Robert Howard Lord.

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

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borodko, December 7; plan general submitted by Potocki and Rzewuski early
in December; memorial of Branicki; Potocki to Bezborodko, December 17;
plan submitted by Potocki and Rzewuski early in 1792, M. A., ApxHBi. Bap-
maBCKoii Maccin.


other hand, would really bind the Empress to nothing; it would
be of great assistance in the settlement of the Polish question;
later on it would make Russia the arbiter between Austria and
Prussia, so that after a period of rest and recuperation she could
safely take up any aggressive enterprises that seemed useful and
advantageous. A danger might, indeed, arise from the King of
Prussia's " thirst for Dantzic and Thorn"; but — Bezborodko
concluded — " His Majesty must realize that his ambitions could
not be satisfied save by an agreement of the three neighboring
Powers for a partition of Poland on the basis of the most complete
equality " (of advantages). 1

Had these counsels been accepted in toto, a bargain for a new
partition might probably have been the preliminary, rather than
the sequel, to the Empress' intervention in Poland. But during
Bezborodko's long absence from the capital the management of
the Polish enterprise had passed into the hands of a small clique,
who, acting of course under the Empress' supervision, conducted
it henceforth with few interruptions down to the very end. This
inner ' ring ' was made up of Zubov, a very young man, without
talent or experience, who was beginning to essay the role of
Potemkin; Markov, a member of the College of Foreign Affairs,
who aspired to rise on the wings of the favorite; and Popov, the
former head of Potemkin's chancellery, whose chief political
capital was his intimate knowledge of the ideas of the late
lamented. 2 With these advisers, the Empress had already decided
the most essential questions while Bezborodko was still in the
south. They meant to begin the enterprise as soon as possible;
they were not at all disposed to hold the troops idle while they
were negotiating with Berlin and Vienna; and it was still less to
their state to take the other Courts into partnership. Neverthe-
less, it was impossible to invade Poland without at least some kind

1 Bezborodko to the Empress, January 25/February 5, 1792, M. A., Typnia,
IX, 14. This voluminous report, which throws so much light upon the ideas with
which the Russians embarked upon their Polish enterprise, and especially upon their
attitude towards Austria and Prussia, has hitherto remained unknown to historians.
The text of it is printed in part in Appendix X.

2 As to this clique see the letters of Rostopcin, Bezborodko and Zavadovski to
S. R. Vorontsov, Apx. Bop., viii, pp. 52 f.; xiii, pp. 255 f.; xii, pp. 75 f.


of explanation to the German Powers. Whatever Catherine may
have intended in December, towards the end of February —
perhaps as a result of Bezborodko's exhortations — she decided
to make certain preliminary communications to Berlin and
Vienna, which, without limiting her own freedom of action, might
still prevent opposition on the part of her neighbors.

On the 28th of February, 1792, the first official revelations as to
the Empress' momentous projects were made to Cobenzl and to
Goltz, the Prussian envoy. To Cobenzl Ostermann read a dis-
patch addressed to the ambassador Golitsyn in Vienna, which
contained the long awaited response on the Polish question. The
nine-months' delay was excused with the brazen plea that until
the recent peace with the Turks the Court of Petersburg had not
had leisure to form an opinion on Polish affairs. The various
arguments advanced on the Austrian side on behalf of the new
constitution were refuted or ignored in a manner that could
only be taken as open scorn at Vienna. The Empress, it was
said, was irrevocably determined no longer to allow the Poles to
violate arbitrarily their engagements with her; she intended to
overthrow the recent innovations in the Republic, so detrimental
to all the neighboring Powers; and she invited the Courts of
Vienna and Berlin to concur with her in that enterprise, especially
by means of vigorous declarations at Warsaw. It was to be ex-
pected that in the face of such a manifestation of solidarity the
Poles would give way without further difficulty; but should it
prove necessary to resort to force, the efforts required could not
in any case be considerable enough to prevent the three Courts
from pursuing at the same time the concert against France. In
the heated discussions that followed the reading of this dispatch,
every argument was exhausted on both sides, the Russians laying
most stress on the idea that if the new constitution were allowed
to subsist, it would infallibly lead either to the establishment of an
absolute monarchy or to the rise of a democracy even more
dangerous than the French. Cobenzl retorted with some force
that he failed to see how the growth of democracy could be
checked by destroying the monarchical power and restoring the
country to anarchy; but he was given to understand that what-



