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26: Russian Ascendancy

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THE "truce" of Andrussowo proved to be one of the most permanent peaces in history, and Kiev, though only pledged for two years, was never again to be separated from the Orthodox Slavonic state to which it rightly belonged. But for the terrible and persistent ill-luck of Poland it is doubtful whether the "truce" of Andrussowo would ever have been signed. The war which it concluded was to be the last open struggle between the two powers. Henceforth the influence of Russia over Poland was steadily to increase, without any struggle at all, the Republic being already stricken with that creeping paralysis which ultimately left her a prey to her neighbours. Muscovy had done with Poland as an adversary, and had no longer any reason to fear her ancient enemy.

Poland had, in fact, emerged from the cataclysm of 1648-1667 a moribund state, though her not unskilful diplomacy had enabled her for a time to save appearances. Her territorial losses, though considerable, were, in the circumstances, not excessive, and she was still a considerable power in the opinion of Europe. But a fatal change had come over the country during the age of the Vasas. We have already seen how the ambition of the oligarchs and the lawlessness of the szlachta had reduced the executive to impotence, and rendered anything like rational government impossible. But these demoralizing and disintegrating influences had been suspended by the religious revival due to the Catholic reaction and the Jesuit propaganda, a revival which reached its height towards the end of the 16th century. This, on the whole, salutary and edifying movement permeated public life, and produced a series of great captains who cheerfully sacrificed themselves for their country, and would have been saints if they had not been heroes. But this extraordinary religious revival had well-nigh spent itself by the middle of the 17th century. Its last manifestation was the successful defence of the monastery of Czenstochowa by Prior Kordecki against the finest troops in Europe, its last representative was Stephen Czarniecki, who brought the fugitive John Casimir back from exile and reinstalled him on his tottering throne. The succeeding age was an age of unmitigated egoism, in which the old ideals were abandoned and the old examples were forgotten. It synchronized with, and was partly determined by, the new political system which was spreading all over Europe, the system of dynastic diplomatic competition and the unscrupulous employment of unlimited secret service funds. This system, which dates from Richelieu and culminated in the reign of Louis XIV., was based on the secular rivalry of the houses of Bourbon and Habsburg, and presently divided all Europe into two hostile camps. Louis XI. is said to have expended 50,000,000 livres a year for bribing purposes, the court of Vienna was scarcely less liberal, and very soon nearly all the monarchs of the Continent and their ministers were in the pay of one or other of the antagonists. Poland was no exception to the general rule. Her magnates, having already got all they could out of their own country, looked eagerly abroad for fresh El Dorados. Before long most of them had become the hirelings of France or Austria, and the value demanded for their wages was, not infrequently, the betrayal of their own country. To do them justice, the szlachta at first were not only free from the taint of official corruption, but endeavoured to fight against it. Thus, at the election diet of 1669, one of the deputies, Pieniaszek, moved that a new and hitherto unheard-of clause should be inserted in the agenda of the general confederation, to the effect that every senator and deputy should solemnly swear not to take bribes, while another szlacic proposed that the ambassadors of foreign Powers should be excluded permanently from the Polish elective assemblies. But the flighty and ignorant szlachta not only were incapable of any sustained political action, but they themselves unconsciously played into the hands of the enemies of their country by making the so-called liberum veto an integral part of the Polish constitution. The liberum veto was based on the assumption of the absolute political equality of every Polish gentleman, with the inevitable corollary that every measure introduced into the Polish diet must be adopted unanimously. Consequently, if any single deputy believed that a measure already approved of by the rest of the house might be injurious to his constituency, he had the right to rise and exclaim nie pozwalam, "I disapprove," when the measure in question fell at once to the ground. Subsequently this vicious principle was extended still further. A deputy, by interposing his individual veto, could at any time dissolve the diet, when all measures previously passed had to be re-submitted to the consideration of the following diet. The liberum veto seems to have been originally devised to cut short interminable debates in times of acute crisis, but it was generally used either by highly placed criminals, anxious to avoid an inquiry into their misdeeds,¹ or by malcontents, desirous of embarrassing the executive. The origin of the liberum veto is obscure but it was first employed by the deputy Wladislaus Sicinski, who dissolved the diet of 1652 by means of it, and before the end of the 17th century it was used so frequently and recklessly that all business was frequently brought to a standstill. In later days it became the chief instrument of foreign ambassadors for dissolving inconvenient diets, as a deputy could always be bribed to exercise his veto for a handsome consideration.

