Robert Howard Lord.

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

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a battleground between Hapsburg and Bourbon. It was in this

1 Cf. R. I. A., Pologne, i, p. 81. The best account of the diplomatic history of
the First Great Northern War is Haumant, La Guerre du Nord et la Paix d'Oliva.


second half of the seventeenth century that there arose among the
szlachta organized French and Austrian parties, even Brandenburg
and Muscovite ones; that the magnates began to treat with
foreign sovereigns like independent princes, and to accept bribes
and pensions from abroad as a matter of course; that elections to
the Polish throne came to be great international events periodi-
cally shaking the European political world, inviting and almost
compelling the rival Powers to interfere in Polish affairs. As yet,
however, this foreign interference was confined to the use of the
black arts of diplomacy; except during the Great Northern War,
the foreigners had not yet come to dictating to the Republic by

With the advent of the Saxon Kings, the Polish Question
entered upon a second and more acute phase. Augustus II
owed his crown to a more shameful use of bribes and violence
and to more undisguised attempts at intimidation on the part of
foreign Powers — Russia and Austria — than had been known
at any previous election. Once seated on the throne, he found
it impossible to maintain himself there without the aid of the
foreigners. Having plunged recklessly into the Second Great
Northern War, he brought down on the Republic the invasion of
Charles XII. The scenes of the time of John Casimir were
repeated ; a great part of the szlachta again deserted their sover-
eign; the invaders roamed through the country, victorious at all
points; Charles set up a rival king; and Augustus saw safety
only in throwing himself into the arms of Russia. That was a
fateful step. For after Poltava the Swedes disappeared, but the
Muscovites remained, nominally as allies and protectors, really as
masters. It is a fact not sufficiently recognized that one of the
most important results of the Second Great Northern War was to
establish the predominant influence of Russia in Poland.

Peter the Great deserves the credit of having inaugurated the
policy which aimed at placing the Republic under a Russian
protectorate and ended with the three Partitions. He fixed the
traditions of Russia's Polish policy for nearly a century. Here, as
in so many other cases, Catherine II continued and completed
what Peter began. In Peter's time Russian armies first learned to


scour Poland from end to end, to make themselves thoroughly at
home in the country, and to despise the military power of the
Poles. Russian diplomats became familiar with the mysterious,
but — to them — highly convenient, devices of the Polish con-
stitution, and with the tangled web of Polish party politics. They
learned how to buy up magnates, ministers, and even the court
itself; how to manage the Die tines; run a Confederation; cajole,
coerce, or 'explode' a Diet. Above all, the Russian government
acquired the art of playing off the Polish nation against the king
and the king against the nation, and thus holding both in de-
pendence upon itself. Catherine II never displayed greater
cleverness in handling the Poles than did Peter when, in 17 16-17,
he imposed his mediation upon Augustus II and the rebellious
szlachta alike. And then the world saw for the first time a Rus-
sian ambassador dictating a peace between the Polish nation and
its king, backing up his terms with a display of bayonets, and
placing an important series of political and constitutional arrange-
ments under the guarantee of the Russian sovereign. Prince
Dolgoruki, the peace-maker on this occasion, was the worthy
forerunner of the Repnins, the Stackelbergs, the Sievers of
Catherine's time; and the 'Dumb Diet' of Warsaw in 1717
foreshadowed the terrorized Polish parliaments of 1773 and 1793.
The Republic had now lost its complete independence. It had
allowed and invited its most dangerous neighbor to exercise a
decisive voice in its internal affairs. It had accepted from the
hands of Russia a number of constitutional arrangements, the
aim of which was obviously to prevent the King from acquiring
effective power in the state, and to prevent the Republic from
strengthening or reforming itself.

