The Significance of the Constitution of 3 May 1791

Date: 05-05-2021 Hour: 13:00

Event place: online

This event celebrates the 230th anniversary of the adoption of the Constitution of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

The adoption of the Constitution of 3 May 1791 was a milestone not only in the statehood of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth but also in history, constitutional law and international relations. The Constitution was an act regulating the scope of state power according to Montesquieu’s theory, including the division of powers into legislative, executive and judicial branches. It abolished what had long been regarded as the two pillars of the gentry’s “Golden Freedom”: the principle of free election of the monarch, and the liberum veto. It established a constitutional and hereditary system of monarchy and vested legislative power in the Sejm, the Polish-Lithuanian Parliament. The Constitution took the first steps towards creating a definition of citizenship based on property rather than birth, which opened the way to the granting of political rights to burghers, some of whom were admitted to citizenship after 1791, and began the process of redefining the nation which would eventually lead to the granting of political rights to the rural masses. In addition, it guaranteed freedom to all religious denominations following the tradition in force in the Lithuanian part of the Commonwealth. Most importantly, it made the union governable again, as was demonstrated by the swift reaction of its neighbours, who rapidly partitioned it out of existence.

The Constitution of the Commonwealth was preceded only by the Constitution of the United States of 1787 and predated the French Constitution by a few months. The document was widely discussed in the press in Western Europe and North America, and was immediately translated into French and English. It reflected the spirit of the Enlightenment. It is widely considered to be the first modern constitution in Europe and one of the world’s greatest documents of freedom. Adopted by the votes of the Lithuanian nobility, the 3 May Constitution is as precious to the Lithuanian people as Magna Carta is to the English. In Poland, the 3rd of May is celebrated as a national holiday.

This event celebrates the 230th anniversary of the adoption of the Constitution. The online discussion, co-organised by the Embassies of Lithuania and Poland in the United Kingdom, and the Research Centre for Polish-Lithuanian Studies, established in 2020 at the University of Aberdeen, will reflect on the significance of the Constitution of May 3rd for the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, at the time of its adoption, and today.

PROGRAMME

Introductory remarks

  • Ambassador of Lithuania to the UK Renatas Norkus
  • Ambassador of Poland to the UK Arkady Rzegocki
  • Minister for European Neighbourhood and the Americas at the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office Wendy Morton

Presentations

  • By Dr Jolanta Karpavičienė
  • By Prof Przemysław Żurawski vel Grajewski

Roundtable discussion

  • Prof Robert Frost and Prof Karin Friedrich to be moderated by Dr Kristina Sabaliauskaitė

Q&A

WHEN: Wed, 5 May 2021, 13:00 BST

WHERE: online

TICKETS: free

REGISTRTION: here

MORE INFO: here

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