Read CHAPTER VI - THE RISING OF KOSCIUSZKO of Kosciuszko A Biography , free online book, by Monica Mary Gardner, on ReadCentral.com.

A barn in the vicinity of the city has long been shown as the place where Kosciuszko slept the night before he entered Cracow. The Polish general, Madalinski, who by a ruse had evaded the Russian order to disarm, was the first to rise. At the head of his small force, followed by a hot Russian pursuit, he triumphantly led his soldiers down towards Cracow. At the news of his approach the Russian garrison evacuated the town, and Kosciuszko entered its walls a few hours after the last Russian soldier had left it, at midday on March 23 1794. It had been intended to convene the meeting of the citizens at the town hall on that same day; but the Act of the proclamation of the Rising proved to be so erroneously printed that it could not be published, mainly because Kosciuszko was not an adept at putting his ideas into writing, and the numerous corrections were too much for the printers. The night was spent by Kosciuszko in rewriting the manifesto which was to travel all over Poland, which was to be proclaimed from the walls and pulpits of Polish town and village, and despatched to the governments of Europe. The room yet remains where he passed those hours in the house of General Wodzicki who, when commanded by Russia to disband his regiments, had at Kosciuszko’s instigation secretly kept them together, paying them out of his own pocket, in readiness for the Rising.

The morning of March 24th dawned With Wodzicki and several other soldiers, Kosciuszko assisted at a low Mass in the Capuchin church, where the officiating priest blessed the leader’s sword. “God grant me to conquer or die,” were Kosciuszko’s words, as he received the weapon from the monk’s hand. At ten o’clock he quietly walked to the town hall. From all quarters of the city dense throngs had poured into the marketplace, and pressed outside the town hall, overflowing on to its steps, surging into its rooms. In front of his soldiers Kosciuszko stood before the crowds on the stone now marked by a memorial tablet, upon which on each anniversary of March 24th the Poles lay wreaths. That day, that scene, remain engraved for ever among the greatest of Poland’s memories. As far as Kosciuszko’s gaze rested he saw his countrymen and countrywomen with eyes turned to him as to the deliverer of themselves and of their country, palpitating for the moment that he was about to announce, many of them wearing his portrait and carrying banners with the inscriptions: “Freedom or Death,” “For our rights and liberty,” “For Cracow and our country,” or “Vivat Kosciuszko.” The drums were rolled, and in the midst of a dead silence the army took the oath of the Rising.

“I, N. N., swear that I will be faithful to the Polish nation, and obedient to Tadeusz Kosciuszko, the Commander-in-Chief, who has been summoned by this nation to the defence of the freedom, liberties, and independence of our country. So help me God and the innocent Passion of His Son.”

Then Kosciuszko himself stepped forward. With bared head, his eyes lifted to heaven and his hands resting on his sword, standing in plain civilian garb before his people, surrounded by no pomp or retinue, in the simplicity that was natural to him, the new dictator of Poland in his turn took his oath:

“I, Tadeusz Kosciuszko, swear in the sight of God to the whole Polish nation that I will use the power entrusted to me for the personal oppression of none, but will only use it for the defence of the integrity of the boundaries, the regaining of the independence of the nation, and the solid establishment of universal freedom. So help me God and the innocent Passion of His Son.”

He then went inside the town hall. There he was greeted by cries of “Long live Kosciuszko ! Long live the defender of our country! “When silence was restored he delivered a speech, the exact terms of which are not accurately recorded; but it is known that he demanded of every class in the country to rally to the national banner nobles, burghers, priests, peasants, Jews and that he placed himself at the disposal of his people without requiring of them any oath, for, said he, both he and they were united in one common interest. Then he ordered the formal Act of the Rising to be read. It was received with an outburst of applause, and the clamour of rejoicing rang to the skies.

This Act was in part grafted on Kosciuszko’s personal observation of the American Declaration of Independence, but only in part. Kosciuszko’s own intensely Polish soul speaks through the document the anguish of a Pole at the sight of his country’s wrongs, the cry of a desperate but undespairing patriotism, the breathing of the spirit that should bring new life.

“The present condition of unhappy Poland is known to the world” so the Act opens. “The iniquity of two neighbouring Powers and the crimes of traitors to the country have plunged her into this abyss. Resolved upon the destruction of the Polish name, Catherine II, in agreement with the perjured Frederick William, has filled up the measure of her crimes.”

The treatment of Poland at the hands of Russia and Prussia is then recapitulated in accents of the burning indignation that such a recital would necessarily evoke. Of Austria Kosciuszko makes no mention, for the reason that he believed, erroneously, as he was to learn by bitter experience, that her sympathies could be enlisted for the national movement.

