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27: Prussian Intervention

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IT WAS under these exceptional circumstances that the "four years' Diet" assembled (Oct. 6, 1788). Its leaders, Stanislaw Malachowski, Hugo Kollontaj and Ignaty Potocki, were men of character and capacity, and its measures were correspondingly vigorous. Within a few months of its assembling it had abolished the permanent council; enlarged the royal prerogative; raised the army to 65,000 men; established direct communications with the Western powers; rejected an alliance which Russia, alarmed at the rapid progress of events, had hastened to offer; declared its own session permanent; and finally settled down to the crucial task of reforming the constitution on modern lines. But the difficulties of the patriots were commensurate with their energies, and though the new constitution was drafted so early as December 1789, it was not till May 1791 that it could safely be presented to the Diet. Meanwhile Poland endeavoured to strengthen her position by an advantageous alliance with Prussia. Frederick William II. stipulated, at first, that Poland should surrender Danzig and Thorn, and Pitt himself endeavoured to persuade the Polish minister Michal Kleophas Oginski (1765-1833) that the protection of Prussia was worth the sacrifice. But the Poles proving obstinate, and Austria simultaneously displaying a disquieting interest in the welfare of the Republic, Prussia, on the 20th of March 1791, concluded an alliance with Poland which engaged the two powers to guarantee each other's possessions and render mutual assistance in case either were attacked.

But external aid was useless so long as Poland was hampered by her anarchical constitution. Hitherto the proceedings of the Diet had not been encouraging. The most indispensable reforms had been frantically opposed, the debate on the reorganization of the army had alone lasted six months. It was only by an audacious surprise that Kollontaj and his associates contrived to carry through the new constitution. Taking advantage of the Easter recess, when most of the malcontents were out of town, they suddenly, on the 3rd of May, brought the whole question before the Diet and demanded urgency for it. Before the opposition could remonstrate, the marshal of the Diet produced the latest foreign despatches, which unanimously predicted another partition, whereupon, at the solemn adjuration of Ignaty Potocki, King Stanislaus exhorted the deputies to accept the new constitution as the last means of saving their country, and himself set the example by swearing to defend it.

The revolution of the 3rd of May 1791 converted Poland into an hereditary¹ limited monarchy, with ministerial responsibility and duennial parliaments. The liberum veto and all the intricate and obstructive machinery of the anomalous old system were for ever abolished. All invidious class distinctions were done away with. The franchise was extended to the towns. Serfdom was mitigated, preparatorily to its entire abolition; absolute religious toleration was established, and every citizen declared equal before the law. Frederick William II. officially congratulated Stanislaus on the success of "the happy revolution which has at last given Poland a wise and regular government," and declared it should henceforth be his "chief care to maintain and confirm the ties which unite us." Cobenzl, the Austrian minister at Petrograd, writing to his court immediately after the reception of the tidings at the Russian capital, describes the empress as full of consternation at the idea that

¹ On the death of Stanislaus, the Crown was to pass to the family of the elector of Saxony.

Poland under an hereditary dynasty might once more become a considerable power. But Catherine, still in difficulties, was obliged to watch in silence the collapse of her party in Poland, and submit to the double humiliation of recalling her ambassador and withdrawing her army from the country. Even when the Peace of Jassy (Jan. 9, 1792) finally freed her from the Turk, she waited patiently for the Polish malcontents to afford her a pretext and an opportunity for direct and decisive interference. She had not long to wait. The constitution of the 3rd of May had scarce been signed when Felix Potocki, Severin Rzewuski and Xavier Branicki, three of the chief dignitaries of Poland, hastened to Petrograd and there entered into a secret convention with the empress, whereby she undertook to restore the old constitution by force of arms, but at the same time promised to respect the territorial integrity of the Republic. On the 14th of May 1792 the conspirators formed a confederation, consisting, in the first instance, of only ten other persons at the little town of Targowica in the Ukraine, protesting against the constitution of the 3rd of May as tyrannous and revolutionary, and at the same time the new Russian minister at Warsaw presented a formal declaration of war to the king and the Diet. The Diet met the crisis with dignity and firmness. The army was at once despatched to the frontier, the male population was called to arms, and Ignaty Potocki was sent to Berlin to claim the assistance stipulated by the treaty of the 19th of March 1791. The king of Prussia, in direct violation of all his oaths and promises, declined to defend a constitution which had never had his "concurrence," Thus Poland was left entirely to her own resources. The little Polish army of 46,000 men, under Prince Joseph Poniatowski and Tadeusz Kosciuszko, did all that was possible under the circumstances. For more than three months they kept back the invader, and, after winning three pitched battles, retired in perfect order on the capital. But the king, and even Kollontaj, despairing of success, now acceded to the confederation hostilities were suspended; the indignant officers threw up their commissions the rank and file were distributed all over the country; the reformers fled abroad; and the constitution of the 3rd of May was abolished by the Targowicians as "a dangerous novelty." The Russians then poured into eastern Poland; the Prussians, at the beginning of 1793, alarmed lest Catherine should appropriate the whole Republic, occupied Great Poland, and a diminutive, debased and helpless assembly met at Grodno in order, in the midst of a Russian army corps, "to come to an amicable understanding" with the partitioning powers. After every conceivable means of intimidation had been unscrupulously applied for twelve weeks, the second treaty of partition was signed at three o'clock on the morning of the 23rd of September 1793. By this pactum subjectionis, as the Polish patriots called it, Russia got all the eastern provinces of Poland, extending from Livonia to Moldavia, comprising a quarter of a million of square miles; while Prussia got Dobrzyn, Kujavia and the greater part of Great Poland, with Thorn and Danzig. Poland was now reduced to one-third of her original dimensions, with a population of about three and a half millions.

