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

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Alliance promised to use their good offices to assist the King of
Hungary to recover the Netherlands, whose former constitutions
were then to be placed under their guarantee. Finally, Austria
agreed not to aid Russia in any way, directly or indirectly, in
case the Empress continued the war with the Turks. Such
were the chief provisions of the written declarations which con-
stituted the famous Convention of Reichenbach. 1


" Your Grace will see the sad result of the Reichenbach nego-
tiation from the joint report," Spielmann wrote to Kaunitz. " It
is, unfortunately, an unavoidable consequence of our internal
circumstances and the deplorable aftermath of the late reign." 2
" In sane politics," was Kaunitz's verdict, " we ought never to
have consented to this congress. It was an humiliating step.
Decided to yield everything, we could have done it at Vienna,
and we should thus have avoided insolent and insulting lan-
guage. . . . The declaration is base, cringing, without a shadow of
dignity; besides, it leaves the most essential things undecided." 3
Leopold, however, found the final terms more favorable than
Hertzberg's, and believed that of all the bases for peace that were
possible at that moment, that of the status quo was the least
disadvantageous. 4 So diverse were the judgments then passed on
the Convention from the standpoint of Austrian interests. The
verdict of historians has been rather more unanimous.

To call Reichenbach an Austrian Olmiitz 5 is to overstate the
case. Doubtless the Convention involved great sacrifices; it
represented the total failure of that policy of resistance to Prussia
for which Kaunitz had stood; and even Leopold had probably

1 Printed in Neumann, Recueil des Traites de VAutriche, i, pp. 414-420; Hertz-
berg's Recueil, iii, pp. 88-101; Van de Spiegel, op. cit., pp. 297-302, etc.

2 Letter of July 28, Vivenot, op. cit., i, p. 530.

8 Note to Ph. Cobenzl, undated, cited by Vivenot, op. cit., preface, i, p. x.

4 Letters to Marie Christine of July 18 and August 9, in Wolf, op. cit., pp.
181 and 189.

5 Duncker, in H. Z., xxxvii, pp. 41 f.



hoped for somewhat better conditions. 1 But the Austrian ruler
had, at any rate, gained the great and essential objects that he
had had in view since the beginning of the negotiation; and such
was emphatically not the case with Frederick William. In this
sense, the real victor at Reichenbach was not the monarch who
dictated the terms, but the one who submitted to the dictator.

To the King of Prussia the Convention brought a little idle
glamour, purchased at the cost of the hopes, plans, and efforts
of the past three years. In reality, it marked a dismal fiasco.
After fixing upon that summer for a great offensive action, after
elaborate military and diplomatic preparations, after taking the
field at the head of imposing forces and challenging the attention
of the world to the great deeds that were to follow, Frederick
William returned to his capital wreathed with no laurels, empty-
handed, bringing only the dubious honor of having saved a few
provinces to the Turks and of having paraded himself as the
disinterested peacemaker of Europe. The pose was awkward,
for all the world knew what chagrin lay behind it, and how in-
voluntary this disinterestedness had been. For these triumphs
the King had spent half the war- treasure so carefully collected
by his predecessor for an emergency. What was worse, he had
lost the chance to make those indispensable territorial acquisitions
to which he had looked forward so confidently at the beginning
of the Eastern war. Worst of all, Prussia had played away the
splendid opportunity to settle once for all with Austria, the finest
opportunity that had presented itself since 1740. " I cannot
contain myself for shame and grief," Hertzberg wrote to a
friend. 2

At Warsaw the news of Reichenbach was also a cruel dis-
appointment. Since the previous autumn the Poles had been
preparing a revolt in Galicia, planning an attack upon that
province, massing their force's on the Austrian frontier, and

1 Sorel's verdict: " Leopold recut du camp prussien sous forme d'ultimatum ses
propres conditions de paix. II lui convint de se les faire dieter " (L'Europe et la
Revolution franqaise, ii, p. 73) is, I think, not quite true. Leopold's ' own condi-
tions,' it seems, would have been the modified or approximate status quo.

