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would still act with England until the wretched Oriental affair
was over; but after that he would go his own way and seek other

Under the circumstances Fawkener at St. Petersburg wore very
much the air of an ambassador of the vanquished. Catherine
treated him with a certain condescending indulgence, but could
not refrain occasionally from venting her exultation at his

1 Cf. Ewart to Pitt, and to Auckland, April 30, Dropmore Papers, ii, pp. 61, 68 f.

2 Cf. Salomon, Pitt, i i! , pp. 524 f.


expense. " How can I be afraid," she once wrote to him, " at the
head of a nation which has beaten all its enemies for nearly a hun-
dred years ? Je crains Dieu, cher Fawkener, et n'ai point d'autre
crainte." x One day in her garden, a propos of a vociferous
puppy, she remarked to him, " Dogs that bark do not always
bite." 2 Her triumph was increased by the appearance at her
court of an ambassador of the English Opposition, Robert Adair,
who had been sent by Fox with assurances of his devotion — a
pleasant parallel to the embassies which she was accustomed to
receive from the ' well-intentioned ' in Poland. 3 As for the
negotiation, the English and Prussian envoys simply surrendered
on every point. On July 26 they formally gave their consent to
the acquisition by Russia of Oczakow and the entire territory
between the Bug and the Dniester, subject only to the condition
that no restrictions should be placed on the navigation of the
latter river. Utterly insignificant as this concession was, the
English were vastly surprised to obtain even that, and they were
in no position to resent the tone of " impertinence and persiflage "
in which Catherine had couched her final declaration. 4

A few weeks later, the Turks, abandoned by their protectors
and beaten by land and sea, gave in and signed the Preliminaries
of Galatz (August 11, 1791), by which they too consented to the
cession of Oczakow and its district. On this basis peace was con-
cluded between Russia and the Porte at Jassy, January 9, 1792.

Catherine had thus won a complete victory, perhaps the most
brilliant of her reign, thanks to her own splendid courage and
constancy. In spite of her one false step in March, Grimm could
justly acclaim her " Die Mutter der unerschrockenen Stand-
haftigkeit." But for Poland the outcome of the crisis was un-
fortunate in the extreme. From the standpoint of Polish interests

1 Martens, Traites conclus par la Russie, ix, pp. 349 f.

2 Herrmann, op. cit., vi, p. 413.

3 The very ancient controversy as to whether Adair came to Russia on his own
responsibility or with a commission from Fox — a question which so recent a
writer as Rose attempts to answer with an exculpation of the great Whig leader —
would seem to be settled in a sense extremely damaging to Fox by Vorontsov's
letter to his brother of April 26, 1791, Apx. Bop., ix, pp. 196 f.

4 Whitworth to Grenville, July 21, Auckland to Grenville, August 9, Dropmore
Papers, ii, pp. 134, 160.


it is probably greatly to be regretted that the threatened general
war did not take place. Such a conflict might, indeed, have in-
volved terrible dangers to the Republic — a servile revolt, a
deluge of Cossacks, perhaps a repetition of the horrors of 1768.
But a struggle for independence against Russia was bound to
come sooner or later, and Poland's chances would have been far
better in 1791, with the numerous allies which she then had, than
they were in the following year, when she was left to fight her
battle alone. Moreover, if we may be allowed to speculate so far
on what might have been, a general war at that time, if it did not
once for all put an end to Catherine's power of aggression, might
at least have left such animosities between the three neighbors of
Poland that for many years to come they could not have united
amicably for a dismemberment of the Republic. As it was, Pitt's
defeat on the Eastern Question involved the ruin of all the other
plans which he had been pursuing in foreign policy. Deserted by
Prussia and discredited with the other states, England for a time
withdrew altogether from Continental affairs. Thus perished the
Federative System, the one combination of these years that
had seemed to promise most for the security of Poland.

The full extent of the loss, however, was not immediately felt at
Warsaw, for during the last months of the Oriental crisis two
great events had come to renew Polish hopes. The one was the
Revolution of the Third of May: the other, the conclusion of the
Austro-Prussian alliance.


