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Study On The Polish Partitions History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

Before the end of the First World War, Poland was not an autonomous country and for that reason, it was partitioned between the three empires: Russia, Australia, and German (Prussian). Between 1962-1796, Empress Catherine the Great being the ruler, Russia continued exploiting Poland, Prussia and Austria taking advantage of the political and religious wrangles that existed within the territory. The first partition took place in August 1772, the second partition took place in January 1793 while the third partition was in October 1795 and this marked the end of the existence of Poland as an autonomous state. This later led to the divisions into Austrian partition, Prussian partition and the Russian partition. However, the Forth Partition of the Polish State can be described as what led to the re-establishment of Poland as a self-governing state, this is mostly concerning the communities that lived in the Diaspora, and the division of the land, these two played an important political role in the re-establishment.

In the late 17th and 18th centuries, Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, which originally was a powerful European power, was subordinated to a sheer protectorate of the Russians [1] . The Russian Tsar was at the forefront of the Polish-Lithuanian internal affairs, this including deciding who was to be their monarchs in their independent politics. Between 1768 and 1774, the Russo-Turkish War heightened, France suggested that Austria be awarded parts of the Prussian Silesia, this move was influenced by the act that France was both an ally of Russia and Austria. King Frederick II of Prussia advocated for a peaceful resolution of the matter owing to his alliance with Russia, which he deemed a potential reason for a possible outbreak of war with Austria. He also had developed interest in strengthening the already weakened Ottoman Empire. Over the years, Russia had seen herself becoming a potential protectorate of Poland.

First Partition of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth is documented to have occurred in 1772 and this marked the end of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth by 1795. The prime reason behind this partition was the increasing growth of the Russian empire that placed a major threat to Prussia and the Austrian established empire. To prevent Austria from going to war, Frederick the great saw it strategic to engineer the first partition. The approach was being to restore the balance of power in Eastern Europe, the most powerful neighboring counties- Austria, Russia and Prussia-apportioned the commonwealth land which was now considered weak in the region. The Partition Sejm was ratified by Poland for the major reason that she did not have the adequate arsenal for defense, moreover, the foreign troops had already invaded the country, and this led to their parliament endorsing the partition. [2] 

The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth lost an approximated 30% of her land with four million people most of whom were Polish in descent. Having conquered northwestern Poland, Prussia hugely exploited her foreign trade and in the process levying high duties due to the economic gains, this accelerated the fall of the commonwealth. With no apparent outside support, King Stanisław and the Sejm were forced to endorse the action of the territories and signed the treaty of cession hence renouncing their claim of the commonwealth. This gave the partitioning powers free will to further occupy and exploit Poland.

In 1772, the feasibility of the Poland Lithuania was not particularly under threat, this is owing to the fact that most of the land, remained with the natives. A critical analysis however proved that the government institutions had serious flaws, which had to be sealed along the lines of European Enlightenment. King Stanislaw August esteemed foreign political figures such as Edmund Burke and George Washington and the positive elements that led to development in the government were encouraged. For the first time, democratic systems in governing bodies were encouraged as well as an independent Ministry of Education to boost reforms. The Polish forces went under thorough restructuring and so did taxation laws, squatters were liberated by the property holders and due to industrial revolution, there was major revival of the textile and mining industries. Overall, the economy improved due to goodwill on the part of the nationals even though there were no structured laws governing the same [3] . The political reforms saw the separation of power between three centers of power, restored the independence of the nationals as well as repealing the execution of veto power in the house.

The Second Partition is marked by the 1790 when the already weakened Poland was forced in to an alliance with Prussia; this was a twisted fate especially considering the fact that Prussia was an enemy of Poland. The Polish-Prussian Pact of 1790 dictated that the second and third partition of Poland were unavoidable, however, the treaty was already signed by Poland. The May Constitution of 1791 ensured the separation of powers between three branches of the legislature, unaware of the transformation that the Commonwealth was likely to face, the neighboring powers were threatened by the constitutional reforms. The sole argument being that Poland was engrossed to Jacobinism, France, and Russian forces went to war with the commonwealth.

In the belief that they were defending the constitutional reforms, the conservative Polish magnates fought against their own forces in support of the constitution where they believed that Russia would later help in the attainment of the Golden Liberty. Polish forces were defeated and this led to Prussia signing a treaty with Russia detailing that the reforms done by the Polish government were to be abolished therefore giving a chance to both the territories to receive chunks of the commonwealth. In 1793, the last Sejm of the commonwealth agreed to the Russian forces to give in to the partition, the surrender led to both Russia and Prussia getting big parcels of land to an extent that only one third of the 1772 populace remained to be Poland (Sharon, 1996). The new acquired land by Prussia was named South Prussia with Posen being its new capital. King Stanisław August Poniatowski and the Targowica confederates lost support while the reformists gained much stature hence leading to the Kościuszko Uprising in 1794.

Considering the fact that the KoÅ›ciuszko had gained much support in the beginning, they gained short-term success until when the Russian forces attacked and they were defeated. The partitioning forces experienced the conflict still looming in what remained of the Polish state, they decided as a result to wipe out Poland completely from the map, and this they considered a solution to the uprising. The remaining land considered Poland was later divided among the three countries by a treaty signed by the representatives on 24 October 1795. The Russian part was an average of 120,000 km2 with a total of 1.2 million people, the city was called Vilnius; Prussia on the other hand received the new provinces of New East Prussia and New Silesia with 1 million people while Austria received Lublin and Krakow with 1.2 million people. This was the third partition [4] .

