In the 18th century the Republic was in crisis. The state required reorganization. King Stanislaus Augustus Poniatowski (the last king of Poland) introduced numerous reforms. On 3rd May 1791 Europe’s first and the world’s second constitution was signed. However, the reform process was not enough to turn the tide of failing fortune. Poland gradually fell under foreign influence. The rulers of Russia, Prussia and Austria invaded Poland and partitioned its territory. Indeed the first partition of Poland took place in 1772. The second partition in 1793.
In 1794 the Kosciuszko Uprising began but soon it was crushed and the three occupying powers terminated the Commonwealth’s independent existence in 1795. The country disappeared from the map of Europe and until 1918 there was no independent Polish state.
Of course the occupation was a tragedy and from todays perspective a crime against international laws, the was a big difference in how the occupiers dealt with the occupied. Generally speaking the Austrian rule gave the polish people most freedom and helped develop the occupied regions. In Tarnów for example in this time under the rule of Tadeusz Tertil it was possible to build the first tram line, a new train station (which the Germans ripped then away and took to Lviv in WWII) as well as waterworks and a power station.
Despite the oppression, the idea of Polish independence was still alive in the nation and Poland continued to exist as a spiritual and cultural community. Poles engaged in armed resistance. They fought with Napoleon Bonaparte, organized November Uprising (1830-1831) and January Uprising (1863-1864), all of which failed.
Many Poles – while in exile – fought in other countries to help other nations get their independence from the Big Europeans Empires. Probably most famous are Tadeusz Kościuszko, who fought alongside General Washington against the British or Józef Bem, who fought alongside the Hungarian army against the Austrians.
Other famous Poles, who also lived in exile were Maria Skłodowska-Curie and Frederic Chopin, Adam Mickiewicz. While Maria Skłodowska-Curie became world famous for their scientific discoveries, both Chopin and Mickiewicz tried to preserve Polish culture and language as well as to inspire the polish people to fight for the Independence.
Since the Prussians were Protestants and the Russians were Orthodox, the catholic faith and Church played an important role in preserving the national identity of the Poles.