The Polish crown first became an object of universal competition in 1573, when Henry of Valois was elected. In 1575, and again in 1587, it was put up for public auction, when the Hungarian Báthory and the Swede Sigismund respectively gained the prize. But at all three elections, though money and intrigue were freely employed, they were not the determining factors of the contest. The Polish gentry were still the umpires as well as the stake- holders; the best candidates generally won the day; and the defeated competitors were driven out of the country by force of arms if they did not take their discomfiture, after a fair fight, like sportsmen. But with the election of Michael Wisniowiecki in 1669 a new era began. In this case a native Pole was freely elected by the unanimous vote of his countrymen, Yet a few weeks later the Polish commander-in-chief formed a whole series of conspiracies for the purpose of dethroning his lawful sovereign, and openly placed himself beneath the protection of Louis XIV. of France, just as the rebels of the 18th century placed themselves under the protection of Catherine II. of Russia. And this rebel was none other than John Sobieski, at a later day the heroic deliverer of Vienna ! If heroes could so debase themselves, can we wonder if men who were not heroes lent themselves to every sort of villainy ? We have come, in fact, to the age of utter shamelessness, when disappointed place-hunters openly invoked foreign aid against their own country. Sobieski himself, as John III. (he succeeded Michael in 1674), was to pay the penalty of his past lawlessness, to the uttermost farthing. Despite his brilliant military achievements, his reign of twenty- two years was a failure. His victories over the Turks were fruitless so far as Poland was concerned, His belated attempts to reform the constitution only led to conspiracies against his life and crown, in which the French faction, which he had been the first to encourage, took an active part. In his later years Lithuania was in a state of chronic revolt, while Poland was bankrupt both morally and materially. He died a broken-hearted man, prophesying the inevitable ruin of a nation which he himself had done so much to demoralize.

It scarcely seemed possible for Poland to sink lower than she had sunk already. Yet an era was now to follow, compared with which even the age of Sobieski seemed to be an age of gold. This was the Saxon period which, with occasional violent interruptions, was to drag on for nearly seventy years. By the time it was over Poland was irretrievably doomed. It only remained to be seen how that doom would be accomplished.

On the death of John III. no fewer than eighteen candidates for the vacant Polish throne presented themselves. Austria supported James Sobieski, the eldest son of the late king, France Francis Louis Prince of Conti (1664-1709), but the successful competitor was Frederick Augustus, elector of Saxony, who cheerfully renounced Lutheranism for the coveted crown, and won the day because he happened to arrive last of all, with fresh funds, when the agents of his rivals had spent all their money. He was crowned, as Augustus II., on the 1sth of September 1697, and his first act was to expel from the country the prince of Conti, the elect of a respectable minority, directed by the cardinal primate Michal Radziejowski (1645-1705), whom Augustus II. subsequently bought over for 75,000 thalers. Good luck attended the opening years of the new reign. In 1699 the long Turkish War, which had been going on ever since 1683, was concluded by the peace of Karlowitz, whereby Podolia, the Ukraine and the fortress of Kamenets Podolskiy were retroceded to the Republic by the Ottoman Porte. Immediately afterwards Augustus was persuaded by the plausible Livonian exile, Johan Reinhold Patkul, to form a nefarious league with Frederick of Denmark and Peter of Russia, for the purpose of despoiling

¹ Thus the Sapiehas, who had been living on rapine for years, dissolved the diet of 1688 by means of the veto of one of their hirelings, for fear of an investigation into their conduct.

