Robert Howard Lord.

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

. (page 12 of 59)
Online LibraryRobert Howard LordThe second partition of Poland; a study in diplomatic history → online text (page 12 of 59)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

disillusioned by the Partition, conspicuously lacked. These
younger men were to play so prominent a role in the Four Years'


Diet that critics jested of an assembly of ' Lycurguses and Solons
of twenty-five.' The Patriots possessed leaders of high charac-
ter and reputation: Ignacy Potocki, a man of ardent and noble
soul, disinterested, energetic, indefatigable, admired and almost
worshipped by his younger compatriots; his brother Stanislas,
the most eloquent orator of the party; the Marshal of the Diet, 1
Stanislas Malachowski, ' the Polish Aris tides,' a man whose name
was synonymous with pure and lofty patriotism; Koll^taj, the
organizer of the party's propaganda, the leader of the more ad-
vanced democratic wing, and perhaps the clearest thinker and the
best head in Poland; finally, Prince Adam Casimir Czartoryski,
the richest and most popular, the most charming and cultivated
man of his nation. Unfortunately, not one of these leaders was
really a statesman of the first calibre. The party was rich in men
of integrity and intellect and fervent patriotism, but it did not
contain a single great man of action. Nevertheless, whatever
talent Poland at that time possessed was, with few exceptions,
gathered within the Patriotic camp.

It was at the outset quite uncertain which of these parties
would gain the ascendancy in the Diet. Both Royalists and
Opposition could count upon a certain number of reliable support-
ers, but the majority of the assembly was at first unattached,
undecided, and ready to go with the tide.

On October 7th the Diet was, by general agreement, confed-
erated for the specified purpose of increasing the army and the
taxes. After the provisional withdrawal of the alliance project,
the King and the Russian ambassador had decided that military
and financial questions should furnish the chief business of the
session; for they hoped that by gratifying the nation's wishes in
this respect they could avert a discussion of more fundamental
problems and prevent an explosion of popular feeling against
Russia. And possibly their hopes might have been realized,
possibly Stanislas and Stackelberg might have remained masters
of the situation, had it not been for the vigorous intervention of

1 Or more strictly Marshal of the Confederation for the ' Crown ' (Poland),
Prince Sapieha being Marshal for Lithuania.

9 8


At the first general session of the Confederation (October 13), a
note was read from the Prussian envoy Buchholtz, in which, in
language very courteous towards the Republic but unfriendly
and even menacing towards the Empress, the Prussian govern-
ment protested against the Russo-Polish alliance project, and
announced that if the Poles felt the need of an alliance, Frederick
William would offer them his own. This note decided the course
of the Four Years' Diet. For the impression produced by it was,
as Stackelberg himself reported, indescribable. 1 While the party
of the King and the ambassador was seized with consternation,
the exultation of the Patriots knew no bounds. For the first
time in many years, one of the neighboring Powers had come for-
ward in open opposition to the Russian policy in Poland, had in-
vited the nation to throw off the yoke, and had held out promises
of support. For the first time in many years, one of the neighbors
had addressed the Republic as if it were an independent and equal
Power, and had seemed to seek its friendship. The Poles had the
new and delightful experience of being wooed, and above all, they
felt the sense of deliverance. It was as if, after a hundred years of
servitude, the nation had been in a moment freed from its chains
and left master of its own actions. An illustrious Pole, describing
many years later that springtime of joy and hope, declared that it
was a moment of inexpressible happiness, such as no one could
appreciate who had never lived through it, and such as no one who
had lived through it could ever again experience in like degree. 2

The first impulse of the ' liberated ' nation was to give free rein
to its strongest passion, hatred towards Russia; a hatred born
of the insults and indignities endured for the past thirty years : the
brutalities of Repnin and Saldern, the arrogance of Stackelberg,
the arrest of the three Polish Senators dragged away from the
midst of the Diet of 1767 to imprisonment in Russia, the excesses
committed by the Russian troops during the War of the Con-
federation of Bar, the shame of the servitude that had degraded
Poland in the eyes of all Europe. That hatred extended to every
person and institution associated with the Russian rule: to the

1 Report of October 15 cited by Smitt, Suworow, ii, p. 185.

2 Ad. J. Czartoryski, Zywot Niemcewicza, p. 35.


King, to the Royalist party, to the Permanent Council. The
ambassador presently found himself boycotted by Warsaw so-
ciety. The Royalists were hooted down in the Diet and insulted in
the streets. To denounce Russia became the road to popularity,
and to attack the Empress personally was held a patriotic deed. 1