ever the Austrians might think, they were bound by the treaty of
alliance to uphold the ancient constitution (which was true), and
that if they stood out for the new regime they would be alone in
their opinion, since Prussia would certainly adopt the Russian
standpoint. In vain the ambassador remonstrated that this
enterprise would surely end with a new partition. The Russians
replied with the most solemn assurances that the Empress would
never give her consent to such an arrangement. Nothing was
said about a Confederation. The Russian ministers refused to
state just what measures their sovereign intended to employ, if
it proved necessary to use force against the Poles; but Cobenzl
was informed that in such a case the Empress would willingly
take the disagreeable work of coercion upon herself, in order that
her two allies might be the more free to direct their attention to
the other great common enterprise, the counter-revolution in
France. 1 The irony of this suggestion lent the crowning touch to
a communication than which nothing more inconsiderate, harsh,
and dictatorial could well be imagined.

The insinuation verbale made the same day to Goltz was
friendly enough in tone, but even vaguer than the overtures to
Cobenzl. It merely called the attention of the Prussian govern-
ment to the dangers arising from the new Polish constitution,
and suggested a concert to regulate matters in accordance with
the common interests of the two Powers. Not a word was said as
to the nature or the final aim of the concert; and Goltz, who was
not on the same intimate footing with the Russians as Cobenzl,
did not dare ask questions. Still, combining his conjectures
with the note to Zubov which had so excited his imagination
some weeks before, he wrote to his Court that beyond a doubt the
Russians would presently come forward with proposals for a new
partition. 2

Thus the sphinx-like silence which the Empress had so long
maintained on Polish affairs was at last broken; the veil which
had enshrouded her projects was at least partially raised. Her
immediate object was clear, although her plan of action and her

1 Cobenzl's report of February 29, V. A., Russlattd, Berichte, 1792.

2 Goltz's report of February 29, B. A., R. XI, Russlattd, 133.


ultimate goal were still an enigma to the other Courts. It re-
mained to be seen whether the German Powers would raise a
hand in defence of Polish independence, whether they would
allow the Republic to become once more a Russian province, or
whether they would insist on a division of the spoils.


The Empress' plans were not a little facilitated by the change
of ruler that had taken place at Vienna. The new King of Hun-
gary and Bohemia, soon to be known as the Emperor Francis II,
was a sickly young man of twenty-four, sadly lacking in experi-
ence, talents, independence, and initiative; fitfully inclined to a
bolder policy than that of the late reign; easily tempted by
prospects of aggrandizement, but without his uncle's energy, or
his father's prudence, or the firmness of will and definiteness of
purpose which alone could justify the ventures he undertook : in
short, a feeble and colorless personality, a ruler singularly ill-
fitted to guide the Monarchy through the stormy age of the
French Revolution. Nor was the complexion of the ministry
more promising. The octogenarian Kaunitz remained nominally
at the helm; but he was losing touch with affairs, and was more
and more thrust aside by pupils who fancied themselves cleverer
than " the old papa." These ambitious subordinates, Philip
Cobenzl and Spielmann, had enjoyed a large measure of the late
Emperor's confidence and had identified themselves thoroughly
with his policies, especially with the Prussian alliance. Under
the new monarch they aspired to play the leading roles, although
neither of them possessed talents rising above a finished medi-
ocrity. To make matters worse, these two ministers, and partic-
ularly the parvenu Spielmann, were the object of the special
aversion of the members of the State Conference, a body of old
grumblers who seemed to find their chief function in criticizing,
hampering, and thwarting all the operations of the State Chancel-
lery. The new reign began, therefore, with no happy auguries
for vigor and unity in the administration. 1

1 The Staatskonferenz was at this time made up of Marshal Lacy, Prince Star-
hemberg, Prince Rosenberg, Count Colloredo-Wallsee, Cobenzl, and Spielmann.


