Robert Howard Lord.

The second partition of Poland; a study in diplomatic history online

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then. The meeting passed off brilliantly and satisfactorily; the
Emperor returned to Vienna reassured. Some weeks later
(August 16, 1787) the Porte declared war on Russia. Joseph at
once acknowledged the casus foederis, though his public declara-
tion of war against Turkey was issued only in the following
February. After so many years of planning, the allies were now
called upon to carry out their projects, and they were caught only
half prepared. It remained to be seen whether the despised Turks
would prove such easy victims as had been imagined, whether the
other Powers would quietly look on, and especially whether the
two states that had suffered most from the pressure of the Im-
perial Courts would not seize the opportunity to make trouble.
Those states were Prussia and Poland.

Teilung Polens," F. B. P. G., xviii, pp. 165 s.; F. K. Wittichen, Preussen und
England, pp. 18 f.; Koser, " Aus dem ersten Regierungsjahre Friedrich Wil-
helms II," F. B. P. G., iv, p. 600; Welschinger, Mirabeau d Berlin, pp. 303, 402.


The Designs of Prussia

Great was the satisfaction felt at Berlin over the outbreak of the
Oriental war. Prussia at once found herself in an extraordinarily-
favorable situation. With the forces of the Imperial Courts tied
up in an arduous and costly enterprise, with the other Powers
suing for the friendship of Berlin, with the supposedly invincible
army and the well-filled treasury left by the late King, under an
ambitious new sovereign and a veteran minister who aspired to
surpass all that the great Frederick had done, Prussia seemed to
be in a position to make herself the arbiter of the Continent and
the foremost Power in Europe. Everyone at Berlin agreed that a
unique moment for great enterprises had come; but the question
as to just what was to be done was not so simple. One party was
for forming an alliance with England, Sweden, and Poland, com-
ing actively to the aid of the Turks, and fighting out the contest
with Austria to a finish. If Russia stood by her ally, the Turks,
Poles, and Swedes could keep her busy. By fighting two or three
campaigns now, it was said, Prussia could realize all her most
cherished ambitions, place her position as a great Power upon an
indestructible basis, and win peace for the next century. 1 Such
plans were bold and alluring, but they were open to grave objec-
tions. What reliance could be placed on the Turks, after the
figure they had made in their last war, or on such a mad knight-
errant as the King of Sweden, or on the feeble and inconstant
Poles ? The new Prussian entente with England was still in a
very uncertain stage, and Pitt had hitherto manifested no great
interest in Eastern affairs. Besides, it ran contrary to Frederician
traditions to provoke or even risk a war with Russia. The alliance

1 Cf. the ideas of Diez in Zinkeisen, op. cil., vi, p. 687; of Goltz, Herrmann,
op. cit., vi, pp. 200 ff.; also the plans described by Askenazy, Przymierze polsko-
pruskie, pp. 19-24.


with the Empress had not yet expired, 1 and there was no wish
dearer to most Prussian statesmen than to restore the onetime
intimacy of that connection. The indications from St. Petersburg
were not unfavorable; for the Russian ministers talked most
obligingly, and the Vice-Chancellor Ostermann even spoke of
the acquisitions which Prussia might make in the course of this
war. 2 Would it not be wiser, therefore, to play the part of the
zealous friend, try to draw the Empress away from the Court of
Vienna, and in the end be paid for one's services by a handsome
acquisition in Poland ? That was, at least, the policy that pre-
vailed at Berlin at the outbreak of the Oriental war; and if it led
to a fiasco, one cannot deny that it seemed at the start well
adapted to circumstances. Later events were to prove that it was
easier to make acquisitions in Poland in alliance with Russia than
in opposition to her.

But the particular plan through which Prussia attempted to
carry out this policy was in truth the unluckiest that could be
imagined. We have seen that Count Hertzberg, now the leading
minister of Frederick William II, had, years before, evolved a
scheme by which, as he thought, the mistakes of Frederick II at
the time of the First Partition could be rectified, the Polish Ques-
tion settled to perfection, and the whole equilibrium of Europe
assured in saecula saeculorum. Towards the end of 1787 and at
the beginning of 1788, the long- treasured revelation, with some
adaptation to present circumstances, was submitted for royal
approval, and confided in the greatest secrecy to most of the Prus-
sian representatives abroad, and to a great part of the foreign
ministers at Berlin. The plan, now as in 1778, had two chief
aims: to secure for Prussia the desired acquisitions in Poland, and
to oust the Austrians from Galicia. This was to be effected by
purely diplomatic means, and of the most extraordinary sort.
Prussia was to induce the belligerent Powers to accept her media-
tion, and the following terms of peace: (1) the Porte should cede
Wallachia and Moldavia to Austria, and Bessarabia and Oczakow
to Russia, while renouncing all claims to the Crimea: in return for

