Robert Howard Lord.

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

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frivolity and the passion for amusement that marked the social
life at Grodno even at such a moment, one is tempted to regard
the whole episode as only an unholy and disgraceful farce.

The great majority of the deputies had been chosen at the
dictation of Russian agents and under circumstances that made it
very difficult for honest men to be elected. The Austrian charge
d'affaires declared that most of them were " men without prop-
erty or influence or decent reputations, who could be expected
to render blind obedience and to look out only for their personal
interests." l The public from the first derided them as ' hired
land-ceders.' 2 The leaders of the assembly — the Hetman
Kossakowski; his brother, the Bishop of Livonia; Pulaski and
Zabiello, the two Marshals of the Confederation; Bielifiski, the
Marshal of the Diet; Ozarowski and the rest — were the men who
had managed the Dietines for Russia, and who throughout the
Diet continued to draw the largest sums from the caisse de seduc-
tion maintained by the Russian and Prussian ministers in com-
mon. At least seventeen other deputies enjoyed regular pensions
from the same source; while a still larger number of incon-
spicuous and impecunious members — how many it is difficult
to say — appear to have sold themselves for modest sums at the
time of their election, and to have received occasional gratuities
later on. The ambassador furnished many of them with board,
lodging, and carriages, and his own table was constantly thronged
by crowds of hungry hirelings. In short, it may safely be as-
serted that from one half to two thirds of the members of this
assembly were under financial obligations to the Powers whose
demands it was their bounden duty and their loudly professed
intention to resist. One will judge them less harshly, however,
if one remembers that the King himself was foremost in setting
an evil example; for it is certain that in the course of the Diet
Stanislas accepted not less than thirty-five thousand ducats from
the Russian ambassador. 3

1 De Cache's report of June 7, V. A., Polen, Berichte, 1793.

2 De Cache's report of June 23 (" vermiethete Landabgeber "), V. A., loc. cit.

3 On the corruption practised at the Grodno Diet and the preceding Dietines:


In view of these facts, it is all the more surprising that this
assembly should have offered so violent and protracted a resis-
tance to the demands of the partitioning Powers; a resistance
that astonished Europe, confounded all the prophets, and forced
Sievers to take, not two weeks, as he had originally expected, but
three months, to put through his treaties. A partial explanation is
doubtless to be found in the natural desire of the venal majority
to save their faces before their own fellow-countrymen. In order
to avoid the appearance of too gross collusion with the foreigners,
it was necessary to make a brave show of resistance. Besides,
even these men may not have been without some remnant of
patriotism; and at least they possessed the national talent for
oratory and the sense of what the dramatic proprieties demanded.
If they were to consummate the dismemberment of Poland, they
would do it in the grand manner: with floods of eloquence, with
passionate protests, with sighs and tears, with all the appear-
ances of yielding only to brute force, with appeals to the civilized
world and to posterity.

It is also clear that Sievers' plans were often crossed by intrigues
emanating, one might say, from those of his own household.
Among all the Polish satellites of Russia, none were warmer in
their professions of devotion than the Kossakowskis; and
doubtless that powerful family was loyal enough as long as Russia
allowed them to exercise the monstrous tyranny which they had
set up in Lithuania in the name of the Confederation. But when
Sievers, indignant at their proceedings, attempted to put a stop to
them and also threatened to dissolve the Confederation, the
Kossakowskis passed into secret but none the less active and
insidious opposition to him. The family was not an enemy to be
despised; for they controlled almost all the sixty deputies of
Lithuania, and they had powerful Russian backers, notably
General Igelstrom * at Warsaw and the favorite Zubov at St.
Petersburg. Their great aim, apparently, was to effect the dis-

Blum, op. cit., iii, pp. 102 f., 236 f., 252, 254 ff., iv, pp. 29-35; Buchholtz's reports
of February 15, March 6, May 12, 15, 20, July 10, 14, 18, August 3, September 17,
B. A., R. 9, 27, 1; KocroMapoBt, op. cit., ii, pp. 272 ff.; HjiOBaficiufi, op. cit.,
pp. 59 ff.