Significant, also, of the new situation was the fact that by the
alliance treaty of 1720 and a long series of subsequent agree-
ments Russia and Prussia bound themselves to watch over the
maintenance of the ' liberties ' of Poland. Already two of the
neighboring Powers were in formal accord on the principle of
perpetuating the anarchy and impotence of the Republic. The
protracted negotiations between the cabinets of St. Petersburg,
Vienna, and Berlin about the future succession in Poland showed


that henceforth the glorified ' freedom of election ' was to be
purely illusory. Moreover, the continual disturbances in Poland
during the first two decades of the century and the restless ambi-
tion of Augustus II brought about a great revival of the talk of a
dismemberment. The King of Poland himself repeatedly pro-
posed to Russia and Prussia a partition of the realm whose
integrity he had sworn to defend, in order that the fragments of
the state left after the avidity of the neighbors had been satisfied,
might be handed over to him as an hereditary kingdom. Fred-
erick I of Prussia suggested a partition at least four times to
Charles XII, and later tried to press his ' grand dessein ' upon
Augustus and Peter. The Tsar himself seems to have played for
a time with the idea of a dismemberment; but after firmly estab-
lishing himself in Poland, he set his face against it, and sternly
rebuffed the proposals coming from Berlin and Dresden as
impracticable, impolitic, and wicked. Possibly he had arrived
at the conclusion that it was useless to divide the realm with
others when by influence he could rule it all. 1

The death of Peter the Great brought some alleviation to
Poland, at least in that his immediate successors showed less
firmness and consistency in dealing with Polish affairs, while they
scarcely attempted to develop to its logical conclusion the policy
he had inaugurated toward the Republic. Nevertheless, they
adhered in the main to the cardinal principles of keeping Poland
weak, maintaining ' golden liberty,' and asserting for Russia a
special influence in the distracted state.

On the death of Augustus II in 1733 the question of the Polish
succession provoked a general European war. For the first and
last time one of the Western Powers drew the sword in order to
rescue Poland from the clutches of her neighbors. But neither
the capricious and half-hearted efforts of France nor the wishes of
the vast majority of the szlachta prevented Russia and Austria
from establishing by force of arms their protege, Augustus III of
Saxony, upon the Polish throne. Never before had there been

1 On the plans of partition discussed at this time see especially Droysen,
Geschichteder preussischen Politik, iv', pp. 177 f., 188 ff., 197, 217 ff.; iv H , pp. 147 f.,


such a travesty of a free election, so striking an exhibition of the
impotence of the Poles to defend their independence, so clear a
demonstration of the fact that the neighboring Powers would
tolerate no king in Poland save a creature of their own.

It can hardly be denied that the Court of St. Petersburg failed
to exploit properly its triumphs in this war. The Russian states-
men were too much occupied with the ensuing contests with
Turkey and Sweden, and then with the great European questions
that were being fought out in Germany, to pay much attention to
Polish affairs. Under Elizabeth, the close friendship uniting the
two Imperial Courts 1 to the Saxon House led the Russian govern-
ment into acts of complaisance towards the King of Poland which
Peter or Catherine II would doubtless have avoided. 2 As Russia
had ceased to use other than diplomatic methods in Poland, as she
no longer entered actively into the party struggles that rent the
Republic, as her whole attention seemed to be concentrated else-
where, the result was that in Elizabeth's last years the Polish
Court paid less and less attention to demands from St. Peters-
burg; the Diet ventured to assume an independent, and often an
unfriendly, attitude; while the ' Russian party ' found itself
diminished, discouraged, and almost discredited. Russian policy

\ inPoland seemed to be losing its bearings.

/f\At the moment of the accession of Catherine II (1762), the
\Polish Question was in a curiously uncertain state, in which,
however, several facts stand out clearly. In the first place,
Poland was no longer considered an independent member of the
European group of states, 3 but rather as what we should call
today a Russian ' sphere of influence.' The Russian influence, it
is true, had varied greatly in intensity, and it had not yet attained
that all-embracing and absolute character which it was to have
under Catherine II. The government at St. Petersburg did not
yet pretend to control all the actions of the King and Diet; it

1 Austria and Russia.

2 Such as, for instance, promising the succession in Poland to the Saxon Electoral
Prince, or allowing Prince Charles of Saxony to become Duke of Courland. Com-
pare Catherine's remarks on this latter affair, CSopHHKt, vii, pp. 91 f.

3 Cf. Choiseul's instructions to Paulmy, April 7, 1760, R.I. A., Pologne, ii,
p. 217.


still paid some regard to the wishes of the court and nation; while
aiming to maintain the anarchy in Poland, it did not try to ex-
ploit that anarchy in order to gain material advantages for Russia.
Finally, while the development of the Polish Question concerned
Russia preeminently, it also touched Prussia and Austria very
closely, and to a lesser degree France. The ultimate solution
must depend on the interaction of the ambitions and interests of
three or four great Powers. Hence, before proceeding further, it
seems necessary to examine the special interests that guided each
of these Powers in its policy toward the Republic.

