Partitions of Poland

From Metapedia
Jump to: navigation, search
This section or article contains text from Wikipedia which has not yet been processed. It is thus likely to contain material which does not comply with the Metapedia guide lines. You can help Metapedia by editing the article and cleaning it from bias and inappropriate wordings.
The three partitions of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth

The Partitions of Poland or more correctly Partitions of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth were a series of three partitions which took place in the second half of the 18th century and ultimately ended the existence of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, resulting in the elimination of a sovereign Poland, as well as Lithuania, its partner in the Commonwealth, for 147 years (from the 1st Partition).

The partitions were conducted by the Russian Empire, the Kingdom of Prussia and Austrian Empire, which divided up the Commonwealth lands among themselves progressively in the process of territorial seizures.[1][2][3]

The First Partition of Poland was decided on August 5, 1772. The Second Partition was signed on January 23, 1793. The Third Partition of Poland took place on October 24, 1795, and with this the independent Polish state ceased to exist.[1]



Poland & Lithuania at the time of the formation of the Commonwealth
Inaccurate map of the so-called Commonwealth in 1772 (i.e.includes Kurland)

During the reign of King Władysław IV Vasa (1632–48), the liberum veto had evolved. This policy of parliamentary procedure was based on the assumption of the political equality of every "gentleman", with the corollary that unanimous consent was needed for all measures. A single member of parliament's belief that a measure was injurious to his own constituency (usually simply his own estate), even after the act had already been approved, became enough to veto the Act. It became increasingly difficult to get legislation enacted. The liberum veto also provided openings for foreign diplomats to get their ways, through bribing nobles to exercise it. Thus, one could characterise Poland–Lithuania in its final period (mid-18th century) before the partitions as already in a state of disorder and not a completely sovereign state. Alternatively, one might be tempted to visualize it almost as a vassal state,[4] or in modern terms, a Russian satellite state, with Russian Tsars effectively choosing Polish kings. This applies particularly to the last Commonwealth King Stanisław August Poniatowski, who for some time had been a lover of Russian Empress Catherine the Great.

In 1730 the neighbours of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth (Rzeczpospolita), namely Prussia, Austria and Russia, signed a secret agreement to maintain the status quo: specifically, to ensure that the Commonwealth laws would not change. Their alliance later became known in Poland as the "Alliance of the Three Black Eagles" (or Löwenwolde's Treaty), because all three states used a black eagle as a state symbol (in contrast to the white eagle, a symbol of Poland). The Commonwealth had been forced to rely on Russia for protection against the rising Kingdom of Prussia, while Prussia was demanding a slice of the northwest in order to unite its Western and Eastern portions, although this would leave the Commonwealth with a Baltic coast only in Latvia and Lithuania. The Commonwealth could never be liquidated unless its longtime ally, Austria, allowed it,[citation needed] and first Catherine had to use diplomacy to win Austria to her side.

The Commonwealth had remained neutral in the Seven Years' War, though sympathizing with the alliance of France, Austria, and Russia, and allowing Russian troops access to its western lands as bases against Prussia. Frederick II of Prussia retaliated by ordering enough Polish currency counterfeited to severely affect the Polish economy. Through the Polish nobles whom Russia controlled and the Russian Minister to Warsaw, ambassador and Prince Nicholas Repnin, Empress Catherine the Great forced a constitution on the Commonwealth at the so-called Repnin Sejm of 1767, named after ambassador Repnin, who de facto dictated the terms of that Sejm (and who ordered the capture and exile of some vocal opponents of his policies to Kaluga in Russian Empire.,[4][5][6] including bishop Józef Andrzej Załuski[7] and others). This new constitution undid the reforms made in 1764 under Stanisław II. The liberum veto and all the old abuses of the last one and a half centuries were guaranteed as unalterable parts of this new constitution (in the so-called cardinal laws[6][8]). Repnin also demanded religious freedom for the Protestant and Orthodox Christians, and the resulting reaction among some of Poland's Roman Catholics, as well as the deep resentment of Russian intervention in the Commonwealth's domestic affairs, led to the War of the Confederation of Bar from 1768–1772, where the Poles tried to expel Russian forces from Commonwealth territory.[4][6] The irregular and poorly commanded Polish forces had little chance in the face of the regular Russian army and suffered a major defeat. Adding to the chaos was a Ukrainian Cossack and peasant rebellion, the Koliyivschyna, which erupted in 1768 and resulted in massacres of noblemen (szlachta), Jews, Uniates, and Catholic priests before it was put down by Polish and Russian troops.

