Poland, First Partition Of

First Partition Of Poland

Author: Fletcher, James


Of the three partitions which Poland underwent in the last quarter of the

eighteenth century, the first was due to the jealousies of European powers.

It was an event of great significance for the Polish kingdom, ominous of

future spoliations, which indeed followed, to the destruction of its political

life. It had been long since Poland passed her golden age - two centuries and

more. In the mean time she had undergone many vicissitudes, yet had preserved

her identity as a state.

When Russia had won successes in the war of 1768-1774 with Turkey, she

seized the principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia. Austria, seeing in this

acquisition a menace to her eastern frontier, opposed it. Russia, in order to

appease Austria, looked about for territory that might be obtained for her in

compensation. The state of affairs in Poland presented a tempting opportunity

for interference which might lead to a division of the kingdom. Stanislaus II,

King of Poland, had been elected in 1764, mainly through the influence of

Russia - he was one of Catharine II's lovers. His people had risen against

him when Russia adopted her policy of spoliation. Prussia, as well as

Austria, advanced territorial claims, and the partition of 1772, really

planned by Frederick the Great, was consummated on the basis of a secret

treaty of those powers with Catharine's government.

Some writers, possessed with the love of reducing political transactions

to one rigid scale of cause and effect, and at the same time of exhibiting

their acumen by threading the mazes of events up to remote circumstances,

pretend to trace the design of the partition of Poland for more than a century

back. Rulhiere seems to plume himself on the idea. "The projects executed in

our days against Poland," he observes, "were proposed more than a hundred

years ago. I have discovered this important and hitherto unknown circumstance

in the archives of foreign affairs of France." This point had been canvassed

under the reign of John Casimir; and it only remains to be remarked that such

very subtle analysis of the motives and progress of actions generally

overshoots the mark, since no men can act always according to rule, but are in

some degree influenced by circumstances and caprice. It would be equally

absurd to imagine that Frederick, in the complicated intrigues which preceded

the first partition, was actuated by one deeply laid scheme of policy to

arrive at one end: the possession of Polish Prussia. It was, indeed,

absolutely essential for him to obtain this province, to consolidate and open

a communication between his scattered dominions, which then, as Voltaire says,

were stretched out like a pair of gaiters; but it remained a desideratum

rather than a design, since he knew that neither Russia nor Austria would be

inclined to permit the aggression; for the former had evidently marked out the

whole of Poland for herself, and would consider Frederick an unwelcome

intruder; while Austria, which had lately experienced the Prussian King's

encroachments, was more jealous than ever of his obtaining the slightest

aggrandizement, and had openly declared that she would not allow the seizure

of the least Polish village. His views, however, widened as he advanced, and

no doubt he spoke with sincerity when he told the Emperor Joseph that "he had

never followed a plan in war, much less any plan in policy, and that events

alone had suggested all his resolutions." Admitting the truth of this, we

proceed to trace out the circumstances which produced this crisis.

The relations of the three courts, at the commencement of the war between

Russia and Turkey (1768), did not portend anything like a coalition;

Frederick, indeed, was in alliance with Russia, but also secretly favored the

Sultan; Austria was all but an open enemy of both Russia and Prussia.

Circumstances, however, obliged Austria to forget her hatred to Prussia, and

Frederick thus became the mediator between the courts of Vienna and St.

Petersburg. Frederick had every reason to wish to lull the suspicions and

jealousies of Austria, that he might be left in undisputed possession of

Silesia; and that power, moreover, was no longer an object of dread or

jealousy to him, for the Seven Years' War had reduced its resources to the

lowest ebb. The dispositions of the court of Vienna cannot be comprised in so

few words: its situation was much more complicated, its policy more

embarrassed, and the persons who governed it will be much more difficult to

make known.

Maria Theresa was now not very far from the tomb, and after all the

arduous struggles she had undergone for the defence of her states,

vicissitudes she had experienced, and the exhaustion of her resources, she

determined to end her days in peace. She devoted almost the whole of her time

to superstitious devotions in a gloomy chamber hung round with death's heads,

and a portrait of her late husband in the act of expiring. She yet cherished,

however, some of the feelings of mortality, implacable hatred to Frederick,

and contempt mingled with hate for Catharine II, of whom she never spoke but

with disdain, calling her "that woman." Besides, she could sometimes also

silence the reproaches of conscience, so as to seize for the public use the

bequests of the pious for religious purposes, and to confiscate the revenues

of rich monasteries apparently without any compunction. Men fancied, says our

author, that they could foresee in all this conduct that if this just and

religious Princess had power enough over herself to silence her generosity and

even sometimes her piety, she might perhaps be capable in some state crisis of

incurring still greater remorse and silence justice.

