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

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mined as ever to brave all the enemies that might come rather
than make what she considered an inglorious surrender. The
very words status quo sufficed to throw her into a passion. " With-
out Oczakow and its territory as far as the Dniester, peace will

1 Salomon, Pitt, i H , pp. 515 f . ; Rose, Pitt, pp. 609 f.; Herrmann, op. cit., vi,
p. 591; Leeds, Memoranda, loc. cit.

2 Alopeus' reports of April 9 and 13, Dembinski, op. cit., i, pp. 129, 133;
Hertzberg to Lucchesini, April 9, 16, 19, 24, May 14, ibid., pp. 444-452.



not be made," she wrote to Potemkin, " even if the Empress herself
consented to the restoration of the status quo." l " I am now busy
preparing to receive the strong English fleet, which has promised
to pay us a visit soon," she wrote to Zimmermann early in
February: " you will hear of me; but whether they attack me
by water or by land, you will never hear that I consented to any
of the unworthy conditions which they have the audacity to
prescribe to me." l But the Empress was wellnigh alone in her
obstinacy. Almost all her advisers were frightened and urged
concessions; 2 and their remonstrances were powerfully reen-
forced when on March n Potemkin arrived in St. Petersburg.

The Prince had come to the capital uncalled and even contrary
to Catherine's wishes, 3 partly in the intention of having a reckon-
ing with his enemy, the new favorite Zubov, and partly in order to
press his schemes against Poland. As usual, he had a project for
every contingency. If war came, he proposed to start a Counter-
confederation in the Republic, or else to carry out his secret plan
of the year before for the Cossack razzia, the revolt of the Ortho-
dox peasantry, and the seizure of the Ukraine. 4 But he much pre-
ferred that there should not be a new war; and his scheme for
avoiding it was to bring about a new partition of Poland. As so
often in the past, the partition he had in mind was to be on a far
larger scale than that of 1772 ; so ample a one that he might hope,
perhaps, to carve out a few territories for himself as well as for his
sovereign. 5

Immediately upon his arrival, Potemkin set himself to pave the
way for this plan by effecting a rapprochement with Prussia. It

1 IleTpoBT., Biopaa Typemcafl Bofma, ii, pp. 193 f.

2 See the concurrent testimony of Markov, Zavadovski, and S. R. Vorontsov,
Apx. Bop., xx, pp. 10 f.; xii, p. 67; viii, p. 22.

3 See her letters to him of January 22/February 2, and January 24/February
4, 1791, C60PHHKI., xlii, pp. 135 ff.

4 Before starting for St. Petersburg Potemkin had written to Felix Potocki,
who was expected to head a Counter-confederation, inviting him to leave Paris and
come to a more accessible place, in anticipation that the Empress would soon be
ready to act in Poland (this appears from Potocki's reply of May 14, M. A., IloJibina,
II, 7). As to the Cossack plan, see the rescript to Potemkin of May 16/27, Pyc.
Apx., 1874, ii, pp. 246 ff.

6 Cobenzl's report of April 19, V. A., Russland, Berichte, 1791.


will be remembered that just before his departure for Vienna the
versatile Bischoffwerder had approached Alopeus with the in-
sidious suggestion that his master might help the Empress to
secure Oczakow and its district, if she would at once sign a secret
convention pledging herself to renew the alliance with Prussia at
the conclusion of the Turkish war. Catherine had received that
proposal with indignation: ' she would not sign a pact of servi-
tude,' she wrote on the margin of the dispatch. 1 But Potemkin
insisted that she should accept the offer. There followed a severe
conflict and not a few lively scenes. From the laconic diary of her
secretary we hear of the Empress continually " weeping from
rage," — " spasms " — " colic " — " she won't degrade herself
and correspond with the King of Prussia " — - Potemkin irate and
" determined to fight it out with her; " 2 — but in the end, for
once, the Prince prevailed. On March 26 very secret instructions
were sent to Alopeus, ordering him to announce that the Empress
accepted the proposed convention, and would at once send a
draft for it and full powers to conclude, as soon as the King of
Prussia had confirmed Bischoffwerder 's informal overture. 3 But
this signal concession came just too late. The warlike proposals
of England reached Berlin a few days before; and Alopeus was
able to reveal the great secret to Bischoffwerder only on the very
afternoon of — perhaps a few hours after — the decisive council
held by the King at Potsdam on April 7. 4 The Empress' pride
had thus been sacrificed to no purpose.