“Overwhelmed with this weight of misfortune, injured more by treachery than by the power of the weapons of the enemies ... having lost our country and with her the enjoyment of the most sacred rights of freedom, of safety, of ownership, alike of our persons and of our property, deceived and played upon by some states, abandoned by others, we, Poles, citizens, inhabitants of the palatinate of Cracow, consecrating to our country our lives as the only possession which tyranny has not yet torn from us, are about to take those last and violent measures which patriotic despair dictates to us. Having, therefore, the unbroken determination to die and find a grave in the ruins of our own country or to deliver our native land from the depredations of tyranny and a shameful yoke, we declare in the sight of God, in the sight of the whole human race, and especially before you, O nations, by whom liberty is more highly prized than all other possessions in the world, that, employing the undenied right of resistance to tyranny and armed oppression, we all, in one national, civic and brotherly spirit, unite our strength in one; and, persuaded that the happy result of our great undertaking depends chiefly on the strictest union between us all, we renounce all prejudices and opinions which hitherto have divided or might divide the citizens, the inhabitants of one land and the sons of one country, and we all promise each other to be sparing of no sacrifice and means which only the holy love of liberty can provide to men rising in despair in her defence.

“The deliverance of Poland from the foreign soldier, the restoration and safeguarding of the integrity of her boundaries, the extirpation of all oppression and usurpation, whether foreign or domestic, the firm foundation of national freedom and of the independence of the Republic: such is the holy aim of our Rising.”

To ensure its success and the safety of the country Kosciuszko was elected as Poland’s military leader and her civil head, with the direction that he should nominate a National Council to be under his supreme authority. The proclamation then enters into the details of his functions and those of the Council. He alone was responsible for the military conduct of the war. Its financial management, the levy of taxes for its support, internal order and the administration of justice, were under the jurisdiction of the Council, to which was entrusted the task of endeavouring to gain foreign help and of “directing public opinion and diffusing the national spirit so that Country and Liberty may be the signal to all the inhabitants of Polish soil for the greatest sacrifices.” All those who should act in any way against the Rising were to be punished by death. Emphasis was laid on the fact that the government was provisional, to rule only until the enemy should be finally driven out of Poland, and that it held no power of making a fresh constitution. “Any such act will be considered by us as a usurpation of the national sovereignty, similar to that against which at the sacrifice of our lives we are now rising.” The head of the government and the National Council were bound by the terms of the Act “to instruct the nation by frequent proclamations on the true state of its affairs, neither concealing nor softening the most unfortunate events. Our despair is full, and the love of our country unbounded. The heaviest misfortunes, the mightiest difficulties, will not succeed in weakening and breaking the virtue of the nation and the courage of her citizens.

We all mutually promise one another and the whole Polish nation steadfastness in the enterprise, fidelity to its principles, submission to the national rulers specified and described in this Act of our Rising. We conjure the commander of the armed forces and the Supreme Council for the love of their country to use every means for the liberation of the nation and the preservation of her soil. Laying in their hands the disposal of our persons and property for such time as the war of freedom against despotism, of justice against oppression and tyranny, shall last, we desire that they always have present this great truth: that the preservation of a people is the highest law."

For the first time in Poland and it would have been an equal novelty in most other countries of the period nobles and peasants side by side signed their adhesion to the Act among thousands of signatures. The levy of the military forces, the arrangements for the taxation and the necessary business of the Rising, were at once set on foot, and Kosciuszko spent the rest of March 24th in these affairs and in his heavy correspondence. On the same day he sent out four more special addresses, one to the Polish and Lithuanian armies, a second to the citizens of the nation, a third to the Polish clergy, and a fourth to the women of Poland.

In the manifestos that Kosciuszko issued all through the course of the Rising there is not only the note of the trumpet-call, bidding the people grapple with a task that their leader promises them will be no easy one; there is something more a hint of the things that are beyond, an undercurrent of the Polish spirituality that confer upon these national proclamations their peculiarly Polish quality, emanating as they do from the pen of a patriot, whose character is typically and entirely Polish.

Kosciuszko appeals always to the ideal, to the secret and sacred faiths of men’s hearts; but with that strong practical sense with which his enthusiasm was tempered and ennobled.

“Each of us has often sworn to be faithful to our mother country” thus runs his manifesto to the Polish and Lithuanian armies. “Let us keep this faith with her once more, now when the oppressors, not satisfied with the dismemberment of our soil, would tear our weapons from us, and expose us unarmed to the last misery and scorn. Let us turn those weapons against the breasts of our enemies, let us raise our country out of slavery, let us restore the sanctity of the name of Pole, independence to the nation, and let us merit the gratitude of our native land and the glory dear to a soldier.

“Summoned by you I stand, comrades, at your head. I have given my life to you; your valour and patriotism are the surety for the happiness of our beloved country. ... Let us unite more strongly, let us unite the hearts, hands, and endeavours of the inhabitants of the whole land. Treachery thrust our weapon from our hands; let virtue raise again that weapon, and then shall perish that disgraceful yoke under which we groan.

“Comrades, can you endure that a foreign oppressor should disperse you with shame and ignominy carry off honest men, usurp our arsenals, and harass the remainder of our unhappy fellow-countrymen at will? No, comrades, come with me; glory and the sweet consolation of being the saviours of your country await you. I give you my word that my zeal will endeavour to equal yours. ...

To the nation and to the country alone do you owe fidelity. She calls upon us to defend her. In her name I send you my commands. With you, beloved comrades, I take for our watchword: Death or Victory! I trust in you and in the nation which has resolved to die rather than longer groan in shameful slavery,"

To the citizens he wrote:

“Fellow-citizens! Summoned so often by you to save our beloved country, I stand by your will at your head, but I shall not be able to break the outraging yoke of slavery if I do not receive the speediest and the most courageous support from you. Aid me then with your whole strength, and hasten to the banner of our country. One zeal in one interest ought to take possession of the hearts of all. Sacrifice to the country a part of your possessions which hitherto have not been yours, but the spoils of a despot’s soldiers.”

