Poland: Partition and Regeneration

Partition and Regeneration

After John III, the fate of Poland was determined with increasing cynicism by its three powerful neighbors—Russia, Prussia, and Austria. In 1697 the elector of Saxony was chosen king of Poland as Augustus II by a minority faction supported by Czar Peter I. Augustus allied himself with Russia and Denmark against Charles XII of Sweden. In the ensuing Northern War (1700–1721), during which Poland was plundered several times, Charles XII maintained Stanislaus I (Stanislaus Leszczynski) as Polish king from 1704 to 1709. The War of the Polish Succession (1733–35), precipitated by Augustus's death, resulted in the final abdication of Stanislaus and the accession of Augustus III (1734–63). Under Augustus III, the Polish economy (still largely agricultural) declined and orderly politics was undermined by feuding among the great landed families, which was evident in the frequent use of the liberum veto.

As a result of the support of Catherine II of Russia and Frederick II of Prussia, Stanislaus II (Stanislaus Poniatowski; reigned 1764–95), a member of the powerful Czartoryski family, was elected king of Poland. Prince Nikolai Repnin, the Russian minister at Warsaw, gained much influence in Polish internal affairs. Opposition to Russian domination led to the formation (with French help) in 1768 of the Confederation of the Bar, which, however, was suppressed militarily by Russia in 1772. Fearing that all Poland might fall into Russian hands, Frederick II proposed (1772) a partition plan to Catherine II, which later in the same year was modified to include Austria. Three successive partitions (1772, 1793, 1795) resulted in the disappearance (1795) of Poland from the map of Europe. Russia gained the largest share.

Despite the severe losses that the country suffered, there was a renewed spirit of national revival after 1772. It manifested itself in the thorough reform (including the abolition of the liberum veto) embodied in the May Constitution (1791) for the remaining independent part of Poland and in the heroic revolt (1794) led by Kosciusko. By the Treaty of Tilsit (1807), Napoleon I created a Polish buffer state, the grand duchy of Warsaw, under King Frederick Augustus I of Saxony. After Napoleon's defeat, the Congress of Vienna (1814–15) established a nominally independent Polish kingdom (“Congress Poland”), in personal union with the czar of Russia. The western provinces of Poland were awarded to Prussia; Galicia was given to Austria; and Kraków and its environs were made a separate republic.

A Polish nationalist revival led to a general insurrection in 1830 (known as the November Revolution) in Russian Poland. The Poles were at first successful, but their army was defeated (1831) at Ostrołęka, and the Russians reentered Warsaw. The Polish constitution was suspended, and the kingdom became virtually an integral part of Russia. Thousands of Poles emigrated, notably to Paris, which became the center of Polish nationalist activities. In 1846 an insurrection in Galicia by the peasantry against the gentry led to the annexation of Kraków by Austria. Rebellions broke out in 1848 in Prussian and Austrian Poland, and in 1863 the Poles in Russian Poland rose in the so-called January Revolution.

After crushing the revolt, the Russians began an intensive program of Russification. At the same time industry (especially the manufacture of textiles and iron goods) was developed and large estates were divided and given in freehold to peasants. A similar policy of Germanization in Prussian Poland was linked with Bismarck's Kulturkampf (see Ledóchowski, Count Mieczisław). Only in Austrian Galicia did the Poles enjoy a considerable degree of autonomy, but there the economy was very weak.

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