The first years of the reign of Stanisław II Augustus, who was elected king in September 1764, abounded in events that polarized the political life of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Close to the king, the reformatory political faction called Familia was centered on representatives of the magnate families of Czartoryski and Poniatowski.
The direction of the planned social reforms and those of the political system, particularly the actions of Russian ambassador Nikolai Repnin (for instance, his pushing of the project to grant political rights to infidels, which eventually became incorporated into the so-called Cardinal Laws, that is, the principles of the Commonwealth’s political system guaranteed by Russia) caused an outrage among much of the nobility engaged in the public life. Leaders of the opposition (for instance, Bishop of Kamieniec Podolski Adam Stanisław Krasiński) to the king and the political faction associated with him prepared a plan for a confederation. The purpose was to depose Poniatowski, fight against Russia, and reform the state.
With the end of February 1768 substantial volunteer troops, partly made up of rebellious detachments of the Crown’s army, assembled in Bar, a town in Podolia in today’s Ukraine. Present were, for instance, the Pułaskis: Józef, who was declared the military union’s marshal, and his son Kazimierz, the later hero of the American War of Independence and one of the Confederation’s leaders. Announced on that occasion, the act establishing the Confederation declared all acts of Parliament passed under coercion null and void. The Confederates’ main motto was “faith and freedom.” The Confederation was ultimately suppressed in 1772, becoming a pretext for the first partition of the Commonwealth.
The Confederation has become a subject of both positive and negative legends. The former originate from the Enlightenment-period political commentary, which condemned the purported Sarmatian reactionism, which the Confederation members were identified with. The Romantic interpretation of the historic role of the 1768‒1772 events was completely different, with works such as Henryk Rzewuski’s Pamiątki Soplicy [Soplica’s memoir], Wincentyy Pol’s Pieśni Janusza [Janusz’s songs], or Juliusz Słowacki’s Ksiądz Marek [Father Marek] contributing to the sublimation of the Bar Confederation by incorporating it into the pro-independence tradition along with the Kościuszko Uprising, the Polish Legions’ act, and the November Uprising.