France was the oldest friend and the most natural ally of
Poland. In the classic system of French diplomacy, the Republic
occupied a place along with Sweden and Turkey as one of the
pivots of French policy in Eastern Europe, as a confederate that
might be used either to take the Hapsburgs in the rear or to
checkmate Brandenburg-Prussia and Russia. Hence France long
endeavored to establish a predominant influence in Poland. The
sixteenth century saw two Franco-Polish alliances (1500, 1524)
directed against the Hapsburgs, and — for a moment — a Valois
installed as King at Cracow. In the seventeenth century Riche-
lieu and Mazarin vainly tried to draw Poland into the Thirty
Years' War, and Louis XIV made a supreme effort to turn the
Republic into a useful ally. He proposed nothing less than an
" eternal league . . . and an indissoluble alliance," by which
France and Poland " would hem in the Empire, just as France
had formerly been hemmed in between the Empire and Spain,"
and by which they could raise themselves "to a greater height
than ever Austria had attained." l But all Louis' efforts to draw
Poland into active cooperation proved fruitless, owing to the
failure of the szlachta to appreciate the advantages of the French
alliance, and to the ever-increasing anarchy in the Republic. In
the eighteenth century, chiefly, it would seem, out of deference to
the classic tradition, French statesmen continued to take a con-
siderable interest in Polish affairs and to lavish money in attempts
to build up a party or to place a protege on the throne. If Poland
could no longer be seriously thought of as an ally, France was at

1 Instructions for de Lumbres, December 20, 1660, R. I. A., Pologne, i, pp. 31 f.


least anxious to protect it as a buffer state shutting off the
detested Muscovite ' barbarians ' from Europe; and she feared,
not without reason, the designs the neighboring Powers might
form upon the territories of the Republic. But the Polish policy
of France was neither well-considered nor well-conducted. With
strange blindness, the advisers of Louis XV refused to see that the
best means of saving Poland was to assist the nation to reform its
government; they rather persuaded themselves that the interests
of France demanded the maintenance of anarchy in Poland, in
order that Russia might gain no advantage from her influence
there; and they contributed not a little to that end. Further-
more, since the keynote of French policy in Poland was opposition
to Russia and Austria, the alliance between Louis XV and the
Imperial Courts during the Seven Years' War upset that policy
completely. The old French party in the Republic was ruined.
And then with the advent of Choiseul to power there came a
period in which France virtually renounced active participation
in Polish affairs and pretended to attach no importance to them.
In the critical years that followed the accession of Catherine II,
French policy towards the Republic was to vacillate between
misdirected and noxious activity and equally disastrous passivity
and indifference.

Down to the beginning of the eighteenth century, Austria was
the chief rival of France in Poland. Her interest in the Republic
was largely of a defensive nature. As long as Poland retained the
power to harm, the Hapsburgs had to be on their guard to prevent
their neighbor from attaching itself to France or from assisting
the frequent rebellions in Hungary and Bohemia. The Polish
alliance was frequently sought by Austria against Turkey or
Sweden; and at least on one occasion, in the great crisis of 1683,
it proved to be of inestimable value. On the whole, Austro-Polish
relations were friendly. The two states had no necessarily con-
flicting interests; they did have many interests in common; and
religious affinities and frequent royal marriages cemented a
friendship that seemed to He in the nature of things. Of all the
neighboring Powers, Austria had the strongest motives for desir-
ing the preservation of Poland. If the sad condition into which


the Republic had fallen in the eighteenth century precluded both
the fear of its hostility and the hope of its assistance, the rise of
Russia and Prussia supplied new reasons why Austria should
support and defend the sinking state; for neither the advance of
the Russian colossus into Central Europe nor the further aggran-
dizement of Prussia could be to the advantage of the Hapsburgs.
Austria had nothing to gain and much to lose by the disruption
of Poland.

