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

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Court of St. Petersburg. The acquisition secured for Austria,
though somewhat larger than that reserved for Prussia, was not
sufficient to make up for the defeat of 1793. Nevertheless, the
long litigation over the Second Partition Treaty had ended in
what may be considered a triumph, though hardly a justification,
of Thugut's policy.

1 Thugut to L. Cobenzl, December 18, 1793, Vivenot, Thugut und sein politisches
System, pp. 382-392.

2 Thugut to L. Cobenzl, February 27, 1794, ibid., pp. 399-403.


The Attitude of England and France toward the


" This, at least, you cannot deny," wrote one of the Russian
ministers to a friend on the eve of the Second Partition, " that the
moment at which we are making this acquisition is the most
opportune that can be imagined, for no one is able to offer oppo-
sition; everyone has his hands full." 1 And in fact, Russia and
Prussia could never have found a situation more extraordinarily
favorable than that of 1793 for perpetrating a great act of inter-
national rapine without hindrance from the other Powers. If
Austria, bound by her past guilty bargains and by the exigencies
of war, was helpless to avert or delay the Partition, England and
France were even less in a position to do so.

Pitt had formerly displayed a lively concern for the defence of
the weaker states against the great predatory monarchies; he had
shown a particular interest in Poland; he had once been willing
to risk a war with Russia over so comparatively trifling a question
as that of Oczakow and its district. But his experiences in 1791
had taught him that the British public was not prepared to sup-
port so active, far-sighted, and altruistic a policy. Henceforth he
avoided every enterprise that might lead to war, unless the vital
interests of England were directly and palpably at stake. Hence-
forth he seems to have abandoned the hope of saving Poland.
For a year and a half after ' the Russian armament/ he pursued a
policy of strict non-intervention in Continental and especially in
Polish affairs.

It was true that during the early part of 1792 the London
cabinet discreetly warned Prussia of the danger of allowing the

1 Zavadovski to S. R. Vorontsov, January 27/February 7, 1793, Apx. Bop., xii,
pp. 77 f. (here erroneously dated 1792).



Empress to regain her old ' influence ' in Poland. But as these
counsels passed unheeded, when the crisis came in the summer of
that year, Pitt refused to take any action on behalf of Poland.
All appeals from Warsaw were met with the excuse that, in view
of the attitude adopted by Prussia, the Maritime Powers alone
could not intervene, " at least not without a much greater exer-
tion and expense than the importance to their separate interests
could possibly justify." l Nor was Pitt moved from his course by
the widespread sympathy which the Polish struggle for independ-
ence excited in England. The Lord Mayor of London started
what was intended to be a national subscription to assist Poland
against ' the infamous oppression of Russia.' 2 The Whig news-
papers were full of tirades against their former ally, the Empress,
and the whole ' nefarious association of monarchs ' to which
Poland was falling a victim. Fox and his friends now bitterly
confessed how mistaken had been their attitude the year before:
if Oczakow had not been abandoned, Catherine would have had
neither the power nor the inclination to attempt what she was
now doing. 3 In short, such was the storm of indignation that the
Russian ambassador reported that if Poland had been nearer to
England, the nation would have forced the government to
intervene. 4

In view of Pitt's complete passivity on this occasion, in the
face of this popular outcry and at a time when his hands were
free, it may well be doubted whether he would later on have done
anything effective to prevent the Partition, even had he not
become entangled in the conflict with France. At all events, it
was only towards the end of November that he learned through
indirect channels of the indemnity plans of the Eastern Powers;
and in that same month Dumouriez's conquest of Belgium sud-
denly produced that acute tension in Anglo-French relations
which led to the outbreak of the war three months later. Repug-

1 Lord Auckland to Sir Morton Eden, August 14, 1792, Auckland Journal, ii,
p. 432. Instructions to Col. Gardiner at Warsaw, August 4, cited by Rose, Pitt and
the Great War, p. 54.

2 Apx. Bop., ix, pp. 249, 253 f.; Parliamentary History, xxx, col. 171.

3 Burges to Auckland, July 31, 1792, Auckland Journal, ii, pp. 423 f.

4 Report of S. R. Vorontsov, June 10/21, Apx. Bop., ix, p. 241.



nant as the schemes of the allies might be — and most English-
men would doubtless have concurred in Sir Morton Eden's
dictum that " such iniquitous projects, in so awful a moment,
seem to bid defiance to God and to man," x — nevertheless, when
it became a question either of saving Belgium and Holland from
the French or of attempting to rescue far-off Poland, the choice
of the British government could hardly be doubtful. Already in
November, Pitt began to seek a rapprochement with the Eastern
Powers, and to solicit from them a frank explanation of their
aims and ideas with regard to the struggle with France.

