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

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that one or more of the great Powers were interested in their
preservation, and that at times the force of European public
opinion has been strong enough to prevent the more unscrupulous
forms of international brigandage.

Austria, England, and France, in varying degrees, were in-
terested in the preservation of Poland. Each of them, within
the period we have been considering, made some attempt to save
the sinking Republic. Pitt's effort in 1791 was, perhaps, the
most promising, but it was wrecked, as we have seen, by the
blank indifference of the British public to the great questions at
issue, and by the firmness and courage of Catherine II. Austria
under Leopold II adopted an enlightened policy towards the
Polish Question, which, had it been accepted by the other Powers,
would, in our opinion, have worked out to the great advantage of
all parties concerned. While the Emperor has been accused of
conducting the affair with far less energy and determination than
its importance deserved, 2 while some historians 3 have even held

1 S. R. Vorontsov to his brother, May 7/18, 1793, Apx. Bop., ix, p. 302.

2 Cf. Huffer, Oeslreich und Preussen, pp. 38 f. 3 Herrmann and Heigel.


that he was tolerably indifferent about the whole matter, it would
seem that he made every effort in behalf of Poland that was com-
patible with Austria's difficult international position. His policy
was condemned to failure by the outbreak of the trouble with
France, and by the desertion of Prussia to the side of the Empress.
In general, the international situation in the late eighteenth
century was extremely unfavorable to Poland. As long as Eng-
land and France were almost constantly at odds, while Austria
and Prussia, according to the mot of Joseph II, found their chief
business in seeing which should stand higher in the favor of
Russia, 1 any effective combined action of the great Powers in
defence of the Republic was almost impossible.

As for the deterrent force of public opinion, this was precisely
the time when that factor exercised least influence upon the policy
of the great Powers, when in most capitals policy was determined
by a handful of persons — princes, ministers, favorites, or back-
stairs intriguers — and when international morality had reached
its very lowest ebb. The unprincipled and unscrupulous char-
acter of eighteenth century politics is too well known to require
description. In one sense, the dismemberments of Poland were
nothing exceptional in that age. The history of the century is
filled with partitions or projects of partition; there was scarcely a
state on the Continent whose dismemberment was not plotted by
its neighbors at one time or another during those hundred years.
The mania of the monarchs of that day to get as much land as
possible — whenever and wherever possible — the conception
voiced by Louis XIV that " to aggrandize oneself was the
worthiest and most agreeable occupation of a sovereign" 2 afforded
an ever-ready motive for partitions. The growing indifference to
rights, treaties, promises, or obligations of any kind removed
restrictions upon such operations. The doctrine of the balance of
power supplied the pretext, for it had been happily discovered
that that doctrine, originally invented to assure the existence of
the weak states against the strong, might equally well be applied

1 Joseph told Nassau: " Mon mdtier et celui du roi de Prusse est de travailler a
qui sera le mieux avec la Russie." Aragon, Nassau-Siegen, p. 282.

2 Lemontey, Ulablissement monarchiquc de Louis XIV, p. 369, note.


to combinations of the strong states to destroy the weak, provid-
ing the robbers divided the booty evenly among themselves.

But while the dismemberments of Poland fitted in with the
whole spirit and tendencies of the politics of that age, there was
also something new in them. The First Partition was novel in
that this was the first occasion when foreign Powers had dismem-
bered a state without having first gone to war with it or without
bloodshed among themselves. If this was taking a long step
forward towards making the ' droit de convenance ' the sole law in
international relations, the Second Partition went even further.
In 1793 the partitioning Powers did not even trouble themselves,
as they had done in 1772, to invoke some kind of historic titles,
drawn from the archives, as at least a formal satisfaction to the
public law of Europe. The only excuses which they proffered for
their usurpations were: the necessity they were under of exer-
cising a sort of sanitary police over their corner of the Continent
to prevent the contagious spread of dangerous ideas — a plea the
like of which Europe had not heard, at least since the time of the
Wars of Religion ; and then their right to ' indemnify ' themselves
for their beneficent exertions. If the brazen falseness and
cynicism of this were fitted to shock even eighteenth century
Europe, the violation by both the partitioning Powers of very
recent promises and obligations to the Poles was also more open
and shameless than at the time of the First Partition. Hence
with right the Second Partition of Poland has always been held up
as the supreme manifestation of the tendencies of the ' cabinet
policy ' of the eighteenth century; the classic example of the
moral degeneracy and rottenness of the old monarchical Europe.
One cannot better sum up the moral aspects and not the least of
the political consequences of the Partition than in the words of an
old writer who declared:

