Catharine II Announces the First Partition of Poland (1772)

[excerpted from Readings in Modern European History, James Harvey Robinson and Charles Beard, eds. (Boston:Ginn and Company, 1908), pp. 82-84]

The following is the declaration which the minister plenipotentiary of Russia communicated in the name of her Imperial Majesty Catharine II, to the king and republic of Poland on September 18, 1772, announcing the first partition of that country.

The States bordering upon Poland have so often been involved in the disorders which have arisen during interregnums in that kingdom, that the experience of the past would in any case have led the neighboring powers to occupy themselves seriously with the affairs of that State the moment that the throne became vacant by the death of King Augustus 111. This consideration and the obvious necessity of preventing the fatal effects of dissensions which threatened to arise with this last vacancy of the throne, led the Court of St. Petersburg to endeavor to bring about a union in favor of a candidate who should be at once the most worthy of the throne, and the most suitable to the interests of his fellow-citizens and of the neighboring States. It endeavored at the same time to rectify certain abuses in the constitution of the Polish State.

The Court of Berlin seconded the measures of its ally, while the Court of Vienna, although anxious to co6perate in assuring the success of these praiseworthy measures, believed it best on account of the embarrassments which might arise from increasing the number of those interfering directly in the domestic affairs of Poland, to remain neutral in this matter as well as in the war which sprang from it between Russia and the Ottoman Port.

As a result of these measures, the powers had the satisfaction of seeing the free and legal election of King Stanislas, who is now reigning, as well as other useful results. Everything seemed to promise a firm peace for both Poland and her neighbors, but unhappily the spirit of discord took possession of a portion of the nation, and destroyed in an instant all these hopes. Citizens armed themselves against one another, factions usurped the legitimate authority, which they abused in utter contempt of law, good order, and public security. justice, the police, commerce, yes, agriculture itself, all were destroyed.

The natural connection between Poland and her neighbors led them to feel most keenly the sad effects of these disorders. They have been forced for a long time to take the most costly measures in order to assure the tranquillity of their own frontiers, and they are exposed, owing to uncertainty of what may result from the destruction of this kingdom, to the danger of the decline of the friendship and harmony which now exists among them. Nothing is consequently more urgent than a prompt remedy for these ills, which are producing the most vexatious effects in the neighboring states, and which, if no measures of prevention are taken, will probably entail modifications of the political system of this part of Europe.

Reasons of such weight forbid his Majesty the King of Prussia, her Majesty the Empress, Queen of Hungary and Bohemia, and her Imperial Majesty of all the Russias longer to defer taking a decisive stand in so critical a situation. These powers have agreed accordingly to attempt to reach without loss of time a common understanding, in order to restore peace and good order in Poland, and establish the ancient constitution of this State and the liberties of the nation upon a sound basis.

But while they have been able to prevent for the moment the ruin and the arbitrary destruction of this kingdom, owing to the friendship and good intelligence which now exists among them, they have had no assurance that they would meet with equal success in the future. They all had considerable claims
upon various possessions of the republic. They could not allow these to be abandoned to the course of events; they consequently determined to enforce their ancient rights and legitimate claims on the possessions of the republic, - claims which each is ready to justify in due time and in the proper place.

Consequently his Majesty the King of Prussia, her Majesty the Empress, Queen of Hungary and Bohemia, and her Imperial Majesty of all the Russias, having mutually set forth their rights and claims, and having come to an agreement, will each take an equivalent of the district to which they lay claim, and will put themselves in effective possession of those portions of Poland which are calculated to serve hereafter as the most natural and secure boundary between them. Each of the three powers reserves the privilege of issuing a statement in due time, by which their Majesties will renounce hereafter all rights, claims, and pretensions for damages or interest which they may have upon the possessions and subjects of the Republic.

His Majesty the King of Prussia, her Majesty the Empress, Queen of Hungary and Bohemia, and her Majesty the Empress of all the Russias believe it their duty to announce their intentions to the whole Polish nation, requesting them to banish, or at least suppress, the spirit of disorder, so that the nation, coming together legally, can concert in the diet with the three courts in regard to the means for re6stablishing order and tranquillity, as well as to confirm by formal acts the exchange of titles and claims of each of the powers to those regions of which they have just taken possession.