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

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1 Bailleu, "Zur Vorgeschichte der Revolutionskriege," in H. Z., lxxiv, pp. 259-
262. It is not improbable that suggestions on this subject may have been made
to him even earlier. Cf. Daudet, Les Bourbons et la Russie pendant la Revolution
franqaise, p. 18.




tion between the two Courts regarding joint action against the
French Revolution; and from the very start the plan was bound
up on the Prussian side with projects of aggrandizement that
were to be the bane of the First Coalition and the ruin of Poland.
Simultaneously with Hohenlohe's overtures to Reuss, the Mar-
quis Lucchesini, passing through Vienna on his road to the peace
congress at Sistova, was ordered to sound Leopold about a coali-
tion for the restoration of order in France; and, as a matter of
course, the scheme for territorial ' indemnities ' was not to be left
out of the discussion.

The Austrians replied to these proposals in guarded style, point-
ing out the difficulties and dangers involved, evading the delicate
subject of ' compensations,' urging the need of delay until after
the peace with the Turks, but still by no means entirely rejecting
the idea of intervention in France. 1

The friendly exchange of opinions begun on this topic soon
extended to other subjects. Kaunitz and Hertzberg might do
their utmost to keep their Courts at swords' points in the good
old time-honored fashion; but in spite of them the two monarchs,
frequently communicating directly with one another, were draw-
ing closer together, and bringing a quite unwonted warmth into
Austro-Prussian relations. Both sovereigns had strong reasons
for desiring a rapprochement. Leopold had long been resolved
not to live in exclusive dependence upon Russia, in servitude to
the Tsarina, as he considered that his brother had done. Fred-
erick William, preparing for a possible war with Catherine, was
perforce anxious to lure her ally away from her; and this was,
indeed, the sole immediate aim of his advances to Leopold. But
the old distrust was still very deeply rooted at both Berlin and
Vienna. On the one question about which the Prussians were
most concerned at that time — namely, whether Austria would
remain neutral, in case they went to war with Russia — they

1 For the above: Reuss' reports of August 6 and 31, September 3, 7, io, 14,
17, 21, 28, Kaunitz to Reuss, September 13 and 19, Ph. Cobenzl to Reuss,
October 8, V. A., Preussen, Correspondenz, 1790; Brunswick to Schlieffen, June
17, 1792, in Schlieffen, op. cit., ii, p. 565; Sybel, op. cit., i, p. 350; Sorel, op. cit.,
ii, p. 160; Beer, Leopold II, Franz II, und Catharina, pp. 36 f.; F. K. Wittichen,
" Zur Vorgeschichte der Revolutionskriege," in F. B. P. G., xvii, pp. 256 ff.


could get no satisfactory answer. Kaunitz replied only with
surly bravado, and Leopold with courteous evasions. As long as
this situation continued, the reconciliation between the two
Courts could be regarded only as a pious wish, rather than an
accomplished fact; and so long Frederick William found him-
self gravely impeded in undertaking to coerce the Empress.

While continually urging the British government to vigorous
measures, while talking loudly of war before the Austrians, and
massing very considerable forces on the eastern frontier, the
Prussians were also ready ' to build a golden bridge ' to Catherine.
Every sign of more conciliatory intentions on the Neva was
greeted with anxious eagerness at Berlin. 1 Hertzberg assured
Alopeus that he cared nothing for the status quo, and was con-
vinced that Oczakow was not worth a war. 1 He believed that all
might still be arranged satisfactorily to the Empress, if she would
offer to assist Prussia to obtain Dantzic and Thorn through a
voluntary cession by Poland. He declared that he had not been
authorized to make such a suggestion, and that the King had even
forbidden him to speak of Dantzic and Thorn. Possibly he was
telling the truth in these latter statements, in which case his pro-
posal must be regarded as an amazing bit of insubordination;
possibly they were only the white lies of diplomacy. At any rate,
a proposition that almost certainly had Frederick William's ap-
proval was that made to Alopeus early in February, 1791, by
Bischoffwerder, the especial confidant of the Prussian King.
Bischoffwerder intimated that the Empress could make sure of
her desired acquisitions, if she would by a secret convention
pledge herself to renew her old alliance with Prussia at the con-
clusion of the Turkish war. 2 Catherine doubtless judged the
situation at Berlin accurately when she wrote: " Le Statu quo, ce
trou seroit bouche avec Danzig et Thorn "; but she added, " Ce
n'est pas moi qui le proposera." 3

1 Alopeus' reports of December 6, Dembinski, op. cit., i, pp. 95-104; Reuss
report of January 25, 1791, V. A., Prcussen, Berichte.