1 Commander-in-chief of the Empress' forces in Poland.


ruption of the Diet, in order that the Confederation of Targowica
might remain the sole authority in the Republic, and that they
themselves might continue to work their evil will in Lithuania.
Apart from that, they seem to have tried to create as many
difficulties as possible for Sievers, with the aid of their deputies
and their Russian friends; and it may be noted in passing that
at the close of the Diet, by a particularly subtle stratagem, they
succeeded in bringing about his recall in disgrace. 1

The most determined opposition, however, came from the small
group of patriots who were known at Grodno as the party of ' the
Zealots.' In spite of all the precautions and rigors employed at
the Dietines, a few bold and incorruptible citizens had managed
to get elected, chiefly in the palatinates of Mazovia and Plock,
and had come to the Diet with the sole purpose of putting up a
desperate resistance to the Partition. They numbered only about
twenty-five, out of a total of one hundred and forty deputies; but
they were to play a role quite disproportionate to their numbers.
They can hardly have expected to be able to thwart the Partition,
and they could offer no concrete plan for doing so; their one hope
lay in delaying matters until some lucky accident, some change
in the European situation, might intervene to save them. At any
rate, they insisted on fighting to the last ditch; they indignantly
repudiated the favorite argument of the majority that by con-
senting to the Partition the integrity and independence of what
was left of Poland might at least be assured; their watchword
was: ' If we must perish, let us perish with honor, not with
shame.' Constantly in the forefront of the battle, inexhaustible
in devices for delaying and obstructing, eloquent, indefatigable,
and irrepressible, they succeeded in making endless trouble for
Sievers and Buchholtz; they staved off the inevitable surrender
far longer than anyone had anticipated ; and they saved this Diet
from complete ignominy by proving that there were still brave
men and honest men in Poland.

The turbulent temper and the probable course of this assembly
were sufficiently revealed by the opening sessions. First of all,

1 On the relations between Sievers and the Kossakowski clique and Zubov, cf.
Blum, op. cit., iii, pp. 31 ff., 215 ff., 261 ff., 270, 290 ff., 358 ff., 444 ff.; iv, pp. 22,
24 ff., 28, 136.


the ambassador put through, without difficulty, the election of
Stanislas Bielifiski, a ruined gambler and a notorious hireling of
Russia, as Marshal (i. e., president). Immediately afterward,
however, the deputies fell to quarreling over the oath to be taken
by the Marshal, and two days were spent in tumultuous and
fruitless wrangling. It would seem that the Kossakowski party,
the Zealots, and the King's friends united in provoking and pro-
longing this dispute in the hope of disrupting the assembly; for,
according to custom, if a Diet were not constituted within three
days after meeting, it was considered dissolved. Seeing through
this intrigue, Sievers promptly intervened and arrested five of
the disturbers. Thereupon the majority calmed down; the
Marshal was allowed to take the oath, and the assembly was
duly organized as a Confederated Diet (under the ' bond ' of the
Confederation of Targowica), with the Senate and Chamber of
Deputies sitting together and the operation of the Liberum Veto

The next day (June 20) Sievers and Buchholtz presented
identical notes demanding the appointment of a delegation fully
empowered to negotiate and conclude treaties with them on the
basis of their declarations of April 9. After the reading of these
notes before the Diet, the King arose and made the brave-sound-
ing declaration: " I acceded to the General Confederation
guaranteed by the Empress only because its Act assured me of the
integrity and independence of the Republic. I cannot free myself
from the obligations incurred by my adhesion to the Confedera-
tion, and I have resolved under no conditions to sign any treaty
whatsoever which has for its aim to deprive the Republic of even
the smallest part of its possessions. I hope that the members of
the Diet, bound by the same oath, will follow my example." He
proposed that the Estates reply to these notes in moderate lan-
guage requesting that the two Courts should restore to the
Republic the lands they had taken, as the Polish nation had given
no excuse for their seizure. 1 Although probably no one imagined
that the King would stand by the firm resolution thus announced
— who could forget how often he had sworn to die for the Con-

1 KocTOMapoBt, op. cit., ii, p. 281.


stitution of the Third of May ? — still his speech was received
with loud applause; the Diet appeared to be entirely a unit, and
responses in accordance with his suggestions were sent to the two
foreign ministers.

