Robert Howard Lord.

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

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ests of order, stability and the general tranquillity of Europe.
Both were integral parts of a great common work; although for
the sake of an equitable division of labor, the intervention in the
West was entrusted to Austria and Prussia alone, while that in the
East was reserved for Catherine. Once this insidious theory was
established, the deduction was obvious. Pooling the stakes, the
three Powers would soon be pooling the profits. What was in-
vested in one quarter could be recouped in the other. Such a
combination had already been clearly foreshadowed in the dis-



cussions between the diplomats at Vienna in March, at a time
when both the French and the Polish enterprises were still only-
uncertain contingencies of the future. By May both had become
realities. It remained only to see whether the two joint ventures
would yield results capable of leading up to a gigantic and mu-
tually satisfactory distribution of dividends.


The Russian Reconquest of Poland

Catherine's abrupt attack caught the Poles in a state of terrible
unreadiness. Down to the eleventh hour they had refused to
believe that there was any serious danger. This disastrous
optimism was due in part to the Prussian alliance, which, in spite
of the unmistakable coldness of Berlin, still seemed to afford a
guarantee against a direct aggression from without; in part, it
was based upon the friendly attitude of Austria, upon the engage-
ments which the two German Powers were thought to have con-
tracted to defend the independence and the free constitution of
the Republic, and upon the hopes aroused by Landriani of a
quadruple alliance about to be erected as a barrier against Russia.
Hence, although Catherine's opposition to the new constitution
grew more and more evident, although since the autumn there
had been reports of suspicious movements of her troops along the
frontier, although the visit of the malcontents to Jassy was known
at Warsaw and its purpose could easily be divined, nevertheless
for many months the Poles continued to flatter themselves that
the Empress would not venture upon open hostilities.

Confidence was increased by the quiet, unity, and harmony
that reigned throughout the country. Patriotic ardor, the enthu-
siasm for reforms, the progress of enlightened political and social
ideas — in short, the hope and promise of a brighter future — had
never seemed so great as during the year that followed the
inauguration of the new constitution. When at the Dietines,
held in February, 1792, for the first time since the revolution the
szlachta had the opportunity to express their full opinion about
what had occurred, the result was a signal triumph for the reform-
ing party. All the provincial assemblies swore loyalty to the
constitution, and appointed delegates to thank the King and



the Estates. The Diet meanwhile busied itself with completing the
reorganization of the government, with questions of finance, the
judiciary, a new law-code, the municipalities, religion, Courland
— in fact, with all sorts of questions except the most important
of all, the military one.

The awakening from this fancied security began towards the
close of March, when reports arrived from St. Petersburg and
Vienna revealing Catherine's aggressive plans and the communi-
cations she had made to Austria. In the next few weeks the news
grew steadily more and more alarming. It could no longer be
doubted that the Empress meant to attack. Warsaw trembled
with excitement, but not with consternation. In the streets, the
salons, the clubs there was but one voice: resistance to the last,
100,000 troops to the front, the rising of the whole nation in arms,
if need be. Better a new partition, said the Marshal Potocki, than
the abandonment of the constitution. 1 On April 16 and 21 the
Diet in secret session decided upon the measures necessary to put
the country in a state of defence. The army was to be raised at
once to 100,000 men. The King was authorized to engage ex-
perienced generals, artillery officers, and engineers from abroad,
to negotiate a loan for 30,000,000 florins, and to employ 9,000,000
florins then in the treasury for military preparations. These
measures were to be communicated to the friendly Powers,
especially to the Courts of Berlin, Vienna, and Dresden, along
with a declaration that the Republic was determined to defend
itself in case of foreign invasion. 2 Energetic and worthy of the
moment these decisions were; but they represented a desperate
and belated attempt to effect what ought to have been done three
years earlier.

In spite of the suddenly darkened horizon, on the 3rd of May
the anniversary of the revolution was celebrated with elaborate
and splendid fetes. " Warsaw was never more thronged or more
brilliant," wrote a contemporary: " that was the last day of
Pompeii, dancing over a volcano." 3 Two weeks later (the 18th),

1 Kraszewski, Polska w czasie trzech rozbiordw, iii, pp. 124 f.

2 Smolenski, Ostatni rok sejmu wielkiego, pp. 348-354.

3 Kraszewski, op. cit., iii, p. 127.


Bulgakov presented his declaration, confirming the worst that had
been anticipated.

