Robert Howard Lord.

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

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Dresden still dragged on — or rather it was about to be trans-
ferred to Warsaw — with no prospects of an immediate decision.
War with France was now very nearly inevitable; and in that
case Austria would necessarily be quite unable to assert her voice
effectively in Polish affairs. Above all, Catherine had at last
spoken. At the time of the Emperor's death couriers were speed-
ing westward from St. Petersburg with news that confirmed well-
nigh all that was hoped at Berlin and all that was feared at
Vienna. That pronouncement from Russia was the ruin of Leo-
pold's Polish system. It may, indeed, be doubted whether his
policy in this connection did any good either to Austria or to the
Republic. On the one hand, it had deeply offended Catherine,
weakened the alliance of the Imperial Courts, and contributed to
the rapprochement between Berlin and St. Petersburg; and on the
other hand, it had lulled the Poles with false hopes of support
from without, which led them sadly to neglect their own prepara-
tions for self-defence. It won Leopold golden opinions only at

At the end of his reign the Emperor enjoyed a popularity
among the Poles such as the Court of Vienna had not possessed
for many years. This was due in part to his mild treatment of his
Galician subjects; to the often very exaggerated reports spread
at Warsaw about the provisions in favor of Poland contained in
the July Convention and the February treaty of alliance; possibly
to certain assurances sent from Vienna through secret channels; l
but above all, to the general confidence felt in the Emperor's love
of peace, justice, and moderation, and to the indefatigable activity
of Landriani. Leopold had come to occupy much the same posi-
tion in the minds of the Poles as had once been held by Frederick
William. 2 They relied on his beneficent influence at Dresden and

1 Bulgakov, reporting to the Empress the causes of Leopold's popularity at
Warsaw, claimed to know on good authority that a secret correspondence went on
between the Emperor and the King of Poland through Corticelli, the former Polish
minister at Vienna, Spielmann, and Manfredini (another confidant of Leopold's).
Report of March 6/17, M. A., IloJbraa, III, 66.

2 Lucchesini's report of March n, 1792: "Leopold II et le Chevalier Lan-



Berlin; and on him many of them based their hopes of security
against Russia. It was reported that he intended to build up a
quadruple alliance of Austria, Prussia, Poland, and Saxony.
" His political system," it was said in the patriotic conventicles at
Warsaw " was to establish the general tranquillity on a perma-
nent basis, and to exclude Russia from the circle of European
states." Nowhere was his death more regretted than at Warsaw.
People declared that the nation had lost its friend, its powerful
protector, its support. 1 And in truth the nation had lost the one
foreign sovereign who had done his best to uphold the work of the
Third of May, and who was sincerely well-disposed towards

driani avoient herite de la confiance qu'on avoit cidevant place en Votre Majeste et
moi," B. A., R. 9, 27.

1 For the above: Bulgakov's report to the Empress of March 6/17, M. A.,
IloJibma, III, 66; Lucchesini's reports of January 7 and 11, February 22, March
7, B. A., R. 9, 27; de Cache's of March 10 and 14, V. A., Polen, Berichte, 1792.


The Outbreak of War in East and West

At the time of Catherine's first Turkish war, Sweden had seized
the opportunity to free itself from her grasp by the revolution of
1772, which had reformed a constitution almost as vicious as the
Polish one, concentrated the power of the state in the hands of
the monarch, and closed the door to further foreign interference.
Catherine had not seen fit to go to war about it. During her
second conflict with the Turks, Poland had tried to do precisely
the same thing as the Swedes had done, by means of a coup
d'etat consciously modeled upon that of Gustavus III. At the
close of the Oriental crisis, it was long believed at Warsaw that
the Empress would ultimately bow to the accomplished fact, as
she had done in the case of Sweden. She might sulk, she might
intrigue, she might even make demonstrations on the frontier,
but it was not thought probable that she would go further. An
attempt to reimpose the Russian yoke by force seemed scarcely
likely to be tolerated by the German Powers, one of whom was
now the warm friend of Poland, and the other its ally, pledged to
defend its independence. Moreover, how could the Empress
consistently attack the Poles for having established a monarchical
form of government, at a time when she was preaching to all
sovereigns the necessity of taking up the sacred cause of mon-
archy in France ? H«w could she face the odium of going to war
with her neighbors simply because they wished to reform their
institutions; of overthrowing by force of arms a constitution
which the whole nation, with few exceptions, had gladly accepted,
and which had received the applause of all Europe ? Neverthe-
less, as soon as her peace with the Turks was signed, Catherine
proceeded to undertake precisely this graceless task; and one
hardly knows whether to wonder the more at the unscrupulous-
ness or at the skill with which the enterprise was carried out.




