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

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presented to Reuss, February 5, V. A., Preussen, Berichte, 1792.


of putting an end to the troubles in France, the dangerous spread
of the infectious principles of ' insubordination and license,' the
sad plight of the emigres and the German princes dispossessed in
Alsace — one sees that there were arguments enough in the
repertory of Berlin. 1 But it was not these edifying reasons nor a
purely sentimental zeal for ' the cause of all sovereigns,' that led
the King of Prussia to labor so ardently to bring on a war. From
the first moment when the enterprise against France appeared
possible, Frederick William's dominant aim — the first and last
word of his policy — was territorial aggrandizement.

The idea appeared, as we have seen, in September, 1790, and in
July, 1 791; and from January, 1792 onward it formed the invari-
able refrain of every Prussian communication on French affairs. 2
The ill-sounding word ' conquests ' was, indeed, avoided as far as
possible; the Prussians preferred to speak of ' indemnities ' and
' compensation for the expenses of an intervention,' with the
mental reservation that in view of the state of French finances
such indemnities could be taken only in land. In response to a
note from Berlin of January 13, the Austrian ministry had recog-
nized the justice of the principle that the Powers which took part
in an active intervention in France were entitled to compensa-
tion for their expenditures; and a confidential communication of
the King's views was requested. 3 The Court of Berlin replied
that the first step to be taken was to request a secret but formal
promise from Louis XVI to repay the costs of the intervention;
but that if such an engagement could not be obtained or fulfilled,
the conquests which the allied Courts would probably make,

1 Rescripts to Jacobi, February 6 and 9, B. A., R. 1, Conv. 169; instructions to
BischofTwerder of February 18, B. A., R. 1, Conv. 172; reports of Reuss, February,

2 One could hardly attempt to point out all the occasions when the claim for
' indemnities ' was brought forward on the Prussian side at this time. It will
suffice here to refer to Frederick William's letter to Louis XVI of January 13, 1792;
Schulenburg to Breteuil, January 13 and February 13; the notes presented to
Reuss, January 13 and February 5; the rescripts to Jacobi of January 14 and to
Goltz at St. Petersburg, February 10; Reuss' report of January 14, Alopeus' of
January 9/20 and 11/22; the dispatch of Carisien accompanying the letter of Gus-
tavus III to Fersen of February 6, in Klinckowstrom, Le Comic de Fersen et la
Cour de France, ii, pp. 164 f.

3 Kaunitz to Reuss, January 25, P. S. 3, Vivenot, i, p. 353.



would furnish the most natural means of compensation. The
Prussians had, indeed, already entered into secret negotiations
with Louis' agent Breteuil, who had not hesitated to promise
reimbursement in money; but it is uncertain whether his master
ever formally consented to the agreement. 1 The Austrians fol-
lowed this example by making similar proposals to the King of
France through Count Mercy; but the matter was so long de-
layed through the reluctance of the French royal family to commit
themselves to a formal engagement, that before anything definite
had been arranged, the intervening Powers had agreed upon a
very different plan for their ' indemnities.' 2

With regard to Poland, Frederick William's sentiments had
changed greatly since the previous spring. In the early part of
May, 1 791, he had openly expressed warm approval of the new
constitution; at the end of the month he was still not against it;
but when, at the beginning of June, he learned that no effective
aid was to be expected from England in the Eastern crisis, his
attitude towards Poland began to alter immediately. Having
now renounced the policy of opposition to Russia, he no longer
saw any reason for seeking the friendship of the Republic. One
of the first signs of the change was a rescript to Goltz of June 10,
1 791, in which the King prophesied that the Empress would
never approve the Constitution of the Third of May, and ordered
the envoy to take care not to rebuff the Russian ministers if they
should make any friendly overtures on that topic. 3 As the Poles
saw the storm gathering in the east, they made repeated efforts
to induce Frederick William to promise his support in case of a
Russian attack. But henceforth the constant tenor of every
Prussian declaration at Warsaw was that the King, while remain-
ing loyal to the engagements contained in the alliance treaty, was
in no way bound to guarantee or defend a constitution estab-
lished without his knowledge and subsequent to the conclusion of
the alliance. The Poles — to their great misfortune — continued

