Table of Contributors   Table of Contents   Return to Encyclopedia Home Page

"Great" Polish political Emigration (1831 - 1870)

"Great" Polish political Emigration (1831 - 1870) Since the end of the 18th century, a major role in the Polish political life was played by people who carried out their activities outside the country, as emigres. Their fate was a consequence of the fact that their state, annexed by and divided between Russia, Prussia, and Austria was no longer in existence. For this reason in Poland, unlike in many other countries, political and ideological activity carried out abroad, by people in exile, enjoyed wide recognition in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Most of those Polish political emigres were based in France. The most important wave of emigration was that after the November Rising (1830 - 1831), supplied with new quota of emigres after the 1848 - 1849 revolutions and after the January Rising (1863-1864). The 1831 emigres played a major role in preparations for the 1846 and 1848 revolutions in Poland and also supported, and frequently fought, in revolutions of 1848 - 1849 in France, German and Italian lands, Austria, Hungary, and the Danube principalities.

After the November Rising had fallen in the part of Poland ruled by Russia, a wave of emigres spilled out, bound for western Europe. The emigration consisted of politically compromised persons such as members of the insurrectionary government, envoys, activists and publicists, generals and junior officers (particularly volunteers), and also some subalterns and privates. The Polish emigration of 1831 was, in the 19th century terms, a massive one, but its importance lies predominantly in the fact that, in intelectual terms, it played a paramount role in the history of post-Partition Poland. The emigration assumed, for at least several years, a number of functions of the non-existent Polish state and became a center of the literary, artistic, and to some extent scientific life as well as the hub of the growing free political and social thought. Having all this in mind, the early 20th century historians dubbed it the "Great Emigration" to emphasize its overall impact.

As of mid-December 1831, those of the military interned by Prussians and Austrians who decided to emigrate headed, mostly in groups, for France, following some pre-determined routes. As they were passing through western German territories, they were enthusiastically greeted by the local people. Larger groups or the so-called columns, crossed the French border between 16 January and 19 March 1832. Once in France and greeted with a friendly welcome, they were directed to some provincial towns where the so-called depots, organized after a military fashion, had been set up. Those politically most active sought to stay in Paris. Besides France, the post-November emigres settled in Great Britain, Belgium, Switzerland, USA, and Algeria, some of them living temporarily in German and Italian lands, Spain, Portugal, and in the Osman territories. Smaller waves of political refugees from Poland were reaching France past spring 1832. In the second half of 1833, the large French cities accepted 4042 ex-insurgents; a total of about 6000 emigres arrived in France from 1831 - 1837. Until 1863, at least 20 thousand Poles were in exile. After 1863, that number was augmented by a further 10 thousands,which adds up to at least 30 thousands for the entire period of 1831 - 1871. The social roots of most post-November emigres were in the nobility which subsequently transformed into "intelligentsia". An important part among the non-noble minority was played by people originating from urban proletariat. With time, many of them learned new trades. Within 1832 - 1847 in France, 754 Poles entered universities and more than 250 were attending other schools. Out of 5472 emigres in France in 1839, 3004 were professionally active: more than 45% were office workers and students, while businessmen, merchants, and artisans constituted 30%, menial workers made up 16%, and farm workers contributed 2.5%. The number of menial workers increased after 1848. After 1863, the number of noblemen among the emigres decreased, while the burgeoisie, intelligentsia, along with menial and farm workers grew in number (20 - 25% and 15 - 20%, respectively, for the last two groups).