In 1769 Austria annexed a small territory of Spisz and in 1770 - Nowy Sącz and Nowy Targ. These territories had been a bone of contention between Poland and Hungary, which was a part of the Austrian crown lands.

First Partition

Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth after the First Partition. It is inaccurate as it includes Kurland.

In February, 1772, the agreement of partition was signed in Vienna. Early in August the Russian, Prussian and Austrian troops simultaneously entered the Commonwealth and occupied their respective provinces. On August 5, 1772, the occupation manifesto was issued, much to the consternation of a country too exhausted by the endeavors of the Confederation of Bar to offer successful resistance.[1]

The partition treaty was ratified by its signatories on September 22, 1772. Prussia recovered most of Royal Prussia, which had been siezed by Poland from the Teutonic Order which stood between its possessions in the Kingdom of Prussia and the Margraviate of Brandenburg, including Ermland, Warmia, without the independent city of Danzig, which in 1773 became the province of West Prussia. This also included northern areas of so-called Greater Poland along the Netze river, and parts of Kuyavia, including the ancient Prussian city of Thorn.[1] Despite criticism of the partition from Austrian Empress Maria Theresa, Austrian statesman Wenzel Anton, Count Kaunitz, was proud of wresting as large a share as he did, with the salt mines of Bochnia and Wieliczka. To Austria fell Zator and Auschwitz, part of Little Poland, embracing parts of the counties of Kraków and Sandomir and the whole of Galicia, minus the City of Kraków. By this diplomatic document Russia came into possession of the counties of Vitebsk, Polatsk, and Mstislavl.[1]

By this partition the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth lost about 30% of its territory and half of its population,[1] (four million people), of which a large portion had not been ethnically Polish. After having occupied their respective territories, the three partitioning powers demanded that King Stanisław and the Sejm approve their action. When no help was forthcoming and the armies of the combined nations occupied Warsaw to compel by force of arms the calling of the assembly, no alternative could be chosen save passive submission to their will. The so-called Partition Sejm, with Russian military forces threatening the opposition, on September 18, 1773, signed the treaty of cession, renouncing all claims of the Commonwealth to the occupied territories.

Second Partition

By 1790, on the political front, the First Polish Republic had deteriorated into such a helpless condition that it was successfully forced into an unnatural and ultimately deadly alliance with its enemy, Prussia. The Polish–Prussian Pact of 1790 was signed. The conditions of the Pact contributed greatly to the succeeding and final two partitions of Poland–Lithuania. The May Constitution of 1791 enfranchised the bourgeoisie, established the separation of the three branches of government, and eliminated the abuses of the Repnin Sejm. Those reforms prompted aggressive actions on the part of its neighbours, wary of the potential renaissance of the Commonwealth. Arguing that Poland had fallen prey to the radical Jacobinism then at high tide in France, Russian forces invaded the Commonwealth in 1792.

In the War in Defense of the Constitution, pro-Russian conservative Polish magnates, the Confederation of Targowica, fought against Polish forces supporting the constitution, believing that Russians would help them restore the Golden Liberty. Abandoned by their Prussian allies, Polish pro-constitution forces, faced with Targowica units and the regular Russian army, were defeated. Prussia signed a treaty with Russia, agreeing that Polish reforms would be revoked and both countries would receive chunks of Commonwealth territory. In 1793, deputies to the Grodno Sejm, last Sejm of the Commonwealth, in the presence of the Russian forces, agreed to Russian territorial demands. In the 2nd partition, Russia and Prussia helped themselves to enough more land so that only one-third of the 1772 population remained in Poland. Prussia named its newly gained province South Prussia, with Posen (and later Warsaw) as the capital of the new province.

Targowica confederates, who did not expect another partition, and the king, Stanisław August Poniatowski, who joined them near the end, both lost much prestige and support. The reformers, on the other hand, were attracting increasing support, and in 1794 the Kościuszko Uprising began.

Third Partition

Kosciuszko's ragtag insurgent armies won some initial successes, but they eventually fell before the superior forces of the Russian Empire. The partitioning powers, seeing the increasing unrest in the remaining Commonwealth, decided to solve the problem by erasing any independent Polish state from the map. On 24 October 1795 their representatives signed a treaty, dividing the remaining territories of the Commonwealth among their three countries.

The Russian part included 120,000 km² and 1.2 million people with Vilnius, the Prussian part (new provinces of New East Prussia and New Silesia) 55,000 km² and 1 million people with Warsaw, and the Austrian 47,000 km² with 1.2 million and Lublin and Kraków.