In response to this invitation, on January 12, 1793, the Austrian
and Prussian ministers at London for the first time officially
informed Lord Grenville of the Polish-Bavarian indemnity project.
Though not entirely unexpected, the announcement was vexa-
tious and unwelcome in the extreme. Grenville made a brave
show of virtuous indignation over the impending partition of
Poland. ' The King,' he said, ' would never be a party to any
concert or plan, one part of which was the gaining a compensa-
tion for the expenses of the war from a neutral and unoffending
nation.' 2 According to the Austrian ambassador, he even went
so far as to declare that the project was " screamingly unjust,"
and that "England could never consent to it, much less contrib-
ute to its execution." 3 This protest was repeated soon after-
ward by Sir James Murray, who was then at the King of Prussia's
headquarters on a diplomatic mission, with the additional
warning that in case the Partition were actually carried out, the
British government would feel obliged to issue a public declara-
tion that it had had nothing to do with this measure and highly
disapproved of it. 4 At St. Petersburg the English envoy Whit-
worth, acting on his own initiative and without committing his
Court, endeavored for some weeks to avert or at least to postpone
the Partition. 5 But these few diplomatic steps practically make
up the sum of British effort on behalf of Poland.

1 Dropmore Papers, ii, p. 341. 2 Lecky, op. cit., vi, p. 91.

3 Stadion's report of January 25, V. A., England, Berichte, 1793.

4 Lucchesini to the King, January 28, 1793, B. A., R. 92, L. N. 12.

6 See his reports of January 25, 27, 29, and February 12, in Herrmann, Erganz-
ungsband, pp. 359-364.


Pitt does not appear to have thought seriously at any time of
going further than harmless remonstrances^ And even these
remonstrances soon became singularly mild. As early as January
20, Murray was ordered to declare that England had no intention
of interfering by force in the Polish affair or of hindering the
execution of the Partition. 1 About the same time Grenville
assured the Prussian envoy that the British government would
maintain a complete silence and an entirely passive attitude with
regard to the dismemberment of Poland; and such a line of con-
duct, the Berlin ministry declared, was " all that we require from
England." 2 If Pitt had thus renounced the idea of intervention
in the East even before the French declaration of war reached
London (February 8), after that event there could be absolutely
no thought of such an action. Henceforth the British cabinet
insisted on ignoring everything that happened in Poland. How
little it allowed moral scruples to interfere with its political friend-
ships was shown by the fact that at the moment when the Parti-
tion was about to be proclaimed to the world, the treaty signed at
London on March 25 announced the restoration of the old close
liaison between England and Russia. 3

It has, indeed, been asserted by a distinguished historian that

1 Salomon, Das politische System des jungeren Pitt, p. 78.

2 Schulenburg and Alvensleben to Lucchesini, February 4, commenting on
Jacobi's report from London of January 22, B. A., R. 92, L. N. 14.

3 No credence can be given to Sybel's statement that about the middle of Febru-
ary, 1793, Catherine wrote an autograph letter to S. R. Vorontsov, her ambassador
in London, authorizing him to declare that if England found means to hinder the
Partition of Poland, she would have no objections, since she had been forced into
this measure by Prussia (op. cit., iii, p. 202). This astonishing tale rests only upon
gossip retailed by Hogguer, the Dutch minister at St. Petersburg; it finds no corrob-
oration in Vorontsov's voluminous published correspondence (which includes many
letters written to him by the Empress) ; and it is in itself highly improbable.

