First Polish Rebellion

Despite the apparent successes of the partial integration of Poland into the Russian Empire, many Poles still sought independence for their homeland. Their first significant rebellion enjoyed a brief success, but the Poles themselves were too divided to withstand Russia’s reassertion of military control.

Summary of Event

Vulnerably situated in the center of Europe and hemmed in by the growing assertiveness of Prussia and the imperial power of Austria and Russia, Poland Poland;partitions of weakened itself during the eighteenth century through its internal dissension. It even temporarily vanished from the map of Europe when its three powerful neighbors partitioned it in 1772, 1793, and 1795, with Russia gaining the largest share. Many Poles continued to dream of resurrecting an independent Poland, and some revolted against Russian authority in 1794. However, large numbers of Poles also became absorbed into the governing structure of partitioned Poland. After Napoleon I’s defeat in 1815, the Congress of Vienna Congress of Vienna (1814-1815);and Poland[Poland] established a Polish kingdom, which was given the name “Congress Poland,” but placed it under the personal administration of the Russian czar. Polish Rebellion, First (1830-1831)
Poland;and Russia[Russia]
Russia;and Poland[Poland]
Nicholas I
[p]Nicholas I[Nicholas 01];and Poland[Poland]
[kw]First Polish Rebellion (Nov. 29, 1830-Aug. 15, 1831)
[kw]Polish Rebellion, First (Nov. 29, 1830-Aug. 15, 1831)
[kw]Rebellion, First Polish (Nov. 29, 1830-Aug. 15, 1831)
Polish Rebellion, First (1830-1831)
Poland;and Russia[Russia]
Russia;and Poland[Poland]
Nicholas I
[p]Nicholas I[Nicholas 01];and Poland[Poland]
[g]Poland;Nov. 29, 1830-Aug. 15, 1831: First Polish Rebellion[1630]
[g]Russia;Nov. 29, 1830-Aug. 15, 1831: First Polish Rebellion[1630]
[c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Nov. 29, 1830-Aug. 15, 1831: First Polish Rebellion[1630]
Constantine, Grand Duke
Chłopicki, Józef
Czartoryski, Adam Jerzy
Diebitsch, Johann von
Lelewel, Joachim
Lubecki, Ksawery Drucki
Mochnacki, Maurycy
Paskevich, Ivan Fyodorovich

Russia’s position in Congress Poland, where Czar Nicholas I ruled as king in accordance with the Vienna settlement, seemed secure by 1829. Apparently reconciled to Russian rule, Poles prospered under the Russian-appointed chancellor, Prince Ksawery Drucki Lubecki. Lubecki, Ksawery Drucki An entire generation of Polish émigrés had fought on Napoleon’s side in his wars against Russia, and they had become influenced by French revolutionary ideas. These Polish radicals hoped that the spirit of revolution in France would spread across Europe, eventually liberating their country from foreign control. The Polish army, commanded by Nicholas’s brother Grand Duke Constantine Constantine, Grand Duke , was the kind of superbly disciplined military machine that Nicholas loved. Indeed, he prized the Poles enough to use only Russian units in his war against Turkey in 1828. In that campaign, Field Marshal Johann von Diebitsch’s Diebitsch, Johann von troops had marched to the gates of Constantinople. The Russian triumph was been costly, but Nicholas spared his magnificent Poles from what would have been heavy casualties.

After Russia’s triumph in Turkey, Russian security quickly vanished. Rebellion erupted in France in July, 1830, and soon spread. Desiring to check the revolutionary threat, Nicholas alerted his Polish units for war, but the events of November 29, 1830, destroyed the czar’s plan. A number of Polish army officers who despised Constantine’s Constantine, Grand Duke strict disciplinary methods and resented missing opportunities for glory in the war against the Turks helped students to execute a coup d’état. Constantine immediately withdrew from Warsaw Warsaw . Arguing that the rebellion was strictly a Polish affair, he prevailed on Nicholas to delay any reaction until the Poles recovered their senses. Later, with Nicholas’s approval, Constantine withdrew all Russian forces from Poland and permitted the Polish units that had remained with him to return to Warsaw. He hoped that such measures would avoid bloodshed.