" It was the kings themselves who, on the eve of the insurrec-
tion of peoples, taught them that no right existed for them except
that of the strongest, and that when they invoked liberty, it was
an ignoble sacrilege; they taught them that they were not to be
believed even when they spoke of the public tranquillity, and of


the respect due to the hereditary power of princes; for these same
monarchs who constituted themselves the defenders of monarchy
in France, dismembered Poland while appealing to the mostv"'
anarchical liberty! In short, there was only one law for them,
only one principle, that of interest and the glory of their dynasties.
The peoples have profited by the lesson." 1

1 Laurent, Etudes sur Vhistoire de Vhumanite, xi, p. 333.



The Russian Declaration to Austria of May 10/21, 1788,
Guaranteeing the Integrity of Poland [V. A., Russland,

Berichte, 1788]

Les deux Cours Imperiales par l'article secret de leur Traite d'Alli-
ance ont suffisamment pourvu au cas possible d'une attaque hostile
de Tune d'Elles ou de toutes deux ensemble de la part du Roi de
Prusse pendant qu'Elles seroient occupees a une guerre avec la Porte
Ottomanne. Elles se trouvent egalement chargees, tant par des en-
gagements contractus entre Elles en particulier que par un Traite
solemnel et immediat avec la Republique de Pologne de la garantir
de ses possessions actuelles. La bonne foy est d'accord avec leur in-
teret respectif, pour leur faire respecter religieusement l'obligation
qu'Elles se sont imposee a Elles memes et pour ne pas souffrir qu'elle
soit enfreinte d'aucune autre part. L'lmperatrice a deja. manifeste
dans plus d'une occasion a Sa Majeste l'Empereur des Romains la
fermete de ses intentions a. cet egard. Cependant pour complaire a
la sollicitude qu'il a marque recemment a ce sujet, Sa Majeste Im-
periale ne balance pas a Lui dormer de nouveau l'assurance la plus
formelle, que si le Roi de Prusse entreprenoit dans les conjunctures
presentes de s'emparer de quelques unes des possessions actuelles de
la Republique de Pologne, Sa Majeste l'lmperatrice n'hesiteroit pas
un instant de se joindre a Sa Majeste l'Empereur pour faire con-
jointement a ce Prince les representations les plus energiques et les
plus capables de le detourner d'un dessein nullement compatible
avec la bonne intelligence et la tranquillite entre les voisins, ni avec
la religion des Traites; et qu'en cas que ces representations fussent
infructueuses, Sa Majeste l'lmperatrice, faisant cause commune
avec Sa Majeste l'Empereur, employeroit pour empecher l'effet d'un
tel dessein toutes les forces et tous les moyens que la surete de
son propre Empire et le besoin d'opposer une defence convenable a
son Ennemie actuelle, la Porte Ottomanne, pourroient laisser a sa
Le Ministere de l'lmperatrice, authorise a etre l'interprete des


sentimens et des intentions de Sa Majeste par rapport a la circon-
stance envisagee ci-dessus, croit avoir parfaitement rempli l'objet
desire par la Cour Imperiale de Vienne, en lui faisant delivrer cet
ecrit mirni de sa signature.

Fait a, St. Petersbourg le 10. May (21), 1788.
Cte. Jean d'Osterman.
Alexandre, Cte. de Besborodko.
A. de Marcoff.


