Constitution of May 3, 1791
The Constitution of May 3, 1791 was adopted as a "Government Act" (Polish: Ustawa rządowa) on that date by the Sejm
The Sejm is the lower house of the Polish parliament. The Sejm is made up of 460 deputies, or Poseł in Polish . It is elected by universal ballot and is presided over by a speaker called the Marshal of the Sejm ....

A parliament is a legislature, especially in those countries whose system of government is based on the Westminster system modeled after that of the United Kingdom. The name is derived from the French , the action of parler : a parlement is a discussion. The term came to mean a meeting at which...

) of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. Historian Norman Davies
Norman Davies
Professor Ivor Norman Richard Davies FBA, FRHistS is a leading English historian of Welsh descent, noted for his publications on the history of Europe, Poland, and the United Kingdom.- Academic career :...

 calls it "the first constitution
A constitution is a set of fundamental principles or established precedents according to which a state or other organization is governed. These rules together make up, i.e. constitute, what the entity is...

 of its type in Europe"; other scholars also refer to it as the world's second oldest constitution. It was in effect for only a year, until the Russo-Polish War of 1792.

The May 3rd Constitution was designed to redress long-standing political defects of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and its traditional system of "Golden Liberty
Golden Liberty
Golden Liberty , sometimes referred to as Golden Freedoms, Nobles' Democracy or Nobles' Commonwealth refers to a unique aristocratic political system in the Kingdom of Poland and later, after the Union of Lublin , in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth...

" conveying disproportionate rights and privileges to the nobility
Nobility is a social class which possesses more acknowledged privileges or eminence than members of most other classes in a society, membership therein typically being hereditary. The privileges associated with nobility may constitute substantial advantages over or relative to non-nobles, or may be...


"… founded principally on those of England and the United States of America, but avoiding the faults and errors of both, and adapt[ed] as much as possible to the local and particular circumstances of the country."

King Stanis&322;aw August, according to a contemporary American newspaper account; describing the May 3rd Constitution

"[It is] the noblest benefit ever received by any nation at any time. […] Stanislas II has earned a place among the greatest kings and statesmen in history."

Edmund Burke, in response to Prussia|Prussian statesman Ewald von Hertzberg's expression of the fears of European conservatives: "[The Poles] have given the coup de grâce to the Prussian monarchy by voting a constitution. […] How can we defend our state… against a numerous and well-governed nation?"

"… the last will and testament of the expiring Fatherland."

Hugo Ko&322;&322;&261;taj and Ignacy Potocki, two of the Constitution's authors, writing in exile after the Targowica Confederation's victory