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

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hands the means of coercing the Diet. The success of Buchholtz's
negotiation depended therefore chiefly upon Sievers' willingness
to employ on behalf of the Court of Berlin the same unswerving
firmness and the same violent methods as he had employed in
the case of his own treaty; and here some unpleasant surprises
were in store for the Prussian minister.

Catherine had long before determined that when the time for
the Prussian negotiation came, it would be expedient to take the
cause of the Poles in hand. She may have felt a certain impulse
to atone for her own indignities to them by protecting them
against the ravenous Prussians; perhaps she relished the oppor-
tunity to show Frederick William how utterly dependent he was
upon her good graces; and possibly she was not unwilling to
oblige Austria, who had long been begging her to delay Prussia's
treaty at Grodno in order to stimulate that Power to greater
activity in the French war. But her chief motive, apparently,
was the desire to give the Poles a practical demonstration of the
value of her friendship, and to pave the way for that alliance
which was to deliver the Republic into her permanent tutelage.

1 The text of this treaty is printed in Angeberg, op. cit., pp. 322-329.

2 Buchholtz's report of July 28, B. A., R. 9, 27, 1.


Hence Sievers was instructed that while the Prussian treaty must
indeed be put through, it would be as well to take one's time
about it, and to insist upon certain concessions to the unfortu-
nate Poles. In particular, since Prussia had always evaded her
commercial obligations to Poland (while Russia had religiously
observed hers), the ambassador was to insert into the treaty
substantial provisions in favor of Polish commerce, together with
the assurance that Prussia would grant the Republic a thoroughly
satisfactory commercial treaty in the near future. 1 As the Prus-
sian general M Ollendorff , under the pretence of * rectifying ' the
new frontier, had occupied a very considerable amount of terri-
tory not assigned to his Court by the St. Petersburg Convention,
Sievers was ordered to sustain the Poles in demanding the restitu-
tion of the land thus unjustly seized. With regard to the general
attitude which the ambassador was to assume during Buchholtz's
negotiation, the Empress wrote: " When the Prussian minister's
turn comes, you will naturally establish yourself as arbitrator
between him and the Poles. You will employ only the degree
of activity and energy analogous to the intention enunciated
above, 2 leaving the field open to Polish objections, and support-
ing them even in so far as reason and justice demand. There will
be not only no inconvenience but much advantage in gaining
time in this second negotiation." 3 It was a dangerous game
which Catherine was thus undertaking, for the Prussians were
not inclined to wait for their so ardently desired acquisition, and
they were in no mood to be trifled with.

As soon as the passing of the Russian treaty had been assured,
Buchholtz lost no time in sending in a note demanding that a
deputation should now be authorized to treat with him (July 20).
Sievers gave him his word of honor that he would act with the
same vigor in this affair as in his own negotiation; Bishop Kos-
sakowski promised his support; and the King also secretly
assured the Prussian envoy that he wished to finish the matter

1 Instructions to Sievers of June 15/26, M. A., IIoaBma, III, 70.

2 This seems to refer to the Empress' desire to put the Prussians into so chast-
ened a mood that they would accept the conditions she proposed to insert in their

3 Rescript to Sievers, June 23/July 4. See Appendix XVIII, 2.


speedily. 1 But when the note was read in the Diet (July 23),
there burst forth such a storm of opposition as even this assembly
had not yet witnessed. All parties joined in burning philippics
against Prussia, the Power which had been the cause of all the
misfortunes of Poland, which had originally suggested the First
Partition, which had perfidiously spurred on the nation against
Russia during the Four Years' Diet, the Power " whose business
it was to betray and to rob." 2 But as usual with this Diet, after
the first flush of patriotic indignation — real or feigned — timid
or venal souls began to talk of ineluctable necessity; the King
(by prearrangement) proposed an appeal to Sievers for counsel,
and the latter responded with a couple of notes urging the
assembly to proceed at once to the negotiation with Prussia. As
a result of this pressure, coupled with lavish promises of bribes,
on July 31 the Diet authorized the same Deputation which had
treated with Russia to open conferences with Buchholtz, although
with the injunction to take up only commercial questions and to
entertain no proposals for any cessions of territory. 3

On August 5 the Prussian minister began his discussions with
the Deputation; but for several weeks scarcely any progress was