The Revolution of the Third of May and the
Formation of the Austro-Prussian Alliance

It is not entirely creditable to the Poles that, granted the oppor-
tunity furnished by the Eastern war, they delayed for nearly
three years, and only at the eleventh hour nerved themselves to
put through — by revolutionary means, as if in desperation —
a great and sweeping act of reform. Of the many charges brought
against the Great Diet, that of wasting a vast amount of invalu-
able time is only too well founded. There were many reasons for
this procrastination. One must remember the fatal passion for
oratory so characteristic of the nation, the prevailing aversion to
limiting freedom of speech by any hard-and-fast rules of order,
the constant efforts of the reactionaries to hold back the majority
by obstructionist tactics, the inexperience of this " body of Solons
aged twenty-five," the natural tendency of such an assembly to
be swayed by gusts of passion or sentiment, to be easily led aside
into digressions or trivialities, to stumble about rather helplessly
amid the mass of questions clamoring for solution. One will be
inclined to judge such faults less rigorously, if one compares this
Diet with the contemporary assembly on the Seine, which was
also toiling to regenerate a nation. The Constituante suffered
from the same furor loquendi, the same variability , the same lack
of order, foresight, and economy of time; it also was accused
of wasting months over syllables, and then in a few hours up-
setting the whole ancient order of the kingdom. Such defects
are common to all green legislative bodies. Moreover, there was
in Poland one special reason for the slow progress of the reformers:
the fact that much time was required to educate, solidify, and
inflame public opinion as a preliminary to thoroughgoing changes.
At the beginning of the Diet the ideas of even the leaders were



but vague and half-formed. It was only after three years of
intense political discussion, after countless questions had been
threshed out by long debates in the Diet and by the flood of
books, pamphlets, and counter-pamphlets which poured from the
press, that the great and salutary reforms of 179 1 became possible.
One chief difficulty lay in the wide diversity of principles and
tendencies that had to be faced. At one extreme were the bigoted
champions of ' golden liberty,' and szlachta omnipotence, who
revolted at the thought of sacrificing a particle of the privileges
bequeathed to them by their ' virtuous ancestors ' ; who main-
tained, with incredible blindness, that the trouble with Poland
was an excess, not of anarchy, but of ' despotism ' ; and who were
inclined, many of them, to push their aristocratic republicanism
so far as to favor the suppression of the kingship altogether.
Then there were the admirers of the English system of govern-
ment, and those who advocated a constitution similar to the one
which was just then being elaborated in France. Finally, there
were the advanced reformers, who, attentively following events on
the Seine, tended more and more to appropriate the principles,
the language, and to some extent the methods of the Parisian
radicals. These people took up particularly the slogan of
' equality,' denouncing the privileges and the exclusiveness of the
szlachta, exalting the Third Estate in the manner of Sieyes, and
demanding the political and economic emancipation of the towns-
men and peasantry. The growing political activity of the bour-
geoisie; the unprecedented episode of November, 1789, when
deputies from almost all the cities of Poland came together at
Warsaw to discuss their situation, and to petition the King and
Diet for the restoration of their ancient rights; the intense and
highly organized agitation in favor of democratic principles con-
ducted from the house of Hugo Kolla,taj, the ' smithy ' of the
new ideas; the proceedings at the ' Constitutional Club ' in the
Radziwill Palace — the Warsaw counterpart of the Jacobin Club
— whose orators nightly proclaimed ' the Rights of Man,' and
whose ringleader closed every speech with the words: " Whatever
is exalted shall be abased, and whatever is abased shall be exalted":
all this was calculated to make old-fashioned people stand aghast,



and to lead even enlightened men to fear that the reform move-
ment was getting out of hand.

In the face of such divergent views and such a clash of opinions,
it is not strange that the leaders of the Patriotic party long hesi-
tated. The wonder is rather that they at last adopted a plan of
constitutional reform which contained so happy a blend of liberal-
ism and conservatism, which ran so contrary to many of their
instincts and prejudices, and which contained so many things of
a kind which it is not easy or popular for statesmen to propose.
Adherents as they were of ' the French principles,' they still
refused to apply them in blind doctrinaire fashion. Aristocrats,
they demanded heavy sacrifices from their own class, while
championing, as far as was prudent, the interests of the other
classes. Republicans by inheritance and education, they made
the central point in their program the establishment of a
strong royal power. In an age marked by its passion for ' free-
dom ' and hatred of ' despots,' they undertook a reform quite
opposite in character to the one then proceeding in France — a
monarchical revolution. To a nation extraordinarily attached to
its ' liberties,' they preached ' national existence first, and fiber-
ties afterwards.' x