1 The alliance lapsed only in April, 1788.

2 Bailleu, " Graf Hertzberg," H. Z., xlii, p. 468.


this, Prussia and her allies would undertake an eternal guarantee
of the Turkish possessions south of the Danube; (2) Austria
should restore Galicia to Poland; (3) the Poles, fired with grati-
tude, should cede Dantzic, Thorn and the palatinates of Posen
and Kalisz to Prussia. The monstrous impracticability of this
plan has been so often exposed that further criticism seems almost
superfluous. Though Hertzberg compared his scheme to the
" egg of Columbus " and found that " no reasonable man could
resist it," 1 still he was probably the only person at that time
who believed in the project, and no plan has ever been more
unanimously condemned by historians. 2 The idea that, of five
Powers concerned, three would voluntarily submit to be robbed,
and the fourth, from sheer gaiety of heart, to accept foreign dicta-
tion, for the benefit of the fifth, which had done nothing whatever
except to invent this marvelous panacea — this was a thought
that could arise only in the mind of an elderly pedant who
imagined that his memoires were perfectly irresistible, and who,
as Mirabeau said, " saw nothing in this sublunary sphere but
Hertzberg and Prussia." 3

All through the winter of 1787-88 Hertzberg dwelt in a fool's
paradise. The King, who in October had indicated his perfect
willingness to take the whole left bank of the Vistula, if an oppor-
tunity presented itself, 4 was slowly won over to give at least a
provisional assent to the ' grand plan.' Diez at Constantinople
received copious instructions to prepare the infidels to receive the
great light. The Russians were overwhelmed with kindness.
After offering the Empress Prussian mediation, subsidies for the
war, and a renewal of the alliance treaty, Hertzberg waited only
for the expected favorable answer, before laying his plan formally
before her. March 12, 1788, the answer was delivered in Berlin:
the Prussian proposals were one and all declined or evaded. At

1 Luckwaldt, in F. B. P. G., xv, p. 97; Zinkciscn, op. cit., vi, p. 676.

2 From the long list of writers who have condemned it, one might cite Bailleu,
Duncker, Treitschke, Koser, Luckwaldt, Krauel, Andreae, Kalinka, and Askenazy.
Almost the only defenders have been the brothers Paul and F. K. Wittichen, whose
recent attempts at a vindication of Hertzberg are far from convincing.

3 Welschinger, Mirabeau a Berlin, p. 206.

4 Luckwaldt, in F. B. P. G., xv, p. 97.


the moment when Joseph II was beginning hostilities against the
Turks, Catherine was not inclined to compromise herself by a
suspicious intimacy with Prussia.

The first onslaught had failed, but Hertzberg was not the man
to give up the battle. He concluded only that patience and the
support of some other Power were needed. Hence he next
started negotiations with England for converting the existing
entente into an alliance, while he continued to lavish professions
of friendship at St. Petersburg; he refused the proposals of
Sweden, which was just then preparing to attack the Empress;
and he waited with longing to hear of the expected Russian
victories over the Turks. The presence in Berlin during the
summer of a Russian secret agent of pronounced Prussian sym-
pathies, Alopeus, was encouraging; and, with the conclusion of
the Triple Alliance with England and Holland in August, Hertz-
berg thought himself on the highroad to success. If his new allies
would only properly back him up, if the Turks were once so
soundly thrashed that they could seek safety only under the
protection of Prussia, if Catherine would only accept the hand
of friendship held out to her from Berlin, if the Austrians and
Poles could be cajoled or coerced into accepting arrangements so
suitable for them and so profitable for Prussia, then the success
of the ' grand plan ' was assured.

As a matter of fact, however, not one of these conditions was
likely to be fulfilled. Pitt, while glad to cooperate with Prussia in
restoring peace in the Orient, was by no means disposed to back
up Prussian schemes of aggrandizement. 1 The perverse Turks
exasperated their friends at Berlin by not getting beaten. In the
summer of 1788 they were holding their own against the Russians,
and winning victory after victory over the Austrians. Above all,
unknown to Hertzberg, the Imperial Courts had been making new
agreements, especially designed to prevent the realization of the
' grand plan.'