In spite of financial difficulties and personal sacrifices, the "Great Emigration" led a life rich in organisational forms, publications, and to some extent also in art. Between 1831 and 1870, there were more than 50 political committees and associations and about 70 scientific, educational, cultural, welfare, military and social societies. Apart from numerous bulletins, brochures, and literary and scientific works, about 150 journals were published, mostly political and ideological. Most of them were ephemeral, but some lasted longer, e.g. Demokrata Polski (Polish Democrat) (1837 - 1863); Nowa Polska (New Poland) (1833 - 1837, 1839 - 1845]; Orzel Bialy (White Eagle) (1830 - 1848); Trzeci Maj (The Third of May) (1839 - 1848); Przeglad Rzeczy Polskich (Review of Polish Affairs) (1857 - 1863); Glos Wolny (Free Voice) (1863 - 1870). Most of the journals were published in Paris. The ideological and political heritage of the "Great Emigration" encompassed various directions, from ultra-montanism to liberal-conservative to democratic-republican to totalitarian, agrarian and revolutionary early socialism. Political writers among the emigration focused on developing ways to regain independence of Poland (armed fight) and on the shape of the government system of the future liberated Poland. Democratic ideologues formulated, finally in mid-thirties of the 19th century, the principle stating that the national insurrection in Poland has to be coupled with full social and political emancipation of peasants. The concept that both individual and national freedom are undeniable was particularly forcefully expressed in the works of Polish romantic writers in exile. Political history of the Great Emigration can be divided into a number of stages. Stage I, beginning in late autumn 1831, involved - on the one hand - a concentration, for more than 2 years, of most of the refugees in Avignon, Besançon, Bourges, Chateauroux, then in Lunel, Le Puy, and Bergerac. On the other hand, characteristic of the period were abortive attempts to create in Paris an authority that would have a power over the entire mass of emigres. In the order of appearance, these were: the so-called Komitet Tymczasowy Emigracji (Emigration's Temporary Committee) of Bonawentura Niemojowski, Komitet Narodowy Polski (Polish National Committee) of the historian Joachim Lelewel, and Komitet Narodowy Emigracji Polskiej (National Committee of Polish Emigration) of General Jozef Dwernicki. There were also attempts to gather in Paris envoys to the insurrectionary Sejm (parliament). Besides, Towarzystwo Demokratyczne Polskie (Polish Democratic Society) was active in Paris within 1832 - 1862, while the circle of Prince Adam J. Czartoryski formed the secret Zwiazek Jednosci Narodowej (Association for National Unity). Moreover, active was also a revolutionary and secret Polish carbonari movement headed by Namiot Polski Narodowy (Polish National Pavilion) associated with the carbonarisme universelle démocratique of F.Buonarroti.

Stage II of the Great Emigration's history covers the period of late 1834 until the summer of 1837. The French authorities dispersed the emigres from the large depots to numerous smaller localities. Alongside Paris, Poitiers became soon another center of political life. Moreover, emigration centers in London and Brussels grew in importance, as were - albeit temporarily - those in Switzerland, Portsmouth, and on the Isle of Jersey. At that time, following organizational and program-oriented changes, the system of political options became stabilized. That system included carbonari, the quasi-secret Mloda Polska (Young Poland) along with Zwiazek Dzieci Ludu Polskiego (Union of the Polish People's Children). England witnessed formation of Ogol Londynski (London Assembly) (since 1834) and early-socialist Gromady Ludu Polskiego (Assemblies of Polish People) (1835 - 1846). The Polish Democratic Society's membership grew rapidly; in 1834, the Society moved its governing body to Poitiers and elected the First Centralization, i.e., the executive committee which worked out, in 1836, the Society's fundamental ideological and program document, the "Great Manifesto". A conviction that liberation of Poland was not readily forthcoming and that the fight for freedom should be based on national resources rather than on a pan-European revolution became firmly implanted in the minds of most emigres.

Stage III in the history of the Great Emigration covers the period of autumn 1837 - spring 1846. The political scene was at that period dominated by the Polish Democratic Society, transformed into a modern, albeit an elite political party called Zjednoczenie Emigracji Polskiej (United Polish Emigration), formed in 1837 and moderately democratic, and the liberal-conservative group of Prince Adam J. Czartoryski, the group known since 1843 as the Hotel Lambert. Within it, in 1837, a secret leading Zwiazek Insurekcyjno-Monarchiczny (Insurrectionary-Monarchic Union) was formed. In 1843, the Hotel Lambert group spawned Stowarzyszenie Monarchiczne Fundatorow i Przyjaciol "Trzeciego Maja" ("Third of May" Monarchic Association of Founders and Friends). Isolated from all other movements were the Polish People's Assemblies in Portsmouth, the Humanin St. Helier on Jersey, and the Praga (since 1841 in London). A group of deeply religious emigrants founded in Rome, in 1842, Zgromadzenie Zmartwychwstania Panskiego (Assembly of Lord's Resurrection). In that year, too, people gathered around Andrzej Towianski and Adam Mickiewicz formed Kolo Slug Sprawy Bozej (Circle of Servants of God's Cause), a sectarian group of mystics. The major political parties of the emigration carried out propaganda activities directed to the fellow countrymen in the divided Poland as well as organized and supported, through special agents, underground liberation movements. In addition, the Hotel Lambert was involved in para-diplomatic activities in some European countries, the group's agents reaching even to the then Turkish Balkans and Middle East.