the youthful king of Sweden, Charles XII. This he did as elector of Saxony, but it was the unfortunate Polish republic which paid for the hazardous speculation of its newly elected king. Throughout the Great Northern War, which wasted northern and central Europe for twenty years (1700-1720), all the belligerents treated Poland as if she had no political existence. Swedes. Saxons and Russians not only lived upon the country, but plundered it systematically. The diet was the humble servant of the conqueror of the moment, and the leading magnates chose their own sides without the slightest regard for the interests of their country, the Lithuanians for the most part supporting Charles Xll., while the Poles divided their allegiance between Augustus and Stanislaus Leszczynski, whom Charles placed upon the throne in 1704 and kept there till 1709. At the end of the war Poland was ruined materially as well as politically. Augustus attempted to indemnify himself for his failure to obtain Livonia, his covenanted share of the Swedish plunder, by offering Frederick William of Prussia Courland, Polish Prussia and even part of Great Poland, provided that he were allowed a free hand in the disposal of the rest of the country. When Prussia declined this tempting offer for fear of Russia, Augustus went a step farther and actually suggested that "the four¹ eagles" should divide the banquet between them. He died, however (Feb. 1, 1733), before he could give effect to this shameless design.

On the death of Augustus II., Stanislaus Leszczynski, who had, in the meantime, become the father-in-law of Louis XV., attempted to regain his throne with the aid of a small French army corps and 4,000,000 livres from Versailles. Some of the best men in Poland, including the Czartoryscy, were also in his favour, and on the 26th of August 1733 he was elected king for the second time. But there were many malcontents, principally among the Lithuanians, who solicited the intervention of Russia m favour of the elector of Saxony, son of the late king, and in October 1733 a Russian army appeared before Warsaw and compelled a phantom diet (it consisted of but 15 senators and 500 of the szlachta) to proclaim Augustus III. From the end of 1733 till the 30th of June 1734 Stanislaus and his partisans were besieged by the Russians in Danzig, their last refuge, and with the surrender of that fortress the cause of Stanislaus was lost. He retired once more to his little court in Lorraine, with the title of king, leaving Augustus III. in possession of the kingdom.

Augustus III. was disqualified by constitutional indolence from taking any active part in affairs. He left everything to his omnipotent minister, Count Heinrich Brühl, and Brühl entrusted the government of Poland to the Czartoryscy, who had intimate relations of long standing with the court of Dresden.

The Czartoryscy, who were to dominate Polish politics for the next half-century, came of an ancient Ruthenian stock which had intermarried with the Jagiellos at an early date, and had always been remarkable for their civic virtues and political sagacity. They had powerfully contributed to the adoption of the Union of Lublin; were subsequently received into the Roman Catholic Church; and dated the beginning of their influence in Poland proper from the time (1674) when Florian Czartoryski became primate there. Florian's nephews, Fryderyk Michal and Augustus, were now the principal representatives of "the Family," as their opponents sarcastically called them. The former, through the influence of Augustus's minister and favourite Brühl, had become, in his twenty-eighth year, vice- chancellor and subsequently grand chancellor of Lithuania, and was always the political head of the family. His brother Augustus, after fighting with great distinction against the Turks both by land and sea (Prince Eugene decorated him with a sword of honour for his valour at the siege of Belgrade), had returned home to marry Sophia Sieniawska whose fabulous dowry won for her husband the sobriquet of "the Family Croesus." Their sister Constantia had already married Stanislaus Poniatowski, the father of the future king. Thus wealth, position, court influence and ability combined gave the Czartoryssy a commanding position in Poland, and, to their honour be it said, they had determined from the first to save the Republic, whose impending ruin in existing circumstances they clearly foresaw, by a radical constitutional reconstruction which was to include the abolition of the liberum veto and the formation of a standing army.