The focus of Polish nationality was now transferred from Warsaw, where the Targowicians and their Russian patrons reigned supreme, to Leipzig, wither the Polish patriots, Kosciuszko, Kollontaj and Ignaty Potocki among the number, assembled from all quarters, From the first they meditated a national rising, but their ignorance, enthusiasm and simplicity led them to commit blunder after blunder. The first of such blunders was Kosciuszko's mission to Paris, in January 1794. He was full of the idea of a league of republics against the league of sovereigns; but he was unaware that the Jacobins themselves were already considering the best mode of detaching Prussia, Poland's worst enemy, from the anti-French coalition. With a hypocrisy worthy of the diplomacy of "the tyrants," the committee of public safety declared that it could not support an insurrection engineered by aristocrats, and Kosciuszko returned to Leipzig empty-handed. The next blunder of the Polish refugees was to allow themselves to be drawn into a prematllre rising by certain Polish officers ill Poland who, to prevent the incorporation of their regiments in the Russian army, openly revolted and led their troops from Warsaw to Cracow. Kosciuszko himself condemned their hastiness; but, when the Russian troops began to concentrate, his feelings grew too strong for him, and early in April he himself appeared at Cracow. In an instant the mutiny became a revolution. Throughout April the Polish arms were almost universally successful. The Russians were defeated in more than one pitched battle; three-quarters of the ancient territory was recovered, and Warsaw and Vilna, the capitals of Poland and Lithuania respectively, were liberated. Kosciuszko was appointed dictator, and a supreme council was established to assist him. The first serious reverse, at Szczekociny (June 5), was more than made up for by the successful defence of Warsaw against the Russians and Prussians (July 9 to Sept. 6); but in the meantime the inveterate lawlessness of the Poles had asserted itself, as usual, and violent and ceaseless dissensions, both in the supreme council and in the army, neutralized the superhuman efforts of the unfortunate but still undaunted dictator. The death-blow to the movement was the disaster of Maciejowice (Oct. 10), and it expired amidst the carnage of Praga (Oct. 29), though the last Polish army corps did not capitulate till the 18th of November. Yet all the glory of the bitter struggle was with the vanquished, and if the Poles, to the last, had shown themselves children in the science of government, they had at least died on the field of battle like men. The greed of the three partitioning povwers very nearly led to a rupture between Austria and Prussia; but the tact and statesmanship of the empress of Russia finally adjusted all difficulties. On the 24th of October 1795 Prussia acceded to the Austro-Russian partition compact of the 3rd of January, and the distribution of the conquered provinces was finally regulated on the 10th of October 1796. By the third treaty of partition Austria had to be content with Western Galicia and Southern Masovia; Prussia took Podlachia, and the rest of Masovia, with Warsaw, and Russia all the rest.

The immediate result of the third partition was an immense emigration of the more high-spirited Poles who, during the next ten years, fought the battles of the French Republic and of Napoleon all over Europe, but principally against their own enemies, the partitioning powers. They were known as the Polish legions, and were commanded by the best Polish generals, e.g., Joseph Poniatowski and Dombrowski. Only Kosciuszko stood aloof. Even when, after the Peace of Tilsit, the independent grand duchy of Warsaw was constructed out of the central provinces of Prussian Poland, his distrust of Napoleon proved to be invincible. He was amply justified by the course of events. Napoleon's anxiety to conciliate Russia effectually prevented him from making Poland large and strong enough to be self-supporting. The grand duchy of Warsaw originally consisted of about 1850 sq. m., to which Western Galicia and Cracow, about goo sq. m. more, were added in 1809. The grand duchy was, from first to last, a mere recruiting-ground for the French emperor. Its army was limited, on paper, to 30,000 men; but in January 1812 65,000, and in November the same year 97,000 recruits were drawn from it. The constitution of the little state was dictated by Napoleon, and subject to the exigencies of war, was on the French model. Equality before the law, absolute religious toleration and local autonomy were its salient features. The king of Saxony, as grand-duke, took the initiative in all legislative matters; but the administration was practically controlled by the French.

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