Unfortunately, Austrian statesmen, while realizing this truth
in a general way, did not sufficiently act upon it. If the Vienna
Alliance of 17 19 marked one momentary effort to rescue the
Republic from Russian domination, the rivalry with the Bourbons
and with Prussia soon led the Hapsburgs to make the Russian
alliance the cornerstone of their political system; and the interests
of Poland were sacrificed on the altar of the new friendship.
Austria allowed and assisted Russia to fasten her grip upon the
Republic, while renouncing for herself any active influence in
Polish affairs. As long as the Court of St. Petersburg prevented
the French party from gaining the upper hand in the Republic and
protected the integrity of Poland against Prussia, Austria was
willing to tolerate its predominance at Warsaw. For the rest, it
had come to be the accepted doctrine at Vienna that the existing
anarchy in Poland suited Austrian interests, since it relieved the
Hapsburg Monarchy from any danger on its northeastern

-A«r contrast to^Austria, Prussia was of necessity the persistent
enemy of Poland. Succeeding to the inheritance of the Teutonic
Order, the Hohenzollerns had fallen heirs to the ancient rivalry
between that Order and Poland for the possession of the coast-
land around the mouth of the Vistula, the control of which was
of vital importance to both contestants. There was not room
enough here for the coexistence of a strong Poland and a strong
Prussia: one could rise only at the expense of the other. More
than any other neighboring Power, Prussia was interested in
promoting the disruption of the Republic, for the scattered terri-
tories of the Hohenzollerns could be bound together only by the
annexation of Polish lands. Polish Prussia was needed in order


to unite East Prussia with Pomerania; a part of Great Poland, in
order to connect Silesia with East Prussia.

The Great Elector had already fixed the traditions of the policy
towards Poland which his successors followed with remarkable
fidelity, perseverance, and consistency. From generation to
generation one traces the same persistent effort to safeguard the
' liberties ' of the Republic, to prevent the king of Poland from
establishing the hereditary succession or 'den absoluten Dominat,'
to keep the unruly Sarmatians in a state innocuous to their
neighbors. 1 The idea of a dismemberment of Poland, hereditary
in the House of Hohenzollern from the time of the Great Elector,
was brought forward and furbished up anew at each recurring
crisis in the North, in the half desperate belief that it was ' aut
nunc aut nunquam' 2 Frederick II, while only Crown Prince,
declared the acquisition of West Prussia indispensable; he seems
to have hoped to get that province during the Seven Years' War;
and in his Political Testaments of 1752 and 1768 he designated its
acquisition as one of the imperative tasks of the Prussian Mon-
archy. 3 A third phase of the traditional policy of Prussia was the
desire to prevent any hostile Power from gaining control of the
Republic. For that reason the Hohenzollerns repeatedly opposed
the attempts of France and Austria to establish their proteges on
the throne at Warsaw. They viewed with grave misgivings the
connection between Poland and Saxony. As long as relations
between Berlin and St. Petersburg were intimate, Prussia ac-
cepted not unwillingly the Russian influence in the Republic; but
during the period of antagonism under the Empress Elizabeth
Prussian diplomacy frequently worked hand in hand with the
French against the Russian party in Poland, and during the
Seven Years' War Frederick learned to his cost the dangers in-
volved in the subservience of the Republic to Russia. That lesson
was, later on, not wholly forgotten at Berlin.

1 Cf. Droysen, op. cit., in"', pp. 120 ff.; iv ! , pp. in, 177, 260.

2 Haumant, La Guerre du Nord, pp. 46 f., 53, 100 ff., 180 f.; Droysen, iv',
pp. 177 f., 182, 185 f., 197, 211 ff.; iv !i , p. 317.

3 Letter to Natzmer of 1731, Oeuvres, xvi, pp. 3 f.; Politische Correspondenz,
xii, p. 456; xviii, pp. 592, 611 ff.; Lehmann, Friedrich der Grosse und der Ursprung
des siebenjdhrigen Krieges, pp. 62, 94.