Sybel's dictum, " Der Streich, welcher den Nacken Ludwigs XVI bedrohte, war
zugleich auch der todliche Schlag fur das nationale Dasein Polens " (op. cit., iii,
p. 196) seems to me misleading, like most historical epigrams. Apart from the
question whether the death of Louis XVI had any essential part in bringing on the
war between England and France, it may well be doubted whether even without
that war Pitt would have acted effectively to save Poland. In 1793, as in the
preceding summer, he would probably have found that an isolated intervention
would have involved more danger and expense than English interests in Poland
would justify.



at one moment Pitt offered Austria his consent to the Exchange,
if she would make .peace with France under his mediation and
then unite with England in opposing the Partition of Poland. 1 In
reality, however, his policy seems to have tended in quite the
opposite direction. The Bavarian Exchange might be morally
less reprehensible than the Partition, but it was, from the stand-
point of British interests, by far the more objectionable of the
two projects. Hence, while the London cabinet refused from the
outset to do anything effective to hinder the Partition, it evinced
.an ever more and more pronounced opposition to the Belgian-
Bavarian plan. Unable to contest the latter project openly in
the beginning, at a time when the three Eastern Powers seemed
to be united in support of it, England soon found her opportunity
when the Emperor fell out with his two allies. Then the British
government, taking advantage of Austria's new dependence upon
its assistance, succeeded, as has already been seen, in frustrating
the Exchange project entirely. But on the other hand, all
Thugut's efforts to induce England to oppose the Partition were
fruitless. The Austrians were told that the British government
abhorred the conduct of Prussia and Russia, but saw no possi-
bility of opposing their plans at a time when it needed their
cooperation for the war with France. 2 The moment for protest-
ing against the Partition was past, Grenville declared, and the
only thing to be done was to take care that such abuses should
not be renewed in the future. 3 A little later, in the midst of the
crisis at Grodno, when the Polish Diet was sending out agonizing
appeals to the world for aid, a British diplomat was assuring the
Prussians that if his government had at one time shown some
inclination to protest against the Partition, that was due simply
to reasons of domestic politics; and that he was authorized to
declare that England no longer took any interest in Poland, and
had no intention of embroiling itself with Prussia and Russia on

1 Sybel, op. cit., iii, p. 195. Salomon denies that any traces of such an offer are
to be found in the English records (op. cit., p. 76), and I have met with none in the
Austrian diplomatic correspondence.

2 Stadion's report of May 10, V. A., England, Berichte, 1793.

3 Starhemberg (Stadion's successor) to Thugut, May 24, Vivenot, iii, pp. 77 ff.


account of the port of Dantzic and a few Polish articles of mer-
chandise. 1

. Under such circumstances, it mattered little that the decimated
Whig opposition in Parliament indulged in virulent invectives
against the partitioning Powers — those " plunderers," " robbers,"
" murderers," whose hands were " reeking with the blood of
Poland" — branded Frederick William's conduct towards the
Republic as " the most flagrant instance of profligate perfidy
that had ever disgraced the annals of mankind "; denounced the
Partition as " one of the foulest crimes and blackest treacheries of
despotism "; and accused the government of being an accomplice
in " spreading the gloom of tyranny over the Continent." 2 Pitt
in general replied that he had never hesitated to express his dis-
approval of the treatment Poland had suffered; but that • the
question was whether they should allow one act of injustice to
deprive them of the assistance of the Eastern Powers in resisting
a system of intolerable injustice, not merely existing in France,
but attempted to be introduced in every other country.' 3 Other
speakers for the government furbished up the well-worn argu-
ment that when your own house was on fire, you could not afford
to go to the assistance of your neighbor; " while we lament the
misfortunes of Poland," said Jenkinson, " let us look to our-
selves "; and Burke, the one-time eulogist of the Constitution of
the Third of May, had now discovered that, in respect to England,
" Poland might be, in fact, considered as a country in the moon" 4
Such was the pitiable ending of the Federative System.

1 Lord Beauchamp's declaration to Lucchesini on July 11, 1793: "Que si le
Ministere Anglois s'etoit cru oblige, au commencement de l'hyver passe de montrer
des dispositions a protester contre nos acquisitions en Pologne, c'avoit 6te une
mesure de politique interne qu'il a abandonne toute suite [sic] apres que notre
partage a ete definitivement arrets entre les cours interessees, et qu'il etoit autorise
a assurer qu'on ne songeoit plus a. la Pologne et qu'on se garderoit bien de se brouil-
ler avec la Prusse et la Russie pour le port de Danzig et quelques denrees de Po-
logne," Lucchesini to the ministers at Berlin, July 11, B. A., R. 92, L. N. 14.