2 Alopeus' report of February 8/19, Dembinski, i, pp. 116-119, which de-
serves to be supplemented by the unpublished one of June n/22, M. A., Ilpyccia,
III, 27.

3 Undated and unaddressed note, P. A., X, 75.


In truth the Prussians had no stomach for this war. The
leading generals were almost unanimously opposed to it, as was
the King's uncle, Prince Henry; and Hertzberg mournfully
declared that it would be " the greatest disaster, perhaps the
grave of the Prussian Monarchy." To invade Russia it was said
in military circles, meant to risk a repetition of Poltava. 1 Fred-
erick William was, perhaps, the man in his kingdom who was least
averse to war, since he felt that his honor and his engagements
required him not to give way; but his moods and projects varied
incessantly. He would probably have been relieved, had the
Turks succumbed to panic and concluded a precipitate peace on
their own initiative; and he would doubtless have abandoned the
status quo principle entirely, had Austria or Russia proposed to
him a bargain for reciprocal advantages. At the end of the year,
shaken by the urgent remonstrances of those around him, dis-
gusted with the campaign the Turks were making, and wearied of
the endless delays of the British Cabinet in coming to a definite
statement of its intentions, the King seems almost to have made
up his mind to avoid war, if it could possibly be done. 2 It was
high time for Pitt to declare himself, if the Anglo-Prussian league
and the Federative System were to be saved from shipwreck.

It has already been noted that Pitt's ideas had been evolving
into a comprehensive program, the aim of which was to uphold
the existing political and territorial equilibrium, to protect the
weaker states against the lusts of the aggressive Powers, and in
general to put an end to that system of depredations, conquests,
and partitions which Frederick II and Catherine had brought
into vogue, and which was threatening to subvert the old political
order of Europe. As a means to this end Pitt thought to expand
the Triple Alliance through the admission of Sweden, Denmark,

1 Alopeus' reports of December 7/18, 14/25, December 24/January 4, Mous-
tier to Montmorin, March 28, 1791, Hertzberg to Goltz, December n, 1790,
and to Lucchesini, March 3, 26, April 24, 1791, Dembinski, op. cit., i, pp. 107 f.,
349-352, 441 ff., 449, 538 (note); Schlieffen, op. cit., ii, pp. 365 f.; notes of Prince
Henry to Grimm, C6opHHKT>, xliv, pp. 436 ff.

2 I think Alopeus' reports on this subject, (December 14/25, December 24/
January 4, January 25/February 5, Dembinski, op. cit., i, pp. 107 f., 112 ff.),
are sufficiently confirmed by Reuss' reports of December and by the overtures
made to Austria in January.


Poland, and Turkey, into a great defensive league, extending from
the British Isles to Constantinople, covering the North and East
of Europe, and strong enough to hold all the unruly Powers in
check. The states chiefly threatened at present were Turkey and
Poland. Pitt's interest in both countries was of very recent date,
but it was steadily growing. It has often been pointed out that
he was the first British statesman to view the Eastern Question
from that pro-Turkish standpoint which in the nineteenth century
became traditional in England. Poland had a special claim to his
attention. The Federative System being directed particularly
against the ambitions of Russia, it was necessary to provide
against the dangers that might result to the extensive trade of
Great Britain with that country. From a careful study of the
subject Pitt had convinced himself that the articles for which
England was chiefly dependent upon Russia — grain, timber,
hemp, flax, and hides — could be furnished equally well by Po-
land, and only by Poland. The preservation and strengthening of
the Republic and the establishment of close commercial relations
with it thus became indispensable conditions for the success of
Pitt's anti-Russian policy. But in order to attain these aims it
was, first of all, necessary to free Polish trade from the crushing
restrictions imposed by Prussia, and to end the latent antagonism
between that Kingdom and its eastern neighbor. Pitt thought
to solve both these problems in the following manner. England
should mediate a treaty between the two states, by which Poland
should cede Dantzic and Thorn to Prussia in return for commer-
cial concessions that would ensure virtual free trade with the out-
side world; England would guarantee this treaty, in order to
relieve the Poles from exclusive dependence on Prussian good
faith, and would then effect the admission of the Republic into
the Triple Alliance. Such an arrangement would satisfy Prussia's
legitimate desires for aggrandizement, and would enable her to
adopt permanently a policy of peace, conservatism, and good will
towards Poland. It would ensure to England the commercial facil-
ities she required. It would afford Poland the strongest guarantees
of security and prosperity that could well be offered to her. So
important a place did this Polish plan hold in Pitt's calculations


that it has been called, perhaps without very much exaggeration,
the keystone of his whole conservative system. 1 Such were the
general ideas with which he approached the Russo-Turkish prob-

