Robert Howard Lord.

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

. (page 8 of 59)
Online LibraryRobert Howard LordThe second partition of Poland; a study in diplomatic history → online text (page 8 of 59)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

musty documents raked together from the Prussian archives.
Frederick- fr.r nnrp made_ himself ridiculo us.

The next step was to force the King of Poland to convoke a Diet,
in order to get the dismemberment ratified in all form. Stanislas
indulged in eloquent tirades of protest — " as good as the best
pages in Plutarch," the Russian ambassador attested — and then
issued the letters of convocation. The elections were managed

1 Apx. Toe. Cob., May 16/27, 1771, i, PP- 82 ff. Compare also the protocol of
1 the Council of February 7/18, 1771, ibid., p. 74; Panin to Saldern, April 29/May 10,

June n/22, August 28/September 8, 1771, in the C6opHHKi>, xcvii, pp. 265,335 ff.,
411 ff.

2 Beer, Die erste Theilung Polens, ii, p. 198.


with all the arts known to the Russians; the three allied ministers
at Warsaw disposed of a joint fnnds de seduction; and the presence
of their troops sufficed to do what bribes could not effect. The
Diet which met at Warsaw in April, 1773, is one of the most
melancholy spectacles in Polish history. The deputies, who were
for the most part the creatures of the three Powers, were ready
enough to strike heroic attitudes in public; but that was merely
for the sake of appearances. Behind the scenes they joined in a
wild scramble to make their fortunes at the expense of the falling
state. It was characteristic of that society that never before had
Poland seen such a frenzy for pleasure. At that awful moment,
life at Warsaw seemed a long saturnalia.

Effective resistance to the will of the three Powers was virtually
out of the question. The nation lay prostrate and exhausted after
the late four years' struggle. England and France, absorbed in
their mutual rivalry, were perfectly passive in Eastern affairs.
There remained no means of opposition except delay, which
accomplished nothing except the prolongation of the nation's
agony. Finally, on September 18, 1773, King and Diet gave their
formal assent to the dismemberment.

By the First Partition Poland lost nearly one-third of her terri-
tory and slightly more than a third of her population. 1 The
Republic retained an area approximately equal to that of France
at that time, while in population it still ranked as the sixth state
in Europe, with over seven million people. 2 There was no need to
deplore greatly the lands yielded to Russia — the remote, poor,
and thinly settled palatinates of Polotsk, Vitebsk, andMohilev;
but the cession of rich and fertile Galicia was a painful sacrifice;
and hardest of all was the loss of Warmia and West Prussia, for
Poland was thereby cut off from the sea, and her trade down the
Vistula placed at the mercy of the enemy at Berlin. As regards
the partitioning Powers, Russia, while taking the largest but also
the poorest share, had greatly improved her frontier; Austria had
gained most in population; Prussia's lot was, from the financial,
military, and political standpoints, the most valuable.

However sympathetic the world has since become to the mis-
fortunes of Poland, at the time of the First Partition the con-
1 Cf. Korzon, op. cit., i, pp. 42 ff., 160 f. 2 Ibid., i, pp. 161 f.


science of Europe does not seem to have been deeply stirred.
Voltaire set the tone by sending his praise to Catherine and his con-
gratulations to Frederick. The mass of the public conformed to
his opinion. A few there were, however, who sympathized with
Poland: Rousseau, Condorcet, Turgot, for instance; and some
who condemned the Partition as an international crime. Raynal
exposed the moral aspect of the transaction when he wrote: " It
is in the security of peace, without rights, without pretexts, with-
out grievances, without a shadow of justice, that this revolution
has been effected by the terrible principle of force, which is,
unhappily, the best argument of kings." l Burke pointed out in
the Annual Register that the Partition was to be " considered as
the first very great breach in the modern political system of
Europe," which was thereby threatened with total subversion. 2