1 Details in Flammermont, Negotiations secretes de Louis XVI el du Baron de
Breteuil avec la Cour de Berlin.

2 Kaunitz to Mercy, February 19, Mercy to Kaunitz, February 29, March 13,
April 17, and 23, V. A., Frankreich, F. 261.

3 Salomon, Das politische System des jiingeren Pitt, p. 64.


to cherish some hopes of Prussian support, partly because they
imagined that the language of the Berlin ministry did not repre-
sent the King's true sentiments, partly because Lucchesini, now
returned to Warsaw, exhibited himself as such a Proteus among
diplomats that it was difficult to tell exactly what he was charged
to say; x but these hopes were built on sand. It was now the
fixed policy at Berlin to remain entirely passive in Polish affairs
until, as was confidently expected, Russia should come out in
opposition to the new constitution. The opportunity would then
be given to a form a concert of the three neighboring Powers,
which would overthrow the hereditary succession and the other
dangerous innovations of the Third of May, and would restore
the Republic to a becoming state of nullity. Exactly how this
beneficent work was to be accomplished was not yet certain; but
one may suspect that Schulenburg disclosed his master's arriere-
pensee, when in August (1791) he prophesied to the English envoy
a new partition of Poland. 2

It was favorable to the success of such plans that the relations
between Berlin and St. Petersburg were slowly improving. The
estrangement produced by the Eastern crisis lingered, indeed,
throughout the summer of 1791. Frederick William was deter-
mined not to take the first step towards a reconciliation with the
Empress; and as late as September she betrayed her surviving
resentment by revelling in sarcasms at his expense. 3 It was
French affairs that gave the first impetus to a rapprochement, the
earliest sign of which was the letter addressed by Catherine to
Frederick William about the middle of October. This encouraged

1 Lucchesini's dispatches are full of solemn assurances that his language con-
formed exactly to his instructions; but the reports of the Russian, Austrian, and
Saxon envoys combine to show that his utterances varied amazingly from day to
day. At one moment, he would be insinuating that all the neighbors of the Republic
were about to unite against it; at another, he would be firing the Poles with hopes
for the formation of a quadruple alliance in their defence. Bulgakov wrote in his
diary (December 6/17, 1791): " This Lucchesini in one and the same room tells
five people five different tales, and when he is caught contradicting what he has
just told someone else, he excuses himself with the plea: ' Qu'il faut parler a chacun
selon sa ported, mais le vrai est ce que je vous dis.' " M. A., Ilojitnia, III, 66.

s Ewart's report of August 4, Herrmann, Erganzungsband, p. 72.

3 Rescript to Goltz of August 27, in Salomon, op. cit., p. 66, note 1. Cobenzl's
reports of September 2, 6, 13, V. A., Russland, Berichte, 1791.



the Prussians to make counter-advances. At the end of the
month Bischoffwerder suggested to Alopeus that as it might be
repugnant to the Empress to accede to the future Austro-Prussian
alliance, it would depend only upon her to conclude a separate
alliance directly with the King. 1 In December the royal favorite
returned to the charge. He regretted, he said, that the alliance
with Russia could not precede that with Austria; but, at any rate,
it would be better to abandon all idea of a mere accession, and to
arrange a treaty directly between their two Courts. He would be
delighted to go to St. Petersburg and negotiate it himself, if
Alopeus would only propose that to the Prussian ministry as his
own idea. 2 These insinuations produced no direct response from
St. Petersburg; but still by the close of the year Goltz, the Prus-
sian envoy, began to find himself treated with more considera-
tion: the Empress spoke to him for the first time; the Grand
Duke knew him again. 3 As far as the delicate subject of Poland
was concerned, Schulenburg did his utmost by hints and sarcastic
comments to show Alopeus that the King was hostile to the new
constitution, and Bischoffwerder repeatedly asked that envoy
directly what his Court thought about Polish affairs. 4 Russia
remained absolutely silent on that question, but the Prussians
were not discouraged. When the Empress finally got ready to
speak, they were sure that an agreement between the two Powers
would come of itself.