From April until November, 1790, Pitt's action on the Conti-
nent had been fettered by the Nootka Sound controversy and by
the resulting danger of war with Spain. When at last, after gain-
ing a signal victory in that affair, he found himself free to con-
centrate his attention on the Eastern question, he was for a time
doubtful whether the situation warranted a resort to extreme
measures. There was much to be said for the opinion, if not for
the chivalry, of Lord Auckland, who advised strongly against
running big risks merely for the sake of " taking a feather out of
the cap of an old vixen, or of preserving a desert tract of ground
between two rivers to the Turks, whose political existence and
safety will probably not be diminished if they are obliged to have
their barrier upon the Dniester, or even on the Danube." 2 But
about this time Ewart, the immensely active British envoy to the
Court of Berlin, came home on leave of absence. He had been
the first advocate of the Prussian alliance; he was perhaps the
originator, and certainly the most ardent apostle, of the Federa-
tive System; he was desperately anxious now to carry his work
through. With his usual energy he set himself to convince Pitt
and the other ministers that the hour had come for great deci-
sions and bold action. He urged that if the Empress were allowed
to keep Oczakow and its district, the security of the Turkish
Empire and of Constantinople itself would be perpetually men-
aced, while Poland, finding the natural outlet for the trade of its
richest provinces in Russian hands, would sink back under the
Tsarina's influence. But important as the territory in question
was, far larger issues were involved. England's whole position as a
great Power on the Continent, the alliances she had been building
up, the Federative System which she hoped to establish — all this

1 For the above see especially, Salomon, Das polilische System des jungeren Pitt
und die zweite Teilung Polens, particularly pp. 35 ff.; also the same author's William
Pitt der Jungere, i", pp. 348, 482 ff.; Rose, Pitt and National Revival, pp. 385-389,
593, 626 f., 631.

2 Rose, ibid., p. 602.


was really at stake. If England yielded in this crisis, Prussia and
the other friendly states would lose all confidence in her; her
influence and her political connections would be ruined; she
would be left isolated and discredited, as she had been a few years
before, and exposed, perhaps, to far greater dangers than were
involved in the vigorous measures now proposed. That Ewart
badly underestimated Catherine appears from his opinion that
while she might, and probably would, make some difficulties at
first, there could be little doubt of her accepting the terms offered
her before spring, since she could never venture to risk the con-
sequences of a refusal. 1 The Prime Minister and the Foreign
Secretary, the Duke of Leeds, allowed themselves to be persuaded
by these clear-cut, logical, but too optimistic arguments. About
the end of the year Pitt set out on the hardest task he had ever
undertaken, that of driving Catherine II to her knees.

The campaign was planned with thoroughness. First of all,
there was to be a general diplomatic reconnoissance for the pur-
pose of securing the alliance of as many states as possible, and
the neutrality of the rest. Then, if the results were favorable and
if Catherine remained obstinate, in the spring the ultimatum
would be delivered at St. Petersburg, to be followed by the
appearance of British and Dutch fleets in the Baltic, while
Prussians, Poles, Swedes, and Turks threatened Russia by sea or
land. In January, 1791, the British program was presented at
Berlin, while English couriers sped to the four corners of the
Continent with orders to every envoy. There followed for some
months a diplomatic struggle waged at half the Courts of Europe
between the British ministers, more or less supported by their
Prussian colleagues, on the one side, and the representatives of
Russia on the other.


Neither side could expect much aid from the Bourbon Courts.
France, which under normal circumstances might have been relied
upon to hold England in check, now seemed to be a political zero.
The idea of the Quadruple Alliance of the Imperial Courts and

1 Rose, Pitt, pp. 598 f.; Salomon, Pitt, i i; , pp. 501 ff.


the Bourbons still lived on, indeed, in the project of the ' Northern
League ' (Russia, Sweden, Denmark, Spain, and perhaps France),
for which the Spanish ministers professed a certain zeal, and
which Genet, the French charge at St. Petersburg, eagerly urged
upon his government. But all Catherine's exhortations that the
time had come for France and Spain to set bounds to British
arrogance, failed to break down Montmorin's and Florida-
blanca's invincible fear of England. The Court of Madrid con-
tented itself with promising England its neutrality and Russia its
good offices at Constantinople. And when Catherine, over-
coming for the moment her animosity against the National
Assembly, that " hydra with twelve hundred heads," attempted
to win over the Jacobins, Mirabeau took her money, promised his
services, and then, most unseasonably, died. 1