He begs them to give men, weapons, horses, linen, provisions, to the national army, and then proceeds:

“The last moment is now here, when despair in the midst of shame and infamy lays a weapon in our hands. Only in the contempt of death is the hope of the bettering of our fate and that of the future generations. ... The first step to the casting off of slavery is the risk taken to become free. The first step to victory is to know your own strength. ... Citizens! I expect all from your zeal, that you will with your whole hearts join the holy league which neither foreign intrigue nor the desire for rule, but only the love of freedom, has created. Whoso is not with us is against us. ... I have sworn to the nation that. I will use the power entrusted to me for the private oppression of none, but I here declare that whoever acts against our league shall be delivered over as a traitor and an enemy of the country to the criminal tribunal established by the Act of the nation. We have aleady sinned too much by forbearance, and mainly by reason of that policy public crime has scarcely ever been punished."

The man who wrote thus was the strictest of military disciplinarians, and yet he detested bloodshed and openly condemned all revolutionary excess. At a later moment in the war the friend who shared his tent tells how Kosciuszko struggled with himself through a sleepless night in the doubt as to whether he had done well to condemn a certain traitor to the capital punishment which he could never willingly bring himself to inflict.

The manifesto to the clergy is on the ordinary lines. In that to the women of Poland the ever-courteous and chivalrous Kosciuszko speaks in the following terms:

“Ornament of the human race, fair sex! I truly suffer at the sight of your anxiety for the fate of the daring resolution which the Poles are taking for the liberation of our country. Your tears which that anxiety draws forth from tender hearts penetrate the heart of your compatriot who is consecrating himself to the common happiness. Permit me, fellow-citizenesses, to give you my idea, in which may be found the gratification of your tenderness and the gratification of the public necessity. Such is the lot of oppressed humanity that it cannot keep its rights or regain them otherwise than by offerings painful and costly to sensitive hearts, sacrificing themselves entirely for the cause of freedom.

Your brothers, your sons, your husbands, are arming for war. Our blood is to make your happiness secure. Women! let your efforts stanch its shedding. I beg you for the love of humanity to make lint and bandages for the wounded. That offering from fair hands will relieve the sufferings of the wounded and spur on courage itself."

Kosciuszko’s appeals to the nation soon found their response. Recruits flocked to the army, and money, weapons, clothing, gifts of all descriptions came pouring in. Polish ladies brought their jewels to the commander or sold them for the public fund; men and women cheerfully parted with their dearest treasures. The inventories range from such contributions as four horses with a month’s fodder from a priest, “five thousand scythes” given by a single individual, couples of oxen, guns and pistols, to bundles of lint, old handkerchiefs, and what was probably the most valued possession of its owner, set down in the list of donations as “the gold watch of a certain citizen for having distinguished himself at Kozubow,” where on March 25th one of the Polish detachments had engaged the Russians.

In the course of these patriotic presentations there occurred an episode that stands out among the many picturesque incidents in the romantic story of Kosciuszko’s Rising. Three Polish boatmen came to the town hall to offer Kosciuszko twenty of their primitive flat-bottomed barges. Hearing of their arrival, Kosciuszko pushed his way through the crowds thronging the building, till he reached the ante-room where stood the peasants in their rough sheepskin coats and mud-stained top-boots, “Come near me, Wojciech Sroki, Tomasz Brandys, and Jan Grzywa,” he cried, “that I may thank you for your offering. I regret that I cannot now satisfy the wish of your hearts [by using the barges]; but, God helping and as the war goes on, then will our country make use of your gift.” The peasants were not to be baulked of their desire to give their all to Poland. The spokesman of the trio, followed by his comrades, shook into his sheepskin cap the little sum of money that they had managed to scrape together and, smiling, handed it to Kosciuszko, apologizing in his homely dialect for the poorly stuffed cap. Kosciuszko flung the cap to an officer who stood by his side, crying, “I must have my hands free to press you, my beloved friends, to my heart.” Drawn by that personal fascination which, united to the patriot’s fire, invariably captivated all those who came into contact with Kosciuszko, the simple boatmen fell on their knees before him, kissing his hands and feet.

Kosciuszko remained in Cracow until the jest of April , overwhelmed from six in the morning till far into the night by the affairs of the Rising, collecting his army, sending broadcast secret letters hidden in pincushions or otherwise concealed by the officers to whom they were entrusted, directing the supremely important task of concentrating the scattered Polish regiments that were with varying success fighting their way towards him. He was working against time with the Russians forming up against his scanty numbers. “For the love of our country make haste,” is his ever-recurrent cry in his directions to his subordinates. On the 1st of April he left Cracow at the head of his small army, prepared to take the field against the enemy who was about to attack Madalinski. At his camp outside Cracow his long-cherished desire was fulfilled; bands of peasants, some two thousand strong, marched in, armed “with their pikes and the scythes that won them the name, famous in Polish annals, of the “Reapers of Death.” Mountaineers, too, came down in their brilliantly coloured garb from the Polish Carpathians. To all these men from the fields and the hills Kosciuszko became not only an adored chief, but an equally beloved brother in arms.