Her minister, Kaunitz, to whom she intrusted all the management of

affairs, is not the least important personage in this drama, nor did he

underrate his own consequence. "Heaven," said he, "is a hundred years in

forming a great mind for the restoration of an empire, and it then rests

another hundred years; on this account I tremble for the fate which awaits

this monarchy after me." Throughout a long and arduous ministry he had shown

himself the most subtle and refined politician, unfettered in his schemes by

any remorse or feeling, and making a boast that he had no friends. Such a man

was well fitted to play the part allotted to him. After the conclusion of the

long war, he had made it his policy to repair the damages the empire had

sustained by alliances, and even his opposition to Frederick daily subsided.

But it was another agent who commenced the connection between Austria and

Prussia. Joseph, Maria Theresa's son and coregent with his mother, detested

this pacific policy and longed for war. He was, however, obliged to submit;

for Maria dreaded the effects of this warlike propensity, and kept the

government in the hands of her ministers. He had continual contentions with

the Empress, and urged her to improve her finances by conquest or aggression;

but all the power he could obtain was the command of the troops, which he

augmented to two hundred thousand men, and organized them under the counsel of

his field marshal, Lacy. In his mania for military matters he visited in 1768

all the fields of battle of the last war, and after traversing Bohemia and

Saxony, and learning from his generals the causes of the defeats and

victories, he approached in the course of his tour the borders of Prussian

Silesia, where Frederick was engaged in his annual reviews. The King sent a

polite message, and expressed a great desire to be personally acquainted with

him. The young Prince could not pay a visit to the former enemy of his family

without previously consulting his mother, the Empress; and the interview was

deferred till the next year; when it took place on August 25th, at Neisse, a

town in Silesia.

At this period the war between Russia and Turkey engrossed general

attention, and seems to have formed the principal subject of the conference;

but no resolutions of any importance were agreed to. The flattering manner in

which Frederick received the young Prince must have made a great impression on

his mind; and the extravagant compliments which were lavished on him were

highly gratifying to youthful vanity, from such a great man. Frederick

frequently repeated that Joseph would surpass Charles V; and though it has the

appearance of irony to those acquainted with the denouement of this youthful

monarch's character, it was probably not intended so, for Frederick, we have

seen before, could stoop to the most servile adulation when it answered his

purpose. Be that as it may, the effect on Joseph was the same, for on his

return he spoke of the Prussian monarch with the highest enthusiasm.

Maria Theresa was growing old, and the Austrian ministers began to turn

to the rising sun; the eyes of Kaunitz were opened to the policy of

cultivating a friendship with Prussia; and the correspondence between the two

courts became every day more frequent. This led to another conference between

the two princes at Neustadt, in Moravia, which was held on September 3, 1770,

and at which Kaunitz was present. The King was more courteous than ever; he

appeared in the military uniform of Austria, and continued to wear it as long

as he remained in the Austrian territory. He made use of every species of

compliment. One day, as they were leaving the dining-room and the Emperor

made a motion to give him the precedence, he stepped back, saying with a

significant smile and double entendre, not lost on Joseph, "Since your

imperial majesty begins to manoeuvre, I must follow wherever you lead." Nor

did he spare his civilities to Kaunitz, with the view of removing the rankling

feeling which had often made that conceited minister exclaim, "The King of

Prussia is the only man who denies me the esteem which is due to me."

Kaunitz insisted on the necessity of opposing the ambitious views of

Russia, and stated that the Empress would never allow Catharine to take

possession of Moldavia and Wallachia, which would make her states adjoin those

of Austria; nor permit her to penetrate farther into Turkey. He added that an

alliance between Austria and Prussia was the only means of checking

Catharine's overbearing power. To this Frederick replied that being in

alliance with the court of St. Petersburg, his only practicable measure was to

prevent the war from becoming general by conciliating the friendly feelings of

Catharine toward Austria. On the day after this conference a courier arrived

from Constantinople, with the news of the destruction of the Turkish fleet and

the rout of their army, and to request the mediation of the courts of Vienna

and Berlin. To this both readily assented, but without agreeing upon any


Frederick did not forget to follow up his former mode of tactics with the

Emperor; he pretended to make him the confidant of all his designs, a species

of flattery most gratifying to a young prince. On his return to Berlin, also,

the King affected to imitate the Austrian manners, and uttered several pompous

panegyrics on the talents of Joseph, who had recited to him some of Tasso's

verses, and nearly a whole act of the Pastor Fido.

