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

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the Empress.

II. The Russian Treaty. — Character of the Grodno Diet. Venality
and hypocrisy of the majority. The ' Zealots.' Turbulent scenes and
measures of coercion. Polish attempt to separate Russia from Prussia.
The treaty with Russia passed under constraint.

III. The Prussian Treaty. — Animosity of the Poles and duplicity of
the Empress towards Prussia. A dilatory negotiation. Tortures of a
Prussian envoy. The journee of September 2nd. Vigorous resolutions at
Berlin and change in Sievers' conduct. The ' Dumb Session ' of Sep-
tember 23. Conclusion of the treaty.

TV. Final Labors of the Diet. — The alliance with Russia. The
new constitution. Virtual incorporation of the remains of Poland with
Russia. A new storm gathering.

Conclusion 484

I. With Regard to Poland. — Decisive importance of the Second
Partition. Judgments as to the expediency of the attempt for national
independence made by the Four Years' Diet. The problem of 1788.
The effort made in the next three years on the whole creditable. The
reverse side of the picture. Judgments on the Polish effort of 1792.
Adverse extraneous conditions. Material success or failure not the
sole standard: the moral value of the work done at that time.

II. With Regard to Prussia. — Prussian policy constantly one of
territorial aggrandizement. Its motives. Apologies for Prussia's con-
duct towards Poland. Sybel's theses. " Eine That gerechter Notwehr."
Disastrous results of the Partition for Prussia.

III. With Regard to Russia. — Catherine not averse to the policy
of partition, as is generally assumed. The political unification of the
Russian race not the determining motive of her policy. Material and
moral gains and losses resulting to Russia from the Partition.

IV. Broader Aspects of the Partition. — Inefficacy of the efforts
made by England, France, and Austria on behalf of Poland. General
character of international politics in the eighteenth century. What was
new in the dismemberments of Poland. The Second Partition the
classic example of the moral bankruptcy of the Old Regime.



I. The Russian Declaration to Austria of May 10/21,
1788, Guaranteeing the Integrity of Poland . . 509

II. On Catherine's Attitude towards the Project of
a Russo-Polish Alliance 510

III. On Potemkin's Secret Plans 512

D7. On the Change in Prussian Policy in the Summer

of 1789 5 X 6

V. OSTERMANN TO ALOPEUS, MARCH 14/25, 179I .... 519

VI. Notes on Chapter DC 521

I. On the Origin of Bischoffwerder's Second Mission to

II. On the Vienna Convention of July 25, 1791.

III. On Bischoffwerder's Attitude towards an Intervention
in France.

VII. On the Austrian Attitude towards the Plan for

the Permanent Union of Saxony and Poland . . 524

VIII. On the Note from Catherine to Zubov Reported

by Goltz, February 3, 1792 525

LX. Felix Potocki to Potemkin, May 14, 1 791 .... 527

X. Bezborodko to the Empress, January 25/February

5> i79 2 528

XI. On Frederick William's Attitude towards the

Proposals of Austria and Russia in March, 1792 . 530

XII. Documents Illustrating the Origins of the Polish-
Bavarian Project 531

XIII. Documents Illustrating the Earliest Discussions
between Russia and Prussia regarding a New
Partition 534

XD7. On Razumovski's Conversations with Cobenzl of
June 30 and July i, 1792, regarding the Polish-
Bavarian Plan 537

XV. On the Date of Spielmann's Plan Discussed on

Pages 351-352 540


XVI. Documents Illustrating Haugwitz's Final Negoti-
ation at Vienna 546

XVII. Notes of the Empress Belonging to the Papers of
the Secret Conferences of October 29/NovEMBER
9 and November 4/15, 1792 551

XVIII. Rescripts of Catherine II to Sievers with Regard

to the Negotiations at the Diet of Grodno . . . 552







Since the second half of the seventeenth century Eastern
Europe has presented two great international problems of equal
interest and equal importance, the Turkish and the Polish Ques-
tions. The character and history of the former are familiar to
scholars and, indeed, to the general public; but the latter is still,
in large part, an unexplored field.

