 and overran the grand duchy, which thus came into their possession by conquest. Some of the Poles continued to hope that Alexander would remember his old favour for them, and would restore their kingdom under his own rule. Nor was the tsar unwilling to encourage their delusion. He himself cherished the desire to re-establish the kingdom for his own advantage. As early as the 13th of January 1813 he wrote to assure his former favourite and confidant, Prince Adam Czartoryski, that, "Whatever the Poles do now to aid in my success, will at the same time serve to forward the realization of their hopes." But the schemes of Alexander could be carried out only with the co-operation of other powers. They refused to consent to the annexation of Saxony by Prussia, and other territorial arrangements which would have enabled him to unite all Poland in his own hand. By the final act of the Congress of Vienna, signed on the 9th of June 1815, Poland was divided between Prussia, Austria and Russia, with one trifling exception; Cracow with its population of 61,000 was erected into a republic embedded in Galicia. Posen and Gnesen, with a population of 810,000, were left to Prussia. Austria remained in possession of Galicia with its 1,500,000 inhabitants. Lithuania and the Ruthenian Palatinates, the spoil of former partitions, continued to be incorporated with Russia. The remnant was constituted as the so-called Congress Kingdom under the emperor of Russia as king (tsar) of Poland. It had been stipulated by the Final Act that the Poles under foreign rule should be endowed with institutions to preserve their national existence according to such forms of political existence as the governments to which they belong shall think fit to allow them.

Alexander, who had a sentimental regard for freedom, so long as it was obedient to himself, had promised the Poles a constitution in April 1815 in a letter to Ostrovskiy, the president of the senate at Warsaw. His promise was publicly proclaimed on the 25th of May, and was reaffirmed in the Zamok or palace at Warsaw and the cathedral of St John on the 20th of June. The constitution thus promised was duly drafted, and was signed on the 30th of November. It contained 165 articles divided under seven heads. The kingdom of Poland was declared to be united to Russia, in the person of the tsar, as a separate political entity. The kingdom was the Congress Kingdom, for the vague promises of an extension to the east which Alexander had made to the Poles were never fulfilled. Lithuania and the Ruthenian Palatinates continued to be incorporated with Russia as the Western Provinces and were divided from the Congress Kingdom by a customs barrier till the reign of Nicholas I. The kingdom of Poland thus defined was to have at its head a lieutenant of the emperor (namiestnik), who must be a member of the imperial house or a Pole. The first holder of the office, General Zajonczek (1752-1826), was a veteran who had served Napoleon. Roman Catholicism was recognized as the religion of the state, but other religions were tolerated. Liberty of the press was promised subject to the passing of a law to restrain its abuses. Individual liberty, the use of the Polish language in the law courts, and the exclusive employment of Poles in the civil government were secured by the constitution. The machinery of government was framed of a council of state, at which the imperial government was represented by a commissioner plenipotentiary, and a Diet divided into a senate composed of the princes of the blood, the palatines and councillors named for life, and a house of nuntii elected for seven years, 77 chosen by the "dietines" of the nobles, and 51 by the commons. The Diet vas to meet every other year for a session of thirty days, and was to be renewed by thirds every two years. Poland retained its flag, and a national army based on that which had been raised by and had fought for Napoleon. The command of the army was given to the emperor's brother Constantine, a man of somewhat erratic character, who did much to offend the Poles by violence, but also a good deal to please them by his marriage with Johanna Grudzinska, a Polish lady afterwards created Princess Lowicz, for whose sake he renounced his right to the throne of Russia.

