Prisons, politics and the gift of freedom: Kosciuszko, Niemcewicz and Paul I


Paul I
prison writings

How to Cite

Janicki, J. J. (2017). Prisons, politics and the gift of freedom: Kosciuszko, Niemcewicz and Paul I . Bibliotekarz Podlaski Ogólnopolskie Naukowe Pismo Bibliotekoznawcze I Bibliologiczne, 34(1), 163–197. Retrieved from


This study concerns the character and principles of Paul I (1754–1801), his attitude toward Poland and in particular his relationship with Julian U. Niemcewicz (1758–1841) and Tadeusz Kosciuszko (1746–1817) in the aftermath of Paul’s generous act of liberating the Poles from imprisonment in Petersburg and their subsequent American exile. It focuses on the “gift” of liberation itself and the complicating factors of Paul’s decision to impose an oath of loyalty (przysięga wiernopoddańcza) on all released prisoners, including Kosciuszko and Niemcewicz, an act tantamount to recognizing the end of Poland, and their unwilling status as Russian subjects. Kosciuszko’s reluctant signing of the document in the light of his stature as national leader and previous oaths taken to serve the Polish fatherland is examined to cast light on his subsequent relations with both Paul.

This paper draws upon a number of scholarly works devoted to Paul and Kosciuszko as well as writings of Niemcewicz, his memoirs and travel journals, and the account of his confinement in the Petropavlovsk Prison, Notes sur ma captivité en Russie (1800). In particular, his ode “Do Pawła” (“To Paul”) written in Petersburg upon his release by Paul is examined as an expression of gratitude to the Russian tsar for the gift of freedom. The poem captures the mood of the moment of his return to a life of freedom, but is also a testament to his admiration for the Russian tsar and to Kosciuszko himself as a selfless and far-sighted leader of the Polish nation.



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The editorial team of “Bibliotekarz Podlaski” implements an open access policy by publishing materials in the form of the so-called Gold Open Access. The journal is available under the Creative Commons license – Attribution – ShareAlike 4.0: International: CC BY-SA 4.0).

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