The rising flood of anti-Russian and pro-Prussian feeling swept
everything before it. The Patriots acquired a constantly
increasing ascendancy in the Diet, while the King's party melted
away. It was in vain that Stanislas Augustus in eloquent and
prophetic language warned the assembly that their one chance
of safety lay in holding fast to Russia, or at least to the letter of
the existing engagements with the Empress, and that Prussians
offering friendship were Greeks bearing gifts. The King's not
altogether tactful speeches only added to the odium of his past
record. Nor was Stackelberg more successful in stemming the
tide. The ambassador's one serious effort was the note pre-
sented to the Diet on November 5, in which he warned the Poles
that the Empress would regard any change in the constitution
guaranteed by her as a breach of treaty, which would force her to
abandon her friendly attitude towards the Republic. If anything
had been needed to complete the ruin of the Russian influence, it
would have been supplied by that unlucky note.

Prussia at once seized the opportunity for an effective counter-
stroke. On November 20 Buchholtz presented to the Diet a new
declaration, containing his master's interpretation of the famous
guarantee of the constitution by the neighboring Powers. Fred-
erick William, it was said, regarded the guarantee as involving
the obligation to defend the independence of the Republic, but
not at all as implying a right to limit the freedom of the Poles to
change their institutions as they saw fit. This note was couched
in even more flattering terms than the last Prussian declaration,
and it created scarcely less of a sensation. Its effect was in-
creased by the activity of the Marquis Lucchesini, who had come
to Warsaw to assist Buchholtz, and was presently to replace him.
This supple Italian displayed an amazing virtuosity in captivat-
ing the Poles, maligning Russia, and spreading golden opinions as

1 Cf. especially, Kalinka, Der polnische Reichstag, i, pp. 242 ff.



to the beneficent designs of the generous Frederick William. He
fairly carried Warsaw by storm. His successes, together with the
two declarations from his Court, sufficed to assure the triumph of
Prussian influence in Poland, and to drive the Patriots irresistibly
forward upon the exhilarating course of revolution.

The first work of the victorious party was one of demolition.
Before their onslaughts there went down in rapid succession the
War Department, the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Per-
manent Council — in short the whole edifice of government
erected and guaranteed by Russia. There were many reasons to
justify so destructive a course: the necessity of clearing the
ground before undertaking comprehensive and thorough reforms,
the undeniable abuses of which the Council had been guilty, the
need of removing control over the government from a king
devoted to Russia, whom the nation could not trust; but un-
doubtedly the primary motive of the Patriots was the desire to
assert the nation's independence and to prove that the detested
guarantee had become a dead letter. All understood that such
changes, made in the face of Stackelberg's solemn warning, con-
stituted a downright challenge to the Empress; and the constant
denunciations of Russia in the Diet, the collisions between Rus-
sian and Polish troops in the Ukraine, the propaganda of the
Patriots in favor of an alliance with Prussia, added to the danger
of a rupture. The crowning audacity of the Poles was the formal
demand, which, with the encouragement and diplomatic support
of Prussia, was repeatedly addressed to Catherine, that all Rus-
sian troops should be withdrawn from the territories of the Re-
public. In view of the exigencies of the Turkish war, which made
a free passage through the Polish Ukraine an inestimable and
almost indispensable convenience, such a demand was bound to
strain Catherine's patience wellnigh to the breaking-point. Great
was the surprise, therefore, when at the end of May (1789), for
reasons to be explained later, the Empress courteously announced
that she would immediately evacuate Polish territory. With
that, the emancipation of the Republic seemed complete. Little
more than six months had been required to throw off that Russian
yoke which had galled the nation for a quarter of a century. The


result surpassed all that could have been hoped for at the begin-
ning of the Diet.

But if the Poles had freed themselves, it had been only with the
aid of quite exceptional circumstances, which had led Prussia to
support, Austria to facilitate, and Russia to tolerate the revolu-
tion at Warsaw. It remains to examine the motives underlying
the attitude of the three neighboring Powers, in order to under-
stand the reasons which made the liberation of Poland possible
and to estimate its prospects of permanence.