1 Buchholtz's reports of July 17 and 24, B. A., R. 9, 27, 1.

2 Kraszewski, op. cit., hi, p. 327; Morawski, Dzieje narodu polskiego, v, p. 360.

3 Buchholtz's report of August 3. The Prussian envoy ascribed this concession
on the part of the Diet chiefly to " les soins tout a fait particuliers que nous avons
pris de monter les nonces et les chefs de parti." In the same dispatch he furnishes
an interesting but unpleasant picture of the operations that went on behind the
scenes at Grodno. He writes:

" Les Nonces de la diete engages pour quinze jours ou trois semaines sont au
desespoir. lis veulent tous partir, et comme la vie est tres chere ici, ils sont dans
la necessity de vendre leurs nipes [sic], . . . En consideration de ceci l'Ambassa-
deur et moi, nous avons fait un plan, qui leur a ete communique par Pulawski et
le Commandeur Mozelewski [sic], qui traitent avec eux. Nous leur promettons de
les recompenser et indemniser apres la signature du Traite avec Votre Majeste,
mais pas plustot [sic]. Ceci a produit deja un bon effet et nous nous sommes meme
assures d'un grand nombre de Nonces de l'opposition, de facon que ces gens dans
l'esp£rance de pouvoir gagner quelque chose poussent maintenant a. la roue. On
avoit trop bien recompense les grands par de belles charges, et trop peu donn6 aux
petits, qui pourtant font le plus de bruit a la Diete. ... La depense que ce plan
produit, pourra aller a dix-huit ou dix-neuf mille Ducats, pour chaque Cour. Elle
est tres necessaire pour nous conserver la plurality. ... La plus part [des Nonces]
sont arrives ici sans argent, et meme beaucoup sans habits, mais tous ont cru qu'ils
s'enrichiroient a cette occasion. Comme cela n'est pas arrive^ ils se sont mis de


made, owing to disputes over small points. Meanwhile the Diet
enjoyed a period of rest and relaxation. It was at this time that
the gaiety and the mania for amusements, which characterized
the social life at Grodno even in the darkest moments, reached
their height. Although the town was almost in a state of siege,
the streets full of Russian soldiers and Cossacks, and camps,
pickets, and patrols everywhere in evidence, in the houses of the
citizens there was one continual round of entertainments and
celebrations. Throughout the Diet the leaders of the majority
dispensed the proverbial Polish hospitality, with Russian money.
The deputies flocked from the tragic scenes in the chamber to
balls and banquets: their mission was to be alternately dined
and imprisoned by the Russian ambassador. The adulation
lavished upon Sievers almost passes belief . At the close of July
Grodno society celebrated for eight days running the name-day
of the man who had just wrenched half its territory away from
the Republic. At one evening assembly on this occasion a trans-
parency was lighted with the device: " Vivat Jacob Sievers, who
brought peace and order and freedom to the Polish nation." l
Abject servility could go no further. " They consider here,"
wrote one disgusted onlooker, " that no nation ever gave away
its lands and people so merrily as the Poles. . . ." 2 The Republic
was perishing amid fetes and illuminations. 3

While Sievers' negotiation with the Deputation had not lasted
three days, that of Buchholtz dragged on for three weeks, with
results most disheartening for the Prussian envoy. The Russian
ambassador, who at the invitation of the Poles had been admitted

mauvaise humeur, et ont voulu a toute force rompre la diete. . . ." B. A., R. g,
27, 1.

That Catherine had an equally low opinion of the assembly appears from a
rescript to Sievers (of July 13/24) in which she wrote: " II n'est pas necessaire
que Je vous observe que de tous ceux qui se sont determines a venir comme Nonces
a la Diete actuelle, il n'en est peut etre aucun qui y soit venu avec un autre but que
celui de soigner ses propres interets," M. A., IIojiLnia, III, 70.

