Robert Howard Lord.

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

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It can hardly be doubted that when in July, 1792 Austria and
Prussia brought forward the Polish-Bavarian plan at St. Peters-
burg, they were but anticipating the inmost wishes of the Russians.
It was, indeed, in response to Russian hints at Berlin and Vienna
that these first overtures were made. Bezborodko confessed to
Cobenzl that his Court had expected something of this sort. 1 He
himself hastened to lay before the Empress a memorial emphasiz-
ing strongly the advantages that would accrue to Russia from a
new partition. A. R. Vorontsov likewise championed the project.
If Markov at first raised objections, pointing out the inconven-
ience of granting Prussia so considerable an aggrandizement, he
allowed himself to be won over without too much difficulty. 2 As
for the Empress, one of her closest advisers observed 3 that the
Austro-Prussian plan caused her a secret pleasure, but that she
hesitated to express clearly her opinion. At any rate, her senti-
ments may be inferred from her conduct.

She would not show her hand too early. She would manifest
no undue eagerness. Her ' moderation ' and ' magnanimity '
required that she should make enormous annexations only with
an air of reluctance and ostensibly out of sheer deference for her
allies. The other Powers must take upon themselves the initia-
tive, and with it the odium, of the transaction. An attitude of
reticence was the more advisable because Austria long main-
tained an ungracious silence regarding any acquisitions for

1 L. Cobenzl's report to Ph. Cobenzl of July 21, V. A., Rus stand, Berichte, 1792.

2 Cf. his retrospective letter to S. R. Vorontsov of July 27/August 7, 1793,
Apx. Bop., xx, p. 48. Markov's statements as to his own attitude and that of his
two colleagues receive some confirmation from Cobenzl's reports, especially that
of July 21, 1792.

8 Markov in the letter just cited.



Russia, while Goltz was authorized to present the indemnity plan
only in the guise of ' speculations,' avoiding ' all that might give
his overtures the appearance or the form of a proposition made
officially or according to orders.' l

During the month following the initial advances from Berlin
and Vienna, the Russian ministers would say no more than that
the affair deserved mature deliberation, that the Empress was in
general disposed to oblige her allies, but that she could not
express herself definitely until the German Courts had composed
their differences and communicated their ideas in more detail.
But when towards the end of August it became clear that the
allies were willing to allow the Court of St. Petersburg an equal
share in the spoils, and when appearances had been provided
for by a due amount of procrastination, signs multiplied that
the Russians were warming to the project. Goltz and Cobenzl
were given to understand that the main question was practically
decided in their favor, and that it remained only to settle the
details and ' the quo modo.' Both envoys gained the conviction
that in spite of this air of pretended indifference, the Russians
eagerly desired the realization of the plan. 2 How correct this

1 Instructions to Goltz of July 9, B. A., R. XI, Russland, 133.

2 Cobenzl's reports of August 24, September n, 28, V. A., Russland, Berichte,
1792; Goltz's reports of August 28, September 25 and 28, B. A., R. XI, Russland,


Cobenzl reported (September n): " Le Comte Woronzow . . . m'a temoigne

etre tout a fait porte pour ce que j'aiete charge de proposer en date du 8 Aout . . . :

il dit qu'il faut seulement observer dans les acquisitions que feroit la Russie d'eviter

tout voisinage immediat avec les Puissances copartageantes."

On September 28: " II me paroit qu'on ne le desire [the realization of the Bavar-
ian-Polish project] pas moins ici, et Marcow me dit a cette occasion, qu'outre
l'echange pour egaliser la chose nous devrions prendre un dedommagement du
meme cote ou nous la destinons aux deux autres cours."

Goltz wrote on August 28: "A en juger d'apres les vues de ses [Catherine's]
Ministres, il ne paroit pas douteux, qu'on entrera avec plaisir aux vues des autres

On September 25: " Quoique l'on continue toujours a affecter la plus grande
indifference, je suis cependant sur que ce n'est que cela et qu'on n'en desire pas
moins vivement de realiser le projet d'un nouveau partage de la Pologne."

