Robert Howard Lord.

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

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not again become one in the future; hence the need of keeping her
in weakness. And, feeble as they were, the Poles might still be
capable of making trouble, if they fell under the influence of
Russia's enemies. In 1719-20 it was an important part of the
plans of George I of England, then in active opposition to Peter
the Great, to draw Poland into the proposed coalition against the
Tsar. During the wars of 1735-39 and 1741-43 one party in the
Republic dreamed of forming an alliance with France, Prussia,
Sweden, and Turkey against Russia. It was only through Poland
that the Western Powers could strike at Russia by land; and the
Russo-Polish frontier was terribly long and unprotected. Thus
Russia's own security seemed to demand her control over Poland.
Her land communications with the West, and her ability to assert
herself in general European affairs, to participate in the wars of
Germany, even to strike effectively at the Turks, these also
depended on her power to dispose of the vast realm which sepa-
rated her from the rest of the civilized world. 1 Whether as a

1 Cf. the view of the French government in 1726 that " if one could make sure
of the Poles, all gates would be closed to the Muscovites, and they could no longer
safely undertake any outside enterprise," R. I. A., Pologne, i, p. 314. Augustus II
thought that if he could make himself absolute master in Poland, he could exclude
Russia from all European affairs, CojiOBbeBi, Ilcropifl PocciH, iv, p. 542.


gateway to the West or as a barrier against the West, Poland was
equally important to Russia.

In order to assure their control over the country, Peter the
Great and his successors endeavored to keep Poland in a state of
weakness, to uphold the existing vicious constitution, to prevent
the increase of the army, to preserve the elective kingship, to
exclude from the throne any ruler who could not be relied upon to
serve Russian interests, to shut out the influence of other foreign
Powers, and to maintain a strong Russophile party.

How far territorial aggrandizement at the expense of the
Republic entered into the calculations of Russian statesmen from
the time of Peter down to the accession of Catherine II is a ques-
tion not sufficiently cleared up. As was remarked above, Peter
seems for a time to have considered seriously plans of partition. 1
During the Seven Years' War it was Russia's declared intention
to acquire Courland from Poland, in exchange for the conquered
province of East Prussia. 2 Frederick II also claimed to know that
the Court of St. Petersburg had designs on the Ukraine. 3 On the
whole, however, Russia seems to have shown little desire for
Polish territory in that age, and it was chiefly owing to her opposi-
tion that the numerous plans for a dismemberment of the Re-
public collapsed.

At the accession of Catherine II, the Polish Question had been
before the Powers for a century. European statesmen had famil-
iarized themselves with all its aspects, and with its possible
solutions. The policies of the other states towards the Republic
were fixed by long tradition. All the Powers chiefly interested,
even France and Austria, were agreed upon upholding the
' liberties ' of Poland. All were accustomed to maintain parties
of their own in the country, to distribute bribes and pensions, to
' explode ' Diets when necessary, to interfere at elections to the

1 Herrmann, Russische Gesckichte, iv, pp. 258 f., especially the note on p. 259,
with reference to a plan of partition supposed to have been brought forward by
Peter in 17 10; see also Forster, Friedrich Wilhelm I, Konig von Freussen, ii, pp.
114-117. In 1705 Patkul came to Berlin as Russian envoy to purchase an alliance
against Sweden with the province of Courland and whatever else the King of
Prussia might want in Poland, Droysen, op. cil., iv', pp. 183 f.

2 CojiOBbeBt, op. cil., v, p. 1072.

3 Politische Correspondenz, xviii, p. 613.


throne. The idea of a dismemberment of the moribund state had
been common property for a hundred years. At each new crisis
in the North that idea was brought forward by someone as the
best means of effecting a general pacification by satisfying the
appetite of everybody. It is difficult to enumerate all the occa-
sions on which a partition of Poland had been seriously discussed.
The remarkable thing is, not that plans of partition had been so
frequently brought forward, but that hitherto they had always
failed to be realized. This latter fact may have been due in part
to some surviving scruples about the morality of robbing a peace-
ful and harmless neighbor; but chiefly it was occasioned by the
practical difficulties in the way of a dismemberment, in view of
the mutual jealousy of the great Powers, and by the general con-
cern of that age for the maintenance of the existing equilibrium.
After all, a partition of the Republic was possible only under
exceptional circumstances.