Thus did Frederick avail himself of circumstances to commence an amicable

correspondence with Austria, and he thus became the medium of communication

between the hostile courts of Vienna and St. Petersburg. No more direct

intelligence, however, existed between these two states than before; for great

as was Theresa's hatred against Catharine, Catharine's was no less violent;

and even when Austria made friendly overtures, through Frederick, concerning

mediation between Turkey and Russia, she desired Frederick to desist, and

rejected the interference.

A channel of communication, however, was opened between the three

conspiring powers; and the next step was for one of the triumvirate to broach

the iniquitous partition plot. It is made a matter of much dispute which of

them started the project, and they all equally disclaim the infamy of being

its author. The fact, no doubt, was, that in this, as in all other unjust

coalitions, they did not, in the first instance, act on a preconcerted plan;

but each individual power cherished secretly its design, and like designing

villains, who understand one another, almost

"Without eyes, ears, and harmful sound of words,"

the conspiring parties were naturally drawn together by the similarity of

reckless atrocity in their designs.

It cannot be imagined that the scheme of partition originated with

Catharine; she had long been the real mistress of Poland, the King was nothing

more than her tenant at will, and it required only a little time for the whole

kingdom to sink into a Russian province. The intentions of the other powers

began to evince themselves more plainly in 1770. Frederick began to throw out

hints of claims on certain Polish districts; he obliged the Polish Prussians

to furnish his troops with horses and corn in exchange for debased money,

which was either forged Polish silver coin, only one-third of its nominal

value, or false Dutch ducats, 17 per cent. under the proper value. By this

disgraceful species of swindling it is calculated he gained seven million


The young Poles were enrolled in the armies by force; and every town and

village in Posnania was taxed at a stated number of marriageable girls, who

were sent to stock the districts of the Prussian dominions depopulated by the

long wars. Each girl's portion was to be a bed, two pigs, a cow, and three

ducats of gold. It is said that one town alone was obliged to furnish the

Prussian general, Belling, with fifty girls. Under pretence that the

magistrates of Dantzic prevented the levies, troops were marched into the

territories of the city, a contribution of one hundred thousand ducats was

exacted, and one thousand young men were pressed for the Prussian service.

Frederick's military possession of Posnania, as well as the greater part of

Polish Prussia, seemed to be but too consonant with his hinted claims, and his

arbitrary levies evinced not merely intended, but actual possession.

Austria, too, was playing a similar part on the south. In the spring of

1769 Birzynski, at the head of a small troop of confederates, entered Lubowla,

one of the towns in the starosty or district of Zips, or Spiz, with the

intention of levying contributions, as he was accustomed, in a disorderly

manner. This little district is situated to the south of the palatinate of

Cracow, among the Carpathian Mountains, and has been originally a portion of

the kingdom of Hungary. The confederates were followed by the Russians, and

took refuge in Hungary, as was their custom. This near approach of the

Russians to the imperial frontiers was made a pretext by the court of Vienna

for concentrating a body of troops there; and at the same time hints were

thrown out of Austria's claims, not only to this but some of the adjacent

districts. Researches were ordered to be made into old records, to establish

these pretensions; the Austrian troops seized the territory of Zips, and

engineers were employed by the Empress to mark out the frontier. They

advanced the boundary line along the districts of Sandecz, Nowitarg, and

Czorsztyn, and marked it out with posts furnished with the imperial eagle.

Stanislaus had complained of this proceeding in a letter of October 28, 1770;

to which the Empress returned for answer, in January, 1771, that she would

willingly make an amicable arrangement, after peace was established, to settle

the disputed frontier, but that she was determined to claim her right to the

district of Zips, and that for the present it was requisite to pursue the

operation of demarcation.

The Empress seems to have been instigated not only by the characteristic

avidity of Austrian policy, but by jealousies awakened by the near approaches

of the Russian troops. Besides, it is a point of some consequence to be

remembered - though it seems to have escaped the observation of most

historians - that she had before her eyes a fearful proof of the danger of an

uncertain frontier in the affair of Balta, which was the ostensible cause of

the war between Turkey and Russia.

This open encroachment on the Polish territory, however, was a fatal

precedent; Catharine and Frederick could advance, as excuses for their

proceedings, that they were solely intended to restore tranquillity to Poland;

and that their possession was only temporary, whereas Theresa's was a

permanent seizure. Frederick, therefore, endeavors strenuously in his

writings to exonerate his intentions from censure, and shifts the odium of

this step on Austria; but whether he is absolutely innocent of the

"injustice," as he himself calls it, or adds to his guilt by the height of

hypocrisy and cant, is a question not very difficult of solution.