At the next session of the Diet (the 21st), before densely packed
galleries, the Russian note was read. Deep silence greeted it; but
at the passage which announced that the Empress was sending her
troops into the country in order to restore the liberties of the
Polish nation, there were groans and laughter. The King spoke
with his usual eloquence. He exhorted his people to manly
courage and determination, pledging his own best efforts and
enumerating the available means of defence. He referred to the
Empress in flattering terms, expressing the hope that when better
informed, she would decide not to proceed to extremities. He
spoke with confidence of the aid to be expected from the King of
Prussia, the ally with whose knowledge and approval all the most
important acts of the present Diet had been effected. He advised
soliciting the good offices of Austria and Saxony; and ' if any
other means could be found for settling the issue rather with the
pen than with the sword, assuredly none ought to be disdained,
none ought to be neglected.' And he ended with the brave
declaration: " Believe me, if there be need for sacrificing my own
life, assuredly I shall not spare it." x It was a moving, an in-
spiring speech; but behind the phrase " rather with the pen than
with the sword," lurked an intimation of where the King's
thoughts really lay.

In the following week the final resolutions of the Diet were
taken. Stanislas Augustus was appointed commander-in-chief of
all the armed forces of the Republic. Save for the right of con-
cluding peace, reserved to the Diet, he was virtually invested
with a military dictatorship — a thing unparalleled in Polish
history. War taxes were voted; arrangements were made for
enlisting regiments of volunteers; and the government was
authorized, in case of need, to decree a national levee en masse.
Finally the Assembly sanctioned a counter-declaration to Russia,
which was, unfortunately, too conciliatory and apologetic to be
quite effective; a bold and spirited proclamation to the army;
and an address of the King and the Estates to the nation. 2 These

1 Smolenski, op. cit., pp. 398 ff. 2 Smolenski, op. cit., pp. 408-413.



were the last acts of the Four Years' Diet. Not wishing to
hamper the activity of the executive power by continuing its
deliberations, on May 29 the assembly adjourned. It had done
all that was possible for it to do at that late hour to provide for
the needs of the crisis. The rest depended on the King, to whom
the whole direction and the whole responsibility for the national
defence had been entrusted.


If the struggle were not to be utterly unequal, Poland impera-
tively needed to secure aid from outside. Naturally she turned
first of all to the allied Court of Berlin, to whose assistance she
had every right that solemn engagements could give. By the
treaty of 1790, the continued validity of which was unquestioned,
Frederick William had pledged himself to render military aid ' in
case any foreign Power, by virtue of any previous acts or stipula-
tions . . . should seek to assert the right to interfere in the inter-
nal affairs of the Republic.' No stipulation could more exactly
have fitted the situation of 1792. Nevertheless, for many months
past the Prussian government had maintained an attitude so cold
and forbidding as almost to preclude all hope of its assistance.
When the Diet's first resolution to resist a Russian invasion was
communicated to Berlin, Lucchesini replied with a stiff note to
the effect that his master could not take cognizance of these
decisions, since they related to matters utterly foreign to him.
Orally the envoy added that as the King of Prussia had had no
share in the revolution of the Third of May, he did not consider
himself bound to render assistance, in case the Patriotic party
wished to defend its work by force of arms. 1

Ominous as was this reply, it was long before the Poles could
convince themselves that the Court of Berlin would be as bad as
its word. Of the hostility of the Prussian ministry there could
be no doubt; but the world had often been taught that the policy
of that ministry did not always coincide with that of its master;
and it was reported from many sources that such was the case at

1 Note of May 4, Lucchesini's report of the 5th, B. A., R. 9, 27.


present. 1 At any rate, faint as was the hope, no resource should
be left untried. Hence, immediately after the Russian declaration
the Polish government formally demanded that Prussia should
recognize the casus foederis, and furnish the aid provided for in
the treaty of alliance. And, as the value of ministerial notes was
sufficiently known, it was decided to send a special envoy to
Berlin to approach Frederick William personally, to make a
supreme appeal to his loyalty and sense of honor, and at least to
find out definitely whether he would do anything whatever on
behalf of Poland. The painful mission was entrusted to the
Marshal Potocki, who had been the author and the foremost
supporter of the Prussian alliance.