Under such circumstances, Kaunitz's attempt to win over the
Court of Berlin to his Polish policy was doomed to failure. In
their note of January 13, the Prussian ministry urged that while
the King, like the Emperor, was far from wishing to oppose the
new constitution or the succession of the Elector, still it would be
a very delicate matter to take any steps in this affair until the
sentiments of Russia were known; and that while the Court of
Vienna seemed to regard the separate article of the July Conven-

1 Alopeus' report of October 19/30, M. A., Ilpyccia, III, 27.

2 Alopeus to Bezborodko, December 12/23, M. A., Hpyccia, III, 26.

3 Cf. Heidrich, Preussen im Kantpfe gegen die franzosische Revolution, p. 173.

4 Alopeus' reports of November 15/26, November 22/December 3, Decem-
ber 16/27, January 17/28, February 3/14, and 10/21, M. A., Ilpyccia, III, 27
and 29.


tion as referring specifically to the Constitution of the Third of
May, they had always understood it to refer only to any free con-
stitution, i. e., one not imposed by any foreign Power. Hence
they desired to avoid ambiguities by omitting from the treaty of
alliance all mention of the constitution of Poland and promising to
maintain only " the liberty and independence of that Kingdom."
The ominous significance of the proposed change was quite
appreciated at Vienna. But immediately after the Prussian note
there arrived still more exasperating communications from St.
Petersburg. The Empress had seen fit to read Leopold a new and
impertinent lecture on his slackness in French affairs, and to pro-
pose a plan of action which only showed how little she understood
the situation or troubled herself about the interests of her ally.
The indignation of the Austrians was increased by the fact that
these dispatches did not contain the long and anxiously awaited
response on Polish affairs, but only a request that the Emperor
would take no step regarding them ' which might hinder the
freedom of the future joint deliberations.' ' The delay,' it was
added, ' was not only without inconvenience, but even necessary
in view of the confusion and irresolution still prevailing in the
minds of the Poles regarding the delicate and important innova-
tions which had been and were still being introduced.' l The
inference to be drawn from this was only too obvious. Putting it
alongside the answer received from Berlin, the Austrians found
themselves in danger of being isolated on the Polish question.
What the result of an agreement between Russia and Prussia on
that subject would be, seemed equally clear. It would be a new
partition. Doubtless under other circumstances the Court of
Vienna would have tried to avoid such a disaster by reverting to
its old policy of 1781, by giving Russia a free hand in Poland,
providing she agreed to keep the Prussians out. But now the
danger from France rendered the friendship of Prussia all-
important; and moreover, the Austrians were so indignant against
their old ally that they began to regard the restoration of Russia's
exclusive predominance in Poland as among the worst of evils.
Hence they fell back on the concert with Prussia, in the vain hope

1 Ostermann to Golitsyn, December 25/January 5, M. A., ABCtpifl, III, 51.



that eloquent exhortations and small concessions might induce
Frederick William to oppose Catherine's projects and thereby to
deprive himself of the chance to gain a long-sought acquisition.

In the dispatches of January 25, Reuss was authorized to give
way on the article relating to Poland; but at the same time in an
ostensible postscript Kaunitz earnestly and forcibly pointed out
how dangerous it would be to the new friendship of the two
Courts, how inconsistent with the whole spirit of their alliance, if
Prussia were now to embark upon schemes for violent aggrandize-
ment at the expense of the Republic. 1 The Chancellor's warnings
were only too well grounded. Without throwing the entire
blame for what followed upon Prussia, one may still surmise that
many later disasters might have been avoided, and especially that
the great contest with revolutionary France might have taken a
very different turn, if the Court of Berlin could only have brought
itself to postpone the realization of its designs on Poland to a
more propitious time. But Kaunitz's admonitions fell on deaf
ears at Berlin.

At any rate, the difficulty about the treaty of alliance was now
removed. It was agreed that the article respecting Poland should
pledge the two Courts " to undertake nothing contrary to the
maintenance of a free constitution " in that country, in place of
the old phrase which referred to " the free constitution." It was a
change of but a single word, but it indicated the momentous
alteration that had come about in the Polish policy of Prussia
since the previous summer. In other respects the treaty con-
formed in substance to the Vienna Convention of July 25, while
in form it was modeled — significantly enough — after the
Treaty of Versailles of 1756. With its signature at Berlin on
February 7, 1792, the Austro-Prussian alliance was at last an
accomplished fact. 2

1 These dispatches are printed in Vivenot, i, pp. 353, 358 ff.

1 The treaty is printed in Neumann, Recueil, i, pp. 470-475; Martens, Recueil
de Traites des Puissances de I' Europe, v, pp. 301-305 ; the secret articles in Vivenot,
i, pp. 370 f.