2 Letter of August 1 to Schlieffen, in Nachrickt von einigen Hausern des
Geschlechts der von Schlieffen, ii, pp. 509 f.


hardly stopping short of deliberately provoking a rupture. By
May relations had become so strained that the Austrian minister
was making ready to leave Warsaw. 1 At that moment the Poles
were honestly and even eagerly intent upon taking their full part
in the great enterprise planned by Prussia. They waited only
for the signal from Berlin. But weeks and weeks passed without
the signal being given, and meanwhile disquieting reports flowed
in about the secret negotiations going on between Leopold and
Frederick William. Irritated and uneasy over the delay, the
Poles became indignant and alarmed on learning how freely
Hertzberg was disposing of their lands and interests without
consulting them. The suspicions bred by the untimely demand
for Dantzic and Thorn some months before, flared up again.
The result was that, on the one hand, the idea of undertaking a
war in conjunction with such an ally began to grow unpopular, 2
while, on the other hand, the Polish government felt bound, as
we have seen, to register an energetic protest against the Hertz-
berg plan. Nevertheless, when the news of the denouement at
Reichenbach arrived, when it became certain that there was to
be no war after all, the first impression at Warsaw was one of
consternation and regret. 3 It was hard now to bid adieu to the
hope of recovering Galicia, and to abandon the dangerously
compromised people of that province to the punishment that
might be awaiting them. There was no denying that by its
warlike gestures and poses of the last few months the Republic
had gone very far in antagonizing the Imperial Courts. Above
all, the leaders of the Patriots could not fail to recognize that the
Prussian alliance itself — the alliance on which their whole political
system rested — was now endangered, both because after all that
had happened the Polish nation could no longer feel the old
confidence in their ally, and because Frederick William, on his
side, had also much ground for complaint. At the eleventh hour,

1 De Cache's report of May 16, 1790, V. A., Polen, Berichte.

2 De Cache reported, though probably with some exaggeration, that hardly a
dozen members of the Diet would now have voted for war (July 3, V. A., loc. cit.).

3 De Cache's report of July 31 (V. A., loc. cit.); Aubert to Montmorin, July
31, Dembinski, op. cit., i, p. 512; Kalinka, Der polnische Reichstag, ii, pp. 170 f.;
Askenazy, op. cit., p. 83.


just before the Congress of Reichenbach assembled, the King had
learned from Prussian officers sent to inspect it that the Polish
army was not yet sufficiently advanced in its reorganization to
cooperate effectively. 1 If that discovery was damaging to the
credit of the Poles, Frederick William's feelings towards them
were not improved by finding his chances for making acquisitions
by negotiation thwarted largely by the obstinacy of these same
useless allies. After Reichenbach the Prussians made no secret
of their irritation. A Polish agent reported that at Berlin the
worst opinions prevailed regarding the King of Poland, the Polish
army, and the whole Polish nation. 2 Lucchesini, on his return
to Warsaw, talked blackly about a complete change of system on
the part of his Court. 3 The fact was that the collapse of the pro-
posed attack upon Austria had removed the one cogent motive
Frederick William had had for desiring the Polish alliance.

There was, then, dissatisfaction, disillusionment, growing es-
trangement on both sides. Only four months after its conclu-
sion the alliance seemed on the road to dissolution. One chance
remained, however, of saving it, of giving it renewed vitality and
real worth in Prussian eyes. If the joint enterprise against
Austria could no longer be carried out, the point of the alliance
might be turned against Russia. Such a possibility would pre-
sent itself if the Triple Alliance, having once undertaken to effect
a general pacification, attempted to enforce upon Catherine II
the same hard terms as had been imposed upon Leopold.

1 Askenazy, op. cit., p. 72; Kalinka, op. cit., ii, pp. 142 ff.

2 Kalinka, op. cit., ii, pp. 170, 238 ff.

3 Herrmann, op, cit., vi, pp. 331 f.


Catherina Constans Invicta


During the year after Reichenbach Catherine II was put to the
hardest test of her career. She who, like Louis XIV, had long
held her neighbors in fear by her continual aggressions, now found
a powerful coalition rising up against her; and for a time it
seemed probable that her reign would close in humiliation and
defeat, as Louis XTV's had ended. In that case, the future of the
Polish state would doubtless have been vastly different. For in
the duel between Catherine and Pitt, which we are now to follow,
it was far less the fate of Turkey than that of Poland that was at ,,
stake. 1

Immediately after Reichenbach the question presented itself,
whether Russia, like Austria, could be induced to renounce her
conquests, and to make peace on the strict status quo ante basis.
On that subject Catherine's mind was made up. Nearly two years
before, her Council had decided that when the negotiations for
peace came, Russia must insist on the cession of the fortress of
Oczakow and the territory between the Bug and the Dniester. 2

