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November Uprising

The November Uprising (1830–1831)—also known as the Cadet Revolution—was an armed rebellion against the rule of the Russian Empire in Poland and Lithuania. The uprising began on November 29, 1830 in Warsaw when a group of young non-commissioned officer conspirators from the Imperial Russian Army's military academy in Warsaw directed by Piotr Wysocki revolted. They were soon joined by large parts of Polish society. Despite several local successes, the uprising was eventually crushed by a numerically superior Russian army under Ivan Paskevich.

Poland before the uprising

After the Partitions of Poland, Poland ceased to exist as an independent political entity. However, the Napoleonic Wars and Polish participation in the wars against Russia and Austria resulted in the creation of a rump Duchy of Warsaw. The Congress of Vienna brought the existence of that state to an end as well and essentially divided Poland between Russia, Prussia and the Habsburg Empire. Austria-Hungary annexed some territories in the South, Prussia took control over the semi-autonomous Grand Duchy of Poznań in the West, and Russia assumed hegemony over the semi-autonomous so-called Congress Kingdom.

Initially, the Congress Kingdom enjoyed a relatively large amount of internal autonomy and was only indirectly subject to Russian rule. United with Russia through a personal union, with the Tsar as King of Poland, the Polish estates could elect their own parliament (the Sejm) and government, and the kingdom had its own courts, army and treasury. Over time, however, the freedoms granted to the Kingdom were gradually curtailed and the constitution was progressively ignored by the Russian authorities. Alexander I of Russia was never formally crowned as King of Poland. Instead, he appointed Grand Duke Konstantin Pavlovich as governor-general of Poland, disregarding the constitution.

Very soon after the Congress of Vienna resolutions were signed, Russia ceased to respect them. In 1819 Alexander I abandoned liberty of the press in Congress Kingdom and introduced preventative censorship. Russian secret police commanded by Nikolay Nikolayevich Novosiltsev started persecution of Polish secret organizations and in 1821 the Tsar ordered the abolition of freemasonry. After 1825 sessions of Polish Sejm were secret.

Despite numerous protests by various Polish politicians who actively supported the personal union, Grand Duke Konstantin had no intention of observing the constitution, one of the most progressive in Europe at that time. He persecuted Polish social and patriotic organizations, the liberal opposition of the Kaliszanie faction, and replaced Poles with Russians in important administrative positions. 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. These frictions led to various conspiracies throughout the country, most notably within the army.

Outbreak

The armed struggle began when a group of conspirators led by a young cadet from the Warsaw officers' school, Piotr Wysocki, took arms from their garrison on 29 November 1830 and attacked the Belweder Palace, the main seat of the Grand Duke. The final 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 would have been a clear violation of the Polish constitution. The rebels managed to enter the residence, but Grand Duke Constantine escaped in women's clothing. The rebels then turned to the main city arsenal, capturing it after a brief struggle. The following day armed Polish civilians forced the Russian troops out of Warsaw, causing them to withdraw to the north of the city. This incident is sometimes called the Warsaw Uprising or November Night (Noc listopadowa).

The uprising

Taken by surprise by the rapid unfolding of events during the night of 29 November, the local Polish government (Administrative Council) assembled immediately to take control and to decide on a course of action. Unpopular ministers were removed and men like Prince Adam Jerzy Czartoryski, the historian Julian Ursyn Niemcewicz and General Józef Chłopicki took their places. Loyalists led by Prince Czartoryski initially tried to negotiate with Grand Duke Constantine and to settle matters peacefully. However, when Czartoryski told the Council that Constantine was ready to forgive the offenders and that the matter would be amicably settled, Maurycy Mochnacki and other radicals angrily objected and demanded a national uprising. Fearing an immediate break with Russia, the Government agreed to let Constantine depart with his troops.

Mochnacki did not trust the newly constituted ministry and set out to substitute in its place the Patriotic Club, organized by him. At a large public demonstration on 3 December in Warsaw, he denounced the negotiations between the Government and Grand Duke Constantine who was encamped outside the city. Mochnacki advocated a military campaign in Lithuania so as to spare the country the devastation of war and to shield the native sources of food supply. The meeting adopted a number of demands to be communicated to the Administrative Council, including the establishment of a revolutionary government and an immediate attack upon the forces of Constantine. The Polish army, with all but two of its generals, Wincenty Krasiński and Zygmunt Kurnatowski, now joined the uprising.

