Thursday, November 19, 2009

Casimir Pulaski, Polish Cavalry Officer in Our Revolutionary War

On November 6, President Obama signed an interesting bill, HJ Res. 26. It proclaimed Casimir Pulaski, a high-ranking Polish nobleman (1745 – 1779), an honorary citizen of the United States. He is only the 7th honoree holding this title. The others are William Penn and his wife Hannah, Lafayette, Winston Churchill, Swede Raoul Wallenberg, who rescued Jews during the Holocaust, and Mother Theresa.

In Poland, Pulaski fought in many campaigns, plots, and insurrections to try and liberate his country from domination, predominantly the Russians.

He was a fugitive from Europe, arriving here to commence a very distinguished reputation as a noted cavalry officer. Saving George Washington’s life at the Battle of Brandywine is attributed to him.

He followed our war into the South, where he fought in tough battles, including Charleston and Savannah, where he was mortally wounded in 1779.

I’m not sure that Pulaski is generally that well-known all across the country, so I was amazed how many places and events are named after him. The list is quite extensive, including counties, some cities, schools, highways, and festivals.

Pulaski is an excellent example of the committed role foreigners played in our Revolution. Lafayette and the French of course come to mind immediately.

Locally, I often notice names assigned to highways, bridges, and other public venues. Generally, I don’t recognize the names at all. They deserve more publicity. The have all contributed in some major way to be commemorated. It’s very fitting that Pulaski has been.

The President and this bill are a good fit. He calls Chicago home. The city has a very large number of Polish Americans; they exert considerable influence politically and culturally. They regard Pulaski as one of their own. –Renata Breisacher Mulry

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Pulaski is noteable on many levels. Your succinct post details much of his deserved fame in the USA at the time of our revolution.

For Polish-Americans he should be a nuanced figure, as his personal bravery was matched by a passionate idelogy as to "what" Poland should be.

Prior to her dismemberment in the late 1700s, Poland - or more properly the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth - was a confederation in which the nobility exercised a great deal of power. Pulaski's family came from this nobility, which was much more numerous in Poland than in other European countries. The King in Poland was elected by this nobility, and the clergy, and the king had restricted powers. Unbelievably Poland had a parliamentary system with a "liberum veto," whereby if one member of the assembly disagreed with a motion it was vetoed. The Prussians and the Russians were always able to find one individual out of the hundreds of members to veto reform bills they felt might strengten the Commonwealth.

Pulaski was part of a group of nobles opposed to the centralizing reforms of Poland's last king, Stanislaus August Poniatowski. Pulaski fought the Russians, yes - but at the same time he was fighting the King. His last act, that led to his exile - was an attempt to kidnap the King.

Pulaski entered France illegally, no country in Europe would accept him, and that's where Benjamin Franklin caught his ear and convinced him to fight for the nascent USA.

Rightfully called the "Father of the American Cavalry," it would have been interesting to see what Pulaski's views would have been post-revolution, had he stayed in America. Given his history in Poland, I would posit that he would have been a strident "anti-Federalist," preferring the Articles of Confederation to a strong national government.

One of the Federalist Papers cites Poland as an example of what can happen to a loose confederation surrounded by powerful neighbors, i.e., destructiuon.

Blake Konczal - Fresno, CA