1 Kraszewski, op. cit., hi, p. 329.

2 Ibid., p. 337.

1 Interesting details about the social life at Grodno are to be found in Kraszewski,
op. cit., iii, ch. vii, passim; Blum, op. cit., hi, pp. 271 ff., 315, 328 ff., 343 ff.; Fr.
Schulz, Reise eines Lieflanders, i, pp. 39 ff.; HjiOBaHCKifi, op. cit., pp. 146 ff.


to the conferences as mediator, did indeed persuade the Deputa-
tion to discuss the question of territorial cessions; but on the
other hand, he warmly supported the contentions of the Poles in
regard to commercial matters and the exact demarcation of the
new frontier, while the unusual mildness of his tone seemed to
encourage the Deputation to raise new demands and difficulties
of all sorts. Buchholtz was thrown into " the most cruel em-
barrassment " by the " feebleness," the " capriciousness," the
new-found tenderness of his Russian colleague for the Poles; he
suspected the Austrian and Swedish ministers of terrible intrigues
against him; and he was fairly bewildered by the "perfidy," the
" immorality," and the " horrible clamors " of the Deputation.
He was " alone in Lithuania," he wrote to his Court, face to face
with a nation which showed " an unbelievable hatred " for
Prussia, and " absolutely unable to effect anything without the
assistance of the Russian ambassador." His one resource would
have been to call in General M Ollendorff 's troops, as the ministry
at Berlin had authorized him to do; but to this Sievers strongly
objected, declaring that he could not approve of the use of force
when everything might be settled amicably in a few weeks, if
Prussia would only defer to the just and moderate demands of
the Poles. Thus driven from pillar to post, and fearing to see
his negotiation collapse altogether, the mortified envoy was
finally induced to accept sub spe rati the revised draft of the
treaty prepared by Sievers and the Deputation. This draft con-
ceded to Prussia the lands assigned to her by the St. Petersburg
Convention, but only half of the ' rectified ' frontier established
by Mollendorff. It also provided that a commercial treaty should
be concluded in the near future under the mediation of the Em-
press, which should reduce the crushing tariffs hitherto levied by
Prussia to the very moderate basis of a two per cent duty on
exports, imports, and goods in transit. The present treaty was
to be placed under the guarantee of Russia (by way of implying
that otherwise the Poles did not expect Frederick William to
keep his engagements). 1

1 For the above, Buchholtz reports of August 13, 14, 20, 21, 22, 25, B. A., R. 9,
27, 1.


Having thus imposed his will on the Prussian minister, Sievers
next prepared to force the treaty through the Diet. On August
26 the Deputation reported to the assembly. The debates of the
next four days surpassed all previous records for tumultuousness
and violence. When Podhorski, a deputy from Volhynia, who
later received eight hundred ducats for his shameful services, 1
proposed that the Deputation be authorized to sign the treaty r
he was hooted down, threatened with death, and driven from
the hall as often as he dared show himself. Szydlowski (of Plock),
the most active of the Zealots, demanded the breaking off of the
negotiation, on the ground that it was useless to negotiate with
a Power which had violated its last two treaties with the Republic
(of 1773 and 1790) for no cause whatever. There were wild cries
of execration against ' the Brandenburger,' and against that
1 Catiline ' Podhorski, and stinging accusations against the King
for his past errors and his present slackness. Again and again
the whole chamber was on its feet and swarming into the aisles,
and it seemed as if it would come to blows. Amid the general
uproar speeches could scarcely be heard. 2

Sievers determined to make an end of the matter. After several
vigorous notes had passed unheeded, on September 2 he sur-
rounded the castle where the Diet met with grenadiers and
cannon; all exits were closed; the Russian general Rautenfeld
and twelve officers took their seats in the chamber, and the
assembly was informed that no one would be allowed to leave
until the Prussian treaty was passed. As a pretext for such
unheard-of indignities, the ambassador alleged the necessity of
guarding the King, since a (purely fictitious) plot had been dis-
covered against His Majesty's person. The Diet sat until far
into the night, and then, after the usual scenes, decided to yield.
But while authorizing the Deputation to sign, they added five
new conditions, the most important of which was that the treaty
of cession should not be ratified until the promised commercial
treaty had been concluded. 3

1 Blum, op. cit., iv, p. 35.

2 On the scenes of August 26-30, cf. especially HjOBaficKifi, op. cit., pp. 157 ff.,
and KocTOMapoBt, op. cit., ii, pp. 339 ff.