On Catherine's Attitude towards the Project of a
Russo-Polish Alliance

The views of the two chief Polish historians who have treated this
question differ fundamentally here, as on most other questions.
Kalinka declared: "Die Kaiserin . . . wiinschte entschieden ein Biind-
niss mit Polen zu schliessen"; 1 while Askenazy asserts that the
Empress entered into the alliance project "with deep reluctance,
against her own better judgment," apparently only in order to
satisfy Potemkin. 2 On this point, I incline to the view of Kalinka,
for the following reasons.

(1) The conclusion of a close alliance with Poland was quite in
the traditions of Catherine's policy. Early in her reign, she and Panin
had been very eager for such a connection, especially for the event
of war with the Turks. 3 The reasons which led her to decline
Stanislas' offer during the Crimean crisis have not yet been cleared
up; but they may well have been of purely temporary or accidental
character. From a hitherto unpublished draft of a letter to Potem-
kin, undated but certainly of 1782-83, it appears that, at the last
Turkish crisis before the one under discussion in the text, the Em-
press had intended to draw the Poles into active cooperation with
Russia against the Porte, probably by means of a Confederation. 4
And in discussing the execution of the ' Greek project ' with Joseph
in 1782, Catherine spoke of getting Poland to 'enter the lists.' 6

1 Der polnische Reichstag, i, p. 81.

2 Przymierze polsko-pruskie, p. 34.

3 ^e^yaHHt, BHinraaa nojraTHKa Poccin, 1762-17J4, pp. 263 f.
« P. A., X, 53.

6 September 10/21, 1782: Arneth, Joseph II und Katharina, p. 146.


(2) At Kanev, where the plan of alliance was proposed, Catherine
allowed Stackelberg and Bezborodko to tell the King that this was
a project that particularly pleased her, and one that must certainly
be carried out — only carefully and at the right time. 1 Already she
indicated that the time she had fixed for realizing it was at the meet-
ing of the next ordinary Diet, then a year and a half in the future.
After the Kanev meeting, in all the Russian documents that he before
us, it is assumed as a matter of course that an alliance is to be con-
cluded; and the only question is as to the precise terms. 2

(3) It is true that Catherine did declare that it was not useful for
Poland to become "more active," but she was here condemning, not
every alliance with Poland whatsoever, but one that would make
the country stronger. It is true that she wrote Potemkin one day
that if the Poles showed themselves loyal this time, it would be the
first example in their history; but here she was obviously bent on
dampening Potemkin's too sanguine hopes about the utility of the
alliance, and especially on finding an excuse for preventing him from
flooding her army with his Polish friends and creatures. (See his
letter and her reply in Solov'ev (Ssolowjoff) Geschichte des Falles von
Polen, p. 186.) Solov'ev comments quite justly: "Katharina theilte
nicht die sanguinischen Hoffnungen Potomkins, der in alien Dingen
seiner feurigen Phantasie freien Lauf liess; dennoch wandte sie alle
Mittel an, Polen fiir das Biindniss zu gewinnen."

Finally, Catherine's long delays in attending to the alliance project
cannot be adduced as evidence that she disliked and distrusted the
plan; for, having from the outset fixed the autumn of 1788 as the
time for her action, there was no need to announce her precise
intentions much earlier; especially to announce them at Warsaw,
where state secrets were very badly kept. In short, in opposition
to Askenazy, I should say that Catherine was not dragged into this
unfortunate plan by Potemkin, but that she went into it of her own
accord, thinking to find in it the best means of keeping Poland in
order during the Oriental war.

1 The King to Kicinski: Kalinka, Ostatnie lata, ii. pp. 19 ff.

2 Cf., for instance, the commentary of Bezborodko — doubtless the Empress'
mouth-piece here — upon the draft-treaty sent from Warsaw (PycCKift ApxnBi,
1888, hi, pp. 184 ff.) This undated commentary was written not later than
October 6/17, 1787.