All writers agreed in the gloomiest auguries as to the future of
Poland. The Republic had become the reproach and the play-
thing of nations, said Raynal; 3 it was virtually a province of
Russia, added Mably, and ruined beyond recall. 4 " It is hardly
possible to suppose," Coxe wrote, " that Poland . . . will ever
emerge from her present situation: her misfortunes . . . will
gradually increase . . . until by slow progress or some violent
revolution, Poland either subsides into an hereditary monarchy,
or a well-ordered Republic; or, which is more probable, is totally
swallowed up by the neighboring powers." 5 People wondered at
the moderation of the three Powers in not appropriating the whole
country in 1772, and agreed that, in the natural order of events, a
total partition must follow sooner or later. 6

Thus after a century of waiting, the partition so often proph-
esied, so often planned, so constantly discussed, had taken place.
Now that this precedent had been set, the final solution of the
Polish Question seemed to be clearly marked out, and the total
ruin of the Republic only a question of time and circumstance.

1 Ilistoire philosophique et politique des Utablissemens des Europeens dans les
deux Indes, x, pp. 54 f. (1780).

2 Annual Register, 1772, p. 2.

3 Op. cit., x, p. 54.

4 De la Situation de la Pologne en 1776 (Oeuvres, Paris, L'an III, xiii), pp. 7 ff.

5 Travels in Poland, Russia, Sweden, and Denmark, 1784, i, pp. 18 f.

6 Burke, Annual Register, 1772, p. 6; Mably, op. cit., passim, esp. p. 59.


The State of Poland After The First Partition
The Beginning of National Revival

Between the completion of the First Partition and the series of
events that led to the Second, lies a period of a dozen years (1775-
87), which, while outwardly quiet, was still so full of changes
underneath the surface of society that it possesses a deep. historical
interest. It was then that the Polish people received whatever
preparation they were to have for the final struggle, for the great
national effort associated with the Four Years' Diet and Kos-
ciuszko's rising. On the scope and value of the work done at that
time, the judgments of historians vary greatly. Those German
and Russian writers who are inclined to deny to the later national
movement any genuine vitality or any real possibility of success,
commonly see in this period only superficial improvements, half-
hearted velleities of reform, continued and ever-increasing demor-
alization, and opportunities frivolously frittered away. 1 On
the other hand, many Polish historians have found in this period
the beginnings of a real national regeneration, of a political,
economic, and intellectual transformation which, had it not been
so soon violently interrupted, would have restored Poland to her
proper place among living states. 2 These diversities of opinion
are not due simply to partisanship. They reflect the contradic-
tions of a society in a confused state of transition, a society in
which the old lawlessness, selfishness, corruption, and prejudices
were still terribly deeply inrooted, but which was also, slowly but
unmistakably, being leavened by a new reforming and patriotic
spirit. In such a situation the amount of progress effected is
peculiarly difficult to estimate.

1 So, for instance, Herrmann, Solov'ev, Kostomarov, and also in much the same
sense Bobrzynski among the Poles.

2 So Lelewel, Szujski, and Korzon; and Bruckner among the Germans.



The quiet which Poland enjoyed during this period was due in
part to the exhaustion of the nation after the storms of the pre-
ceding decade, but also to the constraint imposed by Russia. For
after the Partition the Russian yoke was fastened upon the country
more firmly than ever. The King and many of the szlachta, taught
by hard experience, saw safety only in absolute deference to the
will of the Empress, in a dependence which, however humiliating
and irksome it might be, at least guaranteed the continued exist-
ence of the state. During the next years, down to 1788, the Rus-
sian ambassador Stackelberg enjoyed a power greater than that
of the King himself, so that people jested about his ' coregency '
and spoke of him as the Empress' 'Viceroy' at Warsaw.

At all events, the Russian rule in Poland was now very different
from what it had been, and in many ways much more tolerable.
Having attained her immediate aims in Poland and being absorbed
in other matters, Catherine desired to keep the Republic quiet
and to maintain the status quo. For this purpose, it seemed best
to abandon the old policy of playing off the King and the opposi-
tion against each other and so holding the balance between
equally matched parties. That system was expensive and dan-
gerous; it led to disturbances; it was no longer necessary, now
that the King had become the most docile of dependents. Hence
Stackelberg adopted the policy of ruling through the King and
government of Poland by diplomatic means, avoiding coercion
and threats as far as possible, descending into the arena of party
politics only when it seemed absolutely necessary. The Russian
troops were withdrawn from the country by 1780. Diets and
Dietines enjoyed the long-forgotten experience of deliberating
without the ' protection ' of foreign bayonets. Even the ambas-
sador's funds for bribery were reduced to a minimum. The new
course thus brought a considerable alleviation to the Poles, a
diminution at least of the external signs of subjection. The nation
began to breathe more freely again, and bolder spirits might
dream of ultimate independence.

