The Constitution enacted by the Four-year-old Seym on 3 may 1791 was unfavorable mainly for nobility. Also for the poorest nobility of the so-called Golota. It was striking with a procedure practiced by nobility, connected with buying votes of Golota in elections to the Seym - new law about small seyms deprived Golota of electoral rights. Moreover, the Constitution abolished the right of nobility to break seyms – the known liberum veto, forbade organizing military unions in defence of privileges, that is, confederations, and restricted free election (through depriving Gołota of electoral rights). It introduced throne heredity within the ruling dynasty. These changes hurt everybody preying on the system pathology.

There were a lot of reforms leading to repair of the Polish Republic, except for strengthening the position of the monarchy and seym at the cost of nobility’s rights. For example, among them there were creating a strong army, consisting both of highly-born and burghers who received new rights, as well as peasants – finally officially included into the Polish nation.

Maintaining the status quo

The motto of defending the endangered golden freedom, so useful for reforms opponents lacking in all kinds of qualms, gathered a big group of influential magnates who willingly hid under wings of the Tsarina Catherine II. Introducing the Constitution was considered by them as a breach of the law and order existing till then. They did not mind the fact that this ‘order’ was destroying our country like cancer. Polish Republic was useful for them in that system. Opponents had begun preparations for confederation whose aim was to abolish the Governmental Act enacted by the Four-year-old Seym half a year earlier. They were weak themselves but what does one have friends for….The Tsarina really wanted to help. Poland was a loot not to be despised of. Defenders of Targowica activists say today that if it not had been for Kościuszko, and similar romantics, madcaps, Polish Republic would have remained whole.
But hurray-patriotism, waving a saber will not be endured by anybody, even by such gentle protectors as the Germans or Russians.

Only themselves to be blamed

So there was no solution, nobility (opponents to the camp of reforms in Polish Republic), supported by gołota, undertook a mission of ‘saving freedom’ in Poland with help from abroad. The fact that Polish Republic will drown was not considered at all. On 27 April 1792 in Petersburg leaders of a nobility camp of republicans signed a pact against their own king and ‘illegally’ enacted Constitution of 3 May. The purpose of the conspiracy was to bring back the old political system of Polish Republic, and the guarantee of its success – the army of the tsarina, which overwhelmed our country in a short time. The text of the confederation act was edited with a Russian hand, and signed by oppositionists, among the others, by an initiator – the General of royal artillery Stanisław Szczęsny Potocki, a great royal hetman Seweryn Rzewuski. In order to maintain appearances, a confederation was officially established in Homeland, in a borderline town Targowica. It was supposed to look in the following way: Poles, worried about rule of law in their homeland, take on an attitude against the reign of the despot king and camp people not respecting freedom or nobility rights. On the day of invasion by a tsar army of a hundred thousand soldiers, the Russian ambassador gave rulers a note of Polish Republic, which presented the reason for intervention or rather ‘friendly, neighbour’s help’, aimed at leading to defence of freedom and bringing back legal authority in Poland. ‘And Polish Republic conquered and being in hands of oppressors, and having power, cannot stand on its feet with its strength, it can do nothing but resort to great Catherine who rules the friendly and allied Neighbouring Nation with such a fame and justice’ – it was justified. The war in 1792 lasted short. King Stanisław August Poniatowski got frightened. He stretched out his hand to the tsarist and confederates. Capitulation of our army, allying of our king with traitors – were painful wounds for Polish Republic, whose fate was in hands of invading powerful countries for a long time. The late attempt to restore the fallen homeland from ruins was not successful. The effort made by patriots was buried not only by foreigners but also by compatriots.

Common defeat

Targowica activists sent a solemn message to Catherine II to thank ‘on behalf of the nation’ for bringing back ‘freedom’ in Polish Republic. However, the tsarist decided that Poland would not exist. Protectorate was an unnecessary façade. The disgraceful role of confederates ended.
During an insurrection of Kościuszko in 1794, a lot of leaders of the confederation were sentenced to death, permanent infamy, confiscation of their property and loss of all posts. Those who were difficult to arrest, had verdicts done ‘in effigie’ on their images, by hanging portraits of traitors on gallows publicly. After the defeat of Kosciuszko’s Uprising, Stanisław August Poniatowski abdicated. He spent his last years in abundance in Patersburg. One could mention a lot of his merits for the country, but personal choices which he made and the weakness of his character were the reason for which his descendants remembered him as a ruler who accomplished in the defeat of Poland.


„Niedziela” 18/2016

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: