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

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coup d'etat, the overthrow of the royal power, the establishment
of an oligarchy, even the transformation of the Republic into a
federation of provinces or principalities — such appear to have
been some of the objects of these mysterious pourparlers. Early
in 1788 Potemkin sent to St. Petersburg the plan of action which
he had agreed upon with Branicki and Felix Potocki. He pro-
posed to raise quickly and secretly an armed force (' national

1 On Potemkin's schemes with regard to Poland, see Appendix III.


militia ') in the southern palatinates, with the aid of those mag-
nates and szlachta who were most devoted to Russia ; this ' militia '
would then form a Confederation in the provinces, under the pro-
tection of the Russian troops and remote from the malign in-
fluence of the King and the agents of foreign Powers; it would
take over the government of the country, overawe or beat down
any opposition that might be attempted, conclude a close alliance
between the Republic and the Empress, and, in general, put
through anything that Russia might desire. Had this plan been
carried out, the result would have been the overthrow of the King
and the lawful government of Poland, a repetition of the dis-
graceful Confederation of Radom, or a premature mise-en-scene
of the dismal tragedy of 1792.

These projects were the more dangerous because the Polish
malcontents who swarmed in Potemkin's camp, were also in rela-
tions with Hertzberg, to whom nothing would have given greater
pleasure than an outbreak of anarchy in the Republic. The
Prussian troops would at once have crossed the frontier ' to
restore order.' And Potemkin himself now inclined towards the
Prussian alliance. He continually urged the Empress to show
more cordiality to Frederick William, and even to win him over
by the gift of Dantzic; and he seems, through his Polish friends, to
have sounded Berlin with reference to his own plans. Obviously
he had more to expect from that quarter than from Vienna.

Even these measures did not exhaust the schemes of the
Tauric Prince. There was still one more plan in reserve — and
this the most audacious of all. Potemkin had an extraordinary
passion for Cossacks. Although it was he who had induced the
Empress to destroy the Zaporozhian Sec 1 in 1775, he had later
made great efforts to create new Cossack armies; and especially
in the winter of 1787-88 he was indefatigable in his exertions to
enlist Cossacks from every quarter. His recruiting officers were
particularly busy in Poland. Doubtless the new Cossack forces,
which were the object of such extraordinary care, were of much
use for the Turkish war; but there is reason to think that they

1 The famous fortified camp of the free Cossacks of the Dnieper, situated on an
island just below the cataracts of the river.


were also raised with a view to one other emergency. If all his
other Polish plans failed, if the alliance fell through, if the hostile
party gained the upper hand in the Republic, then Potemkin
might enter the country at the head of a Cossack army, rouse the
Orthodox population of the Ukraine, and repeat the exploits of
Bogdan Chmielnicki.

We have dwelt at length on these astonishing projects for
several reasons. In the first place, Potemkin's intrigues with
Branicki, Potocki, and their associates at the beginning of the new
crisis in Polish affairs form the first link in a chain that ends at
Targowica. Then it has been so often asserted that the Republic
ought to have taken its position firmly and unconditionally on
the Russian side in this crisis, that it is of importance to indicate
to some extent what advantages Poland might have expected from
an alliance which would have handed over her army, her military
and financial resources, her strongholds, her southern provinces
to so inveterate an enemy, so dangerous a schemer as Potemkin.
Finally, the Prince's secret plans form an essential part of the
background of Russia's Polish policy in the next few years.
Catherine did not, indeed, blindly accept his advice; but, on the
other hand, she did not entirely disregard it. She generally tried
to satisfy him to some extent; she made many compromises and
many concessions. Down to his death in 1791 his opinions and
ambitions weighed heavily on the fate of Poland; and then,
unfortunately, his plans lived after him.


When Catherine was finally ready to declare her precise inten-
tions about the alliance, the plan she adopted differed materially
from the proposals both of Stanislas and of Potemkin. While she
distrusted the personal ambitions of the King, she also divined
to some extent the secret schemes of the favorite, and she was
beginning to find them in conflict with her own policies. As early
as December Potemkin's growing preference for the Prussian
alliance had provoked from her an unusually sharp letter. 1 She

1 November 23/December 4, 1787, Pyc. OrapHHa, xvi, pp. 441 ff.


allowed him to take Polish magnates into her service, approved
his plans for organizing and employing the Polish armies, and
accepted his amendments to the King's plan for the alliance
treaty; but, on the other hand, she firmly rejected his plan for an
anti-royalist Confederation in the provinces. She was no more
inclined to sacrifice the King to the Opposition, than to surrender
the opposition to the King; and she could not lend her approval to
projects that would almost infallibly provoke a civil war in Poland.

In June, 1788, nine months after Stanislas had sent his prop-
ositions to St. Petersburg, the Empress' definite reply at last
reached Warsaw. The alliance was to be effected through a
confederated Diet under the direction of the King and the
ambassador — so much was satisfactory; but the other desires of
Stanislas were evaded or refused. The expenses incurred by the
Republic through the war were to be repaid only after the con-
clusion of peace, and then in instalments spread out over six
years. The military contingent of the Poles, cut down from
20,000 to 1 2 ,000, was to serve under the supreme command of the
Russian generals, and immediately under that of Branicki, Felix
Potocki, and Stanislas Poniatowski (this was one of the conces-
sions to Potemkin) . No territorial acquisitions for Poland were to
be thought of. None of the modest constitutional reforms for
which the King had hoped, were granted. Finally, an insidious
article, the aim of which was to enable Russia to take over the
diplomatic representation of Poland abroad, contained a new
encroachment upon the independence of the Republic. 1 In short,
Stanislas Augustus' original project had been transformed almost
beyond recognition. From this alliance, Russia alone could have
profited: Poland could have gained nothing whatever except a
very dubious protection against the designs of Prussia. Never-
theless, though bitterly disappointed, the King accepted the
Russian counter-project; perhaps because it was now too late to
draw back without offending the Empress.

It was characteristic of Catherine's policy toward her chief ally
that the draft of this treaty was communicated at Vienna only

1 For detailed analysis of this Russian counter-project, see Kalinka, Der polnische
Reichstag, i, pp. 87 ff.


when the Polish Diet was on the point of assembling. Kaunitz
fumed and fretted; nevertheless he ordered the Austrian charge
d'affaires at Warsaw (de Cache) to support all the measures of
Russia, while he himself administered sage advice to those Polish
magnates whom he could influence. Yet just before the Diet
assembled, the growing ferment in Poland and the ominous
attitude of Prussia so alarmed the Austrian Chancellor that he
hastened to urge at Petersburg the danger of even proposing an
alliance of this sort at such a time. But this warning came too
late. 1


Towards the end of August Catherine saw fit, as a matter of
courtesy, to communicate the alliance project to Prussia. She
apparently anticipated no serious opposition; 2 and she was cer-
tainly not prepared for the storm that followed.

The communication produced a livery sensation at Berlin; and
not unnaturally, for it seemed to mean the shipwreck of the
whole policy pursued so patiently for the past year. Hitherto the
Prussians had been trying to win back Russia by amicable means,
in the fond hope of persuading the Empress to sanction their
designs on Poland. Now, as a reward for all their complais-
ance, they were presented with this treaty, which contained
Catherine's guarantee of the integrity of Poland, which was,
therefore, designed to close the door in their faces, and to thwart
all their plans for aggrandizement. The proposed alliance seemed
to be directed entirely against Prussia, and it was the more dan-
gerous because Austria would probably hasten to accede to it.
This alliance must be prevented at all costs. 3

1 For the above: Kaunitz to L. Cobenzl, June 28 and September 20, V. A., Russ-
land, Exped., 1788; Kaunitz to Czartoryski, August 26 and 29, V. A., Polcn, Fasc.
66; Kaunitz to Rzewuski, September 15 (printed in Beer, Leopold II, Franz II imd
Cathar ina, pp. 246 f.); Cobenzl's report of October 10, V.A., Russland,Berichle, 1788.

2 See her remarks on Potemkin's plan for the alliance, PycCKiii ApxiiBt, 1874,
ii, pp. 274 ff.

3 Hertzberg to the King, September 2, joint report of Hertzberg and Fincken-
stein, September 3, rescript to Buchholtz, September 3, B.A., Fol. 323 ("Acta
betreffend die Allianz welche die Kayserin von Russland der Republick Pohlen ant-
ragen lassen ... hat "). H. to F. W., September 2: "II ne peut pas etre douteux


Moreover, it seemed clear that the time had come for a com-
plete change of policy. Now at last Hertzberg urged acting in
open opposition to Russia. 1 At Copenhagen, at Constantinople,
at Warsaw, Prussian policy took on a new aggressiveness. At
that moment, Gustavus III having attacked Catherine, the
Danes, in accordance with the terms of their alliance with Russia,
were preparing a counter-attack on Sweden. Berlin immediately
served notice that if Denmark did not cease hostilities, 16,000
Prussian troops would invade Holstein. Before this threat and
the equally vigorous action of England, the Danes backed down.
Hertzberg could hardly have dealt the Empress a severer blow,
for at a time when the Turkish war left her but small resources
against Sweden, the aid of Denmark would have been of great
importance. It was a clear sign of the revolution that had taken
place in Prussian policy. The first step had been taken in that
uncertain, wavering, ill-starred course which in the next few
years led Prussian statesmen further and further into open hos-
tility to the Power whose friendship they most desired, and into
unnatural alliances with states whose friendship they despised or
whose territories they coveted. 2

As regards the alliance project, the official Prussian reply
delivered at St. Petersburg left no doubt of the King's senti-
ments. 3 Buchholtz, the Prussian envoy at Warsaw, was ordered
to do his utmost to thwart the project by working up public
opinion against it and by organizing a strong Prussian party. If
possible, he was to prevent the approaching Diet from being con-
federated ; if necessary, he was to form a Counter-confederation,
which would then demand the aid of Prussian troops. 4 The
cabinet of Berlin was ready, in fact, to proceed to any extremity.
If the Empress persisted in her " presumption," Hertzberg

que cette alliance est uniquement dirigee contre V. M., pour lui carrer tout agran-
dissement, et que l'interet de V. M. exige par consequent de faire tout ce qui sera
possible pour la contrecarrer. . . , Je crois qu'en general V. M. sera obligee
bientot de montrer les dents a. la cour de Russie."

1 Report to the King, September 2, and Frederick William's reply, September
3, B. A., Fol. 323.

2 On this abrupt change, see Bailleu, in H. Z., xlii, pp. 484 ff.

3 Rescript to Keller, September 12, B. A., Fol. 323.

4 Rescripts to Buchholtz, September 3 and 16, ibid.


wrote, she would force the King to take sides with Sweden and
the Porte. 1

The Empress, however, was not so rash. Although deeply-
incensed at the conduct of Prussia, she recognized that the
Polish alliance was not worth the risk of a third war in addition
to the two she already had on her hands, and so she ordered
Stackelberg to suspend negotiations on the subject. But she
could not bring herself to renounce entirely a plan she had once
taken up: she therefore added that if a more favorable oppor-
tunity presented itself in the course of the Diet, the alliance proj-
ect might be brought forward again. 2

By this reservation Catherine largely destroyed the value of
her concession. The Prussians were not conciliated, but only
filled with new suspicions. The Empress, they fancied, was trying
to lull them to slumber in order later on to surprise them with a
fait accompli. Hence they determined to persevere in their policy
of stubborn opposition. 3 When the Diet assembled, it was under
the shadow of a great impending struggle between Russia and
Prussia for control in Poland.

1 Hertzberg to Buchholtz, September 16. In equally warlike vein Hertzberg
to the King, October 2, Fol. 323.

2 Buchholtz's report of September 28, B. A., ibid.

3 Hertzberg and Finckenstein to the King, October 3, rescript to Buchholtz,
October 4, ibid.


The Overthrow of Russian Rule est Poland

' Jam venit hora! Now is the time to provide for the needs of
the Fatherland.' l Such was the general cry in Poland at the
outbreak of the Eastern war. The distractions of its neighbors
seemed to furnish the country the long-desired opportunity to
effect indispensable reforms, and such a chance as might never
occur again. " Our sons and grandsons," the Dietine of Samo-
gitia declared, " will not live to see a better occasion than we now
have for setting our house in order, increasing the forces of the
Republic, assuring our liberties, . . . and reviving the once
famous name of Poles." 2 To neglect this opportunity might
mean certain ruin. Staszic's words rang in men's ears: "All
these reforms must be realized as soon as possible. This matter
will brook no delay. The sickness is violent: it demands violent
remedies." 3 It appeared, then, that the supreme moment had

Almost the whole nation demanded a confederated Diet, the
main task of which should be to put through a very substantial
increase of the army. The need of other reforms was generally
admitted. But precisely what these other reforms should be, how
far they should go, whether the nation should keep within the
limits imposed by the Russian guarantee of the existing constitu-
tion, what attitude the Republic should adopt towards the
neighboring Powers — on those questions public opinion was
divided. Broadly speaking, there were two programs before
the country: that of the King, and that of the loose array of the
opposition, which already called itself ' the Patriots.'

1 Quoted from a letter of M. U. Niemcewicz to the King, in Zaleski, Korespon-
dencya krajowa Stanislawa Augusta, p. 214.

2 Ibid., p. 246.

3 Uwagi nod zyciem J ana Zamojskiego, p. 144.



The King's hopes and plans have already been described.
They were, in substance, that Poland should in this crisis attach
herself to Russia more firmly than ever, taking advantage of the
opportunity, indeed, to effect certain military and financial
reforms, but only such as Catherine in her present conciliatory
mood might be found willing to permit. This was the policy of
extreme prudence, if not of faint-heartedness and self-distrust. It
promised hardly more than a slight increase of the army — per-
haps to 30,000 men, the number indicated by Catherine in the
guarantee treaty; the honor of sending Polish troops to fight in
the Russian ranks in a purely Russian war; and the precarious
protection of the Empress against the designs of Prussia. This
was very little to offer to a nation which expected so much. Such
a program was not fitted to inspire or to arouse to supreme
efforts, but rather to disgust and to repel; for it ran counter to
the nation's instincts, its sense of dignity, its conviction of what
the occasion demanded.

Very different were the ideas that were fermenting in the minds
of the Patriots. Vague and inchoate as their program was, it
still pointed unmistakably to two goals: the realization of very
thoroughgoing reforms, — of the kind sketched by Staszic; and
the vindication of Poland's independence. These two ideals were
really inseparable. No far-reaching, solid, and decisive political
reforms were possible as long as Russia maintained her grip upon
the country. The elimination of the Russian ' guarantee ' and the
overthrow of the Russian ' influence ' were necessary before the
army could be brought up to a really respectable standard or the
vicious constitution replaced by something better.

The program of the Patriots was bold and alluring, but
was it wise or prudent or practicable ? It appeared that there
was a reasonable chance of success only in case Poland could
count on the friendship or, if need be, the support of one of the
neighboring Powers; and as matters then stood, such support
could come only from Prussia. Of the dangers lurking in such a
connection, of the natural ambitions and the ill-concealed cupid-
ity of Prussia, the Patriots were by no means ignorant. Their
leaders cannot fairly be accused of having thrown themselves



blindly into the arms of their worst enemy. From the outset they
recognized that Prussia had been, and under certain conditions
might again become, the most dangerous foe of Poland. But the
existing circumstances gave ground for hope. As long as the
close connection between the Imperial Courts lasted — and it
seemed very firm at that moment — Prussia must remain in
opposition to Russia, and might therefore see in a revived Poland
a desirable ally. Moreover, it was supposed that England, Prussia,
and Holland were building up a great league of states (the ' Fed-
erative System'), into which Sweden, Denmark, Turkey, and the
Fiirstenbund were to be admitted, the object of which was to
maintain the balance of power and the existence of the small
states against the Imperial Courts. If Poland could gain admis-
sion to this league, her future might seem secure. Finally, the
character of the new King of Prussia, and especially the generosity
and moderation which were supposed to distinguish him so
signally from his predecessor, inspired hope and confidence.
Might it not be expected that Frederick William, who had so
recently intervened to rescue Holland from French influence and
had then taken that Republic into his alliance on terms of equal-
ity, would be found ready to render equally disinterested services
to Poland ?

Long before Prussia made any marked advances to the Poles,
the Patriots began to turn their eyes toward Berlin. At the
council of war held by their leaders in Paris at the beginning of
1788, plans were discussed for securing the Prussian alliance and
even for bringing Poland into the ' Federative System.' 1 In the
following summer many of the Patriots openly declared that they
meant to stand with Prussia at the approaching Diet, 2 and some
of the magnates were already writing Berlin to solicit support
against Russia. 3 The situation remained decidedly uncertain,

1 Dembinski, " Piattoli et son role pendant la Grande Diete," in Bulletin de
VAcademie de Cracovie, Classe de Philologie, etc., Juin-Juillet, 1905, pp. 54 f.;
Zaleski, Zycie Czartoryskiego , pp. 225 ff.; Debicki, Pulawy, i, pp. 253 ff.

