The Latin expression “liberum veto” or "I freely forbid" was a parliamentary device in the Commonwealth of Poland-Lithuania and even today, it is often used by the United States of America in the Security Council of the United Nations.
In Poland “liberum veto” allowed any member of the House of Representatives to stop the current session and nullify any legislation that had already been passed at the session by shouting “Nie pozwalam!,” or in Polish: "I do not allow!"
The principle of unanimity was used by early Slavic tribal military democracies, which were at the peak of their success in 740 A.D.
The unanimity rule which was applied to regular sessions of the House of Representatives (Izba Poselska) became critical from the mid-16th to the late 18th century, in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth when the “liberum veto,” became a form of unanimity voting rule. It played an important role in the later stages of the nearly 300 years long evolution of the unique Polish form of “constitutionalism," which started with the Constitution Nihil Novi of the third of May 1505 and formally lasted until the Constitution of The Third of May, 1791.
The limitations of the powers of the monarch, acting in the First Republic as a chief executive, were significant in making the “rule of law, religious tolerance and limited constitutional government” in Poland in times when the rest of Europe was being devastated by religious wars and despotism.
The use of the unanimity rule evolved from the principle of unanimous consent and from the federative character of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, which was basically a federation of countries with two official languages: Polish in the Kingdom of Poland and the Belorussian language in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania which was composed of a Lithuanian minority and a Belorussian and Ruthenian or Ukrainian Majority.
Each deputy to a Sejm was elected at a local regional small Sejm or in Polish “sejmik” and represented the entire region which authorized him as a representative who had to attend the “report back” sessions in which he reported news from the world, national security and he had to explain how well he did execute his responsibility to his Sejmik in all decisions taken at the Sejm in Warsaw.
A decision taken by a majority against the will of a minority (even if only a single regional Sejmik) was considered a violation of the principle of political equality. It is commonly, and erroneously, believed that a Sejm was disrupted by means of “liberum veto” by a deputy of Troki, Władysław Siciñski in 1652. In reality, however, he only vetoed the continuation of the Sejm's deliberations beyond the statutory time limit. It was seventeen years later in 1669, in Kraków, that a Sejm was prematurely disrupted by the use of the “liberum veto, “ by the deputy, Adam Olizar, from the Kiev regional Sejmik.
Native Ukrainian, Belorussian and Lithuanian boyar families were after the Union of Horodło in 1413 invited by the
Polish noble families to share their coats of arms and privileges. Thus Adam Olizar had a Polish coat of arms and belonged to Polish nobility in the Ukraine in the regions of Kiev and Volhynia. His progenitor was Olizar Volchkevych, the starosta of Chernobyl – “nomen omen” (1533–45). He was one of the organizers of the 1569 Union of Lublin, which created Polish Nobles’ Republic.
Typically the Olizar family became Polonized by the late 16th century. Adam Olizar (ca 1572 to 1624), a Polish cavalry commander who converted from Orthodoxy to Roman Catholicism, owned large landholdings (7 towns and 33 villages)
in Korostyszew, and Żytomierz region.
Adam and his son, Ludwik (d 1645), developed iron-ore mining there. Ludwik's son, Jan (d ca 1700), was elected marshal of the Sejmik of Kiev voivodeship in 1665. Jan's son, Adam (ca 1657 to 1713), was a petty nobleman in Ovruch in Volhynia. One of Jan's descendants, Filip (ca 1750 to 1816), the son of Onufry (ca 1722 to 3 April 1753), was the Polish royal Chamberlain from 1774 on and Cupbearer of Lithuania (1780–94). He increased the family's landholdings and built the first iron smelter in the Kiev region, in the early 1780s near Horodskie, in povyat (county) of Żytomierz.
Under Russian rule Filip became president of the chief of the court of Gubernia of Podolia and, in 1807, a member of the Educational Commission of Volhynia gubernia, Podolia
gubernia, and Kiev gubernia. Filip's son Gustaw (1798–1868) served as marshal of the nobility in Kiev gubernia (1821–6), and was a Polish poet, translator, and publicist. He was imprisoned for participating in the Russian-Polish Decembrist movement.
Gustaw helped German colonists to establish a woolens factory in Korostyszew. His memoirs were published under the pseudonym A. Filipowicz in Lviv (Lwów, Lemberg) in 1892. Gustaw's brother, Narcyz (1794–1862), was also a Polish poet, memoirist, and émigré publicist and was a Volhynian leader of the Polish Insurrection of 1830. In 1832 he fled abroad.
In order to illustrate the process of Polonization of the boyars such as the Olizar family, one should mention that earlier its members served as marshals of the regional Sejmiks and Starostas in charge of a povyat (county) and served as representatives in the House of Delegates in Warsaw before 1795.
In the first half of the 18th century, it became increasingly common for Sejm sessions to be broken up by liberum veto, as the Commonwealth's neighbors — mainly Russia and Prussia considered the “liberum veto” as a useful tool to derail all attempts at reforming and strengthening the Polish Nobles Republic and cause it to deteriorate from a status of a European power with the largest territory in the Western Civilization into a state of anarchy.
Many historians erroneously believe that a major cause of the Commonwealth's downfall was the use of the principle of “liberum veto.” Thus, deputies belonging to the political machines of magnates or foreign powers, or simply ignorant, for over a century paralyzed the Commonwealth's government so that any attempts at reform could not be carried out despite the fact that Poland established the world first ministry of education.
Some historians, primarily Norman Davies, argue that the effective end of the veto, in 1764, allowed for a rebirth of proper governance; he argues that the country had ascended from the veto's anarchy and had organically developed the desire for a new course in politics. He further argues that the anarchy of the veto fed a rebirth of culture that led to the development of the constitution of the 3rd of May.
Historians argue that the “liberum veto” did not bring about the end of the nation but did bring the realization of the need for a new and modern, constitution, which was passed by the confederated Sejm Wielki in 1791.
After 1764 the new King Stanisław August Poniatowski accepted the confederated Sejm and thus, the “liberum veto” was not used because the principle of unanimity did not bind "confererated” deputies who formed a "confederation" which the king had the power to classify as a ”rokosz, – a word borrowed from Hungarian word for a field “Rakosz” where similar gatherings took place.
In Poland, with time, "rokosz" came to signify an armed rebellion by members of the Polish nobility who formed a “confederation” as a protest or rebellion against the king, in the name of defending threatened liberties of the very numerous citizens of the Polish Nobles’ Republic.
If the king accepted the confederated Sejm it could use simple majority rule for voting and therefore the confederated Sejm Wielki could pass the Constitution of the Third of May in 1791. Thus the House of Representatives had to confederate at the beginning of a session in order to prevent its disruption by “liberum veto,” which was abolished by the May 3rd 1791 Constitution, which permanently established the principle of majority rule. It was Europe's first modern codified constitution of a large state. Unfortunately, it was undone by Sejm at Godno,
in 1793 under duress from Russia and Prussia, who pressed it to ratify the Second Partition of the Nobles’ Republic. Two years later in 1795, the third and final partition caused the disappearance of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth from the map of Europe.
This happened mainly because of the strength of the absolutist Russian Empire run in the traditions of the Mongol Empire. Russia took advantage of the protracted conflict in which Polish Lithuanian state and the Ottoman Turkish Empire exhausted themselves and Russia benefited as well as its client state, the Kingdom of Prussia.