January Uprising

From Academic Kids

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"1863 - Polonia", oil on canvas, 1864, 156 x 232 cm, National Museum in Krakw. Picture represents the aftermath of the failure of the January Uprising. The crowd of captives awaits transport to Siberia. Russian officers and soldiers supervise a blacksmith installing fetters on the wrists of a woman representing Poland. The blonde woman behind her, next in line, may represent Lithuania.

The January Uprising was the beginning of the new uprising against Russian rule in the former territories of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, occupied by tsarist Russian Empire during the partitions of Poland. It begun on the night of January 22, 1863 as a spontaneous protest of young Poles against the draft to Russian army. The uprising was soon joined by various politicians and high ranking Polish officers from the tsarist army. The insurrectionists, severly outnumbered and lacking any serious outside support, were forced to resort to guerrilla warfare tactics. The insurrectionists failed to win any major military victory, and throughout the campaign, not one major city or fotress in Russian-occupied Poland was recaptured. The uprising did, however, succeed in blunting the effect of the Tsar's abolition of serfdom in the Russian partition, which had been designed to win Polish peasants away from supporting the rest of the Polish nation. In the aftermath of the uprising, severe reprisals against the Poles, such as public executions or deportations to Siberia, led many Poles to abandon armed struggle and turn instead to the idea of "organic work" - the economic and cultural self-improvement.



The uprising broke out at a moment when general quiet prevailed in Europe and in Russia, and when the Revolutionary Party had not sufficient means to arm and equip the bands of young men who were hiding in forests to escape Alexander Wielopolski's order of conscription into the Russian army. Altogether about 10,000 men rallied around the revolutionary banner; they were recruited chiefly from the ranks of the city working classes and minor clerks, although there was also a considerable admixture of the younger sons of the poorer szlachta and a number of priests of lower rank.

To deal with these ill-armed bands the government had at its disposal a well trained army of 90,000 men under General Ramsay in Poland, 60,000 troops in Lithuania and 45,000 in Volhynia. It looked as if the rebellion would be crushed in a short while. The die was cast, however, and the provisional government applied itself to the great task with fervor. It issued a manifesto in which it pronounced "all sons of Poland free and equal citizens without distinction of creed, condition and rank." It declared that land cultivated by the peasants, whether on the basis of rent-pay or service, henceforth should become their unconditional property, and compensation for it would be given to the landlords out of the general funds of the State. The revolutionary government did its very best to supply and provision the unarmed and scattered guerrillas who, during the month of February, met the Russians in eighty bloody encounters. Meanwhile, it issued an appeal to the nations of western Europe, which was received everywhere with a genuine and heartfelt response, from Norway to Portugal. Pope Pius IX ordered a special prayer for the success of the Polish arms, and was very active in arousing sympathy for the suffering nation.

The provisional government counted on a revolutionary outbreak in Russia, where the discontent with the autocratic regime seemed at the time to be widely prevalent. It also counted on the active support of Napoleon III, particularly after Prussia, foreseeing an inevitable armed conflict with France, made friendly overtures to Russia and offered her assistance in suppressing the Polish uprising. On the 14th day of February arrangements had already been completed, and the British Ambassador in Berlin was able to inform his government that a Prussian military envoy "has concluded a military convention with the Russian Government, according to which the two governments will reciprocally afford facilities to each other for the suppression of the insurrectionary movements which have lately taken place in Poland. The Prussian railways are also to he placed at the disposal of the Russian military authorities for the transportation of troops through Prussian territory from one part of the Kingdom of Poland to another." This step of Bismarck's led to protests on the part of several governments and roused the Polish nation. The result was the transformation of the insignificant uprising into another national war against Russia. Encouraged by the promises made by Napoleon III, the whole nation, acting upon the advice of Wladyslaw Czartoryski, the son of Prince Adam, took to arms. Indicating their solidarity with the nation, all the Poles holding office under the Russian Government, including the Archbishop of Warsaw, resigned their positions and submitted to the newly constituted Polish Government, which was composed of five most prominent representatives of the Whites.