Although for nearly three years the Empress had maintained
an outwardly passive attitude and an ostentatious show of indif-
ference towards Poland, she seems never for a moment to have
wavered in the determination not to permit that country to
escape permanently from her control. Vindictiveness for the
slights and injuries inflicted upon her during the Turkish war may
have had some part in influencing her resolution; but she was,
undoubtedly, guided chiefly by the firm conviction that the vital
interests of her Empire and all the traditions of Russian policy
required that Poland should be kept under its old republican
constitution and in its old state of perfect impotence. The Poles
might fret and strut, they might inveigh against her and intrigue
with her enemies, they might make and mar their institutions to
suit their fancy for the present; but they should pay for it in the
end. Her time for action would come as soon as the Turks were
off her hands; and the program, marked out long in advance,
was a Confederation under Russian auspices. 1

All hopes that the nation would of its own accord return to the
side of its ancient protector were shattered by the events of the
Third of May. Catherine was furious at the news. ' The Poles
had outdone all the follies of the Parisian National Assembly/
she wrote to Grimm; ' they must indeed be possessed of devils to
act in a manner so contrary to their own interests and to the very
conditions of their existence.' The morning after the tidings
arrived, she informed Bezborodko : " The question now is whether
Poland wishes to be ruled by the mob of Warsaw. If we see the
slightest inclination for a Counter-confederation, we must bring
one about without further delay. There you have my opinion." 2
The Council of the Empire, when asked for its advice, replied
that the new form of government, if once firmly established,
could only prove harmful to the neighboring Powers, and especi-
ally to Russia; but that as long as it was uncertain whether the
King of Prussia had had a hand in the revolution, and as long as
the Turkish war lasted, it was impossible to decide upon any

1 One of her earliest definite utterances on the subject is in the letter to Potem-
kin of September 30/October 11, 1790: "When God grants peace, then we shall
form a Counter-confederation," etc., C6opHHKi>, xlii, p. no.

2 To Grimm, C6opHHKi, xxiii, pp. 534 f.; to Bezborodko, ibid., xlii, p. 152.


course of action. 1 After the first flush of anger was over, the
Empress too came around to this standpoint. Orders were ac-
cordingly sent to Bulgakov, her envoy at Warsaw, to continue
the same passive conduct as before, but in private to assure the
friends of freedom — if such there still were — that Russia would
always be ready to help them recover their liberty, as soon as
they showed a desire for it not only by words but by deeds. 2
Henceforth it was the Empress' first and foremost aim to over-
throw this thoroughly obnoxious constitution. Henceforth she
had a tolerable pretext for action, inasmuch as she had by the
treaties of 1768 and 1775 guaranteed to the Republic its old form
of government. Henceforth if her aid were invoked, she could
color her intervention before the world by the plea that she was
legally and morally bound to defend the ' liberty ' of Poland, and
that she could not refuse to succor the allied nation now groaning
under a ' despotism ' imposed by conspiracy, fraud, and violence.
Determined as the Empress was to act with vigor when the
proper time came, it was difficult for her to satisfy Potemkin. It
has already been noted that that restless schemer had come to the
capital in the spring of 1791 to press his own aggressive projects
against the Republic. As usual, he had several irons in the fire.
The favorite plan was still that of raising an Orthodox rebellion
in the Ukraine and robbing Poland of its richest provinces; but
he also talked at times of a new partition on a gigantic scale, and
again he urged the immediate formation of a Confederation
among the Poles themselves. For this last plan he hoped to find a
ready instrument in his friend Felix Potocki, and a pretext in the
revolution of the Third of May. These projects did not entirely
square with those of his sovereign. Catherine had always re-
garded the Ukraine scheme with misgivings; if she approved of
the idea of a Counter-confederation, she did not mean to be
rushed into the enterprise precipitately ; and she apparently felt
at this time a growing distrust regarding Potemkin's dreams of
personal aggrandizement. Moreover, she was vexed with him
because of his hostility to the reigning favorite Zubov, and be-