No visitor could have been more unwelcome at Berlin, and no
demands more embarrassing. Frederick William had no time or
inclination to consider his engagements with the Republic, for he
was already immersed in a negotiation for dismembering that
allied state. Potocki was, indeed, favored with two audiences
with the King and a conference with Schulenburg; but Frederick
William merely stammered out a few platitudes and hastened to
make his escape, while his minister took refuge behind such
flimsy pretexts as: that the Poles themselves had provoked hos-
tilities by their warlike resolutions of April; that the indepen-
dence and integrity of the Republic were not endangered by the
Russian invasion, and therefore there was no occasion for Prussia
to intervene; or that the alliance had been concluded with a
republic, Poland was now a monarchy, and therefore the treaty no
longer held. Potocki soon had to recognize that there was abso-
lutely no hope. Frederick William's last word was contained in
his reply to Stanislas Augustus, in which he flatly refused to
render aid, on the ground that the Constitution of the Third of
May, which was subsequent to the alliance treaty, had so altered
the situation that his engagements were in no way applicable to
the present circumstances. 2 That meant definitely that in the
moment of Poland's supreme need her ally had left her in the

1 Details as to these reports in Askenazy, op. cit., pp. 175, 233.

2 The text of this letter (of June 8) is printed in part in Askenazy, op. cit., p. 246.
Potocki's detailed account of his audiences with the King and his discussions with
Schulenburg, ibid., pp. 237-253.


lurch. Such conduct can be characterized only as a flagrant
breach of faith, an act of treachery with few parallels in history.

At Dresden and Vienna the efforts of the Poles were equally
fruitless. The Elector would give only vague promises of his good
offices; and Austria, while secretly expressing her sympathy,
alleged that in the existing situation it was utterly impossible for
her to do anything effective in behalf of the Republic. The
mission of Prince Czartoryski to Vienna, which was the counter-
part of Potocki's to Berlin, proved no more successful. 1 By the
middle of June it was evident that no aid whatever was to be
expected from any neighboring Power. Poland was thrown
entirely upon her own resources.

Those resources were meagre enough. Although the size of the
army had been trebled since the beginning of the Four Years'
Diet, at the outbreak of the war it amounted to only 57,000 men;
and deducting the reserves and the garrisons of various fortresses,
there were barely 45,000 men available for field-service. 2 These
troops, moreover, were but recently organized, imperfectly
trained, and utterly inexperienced; they were inadequately
equipped with arms, ammunition, and uniforms; and the com-
missariat and the field-hospital service left much to be desired. 3
In short, the army lacked almost everything except courage and
patriotic enthusiasm. In spite of all deficiencies its spirit was
excellent. Granted a little experience and proper leadership, it
was capable of giving a good account of itself.

The leadership, however, was also not of the highest order.
The command of the forces in the Ukraine, on which the brunt of

1 Kaunitz to King Francis, June 1, V. A., Vortrdge, 1792, and to de Cache,
June 6, V. A., Polen, Berichte, 1792; Haugwitz's report of June 2, B. A., R. 1,
Conv. 170.

2 Smolenski, Konfederacya targowicka, p. 45.

3 There is some difference of opinion on these points among Polish historians.
Korzon (Wewnetrzne dzieje, v, pp. 133-137) attempts to prove that in spite of
momentary disorders and deficiencies, and in spite of the complaints constantly
made by the commanders, the army was adequately supplied and equipped. In a
somewhat similar sense, G6rski, Historya piechoty polskiej, pp. 194 f. On the other
hand, the general view advanced in the text is maintained by the most recent his-
torian of the war, Soplica, Wojna polsko-rosyjska, pp. 50 f., and by Smolenski,
Konfederacya targowicka, pp. 46, 167.


the fighting would fall, had been given to the King's nephew,
Prince Joseph Poniatowski, an inexperienced young man of
twenty-nine, who, with all his gallantry and devotion, had not yet
matured those talents that were to win him a great reputation as
a marshal of Napoleon. Accepting the command against his will,
weighed down by the sense of responsibility and the presentiment
of failure, he displayed throughout the campaign a deplorable lack
of initiative, an inability to seize what opportunities presented
themselves, and an exaggerated unwillingness to take risks.
Among the other officers, only one showed signs of real genius.
That was Kosciuszko; and he, unfortunately, was subordinated
to Prince Joseph, and constantly fettered by the latter's excessive

