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

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2 On Potemkin's court and his sovereign airs at Jassy, see IleTpyineBCKiH,
CyBopoBi, pp. 226 f.; BpHKHept, HoTeMKHirB, p. 178; Pyc. Crap., xiv, p. 226.


result, he believed, would be that the three or four palatinates of
the southeast would be wrenched away from the Republic, and
annexed either to Russia or, preferably, to the new Kingdom of
Dacia. 1 In view of the extreme tension of Russo-Polish relations
since 1788 and the probability of war between the two countries,
this audacious project, which under ordinary circumstances the
Prince would scarcely have dared to acknowledge, could now be
urged upon the Empress with some chance of success.

Potemkin seems to have broached the scheme — or part of it —
during his stay in St. Petersburg in the spring of 1789; 2 and he
then submitted it quite fully in writing the following November.
Catherine praised it in general terms, but found various pretexts
for not carrying it out immediately. At this time, she wrote,
it would be dangerous to stir up the Poles unnecessarily and pre-
maturely; it would be better to wait until after the peace with
Sweden and the Porte, and then execute the plan on the occasion
of the return of the army from Moldavia through Poland. It
was only after long delays that she grudgingly accorded him the
coveted title of Hetman of the Ekaterinoslav and Black Sea
Cossacks. 3 Undeterred, however, by the obvious coldness at
St. Petersburg, Potemkin seemed to center his attention more
and more upon his Polish plans. It was to further them, we
think, that he steadily increased his Cossack regiments, organized
a special corps called the ' Army of the Grand Hetman's Staff,'
recommended to the Empress not only peace but an alliance with
the Turks, and secured the replacement of Stackelberg at War-
saw by his own creature, Bulgakov. 4 At the same time the

1 Cf. Askenazy, op. cit., pp. 38 f., 199 ff.

2 Cf. the rescript to Potemkin of July 6/17, 1789, CfiopHHKS., xlii, p. 17.

8 Catherine to Potemkin, 'November 15/26 and December 2/13, 1789, and the
rescript of January 10/21, 1790, CoopHiiKt, xlii, pp. 47, 50 f., 57 f. ; see also
Bezborodko to S. R. Vorontsov, December 20/31, 1789, Apx. Bop., xiii, p. 173;
Garnovski to Popov, March 21/April 1, 1790, Pyc. dap., xvi, p. 426.

4 Potemkin's correspondence of the early part of 1790 is full of references to the
recruiting and organization of the Cossacks: see CCopimin, BoeHHO-uCTopwiecKHXt
MaTepiaJiOBt, viii, passim. On the ' Army of the G. H.'s Staff,' sec EiirejH>rap,Tj"i>,
3aiiHCKH, p. 96, and Langeron's Memoirs, in Hurmuzaki, Documente privitore
la Istoria Romdnilor, Suplcmenl i Hi , pp. 105 f. As to the alliance with the
Turks and Bulgakov's appointment, see Catherine to Potemkin, March 19/30 and
April 8/19, C6opHHKi>, xlii, pp. 66 and 62 f.


danger of an attack from Prussia and Poland gave him a very
favorable opportunity to press his main project in a somewhat
modified form. At the end of March he presented to the Empress
a plan, in accordance with which, at the first offensive movement
on the part of the Poles, the Russian armies were to occupy the
palatinates of Kiev, Podolia, and Braclaw, thus establishing com-
munications with the Austrians in Galicia and shortening and
improving their own line of defence. And it was not merely a
military occupation that the Prince proposed, but the outright
annexation of the three palatinates. Russia would thus acquire,
he wrote, the most fertile provinces of the Republic and a popu-
lation of more than a million of her coreligionists. Volhynia also
might, perhaps, be annexed; or at least the Russian frontier
should be drawn from Choczim to the government of Mohilev. 1
In short, the Prince proposed appropriating substantially the
same territories that Russia was to acquire at the time of the
Second Partition.

Catherine again both praised and raised objections; but the
danger was too pressing to admit of delay. The plan was ap-
proved — at least in its military aspects — by the Council April
11/22, and sanctioned by an Imperial rescript of the 19/30. 2

Soon after, Cobenzl at last received a fairly definite reply to
his oft-reiterated questions. By a ministerial note of May 6 he
was informed that if the Poles invaded Galicia, Russian forces
would then make a diversion by attacking the southeastern
provinces of the Republic. This was altogether unsatisfactory
to the Austrians, who had constantly demanded that a Russian
corps should be sent to Galicia at once, not to avenge but to
prevent an attack. But nothing more could be secured from the
Russian ministers, who confessed frankly that not even the