• In 1762 an extraordinary revolution placed the crown of the
Tsars upon the head of an Empress whom the Rusians revere as
the greatest of all their rulers save Peter, and whose name, it has
been said, is written in blood in the heart of every Pole. 1 Catherine
II is a figure whom it is difficult to approach without admiration
or else without a shudder, according as one remembers that she
unified Russia or that she dismembered Poland. Of her great
ability there can be little question. She undoubtedly possessed
masculine will-power and energy, a clear, penetrating intellect,
marvelous cleverness and cunning, boundless courage and self-
reliance, and an extraordinary talent for managing men. Forced
to play the game of high politics against such masters as Fred-
erick II, Joseph II, Kaunitz, Choiseul, and the younger Pitt,
invariably she at least held her own, and generally she got the
better of her adversaries. She played the game as did most of her
contemporaries, with perfect indifference to moral standards.
While ' justice,' ' magnanimity,' ' generosity,' and ' disinterested-

1 Kalinka, Ostatnie lata panowania Stanislawa Augusta, i, p. 96.


ness ' were always on her lips, her policy was one of unscrupulous
and relentless selfishness and aggression. The interests of Russia
(conceived in the materialistic fashion of that age) and her own
' glory ' were the sole standards of that policy, and these two
objects were to her one and inseparable. There was much of Louis
XIV about her, especially in her exalted conception of the place
her country ought to hold in the world, and in her exaggerated
notions of what her own dignity and grandeur required. Like
Louis, she was inclined to regard the slightest opposition to her
will as a mortal insult; and vanity, pride, and vindictiveness
were capable of leading her into acts which a calmer and less self-
centered judgment would have avoided. Still, in the main, a
remarkably sure instinct kept her in the traditional and natural
paths of Russian policy; and she has the glory of having carried
through to a successful termination not a few of the tasks pursued
by her predecessors for centuries.

Throughout her reign Catherine was largely occupied with
Polish affairs, and she, more than any other individual, stands
responsible for the violent and, in many ways, unfortunate
solution which the Polish Question then received. That denoue-
ment can scarcely have lain within her original -intentions. It is
highly improbable that in the beginning she desired to annihilate
the Polish state or even (as is commonly asserted) to pave the way
for the gradual absorption of the whole of Poland into her Empire.
At the outset she seems to have had in mind two alternative
policies. The one was the policy of governing the Republic by
' influence,' while preserving its integrity; the other the policy of
annexing convenient Polish territories from time to time as
occasion offered, this latter course involving the necessity of
making corresponding concessions to the two German Powers.
The former policy was generally safer and easier: the latter was
very tempting, and not at all so repugnant to Catherine as it has
)ften been represented. It is, I think, a n error to regard^ the
f partition s of Pola nd a s measur e s forced upon the Empress aga inst
he r' will by ha rd, necessit}/ - and by the victoriou s imp r>rfi ini'ti e g of
Prussi a. Catherine seems to have kept both courses constantly
before her eyes, ready to adopt either as circumstances permitted


or suggested. In general, hard and fast programs were not to her

In contrast to her immediate predecessors, Catherine attached
extreme importance to Polish affairs. Panin, her mouth-piece in
the early years of the reign, declared that without control over the
Republic, Russia would lose one-third of her strength, and would
be unable either to provide adequately for her own security, or to
participate effectively in the affairs of Europe. 1 Catherine felt
that Russia had not yet secured a sufficient hold upon Poland,
and unless the policy of recent years was altered, was in danger of
losing whatever influence she possessed. The Empress therefore
began to take steps to gain such an absolute and exclusive control
over the Republic that she could not only thwart whatever dis-
pleased her, but also positively govern the country in all matters
and dispose of it at pleasure. The Poles had never before suffered
such a systematic and merciless assault upon their independence.
Hitherto Russia had generally posed as their disinterested friend
and as the generous protector of their ' liberties.' In such a role
she could usually count upon the sympathy and support of a great
part of the szlachta, and she had been able to guard her essential
interest — the maintenance of the Republic in a state of weak-
ness — without resorting to much violence or deeply wounding
Polish susceptibilities. But Catherine II, by pushing her inter-
ference to excess, presently turned almost the entire nation
against her. She created an intolerable situation. She precipi-
tated a life and death struggle, which ended in the annihilation of
the Polish state. Thus her policy towards the Republic was not a
mere continuation of the traditional one : it was in some sense new
and revolutionary.