Sievers and Buchholtz at once reiterated their demand in more
emphatic form. They had anticipated some initial ebullitions of
Polish patriotism, but they were by no means prepared for the
storm of violent and impassioned oratory that marked the ses-
sions of the next three days (June 24-26). Unfortunately, it soon
became apparent how illusory had been the semblance of unanim-
ity at the outset. Although the Zealots demanded that the
Diet should resolve never to consent to a partition or even to
appoint a delegation to treat with the two Powers, although the
King exhorted the deputies to arm themselves with manly cour-
age, the out-and-out partisans of Russia were already beginning
to urge the necessity of giving way in order to save what remained
of the fatherland, and the Kossakowskis offered a compromise
proposal, which was to negotiate with Russia but not at all with
the Court of Berlin. This latter suggestion had much to com-
mend it to the majority. If there was any feeling common to all
Poles at that moment, it was bitter hatred towards the perfidious
and perjured Frederick William. On the other hand, their
sentiments towards Russia were moderated by the reflection that
after all Catherine had had some grounds for complaint against
them, and that her friendship and protection could best guarantee
the Republic a tranquil existence in the future. The Kossakow-
skis and their partisans talked of establishing some kind of organic
connection between Poland and Russia, like the union between
Poland and Lithuania, apparently with the idea that by nattering
the Empress with such projects they could induce her to renounce
the thought of a partition. Or, in case it was necessary to satisfy
her demands for territory, might it not be hoped that she would
then turn round and protect the Republic against the demands of
Prussia ? Acting upon such calculations, on June 26 the Diet
voted, on the one hand to appeal to the foreign Powers to use
their influence with the Courts of St. Petersburg and Berlin on
behalf of Poland — an appeal which proved perfectly fruitless —


and on the other hand to appoint a deputation to negotiate with
Russia and with Russia alone.

This attempt to separate the interests of the partitioning Powers
and to play off one against the other placed Sievers in a rather
embarrassing position. Though alarmed at the unforeseen course
that the Diet was taking, convinced that the King was playing
him false, and suspicious that the recent decision was only a trick
intended to gain time and embroil the situation, still the ambassa-
dor could not fail to be gratified by the marked preference shown
to his Court, and somewhat tempted by the professed desire of the
Kossakowski party for a union with Russia. Reporting to the
Empress his conversations with the Bishop of Livonia, he inti-
mated that it would not be difficult to bring about the voluntary
submission of Lithuania, or indeed of all Poland. Should he not
at least attempt to buy from the Republic the overlordship over
Courland ? From many indications it appears that both then
and later he inclined to bolder and more ambitious projects than
had originally been contemplated, and that he would have pre-
ferred not to be satisfied with taking merely the half of Poland
when it would be so easy to take the whole of it. 1 Catherine, how-
ever, was not to be seduced into so radical and dangerous a
change of system. She ordered her ambassador to hold to the
plan of action originally prescribed; not to raise the question of
the suzerainty of Courland now; to let the Lithuanians alone,
and to prevent any premature and indiscreet movement in favor
of a union. 2

Meanwhile the Diet continued its dilatory tactics, amid fre-
quent scenes of uproarious disorder and constant demonstrations
of a wayward and refractory temper. The notes sent in by
Sievers and Buchholtz on June 28, protesting against the attempt
to separate the two Courts and demanding that the Deputation
be authorized to treat with Prussia, remained without effect.

1 Regarding Sievers' attitude towards the proposed union, cf . his letter to
Zubov of April 17, and his reports to the Empress of June 23, 26, July 4, August 13,
Blum, op. cit., Hi, pp. 186, 281 ft, 290, 337; as to Courland, his reports of May 14,
25, June 23, ibid., iii, pp. 239 f., 281.

2 Rescripts to Sievers of June 15/26 and June 23/July 4, M. A., noa&nia, III,
70. The latter rescript is printed in Appendix XVIII, 2.


