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

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render the French indifferent to such connections. 1 Through his
agent Parendier, Lebrun had for some time been in touch with the
leading Polish Patriots, the ' men of the Third of May,' who
gathered at Leipsic; he knew of their plans for a national up-
rising, encouraged them, and promised them money. 2 At the end
of January, Kosciuszko had come to Paris to negotiate for French
support in a new struggle for Polish independence. He was
authorized by the leaders of his party to give assurance that in
case the Patriots regained control in Poland, they would abolish
royalty, episcopacy, aristocracy, and serfdom, and establish
liberty and equality according to the most approved Parisian
standards. These promises are significant as showing, not indeed
that the conservative reformers of the Third of May were turning
into Jacobins, but that they had taken at their face value the
recent decrees of the Convention and that they were ready to
accept the principles laid down on the 15th of December in order
to secure the aid of the triumphant Republic. What Kosciuszko
chiefly desired was the landing of a French army in the Crimea,
which in conjunction with the Turks should assist in the liberation
of his country; after this had been accomplished he promised
that Poland would unite with France, Sweden, and the Porte in
the final struggle against the league of crowned despots. 3 Kos-
ciuszko had several conferences with Lebrun, and he also met
such prominent personages as Brissot, Vergniaud, Barere,
Herault, and Robespierre. 4 " The French Republic is actively
occupied," Lebrun wrote to Parendier on February 28, " with
the great measures that may release this interesting nation
[Poland] from the odious yoke that oppresses it. . . . Courage,
energy, and perseverance, and Poland will be saved." 5

1 Boethius, " Gustav IV Adolfs formyndareregering och den Franska Revolu-
tionen," in Historisk Tidskrift, xviii, pp. 182 ff. 2 Sorel, op. cit., iii, p. 305.

3 On the aims of Kosciuszko's mission, cf . Askenazy, " Upadek Polski a Francya,"
in Biblioteka Warszawska, 1913, i, pp. 20 ff .

4 Ibid., p. 23. 6 Sorel, op. cit., iii, p. 305.


All these hopes and plans, however, depended primarily upon
the continued success of the French arms, and in March a series
of terrible reverses began: the failure of the invasion of Holland,
the defeat at Neerwinden (March 18), the complete loss of Bel-
gium, the treason of Dumouriez (April 5), the invasion of France
from all sides, and the outbreak of civil war at home. This sud-
den and bewildering change in the situation necessarily produced
momentous changes in policy. In the first Committee of Public
Safety (appointed April 6), in which Danton was the leading
spirit, the tendency was to abandon that system of cosmopolitan
idealism, armed propaganda, and universal revolution, by which
the Girondists had so aroused the fears of sovereigns and the
hopes of peoples, and instead to fall back on a policy based
exclusively upon the practical needs and the material interests of
France. While determined to prosecute the war with all the vigor
necessary to defend the independence and integrity of the Re-
public, the new government desired to make peace if possible,
and at least to diminish the number of its enemies; and for that
purpose it was ready to adapt itself to the methods and usages of
the older Europe, without allowing Revolutionary principles to
stand too much in the way. 1

Danton and his associates no longer thought seriously of doing
anything to liberate Poland. To undertake the defence of that
country would mean prolonging the war indefinitely, while the
French people obviously wanted peace. Such an attempt might
ruin France without saving Poland. Besides, the impending
Partition would not be without its advantages for France, since
it would almost certainly arouse jealousies among the three
Eastern Powers and might greatly facilitate peace between
France and some of them. Under the new government the idea of
a separate peace and an alliance with Prussia had become the
cardinal aim of French policy, and there was no surer way to
conciliate Frederick William than to assent to his designs on
Poland. It is highly probable that in the secret conferences held

1 Cf . the admirable characterizations of the foreign policy of the first Committee
of Public Safety in Sorel, op. cit., iii, pp. 380 ff.; Aulard, " La Diplomatic du premier
Comite de Salut Public," in his £tiidcs et leqons sur la Revolution franqaise, j e serie.


about this time with the Prussians, verbal assurances were given
that France would not oppose the Partition. 1 At any rate, it
seems clear that from the outset the Committee of Public Safety
was ready, in case of a formal negotiation with Prussia, to offer,
not indeed an open approval, but a tacit recognition of the
Partition, and to make capital out of its acquiescence in what it
was unable to prevent. 2 Thus France prepared to abandon Po-
land just at the moment when Russia and Prussia announced to
the world the new Partition.