The abortive attempt to wage an all-nation revolution in Poland in February 1846, inspired by the Democratic Society, opened up Stage IV of the emigration history. The stage lasted until the end of revolutionary fightings in Europe, i.e., until 1849. In 1846, the majority of membership of the United Polish Emigration, the Assemblies, and other smaller parties accepted the principles of the National Government's Cracow manifesto and joined the Democratic Society. When the February revolution broke out in 1848, those refugees staying outside the organized formed Komitet Emigracji Polskiej (Polish Emigration Committee), headed initially by Jozef Dwernicki. Groups of emigres, the so-called columns, set off in spring 1848 to Poland where they were active in the political life and fought in Cracow, in the region of Poznan, and in the East Galicia. Groups of volunteers as well as organized Polish military formations, under the command of officers in exile fought in Italy, Hungary, in German lands, and in Danube principalities. Both the Democratic Society and the Hotel Lambert were canvassing with governments and revolutionary movements. Stage V covers the period between the defeat of the Springtime of Nations and the January Rising. The intensity of political activity of the emigres weakened, except for the period of the Crimean war. New refugees arriving to France in 1848 and 1849 set up Komitet Nowej Emigracji (New Emigration Committee); most of the Polish participants of the Hungarian revolution, however, chose emigration, via the then Turkish Bulgaria, to Great Britain and the United States. The French police forced the Centralization to move to London (1849), which weakened the Democratic Society. In 1853 in Paris, Kolo Polskie (Polish Circle), factional with respect to the Centralization, was formed and headed by Ludwik Mieroslawski and Jozef Wybicki. In 1853 the Democrats, and the Hotel Lambert even more so, began diplomatic actions in Istanbul, London, and Paris. Michal Czajkowski (Sadik-Pasha) and Wladyslaw Zamoyski succeeded in forming volunteer formations of sultan Kossacks in the Balkans, under command of emigre officers. Diplomatic actions carried out by Adam J.Czartoryski during the Paris Congress (1856) brought little to Poland; the indirect effect of that action was the limited amnesty declared in Russia by Tsar Alexander the Second, the amnesty being of importance predominantly for the Poles deported to Siberia. Adherents of socialism formed Gromada Rewolucyjna Londyn Ludu Polskiego (Polish People's London Revolutionary Assembly). Its activity, however, was undermined (1859/1860) by a provocation of the Prussian police, carried out from the region of Poznan. The emigration's political scene became enlivened by a wave of young refugees who arrived in western Europe from Poland in the late fifties. In 1861, Towarzystwo Mlodziezy Polskiej (Society of Polish Youth) was formed in Paris. The Society was initially influenced by L. Mieroslawski. Military courses were set up in Paris, the courses developing subsequently into a Polish military school in Genova and Cuneo in Italy. The school educated about 200 officers of the January Rising of 1863. The growing tension in Poland prompted numerous emigres to try to unite, which led to the formation of the Polish Emigration Committee in Paris (July 1862). Numerous younger refugees actually fought in the January Rising, while Prince Wladyslaw Czartoryski, leader of the Hotel Lambert after his father's death, was within May 1864 - February 1864 responsible for diplomatic actions of the Polish secret National Government. The history of Polish emigration after the 1863-1864 rising can be divided into a number of stages as well. During the first several months after the fall of the Rising no new political organization emerged. The Hotel Lambert focused on leading its associated parties as well as on welfare, scientific and educational institutions. On the other hand, L. Mieroslawski, in the tradition of the former Democratic Society, announced in July 1865 the formation of Towarzystwo Demokratyczne Polskie (Polish Democratic Society) in Paris. His autocratic style of leadership, however, inhibited any growth of the organization. Eventually in January 1870, the majority of the new Society's membership decided to remove Mieroslawski from office.