On the day following the advent of the peasants, on the 4th of April, was fought the famous battle of Raclawice.

Kosciuszko was no invincible hero of legend. His military talent was undoubted, but not superlative and not infallible; yet Raclawice was the triumph of a great idea, the victory, under the strength of the ideal, of a few against many. It lives as one of those moments in a nation’s history that will only die with the nation that inspired it. The peasants turned the tide of the hotly fought battle. “Peasants, take those cannon for me. God and our country!” was Kosciuszko’s cry of thunder. Urging each other on by the homely names they were wont to call across their native fields, the peasants swept like a hurricane upon the Russian battery, carrying all before them with their deadly scythes, while Kosciuszko rode headlong at their side. They captured eleven cannon, and cut the Russian ranks to pieces. Even in our own days the plough has turned up the bones of those who fell in the fight, and graves yet mark the battle lines. In the camp that night Kosciuszko, with bared head, thanked the army in the name of Poland for its valour, ending his address with the cry, “Vivat the nation! Vivat Liberty!” taken up by the soldiers with the acclamation. “Vivat Kosciuszko!” Kosciuszko then publicly conferred upon the peasant Bartos, who had been the first to reach the Russian battery he perished at Szczekociny promotion and nobility with the name of Glowacki. Before all the army he flung off his uniform and donned, as a sign of honour to his peasant soldiers, their dress, the sukman, which he henceforth always wore the long loose coat held with a broad girdle and reaching below the knee.

“The sacred watchword of nation and of freedom,” wrote Kosciuszko in his report of the battle to the Polish nation, “moved the soul and valour of the soldier fighting for the fate of his country and for her freedom.” He commends the heroism of the young volunteers in their baptism of fire. He singles out his generals, Madalinski and Zajonczek, for praise. Characteristically he breathes no hint of his own achievements.

“Nation!” he concludes. “Feel at last thy strength; put it wholly forth. Set thy will on being free and independent. By unity and courage thou shalt reach this honoured end. Prepare thy soul for victories and defeats. In both of them the spirit of true patriotism should maintain its strength and energy. All that remains to me is to praise thy Rising and to serve thee, so long as Heaven permits me to live."

The Polish army was badly broken at Raclawice, and Kosciuszko’s immediate affair was its reorganization; but the moral effect of the victory was enormous. Polish nobles opened their private armouries and brought out the family weapons. Labourers armed themselves with spades and shovels. Women fought with pikes. The name of Kosciuszko was alone enough by now to gather men to his side. “Kosciuszko! Freedom! Our country!” became the morning and the evening greeting between private persons.

After the battle of Raclawice, Kosciuszko at once issued further calls to arms, especially urging the enrolment of the peasants. This measure was to be effected, so Kosciuszko insisted, with the greatest consideration for the feelings of the peasants, all violence being scrupulously avoided, while the land-owners were requested to care for the families of the breadwinners during their absence at the war. The general levy of the nation was proclaimed. In every town and village at the sound of the alarm bell the inhabitants were to rally to the public meeting-place with scythes, pikes or axes, and place themselves at the disposition of the appointed leaders. Thus did Kosciuszko endeavour to realize his favourite project of an army of the people.

Unable for lack of soldiers to follow up his victory, Kosciuszko remained in camp, training his soldiers, sending summonses to the various provinces to rise, and seeing to the internal affairs of government. The oaks still stand under which the Polish leader sat in sight of the towers of Cracow, as he cast his plans for the salvation of Poland. The spot is marked by a grave where lie the remains of soldiers who died at Raclawice; and on one of the trees a Polish officer cut a cross, still visible in recent years.

Kosciuszko’s character held in marked measure that most engaging quality of his nation, what we may term the Polish sweetness but it never degenerated into softness. His severity to those who held back when their country required them was inexorable.

“I cannot think of the inactivity of the citizens of Sandomierz without emotions of deep pain,” he writes to that province, which showed no great readiness to join the Rising. “So the love of your country has to content itself with enthusiasm without deed, with fruitless desires, with the sufferings of a weakness which cannot take a bold step! Believe me, the first one among you who proclaims the watchword of the deliverance of our country, and courageously gives the example of himself, will experience how easy it is to awaken in men courage and determination when an aim deserving of respect and instigations to virtue only are placed before them. Compatriots! This is not now the time to guard formalities and to approach the work of the national Rising with a lagging step. To arms, Poles, to arms! God has already blessed the Polish weapons, and His powerful Providence has manifested in what manner this country must be freed from the enemy, how to be free and independent depends only on our will. Unite, then, all your efforts to a universal arming. Who is not with us is against us. I have believed that no Pole will be in that case. If that hope deceives me, and there are found men who would basely deny their country, the country will disown them and will give them over to the national vengeance, to their own shame and severe responsibility."

This language ran like a fiery arrow through the province: it rose. On all sides the country rose. Kosciuszkos envoy carried to one of the Polish officers in Warsaw the terse message: You have a heart and virtue. Stand at the head of the work. The country will perish by delay. Begin, and you will not repent it. T. Kosciuszko." By the time this letter reached its destination Warsaw had already risen.”