Another great advantage of the new system from the Polish
standpoint was that it allowed — and even brought with it —
certain political reforms. The Russians had come to see that


complete anarchy in the Republic was not to their interest; and
now that they had decided to use the Polish government as their
instrument for ruling the country, they were bound to give that
government a certain measure of strength and efficiency. Hence
among the changes extorted from the Partition Diet of 1773 was
the establishment of a new governing body called the Permanent
Council. This board of thirty-six members, elected by the Diet
every two years, was to advise the Crown in all important matters.
As the King was obliged to accept the opinion of the majority, the
royal power was virtually put in commission. The Council also
served as a supreme administrative board, for which purpose itwas
divided into the five departments of Foreign Interests, Police, the
Army, Justice, and Finance. The new institution was extremely
unpopular. It was denounced by conservatives as a menace to
' liberty,' and an engine of ' despotism.' It was detested by patriots
as an invention of the Russian ambassador, foisted by him upon
the nation as a means of governing the country for Russian in-
terests. This latter charge was quite true, for Stackelberg was the
creator of the Council, regularly filled it with his friends, and
succeeded in making it the stronghold and organ of Russian
influence. But at any rate the Council was a great improvement
on anything that had gone before. It gave Poland an executive
that could dominate the hitherto independent and lawless great
officers of the Crown — the chancellors, treasurers, marshals,
and hetmans; it brought all the branches of the public service
under a common direction; it gave to the administration for the
first time something of unity and vigor.

This was not the only improvement allowed by Russia. The
Partition Diet, facing a truly desperate situation, adopted a series
of important financial reforms which, under the better fiscal
administration of the Permanent Council, assured to the Republic
a regular and an annually increasing income. By 1788 the rev-
enues were nearly four times as great as under the last Saxon
king, and more than twice what they had been in the early years
of Stanislas Augustus. 1 The army, which at the time of the Par-
tition had scarcely existed save on paper, was slowly brought up

1 Korzon, op. cit., iii, pp. 145 ff., 179.


to 18,000 men (in 1786). It was at last regularly paid; it was
trained and disciplined according to the Prussian model; it was
provided with capable officers from abroad and from the new
cadet school. Quite the most important reform undertaken by the
government, however, was the effort to found a national system of
education. After the suppression of the Jesuit Order in 1773, its
property was taken over by the state and entrusted to the new
Education Commission. Made up for the most part of men filled
with a high appreciation of their task and guided by enlightened
and practical ideas, this Commission established a national school
system which ranked among the best in Europe at that time and
may claim, indeed, an honorable place in the history of pedagogics.
This reform in education was of inestimable importance for the
transformation of Polish society which was then going on. It
created a new liberal and progressive spirit in the younger gen-
eration, which then communicated itself to the older one. From
the new schools came a great part of the reformers of the Four
Years' Diet and the patriots of 1794.

It must be confessed, however, that apart from the work of the
Education Commission, the reforms undertaken by the govern-
ment during this period fell far short of what ought to have been
attained. Something was accomplished, but much more could
have been done. It was true that no essential changes in the
constitution were possible, owing to the Russian guarantee; but
neither the revenues nor the army were brought up to the stand-
ard which Catherine was willing to allow, and which the country
was amply able to support. This failure was due not only to
wretched political dissensions and to negligence and lack of
energy on the part of those in power, but also in large measure to
the general ignorance that then prevailed as to the real resources
of the nation. As a result, Poland entered the great crisis that
followed ill-prepared from both the military and the financial


