Born on 17 March 1865 in Telsze in the Zmudz Region in the family of a January 1863 insurgent, landowner. Completed secondary school in Lipawa, Latvia. Due to his health condition, interrupted his studies at the St.Petersburg University and graduated from the Technical University in Zurich. During studies, was affiliated to the émigré group of the "Proletariat" party, which made it impossible for him to return to the country, where Russian authorities issued a warrant of arrest for him.
He won international recognition as a water-power engineer. Was head of a faculty at the technical University in Zurich. Owing to his scientific publications and their implementations he was recognised as one of the most outstanding European water-power plant constructors and a superb expert in geology. During the First World War, was engaged in charity activity directed to Poland and gradually became to adhere to the concepts implemented by Jozef Pilsudski. After the war, participated in the Vistula river-bed control project.
In June 1920, nominated Minister for Public Works. Became President of the Academy of Technical Sciences and Chairman of the National Reconstruction Council. In June 1922, appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs. The rightist press attacked him for his affiliation to Jozef Pilsudski and supporting the policy of the Chief of State, to whom he was related by affinity. Due to a demagogic action of the nationalists (National Democracy), he became the leading personage of the left side of the Sejm. He was elected first President of the Republic and sworn in on 11 December 1922.
On 16 December, at the opening of an art exhibition during a conversation with the British Envoy he was shot dead by a rightist extremist Eligiusz Niewiadomski. The assassin declared at the trial that he first planned to kill the Chief of the State Jozef Pilsudski.