The three powers could now readily understand each other's designs; but

the first communication which took place between them on the subject occurred

in December, 1770, and January, 1771. In the former month Catharine invited

Prince Henry, Frederick's brother, who had before been a personal

acquaintance, to her court; and the wily despot of Prussia urged him earnestly

to accept the invitation. He reached St. Petersburg in the midst of the

festivities and rejoicings for the victories over the Turks; and having, like

his brother, abundant flattery at will, he seized the opportunity of loading

Catharine with compliments. It would be absurd to suppose that the Empress,

masculine as her mind was, could be insensible to this species of attack; she,

like all other followers of ambition and conquest, made the applause and

admiration, even of the vulgar, the aim of her life; and it can only be

affectation in those who pretend to despise the adulation which they so

eagerly labor for. Henry was admitted to confidential conferences, and so

well did he avail himself of his opportunities and influence that he succeeded

in persuading the Empress to accept the mediation of Austria between Turkey

and Russia - a commission with which he was charged by his brother.

It was in these conferences that the fate of Poland was decided. While

Catharine was hesitating about accepting the terms Austria proposed, which

were that she should renounce her design upon Moldavia and Wallachia, the news

arrived at St. Petersburg that the Austrian troops had taken possession of

Zips. Catharine was much astonished at the proceeding, and remarked that if

Austria seized the Polish territory, the two other neighboring powers must

imitate her example until she desisted. This hint suggested to Henry a mode

of removing those objections of Austria which impeded the negotiation. He

knew that the court of Vienna was as eager for aggrandizement as Russia, and

that all her jealousies would be allayed by a similar accession of territory;

that at the same time she would never consent to have the Russians as her

neighbors in Moldavia and Wallachia, but would have no objection to their

making an equal increase to that immense empire elsewhere. Frederick's

consent, also, must be purchased by an equal allotment; where, then, he

thought, were there three such portions to be found but where Austria pointed

out? Catharine approved of the plan after a few moments' reflection, but

mentioned two impediments: first, that when her troops had entered Poland she

had solemnly declared that she would maintain the integrity of the kingdom;

the next, that Austria would not receive such a proposal from her without

suspicion. These difficulties were readily removed - the first by breaking

the engagement, and the second by making Frederick the negotiator with the

court of Vienna.

Frederick's admirers pretend that he was unacquainted with this intrigue,

and, when the plan was made known to him, opposed it strenuously; "but that on

the following day, having reflected on the misfortunes of the Poles, and on

the impossibility of reestablishing their liberty, he showed himself more

tractable." It is to be hoped that, for the sake of Frederick's remnant of

character, that is not true; after the singular manner in which he had evinced

his concern for "the misfortunes of the Poles," and his solicitude for their

"liberty" in Polish Prussia, such pretensions would have been the very height

of hypocrisy. His scruples, at any rate, if any such existed, were soon

dispelled; and he exerted himself in persuading the court of Vienna to enter

into the plot.

Austria was but too ready to fall into the design; the conflicting views,

indeed, between Maria Theresa, Joseph, and their minister Kaunitz gave rise to

some complication of politics and consequent delay. Frederick, strongly as he

is said to have disclaimed the plan in the present instance, was now the only

party impatient to conclude it. "The slowness and irresolution of the

Russians," he says in his Memoires, "protracted the conclusion of the treaty

of partition; the negotiation hung chiefly on the possession of the city of

Dantzic. The Russians pretended they had guaranteed the liberty of this

little republic, but it was in fact the English, who, jealous of the

Prussians, protected the liberty of this maritime town, and who prompted the

Empress of Russia not to consent to the demands of his Prussian majesty. It

was requisite, however, for the King to determine; and as it was evident that

the master of the Vistula and the port of Dantzic would, in time, subject that

city, he decided that it was not necessary to stop such an important

negotiation, for an advantage which in fact was only deferred; therefore his

majesty relaxed in this demand. After so many obstacles had been removed this

secret contract was signed at St. Petersburg, February 17, 1772. The month of

June was fixed on for taking possession, and it was agreed that the

Empress-Queen should be invited to join the two contracting powers and share

in the partition."