Her first great stroke was to place her candidate and former
lover, Stanislas Poniatowski, upon the Polish throne (1764).
That enterprise, conducted with masterly prudence and skill,
proved unexpectedly easy. The Poles displayed an apathy
unparalleled at any previous election, even in 1733; and foreign
interference was prevented by Catherine's timely alliance with
Frederick II, the complete passivity of Choiseul, and Austria's

1 'lenyjiHHi., BniraHflH HojiHTHKa Poccin, 1762-1774, pp. 208, 226 ff., 231 f.


inability to attempt active opposition. The Empress thus suc-
ceeded in setting up a king of Poland selected both because of the
known weakness of his character and because, as she herself said,
he, being of all the candidates the one who had the least chance of
gaining the crown unaided, would owe Russia the greatest debt of
gratitude. 1 As the price of his election, Catherine imposed upon
him truly terrible conditions. He had to promise always to
regard the interests of Russia as his own, to maintain a constant,
unfeigned ' devotion ' to the Empress, and never to refuse to sup-
port her ' just intentions.' 2 Throughout his reign he was never to
escape from the consequences of that Faust-like bargain.

This was the last king of Poland, and the most unfortunate.
Stanislas Augustus was a man of keen intellect, broad culture,
charming personality, excellent intentions, and enlightened,
reforming ideas; but he was also weak of will, morally perverted,
incapable of daring, of inspiring others, of making personal
sacrifices. He was the last man in the world fitted to lead a nation
in its supreme struggle or to save a falling cause. There was not
an ounce of heroism about him. He cut a poor figure on horse-
back : he was not at home in a camp. Throughout the earlier half
of his reign, he was detested as no other Polish king had been, both
because of his unpopular family connection with the arrogant
Czartoryskis, and because of the means by which he had obtained
his crown. Unable to count upon his own nation, he was thrown
upon the support of Russia, knowing that if the Empress aban-
doned him, he was lost. Unable to lead his people in opposition to
Russia, yet too patriotic to be the docile instrument of Catherine's
designs, he remained distrusted, despised, insulted, and buffeted
by both sides. Never did a king find himself in a more humiliat-
ing position. It was true that Stanislas later succeeded, through
tireless efforts and consummate tact, in acquiring a certain meas-
ure of popularity which rendered him less dependent on Russian
support. But he still remained bound by another shameful
chain — his debts. Although the Republic granted him a gen-
erous income, and not infrequently extraordinary aid, his extrava-
gance plunged him hopelessly into debt and finally brought him to

1 PyccKifi ApxHBi., 1878'', p. 290. 2 ^eiyjEHHt, op. cit., pp. 228 f.


virtual bankruptcy. One means of financial salvation was ready
at hand — the subsidies of Russia — and these Stanislas did not
hesitate to accept, even in the greatest crises in Russo-Polish re-
lations. At the time of the First Partition and at the time of the
Second, the King was living on money furnished by the Russian
ambassadors. How far these shameful transactions influenced
his official acts, cannot be definitely ascertained; but probably
they did so to no slight degree. It was these wretched debts that
kept him on the throne when he could no longer reign without dis-
honor to himself and disaster to the nation. If he abdicated, who
was to save him from his creditors ? It was not the least of the
misfortunes of Poland that in the final crisis the nation had at its
head a king who was not only a weakling, but the pensioner of his
country's worst enemy, and, therefore, a traitor. 1

The establishment of her protege on the Polish throne was only
the first step in Catherine's aggressive policy. The second was to
raise the old question of the Dissidents. Not, of course, merely for
love of the abstract principle of religious toleration, however
much she desired the western public to think so; but rather in
order to please Orthodox opinion at home, and also in the hope
that by securing for the Dissidents access to political rights and
offices, she could build up a strong party on which Russia could
always rely. 2 Another aim of the Empress was to induce the Poles
to place their constitution under her formal guarantee. That
would assure her a perpetual right of interference in Polish
affairs, make a reform of the iniquitous constitution impossible
without her consent, and in general place the Russian ascendancy
in Poland on a permanent legal basis. Pursuing these demands
in her most vigorous and imperious manner, Catherine soon
threw Poland into a wild turmoil. She alarmed the King and his
uncles, the Czar tory skis, who saw through her plans; she exas-
perated the mass of the szlachta by what seemed an attack upon

1 The best account of Stanislas' financial affairs is in Korzon, Wewnqlrzne dzieje
Polski za Stanislawa Augusta, iii, pp. 4 ff. A brilliant character sketch in Kalinka,
Ostatnie lata, i, pp. 72 ff.