Finally, to come to the Power most directly concerned in the
Polish Question, Russian historians are accustomed to explain
their country's encroachments upon Poland by three reasons,
which may be called the inheritance, the nationalist, and the
religious motives. Poland-Lithuania having once appropriated
the western half of Russia, the Muscovite rulers, as heirs of the
old Kievan princes and ' gatherers of the Russian lands,' were
bound to recover the ancient home of their race, to free their
compatriots from a foreign yoke, and to deliver their Orthodox
brethren from Roman Catholic oppression. Undoubtedly these
motives did actuate the Tsars of the sixteenth and seventeenth
centuries in their incessant struggles with Poland. Ivan III, by
assuming the title of ' Lord of all Russia,' announced the Mus-
covite program and hurled a challenge at his western neighbor.
He and his successors never tired of complaining of the Polish
attempts to force ' Rus ' to the ' Roman law ' ; or of asserting
that all the lands where the blood of Rurik had once ruled, were
their rightful ' patrimony ' ; or of striving to make good their
claims by force of arms. This policy, pursued by the Muscovite
rulers for two centuries with rare perseverance, was temporarily
shelved, however, after the Truce of Andrusovo in 1667; and then,
as other interests pressed to the front, it was, to all appearances,

There is no denying that in the eighteenth century the old
traditions about recovering the lost inheritance were very much
obscured, if not entirely forgotten. The westernized Russian
statesmen of that age were no more likely to take seriously claims
that went back to Rurik and Vladimir than French statesmen
were to hark back to rights derived from Clovis and Charlemagne.
Catherine II might occasionally declare herself determined not to
rest until she had recovered the graves of all the old Russian
princes, but it would be hard to show that such considerations
really affected her policy. The historic rights of Russia to the
western lands might be adduced to justify encroachments upon
Poland, but they were certainly not the motive that led to those
aggressions. Nor were considerations of nationality a serious
factor in determining Russian policy towards Poland in the


eighteenth century. The western and southern branches of the
Russian race had so long lived a separate life under a foreign
state, they had developed into types so different from the Mus-
covites, that the latter hardly considered them Russians at all.
In the language of seventeenth century Moscow, the Little Rus-
sians (of the south) were the ' Cherkassian nation ' (^epKaccKift
Hapoai.) and the White Russians (of the west) the ' Lithuanian
people' (iHTOBCKie jqoah). 1 In the eighteenth century both the
government and the society of Russia proper hardly betrayed a
suspicion that the population of the eastern provinces of Poland
was not Polish. As for the population in question, it seemed as
far removed as possible from any consciousness of its Russian
nationality. And even had more exact ethnographic notions
prevailed, it would have made little difference. The governments
of the eighteenth century were not accustomed to be guided by
the wishes of the people; and the l rights of nationalities ' were
not yet recognized. The fact that in the partitions of Poland
Russia took only lands in which the bulk of the population was
Russian, leaving the purely Polish provinces to the German
Powers, is to be explained as a geographic accident. The uni-
fication of the Russian race was not, and could not be, the con-
scious aim of Russian statesmen in that age in their dealings with
\J ^T he one part of the old tradition that was no t forgotten in the
/\ eig hteenth century was the religious motiv e. Their common
Orthodoxy was the sole bond that still united the estranged
branches of the Russian race. The defence of the faith in Poland
was one sure means by which the government at St. Petersburg
could always acquire merit in the eyes of society at home. By
several treaties, especially by the Eternal Peace of 1686, the
Russian rulers had stipulated freedom of worship for their
coreligionists in Poland; and on the basis of those treaties they
held themselves entitled to interfere in case the rights of the
Orthodox were violated. Unfortunately, the religious intoler-
ance which marked the Poles in that decadent age subjected the
Dissidents to ever-increasing vexations and even persecutions.

1 nHirain>, Hdopia PyccKoft 3THorpa<JHH, iv, pp. 1 2 ff .


The Orthodox clergy in Poland, feeling that they were fighting
in the last ditch, assailed St. Petersburg with constant appeals for
aid and deliverance. Here was a perpetual, plausible, and indeed
quite justifiable pretext for Russian interference in Polish affairs,
the first legal basis for intervention that Russia acquired. Down
to the time of Catherine II, however, the government at Peters-
burg did not exert itself sufficiently to procure any permanent
relief for the Dissidents; and, when it did interfere on their
behalf, its motives were generally political quite as much as

The mainspring of Russian policy towards Poland in the
eighteenth century was, in fact, the purely political aim of obtain-
ing a predominant influence over the Republic. That ambition
was perfectly natural and not unjustifiable. It was based, in the
first place, on the needs of self-defence. Poland had been a
dangerous neighbor in the past; it was essential that she should

Online LibraryRobert Howard LordThe second partition of Poland; a study in diplomatic history → online text (page 6 of 59)