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

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of Prussia, England, and Austria, and paying no attention to
Russia. 1

The envoy set out from Berlin May 30, tarried two days in the
Saxon capital, where his zealous exhortations failed to shake
Frederick Augustus out of his cautious reserve, and arrived on
June 9 at Milan, where the Emperor was then staying. Leopold
was somewhat glacial at the first meeting, apparently for the
purpose of showing that it was not he who was courting allies.
But immediately afterwards his tone changed, he became all

1 Instructions of May 28, 1791, B. A., R. 1, Conv. 172.

Art. 8 of the instruction: " II est de la plus grande importance d'ecarter toute
participation de la Cour de Russie a la Negociation et au Traite a conclure, sur
laquelle le Prince Kaunitz et ses Adherens ne manqueront pas d'insister, mais qui
seroit entierement incompatible avec les interets du Roi et la Situation actuelle des
choses, et que l'Empereur lui-meme, selon les assurances du Lord Elgin, paroit
regarder comme telle. . . ."

Art. 7: " Comme la garantie de la Pologne dans ses frontieres actuelles et le
maintien de la constitution libre et independante de la Pologne paroit tenir fort a
cceur a ce Monarque [Leopold] et n'est pas moins conforme aux vues et aux interets
de Sa Majesty, rien n'empeche que le Colonel Bischoffwerder n'y accede tout de
suite. ..."

Art. 2: " Le Colonel de Bischoffwerder etant charge de prendre sa route par
Dresde afin de profiter du sejour qu'il y fera pour fixer les irresolutions de l'Electeur
de Saxe sur Pacceptation du throne de Pologne, il cherchera a se menager une
audience aupres de ce Prince pour rectifier ses idees et celles des personnes les
plus influentes de sa Cour sur cette matiere. ... II semble que la considera-
tion qui resultera pour la Saxe meme de l'acceptation du throne de Pologne par
l'Electeur; les suites facheuses qu'un refus ou meme la simple vacillation de ce
Prince pourroient avoir en Pologne . . . ; enfin la suret6 qui resulte pour l'Elec-
teur de l'Amitie et de l'Alliance, s'il en est besoin, de la Prusse et de l'Angleterre,
seront les principaux motifs qu'on pourra faire valoir pour inspirer de la fermete
a ce Prince.

1 • t


affability, and ' the worthy Colonel ' was soon completely under
the spell. The explanation of Leopold's altered attitude is to be
found in a startling piece of news which had reached him imme-
diately after Bischoffwerder's arrival. On June 12 came a letter
from Marie Antoinette, announcing that the French royal family
were about to attempt their escape from Paris; and the Emperor
saw before himself the prospect of having to undertake armed
intervention on their behalf. 1 In such a case, the assistance of
Prussia would be indispensable. The alliance at once became
an urgent and pressing matter. Hence he hastened to give
Bischoffwerder all the assurances required that peace should
promptly be concluded at Sistova; both were agreed in thrusting
Elgin aside and negotiating the alliance between themselves
alone; and the exact provisions of the treaty furnished no great
difficulties. After but slight resistance, Bischoffwerder gave way
on the question of inviting the adhesion of Russia, and he entered
with the greatest readiness into Leopold's proposals with regard
to French affairs. After a few conferences, the two found them-
selves agreed on the principal points, and it remained only to put
their arrangements on paper after the return to Vienna. 2 The
conclusion of the formal treaty of alliance was, indeed, to be post-
poned until after the final pacification in the East; but a pre-
liminary convention containing the essential articles was to be
signed at once.

On arriving at Vienna about the middle of July, Bischoffwerder
fell into the toils of the Austrians more hopelessly than ever. He
was flattered by the Emperor's show of confidence; he was over-
whelmed with attentions by Cobenzl and Spielmann, and even by
Kaunitz himself; for the old Chancellor, having once made up his
mind to what he could no longer prevent, had now developed an
astonishing zeal for ' the new system,' and delivered the most
edifying disquisitions on this alliance, which would startle the

1 Marie Antoinette to Leopold, June 1, and his reply of June 12, Arneth,
Marie Antoinette, Joseph II und Leopold II, pp. 166 f., 177 ff.; Feuillet de Conches,
op. cit., ii, pp. 72, 78.