Between the 18th and the 22nd of May, four Russian corps
invaded the Ukraine from the east, the south, and the southwest,
while four others pressed into Lithuania. In the latter quarter
there was no really effective resistance. The Polish forces,
numbering 14,500 men, incapably led and faced by 32,000 Rus-
sians, 1 could only retreat steadily, fighting occasional unsuccessful
rear-guard actions. In the south Prince Joseph and Kosciuszko,
with about 17,000 men, were pitted against Kakhovski's 64,00c 2
In the face of such an enormous disparity of numbers, the best
chance for the Poles would seem to have lain in concentrating all
their available forces and hurling them upon one or another of the
widely separated Russian corps before the latter had time to
unite. That proposal was made by Kosciuszko at the very be-
ginning of the campaign, but rejected by Prince Joseph on the
ground that with such quite inexperienced troops the issue of a
pitched battle would be hazardous, and with no reserves at hand
a defeat would be ruinous. 3 The Prince was determined to hold
strictly to the defensive, keeping his irreplaceable army intact,
and maintaining his communications with the capital. The
Russians, on their side, were confident of their ability to cut his
line of retreat, surround him, and capture his whole army. As
they were constantly able to outflank him, he was obliged to fall

1 Smolensk.!, op. cit., pp. 45 f. 2 Ibid.

3 Korzon, Kosciuszko, p. 227.


back continually before them, abandoning one strong position
after another. The campaign turned into a sort of chase, in the
course of which Kakhovski more than once allowed the enemy to
slip through his fingers, while the Poles displayed a certain
dexterity in eluding their pursuers, and occasionally turned and
struck back with good effect. Thus on June 18 at Zielence,
when a Russian corps under General Markov, advancing too
ardently and incautiously, suddenly found itself faced by the
bulk of Prince Joseph's army, the Russians were rudely repulsed
and forced to evacuate the battle-field, although the Polish com-
mander failed to follow up his victory, as he should have done, by
crushing Markov completely.

After more than a month of this game of hare and hounds, by
early July Prince Joseph had retired behind the line of the Bug,
which he hoped to be able to defend. On the 18th all the Polish
positions were attacked by the enemy. The hardest righting
came at Dubienka, where Kosciuszko with 6,000 Poles and 10
guns held at bay for three or four hours 19,000 Russians with 76
guns. 1 This was the fiercest and bloodiest battle of the war.
Under cover of darkness Kosciuszko did indeed withdraw, on
learning that the passage of the river had been forced at several
other points; but at any rate, his men had covered themselves
with glory, and he, whose name had hitherto been little known,
now became almost in a moment the national hero.

From the Bug the army fell back through Lublin to the Vistula.
On July 25 it stood at Kurow on the right bank of that river,
some distance to the south of the capital. The army of Lithuania
was posted on the lower Bug, almost due east of Warsaw. These
were the positions at the moment when hostilities ended.

The situation was not absolutely desperate. In some ways it
was even more favorable than in the earlier stages of the cam-
paign. The richest palatinates and the greater part of the territory
of the Republic had indeed been overrun by the enemy, and the
Russians had penetrated almost to the gates of Warsaw. But
the more the scene of operations moved to the west, the farther
the invaders were drawn away from their base, and the more

1 Smolenski, op. cit., pp. 177 f.


difficult it became for them to protect a terribly long and exposed
line of communications. On the other hand, the various Polish
forces were constantly getting closer together and better able to
assist one another. The Vistula offered a relatively strong line of
defence; and behind it were the still undrained resources of the
western palatinates. There were 30,000 regular troops yet
available; and volunteers were flocking in daily. The army had
not been really defeated once. Only two considerable battles had
been fought, the one a Polish victory, the other not a genuine
defeat. The troops, green at the start, were getting hardened and
experienced and sure of themselves; and in spite of the constant
retreats, they were far from discouraged. Officers and men were
thirsting for more fighting, eager to repeat the exploits of Zielefke
and Dubienka. Kosciuszko later wrote bitterly: " The fighting
spirit, ardor, and patriotism were universal. . . . The means of
beating the Russian army were still in our hands. . . . But we
didn't make use of them." l That they were not made use of,
that the resistance collapsed at this moment, was not the fault of
the army; it was due to the tremors and terrors of the cowardly