This transformation of the insurrection into a war changed the whole aspect of the situation. An army of 30,000 men was soon organized and new additions were made. The rich elements in the cities as well as in the country offered large sums of money. The nobility of Galicia and the Duchy of Poznań supported the war with money, supplies and men. Lithuania rose under the command of Konstanty Kalinowski and soon the flame of war spread over Samogitia, Livonia, Belarus, Volhynia, Podolia and even in some places in Ukraine.

The diplomatic intervention of the Powers in behalf of Poland, not sustained, except in the case of Sweden, by a real determination on their part to do something effective for her, did more harm than good, as mere verbosity often does. It alienated Austria which hitherto had maintained a friendly neutrality with reference to Poland and had not interfered with the Polish activities in Galicia. It prejudiced public opinion among the radical groups in Russia who, until that time, had been friendly because they regarded the uprising as of a social rather than a national character and it stirred the Russian Government to more energetic endeavors toward the speedy suppression of hostilities which were growing in strength and determination.

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Chapel in Vilna, erected to commemorate the crushing of the uprising

In addition, to the thousands who fell in battles, 128 men were executed by Mikhail Muravyov's order, and 9,423 men and women were exiled to Siberia (2,500 men according to Russian sources). Whole villages and towns were burned down; all activities were suspended and the szlachta was ruined by confiscation and exorbitant taxes. Count Berg, the newly appointed Governor-General of Poland, followed in Muravyov's footsteps, employing inhumanly harsh measures against the country. The Reds criticized the Conservative government for its reactionary policy with reference to the peasants but, deluded in its hopes by Napoleon III, the Government counted on French support and persisted in its tactics. It was only after the highly respected and wise Romuald Traugutt took matters in hand that the aspect of the situation became brighter. He reverted to the policy of the first provisional government and endeavored to bring the peasant masses into active participation by granting to them the land they worked and calling upon all classes to rise. The response was generous but not universal. The wise policy was adopted too late. The Russian Government had already been working among the peasants in the manner above described and giving to them liberal parcels of land for the mere asking. They were completely satisfied, and though not interfering with the revolutionaries to any great extent, became lukewarm to them. Fighting continued intermittently for several months. Among the generals Count Joseph Hadke distinguished himself most as a commander of the revolutionary forces and took several cities from the vastly superior Russian army. When Romuald Traugutt and the four other members of the Polish Government were apprehended by Russian troops and executed at the Warsaw citadel, the war in the course of which six hundred and fifty battles and skirmishes were fought and twenty-five thousand Poles killed, came to a speedy end in the latter half of 1864, having lasted for eighteen months. It is of interest to note that it persisted in Zmudz and Podlasie, where the Uniate population, outraged and persecuted for their religious convictions, clung longest to the revolutionary banner.

The uprising was finally crushed by Russia in 1864.

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Graves of January Uprising veterans in Powązki Cemetery in Warsaw

After the collapse of the uprising, harsh reprisals followed. According to Russian official information, 396 persons were executed and 18,672 were exiled to Siberia. Large numbers of men and women were sent to the interior of Russia and to Caucasus, Urals and other sections. Altogether about 70,000 persons were imprisoned and subsequently taken out of Poland and stationed in the remote regions of Russia. The government confiscated 1,660 in Poland and 1,794 in Lithuania. A 10% income tax was imposed on all estates as a war indemnity. Only in 1869 was this tax reduced to 5% on all incomes. Besides the land granted to the peasants, the Russian Government gave them additional forest, pasture and other privileges (known under the name of servitutes) which have proven to be a source of incessant irritation between the landowners and peasants, and of serious difficulty to rational economic development. The government took over all the church estates and funds, and abolished monasteries and convents. With the exception of religious instruction, all other studies in the schools were ordered to be in Russian. Russian also became the official language of the country, used exclusively in all offices of the general and local government. All traces of the former Polish autonomy were removed and the kingdom was divided into ten provinces, each with an appointed Russian military governor and all under complete control of the Governor-General at Warsaw. All the former government functionaries were deprived of their positions.

Famous insurgents


See also

de:Januaraufstand pl:Powstanie styczniowe


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