2 The above chiefly from Bischoffwerder's reports of June 14 and 18, B. A., R. 1,
Conv. 172, and from the "Journal iiber die Verhandlungen mit Bischoffwerder,"
printed in Vivenot, op. cit., i, pp. 176-181.



world and eclipse even the wondrous Treaty of Versailles. 1
Never did a negotiation pass off more smoothly; never was dip-
lomat more trustful, more compliant, more facile than ' the
excellent Colonel Bischoffwerder.' Two conferences sufficed for
everything. At the first, the Prussian envoy submitted his prop-
ositions, there was general discussion, and Spielmann promised
to draw up the articles of the convention. At the second, Kau-
nitz presented the completed draft; whereupon Bischoffwerder,
although he had heard it for the first time, and although it
differed greatly from the propositions he had made, signed it at
once, " seeing," as he wrote to his King, " that it was the ne plus
ultra of what I could obtain, that there was nothing in it disad-
vantageous to Your Majesty, and that I should spoil everything
by showing any lack of confidence." 2 In truth, it was a bargain
in which the Austrians had carried every point. Bischoffwerder
agreed to the future admission of Russia to the alliance, and to the
omission from the treaty of every phrase that might wound the
Empress' susceptibilities; he consented to an article providing
for mutual assistance in case of internal disturbances, and to
another which guaranteed the Austrian rights to Lusatia in case of
the extinction of the male line of Saxony; he accepted an article
providing for a concert on the affairs of France.

Particularly important were the stipulations of the convention
regarding Poland. The 'separate article' on that subject ran:
" As the interests and tranquillity of the Powers which are neigh-
bors of Poland render infinitely desirable the establishment of
such a concert between them as will remove all jealousy or appre-
hension of preponderance, the Courts of Vienna and Berlin will
agree, and will invite the Court of Russia to agree with them, not
to undertake anything contrary to the integrity and to the main-
tenance of the free constitution of Poland ; never to seek to place
a prince of their respective Houses upon the throne of Poland,

1 Bischoffwerder's journal of his negotiation (passim), B. A., R. i, Conv. 172;
Kaunitz to Leopold, July 26, V. A., Vorlrdge, 1791. The Chancellor wrote that this
alliance " fait a. peu pres le second Tome du Traite de Versailles, qui a etonne toute
l'Europe dans son temps, et a sauve alors la Monarchic Autrichienne."

2 Bischoffwerder's reports of July 22 and 25, B. A., loc. cit.; Spielmann to
the Emperor, July 23, V. A., Vorlrdge, 1791.


either by a marriage with the Princess Infanta or in case of a new
election; and not to employ their influence in either of these latter
cases to determine the choice of the Republic in favor of another
prince, save by a common agreement among themselves."

The significance of this article has been much disputed. On the
one hand, it has been taken for a guarantee of the Constitution of
the Third of May, and a declaration that could only be regarded
as an insult at St. Petersburg; l and on the other hand, it has been
called a virtual surrender of Poland to Russia, the first sign of the
abandonment of the Republic by its Prussian ally. 2 Both these
interpretations are probably erroneous. This article was a
restatement of the one proposed by Bischoffwerder in February,
modified in accordance with the circumstances and with certain
considerations urged by the Austrians. The original Prussian
proposal had had for its chief aim to prevent Russia from recover-
ing her former predominance in Poland ; and it had also contained
a virtual guarantee of the existing constitution of the Republic.
In July the Austrian ministers insisted on toning down this article
in such a way as to render it ostensible and fit to be presented for
Catherine's acceptance. They fully agreed with Bischoffwerder
that the main object was to uphold the new constitution and to
prevent Poland from again falling under the control of Russia or
any other foreign Power; but Spielmann urged that it was both
imprudent and unnecessary to use terms that would lead the
Empress to think that ' they were trying to prescribe laws to her,'
or meant to extort her consent to the new regime in Poland by
force. Moderate language and courteous forms would be far
more likely to bring Catherine to accept the Austro-Prussian
standpoint. 3 Hence an article the terms of which had been soft-
ened down until they had wellnigh lost all clearness and vigor, but
the underlying spirit of which was undeniably favorable to Poland.

