#13 Fact – Constitution
Polish constitution was first in Europe.
The Polish Constitution of May 3, 1791 (Polish: Konstytucja Trzeciego Maja) is called “the first constitution of its kind in Europe” by historian Norman Davies
Many historians in Belarus and Lithuania state that the first European constitution were the Lithuanian statutes written in 1529, 1566 and 1588.
The last one (1588) was published in response to Polish-Lithuanian formation in 1569. The version of 1588 went through Polish-Lithuanian parliament for acceptance. The great chancellor of Lithuania (most important political figure in Lithuania) Liew Sapieha who was the leading author of the statute had a dealing with Poles in the parliament to vote for a certain crown, while Poles will support the Lithuanian statute in the parliament. The Lithuanian statute was in use till 1830 in the Grand Duchy.
The Third Statute was accepted in 1588 in response to the Union of Lublin, which created the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The main author and editor of this statute was the great Chancellor of Lithuania Lew Sapieha of Ruthenian origin. The statute was the first one to be printed (in contrast to the handwritten statutes before) in Ruthenian language using Cyrillic alphabet. Translations of the statute were printed in Muscovite Russia and also in Poland, where at that time laws were not thoroughly codified and the Lithuanian statute was consulted in some cases where respective Polish laws were unclear or missing. The statute re-organized and modified existing law, and also included new laws. Progressive features included a tendency toward severe penalties, including capital punishment, which was in line with the general trend in contemporary European law (cf. Malleus Maleficarum); also the statute codified that crimes committed by or against people from different social ranks were nevertheless punished alike, following the idea of equal worth of human life. Yet, the hurdles for a peasant to have a noble tried and convicted were nevertheless higher than the other way around. The statute was supported by Lithuanian magnates, as they granted them special powers and privileges allowing them to keep the lesser Lithuanian nobility and peasants in check. As a token for being acknowledged as Grand Duke of Lithuania, Sigismund III Vasa revised the Union of Lublin and approved the Third Lithuanian Statute.
Many features of the statute were not in line with the provisions of the Union of Lublin, which is not at all mentioned in the statute. In this category fall e.g. the provisions about distributing local offices only to native people (or, to people who had bought that status), also the many, detailed provisions about the Lithuanian estates’ assemblies which eventually were abolished by the Lublin union treaty. In everyday legal practice, the statute trumped the union treaty.