3 The other conditions were: (1) that the present Primate of Poland, although


Buchholtz, who had fancied himself at the end of his labors,
was fairly aghast at these new demands, which threatened to spin
out his negotiation for another weary month or two. There
followed angry scenes between him and Sievers. The latter re-
fused to employ further violence against the Poles, or to allow
the Prussians to do so on their own account. He even went so
far as to justify the new pretensions of the Poles and to declare
that he would never coerce the Diet into retracting. Quite in
despair over Russia's " insidious " policy, Sievers' absurd mania
for "making Poland happy," and his own helplessness and isola-
tion, Buchholtz could only beg his government for new instruc-
tions, while advising it to acquiesce in even these conditions. 1

It has already been noted that an explosion of wrath ensued at
Berlin. The Prussian ministry felt that they had carried com-
plaisance far enough by agreeing to the revised treaty proposed by
Sievers and the Deputation, and that their patience and' gener-
osity were being abused. Long indignant at the delays at Grodno,
suspicious that the Poles, the Imperial Courts, Sweden, and every-
one else were leagued together to rob the King of his indemnity
or at least to postpone its realization indefinitely, they concluded
that the time had come for bold and decisive action. 2 The great
result of this crisis was the memorable declaration already de-
scribed, by which the King informed Austria that he was obliged
to abandon the campaign against France in order to go to the
east and assure his acquisition in Poland. How unnecessary
this resolution was appears from the fact that the day after it
was announced the denouement took place at Grodno in a manner
altogether satisfactory to Prussia.

On September 13 Buchholtz had been ordered to present one
more vigorous note demanding the immediate conclusion of the

remaining Archbishop of Gnesen, should be permitted to reside inside the Republic;
(2) that in case of the extinction of the family of the Princes Radziwill, the House of
Brandenburg should raise no claims to its inheritance; (3) that both the treaty of
cession and the commercial treaty should receive the guarantee of Russia; (4)
that the much-revered statue of the Virgin of Czgstochowa should be restored to
the Republic.

1 Buchholtz's report of September 7, B. A., R. 9, 27, 1.

* Alvensleben to his colleagues in the ministry, September 12, B. A., R. 9, 27, 1;
the cabinet ministry to the King, September 14, B. A., R. 96, 147 H.


treaty as presented to the Diet on August 26, i. e., without any
of the conditions or amendments made on September 2; if this
step failed he was to break off the negotiation and await further
instructions. Sievers could not afford to risk this latter con-
tingency, for he had always been ordered to see to it that the
treaty was passed. Moreover, recent dispatches from St. Peters-
burg indicated that the Empress was growing impatient to have
the affair terminated, in order to clear the path for the negotiation
of her alliance with the Republic. Hence Buchholtz was delighted
to observe a complete change of attitude on the part of his col-
league. Accurately divining his sovereign's wishes, although left
without very precise instructions, Sievers now announced that he
was ready to use the most efficacious means to put through the
Prussian treaty in the exact form desired at Berlin. 1

The ensuing journee of September 23 was very largely a repeti-
tion of the scenes of September 2. As a preliminary step, at dawn
of that day the Cossacks dragged from their beds and transported
out of Grodno the four leading members of the opposition. When

1 Buchholtz's reports of September 17 and 24, B. A., R. 9, 27, 1. Several writers
(e. g., Kostomarov, op. cit., ii, pp. 376 ff., and Sybel, op. cit., iii, p. 439) assume a
sudden and complete change of attitude on the part of the Empress with regard
to the Prussian negotiation, and urgent instructions to Sievers to finish at once.
Kostomarov explains this by the conjecture that Catherine foresaw the danger of
Frederick William's abandoning the French war. It is possible that she had such
a presentiment, but there is no proof of it in her rescripts to Sievers of this time;
in fact the only motive there given for hastening the affair is the desire to expedite
the alliance negotiation.

The rescript to Sievers of September 3 (N. S.) (practically the last instructions
he received before the denouement at Grodno) was not particularly urgent or
categorical: the ambassador was directed to " accelerate " the Prussian treaty
" par tous les moyens qui sont en votre pouvoir, evitant toujours la violence et
conservant autant qu'il vous sera possible le role de conciliateur qui vous a si bien
reussi jusqu'a present."