1 Cf. Salomon, William Pitt, i' li , pp. 339 ff., 4442.; Rose, William Pitt and
National Revival, pp. 386, 508 ff.



From a very early date (December, 1787), intercepted dis-
patches had kept the Austrian government constantly informed
of the development of Hertzberg's projects. Joseph found the
grand plan ' as inadmissible as it was ridiculous ' ; Kaunitz
called it a ' chimera ' ; l nevertheless they hastened to raise the
alarm at St. Petersburg. It was above all things necessary to
make sure that Russia would not succumb to Hertzberg's seduc-
tions. The ambassador Cobenzl was ordered to propose that the
two Courts should pledge themselves to resist with all their forces
any Prussian attempt to make acquisitions in Poland, and that
they should at once set to work to conclude an alliance with the
Republic. 2 In case of an attack on the part of Prussia, they might
even promise the Poles the restoration of the provinces ceded to
that Court at the time of the Partition.

On the receipt of these instructions, Cobenzl exerted himself to
the utmost to ruin the Hertzberg plan, once and for all. There
was no possible case, he declared incessantly, in which his Court
could consent to an aggrandizement of Prussia ; a gain for them-
selves, if coupled with advantages for their natural enemy, would
be only a loss; the acquisitions contemplated by Prussia in Poland
were contrary to the fundamental interests of both the Imperial
Courts; and, if necessary, Austria would abandon the Turkish
war and sacrifice every other consideration, in order to oppose the
Prussian designs with all her might. 3

This language and these demands did not cause unmixed
pleasure at St. Petersburg. Though they were far from capti-
vated by the Hertzberg plan, and were, in general, opposed to
Prussian acquisitions in Poland at that time, the Russians dis-
liked binding themselves by too precise engagements, and were
even less inclined to take Austria into the alliance then under

1 Joseph to L. Cobenzl, December 11, 1787, F. R. A., II, liv, pp. 229 f.;
Kaunitz to L. Cobenzl, December 7, 1787 and February 7, 1788, V. A., Riissland,

2 The project of alliance had been included in the instructions given Cobenzl
on his return to Russia in 1 786. The orders mentioned in the text are dated Decem-
ber 7, 1787.

3 Cobenzl's reports of February 3 and March 1, V. A., Russland, Berichte, 1788.



discussion between themselves and Poland. They could not,
however, rebuff their ally in so serious a matter during the first
months of the joint war on the Turks. Hence, after long delays,
CobenzPs importunities were crowned with success. On May 21,
1788, he received from the Russians a formal ministerial declara-
tion, to the effect that if the King of Prussia, under the present
circumstances, undertook to acquire any of the possessions of the
Republic of Poland, the Empress of Russia bound herself to unite
with the Emperor of the Romans in making the most urgent
representations to deter the King from such an intention. If
these representations proved fruitless, she promised to make com-
mon cause with the Emperor in opposing the execution of such a
plan with all the forces and means that she could employ com-
patibly with the security of her Empire and the need of defending
herself against the Porte. The Russian ministers announced that
this declaration had the force of a formal treaty, and that they
held it superfluous to require a similar pledge from Austria. 1

The Austrians professed themselves completely satisfied. So
far as Russia could be considered bound by a solemn engagement,
they could rest assured that she would not consent to the Hertz-
berg plan or to any other Prussian designs upon Poland. But if
paper guarantees availed, Poland would never have been parti-
tioned. The declaration remained a secret of the two Imperial
cabinets, unknown at Berlin or at Warsaw. In the following
years it did not prevent either Austrians or Russians from con-
sidering seriously the sacrifice of Polish territory to Prussia, when-

1 The Russian attitude in this matter can be explained from the memoir pre-
sented by Bezborodko to the Empress, printed in the Pycdrifi ApxHBi, 1875, "»
p. 35; and the protocols of the Council of the Empire for December 23, 1787/Janu-
ary 3, 1788; and April 20/May 1, 1788, in the Apx. Toe. Cob., i, pp. 518 ff.,
556 f. Kalinka, the first historian to discover this convention, gave a satis-
factory account of its origin, except that he erroneously states that Russia demanded
a similar declaration from Austria; he also gives the essence of the text of the
agreement, Der polnische Reichstag, i, pp. 52-55. The translator of the German
edition of Kalinka's work adds in a note that the text of this Austro-Russian treaty
is not to be found among the acts of either the Warsaw or the St. Petersburg mission
in the Vienna Haus-Hof-und Staalsarchiv. This is an error. The original of the
Russian ' declaration ' is to be found appended to Louis Cobenzl's report of
May 24 among the Berichte, Russland, 1788. Since this document has never
hitherto been published, I give the text in Appendix I.