If it had been anticipated that the young sovereign, as the
pupil of Joseph II, would lean more towards Russia than towards
the Court of Berlin, it soon appeared that the tendency was quite
the contrary. While the new King hastened to inform both the
Empress and Frederick William of his desire to maintain and
strengthen the existing alliances, the Court of Vienna remained
silent towards that of St. Petersburg on all important questions
for more than a month, while a lively discussion was carried on
with Prussia. The Austrian ministers overwhelmed Bischoff-
werder and Jacobi with assurances of confidence and friendship;
Kaunitz professed to see in the Prussian alliance the greatest
achievement of his career; Spielmann called it " the universal
panacea." x It seemed that the new government would follow
strictly in the paths of the late reign and attempt to settle both
the French and the Polish questions in closest concert with

Quite in accordance with the policy of Leopold, the first effort
was to dispose of the latter question before taking up the former.
In the early days of March, while still ignorant of the revelation
that was coming from St. Petersburg, Spielmann set to work to
devise a new scheme for harmonizing the interests of all three of
the neighboring Powers with respect to the Republic. The main-
tenance of the new constitution, though stripped of some of its
objectionable features; the establishment of a permanent per-
sonal union between Poland and Saxony; the limitation of the
Polish army to forty or fifty thousand men; the perpetual neutra-
lization of Polish territory; the incorporation of all these arrange-
ments in a treaty between the three great Powers, Saxony, and the
Republic: such were the chief provisions of the plan by which the
minister sought to save the essential parts of the late Emperor's
system, while making not inconsiderable concessions to Russia

Kaunitz never attended, although of course entitled to do so. Interesting light on
the characters of the Austrian ministers is afforded by Arneth's " Graf Philipp
Cobenzl und seine Memoiren," in Archiv fur osterr. Geschichte, lxvii, and by his
" Relationen der Botschafter Venedigs iiber Oesterreich im 18. Jht." F. R. A., II,
xxii, pp. 349 ff.; also, the anonymous memoire in Vivenot, ii, pp. 467-474, and
Zinzendorf's Diary, preserved in manuscript in the Vienna Archives. See also,
Schlitter, Kaunitz, Philipp Cobenzl und Spielmann.

1 Bischoffwerder's report of March 13, 1792, B. A., R. 1, Conv. 172.


and Prussia. The ever-complaisant Bischoffwerder having ex-
pressed his perfect approval, it was decided to send the project
to Berlin by courier; if Frederick William and the Elector of
Saxony agreed to it, the three German Courts would then present
it at St. Petersburg with " a very polite but firm declaration "
that they insisted on this plan and would accept no other. The
poor Empress! She would have to give in, Spielmann reckoned,
for she could not refuse without admitting that she had other
plans aiming at exclusive domination in the Republic, not to
speak of the terror into which she would be thrown by the polite
but firm declaration of the high allies. 1

Unfortunately, however, on the very day when the plan was
read to Jacobi and Bischoffwerder in final form, a courier arrived
with Ostermann's dispatch to Golitsyn of February 28 — the
formal announcement that Russia would never tolerate the
Constitution of the Third of May. The effect must have been as
painful as possible. After all the confidential communications
made by the Austrian cabinet at Dresden and Berlin, it was
bitterly humiliating to think of bowing before this imperious fiat.
But the strength of the Empress' will was sufficiently known at
Vienna. The Austrians can hardly have doubted that their
solution of the Polish question had now lost all chance of success.
From that moment they must have abandoned the hope of realiz-
ing the Polish plan of the late Emperor.

Henceforth the essential thing was to find a basis on which the
Courts of Vienna and Berlin could agree, in order to prevent
Russia from acquiring a too exclusive control in Poland. If, in
accordance with the previous agreement, Spielmann's plan was
still sent to Berlin, it was accompanied by the intimation that
Austria did not insist on this project, but was willing to accept any
other which, in the King of Prussia's opinion, might lead to the
desired goal. 2 Doubtless the main object of the ' expedition ' was

1 Bischoffwerder's reports of March 6, 10, 13, 17-18, the first printed in Ranke,
Ut sprung und Beginn der Revolutionskriege, pp. 360-363; Jacobi's reports of March
3, 6, 14, B. A., R. 1, Conv. 169; Vivenot, i, p. 417. -The plan itself, in the form
of seventeen articles, as it was finally sent to Berlin, is printed in Vivenot, i, pp.
418 ff., and by Herrmann, F. z. D. G., iv, pp. 430 ff.

2 Kaunitz to Reuss, March 17, Vivenot, i, pp. 422 ff.


to induce Prussia to explain her views clearly and, perhaps, to
come forward with her own proposals. 1 And even the faintest
hope that the Court of Berlin would accept Spielmann's plan must
have been dispelled by the orders which reached Bischoffwerder
just before the courier left Vienna. Without waiting to get the
plan into his hands, Frederick William had decisively, irrevocably
rejected it.