The Polish Question has passed through two very different
phases. In the earlier one it resembled the Turkish (or Eastern)
Question in not a few respects. In both cases the problem was
that of maintaining the existence and integrity of a vast but
decrepit state, paralyzed by chronic misgovernment, military
inefficiency, racial and religious antagonisms, intellectual stagna-
tion, and economic decline. In both cases the neighboring Powers
were constantly tempted to interfere and aggrandize themselves,
while religious oppression, the duty of restoring ' order,' and the
need of preserving the ' balance of power ' served as ever ready
pretexts for aggression. In both cases the chief safeguard of the
menaced state was the mutual jealousy of the great Powers.
For various reasons the catastrophe which threatened both
Turkey and Poland overtook the latter country first. By the
Partitions of 1772, 1793, and 1795 the Polish state was anni-
hilated. That drastic attempt at a solution did not end the
Polish Question, but it altered its character completely. Thence-
forth the problem was that of a conquered and dismembered
people attempting to regain its liberty and unity in the face of the
three strongest monarchies of Eastern Europe. In this form
the Polish Question has been the most difficult and perplexing


of the ' national ' problems with which the past century has had
to deal.

Of the historical importance of the Polish Question numerous
illustrations may be given.

No other event in modern times has produced such extensive
lasting changes in the map of Europe as did the dismemberment
of the Polish Republic, a state which had been the third in size on
the Continent, and whose area very considerably surpassed that
of France or Germany today. As a result of the Partitions,
Russia, previously so remote, and, as long as a strong Poland
existed, so largely cut off from communications with the West,
extended her frontiers deep into Central Europe, to within two
hundred miles of Berlin and Vienna. The territories which she
acquired from Poland now support a population almost as large
as that of France. 1 They form, indeed, about one-eighth of the
area, and they contain nearly one-third of the total population, of
European Russia. Through the appropriation of Polish lands the
Hohenzollerns were first enabled to unite and round out their
scattered possessions into a compact and defensible realm ; and if
these acquisitions were, as is often maintained, indispensable to
the consolidation of Prussia, then the dismemberment of Poland
and the unification of Germany appear to stand in very close

The Polish Question has played a large role in modern diplo-
matic history. It is well known that the quarrels over the dis-
tribution of spoils in Poland lamed and then disrupted the First
Coalition against revolutionary France; that the spectre of a
revived Poland chilled the friendship of Tilsit and hastened the
great breach of 1812; that the Polish-Saxon question came near
to breaking up the Congress of Vienna, and plunging Europe into
a new general war; and that the Polish insurrection of 1830
facilitated the triumph of the revolutions of that year in the West,
just as the final struggles of the old Republic contributed to the

1 I am referring here to the lands acquired by all four of the partitions of Poland
(1772, 1793, 1795, 1815). The present Kingdom of Poland and the ten governments
of Western Russia which formerly belonged to the old Polish Republic contained on
January 1, 191 2, according to the estimates of the Russian Central Statistical Com-
mittee, a population of 38,963,000.


victory of France in her first revolution. For a century the
Polish Question had an important effect in determining the
grouping of the Powers, estranging France and Russia, and bind-
ing together Berlin and St. Petersburg through a common interest
and a common anxiety. It was by his ineffectual intervention in
favor of the Poles in 1863 that Napoleon III completely alienated
Russian sympathies, while by his clever complacency towards
Russia on that occasion Bismarck secured the benevolent neu-
trality and moral support of Alexander II during the critical
decade when German unity was made. Even down to very recent
years, in spite of the new alignment of the Powers, Poland served
to ' keep the wire open ' between Berlin and St. Petersburg, while
Austria's occasional flirtations with the Poles have furnished one
more cause of antagonism between the Dual Monarchy and Russia.

Each of the two states which profited most by the Partitions
has acquired an internal problem of the most embarrassing kind.
First came the period of insurrections (1830, 1848, 1863), when
Poland, like Italy and the Balkan Peninsula, formed one of the
permanent danger-zones of Europe. In more recent years the
Poles have indeed renounced the method of armed uprisings; but
they have maintained and powerfully developed the conscious-
ness of their national unity, their traditions, their strength; they
have tenaciously resisted every effort to destroy their national
individuality; and they have been struggling hard to gain some
recognition of their national rights in each of the empires among
which they are divided.

