The May 3rd Constitution of 1791 was the first written constitution in Europe and the second in the world, after the Constitution of the United States of America. The Constitution was passed by the Four-Year Sejm, sitting under the knot of a confederation. It was in force for a total of 14 months. Conceived as a fundamental step in repairing the state, it was an attempt to modernize the system of the failing Poland and to save its sovereignty.

 

It transformed the state into a constitutional monarchy and introduced the principle of the tripartite division of power. The sovereign will of the nation was to be expressed by a bicameral Sejm.

 

The Constitution of 3 May was (and remains) one of the foundations of the Polish republican tradition. It was a point of reference for the tradition and aspirations for independence in the years of partitions, occupation and communist enslavement. The fact that it was overthrown by Russian intervention and the subsequent partitions prevented it from becoming one of the foundations of European identity. However, its significance for Polish thinking about freedom proved timeless: it was a reason for pride and a source of enhancing self-esteem for each generation reminding Europe of the Poles' right to freedom - postulating Poland's return to the political map of the continent and full independence.