ever interest or necessity suggested such a course. Yet if its
practical results were small, the declaration still has a certain
historical significance as the most explicit expression of the deter-
mination of Austria and Russia at that time to maintain the
integrity of Poland.

In the same dispatches with which he transmitted the Russian
declaration, Cobenzl reported that the alliance of Russia with the
Republic was well under way. Not, indeed, that alliance in
which Austria also would have participated, as Kaunitz desired,
for it did not accord with Russian policy to admit any other Power
to so close a connection with Poland. Yet the proposed alliance
between the Empress and the Republic had no other object
(Ostermann asserted) than that which the Austrians had sug-
gested: namely, to assure the Imperial Courts, of Polish aid in
case of a war with Prussia. This was, indeed, the plan Catherine
had chosen for thwarting the designs of Hertzberg and for keep-
ing the Republic in order while the Oriental crisis lasted. The
plan bore great results. It precipitated precisely the troubles it
was intended to avert.


The Plan for a Russo-Polish Alliance

Stanislas Augustus, with all his weakness of will in emergencies,
displayed a remarkable tenacity and perseverance in the pursuit
of his fundamental aims. From the beginning of his reign down
to its tragic close, he was haunted by the desire to increase his
monarchical power, to augment the army and the revenues of the
state, and to restore Poland to its place among the active mem-
bers of the European political system. " Born with a vast and
ardent ambition," he said of himself, " the ideas of reform, of
glory, of usefulness to my country have become the background
of all my plans and of my whole life." x Defeated again and again,
he invariably returned to his projects, by new detours, timidly,
cautiously, but obstinately. The experiences of the first decade
of his reign had convinced him that nothing was to be accom-
plished in opposition to Russia ; but he still hoped that much good
might be effected with the consent and under the protection of the
Empress. The great thing was to persuade her that it was to her
interest to make Poland strong enough to render active services,
rather than to leave the country a prey to impotence, anarchy,
and constant troubles. Especially in case of war between Russia
and her neighbors, the King hoped that Catherine would be will-
ing to purchase Polish aid by permitting those military, financial,
and political reforms, without which the Republic could not
cooperate effectively. It has already been noted that during the
War of the Bavarian Succession Stanislas thought of an alliance
with Russia; and during the ensuing crisis over the Crimean
affair, he offered his alliance at St. Petersburg. 2 Decorously

1 Kalinka, Ostalnie lata, i, p. 80.

2 The date of this offer is given as 1782 by Askenazy, Przymierze polsko-pruskie,
p. 28; and 1783, by Kalinka, Der polnische Reichstag, i, p. 56.



repulsed on this occasion, he returned to the idea some years

During his stay at Kanev (March-May, 1787), the King laid
before Catherine and her advisers the outlines of a plan for a
defensive alliance against the Turks; and this time he received
the Empress' assent, at least in principle. 1 In September, after
the Porte had begun hostilities, he hastened to send the draft of a
formal treaty to St. Petersburg. He proposed that the Republic
should join actively in the war, and that he himself should take
command of one of the allied armies. In return he begged for
some extension of his royal prerogatives, the increase of the army,
a large subsidy for the expenses of the war, and, at the peace, the
acquisition for Poland of Bessarabia, part of Moldavia, and a port
on the Black Sea. The alliance was to be brought about by means
of a Confederation, which would also serve to prevent internal
disorders in Poland during the crisis. 2 Seldom had this unfortu-
nate King allowed his imagination so bold a flight. Whether the
plan in itself was salutary and statesmanlike or quite the reverse,
is a disputed question that need not be argued here. 3 The essential
fact is that the better parts of the King's project had not the
slightest chance of being accepted at St. Petersburg.

