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Cracow Revolution 1846

Cracow Revolution 1846, a military uprising against Austria in the Cracow Republic [Rzeczpospolita Krakowska], planned for the night of February 20, 1846 as part of an all-Polish uprising prepared by the Polish Democratic Society and secret revolutionary organizations in Poland. As a result of revealing the conspiracy, the uprising did not come into effect in the Prussian and the Russian sectors of Poland. On February 18-19 the Austrian troops seized the Cracow Republic to prevent an outbreak of the uprising; the struggles with them were initiated by several hundred peasants from the Cracow region and miners from Jaworzna; as a result, Austrians were ousted from Chrzanów and Krzeszowice. On 20 February fights also began in Cracow, with the massive participation of the urban proletariat and artisans, intending to get rid not only of the Austrians but also of the local aristocracy and rich bourgeoisie; on February 22, harassed by the attacks of the insurgents and fearful of being bes ieged, the Austrian corps of general Collin, left Cracow for a neighboring Podgórze; power was taken over by the insurgents and by the National Government of the Polish Republic [Rzad Narodowy Rzeczpospolitej Polskiej] (Ludwik J. Gorzkowski, Aleksander Grzegorzewski and Jan Józef Tyssowski). The Government issued Manifest do Narodu Polskiego [A Manifesto to the Polish Nation] calling the Poles to rise against the partitioning powers and promising, among others, enfranchise ment of the peasants, abolition of the corvée, and rewards in land from the national properties for the landless peasants who would participate in the uprising. The Manifest found a receptive ground in the Cracow Republic; both urban and rural proletariat as well as a part of the Jewish population reported for active service in the revolutionary troops; within three days their number reached about six thousand people. On February 24, as a result of misunderstandings within the governmen t, Tyssowski dissolved the government and declared himself dictator of the revolution; together with other members of the national government, he sought a compromise with the local conservative nobility and was not willing to conscript all who reported; on February 24, Edward Dembowski arrived in Cracow, heading a group of miners from the nearby salt mine in Wieliczka, assumed the position of Tyssowski's secretary, soon gained an advantage over the dictator and became the actual leader of the revolut ion. In order to influence the masses directly, Dembowski formed a revolutionary club; in the name of Tyssowski he promised a foundation of national workshops offering high wages and abolishing some taxes on basic articles; he threatened with death those who delayed the abolition of the corvée; and set high penalties for speculators and panic-mongers; his main concern was to merge the anti-feudal movement in Galician villages with the revolution against the Austrians; his agents followed these same lines. In the Cracow region, where peasants cooperated with the revolution, the agitation was successful; in the Bochnia and Wadowice communities villagers took a wait-and-see attitude; but in the Tarnów region, where Austrian agitation outpaced the revolution, peasants attacked manors under the veil of a fight against the revolution. Thus the Cracow Manifest did not mobilize the peasant masses in Galicia to support the Cracow Republic, except for the very region of Cracow; on Febr uary 26, a revolutionary detachment under Colonel Adam Suchorzewski was defeated at Gdów by Austrian troops commanded by L. von Benedek; on February 27, Edward Dembowski was killed by the Austrian troops, while heading a procession from Cracow to establish contact with the rebelling peasants; on March 4, Tyssowski's military detachment of about 1,500 insurgents, lay down arms at the Prussian border; Cracow was taken over by the Russian troops; on November 6, the Cracow Republic was incorporate d into Austria; Polish institutions were replaced by Austrian, with German-speaking civil servants; German was introduced as the language of instruction at Jagiellonian University; incorporation into the Austrian custom zone and numerous plagues caused a sudden economic crisis, an increase in the cost of living and poverty. After the collapse of the Cracow Republic the Austrian authorities began to suppress mercilessly any attempt of the peasants to get rid of feudal duties. The conspiracy, seriously weakened by the events of 1846, continued to exist in Cracow, supported by the proletariat; in the province, the conspirators feared another jacquerie and gave up agitation among the peasants. The collapse of the 1846 revolution and the peasants' jacquerie challenged the role of the Polish politicians outside the country as a leading political force; they were more and more detached from the situation in partitioned Poland. Diplomatic efforts undertaken by the Hotel Lambert did not bring success; in November 1846 Palmerston, and in December that year Guizot, sent through their diplomatic representatives in East European capitals weak protests against the incorporation of the Cracow Republic into Austria, which, however, did not change the status quo. Soon after the events of the Cracow revolution Russia and Austria came out with a demand to the French government of strengthening supervision over the Polish emigration in France; thanks to the pro-Polish attitude of a large part of French public o pinion, the postulates were not realized. The Cracow revolution, merging the struggle for national independence with the struggle for social reforms was highly honored by the European Left. Marx and Engels referred to the Cracow revolution in the Communist Manifesto; "Among the Poles Communists support a party which considers an agrarian revolution a condition of a national salvation, the same party which evoked the Cracow Revolution." The collapse of the Cracow revolution hampered t he conspiracies in partitioned Poland; most leaders ended up in prisons, others emigrated. In 1847 in Berlin 254 members of the Polish conspiracy were tried; eight of them were sentenced to death and ninety-seven to prison; thanks to the outbreak of the March revolution in Berlin, the sentences were not executed.

Jolanta T. Pekacz


J. Bieniarzówna, Z dziejów liberalnego i konspiracyjnego Krakowa. Cracow, 1948.

S. Kieniewicz, Ruch chlopski w Galicji w 1846 roku. Wroclaw, 1951.

B. Limanowski, Historia ruchu rewolucyjnego w Polsce w 1846 r. Cracow, 1913.

M. Szarota, Die letzten Tage der Republik Krakau. Breslau, 1911.

M. Zychowski, Rok 1846 w Rzeczpospolitej Krakowskiej i Galicji. Warsaw, 1956.

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Holly Johnston revised this file ( on February 18, 1997.

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© 1997 James Chastain.