May 3 is Polish Constitution Day

220px-Flag_of_PolandFireworks. The 1812 Overture. The Star-bangled Banner. Picnics and burgers on the grill or fried chicken in a picnic basket. The Marine Corps band performing in front of the U.S. Capitol. I love the American Independence Day. It’s a party day for all Americans, regardless of ethnic heritage, religion or creed. Constitution Day for Poland is celebrated May 3, a holiday restored in 1990 after decades of Russian-backed communism. A very strong link exists between the American Independence Day and Poland’s Constitution Day.

Every year on May 3rd, a celebration is held in Poland and commemorated by Polish Communities around the world. On that day in 1791, the revolutionary Government Act was passed by the Polish Sejm or Parliament. At the time it was signed into law, it was only the second modern Constitution after that of the United States of America. This document is hailed by historians as the first modern European Constitution and was recognized by the European Commission with a European Heritage Label in 2015. Also check out “May 3rd is Polish Constitution Day: ‘Swieto Trzeciego Maja” on the website for The Polish Heritage Society for Grand Rapids.

Thaddeus Kosciuszko fought in the American Revolutionary War
Though Polish, Thaddeus Kosciuszko (1746 -1817), served as an engineer in the Continental Army during our Revolutionary War. Afterwards, he was so moved by the Declaration of Independence, he sought out Thomas Jefferson, introduced himself, and he and Jefferson remained lifelong friends. After the Revolutionary War, he returned to Poland in 1784; there he was instrumental in the constitutional movement in Poland. In 1794 he led an insurrection against Russia. Following imprisonment by Russia, he again returned to the United States in 1797 and settled in Philadelphia.

Unlike Thomas Jefferson, Thaddeus Kosciuszko Opposed Slavery
He was way ahead of Jefferson in terms of attitudes towards slavery and equality for all. Before he left the United States the second time (he lived out his life in Switzerland), he requested that money from his estate be used to buy freedom for slaves, help to educate them and provide them with enough land to support themselves.

Kosciuszko’s Home is part of the US National Park Service
The Philadelphia home of Thaddeus Kosciuszko is part of the US National Park Service as a memorial. Since he was instrumental in Poland’s constitution, if he returned to Poland he’d have been arrested. The constitution passed in 1791; four years later the Russian, Prussian and Austrian empires conspired together, split Poland in three, and the country disappeared from the map of Europe until the end of World War I.

Poland’s independence would be short lived. In 1939 Germany and Russia again invaded and occupied her. After six brutal years of fighting, the Allies conceded Poland to Jozef Stalin, and Poland fell under the dark veil of communism. Any word of Polish heroes, Polish independence or Polish history was not only erased from the history books, but prohibited from mentioning or celebrating their Independence Day.  It would not be until 1990 before the May 3 holiday was restored. (Communism fell in 1989.)

John Kerry’s speech:  Poles know what it means to stand up to tyranny

Additional information can be found:
National Park Service: Thaddeus Kosciuszko
Polish American Congress Bio
Monticello – Home of Thomas Jefferson
The Peasant Prince, by Alex Storozynski, Thomas Dunne Books, 2009. (Thank you to my friend Cheryl who gifted this book to me!)

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Tags: Poland, Polish History

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