2 Zaleski, Korespondencya krajowa, p. 242; Griesheim to Bischoffwerder, August
23, 1788, rejoices that the Poles are " grosstentheils so gut preussisch gesinnt,"
B. A., Fol. 323.

3 Letters of Radziwill (July 20), Sulkowski (August 6), and Ogihski (September
10) to Hertzberg, B. A., R. 9, 27 and Fol. 323.


however, down to the opening of the Diet, because the policy of
Prussia was still far from clear. A vigorous declaration from
Berlin was needed before the Patriots could enter boldly on plans
for reform or venture to throw down the gauntlet to Russia.


On the 6th of October, 1788, there met at Warsaw the assembly
destined to become famous as the Four Years' Diet, or, as patri-
otic historians prefer to call it, the Great Diet. It opened amid a
feverish excitement and a whirl of political and social activity
such as Poland had rarely, if ever, witnessed. Warsaw was
packed to overflowing. The whole ' political nation ' seemed to
have pressed up to the capital: senators and deputies with their
families, crowds of simple country gentlemen, the armies of
clients and retainers who followed the magnates, and adven-
turers, sight-seers, and fortune-hunters from every corner of
Poland, and indeed from every part of Europe. The lavish and
wellnigh fabulous hospitality displayed by the richer noblemen
and the constant round of balls, fetes, dinners, and theatrical
performances might suggest a society bent only on holding per-
petual saturnalia; and yet amid these carnival scenes the all-
pervading interest, the universal topic was politics. People
awaited the result of a vote in the Diet with intense anxiety; the
galleries of the assembly were constantly filled, especially by the
ladies of the high aristocracy, whose interest and influence in
polities excited the astonishment of foreigners; in the numerous
salons, in clubs like that of the Radziwill Palace, in the workshops
and in the market-places political discussion ran high; and even
coachmen and lackeys divided into ' Patriots ' and ' Parasites,'
the latter being the adherents of Russia. 1 This passionate
interest in politics is also shown by the immense publicistic
activity of the time, by the flood of treatises, open letters, poems,
dialogues, ' fables,' and ' catechisms ' evoked by wellnigh every
question. In short, never, perhaps, had there been a Diet which
had so aroused the country.

1 Kraszewski, Polska w czasie trzech rozbiorow, ii, p. 126.

9 6


In the beginning there appeared only one organized and dis-
ciplined party, the Royalists. This was a phalanx largely com-
posed of office-hunters, but containing also some few men of
talent who from conviction adhered to the King's policy of friend-
ship with Russia and moderate reforms within the limits that
Catherine prescribed.

The opposition consisted of a loosely-united host of hetero-
geneous elements, which, after fighting side by side in the early
battles of the Diet, divided into two parties with radically differ-
ent tendencies, the ' Republicans ' and the ' Patriots.'

The former represented the conservative and reactionary
forces, the partisans of the old institutions, the fanatics of ' golden
liberty,' the bigoted, misguided, or selfish opponents of all change
whatsoever except, perhaps, a change backward — a return to
the undiluted anarchy of the Saxon period. The Republicans
were agreed in opposing the King — the traditional and popular
course in Poland ; and as for Russia, the magnates who led the
party were ready to rally to the Empress whenever she showed
herself disposed to throw over the King for their sake; while the
honest, ignorant squires, who made up the rank and file of the
party, detested Russia but still unintentionally served her interests
through their inability to understand the needs of their country
and through their blind hostility to reforms. The Patriots, the
champions of independence and of thoroughgoing reforms, were
undoubtedly the party which appealed most strongly to the heart
and to the enlightened opinion of the nation. To them rallied
spontaneously those who had freed themselves from the ancient
prejudices and desired to reconstruct the state on a new basis in
accordance with the liberal ideas of the age; those who resented
the yoke of Russia as an intolerable degradation ; those who had
sufficient faith in the nation to believe that independence, dignity,
and power could be won back by a determined effort. The
strength of the party lay especially in the younger generation, the
men fresh from the new schools, full of the energy, the broader
knowledge, the optimism which the older generation, broken and

Online LibraryRobert Howard LordThe second partition of Poland; a study in diplomatic history → online text (page 11 of 59)