On March 11 the King had received a report from Bischoff-
werder containing the news that Spielmann was working out a
project, the chief features of which were the advocacy of the
Saxon-Polish personal union and certain limitations on the mili-
tary forces of the Republic. That sufficed not only to make
Frederick William reject the scheme in advance, but even to
arouse in his mind suspicions as to the secret aims of Austria. A
rescript to Bischoffwerder was at once drawn up declaring that
the plan appeared infinitely dangerous, since nothing in the
world would be more contrary to the major interests of Prussia
than the proposed Saxon-Polish union; the King could never
acquiesce in it under any conditions whatsoever. 2

Immediately afterward came Goltz's report of February 29,
with the long awaited overtures from Russia. It did not require
the unpleasant plan brought forward by Austria to make the
King accede with joy to the Empress' proposals. In spite of

1 Jacobi's dispatch of March 18, B. A., R. 1, Conv. 169.

2 Rescript of March 13 :

" Rien au monde ne scauroit [sic] etre plus contraire aux interests [sic] majeurs
de mes Etats et de leurs Souverains futurs, que l'existence d'une Puissance telle
qu'on la formeroit par la reunion permanente de la Pologne a la Saxe, qui parta-
geant pour ainsi dire en deux le Corps de la Monarchie Prussienne, et s'elevant
peutetre de plus en plus par Pinfluence de sa position locale et de son nouveau
Gouvernement, seroit sans contredit le voisin le plus redoutable de mes etats.
Ajoutes a cela que la Pologne avec sept million [sic] d'habitants, reunie a la Saxe
qui en a deux, produiroient [sic] une masse de population de neuf millions, et
qu'une Puissance de cette force dans la position geographique ou elle se trouve,
exposeroit aux plus grands dangers, soit la Prusse . . . soit mes Etats de Silesie.
. . . En vain allegueroit-on les conditions et restrictions, auxquelles on preten-
droit assujettir les Polonois, pour leurs troupes et leur commerce. Quelles qu'elles
fussent, il me semble impossible que Ton puisse veiller avec asses de soin a leur
observation exacte. . . . En un mot, je ne puis, et ne pourrois dans aucun cas
acquiescer a un plan de cette nature. . . ."

B. A., R. 1, Conv. 172.


much that has been said, the documents at hand afford no traces
of any conflict at this moment in Frederick William's breast
between the desire for aggrandizement on the one hand, and a
sense of loyalty to his engagements with the Republic or regard
for Austria on the other. His decision was made in a moment;
and it was, as a great historian has declared, the death-sentence of
Poland. Immediately upon receiving Goltz's dispatch, without
waiting to consult his ministers, the King wrote to Schulenburg
that Russia was, apparently, not far removed from thinking of a
new partition, which would certainly be the surest means of
setting " just limits " to the power of a king of Poland, whether
elective or hereditary; it might be difficult to find a satisfactory
indemnity for the Court of Vienna, but if one could be found, the
" Russian project " would be the most advantageous and desir-
able for Prussia. The most suitable frontier for the acquisitions
which he himself might make, would be the left bank of the Vis-
tula. Schulenburg, it is needless to say, was full of admiration
for ' the luminous manner in which His Majesty judged the
affairs of Poland.' *

The Prussians were clear as to the goal they wished to attain,
but it was not so easy to lead up to it. They had absolutely no
certainty that the Empress was inclined to a partition, since that
conjecture rested only on Goltz's surmises and on the possibly
apocryphal note to Zubov reported by the envoy in February.

1 Frederick William's note of March 12, Schulenburg's reply of the same date.

The King wrote: " Par la derniere depeche du Ct. de Goltz de Russie il paroit
que les vues de l'lmperatrice concernant les afaires de Pologne sont fort diferente
de ce que le Ct. Rosomowski supose . . . et que la Cour de Russie ne seroit peut
etre pas eloignee de penser a un nouveau partage de la Pologne, ce qui seroit cer-
tainement le moien le plus sur pour mettre de juste borne au pouvoir dun Roi de
Pologne, fut il electif ou hereditaire; mais come un projet pareille renforceroit
singulierement la position des Russes de cotS d'Oczakow je doute que Ton put
trouver une indemnisation pour la Cour de Vienne dont celle-ci voudroit se con-
tenter. ... Si Ion pouvoit trouver une compensation pour l'Autriche dont elle
fut satisfaite le projet Russe seroit le plus favorable pour la Prusse et le plus a
desirer bien entendu quelle feroit alors lacquisition de la rive gauche de la Vistulc,
et que cette longue lisiere de frontiere actuellement aussi dificile a defendre se
trouveroit alors bien couverte. Tel est mon jugement sur les afaires de Pologne."
B. A., R. XI, Russland, 133.