1 Protocol of May 12/23, Apx. Toe. Cob., i, p. 853.

2 Rescript to Bulgakov, May 25/June 5, M. A., IIojii>ma, III, 63.



cause of his interminable delay about returning to the army. It
was probably mainly in order to get rid of him that at the end
of May she gave him a secret rescript once more approving in
general terms his plan of the preceding year for the seizure of the
Ukraine, but limiting its execution by so many conditions as to
render the concession quite illusory. On the other hand, the pro-
ject of forming a Confederation was sanctioned, and the Prince
was directed to work out the scheme in detail.

Shortly afterwards Potemkin received a letter from Felix
Potocki containing quite definite proposals for a Confederation
to be formed in the southeastern palatinates under Russian
protection for the overthrow of the new constitution. 1 Armed
with this, the Prince returned to the charge; and after long delays
he secured one more ' most secret rescript/ this time of a less
fictitious and more satisfactory character than the preceding one.
It was true that the execution of the Ukraine project was again
relegated to the dim future; but the plan for a Confederation was
approved in terms that showed the Empress resolved to proceed
with that in earnest. Potemkin was authorized to invite Potocki
and the other leading Polish malcontents to his headquarters; to
assure them of Russia's most efficacious aid and protection; and
to settle with them the details of the future undertaking, subject
to the Empress' approval. If they insisted on forming their
Confederation at once, Catherine was willing to begin action
immediately; but she preferred to postpone her intervention
until after the peace with the Turks, which at that time — the
end of July, after the complete backdown of the Triple Alliance
and Repnin's brilliant victory at Macin — seemed to be very
close at hand. The return of the Russian armies from Moldavia
through Poland would then afford the best opportunity to strike
the great blow. While outlining with remarkable foresight the
means and methods to be employed, Catherine also showed her-
self fully conscious of the momentous consequences of the enter-
prise on which =^° was embarking. "It is difficult now," she

.arliest d
1 Potockjnber 30/Cmkin, May 14, 1791, M. A., Ilojbraa, II, 7. Appendix
IX contains tr-confxt of this letter, of which only the existence has hitherto been
known, and to which may be traced the origins of the Confederation of Targowica.


wrote, " to predict the end to which this policy will lead; but if
with the aid of the Almighty it is crowned with success, two
advantages may result for us. In the one case, we shall be able to
overthrow the present constitution and to restore the old Polish
liberty; and thereby we shall gain complete security for our
Empire for all time. Or in case the King of Prussia should dis-
play an invincible covetousness, we shall find ourselves obliged,
in order to put an end to these troubles and disturbances once for
all, to agree to a new partition of Poland in favor of the three
allied Powers. From this there will result the advantage that we
shall extend the boundaries of our Empire, augment by so much
its security, and win new subjects of the same faith and blood as
ourselves. Poland, on the other hand, will be reduced to such
limits that whatever be the strength of its government, it can
offer no dangers to the neighboring Powers, and will form only a
sort of barrier between them." 1

Potemkin, however, was not to reap the fruits of all these years
of planning and intriguing. He left St. Petersburg at the begin-
ning of August sullen and depressed, and died in Moldavia two
months later — the victim of a fever, due to the effects of an
ill-regulated life, and perhaps to the chagrins occasioned by his
last stay at court. Unfortunately, his death was not to be the
end of his oft-confirmed and much delayed plans.


Deprived of a helper who towards the last had become a trifle
burdensome, the Empress now took Polish affairs more directly

1 The two famous rescripts to Potemkin of May 16/27 an d July 18/29, I 79 I >
are printed in the Pyc. Apx., 1874, ii, pp. 246-258, 281-289; also by Kalinka in
Polish translation in his " Polityka dworu austryackiego," in Przeglqd Polski, 1873,
pp. 82-85, 88-92; and by Liske in German in //. Z., xxx, pp. 286-301. On Potem-
kin's shaken position at court at the time of his last visit to St. Petersburg, see:
Pyccofl CTapnua, xiv, pp. 241 ff.; ^epasaBnui, 3airacKH, pp. 304-308; BpHKnept,
IIoTeMKHHT., pp. 194 ff. In view of the rather strained relations then existing
between the Empress and the Prince, Askenazy seems inclined to deny to both
rescripts any importance as an expression of Catherine's real intentions (Przymierze
polsko-pruskie, pp. 162 f.). I should agree that the first rescript was very much of
a sham; but that the second was not appears — best of all — from the fact that
almost every plan there announced was duly carried out the next year.


