Robert Howard Lord.

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

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Partition was to protect the Poles in their remaining possessions,
as long as they made no effort to escape from her control, and as
long as no conjuncture in general European affairs rendered it
desirable or necessary to purchase the support of the German
Powers with drafts on the usual treasury — Poland. Within
these limits, the Empress was committed to maintaining the
existing arrangements.

Very different was the position of her chief confederate in
depredation, Prussia. If that aspiring young state was to main-

1 The one further improvement of the Russian frontier on the side of Poland
that naturally suggested itself after the Partition, related to that southeastern
corner of the Polish Ukraine which projected into Russian territory, and which
was of great importance in case of war with the Turks. This acquisition seems to
have been discussed at St. Petersburg. Cf. the instructions to the Marquis de
Verac in 1780: " On parle d'un echange qu'elle [Catherine] veut faire des provinces
qui lui ont ete cedees contre la partie de l'Ukraine que les Polonois ont conservee,"
R. I. A., Russie, ii, p. 368.



tain the rank Frederick had won for it among the great Powers, it
needed above all things to acquire a solid territorial foundation, to
unite its scattered members, to secure a defensible frontier. It
could not possibly accept as final an arrangement that left a great
wedge of Polish territory projecting deep into its side, completely
separating East and West Prussia from Silesia, while two highly
important towns, Dantzic and Thorn, remained Polish, although
surrounded by Prussian territory. For the half-built monarchy of
the Hohenzollerns, it was a vital matter that the First Partition of
Poland should not be the last. It was true that in his last years
Frederick II, grown cautious with age and haunted by the fear of
Austria, showed little taste for further adventures in territorial
aggrandizement. But the task was only deferred. With the
advent of a new king, Prussia's unalterable ambition to obtain
Dantzic, Thorn, and part of Great Poland became one of the
most constant and important factors in European politics.

Austria's policy towards Poland in these years was determined
by opposition to that of Prussia. The fact that Prussia coveted
new acquisitions in that quarter sufficed to lead Austrian states-
men to attach the greatest importance to upholding the integrity
of the Republic. That any further aggrandizement of the
' natural enemy ' must be prevented at all costs, was one of the
cardinal tenets of the faith once for all delivered to Prince
Kaunitz. It was held at Vienna that the ' artificial state,' raised
to perilous grandeur by Frederick, would, if confined to its exist-
ing meagre territories, ultimately collapse of itself. Austria
might hope to end successfully the contest for supremacy in Ger-
many, if she could prevent the further dismemberment of Poland.
For the rest, she wanted no more Polish territories for herself, and
would not have been greatly averse to parting with those she
already possessed, if a good exchange could be effected.

Although the policy of the two Imperial Courts thus seemed to
afford some security to the Republic, the situation of Poland
remained highly precarious. If Russia and Prussia were allied,
the latter might at the first emergency extort from the Empress
new concessions in Poland as the price of her support. If the
Imperial Courts were allied, Prussia might seize the moment


when they were engaged in some great enterprise to demand
Polish territory as a condition of not opposing them. If all three
Powers were united, the combination was almost sure to produce
a new partition. In short, any grouping of the three neighbors
contained elements of danger to Poland. Similarly, almost any
crisis might engender another dismemberment of the Republic.
As the system of the balance of power was then practised, any
aggrandizement of one of the Eastern Powers was likely to lead the
other two to demand equivalent acquisitions; and where were
equivalents to be found so conveniently as in the vast, defence-
less intermediate realm, in which, as it was said, ' one had only to
stoop in order to take ' ? Whenever the equilibrium was threat-
ened, Poland might be employed to redress the balance. And,
unfortunately, the equilibrium was at that time in perpetual
danger, owing to the aggressive, the downright revolutionary
policy of Catherine, of Joseph II, and, after Frederick's death,
of Prussia.


The union of the three Eastern Powers at the time of the Parti-
tion proved only temporary. The Imperial Courts soon resumed
their dissensions over Turkish affairs, while the alliance between
Russia and Prussia remained in full force, outwardly at least,
down to 1780. The only grave conflict in those years, the War of
the Bavarian Succession, did not last long enough to involve
Poland seriously; but it did give rise to several projects that were
to be of decided importance in the later development of the Polish
Question. At the moment when Frederick II was about to draw
the sword, his minister Hertzberg came forward with a plan for
avoiding war by a bargain, by which part of Bavaria should go to
Austria, part of Galicia should be restored to Poland, and the
grateful Republic should in its turn cede Dantzic, Thorn, and
some districts in Great Poland to Prussia. 1 This was, in embryo,
the famous ' Hertzberg plan,' which figured so prominently in
the Oriental crisis a decade later. It was also akin to that Austro-
Prussian plan of 1792 out of which grew the Second Partition of