The rest of Lebrun's plans did not long survive the disasters of
the spring. When Descorches, after protracted delays, reached
Constantinople (June 7), he found that the Turks had lost all
stomach for war, and that nothing could tempt them out of a
timorous neutrality. 3 With Sweden matters did for a time pro-
gress more favorably. On May 17 Lebrun signed the treaty of
defensive alliance which he had agreed upon with Baron de Stael,
and which the latter then sent home for the approval of his
government. Although the Regent was fearful of the conse-
quences of the adventure and by no means inclined to plunge
into the general war if he could avoid it, still he was so badly in
need of funds and his relations with the Empress had reached so
acute a state of tension that he would probably have consented
to ratify the treaty, providing a few slight alterations were made
in it. But meanwhile Danton and Lebrun had fallen, and the new
Committee of Public Safety, appointed July 10 (the second or
' great ' one) , had no real desire for the Swedish alliance. Accord-
ing to the ideas of Robespierre, who was now the real head of the
government, the proposed treaty was dangerous because it might
involve France in wars in which she had no concern; whereas
once liberty had been consolidated and the Republic recognized,

1 Aulard, op. tit., p. 205.

2 The best expressions of the new French attitude towards Poland are to be
found in the instructions to Descorches of April 20 (in Sorel, op. tit., iii, pp. 396
ff.) and the ' plan de pacification,' drawn up in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,
probably early in May (cf. Sorel, iii, pp. 394 ff., and Aulard, op. tit., pp. 205 f.).

3 Zinkeisen's very inaccurate account of Descorches' negotiation contains the
statement that the French envoy actually succeeded in concluding a secret treaty
of alliance with the Porte (Gesch. d. osmanischen Reiches, vi, pp. 872 ff.). The
true history of the affair is to be found in Aulard, op. tit., pp. 229-240.


the latter ought never again to draw the sword except to defend
itself and other peoples who wished to shake off the yoke of
' tyrants.' Through the fault of France and not of Sweden —
and for such doctrinaire reasons — the project of alliance was pres-
ently dropped x (September). And with it disappeared, at least
for the time being, all hope of forming that 'League of the North,'
that ' anti-despotic coalition,' which was the one combination
that might have done something in 1793 to check the designs of
Catherine and Frederick William and to succor prostrate Poland.
Under the second Committee of Public Safety France virtually
renounced having a diplomacy or a foreign policy, save that pur-
sued with the sword. If Robespierre desired any foreign connec-
tion, it was only one with the Swiss Cantons. 2 Switzerland was
said to be a respectable Republic: Poland was not, at least accord-
ing to Jacobin standards.

1 By far the best account of this much-misunderstood subject, and especially
of the causes for the failure of the Swedish alliance project, is to be found in Boe-
thius, op. cit. (which alone is based upon both the French and the Swedish Archives).
Cf. also Rene Petiet, Guslave IV Adolphe et la Revolution francaise, pp. 51 f.

2 Sorel, op. cit., iii, p. 436.


The Diet of Grodno and the Consummation of

the Partition

If no resistance to the Partition was to be expected from foreign
Powers, Poland itself was quite without the means of self-defence.
No nation threatened with ruin was ever caught in a more helpless
and prostrate condition. One hundred thousand of the Empress'
troops occupied the entire country, save those western palatinates
where the Prussians had marched in and taken possession. War-
saw, the hotbed of ' Jacobinism ' (i. e., patriotic feeling), was
heavily garrisoned with Russians and encircled by armed camps.
The Confederation of Targowica had done whatever it could to
render the national army useless by splitting it up into small
detachments, and scattering them about the country in such a
way that each detachment was surrounded by superior Russian
forces; and the Polish troops had also been deliberately deprived
of cannon and ammunition. 1 The best men of the nation, the
leaders of the Constitutional party, were in exile. Whatever
government existed was in the hands of a rapacious, blind, and
cowardly crew, equally despised by the Power whose interests
they served, and by the nation upon which they had brought
such disasters. When the Partition was announced, the original
leaders of Targowica hastened to desert the sinking ship; and
those who remained behind at the head of the Confederation
were, with few exceptions, only those who had no scruples about
exploiting their country's ruin for their private gain, and who
were willing to render whatever services the Russian ambassador
might require.