1 This plan is printed in the Historische Zeitschrift, xxxix, pp. 238 f., and in the
Pyc. Apx., 1865, pp. 401 ff.

2 Apx. Toe. Cob., i, pp. 775 f. The rescript referred to has not yet been
brought to light, but we know of it through the rescript to Potemkin of July 18/29,
1 79 1, published by Liske in the H. Z., xxx, p. 295. Cf. also the letter of Catherine
to Potemkin of April 8/19, cited above, and also those of March 30/ April 10 and
May 13/24, 1790, C6opHHEi>, xlii, pp. 67, 78 f.; also Bezborodko to S. R.
Vorontsov, April 30/May 11, 1790, Apx. Bop., xiii, pp. 182 f.


Empress' commands could make Potemkin do what he did not
wish to do; and nothing more could be effected with Potemkin,
who left letters from Kaunitz and even from Leopold himself
unanswered for months. 1 In this critical moment, when the hopes
of Austria so largely depended on him, he was thinking of nothing
but a Kozaczyzna in the Ukraine. The exasperation in Vienna
was increased by the fact that instead of pressing the campaign
against the Turks, as the Russian ministers had promised, Potem-
kin kept his troops idle all the spring, while he pursued a secret
and highly suspicious negotiation with the enemy. By the early
part of June, then, all hope of getting any effective aid from
Russia had practically disappeared.

There was likewise no prospect of driving the Turks to an
immediate peace by force of arms, for the bulk of the Austrian
troops had been sent off to Bohemia. Little help was to be
expected from England, for in view of the danger of war with
Spain over the Nootka Sound controversy, Pitt was now less
able to act energetically in Continental affairs, and also more
anxious than formerly to oblige his ally. Hence even English
ministers began to urge the Prussian terms upon the Court of
Vienna. 2 In short, the bases of Kaunitz's system were crumbling
one after the other. By this time the King of Prussia had gone
to his army in Silesia, and was impatiently awaiting Austria's
final answer. There was nothing to do but fight or take the best
terms one could get from him.

Leopold determined to send Spielmann to Silesia to negotiate
a final settlement. The active State Referendary was the man
whose views most nearly coincided with those of his sovereign;
he did not share the Chancellor's deep-seated hatred of Prussia;
and he was, as we have seen, inclined to enter upon the Hertzberg
plan. Exchanges, equivalents, compensations, all the beloved
political geometry of the time, were almost as much to his taste
as to Hertzberg's. His instructions were decided upon at a
ministerial Conference of June 15 th. As in May, the idea of the

1 L. Cobenzl's report of May 9, Kaunitz to L. Cobenzl, June 19, V. A.,
Russland, Berichte and Expeditionen, 1790.

2 Kaunitz to L. Cobenzl, June 5, V. A., loc. oil.; ci. Leopold to Marie Christine,
June 23, in Wolf, Leopold und Marie Christine, Ihr Brief wechsel, p. 162.


Conference was to pretend to favor the basis of the status quo non
materiel, in order to drive a better bargain on the other basis —
the system of exchanges and equivalents — which they really
preferred. So ready, indeed, were the Austrians at this moment
to enter into Hertzberg's ideas that they would willingly have
accorded Prussia much larger acquisitions in Poland than she had
asked for, providing she only showed herself sufficiently generous
with the lands of her ally, the Porte. To secure Turkish Croatia,
Orsova, and Belgrade, or if possible the frontiers of Passarowitz
unmodified; to make the minimum of sacrifices in Galicia; to
present a bold front but never to let matters come to a rupture;
to bring back peace at any honorable price: such was the sub-
stance of the instructions, with which Spielmann set out on his
far from promising mission. 1


At the end of June the eyes of all Europe were fixed upon
Silesia in expectation of stirring events. There on opposite sides
of the Riesengebirge the hosts of Austria and Prussia once more
stood face to face, ready, as soon as the diplomats had had ' their
little hour upon the stage,' to renew the ancient struggle.

In Bohemia and Moravia were gathered about 150,000 Aus-
trians 2 under the gallant old Field Marshal Laudon, 3 who had

1 Conference protocol of June 15, and Kaunitz to Leopold, June 16, V. A.,
Vortrage, 1790.

The Conference protocol says: " Vor allem ist die Unterhandlung nach dem
Grundsatz des von England vorgeschlagenen nicht materielen Status quo zu eroffnen
und dem preussischen Ministerio glauben zu machen, dass wir diese Basis der
librigen vorziehen."