Stanislas Augustus had often sworn that he would never aban-
don the new constitution while life remained. He had solemnly
declared that he would lead his people to battle and, if necessary,
die with them. He had promised again and again to go to the
field with the army ; and indeed he made all the preparations, as if
he meant to go. It is doubtful, however, whether he ever had any
serious intentions of fighting. It is probable that no cause in the
world and no conceivable disgrace could ever have induced this
King to sacrifice his fife, his crown, or even his personal comfort.
When pressed to go to the camp, he • inquired anxiously whether
he would find there " a proper cuisine." 2

From the very outset his program was, " rather with the pen
than with the sword." The thought of settling everything by

1 Soplica, op. cit., p. 401. On the " comparatively favorable situation " at that
time, ibid., pp. 401 ff.

2 Soplica, op. cit., p. 222.


negotiations was in his mind even before the Russian declaration
arrived l ; and after war had actually begun, he took pains to keep
the Russian envoy in Warsaw, and his own in St. Petersburg —
anomalous as such a situation was — in order to leave all chan-
nels open. The first shot had hardly been fired when through the
Chancellor Chreptowicz and the Danish minister Stanislas began
to sound Bulgakov about the possibility of entering into negotia-
tions. 2

The failure of the missions to Berlin and Vienna, the military
disasters in Lithuania, and the rapid advance of the Russians
everywhere only confirmed the King in the opinion that resist-
ance in arms was hopeless. His sister, his mistress, and others in
his entourage continually dinned into his ears that he was on the
verge of ruin, and that he must free himself from the perfidious
counsels of the Potockis, the hereditary enemies of his family.
Apparently he fell into a perfect panic. He saw nothing in the
world but his crown. He dreaded nothing so much as to lose
that. He was willing to do anything to save it. 3 It can readily
be imagined how the defence of the country fared at the hands of
a commander-in-chief who shut himself up in his palace in mortal
terror, thought of nothing except placating the enemy, and
seemed actually displeased at the news of a victory, from fear
that it would irritate the Empress. 4

By the middle of June nothing could hold back the King any
longer from starting negotiations. At a session of the Council of
War on the 18th, after the reading of various extremely black
reports from the front, he succeeded in putting through a decision
authorizing Prince Joseph to propose an armistice to Kakhovski,
which was to last until the Polish government should have had

1 See his letter to Bukaty of May 9, Kalinka, Ostatnie lata, ii, pp. 217 f.

2 Bulgakov's report of May 22/June 2, M. A., Ilojibiiia, III, 66. Already
on May 12/23 the Russian envoy noted in his diary that the King wanted to
negotiate, and was only waiting for the Diet to go home and leave him a free hand.
The same opinion was current in the diplomatic corps at Warsaw (Lucchesini's
report of June 2, B. A., R. 9, 27).

3 Bulgakov's diary, June 10/21, M. A., loc. cit.; Cassini to Popov, June 27, July
4 and 7 (Papers of V. S. Popov, Imperial Public Library, Petrograd).

4 Vom Entstehen una 1 V 'titer gange der polnischen Konstitutionvom 3. May, 1791, ii,
p. 131; Smolefiski, Konfederacya targowicka, pp. 140 f.


time to communicate with St. Petersburg. That same day the
indispensable Chreptowicz, who had always belonged to the
Russian party, hastened to his good friend Bulgakov to disclose
the King's propositions. His Majesty meant to beg the Empress
to take Poland back into her good graces, give the country her
younger grandson Constantine for its future king, and " improve
the constitution " according to her superior wisdom, adding or
rejecting what she pleased. Bulgakov, somewhat moved by these
signs of repentance, suggested the draft of a letter from the King
to his sovereign. 1

The next day all these matters were laid before the cabinet
(the Straz). Everyone present seems to have recognized the

Online LibraryRobert Howard LordThe second partition of Poland; a study in diplomatic history → online text (page 30 of 59)