On Potemkin's Secret Plans

It is well known that Potemkin exercised a stronger and more
durable influence over Catherine than any other of her favorites and
advisers; that he had a policy of his own, which often conflicted with
hers; that he cherished vast, far-reaching personal ambitions, part of
which he could not confide even to her. An investigation of those am-
bitions is of great importance for the study of Russian policy towards
Poland in this period; but it is also extremely difficult, for it must
be based, for the most part, on the conjectures or rumors as to Po-
temkin's secret plans of which contemporary writings and diplomatic
correspondence are full, on more or less enigmatic passages scattered
here and there in confidential letters, and then on what may be in-
ferred from the Prince's own actions. Professor Askenazy, in the
brilliant book so often cited here {Przymierze polsko-pruskie, pp. 35-
41, 199 ff.), has been the first to penetrate deeply into this labyrinth
of mysteries and to offer a consistent, acute, and convincing inter-
pretation of Potemkin's secret aims. The following excursus is in
substantial agreement with Askenazy 's views; but it is also based on
the first-hand study of the sources.

From the moment of his rise to power, Potemkin busied himself
with plans for acquiring a 'sovereignty' somewhere outside of Russia;
this, both because of personal ambition and because it behooved him
to provide for his own prospects in case of the Empress' death. If
he lived to see Paul or Alexander ascend the throne — both bitterly
hostile to him — he could expect no other fate than that of Men-
sikov or Biihren, unless he were out of reach. His first thought,
apparently, was to acquire the duchy of Courland. Catherine not
only approved this scheme, but drew up a plan for getting the reign-
ing Duke deposed and putting Potemkin in his place. 1 For some
reason, however, she suspended the execution of this plan. Potemkin
held to it at least until 1779, but after that abandoned it, whether
because he was bought off by the Duke, as rumor had it, or be-

1 See Bvuih6&cowb, UpHCoejiiHHeHie KypjurafliH k-b Poccin, in the Pyc. Clap,
lxxxiii, ', pp. 31 ff., especially the rescript to Stackelberg of May 2/13, 1776, in
which the Empress announces her intentions.


cause he found Courland too poor an establishment and too near
St. Petersburg. 1

Next, perhaps, or, more probably, contemporaneously with the
Courland project, went the plan of gaining the crown of Poland.
His acquisition in 1775 of the Polish indygenat (a sort of naturaliza-
tion among the szlachta) may have been intended as the first step in
this direction. Then from 1776 on, Potemkin appeared as the pro-
tector and instigator of the opposition in Poland, the patron of that
unholy clique of adventurers, fanatics, and scoundrels who later
brought about the Confederation of Targowica and, indirectly, the
Second Partition of the Republic. By 1781 it had become the uni-
versal conviction at St. Petersburg that the Polish crown was the
goal of Potemkin's ambition. 2

But as the 'Greek project' came more and more to the front, the
favorite seems to have transferred his attention to the more glitter-
ing project of carving out for himself a new realm around the Black
Sea. The Danubian Provinces would serve as the nucleus of this
'Kingdom of Dacia,' but that was not sufficient. Potemkin was ac-
cused of wishing to set himself up as a feudal prince, or even as in-
dependent sovereign, in 'New Russia,' the Crimea and the adjacent
regions already annexed to the Russian Empire, of which he was

1 That Potemkin held to the Courland project as late as 1779 appears from an
unpublished letter from Stackelberg to him of January 21/February 1, 1779 (P. A.,
X, 887). See also the memoirs of his emissary, Karl Heinrich von Heyking, edited
by Baron Alfons von Heyking, Aus Polens und Kurlands letzten Tagen, pp. 212 ff.
Heyking supposes that the Empress did not want the Courland plan to suc-
ceed, which would indicate that her distrust of his ambition, so marked later
on, began at a very early date. See also Gortz, Denkwiirdigkeiten i, pp. 123 ff.;
Dohm, Denkwiirdigkeiten ii, Zusatze, xxvi f.; [Helbig], "Potemkin der Taurier,"
Minerva, xxiii, pp. 461 ff.; Seraphim, Geschichte des Herzogtums Rutland, 2nd ed.,
pp. 308 f .