Count Bernstorff, the prudent and pacific leading minister of
Denmark, found himself in a terribly embarrassing position. The
Russian government, assuming the imperious tone it was accus-
tomed to take at Copenhagen, insisted that Denmark should arm
a fleet, close the Sound to the British, and in general fulfil the
obligations resulting from the ' eternal alliance ' of 1773. Eng-
land, on the other hand, demanded at first a free passage through
the straits, and then the use of the Danish ports, and for the rest,
strict neutrality. Bernstorff tried to wriggle through by making
vague promises to both sides, and begging each not to compromise
him with the other, while he also brought forward a plan of con-
ciliation, by which the Empress should be allowed to keep the
territories she demanded, on condition of razing the fortresses. 2

The art of adroit balancing was even better exemplified by
the King of Sweden. After fighting, denouncing, and generally

1 For these little-explored relations of Russia with France and Spain during
the crisis of 1790-91, see: Dembinski, Rosya a rewohicya francuska, pp. 76-81;
S. R. Vorontsov on the Mirabeau episode, Apx. Bop., viii, p. 22; Simolin's reports
from Paris of April 1 and 15, 1791, in Feuillet de Conches, op. cit., ii, pp. 24-27,
31 ff.; Apx. Toe. Cob., i, pp. 849 f., 861 f.; the correspondence of Genet with
Montmorin, in R.I. A., Russie, ii, pp. 501-506; Baumgarten, Geschichte Span-
iens zur Zeit der franzosischen Revolution, pp. 295 f., 313; Muriel, " Historia de
Carlos IV," in the Memorial Historico Espanol, xxix, pp. 147 ff.

2 Cf. Holm, Danmark-Norges Udenrigske Historie . . . fra jygi till 1807, i,
pp. 2-6; Apx. Toe. Cob., i, pp. 837, 846, 850.


tormenting her for two long years, since the Peace of Verela Gus-
tavus III had set himself to woo the friendship of his good cousin
Catherine, who met his advances with the coquetry which she so
well knew how to combine with her many masculine qualities.
During the winter of 1790-91 Gustavus was negotiating at St.
Petersburg and Copenhagen with regard to the Triple Alliance of
the North, which the Russians were anxious to build up in order
to close the Baltic to hostile fleets. Nothing had been concluded,
however, when in February England and Prussia approached
him with flattering offers, intended to secure at least his neutra-
lity, and if possible his armed assistance. It was of extreme
importance for them to win him on account of his fleets, his ports,
his strategic position, and his proved efficiency. It was hardly an
exaggeration, when his ambassador at St. Petersburg assured
him: "All the world recognizes that Your Majesty holds the
balance of power in your hands." l Keenly conscious of the
advantages of his position, Gustavus proceeded with the frankness
of an Italian condottiere to inform each side of the offers the other
was making; he then stated his own price, raised his terms the
more the longer the auction continued, and waited to see which
competitor would offer him the most in territory and money. In
truth, he much preferred to attach himself to Catherine, who
treated him as her chosen cavalier, and flattered him in his darling
plan for a counter-revolution in France. Still, as Grimm said
of him, ' if for heroism he was of the family of the Knight of
La Mancha, when it came to the perquisites he agreed entirely
with the principles of the good Sancho, who looked out for hard
cash.' 2

Of all the states in question Poland was the one most strongly
interested in the success of the Allies. In the previous summer, as
soon as the first impression produced by Reichenbach had worn

1 Stedingk to Gustavus, April 15, 1701, Schinkel, Bihang, ii, p. in.

2 CfiopnnKi, xliv, p. 387. For details on Gustavus's policy, see, Odhner, Gustaf
III och Katarina II efler Freden i Wariila, pp. 157 ff., especially 168-171; Schinkel-
Bergman, Minnen, II, pp. 157 ff., and Bihang, i, pp. 107-115; Geffroy, Gustave
III et la Cour de France, ii, pp. 115 ff.; Rose, Pitt, pp. 592 f., 600, 609; Salomon,
Pitt, i u , p. 508; Hertzberg to Lucchesini, March 3, 12, 26, Dembinski, op. cit., i,
pp. 440-443-