2 That this political aim was Russia's chief motive in raising the Dissident
question is confessed with perfect frankness by Panin to Repnin in the instruction
of August 14/25, 1767, CSopHHKi, lxvii, pp. 409 ff.



the Catholic religion. Finding diplomacy useless, she resorted to
force. In 1767 Poland was again flooded with Russian troops,
and the luckless Confederation of Radom, formed by the szlachta
chiefly for the purpose of overthrowing the King, served as a
pretext for the Russian ambassador to take over the whole
government of the country. Then the confederated Diet of
1767-68 was seduced, coerced, and terrorized, by those carefully
graded methods of which the Russians were already past masters,
into accepting all Catherine's demands : complete religious tolera-
tion and full civil and political rights for the Dissidents, and a
treaty between the Empress and the Republic, by which the
Polish constitution was placed under the guarantee of Russia.

With that Catherine and Panin fancied themselves at the end
of their labors. Poland seemed completely crushed, tied, and
bound. But one must admit that here the Empress had blun-
dered. She had tried to reach the goal too quickly. She had
wounded the Poles too deeply in their strongest feelings, their
patriotism and their religious convictions. The shameful Diet of
1767-68 had scarcely dissolved when a Confederation was formed
at Bar in the Ukraine for the defence of ' liberty and the faith.'
The uprising soon spread over the greater part of the country.
Anti-Russian and anti-royalist alike, the Confederation of Bar
was a last desperate attempt to save the ideals of the szlachta-
republic, very typical of Old Poland in its loyalties and its prej-
udices, its heroism and its follies, its audacity and its ineptitude.
It never succeeded in putting an organized army into the field or
in conducting a regular campaign; but it subjected Poland to
four years of terrible guerilla warfare, during which the country
was devastated from end to end, and Russians and Confederates
vied with each other in deeds of savagery.

Meanwhile the Porte, stirred up by France, declared war on
Russia, taking Catherine's aggressions in Poland as a pretext.
The war was marked by brilliant Russian victories on land and
sea; but these in turn alarmed the Court of Vienna. Austria
armed, concluded an alliance with the Turks, and assumed a very
menacing attitude towards Russia, although the will to act was
sadly lacking behind these warlike demonstrations. By 1771 the


situation appeared to be extremely critical. With her Turkish
and Polish wars still on her hands, Catherine was threatened with
the armed intervention of Austria, which then might lead to a
ge^of&l European conflagration.

/Itls well known that out of that crisis grew the First Partition
of Poland. That arrangement seemed to have the advantage of
reconciling the conflicting interests and satisfying the cupidity of
the three great Eastern Powers, while allowing the Turks to
escape without too great losses, and ending the long troubles in
Poland with a drastic and supposedly salutary lesson to the Poles.
Austria unwittingly supplied the pretext for the Partition by
occupying the Zips and some neighboring Polish districts;
Prussia first openly adopted the plan of a partition and pressed it
most vigorously; Russia spoke the decisive word and determined
the respective shares.)^

Into the history 01 the negotiations it is impossible and unneces-
sary to enter here; but one point should be noticed, both because
it is so generally misunderstood, and because it is important for
the comprehension of later events. I refer to the attitude of
Russia towards the Partition. In spite of the common opinion
that Catherine accepted that arrangement only as a pis alter, in
order to satisfy her Prussian ally and avoid a war with Austria, I
think it may be asserted with confidence that both the Empress
and her advisers had long desired a partition, and were well
pleased when the opportunity for one at last presented itself.
Naturally they did not announce their ambitions prematurely;
they found it politic to feign a certain reluctance; they preferred
to be begged to take something rather than to beg for it. But all
this need not have proved misleading, were it not, unfortunately,
the custom of western historians — the Germans particularly —
to base their accounts of Russian policy so exclusively on what the
Russians saw fit to tell the Prussian or Austrian ministers, while
ignoring the documents in which the Russians confidentially
expressed their real opinions among themselves.