into her own hands, with her usual vigor and with a sureness in
the choice of persons, means, and occasions that has rarely been
surpassed. The fiery ardor with which she preached the counter-
revolution in France to Austria, Prussia, and Sweden, her well-
calculated and nicely measured rapprochement to the Court of
Berlin, her masterly silence towards Vienna on the Polish ques-
tion — all this was designed only to secure her a free hand in the
Republic. If she had originally planned to take the Emperor
into her confidence, 1 she soon abandoned the idea. Kaunitz's
efforts on behalf of the new Polish constitution threw her into
transports of rage, while the Emperor's slackness in French
affairs aroused her far from disinterested indignation. By the
end of the year she and all the Russians in chorus after her were
coming to declaim on every occasion that Leopold II was a
timid, nay a craven, prince, whose soul knew naught of honor or
dignity or magnanimity or any other of the virtues that were
supposed to characterize peculiarly the Court of Petersburg.
That meant that the Emperor had presumed to have an opinion
of his own on both the French and the Polish questions — an
unpardonable offence in an ally of the great Catherine. She was
coming to see in him the main obstacle to the realization of her
plans. But, far from being daunted, she insisted all the more
vigorously on going ahead with the Polish project, regardless of
the wishes of Austria and Prussia. " I inform the members of the
College of Foreign Affairs," she wrote in December, " that we can
do everything that we please in Poland, and the contradictory
demi-volontes of the Courts of Vienna and Berlin will oppose us
only with a stack of paper objections, and we shall settle our
affairs in Poland ourselves. I am hostile only to those who try to
intimidate me. Catherine II has often made her enemies tremble,
but I have not heard that Leopold's foes have ever feared him." 2
When one of her ministers objected that nothing should be done
until they had built up a party in Poland and made at least some
overtures to the German Powers, she wrote: " But I say that we

1 See the ahove-cited rescripts to Potemkin, especially that of July 18/29.

2 Notes written a propos of Kaunitz's dispatches to Cobenzl of November 12,
1791, P. A., X, 75.


do not have to utter a word to the other Courts; and a party will
always be found when it is needed. It is impossible that there
should not be people who prefer the old order. Volhynia and
Podolia offer many different pretexts; one has only to choose." l
The party, or the nucleus of one, had, indeed, already been
found. The two most prominent of the Polish malcontents, Felix
Potocki and Seweryn Rzewuski, had come to Jassy at Potemkin's
invitation in the middle of October, precisely at the moment of
the Prince's death; and they were followed shortly after by
another promising recruit, the Crown Hetman Branicki. These
three men, under Catherine, were to be the main authors of the
Confederation of Targowica. In them the worst vices of Old
Poland stand incorporated. Enormously rich, able to count his
villages by the score and his ' subjects ' by the thousand, accus-
tomed to live in truly royal magnificence, Potocki represents the
typical provincial kinglet, who could brook no superior, no re-
striction, no abridgment of golden liberty. Honest and well-
meaning, perhaps, and virtuous according to his lights, he was
also narrow-minded and obstinate, and consumed by pride and
vanity. Capable of seeing but one idea at a time, he was now
obsessed by the thought that the glorified Republic of his ances-
tors was doomed to perish, overthrown by ' despotism,' unless he,
the one blameless man, could save it — with the aid of foreign
bayonets. Rzewuski, Field-Hetman of the Crown, was the best
head in this group of reactionaries. He had always posed as the
argus-eyed guardian of liberty, the model of republican virtue,
the Cato of Poland ; and of a Cato he had at least all the unlovely
qualities. Branicki was simply the dashing adventurer, a rioter
and a brawler, gifted indeed with many of the arts that command
popularity, but guided solely by private interest, regardless of
loyalty, patriotism or duty — a man whose life was a succession