Oczakow, which French engineers had long been trying to turn
into a sort of Turkish Gibraltar, had a decided strategic impor-
tance. It commanded the mouths of the Dnieper and the Bug,
and as long as it remained in hostile hands, it formed a constant
menace to Russia's newly acquired possessions in the Crimea.
The adjacent territory as far as the Dniester was at that time
almost an uninhabited desert; but it was of considerable value as
affording a broader frontage on the Black Sea and controlling the
outlets of several important navigable rivers. On this cession as a
sine qua non Catherine remained unshakeably firm throughout all
the storms that followed.

1 Cf. Rose, William Pitt, p. 593.

2 Sessions of the Council of December 14-16/25-27, 1788, Apx. Toe. Cob., i,
pp. 638-655.



As the war turned more and more in her favor, she advanced for
a time larger claims. At the close of 1 789 Potemkin was secretly
instructed to induce the Turks, if possible, to cede all their prov-
inces north of the Danube. The lands as far as the Dniester or
even the Pruth were to be annexed to Russia, and the rest was to
form the principality of Dacia, the crown of which Catherine at
that time destined to her younger grandson Constantine. 1 When
in January of 1790 she for the first time announced her terms of
peace to the Courts of London and Berlin, she had the courage to
include an article providing for the erection of Moldavia and
Bessarabia into an independent state under a prince of the
Orthodox faith, a demand which the Prussians found as ' arro-
gant ' and ' extravagant ' as it was ' inadmissible.' 2 It was one of
Catherine's better qualities that she generally recognized just
how far she could safely go. So on this occasion, after finding how
strong an opposition her tentative proposals had aroused, she
wisely decided to moderate her claims and then to stand by her
guns through thick and thin. In June she announced that her
irreducible and ultimate terms of peace were the cession of
Oczakow and of its territory as far as the Dniester. 3

Having chosen the position she meant to defend, Catherine
looked on at the proceedings at Reichenbach with indignation but
without fear. She could not view that convention without afflic-
tion, she wrote, since it was manifestly derogatory to the dignity
of her ally. Assuredly she would send no envoy to join the
Austrians in making peace under the tutelage of England and
Prussia. " No human power shall dictate laws to me. I am de-
lighted," she went on sarcastically, " that the King of Prussia is
again demanding Dantzic and Thorn from Poland. I suppose it
will be on condition that I cede to Poland White Russia and Kiev,
and that is just where His Prussian Majesty will fail." 4

1 Secret rescripts to Potemkin of November 30/December n, 1789, and
March 19/30, 1790, M. A., Typina, IX, 14, 15.

2 Ostermann to Nesselrode, December 28, 1789/January 8, 1790, Frederick
William to Goltz, January 22, 24, February 5, 22, Dembihski, op. cit., i, pp.
46-53, 277 5., 282, 285.

3 Goltz's report of June 18, 1790, Dembinski, op. cit., i, p. 308.

4 Undated note, perhaps to Bezborodko, P. A., X, 69.


The Empress' courage was increased by the fact that she had
just patched up a hasty and very timely peace with Sweden.
Gustavus III would probably have preferred to continue the war;
but his meagre resources were exhausted, and he despaired of
obtaining adequate help from outside. For years he had been
storming the Courts of London and Berlin with pleas for military
and financial assistance; they had given him a long series of
rebuffs; and when at last, after discovering that he was negotiat-
ing for peace with the Empress, they came forward with the offer
of a subsidy, he found it wretchedly insufficient. Among the
mistakes made by Pitt and Frederick William in dealing with the
Russian problem, none cost them more, perhaps, than their
parsimony and comparative indifference on this occasion. At
the moment when they were about to begin their action against
Catherine, they found they had lost the most efficient ally they
could have secured. 1 On August 14, 1790, Russia and Sweden
concluded the Peace of Verela, by which the territorial status quo
ante helium was restored, although vague assurances were given
on the Russian side about a future ' rectification ' of the frontier.
Catherine's exultation over the peace was equalled only by the
discomfiture of the English and Prussians. " We have drawn one
foot out of the mire," she wrote to Potemkin; " as soon as we get
the other one out, we shall sing Alleluia." 2