Prussia had been the chief agent and sponsor of this revolu-
tion. Prussia had given the signal for the upheaval, suggested
and encouraged each successive move of the Patriots against
Russia, and vaguely promised the support of her battalions for the
work which the Diet had accomplished. All this was assuredly
not done from pure generosity, or from disinterested neighborly
friendship. Seldom even in the tortuous diplomacy of the eigh-
teenth century does one find so glaring a contrast as that between
the secret aspirations of the cabinet of Berlin and the seductive
professions wliich it lavished at Warsaw. Yet it would be a mis-
take to regard the Polish policy of Prussia at this time as entirely
a tissue of deceptions, as based throughout upon a deep-laid and
steadily pursued plan of treachery. To a certain degree the in-
terests of Prussia did coincide with the aims of the Patriots; and
a single, definite plan was what the Polish policy of Prussia most
signally lacked. That policy was by no means consistent; it
varied and shifted; it frequently lost its bearings and miscarried
in its reckonings. Prussia might seem to guide events at Warsaw,
but she was often hardly less surprised than her neighbors at the
results of her work.

The original aim of the Prussian intervention was simply to
thwart that Russian alliance project which by its guarantee of
the integrity of the Republic l had aroused such indignation at

1 This is the aspect of the alliance plan most emphasized by Hertzberg in his
report to the King of September 2, 1788, and in the instructions to Buchholtz of the
following day.




Berlin. But even before the Diet assembled, Prussian policy had
entered upon a new phase. The Court of Berlin was now afraid,
not that Catherine would put through her plan, but that she
would abandon it. For the antipathy of the Poles to the pro-
posed alliance had become so manifest that in case the Empress
had not the good sense to renounce the project, Prussia would
have a fine chance for a great stroke. In opposition to the con-
federated Diet about to be opened by Stanislas and Stackelberg,
Frederick William would organize a Counter-confederation,
which would then appeal to him for ' protection ' ; Prussian
troops would enter Poland and occupy the long-coveted terri-
tories; and the Hertzberg plan, in its most essential part,
might be realized immediately. Thus those professions of dis-
interested friendship, those assurances of armed support, those
declarations which so delighted the early sessions of the Diet had
for their ultimate aim — civil war, to be followed by the dismem-
berment of the Republic. 1

Catherine's withdrawal of the alliance project disconcerted but
did not ruin these pious hopes. If one pretext for armed inter-
vention disappeared, others might still be manufactured. Hence
Buchholtz and Lucchesini were presently instructed- to incite the
Patriots to attack the Permanent Council and to protest against
the Russian troops taking winter quarters in Poland. 2 One
question or the other might, perhaps, produce the desired rupture
between the two contending parties at Warsaw. For a moment
these hopes seemed near to being realized. The attack on the War

1 Hertzberg to the King, September 21 (B. A., R. 9, 27), and October 2,
Hertzberg to Buchholtz, September 30, rescript to Buchholtz, October 1 (B. A.,
Fol. 323).

September 21, Hertzberg to the King :

" Si la Cour de Russie insiste sur son projet d'alliance avec la Pologne, V. M.
aura le plus beau jeu de lui opposer son alliance et une Reconfederation . . . ; mais
si la Cour de Russie a le bon esprit de renoncer a cette alliance, comme le C. de
Stackelberg le lui a conseille, notre role deviendra plus difficile."
September 30, Hertzberg to Buchholtz:

" Je ne me soucie pas que ces gens-la fassent leur confederation et leur alliance,
pourvu que nous puissions parvenir a former un parti a peu pres egal, qui nous
fournisse le titre de faire une autre confederation au nom de laquelle nous puissions

2 Rescripts of October 17, 18, 21, B. A., Fol. 323.


Department — the prelude to the onslaught on the Permanent
Council — led to a decisive trial of strength between the Royal-
ists and the Opposition; party feeling ran high, and Lucchesini,
after several nocturnal conclaves with various magnates, reported
exultantly that if the royal party triumphed, a large section of the
Opposition was ready to resort to a Counter-confederation and
to appeal for Prussian aid. The news threw Berlin into excited
activity. Lucchesini was at once authorized to promise aid to a
Counter-confederation, no matter what the pretext under which
it was formed, although he was to avoid committing his Court to
too precise engagements. General Usedom was ordered to hold
his troops ready to cross the frontier the moment he should receive
word from Lucchesini. A manifesto was to be drawn up forth-
with to justify the entry of the Prussian army into Poland. 1
But Prussia's plans were crossed by the victory of her own
party at Warsaw. The overthrow of the War Department
(November 3) ended this crisis.

