Hugo Stumberg Kołłątaj (1 April 1750 – 28 February 1812) was a Polish Roman Catholic priest, social and political activist, political thinker, historian and philosopher. He is seen as one of the most prominent figures of the Enlightenment in Poland.
Hugo Kołłątaj was born on 1 April 1750 in Dederkały Wielkie in Volhynia to a family of minor Polish nobility; soon afterwards his family moved to Nieciesławice near Sandomierz, where he spent his childhood. He attended a school in Pińczów. He began his studies at the Kraków Academy (the later Jagiellonian University), where he studied law. Afterwards, around 1775 he took holy orders, then spent time in Vienna and Italy (Naples and Rome), where he likely encountered Enlightenment philosophy. He likely had doctorates from philosophy, law and theology.
Returning to Poland, he became a canon priest in Kraków, and a parish priest at Krzyżanowice Dolne and Tuczępy. He was active in the Commission of National Education and the Society for Elementary Books, where he was prominent in developing plans to expand the national network of schools. He spent two years in Warsaw, but returned to Kraków, where he reformed the Kraków Academy, of which board he sat from 1777, and of which he was a rector in 1783-1786. The reform of the Academy was very substantial; bringing it to the modern standards, or even exceeding them. Notably, he switched the Latin language in which the lectures were taking place to Polish language; such a move from Latin to a national language in higher education was still uncommon in Europe. The reform proved controversial enough that an intrigue by his political enemies resulted in his temporary removal, under accusation of corruption and immorality, from Kraków in 1781, although by 1782 the decision was rescinded.
Kołłątaj was equally active politically. In 1786 he received the office of the Referendary of Lithuania, and moved to Warsaw. He became prominent in the reform movement, heading an informal group that was the left, radical wing of the Patriotic Party, and labelled by their political enemies the "Kołłątaj's Forge". A leader of the Patriotic Party during the Great Sejm, he set out its program in Several Anonymous Letters to Stanisław Małachowski (1788–1789) and in The Political Law of the Polish Nation (1790). In his works he advocated a pro-republican constitutional reform and the need for social reforms. Among the goals he pursued were the strengthening of the king's position, larger national army, abolishing the liberum veto, introduction of universal taxation, and emancipation of both the townspeople and the peasantry. An organizer of the townspeople's movement, he edited a memorial with reform demands which was delivered to the king during the Black Procession of 1789.
Kołłątaj co-authored the Constitution of 3 May 1791. He also founded the Assembly of Friends of the Government Constitution to assist in the document's implementation. In 1786 he received the Order of Saint Stanislaus and in 1791, the Order of the White Eagle. In 1791-92 he served as Crown Vice Chancellor (Podkanclerzy Koronny).
During the Polish-Russian war that broke out over the 3 May Constitution (the Polish–Russian War of 1792), Kołłątaj, along with other royal advisers, persuaded King Stanisław August, himself a co-author of the Constitution, to seek a compromise with the opponents and to join the Targowica Confederation that had been formed to bring the Constitution down. In 1792, upon the Confederates' victory, Kołłątaj emigrated to Leipzig and Dresden in Saxony, where he co-authored with Ignacy Potocki On the Adoption and Fall of the Polish May 3 Constitution (1793).
In exile, his political views radicalized and he became involved with the preparations for an insurrection. In 1794 he took part in the Kościuszko Uprising, co-authoring its Uprising Act (24 March 1794) and Połaniec Manifesto (7 May 1794), heading the Supreme National Council's Treasury Department, and backing the Uprising's left wing of Polish Jacobins. After the suppression of the Uprising in the same year, Kołłątaj was imprisoned by the Austrians until 1802. In 1805, with Tadeusz Czacki, he organized the Krzemieniec Lyceum in Wołyń (Volhynia). In 1807, after the creation of the Duchy of Warsaw, he was at first involved in its government, but soon excluded from it through the intrigues of his political opponents, and soon afterwards, interned and imprisoned by Russian authorities until 1808. When he was released, he found himself barred from public offices; despite that he sought to present a program for rebuilding and developing Poland (Remarks on the Present Position of That Part of the Polish Lands that, since the Treaty of Tilsit, Have Come to Be Called the Duchy of Warsaw, 1809). In 1809 he became a member of the Warsaw Society of Friends of Learning. In the years 1809-1810 he became once again involved with the Kraków Academy, reforming it from its temporarily Germanized form.
Borrowing the physiocratic idea of a "physico-moral order", in The Physico-Moral Order (1811) Kołłątaj created a socio-ethical system emphasizing equality amongst people. Interested in natural sciences, geology and mineralogy in particular, he wrote A Critical Analysis of Historical Principles regarding the Origins of Humankind, published posthumously in 1842. In this work he essayed the first Polish presentation of concepts of social evolution and of geological concepts. This work is also seen as an important contribution to cultural anthropology. In The State of Education in Poland in the Final Years of the Reign of Augustus III, published posthumously in 1841, he argued against the Jesuit domination in the field of education and presented a study of the history of education.
He died on 28 February 1812, "forgotten and abandoned" by his contemporaries. He was buried at the Powązki Cemetery.
Despite his lonely death, Kołłątaj became a patron of many reformers in the decades to come, and is now seen as one of the key figures of the Enlightenment in Poland, and "one of the greatest minds of his epoch". He is one of the characters immortalized in Jan Matejko's 1891 painting, Constitution of May 3, 1791.
Hugo Kołłątaj is the patron of several schools, including the Agricultural University of Cracow.