I, Tadeusz Kościuszko, hereby swear by the God to the entire Polish Nation, that I shall not use the powers vested in me for anyone's oppression, but for defence of the integrity of the borders, recuperation of Nation's sovereignty and strengthening the universal freedom. So help me God and the innocent passion of His Son.
Patron of the Cracow University of Technology is a national hero in Poland and the United States of America. He was a great commander and even better fortification engineer. Thomas Jefferson, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States and 3rd President of the country called him as pure son of liberty as I have ever known.
Andrzej Tadeusz Bonawentura Kościuszko was born on 4th February, 1746 in the village of Mereczowszczyzna, the fourth and last child of Polish noble Ludwik Tadeusz Kościuszko and Tekla, née Radomska. Due to family’s poor financial situation, he decided to enroll in Knight Academy. With help from the Czartoryski Familia (Polish-Lithuanian magnate family), Kościuszko became a member of the newly-formed Corps of Cadets. Aside from military education, he also studied humanities and graduated from the academy with the rank of captain.
The next stage in Kosciuszko’s education was joining the Academy of Sculpture and Painting in Paris. In the French capital, where revolutionary moods began to rise, he attended private lectures of the most prominent professors of military schools, allowing him to enhance his engineering knowledge. He was, however, left to his own devices in terms of education – he could not attend military courses as a foreigner and he could not afford them. Having spent five years in France during the Age of Enlightenment forged his liberal attitude towards freedom and state organization.
He returned briefly to his homeland in 1775, right after the First Partition of Poland but failed to find a job in the reduced to ten thousand troops army. He was forced to leave for France once again where he heard of the rebellion of English colonies across the Ocean, later known as the War of Independence. Fascinated by the opportunity to prove his abilities in a young country, whose ideological ground was close to his own, Kosciuszko appeared in America a month after the Declaration of Independence (4th July 1776).
With his engineering talent the young commander was quickly promoted inside the American military. In October he became colonel for his successful efforts to fortify the region of Philadelphia (Billingsport and Mercer). In spring 1777 Kosciuszko began his work to upgrade the defensive lines along the northern borders. This led to the building of Fort Ticonderoga and several other forts, which contributed to the American victory at Saratoga, considered to be a turning point of the war by historians. His success led general Washington to order him the building of West Point fortress – today a military academy, then – according to Washington – a key strategic military installation, located by the Hudson River. He could show his military skills in open battle in the South where he had the chance to command American troops for the first time.
In August 1784 Kosciuszko returned to Poland, where there was need for patriotism and reform, due to grave threats both from the neighbouring countries and anarchist nobles. As a result of laws passed by the Great Parliament (1788-1792) the Polish army was enlarged to a hundred thousand troops and the hero of American battlefields became a general in its’ ranks. During the Polish – Russian war, Kosciuszko showed great valor in the battles of Zielence, Włodzimierz and Dubienka, for what he was awarded with the Virtuti Militari and promoted to a higher rank.
The rising of the Confederation and the joining its forces with the king – August Poniatowski prevented the Polish army from further fighting and forced Kosciuszko to emigrate to Saxony, where plans were being prepared to conduct an uprising against the countries that took part in the Partitions. Kosciuszko’s concept to obtain help from France in the struggle failed.
With Poland hanging on the verge of annihilation, the general had to accelerate his actions and arrive in the country. On 24th March 1794 in Cracow an act of uprising was proclaimed after which Kosciuszko swore to lead the army, and became the formal military leader of the uprising. After the initial success in the battle of Raclawice and spreading the fight to Warsaw and Vilnius, the uprising broke down. The armies of Russia, Prussia and Austria were too big and too strong for the small and ill-equipped Polish forces. However, Kosciuszko’s success was to draw different social classes to the fight for freedom, especially the peasants, who were freed from oppressive laws. It is also worth noting that in his army there was the first in Polish history (and the first since the ancient times) Jewish battalion, led by Berek Joselewicz.
The fall of the uprising and imprisonment of Kosciuszko after the battle of Maciejowice sealed the fate of Poland as an independent republic. Forced to swear an oath of loyalty to the tzar Paul I in exchange for freedom of twenty thousand Polish soldiers, Kosciuszko emigrated for the last time, first to the United States, then to France. He took part in forming the Polish Legion in Italy. He opposed considering Napoleon as a hope for independence. After the fall of Napoleon he negotiated the treaty with tzar Alexander I but failed to convince the Russian leader to his notions. He spent the last years of his life in Switzerland, where he died on 15th October 1817.
His ideas were ahead of his time. He was one of the first opponents of slavery in the USA. He contributed his wealth to freedom and education of African Americans. He made Thomas Jefferson responsible for executing his will. He also supported Indians in their movement towards freedom.
Apart from the Cracow University of Technology (since 1976) Kosciuszko became the patron of many institutions and places. In the USA only George Washington has more statues. His name is also the name of Australia’s highest mountain peak. A mound was set up in his name in Cracow in 1820-23 and also in Olkusz and Polaniec. He also has a statue on the Wawel Hill, where his remains were buried in 1818. The heart of the hero of two nations and an honour citizen of France rests in the Royal Castle in Warsaw.