Tadevush Kastsyushka (Thaddeus Kosciusko)
(February 12, 1746 - October 15, 1817)Go to the A Belarus Miscellany Topic List
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From his entry in the Historical Dictionary of Belarus (Zaprudnik, 1998; p. 136):
"Kosciuszko is celebrated as a Polish and American hero. Belarusan historians point to his Belarusan genealogy. He was born in Belarus and originally christened in the Orthodox rite, hence one of his first names was Andrej."
(Note: In the preceding excerpt, terms in bold refer to other entries in the Historical Dictionary of Belarus. The Historical Dictionary of Belarus is an important summary of the history of Belarus.)
As noted on the Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial Web site:
Visit the house where wounded Polish freedom fighter Thaddeus Kosciuszko lived and hear how this brilliant military engineer designed successful fortifications during the American Revolution. See the room where he received notable visitors such as Chief Little Turtle and Thomas Jefferson, who said he was "as pure a son of liberty, as I have ever known. . . ."
And also note that his connection to Belarus is not mentioned at all at that Web site! (This is normal for people whose heritage connects them to Belarus and Belarusian culture, of course.)
An article about the Uprising of 1794 by George Stankevich, from The Belarusian Review, Spring, 1996 (vol. 8, No. 1).
Note: This article includes several paragraphs about the Belarusian officer who fought for American independence during the American Revolution, Tadevuss Kaxciusska (Thaddeus Kosciusko). Although clearly of Belarusian ancestry, he is claimed as a Polish patriot and hero as well.*
Note: Claims by Belarus' neighbors that famous Belarusians are not Belarusians is symptomatic of the serious problem of identity for the nation and people of the Republic of Belarus, and that of the equally problematic issue of self-identity by Belarusians all over the world. Probably the majority of people who have such ancestry are not at all aware of their Belarusian ancestry.
A statue of Kosciusko is on the northeast corner of Lafayette Park, near the White House in Washington, DC (see photo, above). At least one county (in Indiana) and one city (in Mississippi) in the US are named after him as well. Also, one of the bridges on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway in New York bears his name ("Thaddeus Kosciuszko").
No one understood this radicalism—no one in uniform did more to help us define freedom in a profoundly American way—than the man whose monument here at West Point I also asked to visit today—Thaddeus Kosciuszko. I first became intrigued by him over 40 years ago when I arrived in Washington. Lafayette Park, on Pennsylvania Avenue, across from the White House, hosts several statues of military heroes who came to fight for our independence in the American Revolution. For seven years, either looking down on these figures from my office at the Peace Corps, or walking across Lafayette Park to my office in the White House, I was reminded of these men who came voluntarily to fight for American independence from the monarchy. The most compelling, for me, was the depiction of Kosciuszko. On one side of the statue he is directing a soldier back to the battlefield, and on the other side, wearing an American uniform, he is freeing a bound soldier, representing America’s revolutionaries.
Kosciuszko had been born in Lithuania-Poland [Web editor: today's Belarus], where he was trained as an engineer and artillery officer. Arriving in the 13 colonies in 1776, he broke down in tears when he read the Declaration of Independence. The next year, he helped engineer the Battle of Saratoga, organizing the river and land fortifications that put Americans in the stronger position. George Washington then commissioned him to build the original fortifications for West Point. Since his monument dominates the point here at the Academy, this part of the story you must know well.
But what many don’t realize about Kosciuszko is the depth of his commitment to republican ideals and human equality. One historian called him “a mystical visionary of human rights.” Thomas Jefferson wrote that Kosciuszko was “as pure a son of liberty as I have ever known.” That phrase of Jefferson’s is often quoted, but if you read the actual letter, Jefferson goes on to say: “And of that liberty which is to go to all, and not to the few and the rich alone.”
There is the clue to the meaning of freedom as Thaddeus Kosciuszko saw it.
After the American Revolution, he returned to his homeland, what was then the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. In 1791 the Poles adopted their celebrated May Constitution—Europe’s first codified national constitution (and the second oldest in the world, after our own.) The May Constitution established political equality between the middle class and the nobility and also partially abolished serfdom by giving civil rights to the peasants, including the right to state protection from landlord abuses. The autocrats and nobles of Russia feared such reforms, and in 1794, when the Russians sought to prevent their spread by partitioning the Commonwealth, Kosciuszko led an insurrection. His untrained peasant forces were armed mostly with single-blade sickles, but they won several early battles in fierce hand-to-hand fighting, until they were finally overwhelmed. Badly injured, Kosciuszko was taken prisoner and held for two years in St. Petersburg, and that was the end of the Polish Commonwealth, which had stood, by the way, as one of Europe’s leading centers of religious liberty.
Upon his release from prison, Kosciuszko came back to the United States and began a lasting friendship with Jefferson, who called him his “most intimate and beloved friend.” In 1798, he wrote a will leaving his American estate to Jefferson, urging him to use it to purchase the freedom and education of his [Jefferson’s] own slaves, or, as Jefferson interpreted it, of “as many of the children as bondage in this country as it should be adequate to.” For this émigré, as for so many who would come later, the meaning of freedom included a passion for universal justice. In his Act of Insurrection at the outset of the 1794 uprising, Kosciuszko wrote of the people’s “sacred rights to liberty, personal security and property.” Note the term property here. For Jefferson’s “pursuit of happiness” Kosciuszko substituted Locke’s notion of property rights. But it’s not what you think: The goal was not simply to protect “private property” from public interference (as it is taught today), but rather to secure productive property for all as a right to citizenship. It’s easy to forget the difference when huge agglomerations of personal wealth are defended as a sacred right of liberty, as they are today with the gap between the rich and poor in America greater than it’s been in almost one hundred years. Kosciuszko—General Kosciuszko, from tip to toe a military man—was talking about investing the people with productive resources. Yes, freedom had to be won on the battlefield, but if freedom did not lead to political, social and economic opportunity for all citizens, freedom’s meaning could not be truly realized.