For weeks the preparation for the Rising in Warsaw had been stealthily carried forward. Igelstrom had conceived the plan of surrounding the churches by Russian soldiers on Holy Saturday, disarming what was left of the Polish army in the town, and taking over the arsenal. The secret was let out too soon by a drunken Russian officer, and the Polish patriots, headed by the shoemaker Kilinski, gave the signal. Two thousand, three hundred and forty Poles flew to arms against nine thousand Russian soldiers. Then ensued the terrible street fighting, in which Kilinski was seen at every spot where the fire was hottest. Each span of earth, in the graphic phrase of a Polish historian, became a battlefield. Through Maundy Thursday and Good Friday the city was lit up by conflagrations, while its pavements streamed with blood. When the morning of Holy Saturday broke the Russians were out of the capital of Poland, and all the Easter bells in Warsaw were crashing forth peals of joy. Stanislas Augustus, who a few weeks earlier had at Igelstrom’s bidding publicly proclaimed Kosciuszko to be a rebel and an outlaw, now went over to the winning side. On Easter Sunday the cathedral rang to the strains of the Te Deum, at which the King assisted, and on the same day the citizens of Warsaw signed the Act of the Rising and the oath of allegiance to Kosciuszko. The news was brought into Kosciuszko’s camp in hot haste by an officer from Warsaw. It was in the evening. Drums beat, the camp re-echoed with song, and on the following morning a solemn Mass of thanksgiving was celebrated. No salvos were fired, in order to spare the powder. “Henceforth,” joyfully cried Kosciuszko in a manifesto to his country, “the gratitude of the nation will join their names” those of Mokronowski and Zakrzewski, the President of Warsaw, who had been mainly responsible for the citys deliverance with the love of country itself. Nation! These are the glorious deeds of thy Rising; but, adds Kosciuszko, whose foresight and sober judgment were never carried away by success, remember this truth that thou hast done nothing so long as there is left anything still to be done."

Three days after Warsaw was freed, Wilno, with a handful of soldiers rising in the night, drove out the Russian garrison, and the Russian army retreated through Lithuania, marking their way by atrocities which were but a foretaste of what awaited in no distant future that most unhappy land.

“The powerful God,” says the pronunciamento of the Provisional Deputy Council of Wilno “delivering the Polish nation from the cruel yoke of slavery has, O citizens of Lithuania, sent Tadeusz Kosciuszko, our fellow-countryman, to the holy soil to fulfil His will. By reason of the valour of that man whose very dust your posterity will honour and revere, the liberties of the Poles have been born again. At the name alone of that knightly man the Polish land has taken another form, another spirit has begun to govern the heart of the dweller in an oppressed country. ... To him we owe our country! To him we owe the uplifting of ourselves, to his virtue, to his zeal and to his courage."

The burden that rested on the shoulders of Kosciuszko was one that would have seemed beyond the mastery of one man. He had to raise an army, find money, ammunition, horses, provisions. He had to initiate and organize the Rising in every province, bearing in mind and appealing to the distinctive individualities of each, dealing in his instructions not merely with the transcendentally difficult material matters of the Rising, but with involved moral questions. He was the military chief, responsible for the whole plan of action of a war for national existence. He was the civil chief, chosen to rule the nation when the most skilful steering of the ship of state was requisite when the government of the country, owing to dismemberment, foreign intrigues, foreign invasion, internal disunion, was in a condition of chaos. The soundest political acumen, the most unerring tact, was exacted of him. He must needs adopt whatever political measures he deemed necessary, no matter how hard of execution: many of these were innovations that he daringly carried out against every prejudice and tradition, because it was the innermost conviction of his soul that they would save his nation. No doubt Kosciuszko’s great talent for organization and application, and the robust strength of his character, would, in part at least, have borne him through his herculean task; but it was in the power of the idea that we must find the key to his whole leadership of the struggle for his nation which in the history of that nation bears his name. Where Poland was concerned obstacles were not allowed to exist or rather, were there merely to be overcome. Personal desires, individual frictions, all must go down before the only object that counted.

“Only the one necessity,” he writes to Mokronowski, reassuring the General in brotherly and sympathetic style as to some unpleasantness that the latter was anticipating for, with all his devotion to the common end, Kosciuszko never failed to take to his heart the private griefs, even the trifling interests, of those around him “the one consideration of the country in danger has caused me to expect that, putting aside all personal vexations, you will sacrifice yourself entirely to the universal good. ... Not I, but our country, beseeches and conjures you to do this. Surely at her voice all delays, all considerations, should perish."

Impressing upon a young prince of the Sapieha family, at the outset of the Rising, that he “must not lose even a minute of time ... although,” Kosciuszko says, “the forces be weak, a beginning must be made, and those forces will increase of themselves in the defence of the country. I began with one battalion, and in a few days I had collected an army. Let the gentry go out on horseback, and the people with scythes and pikes. Let the officers who had been trained to a different service abroad put aside preconceived ideas, and fight in the methods demanded of a popular army.

Or, far on towards the end of the Rising, Kosciuszko, calling upon the citizens of Volhynia to rise for the Poland from which they had been torn away, speaks thus: “You have no army in your own land, but you have men, and those men will soon become an army.” He tells them that the Poles who rose in Great Poland were not deterred by the differences of religious belief between them. “These hinder not at all the love of country and of freedom. Let each honour God according to his faith Kosciuszko himself was a devout Catholic and there is no faith that would forbid a man to be free."