Potemkin meanwhile continued his efforts for peace and a par-
tition. In a conversation with Goltz, the Prussian envoy, he

1 Martens, Recueil des Traites et Conventions conclus par la Russie, vi, p. 146.

2 XpanoBHu,Kiu JI,HeBH0Ki>, March 15/26, 17/28, March 22/April 2, March
23/April 3.

3 Ostermann's dispatches, dated March 14/25, but obviously sent the following
day. The fact that the Empress did consent to this " pact of servitude " is here,
I believe, brought to light for the first time. Dembihski, who has published Alo-
peus' reports on this subject, did not succeed in finding the secret orders of March
14/25, and conjectured that the concession contained in them was the offer to raze
the fortress of Oczakow, if Russia were allowed to retain that town and its district
{Documents, p. 126, note 1). In order to fill out this important lacuna in the corre-
spondence published by him, I have printed one of the dispatches from Ostermann
to Alopeus in Appendix V.

4 Alopeus' reports of April 6 and 8, Dembinski, op. cit., i, pp. 124-128.


threw out a sufficiently broad hint on the latter topic. 1 With
Cobenzl he discussed his plan for a partition with much frank-
ness, saying that at present it was known only to the Empress,
Bezborodko, and himself, that he desired to learn the views of the
Court of Vienna on the subject, and that they ought to bring
Prussia to make the formal proposal. 2 But in this last point lay
precisely the difficulty. There are not a few indications to show
how seriously a new partition of Poland was then considered at
St. Petersburg; it seemed the easiest means of escape from a
perilous situation; the Empress herself was resigned to it as a
last resource; 3 if Prussia had actually proposed it, it seems almost
certain that both the Imperial Courts would have agreed; but the
trouble was that Frederick William was in no position — and
indeed in no mood — to make any such proposition.

The third week of April saw one courier after another dashing
into St. Petersburg with the most alarming news from all quarters
— from Berlin, London, Warsaw, Stockholm, and the Hague.
The worst feature of the situation was the apparent determination
of the British government to go to all extremities, a course which
the Russian envoy in London had down to the last moment repre-

1 Cobenzl's report of April 7, V. A., he. cit. Cobenzl claimed to have got the
story from a confidant of Goltz.

2 Cobenzl's report of April 19, V. A., loc. cit.

3 Cobenzl's reports of April (which are full of allusions to the topic) ; rescript to
Potemkin of May 16/27, already cited; instructions to Razumovski, April 30/
May n, M. A., ABCTpifl, III, 49.

Potemkin told Cobenzl (according to the latter's report of April 19): " Si la
guerre avec la Prusse a lieu, il croit qu'Elles [les deux Cours Imperiales] devroient
s'attacher la Pologne, ou du moins un assez grand parti pour former une Confedera-
tion puissante, .... L'autre projet consiste, dans le cas ou on parviendroit a un
arrangement entre les trois Cours, de faire un nouveau Partage de la Pologne, mais
en grand et plus considerable que le premier."

He told Goltz (according to Cobenzl's report of April 7) : " Commencez d'abord
par finir la guerre actuelle, montrez un changement de conduite a notre egard, que
nous puissions voir avec evidence que vous etes nos amis . . . alors je ferai en
sorte que vous ayez Danzig d'une maniere tres facile que je vous dirai a mon retour
et lorsqu'une fois j'aurai termine avec les Turcs, mais qu'a present je ne puis pas
vous dire."

Rescript of the Empress to Razumovski: " We consider as a measure of extreme
necessity our agreement to any acquisitions of the Prussian Court, and in this case,
in common with the Court of Vienna, we intend to insist on a complete equality of
advantages . . . recognizing this principle as founded on strict justice." (Rus.)


sented as utterly improbable. When this news arrived, Potemkin
and Bezborodko united in a supreme effort to break down their
sovereign's obstinacy and avert an otherwise inevitable war. 1
But it was all in vain. When the Council met on April 21, at the
worst moment of the crisis, the proposals presented to it in the
name of the Empress breathed not a word of concessions or sur-
render; they dealt only with the necessity of taking the most
vigorous measures for self-defence. 2 And this tone of uncom-
promising resolution and grim defiance Catherine maintained
unwaveringly through the anxious weeks that followed. Her
Baltic fleets were to unite and take up a position in front of
Kronstadt to face the English. The Finnish frontier was to be
well guarded, while at the same time a special envoy was hur-
riedly sent to Stockholm to make sure of the slippery Gustavus.
While the army on the Danube was to hold the Turks in check,
the main forces of Russia were to be kept in readiness to meet the
Prussians and Poles: one corps on the Dvina, one near Kiev, and
a third near Bender. The moment the Poles began hostilities, or
the moment the Prussians entered Polish territory in order to
reach Livonia, these three Russian armies were to advance along
concentric lines, carrying the war into the heart of the Republic,
scattering the Poles, and uniting eventually to fall upon the flank
or rear of the Prussians. 3

