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1830-31 - The Polish Revolt

The Treaty of Vienna in 1815 settled the final repartition of Poland between its three neighbouring Powers. There can be no doubt whatever that the Emperor Alexander most honestly and earnestly desired to restore and maintain the national existence of the Poles, and to endow them with an autonomous representative Constitution, under the protection of Russia. Indeed, from his subsequent language to the Polish Diet, it appears that he intended to include Lithuania and the Ukraine within their kingdom, and also to extend autonomous constitutions to other parts of his Empire, if the experiment in Poland should prove to be successful. If his demands had been acceded to by the Congress, Poland would not have been partitioned between the three Powers. Its nationality would have been maintained under the supremacy of Russia, and many of the subsequent troubles might have been avoided.

Unfortunately, the Emperor made the initial mistake of appointing his brother, the Grand Duke Constantine, as Commander-in-Chief of the army in Poland, and General Zaionezsk, a native Pole, as Viceroy. The latter was a nonentity, who fell completely under the influence of the Grand Duke. Constantine was a reactionary imbued with the principles of the old Russian party, with an overbearing temper, capricious and headstrong, and without a spark of his brother's liberal tendencies, and sympathy for the Poles. He was a military martinet, a glorified drill-sergeant, the author of the mot that " wars are hateful because they spoil armies." He persuaded the Emperor, on this account, not to employ the Polish army in the war against Turkey. The old Russian party was also represented by Novosiltsoff, a reactionary Russian, who held an anomalous position as a member of the Council, and urged the Grand Duke to arbitrary measures against the Poles. He was regarded as the evil spirit of Poland.

Alexander paid his first visit to Poland in November, 1815, and was received with the greatest enthusiasm. His efforts for the Polish cause at the Congress of Vienna were well known to the people of Warsaw, and sanguine hopes were raised as to the future. At his instance a new Constitution was drawn up for the Kingdom of Poland by Prince Adam Czartoryski. It was on the lines of that of 1791, but was distinctly more advanced. It was of the, most liberal character. If adhered to it would have amply secured self-government to the Poles in the new kingdom, as regards internal affairs.

The army, consisting of 20,000 infantry and 6,000 cavalry, was to be a national one, under the command of a General appointed by the Tsar. The Viceroy was to be either a member of the royal family of Romanoff or a Pole. All appointments, civil and military, were reserved for Poles. The Emperor of Russia was in future to be crowned as King of Poland, and was to take a solemn oath to maintain the Constitution. Foreign affairs alone were reserved for the Russian Government. There were few Constitutions in Europe at the time so liberal.

Many persons, however, disbelieved in its maintenance. It seemed unlikely that the Russians would tolerate such popular institutions for Poland, a subject country, when they themselves were governed by a severe autocracy. Kosciuszko, when consulted about it, wrote to Prince Czartoryski: " From the first I foresee a very different state of things. The Russians will occupy equally with us the chief places of government. This certainly will not inspire the Poles with any great confidence. They foresee, not without fear, that in time the Polish name will fall into contempt, and that the Russians will soon treat us as their own subjects." His fears were fully justified.

The good intentions of the Emperor, however, were nullified by his brother Constantine, who had no sympathy with, or understanding of, a Constitutional Government. His instincts were those of an autocrat.

Alexander died in 1825, and was succeeded, not by the Grand Duke Constantine, the next in line of succession, who was recognized by every one, including himself, as quite unfit to occupy the throne of Russia, and who voluntarily, during Alexander's lifetime, agreed to be excluded from the succession, but by his youngest brother. Nicholas, eighteen years younger than Alexander, was of a very different stamp - a true autocrat without any popular sympathies.

Nicholas was crowned at Warsaw as King of Poland, and solemnly took the oath in public, as prescribed by law, to maintain the Constitution which had been granted by his brother. Having gone through this ceremony, Nicholas proceeded to sanction every measure proposed to him by reactionary advisers for setting aside the Constitution.

As a result of all these infractions of the Constitution, discontent spread throughout Poland. Secret societies multipled in all directions. On November 29, 1830, in sympathy apparently with the revolution in France, a popular outbreak occurred at Warsaw. The Polish army took part with the people. The Grand Duke lost his head. He fled from the capital with the Russian troops in garrison there, abandoning the Citadel, and its great store of arms and ammunition. The whole country was soon in open rebellion. The Polish army was put under the command of General Chlopicki, a surviving veteran of Napoleon's army. The Diet was summoned. It endeavoured to open negotiations with the Russian Government, on the basis of a full recognition and maintenance of the Constitution. Nicholas refused to parley with insurgents. The Diet then proceeded to decree the deposition of the Romanoffs and the establishment of a republic.

