November Uprising

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The November Uprising (1830-1831) was an armed rebellion against Russia's rule in Poland. It was started on November 29, 1830 in Warsaw by a group of conspirators and was soon joined by large part of the Polish society. Despite several local successes, the revolters were eventually defeated by numerically superior Russian army under Ivan Paskevich and their resistance was crushed.


Poland before the uprising

Main article: History of Poland (1795-1918)

After the Partitions of Poland, Poland as an independent nation ceased to exist. However, the Napoleonic Wars and Polish participation in the wars against Russian Empire and Austria resulted in the creation of a rump Duchy of Warsaw. Although the Congress of Vienna brought the existence of that state to an end as well, Poland was not directly annexed by the occupying powers. Instead, the Prussian and Russian sections were organised into the semi-independent Duchy of Poznań and Congress Kingdom.

Initially, the Congress Kingdom enjoyed a relatively large amount of freedom and was only indirectly subject to Russian rule. United with Russia by only a personal union, the state could elect its own government and parliament, had its own courts, army and treasury. Over time, however, the freedoms granted to the kingdom were gradually reduced and the constitution of the Kingdom was progressively ignored by Russian authorities. Unlike Alexander I, his brother Nicholas I never went to Warsaw and was never crowned the King of Poland. Instead, he appointed Great Duke Konstantin Pavlovich as the governor of Poland, disregarding the constitution.

Despite numerous protests by various Polish politicians who actively supported the personal union, Grand Duke Konstantin had no intention of following the regulations set by the constitution, one of the most liberal constitutions in Europe at that time. He persecuted Polish social and patriotic organisations, the liberal opposition of the Kaliszanie faction and replaced Poles with Russians in important posts in local administrations. Although married to a Pole (Joanna Grudzińska), he was commonly viewed as an enemy of the Polish nation. Also, his command over the Polish Army led to serious conflicts within the officer corps. This led to creation of various conspiracies throughout the country, most notably within the army.


Missing image
Revolutionaries fighting the Russian cuirassiers near the palace of Belweder, an 1898 painting by Wojciech Kossak

The armed struggle finally started when a group of conspirators led by young NCO from the Warsaw garrison, Piotr Wysocki, took the arms from their garrison on November 29, 1830, and attacked the Belweder Palace, the main seat of the Grand Duke. The last spark that ignited Warsaw was a Russian plan of using the Polish Army to suppress the July Revolution in France and the Belgian Revolution, which was a clear violation of the Polish constitution. Although the revolters managed to enter the residence, Duke Konstantin managed to escape in woman dress and notified the nearby unit of Cossack cavalry.

The revolters then turned to the main city arsenal and managed to capture it after only a short struggle. The following day armed Polish civilians forced out the Russian troops in Warsaw, causing them to flee to the north of the city.


The loyalists within the local Polish government (Administrative Council) led by Prince Adam Czartoryski initially tried to disarm the revolters and settle the issue peacefully. However, the radicals among the revolters vowed for an all-national uprising and soon a Provisional Government was created by adding several radicals, among them Joachim Lelewel to the Administrative Council. On December 5, 1830, General Józef Chłopicki was named the Dictator of the Uprising.

The first movement of Chłopicki was sending Count Konstanty Drucki-Lubecki to Petersburg to mediate in the conflict. Chłopicki believed that the tsar was unaware of the deeds of his brother and that the Uprising can be avoided if only the Russian authorities accept the constitution. At the same time Chłopicki denied to strengthen the Polish Army and start hostilities. However, the radicals within the armed crowd in Warsaw pressed for a war with Russia and complete liberation of Poland. On December 13 the Polish Sejm pronounced the National Uprising against Russia and on January 7, 1831, Count Drucki-Lubecki returned from Russia with no promises. The tsar demanded a complete and unconditional surrender of Poland and announced that the Poles should surrender to the grace of their emperor. This annihilated Chłopicki's plans and the following day Chłopicki retired.

The power in Poland was taken by the radicals united in the Towarzystwo Patriotyczne (Patriotic Society) led by Joachim Lelewel. On January 25 the Sejm passed the act of detronisation of Nicholas I, which ended the Polish-Russian personal union and was equal to a declaration of war on Russia. Soon a 115 000 strong Russian army under Ivan Dybich crossed the Polish borders. On January 29 the National Government of Adam Czartoryski was created and Michał Radziwiłł was chosen as the successor of Chłopicki.