Kaunitz to Leopold, June 16: Spielmann had told him that it was the opinion
of the Conference: " dass wir absolute und durch alle mogliche Nachgiebigkeits-
Mittel den Frieden mit Preussen zu erhalten suchen miissen, weil wir einen Krieg
zu fiihren schlechterdings ausser Stande sind." Mildly protests.

Leopold's reply: " Ich bin Ihnen fur ihre Mittheilung ihrer Wohlmeinung sehr
verbunden. Unsere innerliche Umstande sind aber leider so beschaffen dass wir
alle nur einigermassen anstandige Mittel anwenden miissen, um einen Bruch mit
Preussen abzuhalten."

2 149,000 according to the Raisonnement drawn up by Col. Mack at headquarters,
June 8, V. A., F. A. a. 54.

3 Laudon fell suddenly ill and died just at the moment of greatest crisis in the
negotiations at Reichenbach.


but recently refreshed the laurels of Hochkirch and Kunersdorf
by the capture of Belgrade. His troops were posted in such
admirable defensive positions that an attack on them would
certainly have been far from easy. Austria's weakness in case of
war lay not in military unpreparedness, but in the terrible con-
fusion that still reigned in the interior of the Monarchy. The
Hungarian Diet was conducting itself in its worst manner and
threatening a formal revolt; the Galicians were conspiring with
Prussia and Poland; there was dangerous fermentation in the
other provinces; the peasantry were in revolt; and everywhere
diets, towns, merchants, nobles, and clergy were demanding, as
Leopold said, " the privileges of the time of Charlemagne," and
clamoring with threats for immediate satisfaction. 1 Under such
circumstances, a sustained military effort would have been well-
nigh impossible, and a single defeat ruinous.

Brilliant in comparison was the situation of Prussia. What-
ever difficulties might have been encountered in the course of the
mobilization, the King now stood at the head of 160,000 troops, 2
supposedly without their equals in Europe, the famous veterans
of Frederick the Great. Around him was a glittering train of
princes, generals, diplomats and visitors: the Duke of Brunswick,
reputed the foremost general of that age; M Ollendorff, Kalckreuth,
and other paladins of the great King; the coryphaei of the Fiirsten-
bund, like Charles Augustus of Saxe- Weimar; the ministers of the
allied Powers, England, Holland, and Poland; the agents of those
potential allies, the Belgians, Hungarians, and Galicians; and
illustrious sightseers like Goethe, who had come to witness the
expected triumphs of the Prussian arms.

Apart from the main army in Silesia, two corps were stationed
in East and West Prussia to observe the Russians. In case of
war, the Poles might also be brought into action; and the army
of the Republic, which was mainly concentrated on the Galician
frontier, had now been raised to about 56,000 men. 3 Poles,

1 Leopold to Marie Christine, June 31, Wolf, op. at., pp. 169 f.

2 163,000 according to the above cited Raisonnement of Mack. Wittichen de-
clares that the Prussian numbers reached 160,000 only after the arrival of Usedom's
corps on July 17, Die polnische Politik Preussens, p. 68.

s Korzon, Wewnetrzne dzieje, v, p. 62, correcting Lucchesini's estimate of 43,600.


Turks, and Swedes together might be counted upon to keep the
Russians fully employed. That the Sultan's armies were by no
means a negligible factor was shown by their valiant repulse of
the Austrians at Giurgevo (June 26); while Gustavus III was
just then conducting his most glorious campaign, which was soon
to be crowned by the splendid naval victory of Svensksund
(July 9). On the whole, the chances strongly favored Prussia,
if she had the courage to draw the sword.

In such a situation a man of the Bismarck type would probably
have forced on a war, regardless of what some timid generals,
some lukewarm allies, or some indignant publicists might say.
There were difficulties, of course — the defects in the commissa-
riat, the evil impression produced on Prussia's allies by the long
delays of the spring and by Hertzberg's diplomacy, the opposi-
tion to be expected at London, the ugly appearances inseparable
from such a deliberate act of aggression; but such things would
scarcely have deterred a statesman of real will-power and deter-
mination, possessed by the genuine Prussian Drang zur Macht.
But Prussian policy was guided at that moment only by a minis-
ter who was losing himself further and further in a blind alley,
and by a king who, although he was somewhat more self-confident
and bellicose, now that he was at the head of his troops, still
varied from day to day in accordance with the latest news from
abroad or the last conversation he had happened to have.