The provision as to " the free constitution " was indefinite,
indeed, but, coupled with that regarding the Infanta, it implied

1 Sybel, //. Z., xxiii, pp. 77 f.

2 Herrmann, Erganzungsband, p. 40, and F. z. D. G., v, pp. 239 f.; Askenazy,
op. cit., pp. 150 ff.

3 Spielmann's report to the Emperor, July 23, V. A., loc. cit.; Bischoffwerder's
journal of his negotiation, July 22, B. A., loc. cit.



a recognition of the new constitution, and was so interpreted
both at Warsaw and St. Petersburg. There was no guarantee of
the new form of government, but the Poles had lately been de-
claiming a great deal about the irksomeness of such foreign
guarantees. The exclusion from the Polish throne of members
of the reigning houses of the three neighboring states was in
conformity with the interests of the Republic; and — it may be
added — it involved the sacrifice of certain plans that Frederick
William had long taken very seriously. The fact that Russia
was to be invited to join in the concert on Polish affairs did not
imply that the other two Courts were at that time ready to con-
cur with Russian plans hostile to Poland. The attitude which
the Empress would finally assume towards the new constitution
was quite unknown at Berlin and Vienna; indeed Cobenzl's
latest reports had led the Austrians to hope that she would adopt
their ideas on that subject. The one part of the article that could
hardly be reconciled with a strict regard for the independence of
Poland was that which suggested the possibility of a future con-
cert of the three Powers with respect to the succession to the
throne; for that implied that the contracting parties had not
altogether renounced interfering in the internal affairs of the
Republic. But taken as a whole these provisions were of a nature
to give satisfaction at Warsaw. Their essential significance lay
in this : that at a time when the fate of the new Polish constitu-
tion hung in the balance, Austria and Prussia had agreed to recog-
nize that constitution, to abstain from all enterprises against it
themselves, and to attempt to induce Russia to adopt the same
attitude. 1

The PreHminary Convention of Vienna was signed July 25,
and forwarded the next day to Berlin for ratification. The Prus-
sian ministry were filled with indignation when they received
this masterpiece of Bischoffwerder's diplomacy. They found
that he had been completely the dupe of the Austrians; that he
had agreed to articles on which he had never had any instructions
(especially that relating to the concert on French affairs); and
that he had acted in flat violation of his instructions in signing

1 Some further discussion of this article will be found in Appendix VI, 2.


any convention without first submitting the draft of it to the
King. Frederick William, however, was apparently well pleased.
He was not averse to the French enterprise, and he was delighted
to have secured at last — on whatever terms — an alliance which
would free him from the English bondage and furnish the basis
for a new forward policy. With scarcely a word of explanation,
and without asking for their opinion, he ordered his ministers
to send back the act of ratification at once, though under the
condition that it should not be presented until peace had been
concluded at Sistova. 1 This provision, however, occasioned no
delay, for the treaty between Austria and Turkey was signed on
August 4. Austria restored her conquests of the late war, but
by virtue of certain ancient claims secured the cession of Old
Orsova, and thus a partial mitigation of the terms of Reichen-
bach. Bischoffwerder could then put the crown on his work by
proceeding to the exchange of ratifications (August 15). Thus
was virtually consummated an alliance which astonished the
world as much as did the famous diplomatic revolution of 1756,
or as much as would an alliance between France and Germany

With the almost simultaneous conclusion of the Vienna Con-
vention, the Peace of Sistova, and the Preliminaries of Galatz,
the long Oriental crisis had reached its end. It was an unsatis-
factory, a dull and prosaic finale. For four years there had been
wars and rumors of wars, mobilizations, coalitions, congresses,
negotiations, diplomatic activity almost unparalleled; and the
result was that none of the great issues had been settled, none
of the great plans had been realized. Out of it all had come
only the slightest changes of territory, but a considerable shifting
in the positions of the various European Powers. The connection
between the Imperial Courts was loosened; the Triple Alliance
was practically dissolved ; and through the rapprochement sealed
by the Vienna Convention Austrian and Prussian policy had
received a new basis and struck out into new paths. But the

1 The King to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, July 31, Schulenburg and
Alvensleben to the King on the same date, B. A., R. 1, Conv. 172; Alvensle-
ben's Proces-verbal of August 11 (see Herrmann, Erganzungsband, pp. 40 ff., and
F. z. D. G., v, pp. 277 f.). Cf. Appendix VI, 3.



greatest legacy of the Oriental crisis was the reopening of the
Polish Question.

