Nowadays we are all aware of the fact, that the Constitution is the major document in any country. All the rights and duties of all citizens of the country are prescribed there, as well as the complete general structure of the governing forces and major policies of the state. The first Constitutions of Poland and France were signed in the same year – 1791 and had really a lot of aspects in common. At the same time the two Constitutions of Poland and France still were more different than similar to each other. Further we are going to present a brief study of the main articles of these constitutions and their social and political meanings for both countries. First of all it is necessary to mention, that both constitutions were a real historical break through, as creating a constitution is already a remarkable step in development of any country and rather innovative one. By the end of the eighteenth century Poland seemed to be a rather democratic country in comparison to its neighbors. The kings of the country were elected and the parliament of the country already had the legislative authorities.
However the executive and legislative powers were still very far from modern understanding. Actually the liberum veto in Poland gave the possibility to any deputy to stop passing of legislation and thus the government of the country proved to be rather ineffective among the other foreign governments, like that of Russia or Prussia. Realization of this fact pushed the Sejm – the parliament of Poland – to start reconsideration of constitutional conventions and making the necessary reforms in the Constitution of the country. As a result the Constitution of 1791 was signed by King Stanislaw August Poniatowski. Running a few steps forward we have to mention, that this Constitution had actually not fulfilled its actual objections and never was able to provide political and social liberties.
Almost the same situation was with the first written constitution in France, which was also adopted in 1791 and lived even shorter than that of Poland. France had also been a monarchy, which meant, that the position and powers of the king were to be considered in the new constitution. Gilbert du Montier suggested creating a kind of bicameral parliament and giving the power of veto to the king. This idea however didn’t succeed. After rather long negotiations the new Constitution was accepted by King Louis XVI in 1791. Important was, that it clearly defined the notion of sovereignty, as that belonging to people – “1. Sovereignty is one, indivisible, inalienable, and imprescriptible. It appertains to the nation; no section of the people nor any individual may assume the exercise thereof.” (Berthault, 1817). Thus the National Assembly was to present the interests of the general will, at the same time limiting the power of the government and reconsidering the organization of it.
The same like in Poland one of the main aims was proclaimed the struggle for freedom and free will and as a result a lot of institutions were abolished in France, as soon as they were considered to be harmful for liberty and equal rights policy. Another important step towards strengthening of the position of the National Assembly was the establishment of the system of recurring elections. The National Assembly was to present the legislative branch of power, whereas the king and his ministers – the executive branch. Judiciary branch was separated from both and thus was independent. For the local governing the territory of France was split into several administrative units, disregarding the former feudal divisions. The government of Poland was also divided into two chambers – a Chamber of Deputies and a Chamber of Senators with the king as the head of it. The Chamber of Deputies as well as the National Assembly in France was responsible to the legislation, thus considering and accepting general constitutional, civil criminal laws and so on.
In the Constitution of France of 1791 there was already a rather clear definition of an individual, who could be considered to have the French citizenship: “Those born in France of a French father; those who, born in France of a foreign father, have established their residence in the kingdom; those who, born in a foreign country of a French father, have established themselves in France and have taken the civic oath;” (Berthault, 1817). People, born in a different country, but from a French woman or a French man, who emigrated because of religious reasons were able to come back to France as citizens of the country as well after taking the civic oath. Foreigners, who wanted to become French citizens were to live continuously for five years in the country and found any agricultural or commercial establishment, and of course to take the civic oath. In the polish Constitution there was also an article regarding the citizens of Poland “We desire to maintain in its entirety, and declare to be part of this Constitution, the law passed at the present sejm under the title, Our Free Royal Cities in the States of the Commonwealth, as a law that provides new, genuine and effective force to the free Polish nobility for the security of their liberties and the integrity of our common country.” (Sanford, 2002).
In the Constitution of Poland was a separate article devoted to the definition of the state religion of the country. It stated, that the sacred Roman Catholic faith and all its laws should become the dominant national religion. Nowadays, such article would probably be seen as a kind of violation of religious freedom of the citizens and their free choice of religion. Certainly if to take in consideration the power of Church in Poland of those times, this is evident, that at that moment such article could not be considered as breaking any of the liberty principles. The religion in France was also actually Catholic, but there was no separate article in their Constitution of 1791 defining it as the only state religion.
Overall, we can conclude here, that although rather often compared to each other, the Constitutions of 1791 in Poland and France have similar basis, but enough differences. Under similar basis here we understand the need of serious political and social changes in both countries by the eighteenth century, the general direction to developing and widening of social liberties and freedom, distribution of major state powers and at least gradual limiting of the monarchial power. However, the main differences between the two constitutions lie in the contributions of powers, namely in the French system the separation of powers was more formal than real, because the actual boundaries between the branches were rather unclear. Whereas in Poland the legislative, executive and juridical powers were clearly separated and then assigned to different state ruling organs.