There was division of opinion among the people, a contention of factions. The moderate party, consisting of the larger landowners and wealthier people, having little hope of ultimate success against the great forces of Russia, were unwilling to proceed to extremities, though sympathizing with the national cause. They endeavoured to restrain the ardour of the extreme party, and to base the movement on the Treaty of Vienna. The republican party, on the other hand, would admit of no negotiation. They were the more numerous, and gave its main force to the movement. There was a violent popular outbreak, which resulted in the hanging of some of the suspected moderates. In spite of these conflicts of factions, the Poles fought for their cause with desperation and heroism. General Chlopicki resigned, and Prince Radzivill was put in command of the army.

The Diet appealed to the Powers of Europe for assistance, and issued a manifesto setting forth, in strong language, the wrongs of Poland. They showed that the Treaty of Vienna had been set aside by Russia, and that the Poles were consequently entitled to a restoration of their independence. The Governments of England and France declined to intervene on their behalf by force. They contented themselves with a mild protest to the Russian Court, pointing out the infraction of the Treaty of Vienna. The reply of the Russian Court was that the obligations of the Treaty of Vienna were reciprocal, and that the Poles, by declaring their independence, had lost their right to claim the maintenance of the Constitution, under the terms of the treaty. The Emperor resented the intervention of other Powers. The Polish Diet refrained from calling on the Poles in Galicia and Prussian Poland to join in the movement, for they did not wish to have both Austria and Prussia ranged in arms against them.

In the meantime, the Emperor Nicholas was not slow to answer the challenge of the Poles. Early in 1831 he sent an army of 120,000 into Poland, under Marshal Diebitsch. The Poles made an heroic defence. They were successful in some of the earlier encounters with detached columns of the Russians, but they were ultimately overpowered by numbers. The peasantry of Poland and Lithuania do not appear to have taken so much part as in the outbreak of 1794. We do not read of their coming into the field armed with scythe-blades. The insurgents were mainly from the petite noblesse and from the townspeople.

The main Polish army, under General Skrzynecki, met with a crushing defeat on May 26th at Ostrolenka. Shortly after this, Marshal Diebitsch and the Grand Duke Constantine, who accompanied him, succumbed to cholera. The former was replaced by Marshal Paskievich, who showed great energy and determination. On September 8th, the lines in front of Warsaw were successfully stormed. The city then capitulated. By the end of November, the insurrection was put down, and the country was cleared of the insurgent bands. The Russian Government had the full sympathy of Prussia in crushing the Polish rebellion. " Poland," said the Prussian Minister, "had better be annihilated, so as to have done with her once for all."

Nicholas followed up his success with ruthless and relentless vigor and cruelty. He issued a manifesto, offering what he called an amnesty, but which excepted every one who, directly or indirectly, was concerned in the outbreak. In 1832 the Constitution accorded by Alexander was formally annulled. The Diet was abolished. The Polish language was proscribed. The Government departments in Poland were made branches of the Civil Service in Russia, and received their orders from St. Petersburg.

The Polish army was merged in that of Russia. Russians were appointed to all posts of any importance, civil and military. The Russian system was introduced into the Polish tribunals. A strict censorship of the Press was established. Arbitrary arrests became the usual order of the day. Everything was done to, suppress the Roman Catholic Church. Their convents were closed. Their property was secularized. The Polish language was forbidden in the churches. The schools, such as existed, ceased to be Polish. The instruction was to be in the Russian language. Russification was enforced in every possible way.

The Ukase of February 26, 1832, by which most of these changes were effected, was intended to remove Poland from the list of nations, so far as Russia could effect this. The use of the national flag of Poland was prohibited. A beginning was even made of removing the population. Forty-five thousand families were transplanted from Poland to the Caucasus and the district of the Don. Polish orphans were drafted to military colonies. In thousands of cases banishment and confiscation of property were awarded. When the confiscated properties were put up for sale Russians alone were permitted to bid for them. Polish refugees spread over Europe. Sentences of death were recorded against them in their absence.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:29:17 ZULU