One of the earliest measures that Kosciuszko inaugurated as the head of the provisional government of his nation was in relation to the object only less dear to him than the liberation of Poland: that of the serfs. With time the Polish peasant had sunk to the level of those in neighbouring countries, although the condition of the serf in Poland was never as deplorable as, for instance, that which obtained in Russia. France had only just effected the relief of her lower classes and this by an orgy of revolt and ferocity. Kosciuszko now came forward with his reforms. The forced labour of the peasant who could not bear arms was reduced to less than a half of his former obligation, and for those who could take part in the national war, abolished. The peasant was now to enjoy the full personal protection of the law, and “the right of locomotion when he chose. Possession of his own land was assured to him, and heavy penalties were inflicted upon the landlords should they be guilty of any acts of oppression. The local authorities were bidden to see that the farms of those who joined Kosciuszko’s army should be tended during their military service, and that the soil, “the source of our riches,” should not fall into neglect. The people were exhorted, in the spirit, always inculcated by Kosciuszko, of mutual good-feeling and a common love for Poland, to show their gratitude for the new benefits bestowed upon them by loyalty to the squires, and by diligence in “work, in husbandry, in the defence of the country.” The dictator then ordered the clergy of both the Latin and Greek rites to read these decrees from the pulpit for the course of four Sundays, and directed the local commissions to send emissaries proclaiming them to the peasants in every parish and hamlet. Thus Kosciuszko took up the work that the Constitution of the 3rd of May had more vaguely initiated, and that had been terminated by Russian and Prussian interference. He could not at this juncture push his reforms further. Had he brought in a total reversal of hitherto existing conditions while a national insurrection of which the issues were uncertain was proceeding, the confusion engendered would have gone far to defeat the very object it was his desire to bring about.

Kosciuszko promulgated these acts from camp on May 7, 1794. About the same time he issued a mandate, requesting the churches and convents to contribute all the church silver that was not positively indispensable in the Divine service to the national treasury. Fresh coinage was stamped, with on the one side the device of the old Polish Republic, on the other that new and sacred formula: “The Liberty, Integrity and Independence of the Republic, 1794.” The term “Republic” as applied to Poland was, of course, no subversive title, such being the time-honoured name by which the Polish state had been known through its history.

To Kosciuszko the war was a holy one. Its object was, together with the restoration of national independence, that of conferring happiness and freedom on every class, religion, and individual in the country. Take, for example, Kosciuszko’s manifesto to the citizens of the district of Brzesc, directing that the religion of the Ruthenes of the Greek-Oriental rite should be respected: words that in the light of the subsequent history of a people who have been, with fatal results, the victims first of Russian, and then of German, intrigue, read with a startling significance.

In this wise attach a people, deceived by the fanaticism of Russia, to our country. They will be more devoted to their fellow-countrymen when they see that the latter treat with them like brothers ... and that they open to them the entrance, as to common fellow-citizens, to the highest offices. Assure all the Oriental Greeks in my name that they shall have in common with us every liberty which freedom gives men to enjoy, and that their episcopate with all its authority according to the laws of the Constitutional Diet shall be restored to them. Let them use all the influence they may have on the people of their religion to convince them that we, who are fighting for liberty, desire to make all the inhabitants of our land happy."

He wrote to the clergy of the Ruthenian Greek Orthodox rite, laying emphasis on the persecution that their faith had suffered from Russia and on the liberty that Poland promised them. Fear not that the difference of opinion and rite will hinder our loving you as brothers and fellow-countrymen. ... Let Poland recognize in your devotion her faithful sons. Thus you have the road open before you to your happiness and that of your descendants."

Following all these enactments of Kosciuszko’s there ensued a curious interchange of communications between him and the King of Poland. Stanislas Augustus, under the apprehension that he was to follow Louis XVI to the scaffold, wrote to Kosciuszko, placing the continuance of such shreds of Royal power as he possessed at the dictator’s arbitration. Once again Kosciuszko was called to measure swords with his King and sometime patron. This time it was Kosciuszko who was in the commanding position. His sovereign was more or less at his mercy. What his opinion of the man was is clear from the scathing indictment which his sense of outrage at the betrayal of his country tore from his lips as he wrote the history of the Ukraine campaign that Stanislas Augustus had brought to ruin. Yet this was how he answered, at the moment when his power was supreme, in a letter dated May 20, 1794:

“My Lord King,

“Just when I was engrossed in the midst of so many other labours with the drawing up of the organization of the Supreme Council, I received a communication from Your Royal Majesty under the date of the 5th instant. Having read therein that Your Royal Majesty only desires authority and importance when and inasmuch as I decide this with the nation, as regards my opinion, I frankly confess that, entertaining a loyal respect for the throne, I hold the person of Your Royal Majesty excepted from the power conferred upon me of nominating personages to the Supreme Council. As to the nation, the conduct of Your Royal Majesty in the course of the present Rising, the restored public confidence in Your Royal Majesty that was weakened by the Confederation of Targowica, the constancy with which Your Royal Majesty declares that, albeit at the cost of great personal misfortune, you will not forsake the country and nation, will contribute, I doubt not, to the securing for Your Royal Majesty of the authority in the Diet that will be most agreeable to the welfare of the country. I have written separately to the Supreme Council upon the duty of imparting to Your Royal Majesty an account of its chief actions, and this in the conviction that Your Royal Majesty will not only be a source of enlightenment to it, but of assistance inasmuch as circumstances permit. Likewise the needs of Your Royal Majesty which you mention at the end of your letter I have recommended to the attention and care of the Supreme Council. Thanking Your Royal Majesty for your good wishes concerning my person, I declare that the prosperity of Your Royal Majesty is not separated in my heart and mind from the prosperity of the country, and I assure Your Royal Majesty of my deep respect."