The Diet met three times during the reign of Alexander, in 1818, in 1820 and in 1825 and was on all three occasions opened by the tsar, who was compelled to address his subjects in French, since he did not speak, and would not learn, their language. It is highly doubtful whether, with the best efforts on both sides, a constitutional government could have been worked by a Russian autocrat, and an assembly of men who inherited the memories and characters of the Poles. In fact the tsar and the Diet soon quarrelled. The Poles would not abolish the jury to please the tsar, nor conform as he wished them to do to the Russian law of divorce. Opposition soon arose, and as Alexander could not understand a freedom which differed from himself, and would not condescend to the use of corruption, by which the ancient Polish Diets had been managed, he was driven to use force. The third session of the Diet - 13th of May to 13th of June 1825 - was a mere formality. All publicity was suppressed, and one whole district was disfranchised because it persisted in electing candidates who were disapproved of at court. On the other hand the Poles were also to blame for the failure of constitutional government. They would agitate by means of the so-called National Masonry, or National Patriotic Society as it was afterwards called, for the restoration of the full kingdom of Poland. The nobles who dominated the Diet did nothing to remove the most crying evil of the country - the miserable state of the peasants, who had been freed from personal serfdom by Napoleon in 1807 but were being steadily driven from their holdings by the landlords. In spite of the general prosperity of the country due to peace, and the execution of public works mostly at the expense of Russia, the state of the agricultural class grew, if anything, worse.

Yet no open breach occurred during the reign of Alexander, nor for five years after his death in 1825. The Decembrist movement in Russia had little or no echo in Poland On the death of Zajonczek in 1826, the grand duke Constantine became imperial lieutenant and his administration, though erratic, was not unfavourable to displays of Polish nationality. The Polish army had no share in the Turkish War of 1829, largely, it is said, at the request of Constantine, who loved parades and thought that war was the ruin of soldiers. No attempt was made to profit by the embarrassments of the Russians in their war with Turkey. A plot to murder Nicholas at his coronation on the 24th of May 1829 was not carried out, and when he held the fourth Diet on the 30th of May 1830, the Poles made an ostentatious show of their nationality which Nicholas was provoked to describe as possibly patriotic but certainly not civil. Nevertheless, he respected the settlement of 1815. In the meantime the Patriotic Society had divided into a White or Moderate party and a Red or Extreme party, which was subdivided into the Academics or Republicans and the Military or Terrorists. The latter were very busy and were supported by the Roman Catholic Church, which did little for the Prussian Poles and nothing for the Austrian Poles but was active in harassing the schismatical government of Russia.

The outbreak of the French Revolution in 1830 and the revolt of Belgium produced a great effect in Poland. The spread of a belief, partly justified by the language of Nicholas that the Polish army would be used to coerce the Belgians, caused great irritation. At last, on the 29th of November 1830, a military revolt took place in Warsaw accompanied by the murder of the minister of war, Hauke, himself a Pole, and other loyal officers. The extraordinary weakness of the grand duke allowed the rising to gather strength. He evacuated Warsaw and finally left the country, dying at Vitebsk on the 27th of June 1831. The war lasted from January till September 1831. The fact that the Poles possessed a well-drilled army of 23,800 foot, 6800 horse and 108 guns, which they were able to recruit to a total strength of 80,821 men with 158 guns, gave solidity to the rising. The Russians who had endeavoured to overawe Europe by the report of their immense military power had the utmost difficulty in putting 114,000 men into the field, yet in less than a year, under the leadership of Diebitsch, and then of Paskevich, they mastered the Poles. On the political and administrative side the struggle of the Poles was weakened by the faults which had been the ruin of their kingdom - faction pushed to the point of anarchy, want of discipline, intrigue and violence as shown by the abominable massacre which took place in Warsaw when the defeat of tie army was known. The Poles had begun by protesting that they only wished to defend their rights against the tsar, but they soon proceeded to proclaim his deposition. Their appeal to the powers of Europe for protection was inevitably disregarded.