Catherine was not in the least disposed either to gratify the
personal ambitions which she detected in Stanislas' proposals, or
to allow the Republic a greater measure of strength and inde-
pendence. She attached little importance to the military aid that
Poland might render; and while she did desire an alliance, it must
be one on her own terms. The primary object of it would be to
keep the Poles busy with a harmless enterprise, nattering to their
vanity and capable of diverting their attention from more dan-
gerous projects. A Confederation under her auspices would
enable her to put down possible outbreaks with firmer hand, while

1 Cf. the note presented by the King to the Empress May 6, 1787, Memoires
de Stanislas Auguste, pp. 95-99; also the very interesting correspondence of the
King from Kanev, printed by Kalinka, Ostatnie lata, ii, pp. 5-64.

2 The text of this proposed treaty has not yet been found. The essential features
of it can be ascertained, however, from the diplomatic correspondence of the time.
Cf. Kalinka, Der polnische Reichstag, i, pp. 58 f.

3 Cf. the qualified approval given the plan by Kalinka, op. oil., i, pp. 56 fif.;
and the unmitigated condemnation expressed by Askenazy, op. tit., pp. 30 ff.


various articles might be inserted into the alliance treaty that
would extend her legal rights of guardianship over the Republic.
As for the means, she would not hear of a Confederation without
a Diet, or of the calling of an extraordinary Diet, as the King
proposed, for that would arouse the suspicion of the neighbors;
she would wait until the next ordinary Diet met, in the autumn of
1788, then put through the alliance as quickly and as quietly as
possible, and present the other Powers with a. fait accompli. 1

While Catherine was thus deliberately delaying the project,
she was being attacked from other quarters on the same subject.
Simultaneously with Stanislas' propositions, she received the
offers of the most active leader of the anti-royalist opposition in
Poland, the Grand Hetman Branicki. He, too, wished a Russian
alliance, but one to be put through by a Confederation directed by
himself. For that purpose he and his friend Felix Potocki,
Palatine of (Little) Russia, offered to put at the Empress' disposal
both the troops of the Republic and their own private militia.
Catherine, fortunately, rejected this treasonable offer and read
the two magnates a lecture on patriotism; 2 but she was soon to
hear very similar proposals from a much more exalted personage.


Of all the men whose activity was dangerous and baneful to
Poland in these years, Prince Potemkin the Taurian stands fore-
most. Field-Marshal, President of the War College, Commander-
in-Chief of the principal army against the Turks, virtual Viceroy
of all Southern Russia, the Empress' most intimate friend, her
favorite pupil, her " right hand," as she herself said, Potemkin
wielded enormous power and influence; and these facilities he
employed, not only to render very considerable services to his
benefactress, but also to advance his own personal ambitions.
His plans, though different in kind, were no less grandiose,
revolutionary, and complicated than Hertzberg's; and, like

1 For some discussion as to Catherine's attitude towards the Russo-Polish
alliance project, see Appendix II.

2 Branicki to the Empress, September 9, 1787, her reply of September 30/
October n, M. A., HojiBina, II, 6.


Hertzberg's, they related especially to Poland. It is important
to bear in mind that during the prolonged Oriental crisis the
Republic was equally threatened by the Prussian thirst for ag-
grandizement on the one side, and by the ambitions of Potemkin
on the other.

The Prince's secret designs, 1 once centered upon the Polish
crown, were now directed rather upon those rich palatinates of
the south that would form so capital an addition to his prospec-
tive ' Kingdom of Dacia.' To further his plans, he had long
maintained a party of his own in the Republic, a party whose
activity conflicted incessantly with the official policy of Russia as
represented by the ambassador Stackelberg. To strengthen his
position in the south, the Prince was continually making immense
purchases of land in the Polish Ukraine. His possessions became
so large that he thought for a time of having them erected into a
vassal principality, something like Courland. But the outbreak
of the Turkish war and Stanislas Augustus' proposals for a
Russo-Polish alliance opened the way to even more ambitious
projects. What could be more tempting to Potemkin than to
draw the Republic into the struggle, get its military forces under
his control, occupy the coveted southern provinces with his
troops, and then by means of a Confederation under his own
direction make himself dictator of Poland and put through what
changes he saw fit ?

The Prince was versatile. He knew several routes to the goal.
Although at Kanev he had championed Stanislas' alliance proj-
ect and later continued to negotiate with the King, at the same
time he was framing with the leaders of the Opposition very
different plans, vast in scope and revolutionary in character. A

Online LibraryRobert Howard LordThe second partition of Poland; a study in diplomatic history → online text (page 10 of 59)