Russo-Polish war

Missing image
Emilia Plater fighting near Szawle, a 1904 painting by Wojciech Kossak

The hostilities started in February and saw the Polish Army completely unprepared for a confrontation with a strong, both numerically and technically superior, enemy. However, the morale of the Polish troops was high and the field commanders were often skilled veterans of the Napoleonic Wars. The first major battle took place on February 14, 1831, near the village of Stoczek near Łuków. In what became known as the Battle of Stoczek, the Polish cavalry under Brigadier Józef Dwernicki defeated the Russian division of Teodor Geismar. However, the victory had mostly psychological value and could not stop the Russian advance towards Warsaw. The following battles of Dobre, Wawer and Białołęka were unconcluded.

Finally on February 25 the Polish Army of approximately 40 000 met the Russian army of 60 000 in the fields to the east of Warsaw. In what became known as the Battle of Olszynka Grochowska, both armies withdrew after almost two days of heavy fights and with considerable losses on both sides. General Chłopicki was wounded in the battle and finally withdrew from the uprising. His successor was general Jan Skrzynecki.

Views on the Uprising

 in the trenches of , a 1922 painting by Wojciech Kossak
Sowiński in the trenches of Wola, a 1922 painting by Wojciech Kossak

Adam Czartoryski said that the war with Russia, precipitated by the conspiracy of the young patriots on November 29, 1830, came either too early or too late. Some writers think that it should have been opened in 1828, when Russia was experiencing reverses in Turkey, and was least able to spare any considerable forces for a war with Poland. Many military critics, among them the foremost Russian writer, General Puzyrewski, maintained that in spite of the inequality of resources of the two countries, Poland had all the chances of holding her own against Russia if the campaign had been managed skillfully. Russia sent over a hundred and eighty thousand well trained men against Poland's seventy thousand, twenty thousand of whom were fresh recruits who entered the service at the opening of hostilities. "In view of this, one would think that not only was the result of the struggle undoubted, but its course should have been something of a triumphant march for the infinitely stronger party. Instead, the war lasted eight months, with often doubtful success. At times the balance seemed to tip decidedly to the side of the weaker adversary who dealt not only blows, but even ventured daring offensives."

When this war ended in the defeat of Poland it was not the fault of the Polish soldier who does not know fear and who is ever ready to offer his life upon the altar of his country; it was not the fault of the country which made all sacrifices in the name of the cause for which the war had been declared and never tired of giving support in both life and money; it was rather the fault of the military leaders in whom the people had supreme confidence, and upon whom they bestowed dictatorial power.

It had so long been preached in Poland that anarchy and a lack of concord were the causes of national downfall that when war came, afraid lest some discord ruin the new opportunities, the people demanded absolute power for their leaders and tolerated no criticism, The pendulum swung to the other extreme. Unfortunately the men chosen to lead because of their past achievements were either senile or utterly incompetent to perform the great task imposed upon them. And what was worse, they had no faith in the success of the undertaking. By procrastination they ruined all chance of the victory which might have been theirs if the line of battle had been summarily established in Lithuania, and if the Russian forces slowly arriving had been dealt with separately and decisively. The first clashes of a Polish outpost with a Russian corps under Paskievich show what feats of bravery the enthusiastic Poles could perform even when fighting against such tremendous odds as in the Battle of Stoczek. Despite a superiority of two to one and of competent guidance the Russians suffered complete defeat. Because of their spirit and temperament the Poles are more adapted to offensive than to defensive warfare. Polish Generalissimo Chłopicki knew this well yet because of his opposition to the war, criminal under the circumstances, and his hope that by negotiations the conflict might be averted, he tarried, allowing the Russians to gain by the delay, to cross rivers unobstructed and to concentrate large forces at convenient points in Poland proper. Dilatory tactics characterized the whole preliminary period of the war. Taken by surprise at the rapid succession of events during the night of November 29th, the Administrative Council assembled immediately to take the reins of government into their hands and to decide on a course of action. The unpopular ministers were removed from the Council and men like Prince Czartoryski, the historian Julian Ursyn Niemcewicz, Joachim Lelewel and General Chlopicki, took their places. Submitting to strong pressure brought to bear upon him, Chlopicki, who condemned the conspirators and considered the uprising an act of madness, consented to command the army temporarily, in the hope that it would be unnecessary to take the field. The perspicacious and farseeing, Maurycy Mochnacki did not trust the newly constituted ministry, fearing that it did not possess sufficient self-reliance and determination for spirited action, and decided to overthrow it and substitute in its place the Patriotic Club, organized by him. On December 3rd a great public demonstration was held in Warsaw. Amid a storm of enthusiasm Mochnacki furiously denounced the dealings that were going on between the Government and Grand Duke Constantine Pavlovich who was camped outside the City in a suburb, protected by his guard. "Negotiations should be carried on not from Warsaw with Constantine, but from Wilno with Nicholas," Mochnacki shouted to the animated crowd. He advocated the transfer of the campaign to Lithuania and the selection of as remote a field of operations as possible to spare the country the devastation incident to war, and to shield the native sources of food supply. The meeting adopted a number of demands to be communicated to the Administrative Council, among which the most urgent were the establishment of a revolutionary government and the immediate attack upon the forces of Constantine. Intensely dramatic was the scene when the delegation appeared at the session of the Council and demanded action. The ill-boding murmur of the surging crowd outside the building gave grave weight to their demands.