1 Unzer, Hertzbergs Anteil an den preussisch-ostcrreichischen Verhandlungen,
1778-1779, pp. 4f., 122 f.


Poland. Frederick is said to have repudiated the project in 1778
with scant ceremony; x nevertheless, after hostilities had begun,
Hertzberg returned to the charge with the proposal of conquering
Galicia and then trading it off to Poland for the acquisitions
desired by Prussia. The King rebuffed him once more, but hence-
forth the idea of ousting the Austrians from Galicia and acquiring
Dantzic, Thorn, and part of Great Poland for Prussia, by ex-
change if possible, became the favorite project, the ' grand design '
of the persistent, patriotic, and rather pedantic minister. 2 Hertz-
berg seems to have sounded some of the Poles on the subject of the
exchange at the time of the Bavarian war; 3 and his plan may
stand in some kind of connection with the project of Stanislas
Augustus for recovering Galicia by joining in hostilities against
Austria. The King's design, which foreshadows the Polish plans
of 1790, was well known at Vienna. It led Austria to take a more
active interest in Polish affairs after the war, and it strengthened
her desire to keep Poland in a state of impotence. 4

After the Peace of Teschen, Catherine began to consider a
change in. her political connections. The alliance with Prussia
seemed to have furnished most of the advantages of which it was
capable; and for the vast Oriental plans which now filled the
Empress' mind, the friendship of Austria was necessary. For a
time Catherine may have thought of combining liaisons with both
the German Powers by forming that triple alliance which had
often been a favorite project at St. Petersburg. What the triple
alliance would have led to, is sufficiently indicated in a remark-
able conversation that took place between the Empress' favorite
Potemkin and the Prussian envoy Gortz in the autumn of 1779.
At the order of his master, who was eager to make sure of the
favorite, Gortz intimated Frederick's willingness to further
Potemkin's supposed plans upon the crown of Poland. There-

1 His reply to Hertzberg was: " Allez vous promener avec vos indignes plans.
Vous etes fait pour etre le ministre de gens coujons comme l'electeur de Baviere,
mais non pour moi," Bailleu, " Graf Hertzberg," II . Z., xlii, p. 446, and note 1.

2 Unzer, op. cit., p. 143; Ranke, Die deutschen Machte, i, pp. 22 f.; Krauel,
Graf Hertzberg als Minister Friedrich Wilhelms II, p. 36.

3 Cf. his report to the King, September 4, 1778, Unzer, p. 143.

4 Kalinka, Ostatnie lata panowania Stanislawa Augusta, i, pp. 300 f.; Herrmann,
Geschichle des russischen Staales, vi, pp. 481, 483 f., 502, 520 f.


upon the Russian, while roundly denying the ambition ascribed to
him, seized the occasion to propose a complete partition of the
Republic, as the only means of ending the difficulties to which
Poland in its present state must constantly give rise; and he
expressly charged the envoy to procure Frederick's views on the
subject. For once Frederick professed total lack of appetite. He
replied that he thought of nothing except keeping what he had
and checking the insatiable ambition of Austria. With that
response this highly enigmatic episode ended. Of one thing one
may be fairly sure: Potemkin could hardly have been throwing
out merely his own ideas, for in that case he could not have in-
sisted upon a reply from Frederick. He must have been acting
with a commission from the Empress. But, on the other hand,
one cannot be certain whether Catherine was simply trying to
probe the secret ambitions of Prussia, or whether she seriously
thought of a total partition of Poland as a preliminary to the
partition of Turkey, and as a means of bringing the Eastern
Powers into complete and durable accord. 1 At any rate, Fred-
erick's answer must have confirmed the idea that the triple
alliance was out of the question, and that the Prussian alliance
had exhausted its usefulness. With so unambitious and super-
annuated a partner as Frederick had now become, there was
really nothing great to be done.

While the King of Prussia was thus playing the recalcitrant, the
Court of Vienna was straining every nerve to supplant his in-
fluence at St. Petersburg. And as a result of the indefatigable
activity of Prince Kaunitz, the adroit diplomacy of Count Louis
Cobenzl, who was sent in 1779 as envoy to Russia, the visit of
Joseph II to the Empress in 1780, the influence of Potemkin, and
above all Catherine's own clever calculations, Austria in 1781
could boast of a brilliant diplomatic victory. By the letters
exchanged between the two sovereigns under the dates of May 2 1
and 13/24 of that year, 2 the Austro-Russian alliance was consum-

1 For this interesting incident, which deserves a more thorough investigation
than it has yet received, cf. Gortz, Denkwiirdigkeiten, i, pp. 123 ff.; Dohm, Denk-
wiirdigkeiten, ii, pp. xlv-xlviii; Reimann, Neuere Geschichte des preussischen Staates,
ii, pp. 282 ff.; Koser, Friedrich der Grosse, ii, p. 606.