But that Sievers rightly foresaw her intentions appears from the rescript of
September 7/18, which could scarcely have reached him before the decisive events
at Grodno: for here he was authorized to use " toutes sortes de moyens " (with-
out exception). " Quelque desir que J 'aye de faire empecher les voyes de violence
extreme," the Empress added in another passage, " Je n'en ai pas un moindre de
voir enfin terminer cette affaire." The general sense of this rescript is that as she
had now procured for the Poles all the concessions that they could reasonably
expect from Prussia, there was no longer any reason for delaying the conclusion
of the treaty. M. A., IIojiLina, III, 70.


towards evening the deputies gathered at the castle, they found
it once more encircled by battalions of grenadiers, with cannon
trained on the doors, and the artillerymen standing by with
lighted matches. General Rautenfeld took his accustomed place
in the chamber near the throne, and once more the word was
given out that the Diet would be held captive until it had passed
the Prussian treaty without any of the conditions prescribed on
September 2. The Zealots at once set up the cry that it was use-
less and shameful to debate under such conditions. For hours
the assembly wrangled over the question whether the session
should or could not be opened. One deputation after another
was sent to Sievers to expostulate — to no purpose. Finally,
about midnight, the Diet relapsed into total silence, as the one
means left to it of protesting against violence. General Rauten-
feld, growing impatient, several times reminded the members of
their situation: the King would not be allowed to leave the
throne, the Senators might sleep on straw, if they chose, but no
one would be permitted to leave the hall until the ambassador's
demands had been satisfied. If the assembly remained incorri-
gibly obstinate, he was ordered to proceed to the most extreme
measures. The deputies continued to sit like statues. At last,
towards 4 a.m. the Russian general strode to the door, declaring
that it only remained for him to call in the grenadiers. The Mar-
shal Bielinski thereupon put the question: " Does the chamber
consent that the Deputation should sign the Prussian treaty sent
to the Diet by the Russian ambassador ? " No one answered.
Twice the question was repeated without response. Bielinski
then declared that since silence was a sign of consent, the motion
was unanimously carried. 1 Scarcely speaking a word, the King
closed the session, and the deputies trooped out in silence and
in tears. 2

Two days later the treaty was signed. 3

1 The majority had probably made up their minds in advance to end the affair
in this manner. There were precedents for such procedure.

2 Probably the best and fullest description of this famous ' Dumb Session ' is
that in KocroMapoBT>, op. cit., ii, pp. 385-400.

3 The text in Angeberg, op. cit., pp. 342-347.



The final labors of the Grodno Diet were devoted to reorganiz-
ing the petty state that Poland now was, in accordance with
Catherine's plans for its future. Although the work done at this
time was to last but a few months, it is not without a certain
interest; for it illustrates the consequences which the Empress
meant to draw from the recent dismemberment, it completed
what may be called the Second Partition resettlement of the
Polish Question, and it indicates to some degree what the lot of
the Polish nation would have been, had that resettlement proved

Five days after that ' Dumb Session,' at which the Russian
ambassador had subjected the Diet to brutalities unexampled in
the history of any other parliamentary body, the deputy Ankwicz
of Cracow proposed the conclusion of a perpetual alliance with
Russia, on the ground that Poland's only hope of salvation in the
future lay in the support of the great neighboring Empire. 1 By
an artful bit of comedy, the draft of a treaty of alliance sent down
from St. Petersburg was then formally presented to the ambassa-
dor by a deputation of the Diet as representing the summa
desideria of the Polish nation; Sievers was graciously pleased to
accept it; and on October 14 it went through the chamber
' unanimously,' the Marshal pretending not to hear the opposing
voices. 2 The significance of the vote was well summed up by one
of the Zealots the following day with the words, " Poland has
now become a province of Russia." 3 It was not without justice
that Sievers boasted to his daughter that he had put through a
treaty without a parallel in modern history. 4

By the terms of this remarkable document, both sides promised
to aid each other with all their forces in case of war, and the chief
command was always to belong to the Power which furnished the
greater number of troops. Since the burden of the common
defence would fall chiefly on Russia, the King and government
of Poland recognized the justice of allowing the Empress that

1 KocroMapoBi., op. cit., ii, pp. 406 f. 3 Ibid.

2 KocroMapoBi., op. cit., ii, p. 407. 4 Blum, op. cit., iii, p. 395.


degree of "influence" in military and political matters that might
seem most conducive to the security and tranquillity of the
Republic. Under the same pretext, Russia obtained the right of
sendingtroops into Poland "in all cases of necessity," after having
amicably notified the Republic; and of keeping them there in-
definitely; and of maintaining military magazines on Polish soil.
The Republic agreed to enter into no foreign alliances and no
important dealings with foreign Powers without the consent of
Russia, while the Empress promised to accord her most efficacious
support to all diplomatic steps of the Polish government that
had been " concerted " with her in advance. The ministers of

Online LibraryRobert Howard LordThe second partition of Poland; a study in diplomatic history → online text (page 48 of 59)