It has already been noted that as soon as the struggle to cast
off Russian control was over, in July, 1789, the leaders of the
dominant party resolved to bring to the front the question of a
new form of government and the hereditary succession. On
September 7 the Diet appointed a commission to draw up a
constitution. The affair progressed slowly, however, since in
the following months military and financial questions and then
matters of foreign policy absorbed the attention of the reformers.
In December the Diet did, indeed, adopt a first instalment of
the new constitution, as a preliminary to the Prussian alliance;
but this was hardly more than an enunciation of the general
principles on which the future form of government was to be
based. Then public interest seized upon one particular consti-

1 The classic study of the evolution of ideas in Poland at this time is Roman
Pilat, literaturze politycznej sejmu czteroletniego. See also, Niewenglowski, Les
Idees politiques et Vesprit public en Pologne d la fin du XVIIP siecle; Smolensky


tutional question to the exclusion of all others: the question of
hereditary monarchy versus the elective kingship. The battle
over that issue filled the year 1790; it led both reformers and
reactionaries to bring their heaviest controversial artillery into
the field; it helped powerfully to spread sound political ideas
and to clear up the mind of the nation.

Soon after Reichenbach the leaders of the Diet determined to
force on a decision at once, at least with regard to the immediate
choice of a successor to the throne, and also, if possible, with
regard to the hereditary principle. A considerable number of
candidates for the crown came under discussion. Supporters were
found for the claims of the brother or the nephew of Stanislas
Augustus, for the Duke of York, the Duke of Brunswick, and
various minor German princes. Gustavus III, whose head
swarmed with fantastic schemes, was suddenly smitten with
the ambition to become king of Poland, and long persecuted
his reluctant envoy at Warsaw with orders to work for that
chimerical project. 1 The Marshal Ignacy Potocki for a time
seemed to favor the choice of a Hohenzollern, and at one moment
talked even of a personal union between Poland and Prussia.
In August, 1790, he sent his confidant, the Italian Piattoli, to
Berlin to offer the succession to a Prussian prince, preferably to
the King's second son, Prince Louis. Possibly this was done
chiefly with the aim of restoring the already shaken alliance by
flattering Frederick William, for it is certain that the King had
long caressed the idea of placing his son upon the Polish throne.
At any rate, the Prussian ministers, now for the first time con-
sulted about this project, protested strongly against it; and the
negotiation produced no result except to frighten the Courts of
Vienna and St. Petersburg, and to drive the ' Republican ' party in
Poland, from fear of the Hohenzollern candidacy, to rally to the

Kuznica Kollqlajowska, and his Przewrot umyslowy w Polsce XVIII w.; Kalinka,
Der polnische Reichstag, ii, pp. 410-51 1; Kraszewski, op. cit., ii, passim.

1 For details as to this Polish project, which haunted Gustavus from the autumn
of 1790 until the 3d of May (1791), see, Odhner, Gustaf III och Katarina, pp. 163
ff.; Gustavus' letters to Armfelt, in Historiska Handlingar, xii, pp. 172-177;
Engestrom, Minnen och Anteckningar , i, pp. 169 f., 290-304; Schinkel-Bergman,
Minnen, ii, pp. 175 ff., 309-312.


cause of the Elector of Saxony, whom the great majority of the
nation already favored. 1

At the end of September the Diet decided to refer to the country
(i. e., to the Dietines) the question whether a successor to the
throne should be designated in the lifetime of the present King,
and to recommend the choice of the Elector of Saxony. In
November the Dietines almost unanimously answered the ques-
tion in the affirmative, and also declared in favor of the Saxon
candidacy. Only a small number, however, pronounced decidedly
for the hereditary succession. At any rate, the Patriots might
well be satisfied with this result; and the more so because in the
partially renewed Diet (made up of the members of the old one
together with an equal number of new deputies chosen at the
same November Dietines), the reactionaries were now reduced
to a very small minority. In December the long-desired rap-
prochement between the King and the Patriot leaders was
effected. The reformers were now in a position to proceed boldly
with their projects.