2 Printed in Arneth, Joseph II und Katharina, pp. 72-87.


mated : an alliance which in the next few years seemed to domi-
nate Europe, and which was to be portentous both for Turkey and
for Poland.

It was the fatal defect of this alliance that the two contracting
Powers entered into it with very different aims. For the Aus-
trians the great object was security from Prussia and, if the
opportunity occurred, offensive action against that state. For
Catherine, however — and circumstances inevitably rendered
her the dominant partner — the goal was always the realization
of her plans against the Ottoman Empire. For some years after
the conclusion of the alliance, the two cabinets were intermit-
tently engaged in the discussion of the grandiose scheme called
the ' Greek project,' which aimed at nothing less than the ex-
pulsion of the Turks from Europe, suitable aggrandizement for
the allies, the restoration of the Byzantine Empire under Cath-
erine's grandson Constantine, and the creation of a ' Kingdom of
Dacia,' presumably intended for Potemkin. 1 The Austrians
accepted the grand plan in principle, but without enthusiasm and
with lively misgivings as to the possibility of its execution.

In Europe at large, enough of the ' Greek project' was known to
arouse enthusiasm in the public and consternation in the cabinets.
When in 1783 Catherine proceeded to the annexation of the
Crimea, the other Powers regarded the step as a preliminary to
the final onslaught of both the Imperial Courts upon the Turks;
and France and Prussia prepared for the worst emergencies. Both
Vergennes, the director of French foreign policy, and Frederick
were ready to go to war, rather than to allow the allies to partition
the Turkish Empire at pleasure. Vergennes thought of bringing

1 I know of no direct evidence from Russian official documents to prove that
Dacia was intended for Potemkin; but such was the general opinion of contem-
poraries, and that belief has been almost universally accepted by historians. One
reservation must be made, however. In case it proved possible to free the Danubian
Principalities, but not to restore the Greek Empire, then Catherine would probably
have preferred to bestow the crown of Dacia upon Constantine, although doubtless
with Potemkin at his side as adviser and mentor. Cf. [Helbig], " Potemkin der
Taurier," in Minerva, xxiii (1797), pp. 228f.,xxvi, pp. 305ff., xxxii, pp. 4271?.; Gortz,
op. cit., i, pp. 126 f.; Dohm, op. cit., ii, p. 50; Zinkeisen, Geschichle des osmanischen
Retches, vi, p. 351; Jorga, Geschichle des osmanischen Retches, v, p. 91; BpHKHepi.,
UoTeMEHHi, pp. 64!!., 212; Askenazy, Przymierze polsko-pruskie, p. 36.



into the field against the Imperial Courts a great coalition con-
sisting of France, Spain, Sardinia, Prussia, Sweden, and perhaps
even Poland. 1 In case Catherine and Joseph were satisfied, how-
ever, with wresting a few provinces from the Turks, Vergennes
preferred to avoid a general war by a bargain which would give
France the Austrian Netherlands, and Prussia some Polish terri-
tories. 2 Frederick and Hertzberg, discussing the same problems
in 1783, differed in that the King inclined more to war, and the
minister to diplomacy; but the conclusions of both were identical:
that in case Austria made any considerable conquests from the
Turks, Prussia must extort equivalent acquisitions in Poland. 3
The storm blew over on this occasion, as Catherine contented
herself with the Crimea, the Emperor reserved his claims to a
later time, and the Turks were persuaded not to risk a rupture.
But the execution of the ' Greek project ' was only postponed, not
abandoned; and it was certain that whenever the allies resumed
the plan, they would have to reckon with Prussia, and possibly
even with a great coalition, such as Vergennes had outlined.

The Imperial Courts were by no means ignorant of the opposi-
tion to be expected. For a time the Austrians were not unwilling
to bribe Prussia to remain quiet by offering her a bit of Polish
territory, for which the Republic might be compensated out of the
spoils taken from Turkey. 4 Later, however, they talked rather of
coercing the Court of Berlin into passivity by military demon-
strations or even active hostilities; and they frequently suggested
that, in general, the indispensable preliminary to the execution of
the ' grand plan ' was ' to remove the horns of the King of Prussia.'