In order that no kind of misfortune might be lacking, the politi-
cal crisis was accompanied by an economic one. The nation was

1 Korzon, Wewnqtrzne dzieje, v, p. 279.



suffering terribly from the exactions and depredations of the
Russian troops, and still more perhaps from the lawless operations
of the Targowician brigands, under whom no man's rights or
property were safe, and who practised what even a Russian
ambassador described as " a truly Asiatic despotism." l The
crowning blow came in February, 1793, with the failure of almost
all the leading banks, which ruined a host of capitalists, reduced
the richest families to penury, and completed the economic pros-
tration of the country. 2

With calamities of all sorts following thick and fast upon each
other, it is not strange that while the announcement of the
impending Partition aroused vehement indignation and protests,
it also produced general consternation and despair. Armed
resistance seemed out of the question; the Republic was ob-
viously doomed. Many people were chiefly anxious to end the
tragedy as soon as possible by quiet submission to the inevitable;
and some regretted that the Powers had not decided to partition
the country entirely, and thus spare the moribund state the
agonies of a lingering death. 3 It was true that the idea of a
national uprising and a final struggle for independence was al-
ready fermenting in the minds of the emigres in Saxony and in
certain military and other patriotic circles in Poland. 4 But these
projects had assumed no definite form, nothing was yet ready,
at the time when Catherine set out to finish her work by extorting
the consent of the Republic to its own dismemberment.

The management of this disagreeable business had been en-
trusted to Baron Sievers, the new Russian ambassador, who
arrived in Warsaw in February, 1 793 ; and perhaps the Empress
could not have made a happier selection. Sievers was a benevo-
lent, elderly, old-fashioned gentleman, with a dash of sentimen-
tality, pleasant and tactful manners, a perpetual smile, and a

1 Blum, Sievers Denkwiirdigkeiten, iii, p. 264.

2 Cf. Korzon, op. cit., ii, pp. 159 ff.; Oginski, Memoires, i, pp. 235 ff.

3 Kraszewski, Polska w czasie trzech rozbiordw, iii, 283; KocrosiapoBi, HocirijiHie
ro^H PiHH-IIocnoJiHTOH, ii, p. 276; Oginski, op. cit., pp. 233 ff.; Buchholtz's re-
ports of March 14, May 5 and 8, 1793, B. A., R. 9, 27, 1; de Cache's reports of
January 23 and February 9, V. A., Polen, Berichte, 1793.

4 Korzon, op. cit., ii, p. 176, v, p. 276; Korzon, KoSciuszko, pp. 266 ff.


face that bespoke only candor and simplicity. Behind this
appearance of patriarchal bonhomie there lay a clear, cool head,
an inflexible will, an independent and self-reliant judgment, and
the readiness to use all means that would serve his purpose. At
bottom he seems to have felt not a little disgust at his sordid task,
pity for the King whose friend and companion he had been forty
years before, and sympathy for the nation which he had been sent
to coerce and terrorize. He would have liked to avoid violent
measures as much as possible; to ameliorate conditions in Poland,
as far as was compatible with Russian interests; to turn the
country into a well-ordered Russian satrapy. Throughout his
stormy embassy, in the midst of the brutalities which he was
obliged to perform " with bleeding heart," as he wrote to his
daughters, he consoled himself with the thought that he was doing
a service to humanity by transferring millions of men to the benefi-
cent sway of the Empress, and by restoring order, justice, and
tranquillity in what was left of Poland. 1

Sievers' first task was to induce the King to go to Grodno,
where by the Empress' orders the coming Diet was to be held —
far from the tumults and excitement of ' Jacobin ' Warsaw.
Although the ambassador at that time professed to know nothing
of an impending partition and declared that the chief aim of the
Diet was to settle definitively the constitution of the Republic,
still Stanislas could hardly be in doubt about what was in the
wind. As usual, he sighed, wept, expostulated, ran the gamut
of the tragic emotions. " Heavens," he cried out, " will they
force me to sign my shame, to subscribe to a new partition ? Let
them throw me into prison, let them send me to Siberia, but I
will never sign ! " 2 But in spite of these heroics, the King had
one — to him — irresistible motive for yielding, a motive that
was to make him the pliant tool of Russia throughout the sad
events that followed. His debts had now swollen to over thirty
million florins; 3 owing to the general failure of the banks he could