Freed in this manner from her most pressing anxiety, the
Empress was ready to show herself perfectly uncompromising
on the subject of the peace with the Turks. If aught were lacking
to fill her with fiery determination, it would have been supplied
by her intense dislike and even contempt for her prospective
opponents. Her correspondence of that time is full of satirical
thrusts and passionate outbursts against " the new dictators of
Europe." Hertzberg is styled " the enrage" " the madman,"
" the puffed-up pedant "; Frederick William is " the universal
Protector," " the universal Disposer of other people's property,"
or "la Bete "; and the Kings of England and Prussia are rolled

1 On the relations between Sweden and the Triple Alliance down to this point,
see especially Wahrenberg, " Bidrag till historien om Kon. Gustaf III' sednaste
regeringsar," in Tidskrift for Litter alur, 1851, pp. 321-365.

2 Letter of August 9/20, C6opnnKt, xlii, p. 101.


into one as " Gegu," l of whom it is written that 'not all the Gegus
possible or imaginable will make her conduct her affairs any
differently.' Never would she make her submission to such
people. "No human power," she wrote, " will ever make me do
that which does not conform to the interests of my Empire or the
dignity of the crown I wear." 2 When it appeared that no help
was to be expected from outside in case of war, she declared
unwaveringly: " Very well, alone, yes, perfectly alone, we shall
now conduct our affairs according to our own interests. N. B. I
shall not relax a jot from any of the propositions made to the
Turks." " Our role is to be unchangeable, unmoved by whatever
may happen." 3 Such was the attitude and the indomitable
temper of the sovereign whom it was now proposed to coerce
into surrendering her hard-won conquests.

The application of such rigorous terms to Russia had, as-
suredly, not lain within the original intentions of the Triple
Alliance. When Pitt first suggested a general pacification on the
status quo basis, in April, 1790, he had not meant, it seems, to
interpret that principle so strictly as td exclude moderate acquisi-
tions such as Catherine now demanded. Down to the summer of
1790 both England and Prussia frequently expressed themselves
in a sense not unfavorable to the retention of Oczakow and its
district by Russia. 4 But Reichenbach had altered the situation.
After England had there pronounced so strongly in favor of the
status quo basis in opposition to the Hertzberg exchange plan,
Prussia accepted the principle, but chose to give it the strictest
possible interpretation, in order to prevent her rival from gaining
even a single village. Having applied the principle to Austria,
the allies were then bound to apply it to Russia as well; for
without derogating from their professions of high impartiality
and disinterestedness, they could not allow the Empress advan-
tages denied to Leopold. Thus England and Prussia were led

1 See the correspondence in the Co'opHHK'B, xlii, passim, and especially that
with Grimm, xxiii of the same collection. " Gegu " is, of course, a fusion of
Georges and Guillaume.

2 To Zimmermann, January 26/February 6, 1791, C6opHZKi, xlii, p. 139.

3 Undated notes, P. A., X, 69.

4 Cf. Lecky, England in the Eighteenth Century, v, p. 275.


rather involuntarily to raise a demand that was likely to involve
them in a war which neither of them had clearly foreseen, and
which neither of them had any reason to desire.

Towards the end of August the envoys of the two Courts at
St. Petersburg officially communicated the results of the Reichen-
bach negotiations and invited the Empress to accept peace on the
same terms under the mediation of the Triple Alliance. The reply
was a courteous but flat refusal, During the autumn the two
ministers returned again and again to their demand, but always
with the same result. The Vice- Chancellor Ostermann informed
them that the Empress was indignant at " the unparalleled con-
duct " of the allies in attempting " to dictate in so arbitrary a
manner to a sovereign perfectly independent and in want of no
assistance to procure the conditions which seemed to her best
suited to satisfy her honor." x At the end of the year the allied
Courts made what they considered a great concession. They
would no longer insist that the Empress submit to their mediation,
if she would only accept their good offices and peace on their
terms. But this hardly improved matters, since the Empress
still held her to her own terms. Obviously there was no means of
dealing with her except by a show of force. The question was
how far England and Prussia would go with measures of coercion.
Would they risk a war ? That question held Europe in tense
anxiety throughout the winter and spring of 1791. The answer
to it depended upon many factors: upon the uncertain and
incalculable course of Frederick William, the deliberate resolu-
tions of Pitt, the attitude of Austria, Poland, Sweden, Denmark,
and various other states.