On September 28: " II ne me reste rien a dire sur le plan de dedommagemens,
tous les Ministres ici m'assurant que l'lmperatrice consentira volontiers a la chose,
mais qu'on attend toujours le Courier de Vienne, pour pouvoir s'expliquer sur le


surmise was, is best shown by the fact that when the indemnity
project seemed in danger of being held up or even completely
frustrated by the dissensions between the German Powers, the
Empress intervened to remedy and to expedite matters. In the
middle of September, Razumovski and Alopeus were ordered to
urge upon the Austrian and Prussian cabinets the need of haste:
the final settlement of Polish affairs, it was said, could not be long
postponed, and delay was the more embarrassing because the
maintenance of the Russian armies in the Republic cost immense
sums; the Empress therefore desired that her allies should adjust
as soon as possible the questions at issue between them and then
provide their envoys at St. Petersburg with the instructions and
powers necessary for concluding a formal convention. 1 A three-
fold arrangement on the analogy of the treaties of 1772 was then
the Russian program. Of the exclusion of Austria there was,
and could at that time be, no thought. 2 That the negotiation
should be conducted at St. Petersburg, where the Empress could
most easily guide and control it, was assumed as a matter of

A final explanation from Vienna was expected with the ratifica-
tion of the Austro-Russian treaty of alliance. Instead, however,
the courier brought only the news of Spielmann's mission to the
King of Prussia, and the promise that the agreements about to be
concluded would be promptly communicated. 3 Hitherto Austria
had taken the lead in the negotiations at St. Petersburg: here
began that three months' silence on the part of the Court of
Vienna, which was to prove so disastrous for it.

Meanwhile Goltz had at last received definite instructions,
which allowed him to quit the realm of pure ' speculations,' and
to state precisely the acquisitions desired by his Court. 4 From
mid-October on, he began to urge that Russia and Prussia should
come to an agreement at once without waiting further for the

1 Ostermann's dispatches to Razumovski and Alopeus, September 3/14, 1792,
M. A., ABCTpifl, III, 52, and Elpyccia, III, 28.

2 Cf. Markov to Razumovski, October 4/15, Wassiltchikow, Les Razoumowski,
ii, 4 e partie, p. 162.

3 Ph. Cobenzl to L. Cobenzl, September 13, Vivenot, ii, pp. 197-201.
* The instructions of September 28, B. A., R. XI, Russland, 133.

3 8o


dilatory resolutions of Austria. The Court of Vienna, he declared,
was sufficiently informed of his master's views; its allies would
not neglect its interests; but they would be in far better position
to provide for them after they had duly attended to their own.
Towards the end of the month he had even advanced to the point
of pressing for consent to the immediate entry of the Prussian
troops into Poland. 1

Although still professing not to know their sovereign's inten-
tions, and protesting that nothing could be decided until the
results of Spielmann's negotiation were known, the Russian
ministers received these propositions with unmistakable favor.
In a highly significant note to a colleague, Bezborodko declared
that Ostermann and he were agreed that their Court ought not to
oppose the King of Prussia's desire to send his troops into Poland
at once, since that measure fitted exactly into their [the Russian]
plan, and would certainly lead to the quickest denouement of the
affair. 2 But just at the moment when matters seemed thus hap-
pily started, there came a turn of events which threatened to
blast the Prussian hopes.


On the 20th of October the news of the retreat of the allied
armies reached St. Petersburg. In the next few weeks every
courier brought tidings of disaster: the complete evacuation of
France, the loss of Belgium, the irruption of " the demons " into
the very heart of Germany. The Empress was highly incensed.
The " factious," in repelling the invaders, had committed the
crime of Use Catherine; the allies had sinned even more atro-
ciously by rejecting all her advice about the enterprise; and
worst of all were those mysterious, degrading negotiations of
the Prussians with " the rebels." " I confess," she wrote to
Grimm, " I feel such ill humor toward certain people that I
should like to box their ears." 3 Her letters and conversation

1 Goltz's reports of October 12, 23, 26, B. A., loc. cit.

2 Bezborodko to A. R. Vorontsov, Apx. Bop., xiii, p. 275. This note is un-
dated, but from a comparison with Goltz's dispatches it may be fixed with certainty
as of October 26.

3 Letter of December 7/18, C6opHHKt, xxiii, p. 579.


of that time are full of outbreaks and sarcasms against both
her high allies.