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 -- among them Joachim Lelewel. The new body was known as the Provisional Government. To legalize its actions the Provisional Government ordered the convocation of the Sejm and on 5 December 1830 proclaimed Chłopicki as Dictator of the Uprising. Chłopicki considered the uprising an act of madness, but bowed to strong pressure and consented to take command temporarily, in the hope that it would be unnecessary to take the field. An able and highly decorated soldier, he had retired from the army because of the chicanery of Constantine. He overestimated the power of Russia and underestimated the strength and fervor of the Polish revolutionary movement. By temperament and conviction he was opposed to a war with Russia, in the success of which he did not believe. He accepted the dictatorship essentially in order to maintain internal peace and to save the Constitution.

Believing that Tsar Nicholas was unaware of his brother's actions and that the uprising could be ended if the Russian authorities accepted the Constitution, Chłopicki's first move was to send Count Franciszek Ksawery Drucki-Lubecki to Saint Petersburg to negotiate. Chłopicki refrained from strengthening the Polish army and refused to initiate armed hostilities by expelling Russian forces from Lithuania. However, the radicals in Warsaw pressed for war and the complete liberation of Poland. On 13 December, the Sejm pronounced the National Uprising against Russia, and on 7 January 1831 Count Drucki-Lubecki returned from Russia with no concessions. The Tsar demanded the complete and unconditional surrender of Poland and announced that the Poles should surrender to the grace of their Emperor. His plans foiled, Chłopicki resigned the following day.

Power in Poland was now in the hands of the radicals united in the Towarzystwo Patriotyczne (Patriotic Society) led by Joachim Lelewel. On 25 January 1831, the Sejm passed the Act of Dethronization of Nicholas I, which ended the Polish-Russian personal union and was equivalent to a declaration of war on Russia. 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."

On 29 January, the National Government of Adam Jerzy Czartoryski was established, and Michał Gedeon Radziwiłł was chosen as successor to Chłopicki. Chłopicki was persuaded to accept active command of the army.

The Russo-Polish war

It was too late to move the theatre of hostilities to Lithuania. Within days, a 115,000 strong Russian army under Field Marshal Hans Karl Friedrich Anton, Count von Diebitsch crossed the Polish borders. The first major battle took place on 14 February 1831, near the village of Stoczek near Łuków. In the Battle of Stoczek, 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 subsequent battles of Dobre, Wawer and Białołęka were inconclusive.

The Polish forces then assembled on the right bank of the Vistula to defend the capital. On 25 February, a Polish contingent of approximately 40,000 met a Russian force of 60,000 east of Warsaw, in the Battle of Olszynka Grochowska. Both armies withdrew after almost two days of heavy fighting and with considerable losses on both sides. Over 7,000 Poles fell on that field, and the number of killed in the Russian army was considerably larger. Diebitsch was forced to retreat to Siedlce. Warsaw was saved.

Chłopicki, whose soldierly qualities reasserted themselves at the sound of battle, was wounded in action and his place taken by General Jan Skrzynecki who, like his predecessor, had won distinction under Napoleon for personal courage. Disliked by Grand Duke Constantine, he had retired from service. 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 Michał Radziwiłł surrendered the dictatorship, Skrzynecki was chosen to succeed him. He endeavored to end the war by negotiations with the Russian field commanders and hoped for benign foreign intervention.

Sympathetic echoes of the Polish aspirations were reverberating throughout Europe. Under Lafayette's chairmanship, enthusiastic meetings had been held in Paris. Some money for the Polish cause was also collected in the United States. The governments of France and England, however, did not share in the feelings of their people. King Louis-Philippe of France thought mainly of securing for himself recognition on the part of all European governments, and Lord Palmerston was in friendly relations with Russia. England regarded with alarm the reawakening of the French national spirit and did not wish 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 Prussia adopted a position of benevolent neutrality toward Russia. They closed the Polish frontiers and prevented the transportation of munitions of war or supplies of any kind.