Unfortunately the other great families of Poland were obstinately opposed to any reform or, as they called it, any "violation" of the existing constitution. The Potoccy whose possessions in south Poland and the Ukraine covered thousands of square miles the Radziwillowie, who were omnipotent in Lithuania and included half a dozen million- aires² amongst them, the Lubomirscy and their fellows, hated the Czartoryscy because they were too eminent, and successfully obstructed all their well-meant efforts. The castles of these great lords were the foci of the social and political life of their respective provinces. Here they lived like little princes, surrounded by thousands of retainers, whom they kept for show alone, making no attempt to organize and discipline this excellent military material for the defence of their defenceless country. Here congregated hundreds of the younger szlachta, fresh from their school benches, whence they brought nothing but a smattering of Latin and a determination to make their way by absolute subservience to their "elder brethren," the pans. These were the men who, a little later, at the bidding of their "benefactors,"

¹ The fourth eagle was the White Eagle, i.e., Poland.

² Michal Kazimierz Radziwill alone was worth thirty millions.

dissolved one inconvenient diet after another for it is a significant fact that during the reigns of the two Augustuses every diet was dissolved in this way by the hirelings of some great lord or, still worse, of some foreign potentate. In a word constitutional government had practically ceased, and Poland had become an arena in which contesting clans strove together for the mastery.

It was against this primitive state of things that the Czartoryscy struggled, and struggled in vain. First they attempted to abolish the liberum veto with the assistance of the Saxon court where they were supreme, but fear of foreign complications and the opposition of the Potoccy prevented anything being done. Then they broke with their old friend Brühl and turned to Russia. Their chief intermediary was their nephew Stanislaus Poniatowski, whom they sent, as Saxon minister, to the Russian court in the suite of the English minister Hanbury Williams, in 1755. The handsome and insinuating Poniatowski speedily won the susceptible heart of the grand duchess Catherine, but he won nothing else and returned to Poland in 1759 somewhat discredited. Disappointed in their hopes of Russia the Czartoryscy next attempted to form a confederation for the deposition of Augustus III., but while the strife of factions was still at its height the absentee monarch put an end to the struggle by expiring, conveniently, on the 5th of October 1763.

The interregnum occurring on the death of Augustus III. befell at a time when all the European powers, exhausted by the Seven Years' War, earnestly desired peace. The position of Poland was, consequently, much more advantageous than it had been on every other similar occasion, and if only the contending factions had been able to agree and unite the final catastrophe might, perhaps, even now, have been averted. The Czartoryscy, of all men, were bound by their principles and professions to set their fellow-citizens an example of fraternal concord. Yet they rejected with scorn and derision the pacific overtures of their political opponents, the Potoccy, the Radziwillowie, and the Braniscy, Prince Michal openly declaring that of two tyrannies he preferred the tyranny of the Muscovite to the tyranny of his equals. He had in fact already summoned a Russian army corps to assist him to reform his country, which sufficiently explains his own haughtiness and the unwonted compliancy of the rival magnates.

