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Rising in Poznan

Polish rising in the Grand Duchy of Poznan. The rising was launched on March 20, 1848 when the news of the outbreak of revolution in Berlin reached the city. The crowd gathered in the streets elected a delegation which approached the local Prussian authorities asking their consent to send a deputation to Berlin with a petition to the king, to wear the Polish colors of white-red ribbons, and to gather in the streets At noon, W. Stefanski arranged a popular gathering at the Hotel Bazar, where an adhoc national committee was formed. The committee took the reins of the insurrectionary movement which rapidly spread in the countryside and spawned a quasi-legal takeover of power by the local militia and armed peasants led by the nobility. Hearing about the king's concessions in Berlin, the German democrats in the grand duchy became more active, too, and demanded that Prussia declare war on Russia, that mainstay of reaction in Europe. They declared their sympathy and support for the Polish claims and thus, at the initial phase of the rising, the two nations went democratically hand in hand. Meanwhile, the national committee became divided into two factions: the left-wing democrats (among others K. Libelt, W. Stefanski), opting for preparations to fighting the Prussians, and the right-wing (G. Potworowski, M. Mielzynski, etc.), intending only to win more autonomy for Poles. Following discussions, the delegates to Berlin dropped their initial demands of independence and put forward an appeal for a legal "national reorganization of the Grand Duchy of Poznan". That meant the Poles' taking over the administration of the duchy without cutting off its ties with Prussia. The audience at the royal court on March 22 was unsuccessful, but the next day the government, following discussions with the delegation, struck a compromise. In his cabinet order of March 24, the king agreed to the reorganization of the Grand Duchy of Poznan, to be carried out by a Polish-German commission. It was a tactical concession forced by both the success of the Berlin revolution and the fear of a general Polish rising. Once the liberals stopped the revolutionary developments in Berlin by their compromise with Prussian landowners and the army, commanders of the latter secretly decided to put an end to the Polish movement by force, contradicting the official promises. Meanwhile, the Poznan's national committee became dominated by the democrats who, suspecting the Prussian authorities of treachery, began preparations for armed insurrection. By the end of March, representatives of the national committee in the provinces formed about seventy local and county committees which, here and there, removed Prussian district commissioners (Landrat). The takeover was easy in purely Polish neighbourhoods, while the situation in localities inhabited by both Poles and Germans was complicated and unstable. The Polish movement prevailed in the eastern and southern counties (bordering the Congress Kingdom), while the Prussian power in the northern and western counties remained intact. The remaining counties were jointly governed, temporarily, by Polish committees and Prussian officials. The armed forces of the rising were supervised by the war department set up by the national committee. The intention was for troops of volunteers to invade the congress kingdom, counting on a forthcoming outbreak of the Prusso-Russian war. On March 28, General Ludwik Mieroslawski arrived in Poznan and was appointed the commander-in-chief of the insurgent forces. Mieroslawski found the volunteers to be unprepared to fight the Prussian army, so he ordered concentrating them in three military training camps: in Wrzenia, Ksiaz, and Pleszew.