On June 27, at the village of Reichenbach near the Prussian
headquarters at Schonwalde, the negotiation was begun between
Hertzberg on the one side, and Spielmann and Reuss on the other.
At first things went tolerably well. The conferences were, in-
deed, not infrequently stormy, but at bottom both sides were
agreed in principle, and both dreaded the same things — namely,
war or the status quo ante. By the 29th a settlement had been
outlined, by which Austria should cede to Poland the northern
part of Galicia (the circles of Bochnia, Tarnow, Rzeszow and
Zamosc, and the town of Brody), and should receive from the
Porte not only the frontiers of Passarowitz, but also the much-
coveted Turkish Croatia (i. e., Bosnia as far as the river Verbas).
Although the cessions demanded were unpleasantly large, Spiel-


mann thought them more than outweighed by the glittering
acquisitions placed in prospect. He did not feel able to decide
without consulting his Court, but his report shows how strongly
he was inclined to settle on this basis. 1 At Vienna, however, it
was found that the proposed cessions would render Galicia de-
fenceless and useless, and it had just been discovered that Turk-
ish Croatia was a mountainous, turbulent country, extremely
difficult to occupy, and not worth any great sacrifices. Hence
the envoys at Reichenbach were ordered to save as much of
Galicia as possible, to decline some of the Turkish lands so
liberally thrust upon them, and — if worst came to worst — in
Heaven's name to conclude as well as they could. 2 Probably,
after a due amount of haggling and huckstering, an agreement
would have been reached on these lines, had there not occurred
just then an abrupt revolution in Prussian policy. At the
moment when he seemed, so far as Austria was concerned, about
to realize his ' grand plan,' Hertzberg had been deserted by his
own sovereign.

Frederick William II, with all his faults, and in spite of many
sad pages in his history, had a strong sense of honor, a regard for
his engagements and his ' glory,' a certain chivalrousness and
magnanimity. Hertzberg had never seen anything dishonorable
in a scheme which consisted essentially in Prussia's robbing out-
rageously one or both of the two allies whom she had just pledged
herself to defend; but the King had for some time felt growing
scruples about it. At the very beginning of the Reichenbach
negotiation he informed his minister that unless the Austrians
were prepared to cede a large part of Galicia, so that he could
offer the Poles a handsome equivalent for Dantzic and Thorn, the
exchange plan had better be thrown overboard; for it would only
embroil him with the Turks and lose him the confidence of the
Poles, and the status quo strict would be " quasi plus Jwnorable." 3

1 Report of Reuss and Spielmann from Reichenbach, June 29, Vivenot,
Qiicllen, i, pp. 491-496. In all their joint reports one may regard Spielmann as the
man who set the tone.

2 Kaunitz to Reuss and Spielmann, July 7, Vivenot, op. cit., i, pp. 497 f.; Ph.
Cobenzl to Spielmann, July 3, ibid., p. 497.

3 Note to Hertzberg of June 26, Ranke, Die deutschen Machte, ii, p. 377.


Then a week or so later there happened a number of things in
rapid succession, which ended the King's indecision and led him
to pronounce definitively against the whole Hertzberg scheme.

In the first place, Jacobi, the Prussian envoy in Vienna, re-
ported that Kaunitz had hastened to inform the Porte of the
lavish offers of Turkish lands that Hertzberg was making at
Reichenbach. This revelation would probably reach Constanti-
nople at almost the same moment as the Prussian ratification of
the Turkish alliance treaty. The consequences were easily to be
imagined: at the least, the confidence of the Turks would be
alienated forever, and the King would stand convicted before
the world of the most flagrant breach of faith. 1

Almost simultaneously with Jacobi's report (July 6) came a
dispatch from Lucchesini repeating in emphatic terms a warning
often given before, that the Poles would never voluntarily cede
Dantzic, Thorn, and a part of Great Poland in return for a mere
fragment of Galicia. 2 Lucchesini's opinion was only too well
grounded. The news of Hertzberg's propositions to Austria had
created consternation at Warsaw. The Polish envoy to Prussia
had straightway been ordered to make earnest remonstrances, and
Stanislas Augustus wrote Frederick William a personal letter
conjuring him to allow nothing to be decided detrimental to the
interests of his ally, the Republic. 3 Soon after, Lucchesini
arrived at Schonwalde to enlighten his master still further about
the state of public opinion in Poland, and to direct a destructive
criticism against Hertzberg's whole political system. To com-
plete the minister's defeat, England, which a few weeks before
had seemed to approve the exchange plan, now came out de-
cidedly against it and in favor of the status quo ante basis. 4

Frederick William was now thoroughly convinced that the
Hertzberg plan was, as the English envoy declared, " as unsuit-

1 Ritter, op. cit., pp. 18 f.

2 This dispatch is given at some length in Kalinka, Der polnische Reichstag, ii,
pp. 157 ff.

3 Askenazy, op. cit., p. 77; the letter, dated July 3, is cited ibid., p. 210. Deputation
of Foreign Interests to Ankwicz, June 26 and July 10, Muzeum XX. Ossolinskich,
MS. si 6.