That policy of colonization, expropriation, and persecution,
which the Prussian government has been conducting against the
Poles for thirty years, has hitherto failed not only to Germanize
the Polish districts, but even to prevent the Poles from peacefully
conquering new territory, for instance, in East Prussia and Silesia.
Prussia is faced by the danger of seeing her eastern provinces
slowly but surely Polonized and lost to German nationality.
Prince von Biilow has declared that the Polish problem is one of
the gravest of those confronting Prussia, and one upon which the
future of the Empire and the whole German nation depends. 1

1 Cf. Biilow, Imperial Germany, pp. 325 f.


The Russians have also met with such difficulties in their
' Kingdom of Poland ' that they have several times considered
abandoning it to Prussia. 1 The forty years of quiet after 1864
did indeed raise hopes that the spirit of the obstinate nation was
broken, but that was only because the nation had no normal and
effective means of manifesting its feelings. Since the Revolution
of 1905-06 has partially removed the obstacles to political dis-
cussion and the expression of popular opinion, it has become clear
that the policy of Russification has broken down completely and
that the Poles are more united and determined than ever in the
demand for national autonomy.

At the present moment, a war which has turned Poland into a
second Belgium has once more drawn the horrified attention of
the world to this unhappy country. The belligerents on both
sides have attempted to win Polish support by far-reaching
promises for the future. Whatever the outcome of the struggle
may be, is it too much to hope that this time Poland will not have
suffered in vain; that this time the rights of a nation, which is
after all the sixth or seventh largest in Europe and which has so
many claims upon the respect, the sympathy, and the justice of
the world, will not go unrecognized; that this time the Polish
Question, which has tortured the conscience of Europe for over a
century, will finally be set at rest ?


The Polish Question owes its origin to the desperate and well-
nigh irremediable decadence which overtook the Polish Republic
about the middle of the seventeenth century, and, continuing
unchecked for a hundred years, brought the country to the verge
of ruin. The causes of this decline and of the ensuing catas-
trophe have been discussed by numerous historians and publicists
with intense interest, although generally with too little knowl-
edge and too great national or party bias. 2 A final explanation

1 Poschinger, Also sprach Bismarck, i, pp. 74 f.; Dmowski, La Question polonaise,

PP- 55 f-

2 A very useful survey of the literature on the downfall of Poland is to be found
in Professor Kareev's book, Ha^eme IIojBinH bt, HCTopniecKofi JlHTepaTypt.


has not been given, nor can it be given in the present state of

It seems clear, however, that the decline of Poland is to be
traced primarily to political causes, to the defects of a wretched
system of government. Whatever other cause of weakness one
may discover, for instance, the lack of a strong middle class, the
oppression of the peasantry, religious intolerance, racial antip-
athies, intellectual or moral retrogression — these are all of but
secondary importance. These evils, or equally grave ones, could
be met with in other European states of the old regime, and yet
no other great state atoned for them by the loss of its existence.
For everywhere else there was a government strong enough to
curb or diminish the destructive tendencies and to produce or
assist invigorating ones. Poland alone had no such correcting or
ameliorating force. Poland had no effective government what-
ever. The nation lived in an anarchy thinly concealed under the
forms of an elaborate republican constitution. It is in the un-
fortunate historic evolution of that constitution that the explana-
tion of the decline of Poland is to be sought. 1

The constitution of the Republic in its later years was so nearly
unique in Europe that there was — and still is — a widespread
tendency to regard it as something quite sui generis, as an entirely
original creation of a misguided and fantastic people. In reality
it was only an exaggerated and one-sided development of a type
of political organization once almost universal on the Continent,
of what the Germans call the monarchisch-standische Staat or the
Standestaat. Nearly all the supposed peculiarities of the Polish
constitution can be traced to principles and tendencies inherent
in the Standestaat: almost all of them find analogies in other
countries in the same stage of development. Even the Liberum
Veto, which is often held up as the most unique and most mon-
strous institution of Old Poland, to be explained only from a
national lack of political common sense, or else from a survival of
primitive Slavic anarchism — even the Liberum Veto was merely
a logical extension of the idea pervading mediaeval parliament-
arism, that the vote of a majority cannot bind a minority. In

1 Cf. Bobrzynski, Dzieje Polski, ii, pp. 353 ff.


the Aragonese Cortes, for example, a valid decision required the
assent of all four brazos (orders) and of every member of every
brazo. 1 In Catalonia a single nobleman by uttering the words
' Yo dissent ' could stop the proceedings of the Cortes, 2 much as
the Polish deputies did with their famous ' Nie Pozwalam.' 3
But when all the parallels have been drawn — and they are very
numerous — the fact remains that the Standestaat produced in
Poland very different results from those that it brought forth in
most other countries.