It now remained to persuade Austria to join the coalition. Joseph and

Kaunitz were soon won over, but Maria Theresa's conscience made a longer

resistance. The fear of hell, she said, restrained her from seizing another's

possessions. It was represented to her, however, that her resistance could

not prevent the other two powers from portioning out Poland, but might

occasion a war which would cost the valuable lives of many; whereas the

peaceable partition would not spill a drop of blood. She was thus, she

imagined, placed in a dilemma between two sins; and forgetting the command,

"Do not evil that good may come," she endeavored to persuade herself that she

was doing her duty in choosing the least. She yielded at length with the air

of some religious devotee who exclaims to her artful seducer, "May God forgive

you!" and at the same time sinks into his arms. The contract was signed

between Prussia and Austria on March 4th, and the definite treaty of partition

which regulated the three portions was concluded on August 5, 1772.

Russia was to have, by this first partition, the palatinates of Polotsk,

Vitebsk, and Mstislavl, as far as the rivers of Dwina and Dnieper, more than

three thousand square leagues; Austria had for her share Red Russia (Galicia),

and a portion of Podolia and Little Poland as far as the Vistula, about

twenty-five hundred square leagues; and Prussia was to be contented with

Polish Prussia (excepting Dantzic and Thorn with their territory), and part of

Great Poland as far as the river Notec (or Netze), comprising about nine

hundred square leagues. All the rest of the kingdom was to be insured to

Stanislaus under the old constitution.

All the three powers thought it necessary to publish some defence of

their conduct; and, in separate pamphlets, they attempted to prove that they

had legitimate claims on Poland, and that their present violent seizures were

only just resumptions of their own territory or equivalent to it.

Rulhiere says that Catharine only made her claim as a just

indemnification for the trouble and expense which she had devoted to Poland;

this, however, it will be found by referring to her defence, is not the case.

She sets forth the great kindness she had shown the republic by insuring the

election of a Piast (Stanislaus), and uses these remarkable words on the

subject: "That event was necessary to restore the Polish liberty to its

ancient lustre, to insure the elective right of the monarchy, and to destroy

foreign influence, which was so rooted in the state, and which was the

continual source of trouble and contest." She then exclaims against the


"Their ambition and cupidity, veiled under the phantom of religion and

the defence of their laws, pervade and desolate this vast kingdom, without the

prospect of any termination of this madness but its entire ruin." She then

proceeds with her "Deduction," endeavoring to prove, from old authors, that it

was not till 1686 that the Polish limits were extended beyond the mouth of the

Dwina and the little town of Stoika on the Dnieper, five miles below Kiow.

The following is a specimen of the lawyer-like sophistry which the Empress

employs to establish her claim to the Russian territory, which remained in the

hands of the Poles after the treaty in 1686:

"The design of such a concession being only to put an end to a bloody war

more promptly, and by a remedy as violent as a devastation (aussi violent

qu'une devastation), to insure tranquility of neighborhood between two rival

and newly reconciled nations, it necessarily follows that every act on the

part of the subjects of the republic of Poland, contrary to such intention,

has, ipso facto, revived Russia's indisputable and unalienated right to all

that extent of territory. It must be observed, also, that this arrangement

about the frontier was only provisional and temporary, since it is expressly

said that it shall only remain so until it has been otherwise amicably


"The object was, therefore, to give the nations time to lay aside their

inveterate hatred; and to remove immediate causes of dispute between the

different subjects, and consequent rupture between the two states. Russia

sacrificed for a time the possession of the territory which extends from the

fertile town of Stoika to the river Tecmine, and from the right bank of the

Dnieper, fifty versts in breadth along the frontiers of Poland. There is no

idea of cession here on the part of Russia; it is a pledge (gage) which she

advances for the solidity of the peace, which ought to be returned to her when

the object of it is effected. This is the only reasonable construction which

can be put upon the stipulation, 'until it has been otherwise amicably

settled.' Russia is not to be a loser because the confusion of the internal

affairs of Poland has never allowed that country to come to a definite

agreement on this subject, notwithstanding the requests of Russia."

It does not demand much acumen to unveil such impudent sophistry as this.

The assertion that the arrangement was only provisional and temporary is

false; the treaty indeed left the detail of the boundary line to be drawn out

by commissioners, as must always be the case in arrangements of this kind, and

as was meant to be implied by the words which the Russian minister transforms

into "until it has been otherwise amicably arranged."

Such was the weak manner in which the Russian diplomatists imagined to

deceive Europe; their defence indeed is as triumphant a proof of the badness

of their cause as the most earnest friend of Poland could desire. Our

surprise may well be excited at the weakness of the argument, particularly

when we remember that Catharine's servants had long been trained in glossing

over the basest and most shameful transactions. "The ministers of St.