In accordance with the wish expressed by the Emperor early in
January, it had already been agreed that Bischoffwerder should
undertake a new mission to Vienna to arrange the measures to be
adopted against France. On February 16 a conference was held
at Potsdam, at which the Kong, the Duke of Brunswick, Bischoff-
werder, Schulenburg, and Manstein were present, to decide upon
a plan of campaign. It appears, however, that other matters
were also discussed, and that a new project of the utmost impor-
tance was broached here, perhaps for the first time. The day
before, a courier had arrived from St. Petersburg with news that
must have seemed to the Prussians like the opening of the

Goltz reported that through a secret channel he had learned the
contents of a note from the Empress to her favorite, Zubov, in
which she declared: " After all has been arranged with the Turks,
I wish Prince Repnin to go to the main army, collect as many
troops as he can — which, according to my calculation, will
amount to 130,000 men — and with them march by way of
the Ukraine into Poland. If Austria and Prussia oppose, as
is probable, I shall propose to them either compensation or
partition." 1

This was the first definite information about the Empress'
plans that had reached Berlin; and no news could have been
more welcome. Immediately the idea was brought forward at the
Potsdam conference of combining the settlement of Polish affairs
with the French enterprise, in the way that Prussia should take
her ' indemnities ' for the expense of the intervention in the west
by wrenching territory from her unfortunate eastern neighbor.
Nothing final was decided upon; nothing could be until the
intentions of Russia were more fully known; but one may safely
assert that from the middle of February on, from the moment
when the first favorable news arrived from St. Petersburg, the

1 Goltz's report of February 3, printed in Herrmann, Ergdnzungsband., pp.
231 f. See Appendix VIII.


Prussians were hoping and planning for a new partition of Poland,
for which the intervention in France might perhaps furnish the
pretext. 1

The first result of the Potsdam deliberations was that a few
days later Bischoffwerder visited Alopeus and, drawing the con-
versation upon Poland, assured him that the King was not in the
least inclined to support the new constitution, but that he re-
garded any ' explosion ' in the Republic as dangerous, as long as
French affairs were not terminated. 2 Although Bischoffwerder's
subtlety was lost on the Russian, the aim of this hint seems clear
enough. If the Empress was ready to propose a partition, in case
the other Powers offered opposition to the execution of her plan
— very well: the Prussians would offer such an appearance of
opposition as would not deter her from her essential aim, but
would lead her to take them into partnership.

The effect of the news from St. Petersburg is also seen in the
instructions drawn up for Bischoffwerder's mission to Vienna.
The article regarding Poland contained first of all the usual pro-
testations that the King's engagements with the Republic were
in no sense applicable to the new constitution, and that he in-
tended to act in the most perfect harmony with the Emperor on
Polish affairs. It was denied that there had been any discussions

1 We have very few documents through which to trace these developments of
February. My account is based chiefly on the Duke of Brunswick's letter to
Bischoffwerder of February 19: " Die Entschadigungs-Angelegenheit wird grosse
Verlegenheit herbeifuhren, wenn man den Kaiser nicht vermogen kann, seine Ein-
willigung zu den Veranderungen in Polen zu geben. Ich gebe den Erwerbungen,
die man in Polen zu machen hofft, den Vorzug vor den Eroberungen in Frankreich.
. . . Alles kommt darauf an, dass man sich mit dem Kaiser erklare." (Translation
from the French in Massenbach, Memoiren, i, p. 267.) Since Goltz's dispatch
came February 15, and the Potsdam conference took place the 16th, while the
Duke of Brunswick arrived from his capital that morning, departed homeward that
evening, and wrote the letter to Bischoffwerder almost immediately after his return,
it may safely be presumed that he learned of the " Erwerbungen die man in Polen
zu machen hofft " during the discussions at Potsdam. His championship of the
idea of a new partition of Poland is referred to in a letter from the King to
Bischoffwerder of March 14: " II paroit que les vues de l'lmperatrice touchant la
Pologne pourroit [sic] amener l'evenement que le Due de Bronsviq souhaite de voir
arriver et dont il parle dans la lettre que je Vous envoye [sic] a Dresde," B. A., R. i,
Conv. 172.