Until the month of May Kosciuszko had been governing single-handed. He had drawn up the decrees that were of such moment to his country in the primitive conditions of a camp in a soldier’s tent, with the collaboration of only his council of three friends, Kollontaj, Ignacy Potocki, and Wejssenhof. Throughout his sole dictatorship he had combined a scrupulous respect for existing laws with a firm declaration of those reforms which must be carried out without delay, if Poland were to win in her struggle for freedom. No trace of Jacobinism is to be met with in Kosciuszko’s government. Defending himself with a hint of wounded feeling against some reproach apparently addressed to him by his old friend, Princess Czartoryska:

“How far you are as yet from knowing my heart!” he answers. “How you wrong my feelings and manner of thinking, and how little you credit me with foresight and attachment to our country, if I could avail myself of such impossible and such injurious measures! My decrees and actions up to now might convince you. Men may blacken me and our Rising, but God sees that we are not beginning a French revolution. My desire is to destro the enemy. I am making some temporary dispositions, and I leave the framing of laws to the nation."

The whole country was now rallying round Kosciuszko. Polish magnates, whose ancestors had been heads of armies in the old chivalrous days of the Republic of Poland, who had themselves led soldiers in the field, came to him, begging to serve in the lowest ranks if so be they might serve under him. The King’s nephew, Prince Jozef Poniatowski, under whose command two years ago Kosciuszko had fought as a subordinate officer, now placed himself unreservedly at Kosciuszko’s disposal. The King, the nation, were in Kosciuszko’s hands. Yet he remained always the simple Lithuanian soldier, who wore the garb of the peasants, who lived familiarly with the peasants in his army, treating them as his brothers. His letters to his officers are couched in the affectionate and intimate terms of an equal friendship, reading as though from comrade to comrade. “Dear comrade,” is, in fact, the title by which he addresses them when giving them his instructions. Instead of orders and decorations, of which he had none at his disposal, he offered them snuff-boxes, watches, rings “I have sent you a ring of cat’s-eyes that at night it may light you on your journey,” he writes to Mokronowski or trifles made by the hands of Polish ladies, accompanied with a few graceful words spoken from the heart that gave the gift its value. He is ever eager to bring to public notice the name of any Pole who had done well by the country; always silent on his own deeds, turning off the praises and thanks of his people to the whole nation or to individuals. The style of his commands bears an invariable hallmark of simplicity. “I conjure and entreat you for the love of our country,” is their usual wording. One word, indeed, rings with unwearied reiteration through Kosciuszko’s public manifestos, in his private correspondence: the love of country: It is not he who cries to the sons of Poland to save her; it is Poland herself, and he voices her call, of which he considered himself but the mouthpiece, with a touch of personal warmth for those to whom he spoke, which they requited with a passionate love.

Dear comrade, he writes in the first weeks of war to one of his deputies, those who have begun the Rising are in this determination: either to die for our country or to deliver her from oppression and slavery. I am certain that to your soul, your courage, I need say no more. Poland will certainly touch your sensitive heart, dear comrade."

The same tone is conspicuous in Kosciuszko’s many proclamations to the nation. In these, too, he addresses the people of whose destinies he was the ruler, who were under his obedience, as his “dear comrades,” his “fellow-citizens,” his “brothers.” He regarded himself in no other light than that of: the servant of his country, equally ready to command or to resign his authority, according as her interests demanded. Lust of power and personal ambition were unknown to him. He was, if we may use the expression, out for one object: to save his country; and any interest of his own was in his scheme nonexistent. “Let no man who prizes virtue,” he wrote, “desire power. They have laid it in my hands at this critical moment. I know not if I have merited this confidence, but I do know that for me this power is only a weapon for the effectual defence of my country, and I confess that I long for its termination as sincerely as for the salvation of the nation." He yearned not for the sword, but for peace and the “little garden” of his dreams, as he tells a friend. Given that temper of his mind and the inherent nobility of his nature, and we have the explanation how it is that not one unworthy deed, not a single moral stain, disfigures the seven months that Kosciuszko stood at the head of the Polish state, beset though he was by internal and external problems under which a man of less purity of aim and single-heartedness than his might well have swerved.

But for all his native modesty Kosciuszko was too conscious of his obligation to his country to brook any infringement of the power he held. Writing a sharp rebuke to “the whole principality of Lithuania and especially to the Provisional Council of Wilno, which he had reason to believe was arrogating to itself his functions, he declares that he would be unworthy of the trust that his nation had confided to him if he did not know how to use and maintain his authority. A little later, desirous to mitigate this sternness with the suavity more congenial to him, he spoke to his native district in a different key.