If it is difficult to distinguish with certainty the motives that
determined Frederick William's conduct at Reichenbach, the
policy of Prussia after that convention presents an almost hopeless
maze of perplexities and contradictions. That the King urged
England on to the most vigorous measures against Russia, while
at the same time he was making overtures to the Empress for an

1 Lecky, op. cit., v, p. 280.


agreement for mutual advantages between themselves; that he
planned with the British cabinet a great Federative System
for the preservation of peace and the status quo in Europe, while
he was simultaneously looking for other connections and for
acquisitions wherever they might be found; that he negotiated
for an alliance with the Jacobins at Paris while at the same time
proposing to Austria a joint crusade against the Revolution — all
this, and much more besides, shows a versatility or an inco-
herence in his plans that almost defies analysis or comparison.
The best, though by no means a complete, explanation of his
course appears to be as follows.

After Reichenbach Frederick William felt it a point of honor
to bring Russia to accept the status quo; he soon convinced him-
self that earnest measures would be required; and he therefore
desired to make sure of vigorous support from England and of the
neutrality of Austria and France. It was primarily the exigencies
of the Russian crisis that determined his conduct, but he also
looked beyond. He wished, on the one hand, to gain a more
secure basis for his policy than that afforded by his present al-
liances, and, on the other hand, to effect in one way or another
the acquisitions which he considered so necessary to Prussia.
Hence he sought to keep all avenues open; to put himself in the
strongest position as against Russia, without entirely cutting off
the possibility of a friendly agreement with her; to preserve his
old connections, while preparing the way for new ones; to be able
in the future to choose between England, France, Austria, and
Russia, in accordance with the needs of his essentially aggressive
policy. 1

On the King's intrigues with the revolutionists at Paris it is
unnecessary to dwell, since they produced no result save to fur-
nish the Imperial Courts with new examples of ' Prussian du-
plicity.' 2 His advances to Austria, however, deserve attention,

1 Cf. especially, Sevin, Das System der preussischen Geheimpolitik vom Augicst
ijqo bis zum Mai 17 91.

2 For details on this subject, see Sevin, op. cit., pp. 37 ft\; Sybel, Geschichte der
Revolutionszeit, i, pp. 348 f.; Sorel, op. cit., ii, pp. 157 ff.; Heidrich, Preussen im
Kampfe gegen die franzosische Revolution, pp. 9 ff. That the negotiation was
known to the Austrians appears from Mercy's letter to Kaunitz of January 22,


since they mark the beginnings of a change in the grouping of the
great Powers, which was to be of great importance in the sequel.
Only a few weeks after the Convention of Reichenbach, while
Frederick William still remained in Silesia, there first began to be
talk of a rapprochement between Austria and Prussia. On in-
numerable occasions the Austrian envoy, Prince Reuss, was
assured by Bischoffwerder, the Duke of Brunswick, and others of
the King's desire for a sincere and permanent understanding, and
even for an alliance, with Austria. Everyone joined in condemn-
ing the old error that the two Powers were ' natural enemies.'
These ideas received an additional stimulus from the advent of
Baron Roll, an agent of the Count of Artois, come to urge the
latter's plans for effecting a counter-revolution in France through
a coalition of the neighboring states. Frederick William, who
had been sounded by Artois as early as February, 1 was not
disinclined to undertake the enterprise as soon as his hands were
free. He allowed Bischoffwerder and Prince Hohenlohe-Ingel-
fingen, the two chief enthusiasts for ' the cause of all sovereigns,'
to assail Reuss incessantly with hints on this topic; and these
hints were soon followed by the very definite proposals made by
Hohenlohe, September 13, looking towards a formal alliance and
joint intervention in the affairs of France. The immediate object
which Frederick William had in view appears from Hohenlohe's
intimation that the proposed alliance was designed ' to free both
sovereigns from the need of troubling themselves so much about .
the friendship of Russia,' and from his statement that the French
enterprise could be undertaken only after the final pacification in
the East. The King's ultimate aim was shown in the scheme of
' compensations ' for the expenses of the intervention. Austria
was to take a part of French Hainault, and Prussia to receive
Juliers and Berg in exchange for an equivalent to be carved out in
Alsace for the Elector of Bavaria. This was the first communica-

1791, in Feuillet de Conches, Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette et Madame Elisabeth,
i, pp. 423 ff.

Online LibraryRobert Howard LordThe second partition of Poland; a study in diplomatic history → online text (page 17 of 59)