After graduating from a local school in Svislach in 1855 he went to Moscow, where he started studying at private law school.
he moved to St. Petersburg, where he continued his studies at the University of St. Petersburg and got involved in several Polish students' conspiracies and secret cultural societies. After graduating in 1860 he returned to the area of Grodno, where he continued to work as a revolutionary.
He was involved in the secret Provincial Lithuanian Committee in Wilno.He was promoted to the commissar of the Polish government for the Grodno Voivodeship.Because of his successes he was promoted to the rank of Plenipotentiary Commissar of the Government for Lithuania (Komisarz Pełnomocny Rządu na Litwę), which made him the commander-in-chief of all partisan units fighting in the areas of today's' Eastern Poland, Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine.
In his literary work, Kalinovski underlined the need to liberate all peoples of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth from Russia's occupation and to conserve and promote the Greek-Catholic faith and Belarusian language. He also promoted the idea of activisation of peasants for the cause of national liberation, the idea that was until then dominated by the gentry. He also referred to the good traditions of democracy, tolerance and freedom of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, as opposed to national oppression of cultures dominated by Imperial Russia.