Petersburg," said a contemporary writer, "are accustomed to appear without

blushing at the tribunal of the public in defence of any cause; the death of

Peter and assassination of Prince John inured them to it."

Such a work hardly requires refutation. Every sophism and every

falsehood is a damning argument against the Russian cause. Truth, in fact, is

outraged in every page of the writing; and one striking instance will suffice.

Catharine states that the Polish Government would never make any arrangement

about the frontier; but the fact is that even as late as 1764 commissioners

were appointed at the diet of coronation for this very purpose, but the

Russians refused to nominate theirs; again in 1766, when Count Rzewinski,

Polish ambassador to St. Petersburg, made a similar application, he was

answered that the affairs of the dissidents must be first settled.

The Austrian pretensions were even more elaborately drawn up than those

of Russia. In the first place, the district of Zips, the first sacrifice to

Austrian rapacity, came under consideration. Sigismund, who came to the

Hungarian throne in 1387, mortgaged this district to Wladislas II (Jagello),

King of Poland, in 1412, for a stipulated sum of money. It is commonly called

the "Thirteen Towns of Zips," but the district contains sixteen. No

reclamation of it had been made till the present time; it had then been in the

undisputed possession of Poland nearly three hundred sixty years. The chief

demur which the Austrians now made to the mortgage was that the King of

Hungary was restricted by the constitution, as expressed in the

coronation-oath, from alienating any portion of the kingdom. But even this

plea, weak as it is under such circumstances, is not available; since it is

proved that this article was never made a part of the coronation-oath until

the accession of Ferdinand I in 1527.

The Austrian minister endeavored also to establish the right of his

mistress to Galicia and Podolia, as Queen of Hungary, and the duchies of

Oswiecim and Zator, as Queen of Bohemia. "What lastly establishes

indisputably the ancient claim of Hungary to the provinces in question is that

in several seals and documents of the ancient kings of Hungary preserved in

our archives, the titles and arms of Galicia are always used." After

exhausting the records, and stating that the crown of Hungary has never in any

way renounced its rights and pretensions, the author modestly winds up his

arguments in the following way: "Consequently, after such a long delay, the

house of Austria is well authorized in establishing and reclaiming the lawful

rights and pretensions of her crowns of Hungary and Bohemia, and to obtain

satisfaction by the means which she now employs; in the use of which she has

exhibited the greatest moderation possible, by confining herself to a very

moderate equivalent for her real pretensions to the best provinces of Poland,

such as Podolia, etc."

Frederick argues his cause on the general principles of civil law. "Since

then," he says, "the crown of Poland cannot prove express cessions, which are

the only good titles between sovereigns to confer a legitimate possession of

disputed provinces, it will perhaps have recourse to prescription and

immemorial possession. We all know the famous dispute among the learned on

the question of prescription and natural right, whether it obtains between

sovereigns and free nations. The affirmative is founded only on that very

weak argument that he who for a long time has not made use of his rights is

presumed to have abandoned them; a presumption which is at best doubtful, and

cannot destroy the right and established property of a monarch. Besides, even

this presumption altogether vanishes when the superior strength of a usurper

has prevented the lawful proprietor from claiming his rights, which has been

the case in the present instance.

"Time alone cannot render a possession just which has not been so from

its origin; and as there is no judge between free nations, no one can decide

if the time past is sufficient to establish prescription, or if the

presumption of the desertion [of rights] is sufficiently proved. But even

leaving this point undetermined, the prescription which the republic of Poland

could allege in the present case has not any of the qualities which the

advocates of prescription require, to render it valid between free states."

We do not imagine that our readers will coincide with Frederick in the

following opinion: "We flatter ourselves that when the impartial public has

weighed without prejudice all that has just been detailed in this expose, they

will not find in the step which his majesty has taken anything which is not

conformable to justice, to natural right, to the general use of nations, and,

lastly, to the example which the Poles themselves have given in seizing all

these countries by simple matter of fact. We trust also that the Polish

nation will eventually recover from its prejudices; that it will acknowledge

the enormous injustice which it has done to the house of Brandenburg, and that

it will bring itself to repair it by a just and honorable arrangement with

which his majesty will willingly comply, sincerely wishing to cultivate the

friendship and good-fellowship of this illustrious nation, and to live with

the republic in good union and harmony."

We have thus given the three monarchs liberty to plead for themselves;

and no one can rise from the perusal of their "Defences" without feeling

additional conviction of their injustice, and resentment at their hypocrisy.