Such at least were the plans. How well they could have been
carried out, how successfully Catherine could have defended her-
self against such numerous and powerful enemies, may be a
matter for doubt, since there is some evidence that the actual
state of the military preparations was very far from correspond-
ing to the sonorous resolutions framed at Petersburg. 4 At any
rate, the question was never put to the test.

1 XpaiiOBHUKw, op. cit., April 7-9/18-20. 2 Apx. Toe. Cob., i, pp. 843 f.

3 Apx. Toe. Cob., April 17/28, 19/30, April 24/May 5, April 28/May 9, May 1/12,
3/14, pp. 846-852; Potemkin's plan of operations against the Prussians and Poles,
IleTpoB'B, op. cit., ii, pp. 195 ff.; C6"opHHKi>, xlii, pp. 150 ff.; XpanoBHUKiii, op.
cit., p. 211.

4 See especially the very pessimistic letter of Bezborodko to S. R. Vorontsov
of March 7/18, 1791, in C6opHHKi>, xxvi, pp. 423-426, and Apx. Bop., xiii, pp.
177-181 (erroneously dated 1790 in this latter collection).

1 84


About the end of April a ray of light appeared on the western
horizon; early in May there began to be strong hopes at St.
Petersburg ; and by the last days of the month hope had turned
to certitude. The Empress had won, for England had yielded.


Pitt can scarcely be acquitted of having gone into the Russian
enterprise in too sanguine and rash a spirit, without duly weighing
the opposition to be expected in Parliament and the probable
temper of the country. He had done little or nothing to prepare
public opinion, which was therefore startled and shocked when
the crisis arrived. A perhaps exaggerated reluctance to disclose
official secrets prevented him from stating his position fully and
frankly. This, together with his lack of adequate knowledge
about the territory on which the debate was bound to turn, com-
pelled him to rest his case chiefly on generalities about the balance
of power, which were hardly likely to satisfy a nation so much
more concerned about peace, trade, and taxes. 1

Anglo-Russian relations had been uncommonly close and
friendly throughout most of the eighteenth century. It was true
that in recent years there had been some ground for ill-feeling,
especially owing to the Armed .Neutrality, which was resented in
England as a signal display of ingratitude and hostility. But
over against this was the great fact that English merchants and
manufacturers found Russia one of their very best customers.
They furnished that country with the great bulk of its imports,
and drew from it large supplies of the most indispensable raw
materials. About a thousand English ships went annually to
Russian ports. 2 On the other hand, the English trade with the
Levant was quite insignificant; commercially as well as politically

1 It is a curious fact that it was apparently not until August, when everything
was over, that it was proposed (by Lord Auckland) to send a confidential agent to
examine Oczakow and the Dniester country and report on the real political, mili-
tary, and commercial value of the territory around which so hot a dispute had
raged. See Auckland to Grenville, August 19, i7gi,Dropmore Papers, ii, pp. 169 f.

2 Cf. Ewart's " Observations on the connection which has hitherto subsisted
between Great Britain and Russia," in Dropmore Papers, ii, pp. 44-49, and Rose,
Pitt, p. 590.


Turkey had long been reckoned a client of France; and the
conception of the Eastern Question as Pitt now viewed it, as
Englishmen generally viewed it in the nineteenth century, had
not yet begun to penetrate the consciousness of the British public.
Hence the Prime Minister was certain to encounter grave diffi-
culties when he attempted to persuade his countrymen to risk a
great war and to sacrifice the lucrative Russian trade for the sake
of a nebulous balance of power and for love of the Turks.