The King of Poland was abdicated and escorted by the Russian troops to Russia in November 1795. Russia wanted to gain recognition as the most powerful of the three partitioning powers. Polish poets, politicians, noblemen, writers, artists were forced to acquire a new identity in Europe and this was later called the Great Migration, they made up great revolutionists in the 19th Century. The great revolutionists participated for the most part in revolutions in Prussia, Russia, and Austria in support of Napoleon; this was under the quest to acquire freedom at last. They were also instrumental in the Hungarian Revolt of 1848. When Napoleon set up the Duchy of Warsaw in 1807, Poland came into being even though in small way. After the establishment of the Congress of Vienna in 1815, the Congress Kingdom of Poland acquired its original place; this was a breakthrough mostly because it was hugely dominated by Prussia in the past.

In 1831, the independence already gained by the Congress Kingdom was nullified and the Poles as a result suffered huge losses such as confiscation of property, forced recruitment into the military units, their learning institutions were forcefully closed and other Poles were extradited. Russia gained a large chunk during this period. The 1863, Polish schools were made to belong to the Russians and consequently literacy levels went down significantly [5] . Conversely, in Austria, Poles were at least given opportunities to hold representations in the legislature and to maintain their own institutions of learning, the areas of Kraków and Lemberg became educational and cultural centers for the Poles. Prussians assumed ownership of the Polish schools, which were forced to acquire German identities, the Polish culture was not held in high regard. In 1915, the Austrian-Hungary linkage was proposed and authorized by the First World War major powers, after the war, the major powers admitted defeat to the Western Allies and thanks to the Russian Revolution and the signing of the Versailles Treaty, Poland gained full sovereignty after 123 years of struggle.

The term Forth Partition of Poland is often used to describe the struggle by the communities in the Diaspora to help in the attainment of Poland independence, they assisted a great deal to providing financial, and martial support in ensuring Poland became her own state at the end of the wars. This was mostly in the nineteenth and twentieth century, even the expatriates were severely affected by the politics at home. Most parts of Europe expressed their disapproval of dismemberment as a crime, paradoxically, in the midst of the French revolutions and other successive unrests, no state opposed seizures. With the split up of Poland-Lithuania, the European balance of autonomy was threatened hence Russia’s influence surged and the emergence of the Prussians became apparent [6] . In Poland nevertheless, these occurrences led to a struggle that lasted for well over one century.

There were established two overriding schools of thought as to the partitions in Poland: the Cracow school argues that the partitions were unavoidable majorly owing to the dynamics present in the monarchy hence leading to the interference by other powers. The debate centers around three factors: the liberum veto where legislation was passed without involving the other members of the house, the fact that the interests of the dignified were maintained in the government systems and third, the natural challenges of the monarchy were perceptible. The Kingdom of Poland and the Duchy of Lithuania were clearly under constant conflict mostly due to stakes of the noblemen. The Warsaw school of though however is of the view that the downfall was because of the political, social and cultural reforms in the state that were across-the-board. In May 1791, the Poland constitution aggravated the situation since it was the first freely adopted constitution in the history of Europe. In the light of the French Revolution, the Prussian, Russian and the Austrian monarchs saw a need to bring to an end what they believed to be Jacobin thoughts.

An examination of the Polish partitions reveals that the emergence of the plans begun as early as 1656, Prussia wanted to obtain the Brandenburg and ducal Prussia regions by conquering the entire region of middle of royal Prussia. Over the years, Russia had been interested in the eastern regions of Poland but held back since she had already dominated the political affairs of the country through vigor and inducement. Between 1767 and 1768 Russia pushed her way into the parliament under the pretext of attaining equity for the religious dissenters, to get a parliamentary seat for Orthodox bishop of Mohylew and to hang on to the veto power expressed by the noblemen [7] . Being a self-declared protectorate of Poland Lithuania, further invasion was not at all a tricky affair for her. The establishment of the Confederacy of Bar in 1768 sought to cause the downfall of the king, to settle the religious opposition and to re-establish the Saxon Wettin dynasty to power. Russia was threatened by this proposal and wanted to bring down the confederacy but the resistance caused unrest. The Ottoman Forte then declared war on Russia in 1768.

Overall, the partitions of Poland and the further wipe out of the state from the map were mainly due to two reasons: the emergence of Russia and Prussia as major European powers and due to lack of unity from Poland herself. Poland had greatly flourished from the 14th century to the 16th century but between the 17th and the 18th century, the Polish state was reduced to a state of anarchy. The Liberum Veto is seen as a major reason for the weakening since foreigners would bribe the noblemen in order to have their way into Polish political affairs [8] . Against this background therefore, one could say that before the partitions, Poland would not accurately rank as a completely sovereign state, rather it would be ranked as Russian satellite state, and Russian tsars would appoint the Polish kings. The secret agreement signed by the three partitioning forces was later named ‘Alliance of the Three Black Eagles’ was meant to ensure that the existing laws were not altered. The new constitution undid the reforms in 1764; as a result, all the ills of the old constitution were ratified as the unchangeable parts of the constitution.


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