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The International Crisis of 1791: Poland Between the Triple Alliance and Russia

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Most Polish historians have misinterpreted Poland's international situation during the general "Eastern Crisis" of 1787-1791, which coincided with the period of great internal Polish political development during the Four-Year Diet of 1788-1792, whose work was crowned with the declaration of the May Third Constitution of 1791. Among Polish historians only Szymon Askenazy, and among foreigners only the American, Robert Howard Lord, fully understood the situation and interpreted it in conformity with the facts, although many important developments were unknown when they wrote on this theme. The purpose of this study is to re-interpret many facts of Poland's international situation during the Eastern Crisis, while also offering a new approach to the problem on the basis of many new documents unavailable until now. Although my interpretation runs contrary to the opinions of most Polish historians, extensive research in Polish as well as foreign archives supports it under close examination. The most important point I wish to make is that Poland's general situation in the years preceding the Second Partition of 1793 was not as hopeless as has generally been considered, and there were opportunities for the country to avoid the mortal blows of 1792-1794. It is important to emphasize that almost all the facts concerning Poland's international position at the end of the eighteenth century had been established by scholars before World War I. Rather than adding to this basic factual storehouse, further studies only interpreted or discussed them. But new research indicates that the basic facts were not at all well known, and hence the interpretations were overhasty. This is, therefore, a fresh attempt to show one important aspect of Poland's chances during this period in the light of considerable new material.

Affiliations: 1: (Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw, Poland


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