Cumulative division of the Commonwealth territory[9]
Partition To Austria To Prussia To Russia Total annexed Total remaining
Area % Area % Area % Area % Area %
1772 81900 km2 11.17% 36300 km2 4.94% 93000 km2 12.68% 211200 km2 28.79% 522300 km2 71.20%
1793 57100 km2 7.78% 250200 km2 34.11% 307300 km2 41.89% 215000 km2 29.31%
1795 47000 km2 6.40% 48000 km2 6.55% 120000 km2 16.36% 215000 km2 29.31%
Total 128900 km2 14.57% 141400 km2 19.27% 463200 km2 66.16% 733500 km2 100%

(Wandycz also offers slightly different total annexed territory estimates, with 18% for Austria, 20% for Prussia and 62% for Russia).[10]

With regards to population, in the First Partition Poland lost a population of over four to five million people (about a third of its population of 14 million before the partitions).[11] Only about 4 million people remained in Poland after the Second Partition which makes for a loss of another third of its original population, about a half of the remaining.[12] By the Third Partition, Prussia ended up with about 23% of the Commonwealth's population, Austria with 32%, and Russia, with 45%.[10]

During the Napoleonic Wars and in their immediate aftermath the borders between partitioning powers shifted several times, changing the numbers seen in the preceding table. Following the Congress of Vienna, Russia controlled 82% of the pre-1772 Commonwealth's territory (this includes its puppet state of Congress Poland), Austria 11%, and Prussia 7%.[13]


A misleading caption: "A map of the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania including Samogitia and Curland (part of Russia from 1702) divided according to their dismemberments with the Kingdom of Prussia" from 1799.

The King of Poland, Stanisław August Poniatowski, under Russian military escort left for Grodno where he abdicated on November 25, 1795; next he left for Saint Petersburg, Russia, where he would spend his remaining days. This act ensured that Russia would be seen as the most important of the partitioning powers.

As a result of the Partitions, Poles were forced to seek a change of status quo in Europe.[14][15] Polish poets, politicians, noblemen, writers, artists, many of whom were forced to emigrate (thus the term Great Emigration) became the revolutionaries of the 19th century, as desire for freedom and liberty became one of the defining parts of Polish romanticism.[16][17] Polish revolutionaries participated in uprisings in Prussia, the Austrian Empire and Imperial Russia.[18] Polish legions fought alongside Napoleon[19][20] and under the slogan of For our freedom and yours, participated widely in the Spring of Nations (particularly the Hungarian Revolution (1848)).[18][21]

Poland would be briefly resurrected—if in a smaller frame—in 1807, when Napoleon set up the Duchy of Warsaw. After his defeat and the implementation of the Congress of Vienna treaty in 1815, the Russian-dominated Congress Kingdom of Poland was created in its place. After the Congress, Russia gained a larger share of Poland (with Warsaw) and, after crushing an insurrection in 1831, the Congress Kingdom's autonomy was abolished and Poles faced confiscation of property, deportation, forced military service, and the closure of their own universities. After the uprising of 1863, Russification of Polish secondary schools was imposed and the literacy rate dropped dramatically. In the Austrian portion, Poles fared better, and were allowed to have representation in Parliament and to form their own universities, and Kraków and Lemberg (Lwów/Lviv) became centers of Polish culture and education. Meanwhile, Prussia Germanized the entire school system of its Polish subjects, and had no more respect for Polish culture and institutions than the Russian Empire. In 1915 a client state of the German Empire and Austria-Hungary was proposed and accepted by the Central Powers of World War I: the Regency Kingdom of Poland. After the end of World War I, the Central Powers' surrender to the Western Allies, the chaos of the Russian Revolution and the Treaty of Versailles finally allowed and helped the restoration of Poland's full independence after 123 years.