When the Congress Kingdom had been reconquered it was immediately reduced to the position of a Russian province. No remnant of Poland's separate political existence remained save the minute republic of Cracow. Unable to acquiesce sincerely in its insignificance, and even unable to enforce its neutrality, Cracow was a centre of disturbance, and, after Russia, Prussia, and Austria had in 1846 agreed to its suppression, was finally occupied by Austria on the 6th of November 1848, as a consequence of the troubles, more agrarian than political, which convulsed Galicia. The administration established by Nicholas I. in Russian Poland was harsh and aimed avowedly at destroying the nationality, and even the language of Poland. The Polish universities of Warsaw and Vilna were suppressed, and the students compelled to go to Petrograd and Kiev. Polish recruits were distributed in Russian regiments, and the use of the Russian language was enforced as far as possible in the civil administration and in the law courts. The customs barrier between Lithuania and the former Congress Kingdom was removed, in the hope that the influence of Russia would spread more easily over Poland. A very hostile policy was adopted against the Roman Catholic Church. But though these measures cowed the Poles, they failed to achieve their main purpose. Polish national sentiment was not destroyed, but intensified. It even spread to Lithuania. The failure of Nicholas was in good part due to mistaken measures of what he hoped would be conciliation. He supported Polish students at Russian universities on condition that they then spent a number of years in the public service. It was the hope of the emperor that they would thus become united in interest with the Russians. But these Polish officials made use of their positions to aid their countrymen, and were grasping and corrupt with patriotic intentions. The Poles in Russia, whether at the universities or in the public service, formed an element which refused to assimilate with the Russians. In Poland itself the tsar left much of the current civil administration in the hands of the nobles, whose power over their peasants was hardly diminished and was misused as of old. The Polish exiles who filled Europe after 1830 intrigued from abroad, and maintained a constant agitation. The stern government of Nicholas was, however, so far effective that Poland remained quiescent during the Crimean War, in which many Polish soldiers fought in the Russian army. The Russian government felt safe enough to reduce the garrison of Poland largely. It was not till 1863, eight years after the death of the tsar in 1855, that the last attempt of the Poles to achieve independence by arms was made.

The rising of 1863 may without injustice be said to be due to the more humane policy of the tsar Alexander II. Exiles were allowed to return to Poland, the Church was propitiated, the weight of the Russian administration was lightened, police rules as to passports were relaxed, and the Poles were allowed to form an agricultural society and to meet for a common purpose for the first time after many years. Poland in short shared in the new era of milder rule which began in Russia. In April 1856 Alexander II. was crowned king in the Roman Catholic cathedral of Warsaw, and addressed a flattering speech to his Polish subjects in French, for he too could not speak their language. His warning "No nonsense, gentlemen" (Point de rĂªveries, Messieurs), was taken in very ill part, and it was perhaps naturally, but beyond question most unhappily, the truth that the tsar's concessions only served to encourage the Poles to revolt, and to produce a strong Russian reaction against his liberal policy. As the Poles could no longer dispose of an army, they mere unable to assail Russia as openly as in 1830. They had recourse to the so-called "unarmed agitation," which was in effect a policy of constant provocation designed to bring on measures of repression to be represented to Europe as examples of Russian brutality. They began in 1860 at the funeral of the widow of General Sobinski, killed in 1830, and on the 27th of February 1861 they led to the so-called Warsaw massacres, when the troops fired on a crowd which refused to disperse. The history of the agitation which culminated in the disorderly rising of 1863 is one of intrigue, secret agitation, and in the end of sheer terrorism by a secret society, which organized political assassination. The weakness of the Russian governor, General Gorchakov, in 1861 was a repetition of the feebleness of the Grand Duke Constantine in 1830. He allowed the Poles who organized the demonstration of the 27th of February to form a kind of provisional government. Alongside of such want of firmness as this were, however, to be found such measures of ill-timed repression as the order given in 1860 to the agricultural society not to discuss the question of the settlement of the peasants on the land. Concession and repression were employed alternately. The Poles, encouraged by the one and exasperated by the other, finally broke into the partial revolt of 1863-1864. It was a struggle of ill-armed partisans, who were never even numerous, against regular troops, and was marked by no real battle. The suppression of the rising was followed by a return to the hard methods of Nicholas. The Polish nobles, gentry and Church - the educated classes generally - were crushed. It must, however, be noted that one class of the measures taken to punish the old governing part of the population of Poland has been very favourable to the majority. The peasants were freed in Lithuania, and in Poland proper much was done to improve their position.

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