We must own we are almost inclined to interpret Frederick's appeal as a

sneering parody on the cant of diplomacy in general; but, in whatever light it

be viewed, it gives additional insight into the heart and head of that

military despot and disciple of Machiavelli.

Iniquity almost invariably pays virtue the compliment of attempting to

assume her semblance; and the three wholesale plunderers - Russia, Austria,

and Prussia - therefore determined to give some show of justice to their

violent seizure, by wringing from their victims a ratification of their

claims. But "the children of this world" with all their wisdom cannot always

preserve consistency, and, cunning as the villain may sometimes be, he will,

at some time or other, make the most disgraceful mistakes.

By requiring further ratification, the three powers admitted that their

anterior claims were not well founded; and common-sense ought to have told

them that, if the former claims were not just, the latter, depending on the

same title, were rendered still less so by aggravated violence. Every show of

justice in a villanous action rises up in sterner judgment against the

perpetrator, inasmuch as it evinces design, and makes him responsible for the


These remarks might be applied to Catharine, Frederick, Maria Theresa, or

Joseph; for though they may shield themselves from personal accusation by

acting under the vague titles of "powers," "states," or "governments," the

evasion is mean and cowardly; for particularly in such despotic governments as

theirs the passions and wills of the rulers are the directors of every

political scheme.

The three powers fixed on April 19, 1773, for the opening of a diet at

Warsaw to ratify their claims. Their troops were in possession of all Poland;

the capital in particular was strongly invested; and Rewiski, Benoit, and

Stakelberg, the Austrian, Prussian, and Russian ministers, were on the spot to

overrule and direct all the debates. They declared that every deputy who

opposed their proposals should be treated as an enemy of his country and of

the three powers. Frederick himself states, in his description of this

transaction, that the deputies were informed if they continued refractory that

the whole kingdom would be dismembered; but, on the contrary, that if they

were submissive the foreign troops would evacuate by degrees the territory

they intended to leave to the republic. The Diet was to be confederated, that

the Poles might be deprived of their last resource, the liberum veto.

Some few patriots still raised their voices, even in the midst of the

united armies of Russia, Austria, and Prussia; and among these Reyten was the

most distinguished. He was a Lithuanian by descent, had acted a good part in

the confederacy of Bar, and had earned a character which made the electors of

Nowogrodek select him for their representative in the present memorable Diet.

His colleague was Samuel Korsak, a worthy coadjutor, who did not turn a deaf

ear to his father's parting words: "My son, I send you to Warsaw accompanied

by my oldest domestics; I charge them to bring me your head if you do not

oppose with all your might what is now plotting against your country."

Poninski, a creature of the allied powers, was the marshal of the Diet,

appointed by the intervention of the ambassadors; and when the session opened

one of the deputies nominated him, and he was immediately proceeding to take

the seat, without waiting for the election; but several members rose to

protest, against this breach of privilege, and Reyten exclaimed: "Gentlemen,

the marshal cannot be thus self-appointed; the whole Assembly must choose him;

I protest against the nomination of Poninski; name him who is to be your

president." Some voices instantly shouted, "Long live the true son of his

country, Marshal Reyten!" Poninski retired, adjourning the session to the next


On the following morning Poninski again made his appearance, merely to

postpone the Assembly one day more. When this period arrived he went to the

hall with a guard of foreign soldiers, to station some of his faction at the

doors and to prevent the entrance of the public. Reyten, Korsak, and their

little band of patriots were soon at their posts, when Reyten, perceiving that

the people were not allowed to enter, exclaimed: "Gentlemen, follow me.

Poninski shall not be marshal of the Diet today, if I live!" It was already

twelve o'clock, and Poninski did not appear, but a messenger arrived to state

that he adjourned the meeting. "We do not acknowledge Poninski for marshal,"

replied Reyten; and seeing many of the members about to retire, he placed

himself before the door with his arms crossed, and attempted to stop the

deserters. But his exertions proving useless he threw himself along the

doorway, exclaiming, with a wearied but determined voice, "Go, go, and seal

your own eternal ruin, but first trample on the breast which will only beat

for honor and liberty."

There were now only fifteen members in the hall, and of these but six

persevered in their patriotic determination; namely, Reyten, Korsak, Durin,

Terzmanowski, Kozuchowski, and Penczkowski. At ten a message arrived from the

Russian ambassador, inviting the resolute deputies to a conference at his

house. Four of them, among whom was Korsak, accordingly went; and Stakelberg

at first addressed them mildly, but, finding them resolute, began to threaten

them with confiscation of their estates. On this Korsak rose and declared,

since they wished to seize his possessions - which were already, however,

mostly plundered by the Russian armies - there was no occasion for so many

preliminaries; and he actually put into his hands a list of all his property,

adding: "This is all I have to sacrifice to the avarice of the enemies of my

country. I know that they also can dispose of my life; but I do not know any

despot on earth rich enough to corrupt or powerful enough to intimidate me!"