2 That is the statement of Dohm (ii, Zusatze, xlv ff.), who had it on the au-
thority of Gortz, the Prussian envoy at that time. Cf. also Segur, Memoires, ii,
p. 264; Herrmann, Russische Geschichte, Erganznngsba>id, p. 107 — where Potemkin's
ambitions on the Polish crown are suggested as early as 1775; Castera, Histoire de
Catherine II, iii, p. 358. Whether Potemkin ever wholly abandoned the hope of
getting the Polish crown may perhaps be doubted. At the very end of his life some
of those nearest him surmised that that was still the object of his ambition; see
EnreJitrapATi, 3anHCKH, pp. 124 f., and in the Memoirs of Stanislaw Nalecz
Malachowski (Polish), the very interesting but somewhat questionable tale re-
lated after his death by Potemkin's favorite niece, the Countess Branicki: "his
intention was to win over all the Cossacks, unite with the Polish army, and pro-
claim himself King of Poland."



governor-general and almost uncontrolled master. 1 However that
may be, it is probable that he was much more concerned with the
designs on Poland discussed in the text.

The exact extent of his purchases of land in Poland cannot be as-
certained at present; but it was undoubtedly enormous. The enter-
prise began on a large scale about 1781; 2 it was continued with the
aid of the Empress, who, for instance, helped him to effect a loan of
five million rubles for this purpose in 1787; it went so far that even
in 1788 Buchholtz, the Prussian minister at Warsaw, reported that
Potemkin had sold all his estates in Russia in order to buy land in
Poland, and that this indicated clearly his designs on the country. 3
The statement is substantially true. Askenazy cites a " fragmentary
inventory" of Potemkin's property, made out after his death, which
would show that he had only 6,000 male peasants in Russia, but
over 70,000 in Poland. 4 The latter figure is certainly far too small,
however, for from one reliable source it appears that the great estate
of Smila alone contained about 112,000 male 'souls.' 5 At the time
of his death the Prince still retained some not very considerable
estates in Russia, while his Polish possessions far exceeded in size
many a German or Italian state.

These purchases were made in the southeastern palatinates, espe-
cially in that of Kiev. That they had a political motive cannot be
doubted. Potemkin tried to convince Catherine that it was for the
good of the Empire that he should buy up all that corner of Poland
which projected into Russian territory and which it was so important
for Russia to control. This was to be a veiled form of annexation. 6
Catherine, however, seems presently to have suspected that his real
aim was very different and less disinterested; and henceforth she
was not so ready to help in these acquisitions. 7 One day the remark
escaped her in the presence of her secretary: "From his newly bought

1 See the biography of the Prince in the Pyc. OrapHHa, xii, p. 695, xiv, p. 246,
Helbig, in Minerva, xxiii, p. 228.

2 Cf. Cobenzl to Joseph, September 12, 1781, F. R. A., II, liii, p. 226.

3 Report of September 12, B. A., Fol. 323.

4 Op. cit., p. 36.

6 See the article by Rulikowski on Smila in the Shwtiik geograficzny krolestwa

6 See his letter to the Empress of March 27/April 7, 1788, C6opHHKT> Boeirao-
HCTopHHecKHxi jiaTepiajioBt. EyMara Khh3h Tpiiropifl AjieKcanipoBHia IIoTeM-
KHHa-TaBpniecKaro, vi, pp. 252 f.