1 68


off, the Patriot leaders had taken up with ardor the project of a
grand concerted attack upon Russia by Prussians, Turks, Poles,
English, Dutch, and Swedes. If this coalition could be formed,
the Republic would have the best of all conceivable opportunities
to settle accounts with its eastern neighbor, to assure per-
manently its independence, and perhaps even to win back White
Russia and Kiev. In the first flush of enthusiasm, the Diet on
August 2, 1790 authorized its envoy at Constantinople to
negotiate an offensive and defensive alliance with the Porte,
although only on condition that the Sultan should grant Poland a
favorable treaty of commerce, and should not expect the Republic
to declare war on the Empress until after Prussia had done so.
Simultaneously the plan for a coalition against Russia was
unofficially communicated to Frederick William with an urgent
request for his cooperation. 1

The warlike zeal of the Poles abated considerably, however, in
the following months. In the first place, the Peace of Verela
made a sad breach in their calculations. Then the treaties with the
Porte, when just on the point of being concluded, were held up by
the difficulties unexpectedly raised by the Turks regarding the
commercial concessions, on which the Poles insisted as a sine qua
non. This setback was due to the insidious intervention of Prus-
sia. It was one of Hertzberg's sordid little calculations that if
Polish trade were diverted even slightly from the Vistula to the
Black Sea, his master would have the less chance to extort the
cession of Dantzic and Thorn. 2 The ambiguous attitude and
altered tone of Prussia were, indeed, the chief factor in dampening
the warlike spirit of the Poles. Lucchesini, who had known so
well how to captivate the confidence and play upon the feelings
of the nation, had now departed to the Austro-Turkish peace
congress at Sistova; and his locum tenens, the young Count

1 Askenazy, op. cit., pp. 83 ff., 212-215; Kalinka, Der polnische Reichstag, ii,
pp. 198 ff.; de Cache's reports of August 4 and 7, V. A., Polen, Berichte, 1790.

2 Details in Kalinka, op. cit., ii, pp. 216-223. A rather ambiguous passage in
Smitt's Suworow una 1 Polens U titer gang, ii, pp. 227 f., has led some historians into
the erroneous statement that the Polish-Turkish alliance was actually concluded.
See, for example, Zinkeisen, op. cit., vi, pp. 812 f., and Kraszewski, Polska w czasie
trzech rozbiorow, ii, p. 317.


Goltz, was but little fitted to replace him. In contrast to the
astonishing activity of Prussian diplomacy at Warsaw in the past
two years, the Court of Berlin now maintained an air of cool,
indifferent, and even sulky passivity. The honeymoon was
decidedly over. Frederick William had almost abandoned the
hope of gaining Dantzic and Thorn by a voluntary cession, since
in a moment of irritation against him the Diet had been stam-
peded into a hasty and ill-considered decree, proclaiming the
inalienability of every part of the Republic's territory (September
6, 1790). And the King of Prussia had now formed so low an
opinion of the Polish army that in case of war with Russia he
hardly cared whether Poland participated or not. 1 On their side,
the mass of the Poles regarded their ally with a growing distrust,
which was hardly unnatural, perhaps, in view of the now only too
well known desire of Prussia for their territories, her utter unwill-
ingness to relax her strangling grip upon their commerce, her
perfidious intrigues at Constantinople, and the reigning uncer-
tainty whether the Court of Berlin intended to go to war with
Russia or to enter into a bargain with that Power at Poland's
expense. Rumors of an impending partition were not infrequent.
In March, 1791, a report from Vienna that Prussia had formally
proposed such an arrangement to the Emperor created such a
panic at Warsaw that Frederick William felt obliged to present a
vigorous denial. 2 In general, the Polish public had lost all real

1 See his communications to Constantinople of early March, 1701, in Zinkeisen,
op. cit., vi, pp. 812 f., and his declaration to Jablonowski in April, in Askenazy,
op. cit., p. 224.

2 It is quite certain that this alarming report of a Prussian proposal to Austria
for a new partition of Poland was purely apocryphal. Kalinka {op. cit., ii, p. 282)
conjectures that Kaunitz started it in order to undermine Prussian influence at
Warsaw and thwart the then pending negotiations for the cession of Dantzic.
Jacobi, the Prussian envoy at Vienna, claimed to have found out that the story
emanated from Rzewuski, one of the Polish malcontents then stopping in the
Austrian capital (Sybel, op. cit., i, p. 366). Golitsyn, the Russian ambassador,
reported that he knew on the best of authority that the tale was invented by

Online LibraryRobert Howard LordThe second partition of Poland; a study in diplomatic history → online text (page 18 of 59)