1 Flassan, Histoire de la diplomatic franqaise, vii, pp. 383 ff.; Zinkeisen, op. tit.,
vi, pp. 423 ff.; Tratchevsky, "La France et l'Allemagne sous Louis XVI," in R. H.,
xiv; Lucchesini to Frederick William, November 19, 1788: " J'ai vu des lettres
de ce Ministre au Comte de Rzewuski, demeurant alors a Paris, par lesquelles on
voit que le Comte de Vergennes, prevoyant la Guerre actuelle entre la Porte et les
deux Cours Imperiales, auroit voulu pouvoir former une Confederation en Pologne,
soutenue par l'argent de la France et de l'Espagne, et y joindre la Puissance de
V. M., avec une diversion que le Roi de Suede auroit du tenter en Finlande," B. A.,
Pologne, Fasc, 1097.

2 Flassan, ibid., pp. 391 ff.

3 Bailleu, "Der Ursprung des deutschen Fiirstenbundes," H. Z. xli, pp. 424 ff.

4 F. R. A., II, liii, p. ix; Beer, Orientalische Politik Oesterreichs , p. 48.


After the formation of the Fiirstenbund — a crushing blow to
Catherine's German policy — that view seemed to gain ground
on the Neva. 1 The Empress was, in fact, coming to regard the
Court of Berlin as her most dangerous enemy. The state of
Russo-Prussian relations from 1785 onward ominously recalled
the tension on the eve of the Seven Years' War. 2

With Poland the Imperial Courts were even less disposed to
share their prospective conquests. They intended that the
Republic should remain as it was — weak and helpless. 3 By the
treaty of 1781 they had pledged themselves to maintain tran-
quillity in Poland, and had guaranteed the constitution as fixed
by the Diet of 1773; and they were thus committed to upholding
the status quo. Practically, the alliance produced a certain im-
provement in the position of Poland, inasmuch as it set a check
upon the territorial ambition of Prussia, while, by diverting
Catherine's attention to the Eastern Question, it led to a con-
siderable relaxation of the pressure she had hitherto exerted upon
the Republic. On the other hand, the alliance did not in any way
impair Russia's exclusive position in Poland. Austria gained no
additional influence there as a result of her new connection, and the
fear of arousing the suspicions or resentment of Russia deterred
her from any systematic or continued attempt to form a party of
her own. Joseph interfered vigorously in Poland only when the
interests of his Galician subjects were concerned; and if these
interventions occasionally led the Polish opposition (the so-called
' Patriots ') to fix their hopes on the Court of Vienna, it was
invariably shown that no permanent support could be expected
from that quarter. At the opening of the Four Years' Diet an
Austrian party in Poland did not exist.

One question frequently discussed between St. Petersburg and
Vienna was that of the future successor to Stanislas Augustus.
Russia consistently declared in favor of a ' Piast ' (i. e., a native
Pole); while Austria, from 1782 onward, urged the desirability of

1 F. R. A., II, liii, pp. xiv ff., 349, 368; liv, pp. 13-21, 78 f., 108, note 1.

2 Cf. TpaieBCKiii, Coi03i Kiuraeii, pp. 384 ff.

3 Catherine's notes on the " Greek project," written probably about 1782, in
the PyccKaa Orapima, lxxvi, pp. 1 ff.


holding out hopes to the Elector of Saxony. 1 Behind this latter
plan lay the wish of the Vienna cabinet not only to lure the
Elector away from the side of Prussia, but also to place upon the
Polish throne a king less dependent on Russia and more amenable
to Austrian influence. Such details were not overlooked at St.
Petersburg. The Polish succession remained an open question
between the two Courts, a germ of future disagreements.

It was not the only rift in the alliance. Indeed the role of
' most intimate ally ' to Catherine would have proved a bit trying
to the most patient, the least self-willed of monarchs. Self-
abnegation was not Joseph's forte. Neither he nor Kaunitz had
ever felt any real ardor for the ' Greek project ' : both occasion-
ally vented their ill-humor at the frivolity, the megalomania, the
slight regard for her ally, with which the Empress pursued the
scheme. Besides, the advantages of the partnership seemed to
fall out most unequally. The alliance had brought to Catherine
the Crimea — to Joseph, only failure upon failure. The Emperor
began to think about a change of policy.