As historian Norman Davies stated, because the balance of power equilibrium was observed, many contemporary observers accepted explanations of the "enlightened apologists" of the partitioning state.[22][23] 19th century historians from countries that carried out the partitions, such as 19th century Russian scholar Sergey Solovyov, and their 20th century followers, argued that partitions were justified, as the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth had degenerated to the point of being partitioned because the counterproductive principle of liberum veto made decision-making on divisive issues, such as a wide-scale social reform, virtually impossible. Solovyov specified the cultural, language and religious break between the supreme and lowest layers of the society in the east regions of the Commonwealth, where the Bielorussian and Ukrainian serf peasantry was Orthodox. Russian authors emphasized the historical connections between Belarus, Ukraine and Russia, as former parts of the medieval old Russian state where dynasty of Rurikids reigned (Kievan Rus).[24] Thus, Nikolay Karamzin wrote: “Let the foreigners denounce the partition of Poland: we took what was ours.”[25] Russian historians often stressed that Russia annexed primarily Ukrainian and Belorussian provinces with Eastern Slavic inhabitants,[26] although many Ruthenians were no more enthusiastic about Russia than about Poland, and ignoring ethnically Polish and Lithuanian territories also being annexed on a large scale (including the annexation of the undeniably Polish capital of Warsaw). A new justification for partitions arose with the Russian Enlightenment, as Russian writers such as Gavrila Derzhavin, Denis Fonvizin, and Alexander Pushkin stressed degeneration of Catholic Poland and the need to "civilize" it by its neighbors.[27]

Nonetheless other 19th century contemporaries were much more skeptical; for example, British jurist Sir Robert Phillimore discussed the partition as a violation of international law;[28] German jurist Heinrich Bernhard Oppenheim presented similar views.[29] Other older historians who challenged such justifications for the Partitions included French historian Jules Michelet, British historian and politician Thomas Babington Macaulay, 1st Baron Macaulay, and Edmund Burke.[22] Edmund Burke was alone in criticizing the immorality of this act.[30]

More recent studies claim that partitions happened when the Commonwealth had been showing the beginning signs of a slow recovery and see the last two partitions as an answer to strengthening reforms in the Commonwealth and the potential threat they represented to its neighbours.[15][22][27][31][32][33][34]

Several scholars focused on the economic motivations of the partitioning powers. Jerzy Czajewski wrote that the Russian peasants were escaping from Russia to the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in significant enough numbers to become a major concern for the Russian Government sufficient to play a role in its decision to partition the Commonwealth.[35] Increasingly in the 18th century until the partitions solved this problem, Russian armies raided territories of the Commonwealth, officially to recover the escapees, but in fact kidnapping many locals.[35] Hajo Holborn noted that Prussia aimed to take control of the lucrative Baltic grain trade.[36]

Other countries

The Ottoman Empire was one of only two countries in the world that refused to accept the liquidation of the Republic of Poland as a result of partition and reserved a place in its diplomatic corps for an Ambassador of Lehistan (Poland). Qajar Persia was the other, as attested by the Islamic Republic of Iran's embassy in Poland.

