Polish Rebellions

Polish Rebellions
   A succession of nationalist risings aimed at reestablishing a unified Polish state. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Poland was a terrain of contention between Prussia and the Russian Empire. While the eighteenth century was the era of the partitions, Polish dreams of independence awakened in the Napoleonic period. Polish volunteers joined Napoleon Bonaparte’ s army in the hope that the French emperor’s wars with Prussia, Austria, and Russia would realize an independent Polish state. Napoleon pursued his own policy in Central and Eastern Europe. In 1807, he established the Duchy of Warsaw on territory that formerly belonged to Prussia and that had been part of old Poland, but the duchy was a French puppet regime with a limited self-government. When in 1809 Józef Poniatowski, nephew of Stanislaw II August, demanded some territories back that had been annexed by Austria in the second partition, the Russians invaded the duchy in 1813. Two years later with the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo, all Polish dreams of national independence through French expansion vanished.
   The Congress of Vienna sealed the dissolution of the Duchy of Warsaw and left most of the terms of the last Polish partition valid. After 1815, Poles became discontented with a political order in Europe that restored a rigid conservative rule as an expression of the growing influence of the Holy Alliance of Austria, Prussia, and Russia, the powers responsible for the statelessness of the Polish nation. Polish nationalism exploded in a series of armed rebellions in the nineteenth century. After the Congress of Vienna, nearly three-quarters of Polish territory belonged to the Russian Empire. At first, Tsar Alexander I established a Kingdom of Poland, granted a liberal constitution, a national army, and limited cultural autonomy of Poles within the Russian Empire, but these concessions did not satisfy the Polish dream of independence. From the 1820s onward, the Russian regime became more repressive, and many Polish secret societies were established to drive out the Russians. In November 1830, the Polish army rebelled in Warsaw. The rebels hoped for aid from France, but it failed to come. The rebels’ reluctance to abolish serfdom, moreover, gambled away all sympathies of the Polish peasantry. One year later, the Russian army crushed the revolt and 6,000 rebels fled into French exile. The tsarist government abolished the Polish constitution and the army.
   Nevertheless, Polish nationalist activities were organized by exiles in Paris. One of the prominent leaders, Adam Czartoryski, tried to win international support in order to gain independence from the Russian Empire. But Czartoryski’s vision was not undisputed among Polish intellectuals in Paris. He sought to establish a Polish monarchy based on a conservative ideology that denied any political participation of peasants and workers. The radicals wanted an independent Polish republic and the abolition of serfdom. When in 1846 the peasantry of Austrian Poland rebelled against the gentry, the oppression by the Habsburg regime was so harsh that it undermined the social basis of the Polish nationalists, as they split into rival factions and lacked the financial sources to participate actively in the European revolutions of 1848 and 1849. The Polish uprising on the Russian-occupied territory in January 1863 also failed because the intellectual leaders of the national movement did not succeed in mobilizing the peasantry. In August 1864, the Russian army crushed the rebellion. The former Kingdom of Poland was abolished, and the territory came under the dictatorship of Governor-general Mikhail Murav ’ ev. By then the leaders of the Polish national movement realized that Polish independence was a long process, and they preferred peaceful means by education and economic development.
   In the second half of the nineteenth century, the time for a Polish independence was not ripe, as the German Empire, established in 1871, and the Russian Empire sought, respectively, to Germanize or Russify their Polish minorities. Only Austria-Hungary guaranteed Poles a cultural autonomy in return for loyalty. Galicia received a semi-autonomous parliament, the Galician sejm. The universities of Kraków and Lwów became centers of Polish cultural and scientific renaissance that attracted many Polish students from Germany and Russia, but not before the collapse of the German, Russian, and Habsburg Empires in World War I could Poland become an independent republic.
   See also <>; <>.
    Kutolowski, John F. The West and Poland: Essays on Governmental and Public Responses to the Polish National Movement, 1861–1881 . New York: Columbia University Press, 2000;
    Porter, Brian A. When Nationalism Began to Hate. Imagining Modern Politics in Nineteenth Century Poland . New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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