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Polish Democratic Society

Polish Democratic Society (Towarzystwo Demokratyczne Polskie), republican-democratic organization of the Polish Great Emigration, founded in Paris on March 17, 1832 by Adam Gurowski, Jan Nepomucen Janowski, Tadeusz Krepowiecki, Ignacy Romuald Pluzanski and the reverend Aleksander Kazimierz Pulaski, shortly after the collapse of the November Uprising in Poland 1831, as a result of a split within the Polish National Committee (Komitet Narodowy Polski) organized by Joachim Lelewel and aiming at theunification of all Polish emigrants. The "Foundation Act" (Akt zalozenia) of the society, known later as the "Maly Manifest" (Little Manifesto), advocated abolition of privileges of the higher social classes in Poland, condemned the noble leaders of the November Uprising and saw its collapse as a result of a lack of correspondence between the struggle for independence and the struggle for social freedom. Despite its radical, anti-noble slogans, the content of the foundation act was too vague toserve as a political and ideological guideline; efforts to define precisely the purposes of the society were undertaken by its members in the following years and resulted in numerous pamphlets and addresses, e.g. "Odezwa do obywateli zollierzy" (Appeal to citizen soldiers) (1832); Krótkikatechizm polityczny (A short political catechism) by J.N. Janowski(1833); Akt potepienia Czartoryskiego (An Act of Czartoryski's condemnation). In Protestacja przeciw traktatom od 1772 do 1815 rozszarpujacym Polske (Protestation against treaties from 1772 to 1815 tearing Poland apart) issued on May 8, 1832, the society acknowledged as lawless all international treaties confirming the partitions of Poland and advocated the necessity of rebuilding an independent Polish state within its borders of 1772.

Initially, the society had the character of a political club (in 1832 it had only fifty two members; in 1833 about three hundred and did not count in the political scene of the Polish emigration; with the numerical growth of its membership in the provincial towns of France (e.g. in November 1834 it had almost eight hundred members; in 1838 about a thousand four hundred the society became a powerful political force in the Polish emigration. The society was headed at first by the Parisian Committee (Komitet Paryski), and from July 1832 by a periodically elected governing body called the Centralizacja; the members of the first Centralizacja (W. Heltman, W. Darasz and T. Malinowski) represented the liberal wing of the society. The society was organized in sections, with the central role played by the section in Paris (by November 1834), and then in Poitiers, in England, in the United States, and after 1849 in Szumla (Bulgaria).

Political discussions and struggles within the society, especially between the Parisian committee, gathering radicals (Krepowiecki) and the Poitiers section; resulted in the radicals' leaving the society in 1834; in 1835 one hundred thirty eight left-wing members left the society and founded Gromady Ludu Polskiego (Groups of the Polish People): Grudziaz and Humań. On December 4, 1836 the society announced its new program, the so-called Wielki Manifest (Great Manifesto), known also as the Poitiers Manifesto (written mainly by Wiktor Heltman) which emphasized that the struggle for Polish national independence be connected with the struggle for social reforms, and be accomplished by the Poles themselves; it advocated private property as a principle of social relationships, abolition of corvée and enfranchisement of peasants; it threatened the nobility with a peasant revolution if the nobility opposed these reforms; emphasized the importance of international cooperation of all progressive social forces; the manifesto was critical of Czartoryski's exclusively diplomatic efforts to regain an independent Poland. The manifesto was an attempt to accommodate the conflicting interests of the nobility and the peasantry; the further history of the society illustrated the struggle of these two interests.

Beginning in 1837 the society entered the period of its most fruitful activity, both in Poland and abroad; (in 1848 it had two thousand one hundred five members); after 1837 it published a more or less regular weekly, Demokrata Polski (Polish Democrat); 1837-1841 a theoretical journal Pismo Towarzystwa Demokratycznego Polskiego (A Journal of Polish Democratic Society); 1835-43 "Przeglad Dziejów Polskich" (A Review of Polish History); 1839-1844 a satirical journal "Pszonka" (Pilewort). The society was involved in the preparations for the uprisings in Poland in 1846 and 1848.

At the same time, liberal rather than revolutionary tendencies began to dominate the society, which opposed agitation among the peasantry in Poland in favor of a rather limited noble conspiracy, or a revolution guided by the nobility; consequently, it did not gain any influence on the events of 1846-1848 in Poland. The collapse of revolutionary movements affected the society and in a sense meant a bankruptcy of its political program. In the fall of 1849 the most radical members of the society (Worcell, Darasz) were expelled from Paris and its headquarters was moved from France to London; in Paris, Mieros_awski gathered around him representatives of the right wing of the society. In 1840-50 the society issued numerous brochures and pamphlets discussing ideological questions (e.g. Prawda a praca (The truth and the work); Co przed nami (What awaits us); Rewolucja i Polska (Revolution and Poland)); nevertheless, the society did not propose any program relevant to the new conditions, gradually losing its influence on the Polish political scene; in 1852 it established contacts with A.I. Herzen; its ideology at that time was radical, but detached from the situation in Poland. In the 1850s the society underwent a crisis, especially after the split made by Ludwik Mieroslawski in France in 1853, and the death of Stanislaw Worcell in 1857; it formally ceased to exist on May 16, 1862.

The society was the most important political organization of the Great Emigration. Although the number of its members varied and rarely exceeded two thousand in any single year, fluidity of its membership was very high and altogether about four thousand four hundred fifty were members of the society throughout its history, i.e. almost half of all Polish emigrants.

Jolanta T. Pekacz


B. Baczko, Poglady spoleczno-polityczne i filozoficzne Towarzystwa Demokratycznego Polskiego. Warsaw, 1955.

W. Heltman and J.N. Janowski, Demokracja polska na emigracji, ed. H. Rzadkowska. Warsaw, 1965.

S. Kalembka, Towarzystwo Demokratyczne Polskie w latach 1832-1846. Torun, 1966.

B. Limanowski, Historia demokracji polskiej w epoce porozbiorowej. Warsaw, 1957.

H. Rzadkowska, Dzialalnosc Centralizacji Londynskiej Towarzystwa Demokratycznego Polskiego 1850-1862. Krakow, 1971.

M. Tyrowicz, Towarzystwo Demokratyczne Polskie 1832-63. Przywódcy i kadry czlonkowskie. Przewodnik bibliograficzny. Warsaw, 1964.

J. Zmigrodzki, Towrzystwo Demokratyczne Polskie (1832-1862). vols. (1832-1835); IB (1836-1837). London, 1983.

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