On this day May 3, 1791

The Polish Constitution, one of the earliest codified national constitutions in the world, was adopted by the Sejm.

Before the 20th century, the term “Sejm” referred to the entire three-chamber Polish parliament, comprising the lower house, the upper house and the King.

The Sejm building in Warsaw

The Sejm building in Warsaw

The Constitution is generally regarded as Europe’s first and the world’s second modern codified national constitution, following the 1788 ratification of the United States Constitution.

The May 3rd Constitution was designed to redress long-standing political defects of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and its traditional system of “Golden Liberty”.

The Constitution introduced political equality between townspeople and nobility (szlachta) and placed the peasants under the protection of the government, thus mitigating the worst abuses of serfdom.

The Constitution abolished pernicious parliamentary institutions such as the liberum veto, which at one time had put the sejm at the mercy of any deputy who might choose, or be bribed by an interest or foreign power, to undo legislation passed by that sejm.

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