Think about it: A Polish general from the old world, infusing the new nation with what would become the marrow of the American Dream. Small wonder that Kosciuszko was often called a “hero of two worlds” or that just 25 years ago, in 1981, when Polish farmers, supported by the Roman Catholic Church, won the right to form an independent union, sending shockwaves across the Communist empire, Kosciuszko’s name was heard in the victory speeches—his egalitarian soul present at yet another revolution for human freedom and equal rights.
After Jefferson won the presidency in l800, Kosciuszko wrote him a touching letter advising him to be true to his principles: “do not forget in your post be always a virtuous Republican with justice and probity, without pomp and ambition—in a word be Jefferson and my friend.” Two years later, Jefferson signed into being this professional officers school, on the site first laid out as a fortress by his friend, the general from Poland. . . ."
Source: excerpt from the "Sol Feinstone Lecture on The Meaning of Freedom", delivered by Bill Moyers at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York (Nov. 15, 2006). Note: The full transcript of this speech has not been located on the Web. The full text is available in the book ("Moyers on Democracy" (Random House, 2008)) and the audio CD-ROM version that includes eight selections from the book ("Selections from Moyers on Democracy" (Random House Audio, 2008)) .
"Leonid Nesterchuk, an expert of the Brest Regional Culture Department, said that the Brest regional government had planned to put up the sign before June 1998, but work at the place of the monument took longer than expected."
"The ceremony in the village of Kosovo was attended by journalists and historians from Belarus and Poland, Aleksandr Luksha, the author of the monument, and Ivatsevichi district and Brest regional government officials."
" 'Andrey Tadevush Banaventura Kastsyushka, a great son of the Belarusian land who later became a hero of Poland, the United States of America, and a citizen of honor in France, was born here at Marachowshchyna,' says the sign in Belarusian."
"Earlier this month, the Brest government denied registration to the Tadeusz Kosciuszko Foundation, which made a great contribution to the commemoration of the Belarusian patriot. Mr. Nesterchuk, who is the leader of the foundation, said he intended to register a new organization that will study Kosciuszko's life."
Source: BelaPAN, No. 53; Friday, November 12, 1999; 5:30 p.m.
"The issue of erecting a monument to one of the greatest Belarusian heroes at Marachowshchyna in the Ivatsevichi district, Tadevush Kastsyushka's birthplace, was repeatedly discussed at various levels in recent years, but a disagreement over the inscription prevented the project from being carried out."
"At the beginning of this year, the Brest Regional Executive Committee decided that the monument be erected before August 1, but, owing to financial difficulties, only the commemorative tablet to the monument was ready by that date. However, now the executive committee's Department of Culture expects the monument to be unveiled within the next few days. The plaque will have the following inscription in Belarusian: 'Here, at Marachowshchyna, was born Andrei Tadevush Banaventura Kastsyushka, a great son of Belarus, who became a national hero of Poland, the United States of America, and an honorary citizen of France. Grateful descendants of the Brest region. 1998.'"
Source: BelaPAN, No. 94; Friday, August 28, 1998; 6:50 p.m.
"Kosovsky Palace is considered one of the Brest region's most beautiful monuments of 19th-century architecture. The Ministry of Agriculture planned to establish a sanatorium there in the 80s but gave up the idea due to high costs. Later, the Integral production group tried to create a resort there but was unable to obtain permission from the authorities. In the 90s, an agricultural company from Ivatsevichi sought to buy the palace. A few years ago, a contest was announced for those willing to buy the palace but no interesting proposals were received."
Source: BelaPAN, No. 103; Wednesday, January 27, 1999; 6:00 p.m.
"When the theft was discovered, Ivan Ladyga, chief of the Ivatsevichi police, told BelaPAN that it will be a matter of honor to the police to find the plaque because the local residents are proud of their fellow countryman."
"Thaddeus Kosciusko (Tadevush Kastsyushka or Tadeusz Kosciuszko), 1746-1817, was the organizer of the 1794 anti-Russian liberation revolt, one of the most ardent patriots and a Belarusian noble by descent."
"The plaque that was stolen had the following inscription in Belarusian: "Here, at Marachowshchyna, was born Andrei Tadevush Banaventura Kastsyushka, a great son of Belarus, who became a national hero of Poland, the United States of America, and an honorary citizen of France. Grateful descendants of the Brest region. 1998.""
"On April 19, Mr. Ladyga said by telephone that the plaque had not been found and would be replaced by a copy. A local church, where Kosciusko was once baptized, is known to be storing another commemorative slab, donated by Krakow. It was never installed at Marachowshchyna for reasons of prestige. The local authorities chose to raise $3,000 without exterior help to renovate the Kosciusko birthplace and order a plaque, the one that was later stolen."
Source: BelaPAN, No. 81; Wednesday, April 19, 2000; 6:00 p.m.
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