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Józef Wybicki - an outstanding socio-political journalist, a codifier of law and a writer


                    Józef Wybicki is known mainly as the author of the "The Song of the Polish Legions in Italy" which as "Dąbrowski’s Mazurka" became our national anthem. Many people know that he was an outstanding politician, a publicist and a writer, and few know that he was an underestimated lawyer - both for his contemporaries and his descendants.

               Józef Rufin Rogala Wybicki was born on September 29, 1747 in Będomin in Pomerania. He came from middle-class nobility. He studied at the Jesuit College in Stare Szkoty. Already there, with his friends, he made a rebellion for which he was removed from the college.

               In the legal competition, Wybicki appeared in a town and then in a tribunal office. In this way, he cultivated family traditions - his grandfather, his father’s brother, and two uncles were judges. The offices of that time were a great school for anyone who intended to hold a public office. Wybicki quickly became known as a young, talented lawyer who was eagerly appointed to defend various cases. This, as well as the affinity with the mighty Lniski family, meant that at the age of 17 he was sent to King Stanisław August Poniatowski’s Coronation Seym (as the clerk of the Pomeranian Voivode, Paweł Mostowski).

               Three years later, he takes part in the Pomeranian Sejm in Grudziądz, where he is elected as one of the four Pomeranian deputies to the Warsaw Sejm in 1768. There, his name became famous when, as an envoy, he protested against the Repnin’s rapes - the Tsarina Catherine II’s omnipotent ambassador. It was about the deportation, on the order of Repnin, of bishop Sołtyk and other senator-patriots into the depths of Russia.

               Threatened with arrest, he escapes from Warsaw to register the protest, first in Piotrków Trybunalski and then in the Spiska chapel. This event started Wybicki's political career. He was an active participant in the Bar Confederation and when he was in danger of being arrested, he leaves his homeland under the disguised name of Józef Enkler and goes to Leyda. There, in the years 1770-1771, he studies history, philosophy and public law. After returning to the country, he becomes involved in political affairs, first acting as a diplomatic agent of the Confederation and then as a Poznań governor. In 1776 he moves to Warsaw. Here he can devote himself to public and journalistic activities.

               Wybicki was one of the pioneers of journalism before and during the Four Years' Seym. The eminent historian Emanuel Rostworowski wrote about this journalism: "The Four Years' Seym was accompanied by a great wave of political journalism. Between 1775 and 1778 minds were less awake and pens more constrained, but yet then there was also a significant revival. The role of Staszic, Kołłątaj and Pawlikowski, on a more modest scale, but in a pioneering way at that time, was performed by the anonymous author of "Political Thoughts" and "Patriotic Letters" - Józef Wybicki.”

               In 1775 an anonymous brochure entitled "Political Thoughts on Civil Freedom" was published in Poznań. The second part of the publication appeared in 1776. His journalistic debut was 397 pages long. This work initiated the invigorating role of Polish journalism before the upcoming session of the Seym in 1776. In "Political Thoughts on Civil Freedom", Wybicki, influenced by the knowledge gained in the Netherlands, persuaded the monarch to implement reforms in the country. Thanks to this work, he became very popular and began to be involved in public activity at King Stanisław August’s side.

               From December 1776 to Easter 1778, Wybicki wrote "Patriotic letters to JW. ex chancellor Zamoyski laying the law". This work was published by printer Michał Gröll in Warsaw in two volumes. These letters were read during "Thursday Dinners". There were 14 of them, and the author discussed three main topics: government, peasants, and the church within the state. With these letters, the future author of the anthem wanted to convince the deputies to reform and prepare the ground for the adoption of the "Zamoyski’s Code", known as the "Collection of Laws". Wybicki was a participant in the work of Chancellor Andrzej Zamoyski on the codification of law, which went down in the history of Polish law as the "Andrzej Zamoyski’s Code".

                    The most eminent Polish lawyers participated in the work on the Code: the Bishop of Płock Szembek, the Lithuanian vice-chancellor Chreptowicz and Grocholski.

               In his work "Emissary of Independence:" Stanisław Pestka wrote about Wybicki’s activities: "the breeze thrown by Zamoyski and Wybicki, this representative of the emerging middle intelligence of the nobility, was to bear fruit in the time of the Four-Year Seym". He was also appreciated by foreigners. His extensive knowledge was emphasized by, among others, Johan Bernouilli - Swiss astronomer and English traveller - William Coxe. Fryderyk Schultz (a German-Livonian writer) mentions Wybicki as "the first of the strongest Polish heads and the famous orator".

               Wybicki's progressive views were also evidenced by his two subsequent studies, "Projects for releasing people on rent and freeing them from servitude" (1778) and "A conversation between a Polish nobleman, a Swiss and a Jew in Gdańsk".

