Poland, partitions of

Poland, partitions of. The basic causes leading to the three successive partitions (1772, 1793, 1795) that eliminated Poland from the map were the decay and the internal disunity of Poland and the emergence of its neighbors, Russia and Prussia, as leading European powers. The first partition was proposed when Frederick II of Prussia feared that Russia was about to take the Danubian principalities from the Ottoman Empire and thus provoke an Austro-Russian war. Frederick proposed that Russia annex part of Poland in return for renouncing the Danubian principalities and that Prussia and Austria take parts of Poland to balance Russia's gain. This arrangement satisfied Catherine II of Russia, who had long contemplated such a partition. Maria Theresa of Austria, though opposing the scheme both on moral and political grounds, nevertheless partook in the spoils, which otherwise would have fallen entirely to Russia and Prussia. King Stanislaus II of Poland was unable to resist his three neighbors. The partition of 1772 gave Pomerelia and Ermeland to Prussia, Latgale and Belarus E of the Dvina and Dnieper rivers to Russia, and Galicia to Austria.

When in 1791 the remainder of Poland showed signs of regeneration, particularly in the adoption of a new constitution, a Russian army invaded Poland (1792). Prussia invaded the country in turn, and in 1793 a second partition—this time without Austrian participation—was arrived at. Only the central section of Poland was left independent, and that under Russian control.

The national uprising under Thaddeus Kosciusko (1794) and the conservative rulers' reaction to the French Revolution led to the final partition of 1795; all of Poland was divided among Russia, Prussia, and Austria. Russia, which also formally annexed Courland, received the major share of territory, but the capital, Warsaw, went to Prussia. At the Congress of Vienna (1814–15) Poland remained partitioned, although the boundaries were radically changed in favor of Russia. (For the provisions made at Vienna and for the Polish partition of 1939, see Poland).

See P. S. Wandycz, The Lands of Partitioned Poland (1975); N. Davies, God's Playground: A History of Poland (2 vol., 1982).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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