Deep historical feelings had caused the Polish rebellion. Poland’s nobility had never completely abandoned hope of restoring the independent Polish state, which had been dominated by an aristocratic oligarchy until its disappearance in the late eighteenth century partitions. Since 700,000 Poles were numbered among the nobility, this attitude constantly endangered Russian control. Romanticism Romanticism;Polish inspired educated Poles to revive their anti-Russian national heritage. Tension between Roman Catholic Poles and Orthodox Christian Russians intensified nationalistic animosity.

Polish students, impressed by their culture’s romantic emphasis on individual military valor, were hostile toward the Russians and older Poles who accepted Russian influence as economically progressive. Poles traditionally had sought French support for their independence and claimed to admire French republicanism. Rumors that the czar would order Polish troops to march against the new French Republic angered them. Secret nationalist organizations, aware that the police had discovered them, exploited this tense situation to launch what proved to be a premature coup on November 29, 1830.

The Polish revolutionary movement had numerous weaknesses. From its inception, it was divided into a radical wing led by Maurycy Mochnacki Mochnacki, Maurycy and Joachim Lelewel, Lelewel, Joachim and a conservative wing led first by Lubecki Lubecki, Ksawery Drucki and later by Prince Adam Jerzy Czartoryski. Czartoryski, Adam Jerzy The conservatives appointed General Józef Chłopicki, Józef Chłopicki military dictator on December 1, but their control of the movement was weak. Moreover, aristocratic dominance of the insurrection alienated the Polish serfs. In the long run, the Poles could scarcely hope for military victory. Russian superiority in manpower and equipment would eventually be overwhelming, and the Russians were far more united than the Poles. At best, the Poles could only hope for early victories, an anti-Russian revolt in West Russia where the nobility was Polish, or foreign intervention.

Following Constantine’s Constantine, Grand Duke advice, Czar Nicholas responded to the revolt cautiously. He conferred with Lubecki in St. Petersburg St. Petersburg, Russia[Saint Petersburg, Russia] on December 26, 1830, offering the Poles general amnesty in exchange for their submission, but refusing to guarantee Poland’s constitution Constitutions;Polish
Poland;constitutions of 1815. The Polish radicals merely became more adamant. On January 16, 1831, they forced Chłopicki Chłopicki, Józef to resign after he had argued that war with Russia would be futile. Czartoryski’s Czartoryski, Adam Jerzy new coalition government failed to curb rising nationalism. The Poles deposed Nicholas as their titular king and demanded restoration of the 1772 boundaries, including West Russia. Nicholas then decided to fight.

On February 7, 1831, Diebitsch’s Diebitsch, Johann von Russians entered Poland. The Poles won the initial skirmishes but were shattered in the first major battle at Grochów on February 24. Panic then developed in Warsaw Warsaw;Russian occupation of . Wary that a long campaign might increase foreign diplomatic pressure, Nicholas urged that Warsaw be taken. However, Diebitsch decided to rest and provision his army at some distance from the Polish capital. The front remained relatively static for two months. The Poles, fearing a major engagement far from Warsaw, awaited foreign intervention or widespread revolt in West Russia. Cholera Cholera ravaged the Russian army, killing thirteen thousand soldiers. General Jan Skrzynecki Skrzynecki, Jan , the Polish commander, finally attacked the Russians and was thoroughly defeated at Ostrolenka on May 26. Diebitsch, who was himself to die of cholera early in June, again allowed the Poles to escape.

