Portal:Law/Selected articles/37

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A painting of King Stanisław August entering St. John's Cathedral

The Constitution of May 3, 1791 was drafted between October 6, 1788, and May 3, 1791, when it was adopted as a "Government Act" by the Great Sejm of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth (a dualistic state of Poland and Lithuania ruled by a common monarch). The document was designed to redress political defects of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth; the system of "Golden Liberty" had conferred disproportionate rights on the nobility, and over time had corrupted politics. Its adoption was preceded by a period of agitation for, and gradual introduction of, reforms, beginning with the Convocation Sejm of 1764 and the election of Stanisław August Poniatowski as the Commonwealth's last king, and culminating in legislation adopted by the Great Sejm.

The constitution sought to supplant the prevailing anarchy, fostered by some of the country's magnates, with a more democratic constitutional monarchy. It introduced elements of political equality between townspeople and nobility and placed the peasants under the protection of the government, thus mitigating the worst abuses of serfdom. It banned pernicious parliamentary institutions such as the liberum veto, which had put the Sejm at the mercy of any single deputy who could choose, or be bribed by an interest or foreign power, to undo all the legislation that had been passed by that Sejm. (more...)