The simplicity of the Czartoryscy was even more mischievous than their haughtiness. When the most enlightened statesmen of the Republic could seriously believe in the benevolent intentions of Russia the end was not far off. Their naive expectations were very speedily disappointed. Catherine II. and Frederick II. had already determined (Treaty of Petrograd, April 22, 1764) that the existing state of things in Poland must be maintained and as early as the 18th of October 1763 Catherine had recommended the election of Stanislaus Poniatowski as "the individual most convenient for our common interests." The personal question did not interest Frederick: so long as Poland was kept in an anarchical condition he cared not who was called king. Moreover, the opponents of the Czartoryscy made no serious attempt to oppose the entry of the Russian troops. At least 40,000 men were necessary for the purpose, and these could have been obtained for 200,000 ducats; but a congress of magnates, whose collective fortunes amounted to hundreds of millions having decided that it was impossible to raise this sum, there was nothing for it but to fight a few skirmishes and then take refuge abroad. The Czartoryscy now fancied themselves the masters of the situation. They at once proceeded to pass through the convocation diet a whole series of salutary measures. Four special commissions were appointed to superintend the administration of justice, the police and the finances. The extravagant powers of the grand hetmans and the grand marshals were reduced. AU financial and economical questions before the diet were henceforth to be decided by a majority of votes. Shortly afterwards Stanislaus Poniatowski was elected king (Sept. 7, 1764) and crowned (Nov. 25). But at the beginning of 1766 Prince Nicholas Repnin was sent as Russian minister to Warsaw with instructions which can only be described as a carefully elaborated plan for destroying the Republic. The first weapon employed was the dissident question. At that time the population of Poland was, in round numbers, 11,500,000, of whom about 1,000,000 were dissidents or dissenters. Half of these were the Protestants of the towns of Polish Prussia and Great Poland, the other half was composed of the Orthodox population of Lithuania. The dissidents had no political rights, and their religious liberties had also been unjustly restricted; but two-thirds of them being agricultural labourers, and most of the rest artisans or petty tradesmen. they had no desire to enter public life, and were so ignorant and illiterate that their new protectors, on a closer acquaintance, became heartily ashamed of them. Yet it was for these persons that Repnin, in the name of the empress, now demanded absolute equality, political and religious, with the gentlemen of Poland. He was well aware that an aristocratic and Catholic assembly like the sejm would never concede so preposterous a demand. He also calculated that the demand itself would make the szlachta suspicious of all reform, including the Czartoryscian reforms, especially as both the king and his uncles were generally unpopular, as being innovators under foreign influence. His calculations were correct. The sejm of 1766 not only rejected the dissident bill but repealed all the Czartoryscian reforms and insisted on the retention of the liberum veto as the foundation of the national liberties. The discredit into which Stanislaus had now fallen encouraged the Sacon party, led by Gabriel Podoski (1719-1777), to form a combination for the purpose of dethroning the king. Repnin knew that the allied courts would never consent to such a measure; but he secretly encouraged the plot for his own purposes, with signal success. Early in t767 the malcontents, fortified by the adhesion of the leading political refugees, formed a confederation at Radom, whose first act was to send a deputation to Petrograd, petitioning Catherine to guarantee the liberties of the Republic and allow the form of the Polish constitution to be settled by the Russian ambassador at Warsaw. With this carte blanche in his pocket, Repnin proceeded to treat the diet as if it were already the slave of the Russian empress. But despite threats, wholesale corruption and the presence of Russian troops outside and even inside the izba, or chamber of deputies, the patriots, headed by four bishops, Woclaw Hieronim Sierakowski (1699-1784) of Lemberg, Feliks Pawel Turski of Chelm (1729-1800), Kajetan Ignaty Soltyk of Cracow (1715-1788), and Józef Jendrzej Zaluski of Kiev (1702-1774), offered a determined resistance to Repnin's demands. Only when brute force in its extremest form had been ruthlessly employed only when three senators and some deputies had been arrested in full session by Russian grenadiers and sent as prisoners to Kaluga, did the opposition collapse. The liberum veto and all the other ancient abuses were now declared unalterable parts of the Polish constitution, which was placed under the guarantee of Russia. All the edicts against the dissidents were, at the same time, repealed.