Tensions in international relations and the Austrian-Prussian- Italian war in 1866 activated the Polish emigration anew and gave rise to a new stage in its history. A democratic Zjednoczenie Emigracji Polskiej (Union of Polish Emigration) was founded, its communities existing in numerous localities of Europe and United States. The Union was headed by an elected Representative Committee, and its leaders were mostly the former "reds" of the Rising: Jaroslaw Dabrowski, Stanislaw Jarmund, Jozef Tokarzewicz, Walery Wroblewski, and also Zygmunt Milkowski. A group of moderates succeeded, in autumn 1867, in forming a factional Organizacja Ogolu (Organization of All), existing until 1869. Having returned from the United States, Ludwik Bulewski founded in Geneva in 1867 Ognisko Republikanckie Polskie (Polish Republican Heath), the Heath being the Polish Department of the International Republican Alliance. The Heath had for some time General Jozef Hauke-Bosakas its collaborator. The Heath expounded an extremely radical social program in the tradition of Ognisko Rewolucyjne Polskie (Polish Revolutionary Heath) formed by Bulewski in 1884 in London and linked with the European Democracy's Central Committee. All those organizations, with the exception of the Hotel Lambert, were terminated by the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 - 1871. On 8 August 1870, a Temporary Commission was formed with the idea for the Commission to represent interests of Polish emigres during the war. The Commission was active until April 1871. Polish emigres, although distrustful with respect to the government of the Second Empire, volunteered to fight in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 - 1871; some of them (a total of 450, including Jaroslaw Dabrowski and Walery Wroblewski) were also active in the Paris Commune. The French burgeoisie-influenced public opinion overemphasized the role of Poles in the Commune, which - among other things - contributed to aggravation of the emigres' situation in France during the Third Republic. This difficult situation as well as a possibility of returning to liberalized Galicia (the Polish part of Austro-Hungary) resulted in repatriation of numerous emigres and dwindling of the emigration's political scene. It was only the Hotel Lambert and some welfare and educational institutions that continued their activities, limited in scope, until 1878. On the other hand, Komisja Posredniczaca miedzy Krajem a Wychodzstwem (Liaison Commission between the Homeland and Emigration) was appointed in France. It was only in Great Britain that an utopian-socialist party was reborn for the third time, this time named Zwiazek Ludu Polskiego (Polish People's Union) (1872 - 1877); earlier the Polish Section of the First Workers' International was active in Britain as well.

The final quarter of the 19th century witnessed a massive economic emigration of peoples from Polish territories (Poles, Ukrainians, Jews). In addition, a new phenomenon appeared then which took the form of a "partisan" emigration resulting from the fact that activities of social-democratic parties and, in fact, of all other Polish political parties were prohibited in the part of Poland governed by Russia.
Slawomir R.Kalembka


J. W. Borejsza, Emigracja polska po powstaniu styczniowym, Warsaw 1966.

H. H. Hahn, "Die Organisation der polnischen 'Grossen Emigration' 1831-1847," in Nationale Bewegung und Soziale Organization, Munich-Vienna, 1978.

S. Kalembka, "Emigracje polityczne w powiedenskiej Europie" in Europai swiat w epoce restauracji i rewolucji 1815-1850, Warsaw 1990.

S. Kalembka, "Polskie wychodzstwo popowstaniowe i inne emigracje polityczne w Europie XIX wieku" in Polska XIX wieku, Panstwo - spoleczenstwo - kultura, 3d.ed, Warsaw 1986

S. Kalembka, Wielka Emigracja. Polskie Wychodzstwo polityczne w latach 1831-1862 Warsaw 1971.

F. Stasik, Polska emigracja polityczna w Stanach Zjednoczonych Ameryki 1831-1864 Warsaw 1973.

Table of Contributors   Table of Contents   Return to Encyclopedia Home Page

JGC revised this file JGC revised this file ( on October 19, 2004.

Please E-mail comments or suggestions to

© 1997, 2004 James Chastain.