Page images
PDF
EPUB

fered from internal dissensions; both were attacked by the refugees from their own country, under the banners of foreign monarchs; both suffered from the hesitancy of inefficient kings; both contended with the greatest financial difficulties ; but in France there existed a free yeomanry, a free class of mechanics, a free, numerous, and cultivated order of citizens; while in Poland, there was almost no intermediate class between the nobility and the serfs. In that lies the secret of the different issue of their struggles. Poland was the victim of the American revolution ; France its monument. Poland was erased from among the nations of the earth; while France put forth a gigantic strength in the triumphant defence of its nationality. Poland, brightly though it had shone for ages in the eastern heavens, was blotted out, while the star of France, rising in a lurid sky, through clouds of blood, was at length able to unveil the peerless light of liberty, and lead the host of modern states in the high career of civil improvement.

After the victories of Napoleon over Prussia, the peace of Tilsit restored a portion of Poland to an independent existence as a Grand Dutchy. The loss of national existence, and the disgust at submitting to foreign forms, had excited discontent; and the race still lived, which had witnessed the two last partitions of their country. Napoleon's answer to the Polish deputies, " that he was willing to see if the Poles still deserved to be a nation," resounded through the provinces; and troops assembled hastily between the Vistula and the Niemen. But in Posen, the French emperor set Austria at rest as to Galicia ; and when he became the personal friend of Alexander, nothing could be wrested from Russia. Thus the relations of Napoleon enabled him to dispose only of Polish Prussia ; and of that, Bialystock was ceded to the Czar, while Prussia still retained a territory sufficient to connect East-Prussia with Brandenburgh. Thus the new Grand Dutchy of Warsaw, under the hereditary sway of the Saxon king, and constituting a portion of the French empire, contained but less than twenty-nine thousand square miles, and less than two and a half millions of inhabitants. Its constitution was given, July 22, 1807. Slavery was abolished, and equality before the law decreed. Two chambers were created, and a diet was to be convened at least once in two years, for fifteen days. The initiative of laws belonged to the Grand Duke; the chamber of deputies was to be renewed, one-third every three years. The code of Napoleon was made the law of the land.

In the peace of 1809, the Grand Dutchy was increased by further restorations from Austria ; though Russia took advantage of that emergency to demand from its Austrian ally, also a territory of great value, with a population of four hundred thousand souls.

The great expedition against Russia, in 1812, was called by Napoleon his second Polish war. It was his professed object to restrain Russia, and to circumscribe her limits. A proclamation to the Poles promised the restoration of their state, with larger boundaries even than under their last king; and the Poles rose with their wonted enthusiasm. It was a point of honour with their young men to serve in the army; the middling class would accept no pay, while the rich lavished their fortunes, and the women their ornaments, for the defence and restoration of their nation.

Yet, when in June, Napoleon entered Wilna, the Lithuanians showed little disposition to unite with their brethren of Warsaw; and the emperor's answers, as to the future condition of Poland, were too vague to inspire confidence. The eventual defeat of Napoleon, brought the Russians into the pursuit, and the Grand Dutchy was occupied by their armies.

In the close of 1814, the fate of Poland was at issue on the deliberations of the congress of Vienna. While Prussia demanded the cession of all Saxony, Russia claimed Poland, including Austrian Galicia. Encountering strong opposition, the emperor Alexander in his turn formed a Polish army, and issued a proclamation to the Poles, inviting them to arm under his auspices for the defence of their country, and the preservation of their political independence, while Austria, Great Britain, and France, formed a treaty for resistance. But for the return of Napoleon from Elba, the congress of Vienna would probably have issued in a war between its members. A compromise ensued, it conformity with which, Russia retained nearly all which in had gained of Prussia in the peace of Tilsit, and of Austria in 1809, and further acquired all the Grand Dutchy of Warsaw, except Posen, which fell to Prussia, and Cracau, which was left in neutral independence. Constitutions were promised to the respective parts, and have been, after a manner, conceded.

The constitution issued for Poland, November 27, 1815, by the emperor Alexander, was an attempt to conciliate the liberal sympathies of the people. Religious equality, freedom of the press, security of personal liberty against arbitrary procedures, the responsibility of all magistrates, and an assurance of all civil and military offices in Poland to Poles, were the leading features of the compact. The power of making treaties, of declaring war, of controlling the armed force, and of pardoning, was assured to the king; but all his commands were to be countersigned by a minister, who should be held responsible in case of any violation of the constitution. The diet, composed of two chambers, was to be assembled once in two years; the king had the initiative and a veto.

At the opening of the diet, April 27, 1817, Alexander de

clared his intention of gradually introducing into his immense empire, the salutary influence of liberal institutions; and promised security of persons, and of property, and freedom of opinions. “Representatives of Poland,” said he, rise to the elevation on which destiny has placed you. You are called upon to give a sublime example to Europe, whose eye is fixed upon you.” The Poles have in this latest period of their existence, shown no reluctance to be true to themselves and to the world ; but the revolution of Spain, and Naples, and Greece, struck terror into the cabinet of Alexander, and led him to abandon the sympathies which he had professed for ameliorated forms of government. Accordingly, by an arbitrary decree, February 13, 1825, he abolished the publicity of the assemblies of the diet, and taught the Poles the true value of an apparently liberal form of government, of which the fundamental principles might be altered according to the caprices or the fears of an individual.