In marked contrast to the unsatisfactory results attained in the
political sphere stands the undeniable and striking progress
made in matters economic and intellectual. M. Korzon, whose


thorough researches have shown us that the Poland of those years
has another history besides the conventional chronique scan-
daleuse of the Court, the Diets, and the high society of Warsaw,
declares that after the Partition a great and admirable change
came over the country. The nation went to work and worked
hard. Agriculture, which had reached its lowest level in the Saxon
period, experienced a remarkable revival, especially in the
Ukraine, whose wealth was again unlocked by the reopening of
the Black Sea to European trade. In spite of the merciless transit
duties imposed by Prussia and the high protective tariffs of
Joseph II, Polish trade developed rapidly. Manufactures, rural
and urban, sprang up; there was scarcely a magnate family that
did not found a factory of one kind or another; and ephemeral as
many of these enterprises were, still the native industries were
presently able to supply a great part of the articles needed at
home, and even to place Polish manufactured goods — for the
first time — in foreign markets. The long decadent and half-
deserted towns awoke to new life and animation. Warsaw, which
had but 30,000 inhabitants at the accession of Stanislas Augustus,
could boast of 100,000 by the time of the Four Years' Diet. 1
It had become a great city, according to the standards of that age,
and the center of a commercial, financial, and intellectual activity
such as Poland had rarely witnessed. Finally, as a result of these
developments, a social class which had long been grievously
needed, at last appeared on the scene: a well-to-do, enterprising,
and educated middle class, fitted for political life and eager to
take its share of duties and privileges in the state; a class which
in the final struggle for independence was to equal and perhaps
surpass the szlachta in patriotism and civic devotion. 2

When one considers that at the time of the First Partition
Poland had been threatened with economic, no less than with
political, ruin, the progress made since 1775 appears highly credit-
able. It shows that the nation was shaking off its lethargy and
putting forth new life and energy. It suggests that at bottom the
country was far more sound and healthy than the actions of its
ruling class would indicate.

1 Korzon, op. c'U., i, pp. 274 f. 2 Cf. Korzon, ii, p. 411.


Not less important than the economic revival was the intellect-
ual s movement that marked this period. After two centuries in
which Poland had dwelt apart in intellectual isolation and almost
in intellectual stagnation, nourishing herself on the dry bones of
scholasticism and an outworn humanism, modern science and the
' philosophy ' of the Enlightenment made their triumphal entry
into the country. The new culture found an ardent champion in
the King, a ready acceptance with the aristocracy and the bour-
geoisie, an entrance — disputed but soon forced — into the
schools. The familiar phenomena of that age in other countries
were repeated in Poland: the general adoption of the French
language, French fashions, in fact everything that came out of
France; the immense popularity of Voltaire, Rousseau, Condillac,
Locke, and the other prophets of the Enlightenment; the rage for
physics and the other experimental sciences; the spread of free-
masonry, which numbered the King and the leading members of
the aristocracy among its adepts.

In Poland, as elsewhere, the new culture brought with it a
certain deterioration of morals and a wide-spread weakening of
positive religious beliefs; but, on the other hand, it helped to
break down obscurantism, superstition, and prejudice, it aroused
a new critical spirit, it introduced better political, economic,
and social ideas, it promoted the serious discussion of the most
fundamental questions, and it vastly stimulated the demand for


The demand for reforms was by no means new in Poland.
Ever since the sixteenth century a long line of publicists had
pointed out the evils in the Republic and suggested remedies.
Under the Saxon kings the warning voices grew louder and more
frequent; the question of the increase of the army came to be
discussed at every Diet; and Stanislas Konarski in a masterly
book subjected that ' palladium of liberty,' the Liberum Veto, to
a scathing criticism, which no one in the conservative camp was
able to refute. 1 At the death of Augustus III there appeared a

1 The book skutecznym rod sposobie (" On the Proper Organization of Assem-
blies "), 1760-63.


reform party, led by the Princes Czartoryski, who hoped, with the
aid of Russia and after putting their nephew on the throne,, to
carry through a comprehensive program of reforms. Unfortu-
nately, the plan which was to have saved the Republic, resulted
only in subjecting it entirely to foreign domination. At all events,
the tragic experiences of the first decade of the new reign sobered
the more intelligent part of the nation. The demand for reforms,
raised at the beginning of the century by only a few isolated
individuals, and then in 1764 by a small party, now became
general. The humiliating dependence upon Russia, the constant
danger of a new dismemberment, the unconcealed contempt with
which the rest of the world regarded the Poles, the influence of the
new ' philosophy ' and of foreign travel, the example of the neigh-
boring states, the general current of reforming ideas in the age of
the Enlightenment — all these factors combined to open the eyes
of thinking men to the glaring evils in the existing regime and to
the fact that without reforms the Republic was hastening to ruin.

