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The Sejm of the Polish – Lithuanian joint state – the Commonwealth of the Two Nations – that convened on 1 February 1717, and sat in conference for only six or seven hours instead of the usual several weeks or several months, was given a name of “silent” because the draft laws were approved without considering them and none of the participants was allowed to start discussions. This procedure for adopting laws was agreed upon in advance. Only the Speaker of the Sejm was allowed to speak whose candidature was coordinated prior to the beginning of the Sejm. There was no usual election of the Speaker of the Sejm either.
Augustus II
© DELFI / Tomas Vinickas

Such measures were taken to avoid a danger that after making use of the right of liberum veto (the free veto) the work of the Sejm would be disrupted and approval of the prepared agreement and coordinated draft laws would be ruined. The right of liberum veto meant that a contradiction of only one member of the Sejm was enough for all the proposed draft laws to be rejected or even the entire Sejm to be broken and all the decisions adopted earlier would become null and void. King August II and the leaders of the nobility, which revolted against the policy pursued by the King, agreed on the eve of the Sejm that the Sejm would adopt all the decisions prepared without considering them. In this way it was sought to end the internal 1715–1716 crisis that developed in the Commonwealth of the Two Nations during which even armed fights between the supporters of the King and his opponents took place.

August II's plans

August II was not only the Ruler of the Commonwealth of the Two Nations but also the Duke of Saxony located in Germany. Saxony and the Commonwealth of the Two Nations had been fighting together against Sweden for a long time, the Great Northern War (1700–1721) was going on. Russia ruled by Peter I was an ally of Saxony and the Commonwealth of the Two Nations. The Swedes were driven out of the Commonwealth of the Two Nation at the end of 1709; however, it was not quiet in the neighbourhood. Seeking to assure security of the territory of the Commonwealth of the Two Nations, August II located a part of the Saxony army there. Soon the King decided to use that loyal army for other purposes – he did not only try to impose the burden of maintaining that Saxony army on Poland and Lithuania but also strengthen the King's power, which was highly restricted in the Commonwealth of the Two Nations.

He wanted to be assured that the throne of the Ruler of the Commonwealth of the Two Nations would go to his son in the future therefore he planned to restrict the right of the nobility to elect their kings. August II intended to strengthen the relations between Saxony to which he had the right of inheritance and the Commonwealth of the Two Nations so that these relations should become constant and should not depend on the elections of the King in the Commonwealth of the Two Nations. Then his son would have been able to become Ruler of both Saxony and the Commonwealth of the Two Nations easily.

The internal collision required intermediaries

The Polish nobility, being dissatisfied with the abuse by the Saxony army and suspecting that it was intended to restrict the rights of the nobility and the sovereignty of the Commonwealth of the Two Nations, rose in revolt in the autumn of 1715. On 26 November, in the city of Tarnogród, the political and military union of the nobility in revolt – a confederation – was created. Soon the nobility of Lithuania joined the Polish nobility. On 23 March 1716, the Confederation of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was formed in Vilnius. The King understood that the nobility would be unable to impose their will. But the nobility in revolt was not able to overcome the Saxonian army. Russia was invited to act as an intermediary in the negotiations, and it also sent 18 thousand its warriors to the Commonwealth of the Two Nations.

On 3 November 1716, an agreement was concluded in Warsaw. For the Agreement to acquire the power of law it had to be confirmed by the Sejm. Fearing possible distortions or rejection of the agreement or draft laws accompanying it, it was decided that the Sejm would approve everything as had been agreed upon, without any considerations. This was done at the Sejm convened on 1 February 1717. The King undertook to withdraw the Saxonian army from the Commonwealth of the Two Nations. The Guards consisting of 1200 Saxes were permitted to stay for his personal protection. The King had to maintain them at his own expense. The ministers of Saxony were forbidden from interfering with the affairs of the domestic and foreign policy of the Commonwealth of the Two Nations. The King had to refuse his plans to restrict the right of free elections of the Ruler of the Commonwealth of the Two Nations and his intents to closer relate the Commonwealth of the Two Nations and Saxony.

Reforms adopted in silence

The Sejm reformed the army and the Treasury, and restricted powers of the commanders (Hetmans) of the army; the latter could not allocate expenses to the army at their discretion. The possibilities of the nobility of the local government (sejmicks) to interfere with the affairs of the Treasury were restricted but the possibilities to deal with the local economic problems were increased. Permanent taxes, which did not depend on whether they would be approved at an ordinary Sejm or not, were introduced.

That was important because ever more often the Sejms began to be discontinued. Not only the state and church estates (they had these duties earlier too) but also those of the nobility had to pay these taxes. The Sejm decided that the Commonwealth of the Two Nations had to have a standing army – 1800-strong in Poland and 6 200-strong in Lithuania. The peculiarities of calculating the wages of the warriors determined the fact that actually there were about 12 000 warriors in the Polish army and in Lithuania this figure stood at 4 000. The possibility to increase the army in the future was not precluded.

The law proclaimed that the Sejms would be able to freely "increase and decrease" the army, to change the size of wages and taxes. Russia was not recognised as the guarantee of the decisions of the "silent" Sejm, however, it herself, on the basis of the fact that it acted as an intermediary in signing the Warsaw agreement of 3 November 1716, started making claims to the role of the guarantor of the "freedoms" of the nobility of the Commonwealth of the Two Nations. The decisions of the "silent" Sejm put an end to the internal fights. The reforms enabled the country to come to life again after long-lasting wars, but it was insufficient to ensure the re-establishment of the state's power.