1 Catherine to Bezborodko, December 4/15, printed in the CSopnuKii, xxix,
pp. 176 f., and Solov'ev, Geschichte des Falles von Polen, p. 265. The German trans-
lator of Solov'ev has erroneously, I think, rendered the first part of the last sentence:
" Volhynien und Podolien zu nehmen, sind Vorwande genug vorhanden." If this
version were correct, it would indicate that the Empress had already decided upon
a partition. But the Russian text printed in the C6opHHKi gives little warrant for
such a translation.



of treasons. Doubtless these magnates had no conception of the
ruin they were bringing upon their country. Morally they were
no worse than those princes and gentlemen of France who at this
same time were inviting all Europe to arms against their father-
land. But never did traitors leave behind them so terrible a
monument as did the men of Targowica. In Polish history their
names are branded with infamy.

Count Bezborodko, sent down by Catherine after Potemkin's
death to conduct the peace negotiations with the Turks, was also
authorized to assure the Polish leaders of the Empress' favor and
protection, and to receive their plans and proposals. In the con-
ferences held at Jassy from November to February, the main
points of the enterprise were discussed at length, although the
final decisions were left to be made at St. Petersburg. After the
usual fashion of emigres, the Polish magnates were lavish with
assurances that the great mass of their countrymen were on their
side; it was only the terrorism of the dominant - faction ' at War-
saw that prevented the nation from manifesting its true senti-
ments. " A single spark would suffice to set the whole country
ablaze; thousands and thousands of adherents would rally to the
good cause at the first opportunity." Still, when they were called
upon to name men of prominence whose support might be relied
upon, the magnates could scarcely indicate a dozen; and they had
to confess that it would require at least 100,000 Russian troops to
enable the country to express its real opinions. They proposed,
however, to form a Confederation as soon as the Empress' forces
had crossed the frontier; the ' royalist ' army, they affirmed,
could be easily surrounded and captured, if it did not voluntarily
come over to the side of the republicans; the Confederates would
then take possession of the whole government of the country, and
effect a radical resettlement in accordance with principles to be
fixed in agreement with the Empress. The new constitution and
all the illegal works of the present Diet were to be summarily
annulled ; but what was to be put in their place was a question on
which the magnates could not agree even among themselves.
Rzewuski wished to restore the constitution of 1773, with certain
modifications designed especially to place the real control of the


state in the hands of the four hetmans, of whom he happened to
be one. Potocki, on the other hand, proposed a scheme no less
revolutionary in character than were the changes introduced on
the Third of May. The country should be reorganized as a federal
republic under the name of " The Independent and United Prov-
inces of Poland," on the Swiss or the Dutch model; each prov-
ince was to possess its own army, treasury, administration, and
judiciary; the King was to be deposed and replaced by a Presi-
dent elected for two years. All the Poles agreed that the first act
of the liberated Republic should be to conclude an ' eternal
alliance ' with Russia; and all of them insisted that the Empress
must guarantee in the most solemn manner the territorial integ-
rity of their country. 1

Bezborodko, while pleased with the eagerness of the Poles to
make themselves the tools of Russia, was not strongly enamored
of their projects. When early in February he submitted to the
Empress a final report on the Jassy conferences, he urged that the
first and most essential point in undertaking the settlement of
Polish affairs was to attain a confidential understanding with the
German Powers, or at least with the Court of Berlin. From
Austria no serious opposition was to be expected, since the
Emperor could not afford to throw away the friendship of Russia
for love of the Poles. But with Prussia the case was different.
Frederick William's engagements with the Republic were so clear
and unequivocal that unless he were won over in advance, he
might feel bound to come to the aid of his assailed ally. Besides,
the liberation of Poland had been so largely his work that he
might be inclined to defend it out of sheer amour-propre. Hence
it was advisable to enter into a concert with the King on Polish
affairs, and even into an alliance. Otherwise, an intervention in
Poland would probably lead to a war with Prussia, a danger
which Russia, exhausted by five years of constant fighting, could
not afford to risk. An alliance with Frederick William, on the

1 For the above: F. Potocki to Potemkin, May 14, 1791; Rzewuski to Bez-

Online LibraryRobert Howard LordThe second partition of Poland; a study in diplomatic history → online text (page 26 of 59)