Whether it was from disappointment at so tame a result, or
because the season was growing late for military operations, or
because the wind now blew from a more pacific quarter at Berlin,
at any rate the Prussians now gave up serious hopes of a Counter-
confederation. Instead it became their chief aim to end the Diet
as soon as possible. For the great dilemma which had faced the
Court of Berlin ever since the beginning of the assembly, was
becoming increasingly embarrassing : the dilemma as to how far

1 Lucchesini's reports of October 29 and November 1, Hertzberg and Fincken-
stein to Frederick William, November 5, instructions to Lucchesini, November
6, B. A., Fol. 323.

This episode furnished Kalinka with material for one of his indictments of the
Patriotic party; and indeed, if the leaders of that party were conducting such
treasonable negotiations and were ready to call in Prussian troops for so slight a
pretext, they might justly be compared with the men of Targowica. It would seem,
however, from Lucchesini's very vague reports that the men implicated in this
disgraceful and dangerous plan for a Counter-confederation were not the leaders
of the party, but men like Sulkowski, Oginski, and Sapieha — adventurers and
broilers of little influence or consideration. The one leader of the Patriotic party
who undoubtedly had something to do with these secret conventicles with Lucches-
ini was Prince Adam Czartoryski, but it is quite uncertain how far he committed
himself. I know of no evidence to justify Kalinka's conjecture (Dcr polnische Reich-
stag, i, p. 218) that Ignacy Potocki took part in these meetings.



Prussia could afford to support a party which, useful as it might
be in opposing Russia, was still highly obnoxious in that it aimed
at increasing the army, restoring the finances, and reforming the
government of Poland. But how break up the Diet with nothing
accomplished towards these latter ends, without ruining the popu-
larity and influence which Prussia had just gained at Warsaw ?
The plan adopted by the cabinet of Berlin was sufficiently subtle.
It was to spur the Patriots on to renewed attacks on Russia, in
the hope that Stanislas Augustus would be exasperated or alarmed
to the point of dissolving the Diet and taking all the odium of the
step upon himself. Such was the real aim of the second Prussian
declaration to the Diet — the invitation to repudiate the Russian
guarantee. 1 Once more, however, the result fell short of the
intention. The Permanent Council was overthrown, but the Diet
was not dissolved. The action of Prussia had only sealed the
supremacy of the party which now prepared to take up those
reforms that Prussia most detested.

In the early months of 1789, when the crisis of the struggle at
Warsaw was over, when the Diet had settled down to a quasi-
permanent existence under the domination of the Patriotic party,
when the Court of Berlin seemed to have definitely replaced
Russia as the preponderant Power in Poland, Prussian statesmen
surveying the situation hardly knew what to make of their
triumph. They might indeed congratulate themselves on a
striking diplomatic victory over Russia. It was something to
have demonstrated to the Empress how much she had lost when
she gave up the Prussian alliance, and how little she could afford to
ignore or to slight the Court of Berlin. But what material profit
could Prussia expect from her new position in the Republic ?
What was mere ' influence ' to a Power that wanted territory ?
What reliance could be placed upon the friendship or the grati-
tude of the weak and fickle Poles ? Lucchesini, with natural
pride in the work of his hands, discreetly urged the maintenance
of the new position won by such labors, pointing to the positive
advantages to be expected from a Polish alliance in case of war

1 Hertzberg to Finckenstein and to the King, November 12, rescripts to Buch-
holtz, November 12, 18, 22, and to Lucchesini, November 21, B. A., Fol. 323.


with the Imperial Courts, and the negative advantages of having
deprived Catherine of a great kingdom that had been virtually a
Russian province. 1 But Hertzberg was much more skeptical
about the value of a Polish alliance, and much more impressed
with the dangers involved in the obnoxious schemes of the
Patriots. 2

In the final analysis, the future attitude of the Court of Berlin
towards Poland depended on whether Prussia was to draw the
sword against the Imperial Courts or to satisfy her ambitions by
a peaceful bargain with them. This in turn depended on the news
expected from Constantinople, from London, and above all from
St. Petersburg. The visit of Potemkin to the Russian capital
early in 1789 raised hopes of a change of system on the Neva. For
months Frederick William and Hertzberg waited with anxiety to
see whether the favorite would have the will or the power to effect
such a miracle. 3 If he succeeded, then a bargain between Russia
and Prussia at the expense of the Republic would be the natural
outcome. If he failed, then Prussia might ' break loose ' in the
summer, and a Prusso-Polish alliance might yet have its raison
d'etre. 1


