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Polish-US webinar on Poland’s 1791 constitution

29.04.2021 10:45
The Warsaw-based Pilecki Institute and the National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon in the US state of Virginia are set to hold an academic webinar on Thursday focusing on the historic Polish constitution of May 3, 1791.
Adoption of the Polish constitution of May 3, 1791 as depicted in an 1891 painting by Jan Matejko.
Adoption of the Polish constitution of May 3, 1791 as depicted in an 1891 painting by Jan Matejko.Image: [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Held under the motto "Strides Towards Liberty: The 3 May Constitution of Poland, George Washington, and the Spirit of Republicanism," the event aims to mark next Monday’s 230th anniversary of the landmark Polish constitution, which was the world’s second modern constitution after that of the United States.

The Pilecki Institute says on its website that the promulgation of the Constitution of May 3, 1791 was “the founding moment of the Polish modern political nation … Unlike in the US, the constitution did not survive after the diplomatic and military interventions of the neighboring powers.

“Poland was partitioned and wiped out from maps. For generations, however, the constitution remained a symbol of Polish longing for freedom and sovereignty and May 3 was reinstated as a public holiday in 1919 after Poland had reemerged from the WWI struggles.

“For its powerful patriotic significance and liberty-charged symbolism, the holiday was banned by the Nazis and communists, yet the memory of the constitution never faded.”

Today, together with George Washington's Mount Vernon we invite you to join our international webinar “Strides Towards...

Posted by Instytut Pileckiego on Wednesday, April 28, 2021

The institute stresses that the 1791 constitution “originated in the long Polish political tradition of law protecting individual freedom from royal encroachments, dating back at least to the 15th century. Besides, it contrasted with absolutist tendencies holding sway in the neighboring monarchies – Austria, Prussia, and Russia."

The Polish constitution – "very much like its US precedent," which was adopted in 1787 – "was, therefore, an idea of a modern political nation seeking the best ways to establish a good government under law and God,” the institute also said.

It noted that “in one of his letters of late July 1791, George Washington, the first president of the United States, commented with satisfaction that Poland ‘appears to have made large and unexpected strides towards liberty.’”

The English-language webinar will be held on Zoom and livestreamed on the Pilecki Institute’s Facebook profile at 12 pm EDT (6 pm CEST).

Click the link to register: https://bit.ly/3nf28US

The debate will be chaired by Wojciech Kozłowski, the director of the Pilecki Institute, once a visiting scholar at the Department of History at Harvard University.

The panelists include Dorota Pietrzyk-Reeves, a professor of political philosophy at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, southern Poland; Richard Butterwick, a professor of Polish-Lithuanian history at University College London; and Kevin Butterfield, Executive Director of the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon, the former home of the first American president.