Era of Liberty
Constitutional Reform, 1788-1795

The Partition of Poland, 1772-1795

A.) The First Polish Partition of 1772

In the TREATY OF ETERNAL PEACE signed between Poland and Russia in 1689, Poland promised not to oppress the GREEK-ORTHODOX population living in it's Belorussian and Ukrainian provinces; this statute permitted the Russian Czar to interfere in Polish affairs whenever it seemed him suitable.
During the 18th century, Poland's parliament was in a sorry state. The LIBERUM VETO, every nobleman's representative's right to block any legislation without giving a cause, just by uttering his veto, made a reasonable policy virtually impossible. Even worse, the ambassadors of foreign countries (France, Russia, Austria and Prussia) had Polish and Lithuanian noblemen on their payroll, thus influencing the decisions of Poland's SEJM, especially when it came to the election of a king.
After the death of AUGUSTUS III. (1763), Prussia and Russia agreed on not letting another pro-Austrian be crowned King of Poland. In 1764 STANISLAS AUGUST PONIATOVSKI was elected King, with the assistance of Russian troops; as a former favourite of Csarina Catharina II. he was regarded a pro-Russian. Russia directly influenced Polish politics, the Russian ambassador had critics, such as the bishop of Cracow, arrested and deported to Russia. In 1768 the SEJM passed a TRACTATE OF TOLERANCE, a treaty with Russia guaranteeing the Polish cardinal rights to elect their kings, as well as their liberum veto.
A group of noblemen resisted to Russian policy in Poland, establishing the CONFEDERATION OF BAR (1768). Austria annected the region of ZIPS, Prussia occupied West Prussia. The situation became explosive, as both Prussia and Austria feared Russian expansion. Diplomatic negotiations avoided a possible war, and lead to the FIRST POLISH PARTITION of 1772, according to which Russia acquired minor territories along the Polish-Russian border, Prussia gained WEST PRUSSIA without the cities of Danzig, Elbing and Thorn (uniting Prussia. The King was used to be called King in Prussia, as he ruled only half of it. From now on, his title was King of Prussia. Austria won GALICIA and pushed it's border to the city limits of Cracow.

B.) The Partitions of 1793 and 1795

In the 1780es, Poland saw the rise of a reformist movement (see separate chapter), which was regarded by the partitioning powers with scepticism. When Austria and Russia allied to fight the Ottoman Empire in 1788, Prussia felt threatened and established an alliance with Poland.
However, the international constellations changed quickly, and the FRENCH REVOLUTION made the partitioning powers increasingly nervous about what went on in Poland. A group of Polish noblemen opposing the new constitution given to the country by the reformers, the CONFEDERATION OF TARGOWICE, called on Czarina Catharina to send Russian troops to restore Poland's traditional liberty (i.e. the Liberum Veto and the right to elect their king). On January 23rd 1793, Prussia and Russia signed a treaty, according to which Russia would annex most of Poland's Belorussian and Ukrainian provinces (with a Russian Orthodox population), Prussia the cities of Danzig, Thorn and Great Poland. Poland's parliament had to concede the cession of these territories and to cancel it's reformist constitution. The new army established by reformist Poland, under TADEUSZ KOSCIUSZKO, continued to resist, refusing to accept the presence of Russian troops on Polish soil and staying loyal to the reformist cause. He was defeated on Oct. 10th 1794, Warsaw fell on Nov. 4th. On Oct. 24th 1795, Russia, Prussia and Austria partitioned what was left of Poland, Russia annexed Courland, Lithuania proper, Western Belorussia and Ukraine, Austria southern central Poland, Prussia, which only lately had joined the 3rd partition, northwestern central Poland with Warsaw (actually, the others did not want reformist Poland's capital, the city was regarded to be too rebellious).

Links on the Polish Partitions from looksmart
The Three Partitions, 1764-1795, from Library of Congress, Country Studies : Poland
Decline and Partition, from History of Poland by Mieczyslaw Kasprzyk
Attempts at Reform. Enlightenment and Fall of the State, from A Brief History of Poland, by Polonia Online
The Partitions of Poland and the Eastern Question, chapter 15 from from A History of East Central Europe by Oscar Halecki
Russian Ascendancy and Prussian Intervention, chapters XXVI and XXVII from A Short History of Austria-Hungary by H. Wickham Steed (1914)
Encyclopedic descriptions from infoplease Tadeusz Kosciuszko, Polish Partitions
From Russia and East Europe Chronology The Second Partition of Poland, 1793
DOCUMENTS from the Modern History Sourcebook
Maps of The Baltic Lands 1772, The Baltic Lands 1795, from Freeman's Historical Geography 1903, posted by Perry Castaneda Library, UTexas
The Division of Poland, 1772, 1793, 1795, from Modern History Sourcebook
REFERENCE Enno Meyer, Grundzüge der Geschichte Polens (Main Features of Polish History), Darmstadt : Wissenschaftliche Buchgemeinschaft 1977

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First posted in 2000, last revised on November 11th 2004

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