At Vienna the Polish revolution aroused only alarm and evil
forebodings. Kaunitz was far from appreciating the strength of
the patriotic movement in Poland, or from foreseeing the energy
and capacity of which the Four Years' Diet, with all its faults,
was to give evidence; but he did judge rightly of the illusion that

1 Lucchesini to the King, November 5, 1788, B. A., Fol. 323; memoir of Decem-
ber 25 and letters to Hertzberg, January 26 and February 18, 1789, B. A., R. 9, 27.

2 Hertzberg to Finckenstein, November 18, to the King, December 7, 1788,
H. and F. to the King, March 16, 1789, B. A. ( Fol. 323 and R. 9, 27.

3 See the Prussian correspondence of January-June, 1789 in Dembihski, Docu-
ments relatifs d Vhistoire du deuxieme et troisieme partage de la Pologne, i.

4 Hertzberg to Buchholtz, March 3, 1789, B.A., R. 9, 27; Hertzberg to Lucchesini,
May 30 (Dembiriski, op. cit., i, pp. 398 f.).

Hertzberg to Buchholtz, March 3:

Fears that Potemkin will not be able to make the Empress change her policy
completely. " Si cela ne peut pas avoir lieu, je crois qu'il vaut mieux que nous
entamions les deux Cours Imperiales et que nous tachions d'ex6cuter notre Plan
avec la Porte et la Suede et memo les Polonois, que nous devons habiliter alors."



the Diet could by mere high-sounding decrees at once restore the
decayed state to life and free it from all foreign influence; and he
saw clearly the danger the Poles would run if they threw them-
selves into the arms of the one Power that coveted their territory.
Any attempt to reform the constitution, he held, would lead only
to internal disturbances, which would afford Prussia a chance to
carry out her nefarious plans. Hence, as long as it seemed possi-
ble to hold back the torrent, he did not spare warnings and exhor-
tations at Warsaw. 1 But by the end of November, after the
second Prussian declaration, the battle was obviously lost. De
Cache, the Austrian charge d'affaires at Warsaw, was ordered to
suspend further representations and to relapse into the most
cautious reserve.

In his dispatches to Cobenzl at St. Petersburg, Kaunitz now out-
lined a new policy. The Russian influence in Poland, he declared,
could be restored only by violent means, and that would bring on
a war with Prussia. Austria could not possibly undertake such a
contest while the Turkish war lasted. It was therefore the most
pressing interest of the Imperial Courts to make peace with the
Porte as soon as possible, even on the uti possidetis basis, in order
to turn all their attention to Prussia and Poland. In the mean-
time, as one means of checking the insidious designs of their
enemies, he once more recommended the alliance with the Bour-
bon Courts, which had already been agitated since 1787, and one
chief point in which would be a guarantee of the integrity of
Poland by France and Spain. 2

Unfortunately, this plan for a quadruple alliance fell through,
largely owing to the reluctance of the Bourbon states to under-
take the defence of Poland ; the hope of an immediate peace with
the Turks soon vanished; and almost every dispatch from Berlin

1 Ostensible dispatch to de Cache, November 1, 1788, summarized in Kalinka,
Der polnische Reichstag, i, pp. 376 f.; Kaunitz to Czartoryski, October 29, V. A.,
Polen, Fasc. 66.

2 Instructions of November 28, V. A., Russland, Exped., 1788. On the pro-
tracted negotiations for a quadruple alliance see: Segur, Oeuvres, iii, pp. 266 ff.,
419 ff.; R. I. A., Russie, ii, pp. 441 ff.; Beer, Die orientalische Politik Oesterreichs,
pp. 112, 120 f.; Aragon, Nassau-Siegen, pp. 1761!., 274 ff.; Dembinski, Rosya a
rewolucya francuska, pp. 33-40 ; Barral-Montferrat, Dix ans de paix artnee, i,
pp. 310 ff.


and St. Petersburg announced the growing disposition of those
Courts to bring matters to a rupture. Hence it became one chief
aim of Austrian diplomacy to remove every pretext for an out-

Online LibraryRobert Howard LordThe second partition of Poland; a study in diplomatic history → online text (page 12 of 59)