On March 28, the day after the ultimatum was dispatched to
Berlin, a royal message was sent to Parliament, announcing in
rather vague terms that the King felt obliged to augment his
naval forces as a means of adding weight to the representations
he and his allies were making to the Empress of Russia regarding
her peace with the 'Porte. 1 To the country this was almost like a
bolt from the blue; but it was not a total surprise to the Opposi-
tion. For some days before, S. R. Vorontsov, the active Russian
envoy, had secretly informed Fox and his friends of the plans of
the ministry, with details as to the diplomatic situation, the
moderate terms the Empress was defending, and, in general, a
whole arsenal of arguments to be used against the Government. 2
Hence when on March 29 there took place the first great debate
on the ' Russian armament,' the Opposition were armed for the

They protested, in the first place, against the reticence of
ministers, who seemed determined to rush the nation into war
without giving any explanations whatsoever. They demanded
that the country should be informed of the purpose of these arma-
ments. Was it not a case of attacking Russia merely on account
of a single town and a few adjacent deserts ? Fox, in an able
speech, challenged the Government to show that the balance of
power would be fatally upset or any British interest seriously
affected, if the Empress were allowed to keep Oczakow. Russia,
he said, was the natural ally of England, and the one naval
Power that was ever likely to be of assistance to her. To attack
such a state for so insignificant an object was as unjust as it was

1 Hansard, Parliamentary History, xxix, coll. 31 f.

2 S. R. Vorontsov to his brother, April 26, Apx. Bop., ix, pp. 193 ff.


impolitic. Pitt replied in not very effective fashion, trying to prove
that the existence of Turkey, the independence of Poland and
Sweden, and the security of Prussia were British interests, all of
which would be imperiled if the Empress were permitted to keep
her conquests and continue her aggressive course. Burke followed
with a burning tirade against a foreign policy, the object of which
was to maintain in Europe " a horde of barbarous Asiatics,"
" destructive savages " to whom " any Christian Power was to
be preferred." In the end Pitt was able to muster a majority in
both Houses; but the Opposition had undoubtedly carried off the
honors of the debate. 1 The galleries were with them, and it soon
appeared that the country was also.

The energetic minister of Russia at this moment began a furious
campaign to arouse the British public against its government.
Seldom, if ever, has a foreign envoy interfered so actively or so
successfully in English politics. Vorontsov relates in his auto-
biography that he bought up more than twenty newspapers and
a small army of hack-writers; that he scattered pamphlets
throughout the provinces; that he and the other members of the
embassy worked night and day for months dashing off articles
and tracts, carrying them around to the newspaper offices, and
rushing about here and there conferring with members of Parlia-
ment, merchants, and everyone else whose sympathies or services
might be of value. As a result of his exertions, he declares, alarm
seized the manufacturing towns; at Norwich, Wakefield, Leeds,
and Manchester meetings were held to protest against the policy
of the government; letters flowed in in great numbers to members
of Parliament begging them to vote against the ministry; and
popular feeling in London voiced itself in the inscription which
everywhere appeared upon the walls of the houses: " No war
with Russia." 2

Whatever exaggeration there may be in this, it is certain that
within a very few weeks the opinion of the country had mani-
fested itself as strongly opposed to the warlike plans of the

1 The speeches of Pitt, Fox, and Burke in Hansard's Parliamentary History,
xxix, coll. 52-79.

2 Apx. Bop., viii, pp. 19-23; cf. also ix, pp. 191 f., 491 ff., xxxiv, pp. 466-474.


cabinet. 1 The discontent of the merchant and manufacturing
classes worked back on Parliament. On successive divisions Pitt
did, indeed, manage to keep a majority, but it was much below
the normal size. He himself later confessed that from what he
knew of the sentiments of the greatest part of his followers and
even many of his warmest friends, he was sure that he could not
go further with his policy without risking a defeat. 2 On top of all
this came differences of opinion in the cabinet. Immediately
after the debates of March 29, Lord Grenville and the Duke of
Richmond declared that they could no longer approve of coercive
measures against Russia, while the Foreign Secretary, the Duke
of Leeds, held unswervingly to the line of policy already adopted. 3
All these things combined to break down Pitt's resolution.
The first sign of his weakening came on March 3 1 , when he asked
and obtained the cabinet's assent to dispatching a courier to
Berlin with the request that the Prussian government should
delay forwarding the joint ultimatum to Petersburg until it had
received certain new communications presently to be made from
London. Then in the next ten or eleven days Pitt slowly and
reluctantly made up his mind to yield. His judgment as to the
expediency and importance of restoring the strict status quo
remained unchanged. Many weeks later he wrote that he was
still convinced that that would have been the wisest policy, and
that " the risk and expense of the struggle with Russia, even if
Russia had not submitted without a struggle, would not have
been more than the object was worth," if only he could have
obtained the support of the nation. 4 But he saw clearly that to
persist in so extremely unpopular a course meant to risk the over-
throw of the ministry and the ruin of all his other plans. He
knew now that he had blundered into the worst predicament in
which he had ever yet found himself. With tears in his eyes, he
confessed to Ewart that ' this was the greatest mortification he