(I have tried to reproduce the spelling and punctuation of the original.)

See also Appendix XI.


They were not minded to propose a partition themselves, for they
recognized that there was a great difference between making and
accepting such propositions. They still had too much regard for
Austria and too little confidence in Russia to throw themselves
unreservedly into the arms of the Court of Petersburg. Hence
the reply delivered to Alopeus on March 13 was friendly but
cautious. It stated merely that the King would gladly enter into
the concert on Polish affairs proposed by the Empress, and, con-
fident of her approval, was inviting his ally, the King of Hungary,
to accede to it as well; that he was ready to come to an under-
standing with her at once as to the policy to be adopted towards
Poland, and the means to be employed; but that it was highly
important for him to know her views more in detail. 1

Having thus gone as far as they dared, the Prussians longingly
awaited further communications from the Empress, in the hope
that she would presently come forward and offer them Great
Poland. It was a bad miscalculation. St. Petersburg once more
relapsed into heavy silence. Goltz was put off with demonstra-
tions of friendship and the excuse that no further explanations
could be given until an answer had been received from Vienna. 2
On their side, the Prussians lost no opportunity to parade their
friendship for the Empress and to offer her occasions for new
overtures. Schulenburg declaimed to Alopeus of the common
interests of the two Powers in Poland, and the necessity of head-
ing off the strange predilection of Austria for the Saxon-Polish
union. If Russia and Prussia, he kept repeating, were once
agreed on a program, the Court of Vienna would have to
acquiesce. The seat of the concert on Polish affairs, he suggested,
might best be fixed at Berlin, as that city was midway between
the other two capitals. 3 But such bits of finesse proved quite
fruitless. Reports began to flow in that the Russian armies were
about to enter Poland. The Prussian ministry were keenly dis-
quieted. Still they continued obstinately to maintain — as if in

1 Alopeus' report of March 3/14, with the accompanying Prussian insinu-
ation verbale, M. A., Ilpyccia, III, 29.

2 Goltz's report of March 27, B. A., R. XI, Russland, 133.

3 Alopeus to Ostermann, March 9/20 and 19/30, to Bezborodko, April 8/19,
M. A., Hpyccia, III, 29.


a desperate effort to convince themselves of it — that the Em-
press, after once proposing a concert, would not disavow her own
words by undertaking to settle Polish affairs single-handed.
And thus the Prussians remained, standing with folded hands
and eyes fixed on St. Petersburg, looking for a new dispensation
of Imperial grace, waiting for ' the concert,' down to the moment
when Catherine was ready to pour her troops into the Republic.


Austrian policy meantime was taking a new direction. Within
four days after those first disturbing tidings from St. Petersburg
there came the news that Frederick William had vetoed Spiel-
mann's Polish plan and had given a favorable answer to the pro-
posals of Russia. 1 Among the chagrins occasioned by these
successive blows, not the least was the suspicion that there was
something behind this ready adhesion of the Court of Berlin to
the Empress' wishes, that perhaps Austria's two allies had already
come to a secret agreement between themselves. The conviction
had long existed at Vienna that if the King of Prussia acquiesced
in Catherine's designs on Poland, it would be only on condition
that he himself might realize his territorial ambitions in that
quarter. 2 But if such was his aim, was it possible to oppose it at a
moment when his cooperation was imperatively necessary in view
of the dangerous trend of French affairs ? Leopold's Polish
system had collapsed ; a return to Joseph's was wellnigh out of the
question, owing to the changed relations between Austria and the
other Powers ; and the idea was exceedingly obvious that the best
way out of the hopelessly confused situation would be to allow
Prussia the long-sought acquisitions in Poland, providing Austria
could secure a corresponding aggrandizement. That in such a
case Austria could not find it profitable to take her share of the
spoils in Poland, was recognized from the outset both at Vienna

1 March 14-18.

2 E. g., the dispatch to Reuss of January 25. This suspicion turns up again in
Kaunitz's dispatch to Landriani of March 25, in Jacobi's report of March 21, and

Online LibraryRobert Howard LordThe second partition of Poland; a study in diplomatic history → online text (page 27 of 59)