When Prince Czartoryski told the delegates that Constantine was ready to forgive the offenders and that the whole matter was being amicably settled, the passionate Mochnacki angrily interrupted: These are jests, sir. We did not rise for the sake of receiving kindness from Constantine! Let the Government not play comedy now. It may end in tragedy for the revolution or for its foes! The city was seething. The Government realized that it had to concede to the demands of the people, but fearing an immediate break with Russia, permitted Constantine to depart with his troops, dragging the unfortunate Lukasinski with him in chains. It was an unpardonable blunder to allow the Grand Duke to escape instead of holding him as a valuable hostage, to be released in exchange for some future political gain and it was nothing short of dastardly crime to allow the vindictive Russians to lead away with them the unselfish and heroic patriot Lukasinski.

After Constantine's departure the Polish army, with all but two of its generals, Vincent Krasinski and Kurnatowski, joined the people and the uprising of the young conspirators turned into a regular war between Poland and Russia. The remaining four ministers of the pre-revolutionary cabinet left the Administrative Council, and their places were taken by Mochnacki and three of his associates from the Patriotic Club. The new body was known* as the Provisional Government. To legalize its actions the new government ordered the convocation of the Diet and meanwhile proclaimed Chlopicki as Dictator. In his day Chlopicki had been an able and glory bedecked soldier who, because of the chicanery of Constantine, retired from the army and lived in seclusion. When called upon to lead the nation against Russia he was nearing senility, and did not possess the executive ability and resourcefulness required by the exigencies of the moment. He overestimated the power of Russia and underestimated the strength and fervor of the Polish revolutionary army. By temperament and conviction he was inveterately opposed to a war with Russia, in the success of which he did not believe, and if he insisted upon a dictatorship and accepted it, it was only because he intended to use his extraordinary powers to maintain internal peace and to save the Constitution. On assuming the great office he sent two delegates to Emperor Nicholas and awaiting a favorable reply, refused to mobilize the forces of the nation and to free Lithuania from the Russian garrisons. The people chafed under his inactivity and their erstwhile enthusiasm turned to restlessness and despair, but their faith in the Dictator was still unshaken.

Meanwhile the deputies to the Diet began to arrive at the capital and at their first session declared themselves unequivocally for war with Russia. At the same time, Chlopicki's delegates informed the Dictator that the Emperor did not care to enter into any negotiations, but. demanded unconditional surrender and complete submission to his good graces. Whereupon Chlopicki, having irretrievably wasted valuable time, resigned. On January 25, 1831, the Diet proclaimed the dethronization of Nicholas I and thus lawfully broke the personal union which existed between the Kingdom of Poland and Russia by the terms of the Vienna Congress treaty. The bond uniting the two nations was severed. The proclamation declared that "the Polish nation is an independent people and has a right to offer the Polish crown to him whom it may consider worthy, from whom it might with certainty expect faith to his oath and wholehearted respect to the sworn guarantees of. civic freedom." Five men were selected to constitute the government. They were Prince Adam Czartoryski, Chairman, Vincent Niemoyowski, the famous deputy from Kalisz, who during the preceding decade had fearlessly exposed the Russian machinations to cramp constitutional life in Poland, Theophile Stanislav Barzykowski, and the celebrated Professor Joachim Lelewel of the Wilno University. The new government set itself energetically to work at the great task imposed upon it, and soon a considerable army was mustered and equipped for action.