The main difference is briefly this: that in Poland the struggles
of the Standestaat period resulted in the victory, not of the
Crown over the Estates (as in most other lands), nor of the
Estates collectively over the Crown, but of a single class over
the Crown and the other classes alike; this triumphant class then
failed to organize its power in such a manner as to give the
country an effective government; and finally the ruling class — -
the szlachta 4 — maintained its monopoly of power far too long.
A one-sided constitutional development, the failure to create a
new political mechanism adapted to the new distribution of
power in the state, and then prolonged anarchy and stagnation —
these seem to be the essential causes of the decline of Poland.

The szlachta, the military land-owning class, began to play a
political role only in the latter part of the fourteenth century, but
thereafter its progress was surprisingly rapid, its triumph only
too sudden and complete. Three circumstances especially con-
tributed to its victory over the Crown: these were, the extinction
of the ancient dynasty of the Piasts (1370), and the uncertainty
as to the succession under the next few kings, which led (by 1434
at the latest) to the recognition of the principle that the Crown
was elective; the weakness of character shown by most of the
Polish monarchs after the time of Casimir the Great; and finally,
the extraordinary military and financial needs of the Crown,
resulting from the Hundred Years' War with the Teutonic Order,

1 Marichalar and Manrique, Hlstoria de la Legislation y Recitationes del Derecho
civil de Espaiia, vi, p. 217.

2 Pella y Forgas, Llibertats y antich Govern de Catalunya, p. 146.

3 The words mean ' I forbid.'
i The gentry.


the struggles against the Muscovites and Tartars, and the
efforts of the Polish kings to establish their dynasty on the
thrones of Bohemia and Hungary. ' The attempt to play the part
of a great power of the modern type with only the resources of
a mediaeval feudal state ' l inevitably brought to the front the
class on which the maintenance of the new position and the suc-
cess of the new policy of expansion primarily depended. The
szlachta knew how to improve the opportunity to the utmost.
The cornerstone of their power was laid by the Privilege of
Kaschau (1374), by which King Louis of Anjou, in order to
assure his daughter's succession to the throne, granted the
szlachta exemption from all taxes (with one rather insignificant
exception) and from all duties to the state except unpaid military
service. After that, one privilege followed fast upon another.
In 1454 Casimir IV was obliged to grant the Statutes of Nieszawa,
the Magna Charta of the Polish nobility, by which he promised
not to make new laws or to order the pospolite ruszenie (the
general rising of the nation in arms) without the consent of the
szlachta. The gentry were thus for the first time legally admitted
to a share in legislation, and as they were also free from any mili-
tary or financial burdens, save those they might voluntarily lay
upon themselves, their position in the state was commanding.

These far-reaching concessions required the creation of an
organ through which the szlachta might regularly exercise their
new functions. That need was met by the Diet, which, slowly
taking form in the latter half of the fifteenth century, received its
definitive organization and legal sanction through the Statute
Nihil Novi in 1505.

Set over against this vigorous new institution, the Crown
steadily lost both prerogatives and prestige, although it retained
a considerable measure of independence as long as the Jagellonian
dynasty survived. But with the extinction of that family in 1572,
the foundations of Polish royalty crumbled. The nine months'
interregnum that followed saw a change of really revolutionary

1 The phrase belongs to Dr. Hotzsch, who has a very suggestive article, " Staat-
enbildung und Verfassungsentwicklung in der Geschichte des germanisch-slavischen
Ostens," in the Zcitschrift jiir osteuropaische Geschichte, i (ion), pp. 363-412.