Early in 1791 there began to be held regular secret meetings,
in which the King, Piattoli, Potocki, the Marshal Malachowski,
and a few others participated, at which the plan for a new con-
stitution was worked out. Stanislas himself seems to have drawn
up the project which served as the basis for discussion, taking
the English system as his model. So radical were the changes pro-
posed in this sketch, so far did they go beyond what past experi-
ence gave reason to hope for, that the King presented his draft to
his fellow-conspirators with the apology that ' these were only the
dreams of a good citizen '; but his friends replied unanimously
and enthusiastically that this was not a dream, but an excellent
constitution, which with energy and good will could easily be put

1 On this affair of the Hohenzollern candidacy, see Askenazy, op. cit., pp. 86-89,
216; Kalinka, Der polnische Reichstag, ii, p. 540; Dembihski, Documents, i, p. 415,
and his monograph on Piattoli, Bulletin de VAcadentie de Cracovie, Juin-Juillet,
1905; F. K. Wittichen, in F. B. P.G., xvii, pp. 253-262, and Preussen und die
Revolutionen in Belgien und Luttich, p. 119; Heigel, Deutsche Geschichte, i, pp. 379
ff.; Catherine's " Remarques sur les candidats proposes pour la succession au
trone de Pologne," sent to Warsaw for use with the ' well-intentioned,' October
17/28, 1790, P. A., X, 71.


through. 1 The great point was to lose no more time. The
Oriental crisis was obviously drawing near its close, and the
Patriots were resolved that the end of the war should not find
Poland still without a stable and well-organized government.
Realizing that at the rate at which the Diet worked it would
take years to pass the new constitution in the ordinary way, the
reformers undertook to introduce it and have it voted by a
coup de theatre in a single session. By the end of April the prepa-
rations for the great stroke were completed. About sixty persons
had now been initiated into the scheme; a majority in the Diet
seemed assured; and the temper of the public appeared to be
all that could be desired. In the last days of the month the
news arrived that Pitt was beginning to back down on the Eastern
Question, and then came the betrayal of the hitherto well-guarded
secret to Bulgakov, the Russian minister at Warsaw. That was
enough to convince the conspirators that they must strike at
once, and that it was now or never. 2

On the second of May the Diet reassembled after the Easter
recess. The Patriots had taken good care to call in their partisans,

1 Vom Entstehen und V titer gauge der polnisclien Konstitution vom 3. May, i, pp.
170 f.

2 Our knowledge of the origin and development of the plan which was crowned
with success on the Third of May, is extremely scanty. The chief source is still
the book, The Rise and Fall of the Polish Constitution of the Third of May, iygi
(in German translation, Leipsic, 1793), the apology of the reformers themselves. See
also Kalinka, op. cit., iii (a volume which, unfortunately, remained only a torso,
owing to the death of the author) ; the Memoirs of Oginski; Dembinski's monograph
on Piattoli, cited above; the account given by the King himself in a long letter to
Glayre of June 21, 1791, in Mottaz, Statiislas Poniatowski et Maurice Glayre, pp.
250-268; Bartoszewicz, Ksicga pamiqtkowa konstytucyi 3. Maja.

It is one of the most curious features of this affair that the secret was kept so
long. Since February Bulgakov had had a secret agent in the immediate entourage
of Ignacy Potocki (probably the latter's secretary, Parendier, as Kalinka and Smol-
enski suspect, although Askenazy has doubts of this). From this spy the Russian
minister continually received copies of Potocki's confidential papers, and especially
of the notes exchanged with Piattoli. Naturally the envoy was led to conclude
that some great scheme was under discussion, presumably one for the establish-
ment of a ' dictatorship ' in Poland in case of a general Furopean war; but he was
apparently not much alarmed until the last week of April. Then he began to fear
a revolution. On the 28th he learned the essence of the whole project through
the treachery of the Polish Chancellor, Jacek Malachowski, whom the King


while the Opposition, despite the summons hastily sent out at
the last moment by Bulgakov and his friends, had returned only
in small numbers. By this time the plan of the conspirators had
become an open secret. The English, Dutch, and Prussian
ministers were apprised of it, and were already protesting against
it. On the evening of the 2nd, at a large gathering in the Radzi-
will Palace, the new constitution was read to all comers, and
greeted with shouts of approval. All Warsaw knew that some
great event was coming on the morrow.