2 Parliamentary History, xxx, coll. 1108, 1468, 1471, 1477 f., 1485.

3 This from his speech of March 6, 1794, ibid., xxx, col. 1485.

4 Ibid., xxx, coll. 1476 and 1009. The italics are mine.




A classic tradition, going back at least to Richelieu and Maza-
rin, ranged Poland, along with Sweden and Turkey, in the group
of states, whose protection and preservation were an essential
interest of France. It was true that during the last decades of the
Bourbon Monarchy, after the Austrian alliance had dislocated
French policy in Eastern Europe, this tradition had been very
much neglected, if not entirely abandoned; but the memory of
the old system was still strong both in France and in Poland,
especially among those Revolutionary statesmen who had been
bred on the doctrines of Favier and in the hatred of the ' mon-
strous ' alliance of 1756. And nothing might seem more natural
than a return to the classic tradition at a time when France was
grappling with a coalition of which Russia and Prussia were
members: according to all time-honored precedents, it must then
be the aim of French diplomacy to create a diversion in the East
by bringing the Turks and Swedes into the field and by succoring
hard-pressed Poland. The idea of attempting such a diversion
was so obvious that it was taken up with more or less energy by
all those who came to the helm at Paris during the first year of
the Revolutionary War. Upon the success of these attempts
Poland's one real chance of deliverance from without depended.
France was, indeed, the one great Power which had neither the
need nor the wish to court the good graces of Catherine; the one
great Power whose situation not only allowed but seemed to
require active intervention on behalf of Poland. The old fixed
principles of French foreign policy, the new maxims about
championing the cause of oppressed peoples against usurping
despots, the exigencies of a war in which the enemies of Poland
were also the enemies of France, combined to suggest vigorous
opposition to the Second Partition.

Nevertheless, France did nothing effective to save Poland. For
this there were many reasons. The failure was not due merely to
the tremendous difficulties and dangers that beset the Revolu-
tionary government at home; nor to the instability, the inexpe-
rience, or the doctrinairism of those who successively held power


at Paris; nor to the remoteness of Poland; nor to the undeniable
lack of sympathy with which many Jacobins regarded the ' aris-
tocratic ' and too conservative reformers of the Third of May. 1
One of the most potent factors in the situation was the predilec-
tion of the disciples of Favier for Prussia. The idea of detaching
Frederick William from Austria and of securing a separate peace,
perhaps even an offensive alliance, with him, haunted the minds
of French statesmen, generals, and publicists. But reconciliation
with Prussia and action on behalf of Poland were two incompat-
ible policies. If Frederick William showed any signs of recipro-
cating the advances made to him, his would-be allies at Paris
were not likely to scrutinize too closely the ' crimes of despotism '
in the East. Prussia was, indeed, the pivot around which the
European political system revolved. Just as the fear of losing
Frederick William's aid precluded Austria and England from
actively opposing the Partition, so the hope of inducing the King
to desert the coalition tempted France to acquiesce in that unholy
transaction. This inhibitory regard for Prussia crops out con-
tinually in the calculations of French diplomacy in 1792 and
1793, strangely intermingled with plans of a rather different
character, in which the deliverance of Poland occasionally figures.
At the beginning of the Revolutionary War, it was the favorite
project of the dominant Girondist party and of Dumouriez, then
Foreign Minister, to win the alliance of Prussia, and, if possible,
of England. Failing in this, they fell back on the classic idea of
forming a coalition which should include Sweden, Poland, and
Turkey. Before anything had been effected towards this end,
however, Poland succumbed before the Russian invasion, while
the proposed mission of Semonville to Constantinople came to
nothing, because the Porte, yielding to the vehement remon-
strances of the three Eastern Powers, refused to receive the am-
bassador. 2 The only part of Dumouriez's program that bore
fruit was the diplomatic campaign begun at Stockholm.

1 As to the indifference or downright contempt felt by a large part of the French
public for Poland, see Askenazy, " Upadek Polski a Francya," in Biblioteka War-
szawska, 1913, i, pp. 16 f.

2 August 20, 1792. Cf. Sorel, op. cil., ii, pp. 455 f.; Grosjean, " La Mission de
Semonville a Constantinople," in La Revolution Francaise, xii (1887).