1 Salomon, Pitt, i", pp. 516-520; Stanhope, Life of Pitt, ii, p. 115; Auckland,
Correspondence, ii, pp. 387 f.

2 Pitt to Ewart, May 24, Stanhope, Pitt, ii, p. 116.

3 For the deliberations of the cabinet during this anxious period, see especially
the Leeds Memoranda, pp. 1526".

4 To Ewart, May 24, 1701, Stanhope, Pitt, ii, pp. n 5-1 18.



had ever experienced ' ; he had thought of resigning, but could
not bring himself to abandon the King and the country to a
factious Opposition; he still hoped, however, to find some means
of getting out of the scrape without " any serious bad conse-
quences." 1

On April 10, at Pitt's proposal, the cabinet decided to abandon
the demand for the strict status quo. There followed the resigna-
tion of the Foreign Secretary, the Duke of Leeds, who could not
be reconciled to this surrender, and who was succeeded by Gren-
ville, the most pronounced advocate of a pacific policy. Under
the new program, a special envoy, Fawkener, was to be sent to
St. Petersburg to negotiate an arrangement on a compromise
basis, or the so-called status quo modifie. Various gradations
might be proposed: the land between Bug and Dniester might
remain a neutral waste between the two Empires; or it might be
ceded to Russia on condition that it was left unfortified and un-
inhabited; or, at the worst, the Empress might have Oczakow
and some adjacent territory without any restrictions, if only both
banks of the Dniester remained in Turkish hands. 2 At the same
time the indispensable Ewart was to hasten back to Berlin to per-
suade Frederick William to support these propositions, while Lord
Elgin was sent to pursue Leopold, then travelling in Italy, in the
hope of winning him over definitively to the side of the Allies.
This profusion of diplomatic expeditions pointed to what was the
cardinal weakness of the new policy. The ministry soon decided
to suspend arming and to abandon all idea of backing up its new
propositions with a show of force. 3 Whether a due regard for
public sentiment at home rendered so extreme a resolution neces-
sary, may well be doubted. At any rate, this decision proved far
more disastrous than the mere abandonment of the strict status
quo principle. It led England inevitably to a complete diplomatic
defeat. It turned what began as a fairly dignified retreat into an
humiliating rout.

1 Ewart to Jackson, April 14, Rose, Pitt, p. 617.

2 Rose, ibid., p. 621; Salomon, Pitt, i", pp. 521 f.

3 Precisely when this resolution was taken it is difficult to say; at the very
latest it was by May 6. See the secret instructions to Fawkener of that date,
Herrmann, op. cit., vi, p. 410; also Rose, Pitt, pp. 617 f.


At first, indeed, matters did not go badly. Frederick William
received Ewart and Fawkener with unexpected cordiality, readily
accepted the new English propositions, and agreed to support
them at St. Petersburg. Just at that time he had made a change
in his ministry, which also promised well. Hertzberg, latterly so
bitter against ' the British despotism,' had lost all influence and
was about to receive his dismissal. Foreign affairs had been
entrusted to Counts Schulenburg and Alvensleben, along with
the aged Finckenstein, all of whom seemed devoted to ' the Eng-
lish system.' It appeared then that the alliance was not only not
shaken but stronger than before. 1 The fact was that Frederick
William was not fully informed of the change that had come over
English policy. He was not displeased at the more moderate
terms now proposed from London, for they would diminish, or at
least postpone, the danger of a war which he had, at bottom,
always viewed with apprehension. But he expected as a matter
of course that the Allies would back up these new terms with a
show of force by land and sea, since that was the only means of
bringing the Empress to accept an honorable compromise. It
was only at the beginning of June, when he learned that England
absolutely refused to make any naval demonstrations whatever,
that the King at last fully grasped the situation. 2 Then he saw
that his ally had abandoned him, that there was nothing to do
but to beat a retreat with what grace he could, that all his exer-
tions and expenditures of the past four years had served only to
draw down upon him the wrath of the Empress and a series of
humiliations before the eyes of all Europe. Naturally he was
rilled with anger against such a worthless and craven ally. He

Online LibraryRobert Howard LordThe second partition of Poland; a study in diplomatic history → online text (page 20 of 59)