Under such circumstances, the Empress was for the time being
in no mood to listen favorably to the Prussian importunities about
a new partition. " After the brilliant campaign the two Courts
have made, they still dare to talk of conquests! " she wrote on
jthe margin of a dispatch; ! and in another place: " It seems to me
that in real and strict justice those who have failed in their duties,
ought to have no right to compensation." 2 This was no time for
starting a new set of troubles, when no one could foresee the end
of those already existing, and when she was left in perfect igno-
rance of the other plans of the high allies, who had hitherto done
diametrically the opposite of all that she had proposed to them. 3
After the miserable spectacle they had just made of themselves,
their primary concern ought to be to deliver the Germanic Em-
pire out of the hands of the French, and to prepare for a new and
more vigorous campaign. 4 In an interesting set of " rules " which
she dashed off a propos of the negotiation with Prussia, 5 we find
the following:

" To postpone the partition of Poland as long as possible.

" After a wretched campaign, no acquisitions.

" Not to take up this affair without the knowledge of the Court
of Vienna.

" [We have] no reason for aggrandizing the King of Prussia.

" To do nothing contrary to honor and promises."

Probably many reasons combined to produce this revulsion in
Catherine's attitude towards a project in which she had ap-
parently been keenly interested. The general situation and the
presuppositions with which she had entered into the affair had
been profoundly altered by the debacle in the West. It was still
uncertain how far the successes of the French would go ; how far

1 On Alopeus' report of October 8/19.

2 Letter to Rumiantsov, Pyc. Clap., lxxxi 2 , p. 161.

3 Note of the Empress belonging to the papers of the secret Conference of No-
vember 4/15, P. A., X, 69.

4 Note of the Empress belonging to the papers of the secret Conference of
October 29/Nov. 9, P. A., loc. cit.

5 Papers belonging to the secret Conference of October 29/November 9. These
notes are printed in Appendix XVII.


the Prussians had really been implicated in disloyal intrigues
with the enemy; whether Austria could now be provided for
except by a share in Poland — which would not at all fit in with
the Empress' wishes; or what would be the attitude of England.
The machinations of ' the Jacobins ' at Stockholm and Constanti-
nople were well known at St. Petersburg, and aroused at least a
certain disquietude, as was attested by the rushing of fresh troops
and of no less a commander than Suvorov to the southern fron-
tier. But it may perhaps be doubted whether these considera-
tions contributed as much to delaying the negotiation for the
partition as did the Empress' anger against those allies who had
tarnished her glory by bungling an enterprise to which she had
lent her patronage and her moral and financial support.

It was under no favorable auspices, then, that the Prussians
began their grand assault at St. Petersburg. In the last days of
October, Goltz suddenly found himself the object of a great
coldness. He ceased to be invited to the Hermitage. Ostermann
avoided conversing with him. 1 When the Vice-Chancellor could
be brought to speak at all, he proffered nothing but excuses for
delay: the uncertain state of French affairs; the danger of stirring
up new enemies at such a moment; the alarming attitude of the
Porte; the presence in St. Petersburg of a delegation from the
Confederation of Targowica, come to thank the Empress for
' liberating ' the Republic; the impossibility of deciding on any
course of action until the arrival of news from Austria. 2 The
cabinet of Berlin pressed on the negotiation with restless haste.
Courier after courier was hurried off to Petersburg, bringing to
Goltz orders to present his demands in the most formal ministerial
manner, a royal letter to the Empress, the new and extended
territorial claims which Frederick William had formulated at
Consenvoye, the Note of Merle, full powers to conclude the
treaty, and fresh supplies of arguments with which to beat down
the Russian obduracy. Poland, it was alleged, was seething with
democratic agitation and with plots against Russia and Prussia;
it was superfluous to point out what dangers would threaten all

1 Goltz's report of the 30th, B. A., R. XI, Russland, 133.

2 Goltz's reports of October 30, November 2, 6, 13, B. A., loc. cit.


the North of Europe if this country were allowed to become " a
new theatre of revolution and fanaticism "; the evil must be cut
out at the roots, and the most efficacious way of extirpating it
was to restrict the tumultuous Republic within such limits as
would forever prevent it from menacing its neighbors. 1 If it were
merely regard for Austria that held back the Empress, that
difficulty, it was said, was now removed, since the King had given
his consent to the forcible seizure of Bavaria, which Spielmann
had proposed. 2 Even Cobenzl, when informed of the Note of
Merle, took it upon himself, without waiting for orders, to press
the Prussian claims. 3 But Ostermann remained immovable and
generally mute. He could accept Goltz's constantly reiterated
demands only ad referendum; he was chronically uninformed as
to the intentions of his sovereign; he was full of objections and
petty fears. So matters continued throughout November. The
Court of Berlin had exhausted every device and every attention
in order to win over the Russians ; its troops stood on the frontier
ready to enter Poland at a moment's notice from St. Petersburg;
but it seemed as if the word would never come. The Prussian
ministry grew quite out of patience. If Ostermann continued his
" tergiversations," they wrote, Goltz must declare that the King
would no longer think of a second campaign, but would retire
from the war altogether. 4

But just at the moment when Prussian hopes were most de- v
pressed, the tide began to turn at St. Petersburg.