Field Marshal Ivan Paskevich, Paskevich, Ivan Fyodorovich Nicholas’s new commander, was ordered to crush the insurgents quickly. In July and August, he cautiously blockaded Warsaw while Russian reinforcements poured into Poland. The Poles refused Nicholas’s final offer of amnesty on July 29, but their already sharp political divisions worsened under the tension produced by an apparently inevitable Russian victory. On August 15, a mob toppled the Czartoryski Czartoryski, Adam Jerzy government and murdered some Russian prisoners. Both Polish disunity and Russian military superiority made Paskevich’s storming of Warsaw Warsaw;Russian occupation of on September 5 almost anticlimactic. The Polish rebellion had already ended.

Nicholas punished rebels in Congress Poland less severely than the Poles who, as Russian citizens, had rebelled in West Russia. Thousands of the former group became voluntary exiles, although an amnesty issued on October 20 pardoned all Poles in Congress Poland except those involved in the massacre of Russian prisoners on August 15. Some estates in Congress Poland were confiscated and given to Russian officers. West Russian Polish insurgents suffered execution, imprisonment, or exile to Siberia Siberia;exiles in . Finally, on February 26, 1832, Nicholas promulgated the Organic Statute, which restricted the rights Poles had enjoyed under the constitution Constitutions;Polish
Poland;constitutions of 1815. Paskevich, Paskevich, Ivan Fyodorovich named viceroy under the new system, began a systematic campaign against Polish nationalism.


With the failure of the Polish rebellion, Poland became virtually an integral part of Russia. Thousands of Poles began emigrating—many of them to Paris, which then became the focal point of Polish nationalist agitation. In spite of crushing defeats the idea of an independent Poland survived—if only as an improbable, romantic aspiration. The slim hope that either Great Britain or France would intervene on the behalf of the Poles was extinguished in the 1830-1831 Polish rebellion.

The uprising illustrated that Polish shortcomings were as damaging to the Polish cause as Russian strength. However, this lesson escaped many bitter Poles who blamed the failure of 1830-1831 on poor or “treasonous” generals. The failure of Polish leaders to heal the divisions plaguing the nationalist movement would cause another rebellion to fail in 1863.

Further Reading

  • Biskupski, Mieczyslaw B. The History of Poland. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2000. Solid general history of Poland, whose political transformations have been at least as great as those of any nation in Europe.
  • Chapman, Tim. The Congress of Vienna: Origins, Processes, and Results. London: Routledge, 1998. Study of the proceedings at the international peace conference that created Congress Poland, with attention to the long-term consequences of the conference’s decisions.
  • Curtiss, John Shelton. The Russian Army Under Nicholas I, 1825-1855. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1965. In addition to providing biographies of both Diebitsch and Paskevich, this superb work contains information on the military aspects of the Polish revolution and offers reasons for Diebitsch’s reluctance to crush the Poles quickly.
  • Davies, Norman. God’s Playground: A History of Poland. New York: Columbia University Press, 1984. This two-volume study remains one of the most up-to-date, reliable, and readable histories of Poland in English.
  • _______. Heart of Europe: A Short History of Poland. New York: Oxford University Press, 1984. Works backward from the events during the early 1980’s to eighteenth century Poland, emphasizing those factors that were most important in shaping the country’s present.
  • Halecki, Oskar, with additional material by A. Polonsky. A History of Poland. London: Kegan Paul, 1978. Standard work on Polish history. Contains especially useful maps.
  • Kagan, Frederick W. The Military Reforms of Nicholas I: The Origins of the Modern Russian Army. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999. Thorough and scholarly study of Nicholas’s reign and reorganization of the Russian army during the period of the first Polish rebellion. Most suitable for scholars.
  • Kukiel, Marian. Czartoryski and European Unity, 1770-1861. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1955. Kukiel praises the great Polish conservative statesman, concentrating on his foreign policy.
  • Wandyc, Piotr S. The Lands of Partitioned Poland, 1795-1918. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1996. Excellent overview of the many partitions and realignments of Poland from the late eighteenth century through the end of World War I.

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