If one turns to the Russian documents, one finds that very soon
after her accession Catherine accepted, sealed up, and kept in the
greatest secrecy a memoir (presented by Count Z. G. Cernysev),


proposing that at the first convenient moment Russia should
annex Polish Livonia, — that is, one of the chief territories which
she took at the First Partition. In October, 1763, the Russian
Council approved this plan on principle, and, while reserving its
execution to a more propitious moment, resolved that it should
steadily be kept in view. 1 That it was not lost sight of in the next
few years, appears from numerous documents. Thus in the main
instructions to Kayserlingk and Repnin before the election of
1764, there is a threat, which has been little noted by historians,
that if Russia were drawn into war over Polish affairs, she would
not lay down the sword until she had annexed Polish Livonia. 2
At the beginning of the Turkish war in 1768, the Imperial Council,
considering what aims were to be kept in view during the war,
resolved that there were two great advantages to be sought, one of
which was to gain a new frontier on the side of Poland that would
assure the permanent security of the Empire. 3 In 1763, 1766, and
1767 Panin hinted significantly to the Prussian envoy that if
Poland involved the two allies in great difficulties, they ought to
indemnify themselves at the expense of the Republic. 4 Then,
when the proper moment had come, at the beginning of 1771,
Catherine herself, talking one night at court with Frederick's
brother, Prince Henry of Prussia, with smiling lips and jesting
tone threw out the idea of a partition of Poland. 5 It is now well
established that Frederick took up the plan only after his brother
had returned and convinced him that sentiment in St. Petersburg
was quite in favor of such an arrangement. 6 It is true that Panin,
the leading Russian minister, made a brave parade of being
insuperably opposed to so iniquitous a transaction. But his pro-
fessed scruples — which were exhibited only before the Prussian
envoy, and of which there is no trace in his correspondence with
Russians — need impress no one who reads how this same Panin,
proposing the plan of partition in the Council of the Empire,

1 CGopHHRt, li, pp. 8-1 1. 2 Ibid., pp. 92 ff.

3 ApxHBt Toe. CoBiTa, November 6/17, 1768, 1, p. 7.

4 CSopHHKt, xxii, pp. 188 f., 500; xxxvii, pp. 49 f.

5 Henry to Frederick, January 8, 1771, Politische Correspondenz, xxx, pp. 406 f.

6 Koser, Friedrich der Grosse, ii, pp. 465 f.; Volz' studies in the Forschnngen
zur brandenburgischen und prenssischen Geschichte, xviii and xxiii.


declared that it offered " just such a chance as we have always
thought of, for realizing what we all desire — namely, to make our
frontier towards Poland coincide with the rivers." 1 In view of
all this, we may well believe in Catherine's sincerity when she
declared on ratifying the Partition Treaty that she had never
given her sanction to any act with greater satisfaction. 2 The First
Partition was not, then, a triumph of the brilliant, all-compelling
Frederick over his reluctant and sorely-pressed ally. It was
brought about in the first place by the common and equal cupidity
of Russia and Prussia; and, in the second place, it was singularly
facilitated by the extraordinary situation of Europe at that time,
which made a partition a plausible means for averting a general
war, forced Austria to become a partner in the nefarious business,
and prevented the Western Powers from intervening.

When the three Eastern Powers were once agreed, through the
Partition Treaties signed at St. Petersburg on August 5, 1772, it
was no great task, though a long and unpleasant one, to compel
the victim to assent to his own spoliation. After occupying their
respective acquisitions with their troops, the three Courts issued
manifestoes announcing their annexations. The Russian and
Austrian proclamations were wisely laconic. They simply
pointed out that these measures were necessitated by the con-
tinual anarchy in Poland and by the obstinacy of the Poles in
resisting the well-meant efforts of their neighbors to restore order.
Frederick, however, published a ponderous manifesto, establishing
his just rights to what he was taking on the basis of all manner of

Online LibraryRobert Howard LordThe second partition of Poland; a study in diplomatic history → online text (page 7 of 59)