1 See, e.g., Blum, S^ers, iii, pp. 84, 94,189, 241, 274. 2 Blum,op.ciL,in,p.ii4.

3 Sievers reported in February that the royal debts amounted to 30 millions
(Blum, op. cit., iii, p. 60); but that figure is almost certainly too low, since the
detailed statement drawn up in September, 1793, and signed by the King, gave a
total of 33,515,236 fl 8 . See Korzon, Wewnqtrzne dzieje, iii, pp. 89-92.


borrow no more; the state treasury was almost empty; and he
was absolutely at his wit's end to find money. In these straits he
was ready to descend once more to the depths of baseness by
becoming the pensioner of Russia — at such a moment. Hence
in his interviews with Sievers patriotic outbursts alternated with
pleas for the Empress' assistance in paying his debts, to which
the ambassador replied that the subject of the royal debts might
be taken up at the close of the Diet, i. e., after the King had done
all that should be required of him. Hence, after a month of
evasion and petty subterfuges, Stanislas consented to go to
Grodno, and accepted twenty thousand florins from Sievers for
the expenses of the journey. 1 And hence he told one of his con-
fidants at this time that he would assuredly sign the partition
treaty that was to be presented to him, although in public he
continued to declare on every occasion that he would never,
never sign. 2

Having thus entrapped the King, Sievers hastened on ahead to
Grodno, where on April 9 he and his Prussian colleague Buch-
holtz transmitted to the Generality of the Confederation the
manifestoes of the allied Courts, announcing the Partition and
demanding the convocation of a Diet to settle the affair ' amica-
bly.' The Generality, whose leading members had known very
well in advance what was coming, protested pro forma; but they
had no more desire than the King to court the martyr's crown by
indiscreet resistance to Russia. They hesitated, however, to
assume the odium of summoning a Diet, the outcome of which was
only too clearly to be foreseen. They assured Sievers that they
were precluded from sending out the ' universals ' (i. e., the
letters of convocation) by the oath of the Confederation, which
bound them to defend the integrity of the Republic. Still, as they
were men of resource, they found a way around this difficulty by
an ingenious device. They restored the Permanent Council (an
institution established by Russia in 1775, and abolished by the
Four Years' Diet), and entrusted that body with the ignominious

1 Blum, op. cit., iii, pp. 114, 130 f., 186.

2 Blum, iii, pp. 131 f.; Kraszewski, op. cit., iii, p. 309.


duty in question. 1 The revived Council was packed with Sievers'
creatures, whom even the Russian general Igelstrom described as
" men of the worst character, gamblers, crooks, and brigands." 2
Its first act was to issue the universals for the Diet, which the
King was forced to sign — as a gratuitous humiliation — on the
3rd of May.

The elections were planned by the ambassador with great care,
and with all the savoir faire which a long experience in Poland had
taught the Russians. Sievers gathered around him at Grodno an
unofficial committee of his Polish ' friends,' with whom he settled
the details of the campaign, the list of the deputies to be elected,
and the instructions to be given them. Electioneering agents,
mostly Poles, were appointed to manage each Dietine; Russian
troops were to be everywhere on hand to overawe opposition; and
no means of persuasion, bribery, or coercion were to be neglected.
The ever-complaisant Generality assisted as much as it could by
issuing a couple of sancita (decrees), which excluded from voting
or from being elected all those who had not ' renounced ' the Four
Years' Diet; those who had participated in the establishment of
the Constitution of the Third of May; those who had not joined
the Confederation of Targowica; and those who, having joined
that Confederation, had presumed to protest against any of its
decisions. 3

After such comprehensive preparations and in view of the utter
depression of the nation, it is not surprising that the elections
passed off quietly and smoothly. In 1773, at the time of the
First Partition, patriots had tried to protest by preventing the
election of deputies, and at least half of the Dietines had been
' exploded ' ; 4 but on this occasion most of the better citizens
simply stayed away from assemblies where their presence could
do no good, and where they were exposed to every kind of insult
and violence. In many cases those from whom opposition was

1 That this solution of the problem emanated from the Poles themselves (Bishop
Kossakowski and others) and not from Sievers, appears from Buchholtz's report of
April n, B. A., R. 19, 27, 1.