It is probable that Catherine had never seriously intended to
abandon the plan for a partition: she had meant, it would seem,
only to postpone its execution. About the beginning of Decem-
ber, however, a number of reasons combined to make further
delay inadvisable. The Prussian importunities could not much
longer be denied without driving the King to fulfil his threat of

1 Instructions to Goltz of November 3, B. A., R. XI, Russland, 133.

2 Rescripts to Goltz of November 17 and 22, B. A., loc. cit.

3 Cobenzl's reports of November 13, 16, 20, V. A., Russland, Berichte, 1792.

4 Rescript of December 1, B. A., loc. cit.



withdrawing from an enterprise in which the Empress strongly
desired to keep him engaged. Moreover, the rumor of an impen-
ding partition was circulating so widely and attracting so much
attention that unless the great blow were struck at once, the
opposition to be expected from certain quarters would have time
to mature, and the difficulty of the task would be very materially
increased. England was already making cautious inquiries and
remonstrances on the subject at Berlin and Vienna. 1 The French
government was trying to stir up the Porte to interfere in Poland. 2
Above all, affairs within the Republic itself seemed to be ap-
proaching a new crisis.

The Confederates of Targowica had by this time proved their
complete inability either to agree among themselves or to win
over their fellow-countrymen to their cause. After a few months
of stupefied calm following the collapse of the national defence in
the summer, the Polish public had been electrified by the amaz-
ing victories of the French. Valmy and Jemappes supplied an
inspiring example of a free nation successfully defending itself
against a league of despots; they aroused hopes that Poland too
might yet be saved by French bayonets. It does not appear that
there was at this time any organized plan for a national uprising;
of any propaganda in favor of ' Jacobinism,' except in the case
of a few insignificant individuals, we find no trace; but there was
a wide-spread and enthusiastic sympathy for the French, which
could not be prevented from manifesting itself either by the
presence of the Russian troops or by the iron-clad censorship and
the unprecedented police measures introduced by the champions
of liberty who now presided over the government. Every act of
the Confederation was greeted with scorn and ridicule. There
were manifold demonstrations of devotion to the Constitution of
the Third of May. The Empress' officers were almost boycotted
by Warsaw society. The English resident reported that the
universal hatred of the Russians seemed to increase daily; it

1 The Prussian government hastened to inform the Empress of this step of
England and to urge that this made the need of haste all the greater (dispatch to
Goltz, November 23, sent by courier, B. A., R. XI, Russland, 133). Cf. Salomon,
Pitt, i", p. 580; Lecky, op. cit., vi, pp. 83 f.

2 Cf. Zinkeisen, op. cit., vi, pp. 848 ff.


was shown on the streets, in the theatres, everywhere to such a
degree that he lived in constant fear of an explosion and a great
catastrophe. 1 There were rumors of an approaching Sicilian
Vespers. 2 Felix Potocki, blind as usual to the effects his words
would have, wrote desperately to St. Petersburg that the suc-
cesses of the French had ' turned the heads of his compatriots ' ;
' Jacobin principles ' and those of the Third of May were making
terrible progress; unless something were done at once to stop the
evil, he feared the very worst. 3 The deputation which he had
sent to thank the Empress for ' liberating ' their country, had to
confess that the moment the Russian troops should be withdrawn,
the whole work of the Confederation of Targowica would be
overthrown by the nation. 4 In short, it appeared that matters
had come to such a pass that the only way out of endless embar-
rassments was a partition. This nation had shown itself so
hopelessly perverse that it must be reduced to a state of perpetual
impotence to harm its neighbors. And the sooner the operation
was performed, the better.