The political literature of that age was almost entirely on the
side of the reformers. Its greatest representative was Stanislas
Staszic, from whose pen appeared in 1785 a remarkable book
entitled Considerations on the Life of Jan Zamoyski. Staszic
demanded the abolition of the Liberum Veto, the establishment of
hereditary monarchy, a permanent Diet, an army of 100,000 men,
the increase of the taxes, a reform of justice, the systematic
development of the national industries, and the emancipation of
the serfs. His book had an extraordinary, an unexampled suc-
cess. Its principles became the fashion in the salons, and pene-
trated widely in far humbler circles; it furnished an arsenal of
arguments to the reforming party; it laid down in outline the
program of the Four Years' Diet. 1

Undoubtedly the nation was coming to a clearer realization of
what must be done if ruin were to be avoided, but it remained to
be proved that the nation was capable of doing it. The reforms
in question demanded the abjuration of the most revered tradi-
tions, and almost a complete breach with the past; they de-

1 Cf. Niewenglowski, Les Idles politiques en Pologne a la fin du xviii e siecle,
pp. 75 ff.; Korzon, " Pocz^tki sejmu wielkiego," in Ateneum, 1881, i, pp. 330 f.


manded a sure political instinct, consummate statesmanship,
energy, and will-power on the part of the leaders; they demanded
unity, discipline, perseverance, and the willingness to make any
sacrifice on the part of the nation. Had Poland the moral
strength required for so great an effort ? To that question it is
peculiarly difficult to give an answer. Diplomats, travellers, and
writers of memoirs have left us the blackest pictures of Polish
society in that age : of the f rivolity and instability of the national
character, the corruption of private morals, the general inclina-
tion to riotous festivities, drunkenness, gambling, and other
forms of dissipation; of the degradation and brutishness of the
lower classes, the ignorance, narrow-mindedness, and selfishness
of the lesser gentry, the sordid ambitions, the anarchical spirit,
the venality, the lack of patriotism of the magnates. Undoubt-
edly these pictures are often overcharged through personal bias,
and often based too exclusively on observation of the small group
of people at the top. But in any case enough remains to prove a
very deep and dangerous demoralization. The political history
of this period shows that too many of the Poles had learned
nothing from the Partition, but were still ready to plunge their
country into disorder, raise scandals that disgraced the nation in
the eyes of Europe, and call in foreigners against their own
government, whether for wretched, selfish aims or on account of
misguided political ideas or through sheer force of habit. Al-
though the new reforming tendencies were constantly gaining
ground, a large part of the szlachta still clung blindly to the old
prejudices, the old false maxims, the old horror of innovations.
In short, while the period from 1775 to 1787 shows a very con-
siderable progress in comparison with what went before, while the
worst was over and the nation was undoubtedly on the right
course again, still not nearly enough had been accomplished, not
as much as could and should have been done. The newer, better
tendencies had not yet gained a complete predominance. The
nation was not yet ready either materially or morally, when the
final crisis came.


The Austro-Russian Alliance and the Outbreak
of the russo-turkish war

Of the three Powers who had joined in the First Partition, Russia
had perhaps the most reason to rest content with the arrange-
ments then made. After rectifying her hitherto inconvenient
western frontier, she had no urgent motives for seeking further
Polish territories; x and owing to the mutual jealousy of the Ger-
man Powers, what remained of the Republic had been turned
over unrestrictedly to the guardianship of the great Catherine.
At Warsaw the King reigned, the Russian ambassador ruled, and
the envoys of Austria and Prussia looked on. Under such cir-
cumstances it might well appear to be Russia's interest to main-
tain the status quo, rather than to aggrandize her neighbors by
new dismemberments. That seems to have been Catherine's
view — with certain reservations. Her policy after the First

Online LibraryRobert Howard LordThe second partition of Poland; a study in diplomatic history → online text (page 8 of 59)