It was during those four years of turmoil that the seeds of the
Second Partition were sown. The old system, which had seemed
to assure the existence of the Republic, had collapsed; the great
breach with Russia had taken place, and remained unforgotten
and unforgiven at St. Petersburg; and a new spirit had appeared
in Poland that made the permanent restoration of Russian domi-
nation in the old form impossible. But, on the other hand, the
Poles had seized too late the opportunity for internal reforms,
they had lost the chance to satisfy the ambitions of Prussia by a
peaceful bargain, and they had seen their best chances for securing
aid from without vanish one after the other. The three neighbor-
ing Powers had at the last moment failed to come to blows, and
were now about to unite, and their union had always been fatal
to Poland. But if the causes go back to the Oriental crisis, the
form which the catastrophe was to take was determined by the
struggle in which Austria and Prussia now became involved
against the French Revolution.


The Development of the French and Polish
Questions to the Death of Leopold II


It is well known that immediately after learning of the flight and
recapture of the French royal family, the Emperor Leopold
issued the Circular of Padua (July 6, 1791), inviting the chief
European Powers to common action for the purpose of ensuring
the safety of the King and Queen of France and the maintenance
of monarchical government in that country. Of all the sover-
eigns invited into the concert, the Empress of Russia alone
showed an ardent zeal for the cause. Nothing could have suited
Catherine better than to see the other Powers embarked in the
French enterprise, partly because she detested the Revolution on \yS
principle, but even more because she wanted a free hand in her
own corner of Europe. As soon as the danger of the Oriental
crisis was over, she began the mise-en-scene of her next great act
on the European stage. Already in May and June she was doing
her utmost to persuade her quixotic cousin of Sweden to head a
counter-revolution in France, while she also commenced to sound
the Austrian cabinet on the same subject. 1 She received Leo-
pold's proposals of July with the warmest approval and regretted
only that the measures suggested were not more vigorous. Hence-
forth the Empress was aflame for ' the cause of all sovereigns.'

Frederick William's attitude was also distinctly favorable, but
his ministers succeeded in inserting into his reply certain condi-

1 Even in February, 1791, Catherine made vague hints about an intervention
in France to Austria and Sweden (Cobenzl's report of February 22, V. A., Russ-
land, Berichte; Schinkel-Bergman, Minnen, ii, pp. 151 ff.) For her later overtures
to those Powers: Cobenzl's report of June 11, V. A., loc. cit.; Ostermann to Golitsyn,
May 30/June 10, 1791, M. A., ABcrpifl, III, 51; Odhner, Gustaf III och Kata-
rina, pp. 173 ff.; Geffroy, Gitstave ITT el la Cour de France, ii, pp. no ff.; Catherine's
letters to Stackelberg, in the PyccKaa CTapHHa, iii; Dembinski, Rosya a reuiolucya
francuska, ch. iii.





tions — especially about the cooperation of England — that
made it wellnigh declinatory. What was particularly char-
acteristic of the Prussian standpoint was the insistence that any
declarations to be addressed to the National Assembly must be
backed up by force, and that if military intervention was to be
attempted, the Powers must first come to an understanding on
the subject of ' conquests.' * With all his generous sympathy for
a fellow-sovereign in distress, Frederick William saw in the
French enterprise first and foremost a chance to make handsome

At Vienna there was little thought of conquests and no real
eagerness for action of any kind. Neither a dismemberment of
France nor a complete restoration of the old monarchy seemed
desirable to the Austrian statesmen. Provided they could secure
a decent existence to the French royal family and suitable com-
pensation to the German princes dispossessed in Alsace, they
would have been well content to leave France in impotence and
anarchy. Universal principles have seldom exercised much in-
fluence over the policy of Vienna, and Leopold II, with his
constitutional ideas and strong common sense, was the last man
to feel any sentimental enthusiasm for ' the cause of all sover-
eigns.' When the answers received from the various Courts
sufficiently indicated that no effective concert of all the Powers
could be hoped for, the Austrian cabinet began to think chiefly of
retreating from an embarrassing position. This tendency was not
arrested by the meeting held by the Emperor and the King of
Prussia at Pillnitz as the guests of the Elector of Saxony towards
the close of August; for while French affairs were discussed at
length on this occasion, Leopold's prudence prevailed over Fred-
erick William's zeal for action and over the importunities of the
Count of Artois. The resulting declaration issued in the name of
the two monarchs aroused indignation in France, but it bound its
authors to nothing whatever. The negotiations for the concert of
the Powers continued for a time in a perfunctory way; but when
Louis XVI subscribed to the new constitution, Leopold hastened
to inform the other Courts that since the King had recovered his

1 Rescript to Jacobi of July 28, Herrmann, Erganzungsband, pp. 50-58.


freedom and had voluntarily accepted his new position, there was
nothing to be done save to await the further course of events in
France. 1 The coalition against the Revolution seemed to be
definitely abandoned.