2 Blum, op. cit., iii, p. 206.

3 Blum, op. cit., iii, p. 236.

4 Over thirty Dietines (out of a total of about sixty), Kraszewski, op. cit., i, p. 92.


feared, were driven away from the Dietines by the Russian troops
or forcibly confined in their homes. In the assemblies thus effect-
ually ' purified,' the crowds of poor szlachta, bought up at ten,
twenty, or thirty florins a head, acclaimed without debate the
deputies nominated by the Russian agents, and the instructions
approved by the Russian ambassador, and then adjourned to the
customary Gargantuan banquet, to drink the health of the Em-
press and the King amid the thunder of Russian cannon. 1

Sievers was delighted with the outcome. Writing to congratu-
late the Empress on " the complete success of the Dietines," he
assured her: " Never has a Diet cost so little as this one, and there
never was one that did so much in fourteen days as I shall do,
sick though I am. The one of 1772 lasted three years." 2

Soon afterward the ambassador received two highly signifi-
cant rescripts in which Catherine outlined her plans for the Diet.
In accordance with the procedure followed at the First Partition,
he was ordered to demand at the outset the appointment of a
committee or ' delegation,' with full powers both to negotiate
with the two allied Courts (with Russia first) on the basis of their
declarations of April 9, and to conclude the required treaties of
cession. In this negotiation the ambassador was directed to
make common cause with his Prussian colleague. 3 But the extor-
tion of the territories in question was only the first part of Cathe-
rine's program; the second half of it reveals the fact that her
ambition was still unsatisfied, and that she was firmly determined
to rivet her chains upon what was left of the unhappy Republic.
For, as the rescript proceeds to suggest, Poland, in the condition
to which it would be reduced by the Second Partition, could no
longer exist as an independent state; the Empress would have

1 For general accounts of the Dietines of 1793, see, HiOBaficKift, Ceihrtrpofl-
HencKw, pp. 59 ff.; KocroMapoBi, op. cit., ii, pp. 271 ff.; Blum, op. cit., iii, pp.
232 ff.; Morawski, Dzieje narodu polskiego, v, pp. 352 f.; Kraszewski, op. cit.,
iii, pp. 299 f.

Ilovaiski gives an interesting description of the Dietine of Lublin and the
instructions drawn up for the deputies of the palatinate of Troki; but for the most
part we sadly lack detailed knowledge of the course of these last Dietines of the

2 Letter to the Empress of May 21/June 1, 1793, Blum, op. cit., iii, pp. 255 f.

3 Rescript of May 24/June 4, M. A., Hojituia, III, 70.


been glad to annex the whole country, but felt unable to do so at
that moment in view of the jealousy of the neighboring Powers;
and she had, therefore, resolved to attain her essential aim by
concluding with the Republic an alliance of so close and intimate a
nature as to render the two nations henceforth one and insepar-
able. Sievers was instructed to arrange matters so that the pro-
posal for this alliance should seem to come spontaneously from
the Poles. He was also to take pains to secure for himself a de-
cisive influence in the settlement of the Polish constitution, and in
general it was made clear that however powerless and innocuous
the Republic might have become, the Empress did not intend to
allow it a shadow of liberty. But in these ulterior arrangements,
the Court of Berlin was to have no voice whatever. Once the
treaties of cession had been disposed of, Sievers and Buchholtz
were to part company; the Prussians were to be given to under-
stand that their role was played out, and they were henceforth
to be excluded from all participation in Polish affairs. Lumi-
nously summing up her policy of that period in a single sentence,
Catherine declared: " We must profit by the preoccupations of
our neighbors in order to arrange all our affairs with the Republic
on a solid and stable basis." 1

Thus, according to the Empress' will, the coming Diet was
doomed not only to cede away more than half of the national
territory, but also to sign a bond of servitude, surrendering what
remained of the Republic to the guardianship and the scarcely-
disguised domination of Russia.


The Diet which met at Grodno on June 17, 1793, was the last
and stormiest one in the history of the Republic. The terrible
position in which this assembly was placed, the unparalleled acts
of violence to which it was subjected, the eloquent and pathetic
language in which it poured forth its sufferings to the world
almost suffice to invest it with the dignity of tragedy; but when
one considers the shameless venality shown by so many of its

1 Rescript of May 26/June 6, M. A., Hoabma, III, 70 (printed in Appendix


members, the contrast between their flaming speeches in public
and their private bargains with the Russian ambassador, the

Online LibraryRobert Howard LordThe second partition of Poland; a study in diplomatic history → online text (page 46 of 59)