At the beginning of 1785, after the collapse of his plan for the
Bavarian Exchange, Joseph was reflecting seriously on the desira-
bility of a frank reconciliation with Prussia. United, the two
German Powers could hold all Europe in check, and procure
themselves whatever ' advantages ' they chose. 2 The ' advan-
tage ' the Emperor had in mind for himself was, of course,
Bavaria: what Prussia would have demanded in return, he could
easily have imagined. The point of the alliance, it appears,
would have been directed chiefly against France, while Russia was
to be taken into the partnership. In short, this was the system of
1792, of the First Coalition, of the Second Partition of Poland.
Dropped for a time, the same ideas returned to the Emperor's
mind after the death of Frederick II. Kaunitz dissented vigor-
ously, and Joseph appeared to yield; but behind the Chancellor's
back he continued the discussion with the Vice-Chancellor, Philip

1 Cobenzl to Joseph, January 18, 1783, and June 3, 1785, Kaunitz to Cobenzl,
February 13, 1787, F. R. A., II, liii, p. 366; liv, pp. 41 f., 108. Also Joseph to
Catherine, November 13, 1782, and her reply of January 4/15, 1783, Arneth,
Joseph II und Katharina, pp. 169-175, 182-188.

2 Joseph to Louis Cobenzl, January 22, 1785, F. R. A., II, liv, pp. 5-8.


Cobenzl, and Spielmann, the rising man in the Haus-Hof-und
Staatskanzlei. These two ministers, who were later to reign and
fall together, were already very much of one mind, particularly
with regard to the policies of their chief, the Chancellor. They
agreed that the Emperor's idea of a reconciliation with Prussia
pointed to the only course that could lead to great results. Both
before and after Joseph's trip to the Crimea, they submitted to
him in writing plans for the realization of that project. The exact
nature of their program is not quite certain; but there can be
little doubt that one feature of it was the exchange of Belgium for
Bavaria in the interests of Austria, while it probably included
acquisitions in Poland for the Court of Berlin. The combination
of those two favorite plans was the natural, the obvious condition
of any bargain between the two states for 'reciprocal advantages.'
Indeed, towards the end of 1786 an insinuation looking to an
understanding on just that basis reached Berlin as coming from
Vienna. The whole incident is very obscure, but it is possible
that the insinuation had some connection with the projects then
under discussion in the Emperor's cabinet. At any rate, those
projects came to nothing, at least for the time being. Joseph
found the means proposed too adventurous, and the conse-
quences too dangerous. 1

While these discussions were going on at Vienna, similar desires
for a rapprochement were felt in some circles in Berlin. Prince
Henry, Frederick's brother, had long advocated an understanding
with Austria for reciprocal advantages, and was not averse even
to allowing the Bavarian Exchange. The Duke of Brunswick held
somewhat similar opinions. Bischoffwerder and Wollner, the
favorites of the new King, Frederick William II, cultivated inti-
mate relations with Prince Reuss, the Austrian envoy, and
desired to bring about a meeting between the two monarchs. 2

1 For the above: Ranke, Die deutscken Machle, ii, pp. 298-308; Ph. Cobenzl
to L. Cobenzl, December 21, 1786, F. R. A., II, liv, pp. 93 f.; Brunner, Corre-
spondances intimes de VEmpcrcur Joseph II, pp. 60 f., 66 (Ph. Cobenzl to the
Emperor, February 23, 1787; Joseph's reply; also his note to Cobenzl of Sep-
tember 25, 1787); F. K. Wittichen, Preussen und England in der europaischen
Politik, 1785-88, pp. 1 18-123, 186 f.

2 Krauel, Prinz Heinrich von Preussen als Politiker, pp. 24, 30, 34 ff., 40 f.;
Volz, " Prinz Heinrich von Preussen und die preussische Politik vor der ersten


On both sides there was, then, some desire for better relations,
some dawning consciousness that it would be wise to end the long
rivalry by a friendly understanding, through which each state
would be enabled to make the acquisitions it most needed, But
significant as these ideas were for the future, the time for realizing
them had not yet come. In the great European crisis of 1787-91,
the two German Powers were destined to appear once more as
bitter enemies.


The prelude to that crisis was the famous voyage of the Em-
press Catherine down the Dnieper to visit her new Tauric prov-
inces. The King of Poland waited seven weeks at Kanev for a
few hours' audience with the Tsarina; the Emperor of the Ro-
mans arrived soon afterwards to pay his homage to her. Europe
looked on with wonder and uneasiness, and the Turks prepared
for war. Joseph had gone to the Crimea much against his will,
loaded down with a set of Kaunitz's most masterly and vol-
uminous instructions and determined to do his utmost to dissuade
his ally from attempting the execution of the ' grand plan ' just

Online LibraryRobert Howard LordThe second partition of Poland; a study in diplomatic history → online text (page 9 of 59)