We have thus endeavoured, by a careful reference to numerous and exact authorities, to which we have had access, to give some historical explanations of the present Polish question. It seems plain, that there is little room to hope for the re-establishment of Polish independence. The provinces belonging to Austria, have most of them been under the Austrian rule for nearly sixty years; and so, too, a large portion of Polish Prussia has belonged to the Prussian monarchy, since 1773. The still larger parts, which have been incorporated into the Russian monarchy, seem to have learnt acquiescence in their condition. A kindred dialect, and a sort of national relationship, have always rendered Russian supremacy more tolerable to the Polish provinces, than that of the dynasty of Hapsburg, or the court of Berlin. It is only in that portion of Poland, where, by the establishment of the Grand Dutchy of Warsaw under Napoleon, and by the erection of a nominally independent kingdom, a spirit of irritation and change has fostered the honourable passion for national existence, that the present revolution has been supported with enthusiasm. The world will do honour to this last effort of determined patriotism ; but the liberties of Poland will be reconquered only by the gradual progress of the moral power of free-opinions, which is advancing in the majesty of its strength over the ruins of centuries and the graves of nations.

Art. IX.

A Historical View of the Government of Maryland, from its Colonization to the present day. By John V. L. M'Mahon. Baltimore: 1831. Vol. 1. pp. 539.

The history of Maryland under the proprietary government is little known, says our author, even to her own people. Yet, as that government was the mould of her present institutions, the school of discipline for her revolutionary men, it is to its history we must go back for just notions of both. The revolution was not wrought by a few master minds, miraculously born for the occasion, but was the natural development of a train of causes which leave us less surprised at our ancestors' manful and accordant resistance of usurpation, than at the strange ignorance of them which seems to have begot the unwise designs of the mother country,

Montesquieu has observed, with his usual antithesis, “In the infancy of societies, it is the leaders that create the institutions; afterwards, it is the institutions which make the leaders.” Perhaps, the former event has in truth happened less often than received history would persuade us. The more dim the dawn of tradition, the oftener we find ascribed to the Lycurguses, the Numas, the Alfreds, either such original establishments or such fundamental changes as would seem to have created the civil or religious polity of their people anew. We know not how much they were indebted to precedent and concurrent circumstances; and thus obscurity may magnify their renown, as distant objects, according to a figure of our author's, are exaggerated to the eye in a misty morning. The vulgar, who do not trouble themselves with cavils, resolve the result they perceive into the effort of some moral hero, just as the Greeks referred to Hercules the feats which transcended the ordinary limits of physical prowess.

The same thing takes place in a less degree, at periods whose history is more authentically written. The leaders of revolutions may transmute, so to speak, into personal merit, some of the results which, more narrowly considered, are referrible to the pervading spirit and general movement of the occasion. To weigh justly these elements of their renown, is not invidiously to derogate from it, but only to vindicate the truth of history. It still leaves them the highest merit to which, perhaps, the leaders in any kind of reform can truly lay claim, that of seizing the spirit of their age, and employing and directing it with a just energy and discernment. As it has been said that Luther might have ineffectually preached the Reformation in the twelfth century, and Napoleon, if he had not been, in fact, but “the little corporal,” might have been no more than a leader of Condottieri in the fourteenth ; so our revolutionary sages could hardly, in the VOL. IX.-NO. 18.

62

circumstances of the crisis, and amidst the men of the age, have been other than what they were. Though they fought in the van of the war, they had, however, their Triarii to sustain them, a nation, namely, accustomed to the discipline of liberty. The wave of opinion rolled high, and they had the praise of launching their barks on it, with strength and skill indeed, but yet with a propitious gale and a favouring current. The notices in the volume before us, of the character and history of the colonists of Maryland, show how the principles of liberty which they brought with them to “this rough, uncultivated world,” (such is their own description of it, they maintained with a uniform constancy and understanding. Though colonial dependence has seldom been less burdensome in point of fact than in their case, the abstract doctrines of political right were not on that account guarded with the less vigilance. Thus, in our author's language, “they were fitted for self-government before it came, and when it came, it sat lightly and familiarly upon them;" the first moments of its adoption being marked with little or none of that anarchy and licentiousness which mostly deform political emancipations. Their institutions had moulded them; a conclusion not more apparent from our colonial and revolutionary history, than apposite for estimating at least the immediate results of revolutions effected under moral circumstances less propitious. The political structure has often, as in our own case, been pulled down by an excusable impatience of the people; but seldom has it been repaired with such solidity, and just adaption to their wants.

We have said that the obscurity of history may have magnified the pretensions of some of its heroes; it is certain that it quite quenches the light of others. The state whose early transactions our author records, furnished its full share of the intelligent minds that contributed their impulse to the general movement of their time; and as the execution of his task has led him to a closer contemplation of their influence on its issue, he laments the comparative obscuration of merited fame, even in this brief lapse of time, in individuals who were the theme and boast of contemporaries. This is the law of our fate. As the series of events is prolonged, the greater part of the actors in them sink out of their place in the perspective, though their lesser elevation might be scarcely observable to their own age. In the twilight which falls on all past transactions, the rays of national recollections fade from summit to summit, and linger at length only on a few of the more “proudly eminent.” Our author sketches some of these forgotten worthies in the melancholy spirit of a traveller who finds a stately column in the desert. With the reverence of “Old Mortality,” he re-touches the

« PreviousContinue »