Early on the morning of the 3rd the streets of the capital and
the approaches to the castle were crowded with expectant and
agitated throngs. The galleries of the hall of the Diet were
packed, and the session began amid tense excitement. First on
the order of the day came a report from the Deputation of Foreign
Interests. In its name the eloquent Matuszewicz read a number
of dispatches from the envoys at Vienna, Paris, Dresden, the
Hague, and St. Petersburg, showing various ominous develop-
ments in the general situation of Europe, the menacing designs
of Russia, and the danger of a new partition unless before the
end of the Eastern war Poland had given herself a strong govern-
ment. The effect was all that could have been hoped for. After
some moments of silence, the Marshal Potocki called upon the
King to suggest the means of saving the country. Stanislas pro-
duced the draft of the new constitution, which was read aloud.
Cries of ' zgodal zgoda! ' (agreed! agreed!) resounded from all
sides. But here the handful of reactionaries broke out into wild
obstruction. For hours there were storms of eloquence and also
tragi-comic scenes — as, for instance, when one republican fanatic
raised his young son in his arms and threatened to stab him
on the spot, in order that he might not live to see the despotism
which this constitution was preparing for Poland. At last a
happy interposition of the King saved the situation; the ques-
tion was put, and with hardly a dozen dissenting voices, amid
tumultuous enthusiasm, the great project was passed en bloc.
Rising on his throne Stanislas at once took the oath to the new

had unwisely acquainted with the plan (Bulgakov's reports of February-April,
M. A., HojiBHia, III, 62, 63).


constitution, and then King, senators, deputies, and people went
in joyful procession to the nearby Church of St. John, to sing the
Te Deum. That night all Warsaw illuminated and celebrated.
Thus ended the bloodless ' revolution ' of the Third of May, the
one altogether glorious and splendid day in the life of Stanislas
Augustus, the last great day of radiant joy and hope that Old
Poland was to know. 1

If there had been some anxiety as to how the country at large
would accept the new constitution, these fears were quickly dis-
pelled. In the weeks following the Third of May, letters, addresses,
and deputations with warm expressions of approval, praise, and
thanks flowed in from all the provinces. The other cities vied
with Warsaw in celebrations; the nation seemed intoxicated with
joy. From abroad came gratifying tributes. Burke compared
the French and the Polish revolutions, greatly to the advantage
of the latter, and passed a noble eulogy upon the new constitu-
tion. It was difficult, wrote Middleton, to describe the favorable
impression created at the Hague. Count Bernstorff declared that
no unprejudiced man could fail to view this happy transformation
with joy; and Hertzberg, who was not of the unprejudiced class,
affirmed gloomily that the Polish revolution was one of the great-
est events of the century, and would, in his opinion, have even
greater results than the revolution in France. 2

What then was this much-lauded constitution of the Third of
May ? It was essentially an attempt to transform a state of a
thoroughly mediaeval and antiquated pattern into a constitutional
and parliamentary monarchy of the modern type. It abolished
the worst abuses from which Poland had for centuries been sick
and dying: the Liberum Veto, the right of Confederation, elections
to the throne, the personal responsibility of the King to the Diet,

1 For the events of the Third of May, see the works mentioned in the preced-
ing note; also Wegner, Dzieje dnia trzeciego i piqtego maja; Herrmann, op. cit.,
Vl > PP- 348-358; Solov'ev, Geschichte des Falles von Polen, pp. 246-251; KoCTOMa-
poBi, Eocii^Hie rom PiiH-IIocnojiHTOH, i, pp. 450-493; Smitt, Suworow, ii, pp.
234-265. The best appreciation of the constitution is that of Balzer, " Reformy
spoleczne i polityczne konstytucyi trzeciego maja," Przeglqd Polski, 1891, ii,
and separate.

2 Smolenski, Oslatni rok sejmu wielkiego, pp. 1-2 1; Hertzberg to Lucchesini,
May 28, 1791, in Dembinski, Documents, i, p. 453.


and the lack of any effective executive power. The succession
was assured to the Elector of Saxony and to his male heirs, or
in case he should leave no sons, to his daughter (proclaimed ' the
Infanta of Poland ') and her heirs. The prerogatives of the
monarch were largely extended. The executive power was
lodged in his hands, to be exercised through a council of minis-
ters (the Straz), resembling a modern cabinet. If the principle
of ministerial responsibility was not clearly asserted, it was
approximated by the provisions that every act of the King must
be countersigned by a minister, and that ministers were not only

Online LibraryRobert Howard LordThe second partition of Poland; a study in diplomatic history → online text (page 21 of 59)