This shameful surrender led to a Catholic patriotic uprising, known as the Confederation of Bar, which was formed on the 29th of February 1768, at Bar in the Ukraine, by a handful of small squires. It never had a chance of permanent success, though, feebly fed by French subsidies and French volunteers, it lingered on for four years, till finally suppressed in 1772. But, insignificant itself, it was the cause of great events. Some of the Bar confederates, scattered by the Russian regulars, fled over the Turkish border, pursued by their victors. The Turks, already alarmed by the progress of the Russians in Poland, and stimulated by Vergennes, at that time French ambassador at Constantinople, at once declared war against Russia. Seriously disturbed at the prospect of Russian aggrandizement, the idea occurred, almost simultaneously, to the courts of Berlin and Vienna that the best mode of preserving the equilibrium of Europe was for all three powers to readjust their territories at the expense of Poland. The idea of a partition of Poland was nothing new but the vastness of the country, and the absence of sufficiently powerful and united enemies had hitherto saved the Republic from spoliation. But now that Poland lay utterly helpless and surrounded by the three great military monarchies of Europe nothing could save her. In February 1769 Frederick sent Count Rochus Friedrich Lynar (1708-1783) to Petrograd to sound the empress as to the expediency of a partition, in August Joseph II. solicited an interview with Frederick, and in the course of the summer the two monarchs met, first at Neisse in Silesia and again at Neustadt in Moravia. Nothing definite as to Poland seems to have been arranged, but Prince Kaunitz, the Austrian chancellor, was now encouraged to take the first step by occupying, in 1770, the county of Zips, which had been hypothecated by Hungary to Poland in 1442 and never redeemed. This act decided the other confederates. In June 1770 Frederick surrounded those of the Polish provinces he coveted with a military cordon, ostensibly to keep out the cattle plague. Catherine's consent had been previously obtained by a special mission of Prince Henry of Prussia to the Russian capital. The first treaty of partition was signed at Petrograd between Prussia and Russia on the 6-17th of February 1772; the second treaty, which admitted Austria also to a share of the spoil, on the 5-6th of August the same year. It islunnecessary to recapitulate the unheard-of atrocities by which the consent of the sejm to this act of brigandage was at last extorted (Aug. 18, 1773) . Russia obtained the palatinates of Vitebsk, Polotsk Mscislaw: 1586 sq. m. Of territory, with a population of 550,000 and an annual revenue of 920,000 Polish gulden. Austria got the greater part of Galicia, minus Cracow: 1710 sq. m., with a population of 806,000 and an annual revenue of 1,408,000 gulden. Prussia received the maritime palatinate minus Danzig, the palatinate of Kulm minus Thorn, Great Poland as far as the Nitza and the palatinates of Marienburg and Ermeland: 629 sq. m., with a population of 378,000 and an annual revenue of 534,000 thalers. In fine, Poland lost about one-fifth of her population and one-fourth of her territory.

In return for these enormous concessions the partitioning powers presented the Poles with a constitution superior to anything they had ever been able to devise for themselves. The most mischievous of the ancient abuses, the elective monarchy and the liberum veto were of course retained. Poland was to be dependent on her despoilers, but they evidently meant to make her a serviceable dependant. The government was henceforth to be in the hands of a rada nieustajaca, or permanent council of thirty-six members, eighteen senators and eighteen deputies, elected biennially by the sejm in secret ballot, subdivided into the five departments of foreign affairs, police, war, justice and the exchequer, whose principal members and assistants, as well as all other public functionaries, were to have fixed salaries. The royal prerogative was still further reduced. The king was indeed the president of the permanent council, but he could not summon the Diet without its consent, and in all cases of preferment was bound to select one out of three of the council's nominees The annual budget was fixed at 30,000,000 Polish gulden,¹ out of which a regular army of

¹ Pol. gulden = 5 silber groschen.

30,000¹ men was to be maintained. Sentiment apart, the constitution of 1775 was of distinct benefit to Poland. It made for internal stability, order and economy, and enabled her to develop and husband her resources, and devote herself uninterruptedly to the now burning question of national education. For the shock of the first partition was so far salutary that it awoke the public conscience to a sense of the national inferiority; stimulated the younger generation to extraordinary patriotic efforts; and thus went far to produce the native reformers who were to do such wonders during the great quadrennial Diet.

It was the second Turkish War of Catherine II. which gave patriotic Poland her last opportunity of re-establishing her independence. The death of Frederick the Great (Aug. 17, 1786) completely deranged the balance of power in Europe. The long-standing accord between Prussia and Russia came to an end, and while the latter drew nearer to Austria, the former began to look to the Western powers. In August 1787 Russia and Austria provoked the Porte to declare war against them both, and two months later a defensive alliance was concluded between Prussia, England and Holland, as a counterpoise to the alarming preponderance of Russia. In June 1788 Gustavus III. of Sweden also attacked Russia, with 50,000 men, while in the south the Turks held the Muscovites at bay beneath the walls of Ochakov, and drove back the Austrian invaders into Transylvania. Prussia, emboldened by Russia's difficulties, now went so far as to invite Poland also to forsake the Russian alliance, and placed an army corps of 40,000 men at her disposal.

¹ At the very next Diet, 1776, the Poles themselves reduced the army to 18,000 men.

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