The Italian National Anthem contains a reference to the partition.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 "Partitions of Poland." (2008). Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved June 8, 2011.
  2. Robert Bideleux, Ian Jeffries. A History of Eastern Europe: Crisis and Change. Routledge: 1998 p.156.
  3. Judy Batt, Kataryna Wolczuk. Region, State and Identity in Central and Eastern Europe. Routledge: 2002, p.153.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Hamish M. Scott, The Emergence of the Eastern Powers, 1756–1775, Cambridge University Press, 2001, ISBN 0-521-79269-X, Gooble Print, p.181-182
  5. H. Wickham Steed, A Short History of Austria-Hungary and Poland, 1914, NCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA, INC. Retrieved on 3 August 2007.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Hugh Seton-Watson, The Russian Empire, 1801-1917, Oxford University Press, 1967, ISBN 0-19-822152-5, Google Print, p.44
  7. Various, The Story of My Life, Penguin Classics, 2001, ISBN 0-14-043915-3, Google Print, p.528
  8. Richard Butterwick, Poland-Lithuania's Last King and English Culture: Stanisław August Poniatowski, 1732-1798, Oxford University Press, 1998, ISBN 0-19-820701-8, Google Print, p.169
  9. Davies, Norman (2005). God's Playground. A History of Poland. The Origins to 1795, revised, Oxford University Press, 394. ISBN 978-0-19-925339-5. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 Piotr Stefan Wandycz (2001). The Price of Freedom: A History of East Central Europe from the Middle Ages to the Present. Taylor & Francis Group, 133–. ISBN 978-0-415-25490-8. Retrieved on 8 January 2013. 
  11. (2001) A Concise History of Poland: Jerzy Lukowski and Hubert Zawadzki. Cambridge University Press, 96–98. ISBN 978-0-521-55917-1. Retrieved on 8 January 2013. 
  12. (2001) A Concise History of Poland: Jerzy Lukowski and Hubert Zawadzki. Cambridge University Press, 101–103. ISBN 978-0-521-55917-1. Retrieved on 8 January 2013. 
  13. "Po przyłączeniu do obwodu białostockiego w 1807 roku do cesartwa i utworzeniu osiem lat później Królestwa Polskiego wnuk Katarzyny zjednoczył pod swoim berłem około 82% przedrozbiorowego terytorium Rzeczypospolitej (dla porównania - Austria 11%, Prusy 7%). "[in:] Basil Kerski, Andrzej Stanisław Kowalczyk. Realiści z wyobraźnią. Uniwersytet Marii Curie-Skłodowskiej. 2007 page. 318 ISBN 978-83-227-2620-4
  14. Lonnie R. Johnson, Central Europe: Enemies, Neighbors, Friends, Oxford University Press, 1996, ISBN 0-19-510071-9, Google Print, p.127-128
  15. 15.0 15.1 Piotr Stefan Wandycz, The Price of Freedom: A History of East Central Europe from the Middle Ages to the Present, Routledge (UK), 2001, ISBN 0-415-25491-4, Google Print, p.133
  16. W. H. Zawadzki, A Man of Honour: Adam Czartoryski as a Statesman of Russia and Poland, 1795-1831, Oxford University Press, 1993, ISBN 0-19-820303-9 Google Print, p.330
  17. Stefan Auer, Liberal Nationalism in Central Europe, Routledge, 2004, ISBN 0-415-31479-8, m-InI8OGK40XK0 Google Print, p.60
  18. 18.0 18.1 Dieter Dowe, Europe in 1848: revolution and reform, Berghahn Books, 2001, ISBN 1-57181-164-8, Google Print, p.180
    While it is often and quite justifiably remarked that there was hardly a barricade or battlefield in Europe between 1830 and 1870 where no Poles were fighting, this is especially true for the revolution of 1848/1849.
  19. Jan Pachonski, Reuel K. Wilson. Poland's Caribbean Tragedy: A Study of Polish Legions in the Haitian War of Independence 1802-1803. East European Monographs, 1986. ISBN 0-88033-093-7. review and notes on the book.
  20. Elena I. Fedosova, Polish Projects of Napoleon Bonaparte, The Journal of the International Napoleonic Society, 1/2/98
  21. Gods, Heroes, & Legends
  22. 22.0 22.1 22.2 Norman Davies, Europe: A History, Oxford University Press, 1996, ISBN 0-19-820171-0, Google Print, p.661
  23. Norman Davies, God's Playground: A History of Poland in Two Volumes, Oxford University Press, 2005, ISBN 0-19-925339-0, Google Print, p.283
  24. E.g., Sergey Solovyov's History of the Downfall of Poland (Moscow, 1863).
  25. Н.М. Карамзин. Записка о древней и новой России в ее политическом и гражданском отношениях
  26. Nicholas V. Riasanovsky, Old Russia, the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, American Slavic and East European Review, Vol. 11, No. 3. (Oct., 1952), pp. 171-188
  27. 27.0 27.1 Andrzej Nowak, The Russo-Polish Historical Confrontation, The Sarmatian Review, January 1997, Volume XVII, Number 1
  28. Sir Robert Phillimore, Commentaries Upon International Law, 1854 T. & J. W. Johnson, Google Print, p.819
  29. Sharon Korman, The Right of Conquest: The Acquisition of Territory by Force in International Law and Practice, Oxford University Press, 1996, ISBN 0-19-828007-6, Google Print, p.101
  30. Poland The First Partition
  31. The Army of Grand Duchy of Warsaw
  32. Hon. Carl L. Bucki, , University of Buffalo's History of Poland series, The Constitution of May 3, 1791
  33. Paul W. Schroeder, The Transformation of European Politics 1763–1848, Oxford University Press, 1996, ISBN 0-19-820654-2, Google print p.84
  34. Geoffrey Russell, The Making of Modern Europe, 1648-1780, Routledge, 2003, ISBN 0-415-30155-6, Google Print, p.548
  35. 35.0 35.1 Jerzy Czajewski, "Zbiegostwo ludności Rosji w granice Rzeczypospolitej" (Russian population exodus into the Rzeczpospolita), Promemoria journal, October 2004 nr. (5/15), ISSN 1509-9091 , Table of Content online, Polish language
  36. Hajo Holborn (1 December 1982). A History of Modern Germany: 1648-1840. Princeton University Press, 256. ISBN 978-0-691-00796-0. Retrieved on 16 February 2012. 

External links