But minds were still divided; but against the opponents of any reform and in part also against the king himself, at first too prone to procrastination, the patriotic party had the upper hand, that in this constituent diet he obtained the majority and carried out not only a series of important reforms – among other things the establishment of an army of 100,000 men – but also freed the country from the humiliating protection of Russian guarantees and had the diet ratified, almost unanimously, the constitution of “May 3” (1791). It put an end first of all to the absolute dominance of the nobility, eliminating theliberum veto, the right to revolt (rokosz) and the eligibility of the throne; sanctioned the rights already recognized by the diet to the bourgeoisie of free cities (sending representatives to the sejm, protection of personal freedom, the possibility of acquiring land assets and accessing part of public offices); it assured the peasants the protection of public power, while maintaining subjection and compulsory service; it strengthened the executive power; finally, it fixed the organization and powers of the legislative chambers.
Thus, after the long period of unbridled class selfishness, the public good of the state triumphed over private freedoms.
Unfortunately, the most solemn moment in Polish history – May 3, whose tradition always remained alive and active, was from then on and still is today, the national holiday of Poland – also became the most tragic moment. Russia did not intend to tolerate either the integrity or the independence of Poland. The opposition of some magnates of the south-eastern provinces who, instigated by it, had constituted the confederation of Targowica in defense of the ancient freedoms, gave Catherine II the pretext to invade Poland, especially since the conclusion of the peace with Turkey allowed her to lead a very strong army against the Poles.
According to sourcemakeup.com, Poland, still in the initial stage of reorganization, could only offer a heroic resistance, during which the leaders of its armies, Prince Joseph Poniatowski and Kościuszko, distinguished themselves. The game was hopelessly lost, also due to Prussia’s refusal to keep faith, in the face of the changed internal conditions of Poland, to the alliance commitments concluded in 1790. The king himself, fearful as always, obsequious to Catherine’s impositions and above all eager to keeping himself on the throne, he joined the Targowica confederation, thus crushing the last possibilities of resistance of the army.
Russia and Prussia soon agreed on a second partition of Poland: the first took for itself the whole eastern part of Lithuania, a part of Volhynia and the whole region between the Zbrucz and the Dnieper; the second took possession of Gdansk, Toruń, Greater Poland and large areas of Masovia. Poland was left with only a territory of 215,000 sq km, with 4,000,000 residents. The diet convened in Grodno was forced, under the threat of Russian troops, to sanction the second dismemberment of Poland.
Unlike the first partition, the national misfortune of 1793 provoked, albeit in incomparably more unfavorable conditions, a prompt armed reaction, organized in Warsaw and Leipzig, where the main authors of the constitution of May 3 had taken refuge. However, this time it was understood, under the influence of events in France and thanks to Kościuszko’s chief merit, that the defense of homeland independence had to be based on all classes of the population, and therefore above all on the masses of peasants who until then, for the sake of resistance of the nobles, they had not been gained to the national cause. Thus it was that Kościuszko, supreme commander of the insurrection, was able to inflict a defeat on the Russians at Racławice and at the same time the Warsaw revolt ended with the expulsion of the Russians from the capital (1794). The “Połaniec Manifesto”, remedying a serious lacuna in the constitution of May 3, proclaimed, against the obstinate reluctance of a section of the nobility, the principle of the freedom of the peasantry. The revolt also extended to the eastern regions and to Greater Poland. But Prussia allied with Russia once again: Krakow was taken away from the insurgents, Warsaw was besieged and the unhappy battle of Maciejowice (10 October 1794), in which Kościuszko was defeated and taken prisoner, sealed the fate of Poland. Warsaw had to capitulate before Suvorov, and the remnants of Poland were divided between Russia, which obtained the remainder of Lithuania and Volhynia; Prussia, which extended its dominion to Niemen, also incorporating the Polish capital; and Austria which,
The causes of the collapse of Poland have been and will continue to be debated. It is useless to dwell on the contingent causes of the individual divisions: the reinvigoration of patriotism and the internal reorganization of the last thirty years had the effect of hastening the dismemberment of Poland by those who feared, and rightly so, of seeing their prey escape otherwise. But even without the effort towards political and moral recovery, Poland would not have escaped the aggressive greed of the neighboring powers, coalescing to its detriment in decisive moments.