Chlopicki was persuaded to accept the active command of the army and Prince Michael Radziwill was made Dictator. It was too late to move the theatre of hostilities to Lithuania. By the end of January Russian forces appeared in Poland commanded by Field Marshal Deebitch. After a series of minor battles in which Dwernicki and other generals distinguished themselves, the Polish forces assembled on the right bank of the Vistula to defend the capital. On February 25th the famous battle of Grochov took place, noted for the dogged determination of the adversaries. Over seven thousand Poles fell on that field. The number of killed in the attacking army was considerably larger. The increasing assaults of the doubly strong Russian army were repeatedly repulsed and Deebitch was forced to retire to Siedlce. Warsaw was saved, and the Polish army remained triumphant and confident. Chlopicki, whose soldierly qualities reasserted themselves at the sound of battle, was wounded in action and his place taken by John Skrzynecki who, like his predecessor, had won distinction under Napoleon for personal courage and had been general of the line in the Polish army. Disliked by Grand Duke Constantine, he had retired from service and had spent his advancing years in lazy speculations over transcendental questions. He shared with Chlopicki the conviction of the futility a war with Russia, but with the opening of hostilities took command of a corps and fought creditably at Grochov. When the weak and indecisive Michael Radziwill surrendered the dictatorship, Skrzynecki was chosen to succeed him. Unfortunately, he also lacked the qualities of firmness and high generalship essential to meeting a difficult situation. He endeavored to end the war by negotiations with the Russian Field Marshal, and, in his political artlessness, hoped for benign foreign intervention. Sympathetic echoes of the Polish aspirations reverberated throughout Europe, and the astounding heroism of the Polish army won popular admiration for the country and her endeavors to free herself from oppression. Under Lafayette's presidency, enthusiastic meetings had been held in Paris. Some money for the Polish cause was also collected in the United States and flags sent to the Polish heroes. The chancelleries of France and England, however, did not share in the feelings of their people. Louis Phillippe, elevated to royal dignity by a revolutionary tide, thought but of securing for himself recognition on the part of all European governments, and Lord Palmerston was in too friendly relations with Russia at the time even to listen to Polish entreaties. Moreover, England regarded with alarm the reawakening of the French national spirit and had come to the conclusion that its policy ought to be not to weaken Russia, "as Europe might soon again require her services in the cause of order, and to prevent Poland, whom it regarded as a national ally of France, from becoming a French province of the Vistula."* Austria and particularly Prussia adopted a most hostile attitude and hampered the cause of Poland by a benevolent neutrality toward Russia. They closed the Polish frontiers and prevented the transportation of munitions of war or supplies of any kind. Under such circumstances the war with Russia began to take on a somber and disquieting aspect. No amount of devotion and sacrifice could avert the impending catastrophe. The Poles fought desperately and attempts were made to rouse Volhynia, Podolia, Zmudz and Lithuania. With the exception of the Lithuanian uprising which took on a serious aspect under ardent leadership, in which the youthful Countess Emily Plater and several other women distinguished themselves, the guerilla warfare carried on in the frontier provinces was of minor importance, and served only to give the Russians an opportunity of wreaking their vengeance on the peaceful population. Notorious was the slaughter of the inhabitants of the small town of Oszmiana in Lithuania. Meanwhile, new Russian forces under Grand Duke Michael arrived in Poland but met with many defeats. They were frequently out-manuvered by superior Polish strategy. Constant warfare, however, and bloody battles such as that at Ostrolenka in which eight thousand Poles lost their lives, considerably depleted the Polish forces and cast despondency over the country. Regrettable mistakes on the part of the commanders, constant changes and numerous resignations and above all the indolence of the Generalissimo who had not ceased to count on foreign intervention, added to the feeling of despair. The more radical elements of the community severely criticized the government for its inactivity, its lack of land reforms and the recognition of the peasants rights to the soil they tilled. By identification of their interests with the national liberty, the masses of the people could be gained for further efforts. Such a course of action was strongly indicated and there should have been no delay in adopting it. There was no time for academic discussion yet the Diet fearing lest the reactionary governments of Europe might regard the war with Russia as social revolution procrastinated and haggled over concessions. The original enthusiasm of the peasantry became dampened, and the incompetence and ineptitude of the government more apparent. The thundering denunciations of the democrats were unavailing. In the meantime, the Russian army, commanded after the death of Deebitch by General Paskievitch, was concentrating and moving in a huge semi-circle toward Warsaw. Skrzynecki failed to prevent the juncture of the enemy's forces. Popular clamor demanded his deposition. The Diet acted accordingly and General Dembinski temporarily assumed command. The atmosphere was highly charged. Severe rioting tookplace and the government became completely disorganized. Count Jan Krukowiecki was made the President of the Ruling Council. He took everything in hand with much energy and determination, but had no faith in the success of the campaign and accepted the highly responsible position to satisfy his personal ambition. He believed that when the heat of the aroused passions had subsided he could end the war on, what seemed to him, advantageous terms.