Reyten remained still at his post, and the four patriots on returning

found the doors closed, and lay down without for the night. On the following

day the ministers of the three powers repaired to the King's palace, and

Stakelberg threatened him with the immediate destruction of his capital unless

he gave his sanction to the forced confederation. Stanislaus demanded the

advice of his council, but received no reply; and taking their silence for an

assent, and not knowing how to evade a direct answer, he yielded to the

ministers' demands. The corrupt Diet held their assembly without the hall,

because Reyten was still at his post - such was their dread of even one

patriotic individual.

On April 23d, when Poninski and the confederates entered, they found

Reyten stretched senseless on the floor, in which state he must have lain

thirty-six hours. Such was the determination with which he resisted the

oppression of his country, and so entirely were all the energies of his mind

devoted to the cause, that when he learned its fall he lost his reason.

The allies began to redouble their threats, and signified to the deputies

their intention of portioning out the whole of the kingdom, if any more

opposition were offered; but, notwithstanding, the Diet continued stormy, and

many bold speeches were made. Of all situations the King's must have been the

most perplexing and irksome; but no person was better adapted to act such a

part than Stanislaus. He made the most pathetic appeals to his subjects, and

frequently spoke in a strain more fit for an unfortunate but patriotic hero

than for one who had done nothing but affect a few tears - for we can hardly

doubt that they were hypocritical - over the misfortunes which he had brought

on his country. The following sentence must have sounded strangely in his

mouth: "Fecimus quod potuimus, omnia tentavimus, nihil omisimus." Again, on

May 10th, he absolutely had the audacity to defend his political conduct,

stating that he had always done his duty whenever any business depended on


On May 17th the Diet agreed to Poninski's motion to appoint a commission

that, in conjunction with the three ambassadors, should regulate the limits of

the four countries, and determine upon the changes in the Polish Government.

On the 18th the commissioners were nominated by the King and Poninski.

Some small remains of liberty lingered even among the commissioners, and

called for fresh threats and violence from the allied powers. At length they

agreed to ratify the treaty of August 5th, and establish a permanent council

in whom the executive power was to be vested. This council consisted of forty

members, and was divided into four departments, which engrossed every branch

of administration. The King was the nominal president, but the real authority

was possessed by the Russian ambassador. The partition was not fully arranged

till 1774, and then Prussia and Austria began to extend their bounds beyond

the agreed limits. L'appetit vient en mangeant, and these encroachments were

a sad augury of future partitions to the Poles.

The indifference with which other states regarded this partition was

indeed surprising. France, in particular, might have been expected to protest

against it; but the imbecility and dotage of Louis XV, and the weakness of his

minister, paid too little attention to the interests of their own nation to be

likely to think of others. They made the most frivolous excuses, and even had

the meanness to attempt to shift the blame on the shoulders of their

ambassador at Vienna, pretending that he amused himself with hunting instead

of politics, and had no knowledge of the design of partition until it was

consummated. Louis contented himself with saying, with an affectation of

rage, "It would not have happened if Choiseul had been here!" Some few

patriots in England declaimed on the injustice of the proceeding; but the

spirit of the ministry, which was occupied in wrangling with the American

colonies about the imposition of taxes, was not likely to be very attentive to

the cries of oppressed liberty.

The partition is not one of those equivocal acts which seem to vibrate

between right and wrong, justice and injustice, and demand the most accurate

analysis to ascertain on which side they preponderate. Argument is thrown

away on such a subject; for to doubt about the nature of a plain decisive act

like this must necessarily proceed from something even worse than uncertainty

and scepticism concerning the simple fundamental principles of moral action. A

little reflection, however, will not be lost on so memorable a portion of

history, which opens a wider field for instruction than the "thousand

homilies" on the ambition and glory and other commonplaces of Greek and Roman


Such great political crimes reveal a corresponding system of motives of a

black a hue, and even the narrowest experience teaches us that motives are

never so well traced as in their results. The corrupt principle which prompts

injustice and deceit in foreign transactions would operate equally in domestic

affairs; and the minister who uses hypocrisy and falsehood in manifestoes and

treaties would not scruple to do the same in matters of private life. An

implicit confidence in enemies like these was one of the amiable "crimes" for

which "Sarmatia fell unwept."

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