Under these circumstances the war with Russia began to take on a somber and disquieting aspect. The Poles fought desperately and attempts were made to rouse Volhynia, Podolia, Samogitia and Lithuania. With the exception of the Lithuanian uprising, in which the youthful Countess Emilia 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 Russia an opportunity to crush local risings. 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. Constant warfare, however, and bloody battles such as that at Ostrołęka in which 8,000 Poles lost their lives, considerably depleted the Polish forces. Mistakes on the part of the commanders, constant changes and numerous resignations, and the indolence of the Generalissimo who continued to hope for foreign intervention, added to the feeling of despair.

The more radical elements severely criticized the government not only for its inactivity, but also its lack of land reform and its failure to recognize the peasants’ rights to the soil they tilled. But the Sejm, fearing that the governments of Europe might regard the war with Russia as social revolution, procrastinated and haggled over concessions. The initial enthusiasm of the peasantry waned, and the ineptitude of the government became more apparent.

In the meantime, the Russian forces, commanded after the death of Diebitsch by General Paskievitch, were moving to encircle Warsaw. Skrzynecki failed to prevent the Russian forces from joining, and Sejm responded to popular clamor for his deposition by appointing General Dembinski to temporary command. The atmosphere was highly charged. Severe rioting took place and the government became completely disorganized. Count Jan Krukowiecki was made President of the Ruling Council. He had little faith in the success of the military campaign, but believed that when the heat of the passions had subsided he could end the war on, what seemed to him, advantageous terms.

Despite desperate defense by General Józef Sowiński, Warsaw's suburb of Wola fell to Paskievitch's forces on 6 September. The next day saw the second line of the capital's defensive works attacked by the Russians. During the night of the 7 September Krukowiecki capitulated, although the city still held out. He was immediately deposed by the Polish government and replaced by Bonawentura Niemojowski. The army and the government withdrew to the Modlin fortress, on the Vistula, subsequently renamed Novo-Georgievsk by the Russians, and then to Płock. New plans had been adopted when the news arrived that the Polish crack corps under Ramorino, unable to join the main army, had laid down its arms after crossing the Austrian frontier into Galicia. It became evident that the war could be carried on no longer.

On 5 October 1831, the remainder of the Polish army of over 20,000 men crossed the Prussian frontier and laid down arms at Brodnica in preference to submission to Russia. Only one man, a colonel by the name of Stryjenski, gained the peculiar distinction of giving himself up to Russia.

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, but the Prussian government frustrated his plans. The immigrants left Prussia in bands of between fifty and a hundred, and their journey through the various German lands was greeted with enthusiasm by the population of the principalities through which they passed. 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 to be closed.

Postscript

Adam Czartoryski remarked that the war with Russia, precipitated by the rising of young patriots in November 1830, came either too early or too late. Some writers argue that the rising should have been initiated in 1828 when Russia was experiencing reverses in Turkey and was least able to spare substantial forces for war with Poland. Many military critics, among them the foremost Russian writer, General Puzyrevsky, maintained that in spite of the inequality of resources of the two countries, Poland had had every chance of holding her own against Russia, had the campaign been managed skillfully. Russia sent over 180,000 well trained men against Poland's 70,000, 30% 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."

It had long been argued in Poland that anarchy and lack of concord were the causes of national downfall. When the rising finally began, thus, people demanded absolute power for their leaders and tolerated no criticism -- afraid that discord would again prove ruinous. Unfortunately the men chosen to lead because of their past achievements proved unable to perform the great task expected of them. Moreover, many apparently had little faith that their effort could succeed.

Militarily, Poland might have succeeded if the line of battle had been established in Lithuania and if the Russian forces arriving in Poland had been dealt with separately and decisively.

After the end 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.

The Scottish poet Thomas Campbell who had championed the cause of the Poles in The Pleasures of Hope, was so affected by the news of the capture of Warsaw by the Russians in 1831 as if it had been the deepest of personal calamities. "Poland preys on my heart night and day", he wrote in one of his letters, and his sympathy found a practical expression in the foundation in London of the Association of the Friends of Poland.

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