2 Alopeus' report of February 10/21, M. A., Hpyccia, III, 29.


on the subject between Russia and Prussia, and especially that
the Empress had made any overtures about projects of aggran-
dizement in Poland, " although," it was added, " one doubtless
cannot guarantee that this sovereign may not have plans of that
kind." If the King received any hints on that topic from Russia,
he would not fail to communicate them frankly to the Emperor,
in the conviction that in a similar case the Court of Vienna would
act in the same way towards him. "These cordial assurances," it
was said, " will furnish General Bischoffwerder the most natural
occasion to convince the Imperial Court that ... in order to
obtain in full the advantages which the union happily existing
[between the two Courts] ought to procure them, it is essential
that the most unlimited confidence in one another should animate
both in all that concerns their respective interests; and that they
should thus from the beginning remove by frank and amicable
explanations all that might later sow distrust between them and
alter their complete harmony." These words were not merely
conventional expressions of loyalty and confidence towards an
ally. They were a direct reply to Kaunitz's recent warning that
the friendship between the two Courts would be exposed to grave
peril, if Prussia entered upon plans for aggrandizement in Poland.
They were designed to pave the way for an understanding on the
basis of a partition, as soon as Russia had uttered the expected

It may at first sight appear a contradiction to that which has
just been said, that in the article of the instruction which dealt
with the subject of ' indemnities,' the old plan — Alsace and Lor-
raine for Austria, Juliers and Berg for Prussia — was once more
recommended. Probably this was because it seemed necessary to
keep up the claim for an acquisition in the West as long as the
prospects for making one in the East were still uncertain. Fur-
thermore, the Prussian ministry could hardly have wished to dis-
close their hand to Austria too fully until Russia had spoken.
But, to all appearances, they no longer entertained serious plans
for a dismemberment of France. Bischoffwerder seems to have
displayed little zeal for that project while in Vienna; and at the
end of February Louis XVI's agent at Berlin was joyfully re-



porting that there was no more talk of demanding a territorial
indemnity from his master. 1

Charged with these equivocal instructions respecting Poland,
which showed that Prussia was veering further and further away
from the Austrian standpoint on that question, Bischoffwerder
was also the bearer of proposals regarding the French problem
that were but little in harmony with the Emperor's wishes. The
main object of his mission was, indeed, to shake the Imperial
cabinet out of its too pacific temper, to inveigle Leopold into
armed intervention in France, and to arrange the plan of cam-
paign. 2

Bischoffwerder arrived in the Austrian capital on February 28;
but this time he was not to see that Imperial friend who had so
charmingly received him and smilingly outwitted him on his two
previous visits. At this crucial moment, when both the long-
gathering storms were about to burst in East and West, when an
experienced hand was needed more than ever at the helm,
Leopold II died suddenly, after an illness of only three days
(March 1, 1792). His death was an irremediable loss to Austria,
and perhaps to Europe. Whether he could have carried on with
success the struggle against revolutionary France must remain
uncertain; but he was assuredly the one sovereign of that time
least unfitted for that task. Quite certainly he could not have
averted the Russian attack on Poland, but he might, not improb-
ably, have prevented a new partition.

It is true that at the close of Leopold's reign his own Polish
policy was crumbling. His effort to hold Prussia firm in defence
of the new constitution had failed. Fruitless, too, had been his

1 Cf. Fersen to Gustavus III, February 29, and the directly contrary opinion
held at the beginning of that month, Gustavus to Fersen, February 6, Klinckow-
strom, op. cit., ii, pp. 182 and 165.

2 Stripped of its verbiage, the first article of his instruction certainly means this
and nothing else. Compare Carisien's report in Taube, Svenska Beskickningars
Berdttelser, pp. 95 f.; Fersen to Gustavus III, March 4, 1792, Klinckowstrom,
op. cit., ii, p. 193; Alopeus' report of February 10/21, M. A., Hpyccia, III, 29.
Bichoffwerder himself speaks of " le parti vigoureux que j'ai a proposer " (Report
of February 29, B. A., R. 1, Conv. 172).

Bischoffwerder's instructions are printed in Ranke, Ursprung und Beginn der
Revolutionskriege, pp. 351-359.


attempt to extort a quick acceptance of the crown from the Elec-
tor. At the beginning of March the interminable negotiation at

Online LibraryRobert Howard LordThe second partition of Poland; a study in diplomatic history → online text (page 25 of 59)