After a desperate defense by General Sowiński, Warsaw's suburb of Wola fell into Paskievitch's hands on September 6th. The next day saw the second line of the capital's defensive works attacked by the Russians. During the night of the 7th Krukowiecki capitulated, although the city still held out. He was immediately deposed by the Polish government and replaced by Bonawentura Niemoyowski. The army and the government withdrew to the fortress of Modlin, on the Vistula, subsequently renamed Novo-Georgievsk by the Russians, and then to Plock, where the dramatic climax of the war was reached. New plans had been adopted when the staggering news was received that the Polish crack corps under Ramorino, unable to join the main army, had laid down its arms by crossing the Austrian frontier into Galicia. It became evident that the war could be carried on no longer. On October 5, 1831, the Polish army of over 20,000 men crossed the Prussian frontier, and amid scenes of heart rending despair and grief laid down their arms at Brodnica in preference to submission to Russia. Only one man, a colonel by the name of Stryjenski, won the peculiar distinction of giving himself up to the grace of Russia. All the others chose voluntary exile rather than life under Russian rule. Following the example of Dombrowski of a generation before, General Bem endeavored to reorganize the Polish soldiers in Prussia and Galicia into Legions and lead them to France. The Prussian government frustrated his plans in spite of the sympathy shown by the people. The immigrants left Prussia in bands of from fifty to a hundred, and their journey through the various German lands was a "triumphal march." The population of the principalities through which they passed greeted them with enthusiasm. Banquets and festivities were given in their honor, cities were illumined, fiery speeches were made, and great hospitality was shown. Poetry vied with prose in extolling Polish heroism and patriotism. Even some of the German sovereigns, such as the King of Saxony, the Princess of Weimar and the Duke of Gotha shared in the general outburst. of sympathy. It was only upon the very insistent demands of Russia that the Polish committees all over Germany had been closed. Meanwhile, "the storm birds of the revolution flew across central Europe and brought with them the breath of freedom, awakening the feelings which were slowly taking hold of the German people and kindling in them the striving for liberty which seventeen years later found expression in deeds which shook the foundations of absolutism and reaction."

In the meantime Russia proceeded "to restore order" in the conquered country, for the possession of which she never obtained legal title. Neither the Polish Government nor the powers which signed the treaty of Vienna gave sanction to the incorporation of Poland into the Russian Empire. It was done by force of arms and had no authority under the law of nations. Until the outbreak of the present war [WW1] the country had been held by virtue of military occupancy alone. The importance of this fact cannot be underestimated in considering Poland's future status.

After the fall of the November Uprising, Polish women who emigrated to France used to wear black ribands and jewellery as a symbol of mourning for their lost homeland. Such images can be seen in the first scenes of the movie Pan Tadeusz, filmed by Andrzej Wajda in 1999, based on the Polish national epic.

See also

fr:Insurrection de Novembre pl:Powstanie listopadowe


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