character. The theory at once spread that, now that the old
dynasty had disappeared, the szlachta no longer had any master
over them and the supreme power had lapsed into their hands.
Hence they hastened to take possession of the state, acting by
means of armed provincial associations or ' Confederations,'
which, replacing the royal courts and officials, undertook to pro-
vide for the unity and security of the country and for the estab-
lishment of a new government. It was true that the szlachta did
proceed to the election of another king; but the theory of election
had now changed utterly. While the Jagellonian dynasty lasted,
the practice of election meant hardly more than the designation
of the natural successor by birth and an act of submission to him;
the nation had little real freedom of choice, and the Jagellonian
princes retained most of the prestige of hereditary monarchs.
But from 1572-73 onward, it was understood that the szlachta
were quite free to choose whom they would, and that the prince
whom they chose was only their delegate, entrusted by them with
a rigidly limited portion of authority, which might be revoked in
case he overstepped his mandate. The szlachta had thus anointed
themselves with the majesty that had once pertained to the
Crown, and henceforth it became their chief concern to see that
the sovereignty did not slip away from them. The state had
become in fact, as well as in name, a republic. 1

After this revolution, save for rare instances, the king of
Poland was merely the ' painted monarch,' the crowned figure-
head, whose impotence could be compared only with that of the
conventional doge of Venice. Surrounded by pomp and circum-
stance, he was yet without any of those effective powers which
even in modern constitutional states remain to the monarch.
The chief prerogative left to him was the right of appointing to
innumerable offices, civil and ecclesiastical; but as appointments
were made for life, and the king possessed no means of control
over officials once appointed, this prerogative was of little avail.
Indeed, it is probable that the jealousies, disappointments, and
resentments provoked by the use of the royal patronage quite

1 On the capital importance and the results of the interregnum of 1572-73,
cf. Pawinski, Rzqdy sejmikowe, i, pp. 28 ff.; KapteBi, IIojn.CK.ifi Ceuiii, pp. 45 ff.


outweighed any profit that the Crown may have drawn from it.
Certainly nothing contributed more to the suspicion that haunted
the szlachta in the last centuries of Old Poland, than the fear that
the kings were corrupting the nation and endangering liberty
by their insidious and unscrupulous use of the appointing power;
nothing did more to keep alive that sleepless and ineradicable
distrust of the Crown, which proved so formidable an obstacle
to every attempt to restore some strength to the executive.

A long series of Polish historians, from Naruszewicz down to
Bobrzynski, have deplored the abasement of the royal power as
the primary cause of the decline of Poland. It has often been said
that so vast, so exposed, and so heterogeneous a realm as this
could survive only under a strong monarchy; that Poland needed
to go through the wholesome discipline of enlightened despotism
like the western nations; that Poland fell because she tried to
omit a stage in her evolution. But the more recent historiography
tends toward a quite different view. It is urged that Poland
might have attained the results that western nations secured
through absolutism, by other methods, through the admission
of all classes of society to a fair share in the government of
the Republic. More serious, more decisive than the victory of the
szlachta over the Crown, was the victory of the szlachta over the
non-noble classes. These elements, unfortunately, showed them-
selves incapable of furnishing support to the falling kingship, or
of forcing the szlachta to share with them the power wrested from
the Crown, or even of defending their own political and economic
existence against the attacks of the nobility. If the Polish state
fell completely under the control of a single class, with the most
disastrous results, it was not so much because in Poland the kings
were weaker and the nobility more aggressive than elsewhere, as
because the lower classes, and especially the bourgeoisie, ex-
hibited a weakness unparalleled in any- western country. 1

In the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries an admirable
equilibrium existed between the various classes in Poland. Each
class enjoyed a fair measure of rights and privileges, and no class
was able to encroach seriously upon the others. This equilibrium

1 Cf. Kutrzeba, Historya ustroju Polski, pp. 87 f., 1O2 ff.


was broken down, however, in the later fifteenth and sixteenth
centuries, when the szlachta established their complete political
and economic preponderance over townsmen and peasantry alike.

As against the peasantry, the szlachta were impelled by the
same imperious economic needs that were about the same period

Online LibraryRobert Howard LordThe second partition of Poland; a study in diplomatic history → online text (page 3 of 59)