“The last moment of Poland, her supreme cause, salvation or eternal ruin and shame, personal freedom and national independence, or a terrible slavery and the groaning of millions of men ... the destruction of the Polish name, or her glorious place in the ranks of nations: these are the considerations that must take hold of the Polish nation, of you, citizens of Lithuania. ... Poles, now is the moment for the amendment of eternal errors. Now is the time to be worthy of your ancestors, to forget yourselves in order to save the country, to stifle in yourselves the base voice of personal interest in order to serve the public. Now must you draw forth your last strength, your last means, to give freedom to your land. ... Let us know how to die! And what is earthly life? A transitory and passing shadow, subject to a thousand accidents. What Pole can live, if he must live in the state in which till now, with his compatriots, he has been compelled to live? ... Oh, fellow-countrymen! If you spare your lives, it is that you should be wretched slaves; if you spare your possessions, it is that they should be the spoils of the invaders. Who can be so deprived of reason or so fearful, as to doubt that we shall surely conquer, if we all manfully desire to conquer?

Lithuania! My fellow-countrymen and compatriots! I was born on your soil, and in the midst of righteous zeal for my country more especial affection is called forth in me for those among whom I began life. ... Look at the rest of the nation of which you are a part. Look at those volunteers, already assembling in each province of all the Crown, seeking out the enemy, leaving homes and families for a beloved country, inflamed with the watchword of those fighting for the nation: Death or Victory! Once again, I say, we shall conquer! Earlier or later the powerful God humbles the pride of the invaders, and aids persecuted nations, faithful to Him and faithful to the virtue of patriotism."

The moment had now arrived in the May of 1794 to regularize the Rising and to establish the temporary government on a stable and more conventional basis. Kosciuszko explained himself fully in his proclamation of May 21st to the “citizens of Poland and Lithuania”:

“It has pleased you, citizens, to give me the highest proof of confidence, for you have not only laid your whole armed strength and the use thereof in my hands, but in addition, in the period of the Rising, not deeming yourselves to be in the condition to make a well-ordered choice of members for the Supreme National Council, you confided that choice to me. The greater the universal confidence in me that I behold, the more solicitous I am to respond to it agreeably to your wishes and to the necessities of the nation.

“I kept to that consideration in the nomination of members of the Council. I desired to make the same choice that you yourselves would have made. So I looked for citizens who were worthy of the public trust: I considered who in private and public life had maintained the obligations of unstained virtue, who were steadfastly attached to the Rights of the Nation and the Rights of the People, who at the time of the nation’s misfortunes, when foreign oppression and domestic crime drove at their will the fate of the country, had most suffered for their patriotism and their merits. It was such men whom for the most part I summoned to the National Council, joining to them persons honoured for their knowledge and virtue, and adding to them deputies capable of assisting them in their onerous obligations.”

He then says that the reason he did not nominate the Council earlier was because he was awaiting the whole nation’s confirmation of the Act of the Rising that had been proclaimed in Cracow, and thus “during the first and violent necessities” of the Rising he was driven to issue manifestos and ordinances on his own responsibility.

With joy I see the time approaching when nothing shall be able to justify me for the smallest infringement of the limits you placed to my power. I respect them because they are just, because they emanate from your will, which is the most sacred law for me. I hope that not only now, but when God grant it! having delivered our country from her enemies, I cast my sword under the feet of the nation, no one shall accuse me of their transgression."

Public morality did not satisfy Kosciuszko in his choice of the men who were to rule the country. He would have none to shape her laws and destinies whose personal morals were lax. “What do you want, Prince?” were the dry words with which he greeted Jozef Poniatowski, when the gay officer came into his camp to offer his sword to the Rising; and it is said that this ungracious reception, widely different from Kosciuszko’s usual address, was due to the fact that he, whose own private life was blameless, was of too Puritan a temper to be able to overlook certain notorious aspects of Poniatowski’s character.

Still in May Kosciuszko sent Kollontaj and Ignacy Potocki to Warsaw, and the National Council assumed there its legal functions. Among its members sat not only Kollontaj, Potocki, and those who had taken part in the old Polish Diet, former ministers of state and high officers, two representatives of the clergy of the Latin and Greek rites, but the banker Kapostas, who had been the originator of the secret confederation that had prepared the Rising in Warsaw and who had only narrowly escaped Russian imprisonment, and the shoemaker Kilinski. Thus for the first time in Polish history artisans and burghers were included in the national governing body. The assembly was animated by that new spirit of democracy in its noblest form in which Kosciuszko himself was steeped. It carried forward the task that the Constitution of the 3rd of May had begun and had been forced by Poland’s conquerors to abandon. Its presidency passed by rotation to each member, who called each other “citizen,” and who were all, without distinction of rank and class, treated as equals. They organized the Ministry into the ordinary departments, and entered into relations with foreign powers, among which England, Sweden, and Austria the latter soon to change her face acknowledged them as the lawful government of state.

Having thus lightened the burden of civil rule by securing effective colleagues, Kosciuszko, although he did not cease to be the chief dictator of the nation, could now more freely devote himself to the immediate object of the Rising.