7 Cf. her letter to him of January 11/22, 1788, PyccKaa OrapHHa, xvi, p. 446.


lands in Poland Potemkin will, perhaps, make a tertium quid, inde-
pendent of both Russia and Poland." 1 Very similar opinions were
generally current at that time. It was supposed, and probably with
truth, that as a first step Potemkin wished to have a duchy created
for him in the Ukraine, which should be a fief of Poland in the same
loose, unreal way as Courland was. 2 At Kanev the Russian am-
bassador himself told Stanislas Augustus that he had heard that
Potemkin desired his great estate at Smila turned into some kind of
a feudal principality. 3 And de facto Smila was such a status in statu,
with its court, its elaborate military-feudal system, its army of horse
and foot. 4

As to Potemkin's attitude towards the King's plan for an alliance,
cf. Stanislas' letters to Kiciriski of March 21, March 29, May 8, 1787,
in Kalinka, Ostatnie lata, ii; Stanislas to Potemkin, May 7, July 16,
September 24, October 1, 1787 (P. A., V. 166) and July 14, 1787
(Petrograd Imperial Public Library, Papers of V. S. Popov — these
unpublished letters are mainly filled with thanks for Potemkin's
efforts to put through the alliance) ; EpHKHept, HoTeMKHHt, pp. 86 ff . ;
Aragpn, Nassau-Siegen, pp. 101 ff., 131 ff.; Potemkin's remarks on the
King's draft for the alliance treaty, in the Pyc. ApxHBi, 1888, iii,
pp. 184 ff. /

The Branicki-Potocki plan for a Confederation in the provinces,
the 'national militia,' etc., sent in with a recommendation by Potem-
kin, probably in January, 1788, is printed in the Pyc. Apxrai, 1874,
ii, pp. 269-280, and in Kalinka, Ostatnie lata, ii, pp. 104-113.

For Potemkin's urgent pleas to conclude matters with the Poles
at once, to make use of the magnates, to enlist as many of the Poles
as possible in the Russian armies, etc., see his correspondence with
Catherine for the first half of 1788 in the Pyc. CiapHiia, xvi, and
the C6opHHKt H. P. H. 0., xxvii. Cf . also XpanoBmrKiii, ^neBiraKi, April
14/25, 1788, pp. 43 f.; Popov to Potemkin, April 14/25, 1788, in
the Pyc. Apx., 1865, pp. 751 f.; Potemkin to Suvorov, April 29/
May 10, 1788, in the Pyc. OrapHna, xiii, pp. 32 f.

On Potemkin's intrigues with the Polish magnates, and the plans
for a Confederation which should "restore all the national liberties

1 XpanoBHudH, ^neBHHKi, March 16/27, 1787, p. 16.

2 Cf. the remarks of the Grand Duke Paul, in June, 1787, cited by Bilbasov in
the Pyc. Orap. lxxxiii, ', p. 32. Stanislas Augustus worried much over this
danger: see EpnKHepi, IIoTeMKHHi, p. 87.

3 The King to Kicirtski, March 21, 1787, Kalinka, Ostatnie lata, ii, p. 12.

4 Cf. the above-cited article in the Slownik gcograficzny.


without restriction," and perhaps even establish some new kind of
oligarchical federalism: cf. the secret memoir of Rzewuski to the
Prussian government, November, 1788 (B. A., Pologne, Fasc. 1097);
Buchholtz's report of November 1 (B. A., Fol. 323), and Lucchesini's
of December 25, 1788 (B. A., R. 9, 27); Zaleski, Korespondencya
krajowa Stanistawa Augusta, pp. 2361!., 242; Kalinka, Der polnische
Reichstag, i, pp. 64 ff., 86 f., 105 ff., 113 ff.; Askenazy, op. cit., pp.

37 £

On Pot em kin's efforts to recruit troops in Poland (apart from the

forces to be furnished by the magnates), and especially to enlist
Cossacks: cf. Apx. Toe. CoB*Ta, September 25/October 6, 1787; orders
to Nerancic, January 25/February 5, 1788, in the C6ophhki> BoeH.-HCTop.
MaTepiaaoBT,, vi, pp. 196 f.; Potemkin to Catherine, March 18/29,
1788, ibid., pp. 243 f. Dzieduszycki to Deboli, April 23, 1788 (M. A.,
no.n>ma, IV, 8), encloses a passport given to a Russian recruiting
officer, in Potemkin's name, to enlist troops in the four southeastern

Online LibraryRobert Howard LordThe second partition of Poland; a study in diplomatic history → online text (page 51 of 59)