Even the preparations for a negotiation with Russia advanced at
only a snail's pace. The Diet could not be driven forward a step
without continual resorts to coercion. Sievers began by seques-
trating the King's revenues — a measure which promptly broke
down what slight powers of resistance Stanislas possessed, and
made him throughout the rest of the Diet the docile instrument of
Russia. Later the ambassador temporarily arrested seven
deputies of the opposition by way of making an example; 1 he
deported two others from Grodno, heavily reinforced the Russian
troops in and about the city, and sequestrated the estates of
Count Tyszkiewicz; finally, in one fulminating note after the
other he threatened the assembly and the country with the direst
disasters, unless his demands were immediately satisfied. Even
these severities generally resulted in extorting only half-conces-
sions. The ambassador was unable to procure for the Deputation
either the instructions or the full powers he desired, or to get it
chosen by the method he preferred, or to fill it entirely with his
creatures as he had planned. In fact, in appointing this com-
mittee (on July 11), the Poles still pretended that they were
consenting to a negotiation, not about cessions of territory, but
about a treaty of commerce and the ' perpetual alliance ' which
the Deputation was authorized to offer to the Empress. 2 At all
events, Sievers was satisfied to have secured any deputation at
all, and he intended to pay no attention to the limited powers or
the futile instructions it might have received.

The ' negotiation ' with this committee was a pure farce. At
the first meeting (July 13), the ambassador presented the ready-

1 It is characteristic of the diversity of statements in the historical works dealing
with the Grodno Diet that the number of deputies arrested on July 2 is given as
5, 7, 9, 12, or 16 by different writers. In fixing the number at 7, I am following
Buchholtz's report of July 4, B. A., R. 9, 27, 1.

2 The original draft of the instruction to the Deputation had spoken of proposing
to the Empress so close an alliance that " Poland and Russia should in future be
considered as one indissoluble body." This draft probably emanated from the
Kossakowskis. The Zealots had raised so strong an opposition to this ' incorpora-
tion ' of Poland with Russia that in the final draft all suggestion of an organic con-
nection between the two states had been abandoned. Possibly the Kossakowskis
had also learned from St. Petersburg that the Empress did not approve of their
projects for a union. Cf. KocroMapoBt, op. cit., ii, pp. 293 ff.


made draft of a treaty by which the Republic was to cede to the
Empress the lands she demanded; he added that no changes or
additions would be allowed, and begged the Deputation to report
at once to the Diet. The Polish counter-proposals were scarcely
honored with a moment's consideration.

On July 15 the Deputation reported to the Diet; the draft
presented by Sievers was read, and also a note from the ambassa-
dor demanding that the Deputation be authorized to conclude
the treaty at once as the only means of saving the country. The
crisis had now arrived, and it was time for this assembly to show
its mettle. That day and the following no decision was reached,
but amid the general flood of patriotic declamation one deputy in
the pay of Russia, Lobarzewski, had the temerity to present a
motion in favor of yielding to the demands of the ambassador.
Sievers, growing impatient, sent in a new note (on the 16th),
threatening that if by the close of the next day the Diet had not
granted the Deputation full powers to sign the treaty, he would
regard it as a refusal to treat and as a hostile declaration; and the
Russian troops would then do military execution on the estates
of those members of the assembly who should be found opposing
" the general will of honest people and of the nation." l The
King, the Kossakowskis, and other dependents of Russia were
warned that they would be held responsible for everything that
might follow.

The 17th, then, was to be the decisive day. At the opening
of the session, the King delivered a moving but rather ambigu-
ous speech, 2 the general tendency of which was to counsel sub-
mission to the inevitable. But thereupon the Zealots broke
loose, and for hours this handful of strong-lunged patriots over-
awed a majority already determined to yield but still afraid to
say so. One deputy, Galezowski, proposed replying to Sievers
that the Polish nation calmly awaited the execution of his threats,
as the Roman Senate awaited the Gauls. 3 Karski declared that
if there were in the chamber anyone who would sign this treaty,

1 This note is printed in Angeberg, Reciml des Traites, pp. 314 ff.

2 The text in Angeberg, op. cit., pp. 316 f.

3 KocTOMapoBt, op. cit., ii, p. 314.


he would be the first to set an example of how to deal with
traitors. 1 Mikorski cried out, " Better for us to perish with honor
than to crown ourselves with eternal infamy in the lying hope of
saving the remainder of the country." 2 Kimbar reproached the
King for all his past mistakes and adjured him to efface their
memory by giving one immortal example of heroism now. " They
threaten us with Siberia," he added. " Let us go to Siberia then!
It will not be without charms for us; its deserts will be our
Elysian Fields, for everything . . . will remind us of our virtue,
our devotion to our country. . . . Yes, let them send us to
Siberia. Sire, lead us thither! " 3 The Diet, quick to catch fire,
joined in the cry, " Yes, to Siberia! To Siberia! "

