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January 15, 1505

Nihil novi constitution

Historical context

The Nihil novi Constitution was adopted by the General Sejm (parliament) convened in the city of Radom in 1505. Its passage entailed one of the stages in the conflict between the magnates of the royal council and the representation of the szlachta (gentry) gathered in the Chamber of Deputies – i.e., the lower house of the parliament – whose impact on the political system of the state was then increasing. An attempt at restricting the deputies’ influence on the state system had been made by means of the October 30, 1501 “Union of Mielnik”, which marginalized the significance of the Chamber of Deputies in the bicameral Sejm. The gentry responded first by invalidating the deed, and thereafter by enacting a constitution in 1504 that interdicted the alienation of royal estates to magnates (in Poland-Lithuania, ‘constitutions’ were equivalent to parliamentary acts or laws). The Nihil novi Constitution is what then followed.

Nihil novi rendered the “Union of Mielnik” null-and-void in its entirety and strictly limited the legislative competences of the monarch and the Senate, banning the issuance of laws without the consent of the senators and gentrymen represented in the Chamber of Deputies. The thrust of Nihil novi was essentially to reinforce the position of the bicameral parliament in the political system of the Polish-Lithuanian Rzeczpospolita (Commonwealth). In so doing, the parliament, and particularly its Chamber of Deputies, attained the position of highest authority in the state. The functioning of the Sejm was henceforth to be based on smooth co-operation between the king, the royal council – i.e. the Senate – and the deputies elected locally or regionally to the Chamber of Deputies.

Constitutional and legal historians recognize Nihil novi as marking the beginning of the ‘nobles’ democracy’ (or, democracy of the nobility) in the Polish-Lithuanian Rzeczpospolita.

Document text

De non faciendis constitutionibus sine consensu Consiliariorum et Nuntiorum Terrestrium
Quoniam jura communia et constitutiones publicae non unum, sed communem populum afficiunt, itaque in hac Radomiensi Conventione cum universis Regni nostri Praelatis, Consiliarijs, Baronibus et Nuntijs Terrarum, aequum et rationabile censuimus, ac etiam statuimus, ut deinceps futuris temporibus perpetuis, nihil novi constitui debeat per Nos et successores nostros sine communi Consiliariorum et Nuntiorum Terrestrium consensu, quod fieret in praejudicium gravamenque Reipublicae, et damnum atqe incommodum cujuslibet privatum, ad innovationemque juris comunis et publicae libertatis.
Volumina legum, t. 1, 1859, s. 300.
Ponieważ prawa ogólne i ustawy publiczne dotyczą nie pojedynczego człowieka, ale ogółu narodu, przeto na tym walnym sejmie radomskim wraz ze wszystkiemi królestwa naszego prałatami, radami i posłami ziemskimi za słuszne i sprawiedliwe uznaliśmy, jakoż postanowiliśmy, iż odtąd na potomne czasy nic nowego (nihil novi) stanowionem być nie ma przez nas i naszych następców, bez wspólnego zezwolenia senatorów i posłów ziemskich, co by było z ujmą i ku uciążeniu Rzeczypospolitej oraz ze szkodą i krzywdą czyjąśkolwiek, tudzież zmierzało ku zmianie prawa ogólnego i wolności publicznej.
Historia ustroju i prawa w Polsce do 1772/1795. Wybór źródeł, red. S. Godek, M Wilczek-Karczewska, Warszawa 2006, s. 65.
Since the general laws and public acts pertain not to the individual, but rather to the whole populus, therefore, at this General Sejm convened in Radom, together with all the prelates, councilors, and landed deputies of our Kingdom, we have deemed it fitting and just, and indeed hereby ordain, that henceforth, and into future times perpetual, nothing new [Lat., nihil novi] shall be constituted whether by us or by our successors without the common consent of the senators and the landed envoys that shall be detrimental or burdensome to the Rzeczpospolita [Commonwealth], or harmful or injurious to anyone, or be intended to amend the general law and public liberty.
Translated © by Tristan Korecki, Philip Earl Steele
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