4 Ewart to Leeds, July 8, Herrmann, op. cit., vi, pp. 559 ff.; Rose, William Pitt,
p. 528.


able in itself, as its execution would be difficult and even im-
practicable." Even if the Austrians accepted it, it would be
impossible to induce the Poles and the Turks to do so, voluntarily
at least; and to coerce them would be contrary to all honor and
decency. Moreover, even to secure an agreement with Austria
on this basis would probably require many weeks more of
wretched bargaining over the map; and the King was sick of
that. He wanted a quick decision. Apart from the cost of keep-
ing his troops on a war footing, it was ridiculous for him to spend
his time negotiating, when he stood at the head of an army
ready to act. The only sure and honorable course, he now felt,
was to abandon the exchange plan entirely, and to fall back on
the other alternative, the status quo strict, which he had proposed
to Leopold at the beginning of the negotiation. If Austria
accepted this, he would have the glory of appearing as a dis-
interested and loyal peacemaker, and the advantage of forcing
his ' natural enemy ' to end a long and exhausting war without
having gained a single village. If Austria rejected it, he would
have a just pretext for beginning hostilities, and a right to count
on the assistance of England and his other allies. 1 It has often
been said that in going over to the status quo basis, the King was
trying to make a rupture inevitable; but it would seem that if
he had been determined to force on a war, he would have de-
manded something more than Leopold had already declared
himself willing to grant. 2 In general, it was not the way of
Frederick William to force or guide events: he waited on them,
and allowed them to take their own course. If war had come,
he would probably not have been displeased; but he deliberately
put the choice of war or peace in his adversary's hands.

It was only after three days of storms, protests, rage, and
gloom that Hertzberg consented to accept his defeat and to

1 See especially the King's note to Hertzberg of July n, Ranke, op. tit., ii, p. 379.

2 In the Memoire attached to Leopold's letter of May 23. Sybel takes as proof
that Frederick William wished to provoke a war the demand which he at first
proposed to make, that Leopold should admit a Prussian guarantee of the Hun-
garian constitution (Geschichte der Revolutionszeit, i, p. 232). But the fact that the
King let this demand fall when Hertzberg urged that it would infallibly lead to war,
seems to me to point to a conclusion quite the opposite of Sybel's.


execute the new orders given him. On July 15 he presented to
the Austrians a note declaring that the King found himself un-
able to discuss the new propositions of the Court of Vienna, both
because he foresaw with certitude that they would be accepted
neither by the Porte nor by Poland, and because they were too
far removed from the original basis upon which this negotiation
had started; that he could therefore only return to the other
basis, the status quo strict; and that he demanded a precise and
immediate answer whether the King of Hungary would consent
to that principle. 1 In vain Spielmann and Reuss protested hotly
against so abrupt a change of front, and at a demand so deroga-
tory to the honor, so incompatible with the dignity, of their
Court. There was nothing to do but to write to Vienna for new
instructions. Spielmann's indignation was unfeigned, for his
heart was too firmly set on the exchange project, and he revolted
at the thought of sacrificing every inch of conquered territory,
and at submitting to such arrogant dictatorship. 2 Leopold, how-
ever, did not hesitate over his decision. He wanted nothing so
much as peace, peace at once, peace on any even half-way
honorable terms. The plenipotentiaries might try to secure some
slight modifications of the strict status quo ante helium (such as
the cession of Orsova to Austria) ; but that was to him a matter
of merely secondary interest. He was quite ready to assent to
the main demands of the Prussian declaration.

When these instructions reached Reichenbach (the 24th), the
conferences were renewed for the purpose of drawing up a con-
vention; and after frequent violent scenes and more than one
moment when a breach seemed imminent over the article of the
Netherlands, on July 27 an agreement was finally reached.
Austria consented to the principle of the status quo strict; to an
immediate armistice with the Turks; and to the holding of a
Congress, where peace was to be concluded with the Porte under
the mediation and guarantee of England, Prussia, and Holland.
If at the final settlement the Court of Vienna secured any slight

1 The note in Hertzberg's Recueil, iii, pp. 83-87, and in Van de Spiegel, op. cit.,
pp. 288 ff.

2 Reports of the two Austrian envoys of July 13, 16, 18, Vivenot, op. cit., i,
pp. 499-503. 506-515-


modifications of the status quo in its favor, Prussia reserved the
right to claim equivalent advantages. The Powers of the Triple

Online LibraryRobert Howard LordThe second partition of Poland; a study in diplomatic history → online text (page 16 of 59)