As the assembly was reaching a dangerous pitch of exaltation
and he himself had been personally attacked, the King spoke
again, exerting all his undeniable eloquence to justify himself
and to moderate the chamber. He praised the patriotism of those
who feared neither prison nor desert nor death, but would such
personal self-sacrifice save the country ? Since they could do
nothing for those compatriots who had already passed under a
foreign domination, their duty was to their remaining country-
men whom they still might save. It would be folly to say to
Russia: ' Destroy, enslave three and a half million more of Poles,
whose representatives we are; we will it, because you have
already made yourself master of fcur millions of our brothers.'
He pictured the horrible state of the country in case the am-
bassador were driven to fulfil his threats: devastation, famine,
pestilence, and universal misery. The Diet had already done
all that was possible to save the brothers wrenched away from
them, and now it was necessary to renounce further resistance,
which would not only be perfectly fruitless but would plunge
what was left of the state into the most terrible disasters. 4

The King's speech made an obvious impression upon the assem-
bly. Taking advantage of this, the partisans of Russia came
forward more boldly in favor of the Lobarzewski motion of the

1 Ibid. 2 ILiOBafi cium, op. cit., p. no.

3 This speech is printed in Angeberg, op. cit., pp. 317 fL; cf. ILiOBafiCKift, p. in.

4 This speech is printed in Angeberg, op. cit., pp. 319-322.


preceding day. Bishop Kossakowski assured the Diet that their
patriotic declarations alone would suffice to justify them in the
eyes of Europe and of posterity; he advised signing the treaty,
and added that by yielding to Russia, the Poles might hope that
the Empress would protect them against the Court of Berlin. 1

As midnight approached, the Marshal Bielinski declared that
it had been sufficiently shown how indispensable it was to resort
to the one means of saving the rest of the country. He directed
the secretary to read the Lobarzewski motion, in spite of the
desperate efforts of the Zealots to prevent it by cries and protests.
The vote was taken, and with only twenty dissenting voices 2 it
was resolved to authorize the Deputation to sign the treaty. By
way of justification for this surrender, the instruction to the
Deputation recited that since the members of the Diet found
themselves under threat of violence, left only to their own
resources, without any hope of outside aid, with but few troops
and the treasury quite empty; as humanity forbade undertaking
a war which Poland could not conduct, and the useless shedding
of blood: therefore, it remained for them only to call upon a just
God to witness their sufferings and their innocence, and to entrust
the fate of the country to the magnanimous Catherine. 3

Five days later, on July 22, the treaty was signed by Sievers
and the Deputation. In return for the cession of the lands
allotted to her by the St. Petersburg Convention of January 23,
1793, the Empress guaranteed the integrity of the remaining
possessions of the Republic (excluding, however, by implication
the lands claimed by Prussia) ; she bound herself not to oppose
any changes in the form of government which the King and the
present Diet should find it necessary to make, and — as a proof
of her friendship ! — offered to guarantee the revised constitution,
if she were invited to do so. Vague allusions were made to a
new commercial treaty and other new stipulations for mutual
advantage (i. e., the treaty of alliance), with which the Empress
in the near future might reward the Poles for their present sacri-

1 HjioBaftcKiii, op. cit., p. 114.

2 KocTOMapoBt, op. cit., ii, p. 316.

3 Blum, op. cit., iii, pp. 311 f.


fices. 1 Sievers had thus brought the first part of his dismal task
to a successful conclusion, but the hardest work remained to be


If the Russian treaty had encountered an unexpectedly pro-
tracted resistance, it was universally recognized that the passing
of the Prussian one would involve infinitely more trouble, in view
of what even Buchholtz described as " the hatred which a combi-
nation of events . . . has inspired in the whole Polish nation
against the cabinet of Berlin." 2 To the Poles at that time
Catherine's aggressions seemed almost innocent compared with
the unexampled treachery of Frederick William. Russia had
many partisans in the Diet, among them some who served from
conviction, not for hire; but Prussia had scarcely a friend in the
assembly. It was the Russian ambassador alone who had in his

Online LibraryRobert Howard LordThe second partition of Poland; a study in diplomatic history → online text (page 47 of 59)