These considerations, reenforced by the long felt desire for
" the finest acquisition the Empire could ever make," 5 proved
decisive. It was true that the great excuse for delay which
Ostermann had always held up to Goltz, had not been removed,
for nothing had yet been heard from Vienna. But it was impos"
sible to defer forever to the incurable slowness of the Austrian
cabinet. Besides, it was distinctly to the advantage of Russia
to settle the affair with Prussia alone without the participation of
the Court of Vienna. From Prussia no opposition was to be
expected, no matter how enormous the Empress' claims might
be; but it was to be feared that Austria might resist the intended
extension of the Russian frontier to the borders of Galicia, and

1 Gardiner's report of November 14, 1792, printed by K. Sienkiewicz, Skarbiec
historyi polskiej, i, p. 198. Very interesting details as to the expressions of public
opinion at this time in Smolehski, Konfederacya targowicka, pp. 323 ff.

2 Cf. Kakhovski's reports to the Empress of October 17/28, November 1/12
and 8/19, CoopuHKi., xlvii, pp. 462-465.

3 Letters to Zubov of November 15 and 24, M. A., ApxiiBT. BapmaBCKoii Mnccin.

4 Instructions to Sievers, December 22/January 2, M. A., IIojBnia, III, 66.

5 Markov to S. R. Vorontsov, November 8/19, 1792, Apx. Bop., xx, p. 32.


might also try to obtain some portion of Poland for herself in
default of the Bavarian Exchange. The Russians were not
unwilling to provide for Austrian interests in the course of the
negotiation, but in that negotiation they no longer intended
to have Austria take part. 1 This exclusion of the Court of
Vienna was, furthermore, quite in accordance with the ideas
of the Berlin cabinet, as repeatedly expressed at St. Petersburg
since October.

In the second week in December, by the 13th at the latest, the
Empress' final decision was taken. 2 On the 16th Ostermann
announced to Goltz that his sovereign consented to the immedi-
ate occupation by Prussia of the entire territory demanded by the
King, and that she claimed for herself an acquisition bounded on
the west by a line drawn from the easternmost point of Courland
due south via Pinsk to the Dniester opposite Choczim, a line
which ran for some distance directly along the Galician frontier.
The further details of the partition were to be regulated by a
secret convention between the two Courts as soon as the King
had given his consent to the acquisition demanded by the Em-
press. Ostermann excused the exclusion of Austria by pointing
to the slowness of that Power in communicating its intentions,
and the (supposed) fact that Frederick William had already satis-
fied its chief desire by agreeing to the forcible occupation of

Goltz was naturally astounded at the enormous extent of the
Empress' claims, but he did not dare protest. It was agreed
that Cobenzl should be told only that the Empress had consented
to an immediate Prussian occupation in Poland, and nothing

1 According to Markov's letter to S. R, Vorontsov of July 27/August 7, 1793, the
proposal to exclude Austria from the negotiation was made by Bezborodko, who
of all the Russian ministers might pass for the most pro-Austrian (Apx. Bop., xx,
p. 49).

Sybel's statement that the Empress' decision was determined by Razumovski's
reports of the early stages of Haugwitz's negotiation at Vienna {op. cit., iii, p. 192)
is quite erroneous. The first report of the ambassador on that subject was sent
by post December 4, and so could not possibly have arrived in time to influence a
decision taken by the 13 th at the latest.

2 Cf. the memorandum of Bezborodko of December 2/13, printed in Solov'ev,
Geschichte des Falles von Polen, p. 305.


more. Goltz congratulated himself that he had avoided, as he
thought, all reference to the French war in the future convention. 1
The arrival of the courier caused intense jubilation at Berlin.
Although likewise amazed at the Empress' demands, the
ministry adjured the King to acquiesce in them rather than lose
the chance to secure an acquisition in some respects the most
important that the House of Hohenzollern had ever made, an
acquisition that would render Prussia for the first time " a co-
herent kingdom." They suggested, however, that since the
Empress seemed determined on a partition on a grand scale, it
might not be mal a propos to claim something more for themselves
— the district of Polangen, for instance, which separated East
Prussia from Courland, and which might some day acquire some
commercial importance. They also recommended begging the
Empress to renounce the strip of territory along the Galician
frontier; since that acquisition would irritate Austria — and
would deprive Prussia of precious facilities for importing horses
from Moldavia for the army ! It was not to be expected that the

Online LibraryRobert Howard LordThe second partition of Poland; a study in diplomatic history → online text (page 39 of 59)