Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Before the 20th century, in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (1567-1795), the term Sejm referred to the entire three-chamber Polish parliament, which consisted of the lower house (Chamber of Deputies, Polish Izba Poselska), the upper house (Senate, Polish Senat) and the King. It was usually referred to as the three-estate parliament. Since the times of the Second Polish Republic (1918-1939), the name Sejm has referred only to the lower house of the Parliament; the upper house is called the Senat.
Sejm of the Kingdom of Poland and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
The history of the Sejm dates back to 1182 and the first Sejm at Łęczyca. From 1493 forward, the indirect elections were repeated every two years. With time and the development of the unique Polish noble's democracy the Sejm's powers increased.
The term "sejm" comes from an old Polish expression denoting a meeting of the populace. The General Sejm (Polish Sejm Generalny), first convoked by the king John I Olbracht in 1493 near Piotrków, evolved from earlier regional and provincial meetings (sejmiks), which arose from the 1454 statute of Nieszawa , granted to the szlachta by King Casimir IV the Jagiellonian.
The first Sejm was composed of two chambers:
- A Senate of 81 bishops and other dignitaries
- A lower house, Sejm proper, of 54 deputies (Polish poseł, representing and elected by the local sejmiki)
The number of dignitaries and deputies increased over time. After 1567 Union of Lublin, the Kingdom of Poland was transformed into the federation of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Sejm was increased with the inclusion of the deputies from Lithuanian Sejmiks.
The legislation was drafted in the lower chamber (Sejm). Members of the Sejm presented its proposed legislation to the gathered deputies of the Sejm, where they were discussed at lenght. The legislation was commonly negotiated by a deputation from the lower house (Sejm) with the upper chamber (Senate) and the reigning monarch (considered to be a third, separate Sejm chamber on his own).
Eventuallly, laws were approved or discarded at the joint final sitting of both chambers in the presence of the king. For a law to pass it needed a unanimous support from all Sejm deputies and the King. The Senate could not pass nor propose legislation and was an adivisory body to the King. The King heard the Senate counsel and concluded the matter one way or another, although his power was restricted if all the Sejm speakers opposed the royal proposal. If there were conflicting views in the Senate, the king had to favour the existing law.
The king could not pass the laws himself without the approval of the Sejm, this being forbidden by szlachta priviliges like nihil novi from 1505. According to the "Nihil Novi" constitution a law passed by the Sejm had to be agreed by the three estates sitting there - the king, the Senate and and deputies from the Sejm.
The Marshal (or Speaker) of the Sejm concluded the debates, but he was required to ask the members whether his understanding of the chamber's views was unanimously accepted by it. If anyone declared his opposition (Latin contradictio ), the debate would be reopened and would continue until the opponents of the measure abandoned their opposition at the next attempt to reach a conclusion.
Unanimity was reinforced with the szlachta right of liberum veto (from Latin, meaning: I don't allow). It had a certain negative character: it was enough if no formal exception was taken by anyone – even if some opposition did exist, it would not necessarily be upheld, in the face of sometimes menacing persuasion from the majority group. If, however, the deputies could not attain even such passive unanimity, or if the chamber's negotiations with the king proved futile then after six weeks (the upper time limit of its sittings) had elapsed, the deliberations as a whole were declared null and void. From the mid-17th century onwards, any objection to a Sejm resolution from either a deputy or a senator automatically caused other, previously approved resolutions to be rejected. This was because all resolutions passed by a given Sejm formed a whole and were published as constitutions of the Sejm e.g. Anno Domini 1667.
In the 16th century no single person or small group dared to hold up proceedings, but from second half of 17th century the liberum veto was used to paralyze the Sejm and brought the Commonwealth to the brink of collapse. The liberum veto was finally abolished by the Constitution of 3rd May in 1795.
The early statues passed by the Sejm were called "constitution" (Polish konstytucja) and should not be confused with modern meaning of this word. The konstytucja passed by the Sejm had denoted all the legislation, of whatever character, that had been passed at a Sejm. Only with the May 3rd Constitution in 1795 did "konstytucja" assume its modern sense of a fundamental document of governance.
The final version of approved acts, which from the late 15th century until the early 16th century were divided into perpetual and temporary constitutions ('constitutiones perpetuae' and 'constitutiones temporales'), was drawn up at the sealing sessions , held after the close of the Sejm debate. These sessions were attended by the chancellor, the Speaker of the Sejm and deputations from the Sejm and the Senate. From the end of the 16th century, the constitutions they signed were printed, stamped with the royal seal and bearing the signatures of the Sejm speaker and the chancellor sent to the chancelleries of the municipal councils of all voivodships of the Crown and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Until 1543 the resolutions were written in Latin, and later on in Polish. In accordance with the act of 1613, immediately after the close of Sejm debates, the constitutions it had passed were published by entering them in the registers of wherever the Sejm was meeting. Copies of them still had to be sent to municipal councils throughout the country, where they were entered or - more commonly - incorporated in their printed form in the municipal registers.
Sejm of the Second Polish Republic
Sejm of the People's Republic of Poland
Sejm of modern Poland
- Confederated sejm (Sejm skonfederowany)
- Contract Sejm (Sejm Kontraktowy)
- Convocation Sejm (Sejm konwokacyjny)
- Coronation Sejm (Sejm koronacyjny)
- Election Sejm (Sejm elekcyjny)
- Great Sejm (Sejm Wielki)
- National Assembly of Poland (Zgromadzenie Narodowe)
- Politics of Poland
- Silent Sejm (Sejm Niemy)
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