This lull in French affairs gave the Imperial cabinet the oppor-
tunity to take up the hardly less important Polish question.
The fate of the Constitution of the Third of May was still un-
decided; and the longer the suspense lasted, the more the political
constellation seemed to change to the detriment of the Poles.
Within the Republic, indeed, all was quiet; it was clear that the
malcontents were few in numbers and unable to stir without
foreign assistance; but the cloud on the eastern horizon grew
ever larger and darker. The Court of St. Petersburg maintained
an ominous silence, avoided any explanation with Austria on
Polish affairs, and hastened forward its peace with the Turks.
Kaunitz grew suspicious that the Empress' extraordinary zeal
for a crusade against France was based solely on a desire to divert
the attention of Austria and Prussia from Poland. 2 There were
also disquieting symptoms at Berlin. At Pillnitz Leopold and
Frederick William had again agreed to urge upon the Elector the
acceptance of the Polish crown; 3 but this was the last occasion
when the King showed any real inclination to favor the new order
of things in the Republic. Since then Kaunitz had had reason to
convince himself that the Prussians were at bottom opposed to
the new constitution, embarrassed by the approval which they

1 Austrian circular of November 12, 1791, Vivenot, i, pp. 270 f.

2 Kaunitz to the Emperor, November 5, V. A., Vortrage, 1791. The Austrians
still had no absolute certainty of this. I have been unable to find any authority
for the statement made by Sybel, op. cit., i, p. 389, and Heigel, op. cit., i, p. 454, that
about this time Golitsyn told Kaunitz that each of the Imperial Courts had its
counter-revolution to effect, the one at Paris, the other at Warsaw; and I am
strongly inclined to doubt the story. Golitsyn's reports show that he had not the
faintest knowledge of his sovereign's intentions about Poland, and he was hardly
the man to hazard such statements on his own responsibility. The story is probably
a bit of gossip retailed by Jacobi, the Prussian envoy at Vienna.

3 Spielmann to Kaunitz, August 31, Vivenot, op. cit., i, p. 238; Schlitter, Marie
Christine, p. lxvi.



had been forced to give to it, and inclined to seize the first oppor-
tunity to repair the blunder.

To make the situation even more critical, the Elector was still
unable to decide either to accept or to reject the Polish throne.
Honorable and well-meaning, but cautious and irresolute in the
extreme, Frederick Augustus was torn between his desire for a
crown which two of his ancestors had worn and which his mother
had always planned to win for him, and his fear that this Polish
connection might again bring disaster upon his beloved Saxony.
His ambition was spurred on by his wife and by the not incon-
siderable ' Polish party ' at his court; but on the other hand his
ministers abhorred all political adventures and regarded a
system of pure passivity as the Alpha and Omega of Saxon state-
craft. Deterrent also were the reports from Warsaw of his
resident, the hypochondriac Essen, which contained nothing but
the most dismal jeremiads against the depraved Polish nation.
So for months the Elector vacillated. He could not bring himself
to refuse the honor, as some of his ministers advised him to do;
but he was also unwilling to accept without the fulfilment of
several conditions. Various changes must be made in the new
constitution, extending the royal prerogatives still further; and
he would have preferred to see the succession pass to his brother
rather than to his daughter, so that Saxony and Poland should be
permanently united. Above all, he was determined not to commit
himself until assured that there would be no opposition from any
one of the great neighboring Powers.

In spite of the warm expressions of friendship and support
received from the Emperor and the King of Prussia, Frederick
Augustus remained suspicious of both of them, and likewise of the
King of Poland. The repeated efforts of the government at
Warsaw, the mission of Bischoffwerder to Dresden at the end of
May, the interview at Pillnitz did not avail to draw the Elector
out of his irresolution. Every day that brought nearer the peace
between Russia and the Porte increased the danger to Poland, but
that consideration only made Frederick Augustus the more
cautious and reserved. By October the Poles had obtained from

Online LibraryRobert Howard LordThe second partition of Poland; a study in diplomatic history → online text (page 23 of 59)