In their efforts to attract the peasant masses, the insurrection leaders declared on April 1 that all volunteers would be given land (the insurgent camps received a total of eight thousand eight hundred volunteers). The local Prussian authorities regarded this decision as an infringement of their competence and announced the grand duchy to be in the state of siege as of April 3. The authorities intended to dissolve the national committee, but instructions from Berlin made them stop any action until the arrival of General Wilhelm von Willisen, the royal commissioner. He was to negotiate a disarmament of the Poles and to promise them "reorganization" of the grand duchy, provided the Prussian hegemony was retained. Immediately upon his arrival, General von Willisen began negotiations with the national committee's representatives. Seeing that the nobility were unwilling to fight, but ready to compromise instead, he appointed, on April 7, the reorganization commission consisting of four Germans and five Poles and demanded that the insurgnet military camps be disbanded. As a result of dramatic pertractations, the Pact of Jaroslawiec was signed on April 11. The national committee representatives signed the pact under pressure of the Prussian troops surrounding the neighbourhood. They, however, managed to obtain Willisen's consent to allow several hundred volunteers to remain in the camps. Once the Prussian authorities were reinstated, the "reorganization" was to begin in the counties, involving augmentation of political and national rights of the Polish population. The Prussian government accepted the agreement, but - on its own accord - introduced a correction to the pact whereby the Grand Duchy of Poznan was to be divided into two parts, Polish and German, the "reorganization" being restricted to the Polish part only. The government's position became more rigid once the revolution in Berlin was pacified and as a result of pressure exerted by the local bureaucracy and German population in Poznan, who gradually increased their hostility toward the Polish movement. After General von Willisen had left, the government in fact voided his agreement by ordering the Polish committees in the counties to dissolve and by approving the brutal conduct of troops headed by General Friedrich A. Colomb. News of repression of volunteers returning home from the insurgent military camps outraged the Poles and incited some of them to fight the Prussians. Not submitting to this mood, the national committee, overwhelmed by the conservative noblemen, after a long dispute on April 25, ordered that the camps be disbanded completely. However, the volunteers still remaining in the camps did not obey and voted for General L. Mieroslawski to continue as their commander -in-chief. Further events ensued very rapidly. In their decision of April 25, the Prussian authorities restricted the scope of "reorganization" even more, allowing the introduction of changes in nine entire and in fragments of six counties (besides Poznan). Simultaneously, the Prussian troops lashed unrestricted terror against the Polish population. On April 29, the army took the insurgent camp at Ksiaz, killing the wounded and setting the town on fire. Hearing about that, the national committee on april 30 announced its dissolution and issued its last proclamation, stressing the treachery and violence of the Prussian authorities. On that day, too, insurgent troops led by General Mieroslawski fought a victorious battle against Prussian forces near Miloslaw. The victory was made possible by an accidental numerical prevalence of the insurgents, personal courage of the peasant volunteers, and inefficiency of the Prussian commander, but it was paid for by considerable losses. The victors were unable to pursue the retreating Prussian troops, the insurgent ranks being thinned by the fact that some of the officers among the nobility, opposed to further fighting of the Prussians, forsook the insurrectionary army. Mieroslawski was left with about three thousand volunteers. On May 2 they were attacked by the Prussians near the village of Sokolowo and suffered great losses during the fierce battle, but the Prussians had to retreat. Subsequently, however, further privates and officers left Mieroslawski, while some left-wing democrats wished to continue fighting. They formed guerilla troops near Poznan, Kocian, and Gniezno, but the Polish irregulars were soon dispersed by the Prussian forces. On May 9, the insurgents signed an act of capitulation in the village of Bardo near Wrzesnia, the Prussian authorities guaranteeing security to Polish military hospitals, officers, and emigres. The promises were not fully kept, however. About a thousand five hundred insurgents were arrested and jailed. When the prisons were full to capacity, some peasants were released, branded on ears and hands, which was immediately made public in the Polish press.

Meanwhile, the first session of the Prussian parliament in Berlin was attended by Polish envoys. They criticized the conduct of the Prussian authorities and army and demanded the punishment of those Prussian soldiers and officers who were particularly brutal in quelling the uprising. The Prussian government's resolution of the problem was its announcement on October 9, 1849 of an general amnesty for both Poles and Germans.

The effects of the rising proved profound and long-lasting. Polish leaders lost their trust in the Prussian government, while the actions of numerous Germans and brutality of the Prussian army engendered the first conflict between the two nationalities inhabiting the Grand Duchy of Poznan. Prussian repressions, insurrectionary fighting, and the propagandistic campaigns of the national committee fueled anti-German sentiments and contributed to a spontaneous increase in the national awareness of the Polish population. The defeat of the Polish rising in the Grand Duchy of Poznan was the first success of the counter-revolution in Europe in 1848, an introduction to the collapse of the springtime of nations.
Witold Molik

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