There the new French envoy, Verninac, enjoyed the experience,
unique in the annals of Revolutionary diplomacy at that time, of
finding a court which not only tolerated but welcomed his ad-
vances. The foreign policy of Sweden had, indeed, undergone a
sort of revolution within a few months after the death of Gusta-
vus III (March 29, 1792). The new Regent, the Duke of Soder-
manland, was determined to free himself from the alliance with
Russia formed by the late King, which he regarded as a galling
and dangerous pact of servitude. For this purpose he needed the
support of some foreign Power, both as a guarantee against future
Russian aggressions, and in order to obtain subsidies that would
enable him to dispense with those that Catherine had hitherto
paid. Hence during the summer of 1792, while Russo-Swedish
relations grew steadily worse, the secret discussions conducted
with Verninac progressed so rapidly that by September it was
agreed that a formal negotiation for a defensive alliance should be
opened at Paris. The French envoy then went home to pave the
way for this negotiation, while Baron de Stael-Holstein, the
Swedish plenipotentiary, was to follow in good season.

At this moment French foreign policy was very near to losing
its bearings altogether, as a result of the astonishing victories of
the republican arms during the autumn. Dazzled and blinded
by success, the Girondists were now talking of nothing less than a
general war on kings, the deliverance of all nations from their
* tyrants,' a universal revolution. Swept along by the reigning
enthusiasm, the Convention passed the famous decrees of Novem-
ber 19 and December 15, 1 by which it declared that it would
( accord fraternity and aid to all peoples who should wish to
recover their freedom,' and laid down a set of rules for the estab-
lishment of liberty and equality in all the lands to which the
armies of France might penetrate. Such sonorous resolutions
were fitted to arouse the hopes of oppressed nations like the
Poles; but they were a reckless and extravagant challenge to all
monarchical Europe, widening the breach between France and
her enemies and rendering difficult an agreement even with the
well-disposed monarchies. At any rate, Lebrun, who had suc-

1 Moniteur (reimpression), xiv, pp. 517, 755 f.


ceeded Dumouriez as Minister of Foreign Affairs and who was far
from sharing the Utopian illusions of the Girondists, quietly went
on with the old plan of seeking friends and building up a counter-
coalition in Eastern Europe.

From November to March, the liberation of Poland seems to
have been an integral part of Lebrun's political program. The
cardinal feature of his plans was an offensive and defensive al-
liance between France and Turkey, to which Sweden, Poland,
and perhaps Prussia, might be admitted. If the Turks could be
induced to declare war on the Imperial Courts and to invade the
Crimea, the Empress would be obliged to evacuate Poland; the
Poles would then fly to arms against their ancient oppressors,
while the Swedes were to deliver an attack in the Baltic and in
Finland. If the King of Prussia insisted on remaining in the
' despotic ' coalition and carrying out his iniquitous designs on
Poland, he might be brought to reason and forced to surrender his
usurpations by a French invasion of Westphalia, combined with a
Swedish attack on Pomerania. To increase the Empress' em-
barrassments, Lebrun hoped to provoke a revolt of the Cossacks
and Tartars, and even to find a hardy soul " to repeat Puga-
chev's adventure." l And at times he talked of supplementing
all these measures by sending French fleets to the Black Sea and
the Baltic. 2 It was a comprehensive program, quite in the
style of the cabinets of the old regime, closely resembling Pitt's
plans of 1 79 1 or the projects of French diplomacy during the War
of the Polish Succession ; it could hardly have appeared chimeri-
cal at that time, in view of the amazing military successes of
the last few months; and it was infinitely more practical than
the contemporary schemes of the Gironde for revolutionizing the

Lebrun's activity reached its height about the end of Febru-
ary and the beginning of March. At that time a new envoy,

1 I. e., to set up as a pretender to the Russian throne and to start a servile

2 For the above, see Lebrun's instructions to S6monville, probably drawn up
in November, 1792, Grosjean, op. cit., p. 896; the instructions given to Descorches
in January, 1793, Sorcl, L' Europe el la Revolution franqaise, iii, pp. 302 ff.; Lebrun
to Parendier, February 28, and to Descorches, March 4, ibid., pp. 305 ff.


Descorches, was en route for Constantinople charged to persuade
the Turks to draw the sword immediately. Baron de Stael had at
last reached Paris (February 25), eager to put through the alliance
with Sweden, and fearful only that Dumouriez's victories would

Online LibraryRobert Howard LordThe second partition of Poland; a study in diplomatic history → online text (page 45 of 59)