               Unfortunately, the “Zamoyski’s Code”  was rejected at the Seym in 1780. "[...] in such a set we do not find satisfaction with our intentions, we repeal this Law forever." The embittered Wybicki retired to the privacy of his home in his estate in Manieczki near Śrem for a long time. There, not only he took up professional legal activity and wrote articles for Gazeta Narodowa, but he devoted himself primarily to literary, dramatic and operatic works.

In the years 1783-1791 he wrote nine comedies, tragedies and operas:

- the drama "Zygmunt August";

- the comedy in 5 acts "Kulig" (1783);

- the drama "Gustaw Waza";

- the opera "Samnitka" (1787);

- the opera "Polka, or the Siege of Trembowla (1788);

- the drama "The Stray Shepherdess, or the Picture of the Dutch War" (1788);

- the comedy "The Gentleman of the Bourgeoisie" (1791)

- the comedy "The Wise Man" (1791).

               Some of these plays were staged during the Four-Year Seym, including the comedy "Kulig". In 1791, in a letter to Kołłątaj, he asked that the drama "Gustaw Waza" be placed at the throne of Stanisław August "as a Polish Vase". These works, weak in literary and artistic terms, had deep patriotic and social content. During this period, there were also brochures entitled "Notes on funeral costs" (1781), "Citizens' comments on beggars" (1781) and "Political and critical comments on the past and present" (1783 - 1784) published, in which he praised the importance of education and of the National Education Commission.

               In the year of birth of his daughter Teresa (1782), a valuable work in the field of economic policy was published, "On the ways of the navigable conduct of trade".Wybicki's journalism had a significant impact on the authors of the May the 3rd Constitution and many deputies were in favor of it. Although Wybicki was not a deputy to the Grand Seym many of his previously published works were reflected in the resolutions and reforms of the Seym. His activity during the Four-Year Seym was very intensive. He did the most for the reform of municipal law and legislation.

                    It is believed that he collaborated with the President of Warsaw, Jan Dekkert, and supported the so-called The "black procession" of the townspeople.

                    The enactment of the Constitution prompted Wybicki to return to Warsaw and  resume legislative, social and political activities. He was actively involved in the drafting of the "Stanisław August’s Code" announced by the Seym, which is to constitute a collection of Polish criminal and civil law.

                    Apart from outstanding lawyers: Wojciech Wolski, Józef Morawski, J. Kossakowski, Słuski and politicians: Stanisław Małachowski and Hugo Kołłątaj, Wybicki became a member of the Crown deputation for the preparation of the "Stanisław August’s Code". He was also the author of "Principles of Protest Codicis by Stanisław August" Wybicki divided this valuable work of codification into four parts:

- part I: On the security of personal, land, municipal and movable property;

- part II: Principles of law on the system of common courts (judicial magistracy);

- part III: Introduction to the law and the procedure in it until obtaining justice in a civil case;

- part IV: All misdemeanors and criminal crimes.

                  Wybicki's codification work was mature and progressive in every respect. Although, like the “Stanisław August’s Code”, it was not finally discussed by the Seym (Targowica), it is a valuable monument in the history of Polish legal culture at the end of the 18th century.

                  Participation in the Kościuszko Uprising resulted in a long-term friendship with General J. H. Dąbrowski. The history of their long friendship and his participation in the creation of the Polish Legions in Italy are widely known, if only because of the history of our anthem.

                    Wybicki returned to the political scene in Poland once more during the Napoleonic campaign. First, in 1806, creating Napoleon's appeal to Poles calling for an uprising against the partitions, and then organizing administrative structures during the Greater Poland Uprising in 1806. He also contributed to the creation and organization of the Duchy of Warsaw.

                    After the fall of Napoleon, Wybicki resumed working in the legal profession. In 1917, he was appointed president of the Supreme Court in the Kingdom of Poland by Tsar Alexander I. After three years, he resigns and lives in his favorite Manieczki, where he dies on March 10, 1822.

                    Wybicki's rich literary and, above all, journalistic and juristic legacy makes him one of the most prominent figures on the Polish political and journalistic scene at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries. His works brought many new thoughts to the ossified system of noble political thought and gave light to changes in Sarmatian thinking based on the farm and serf economy. Wybicki saw the need for deep reforms in 18th-century Poland. He realized that without them, not only would the Republic of Poland collapse, but it would also be hard for it to be reborn again. Hence, his entire legacy, both journalistic and literary, is permeated with deep concern for the future of the Republic of Poland.

It is therefore worth knowing that Józef Wybicki was not only the author of the national anthem, but one of the most outstanding figures of Poland in the 18th century.

Autor: Magdalena Jezierska