LITHUANIAN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
Volume 32, No. 1 - Spring 1986
Editor of this issue: Jonas Zdanys
Copyright © 1986 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.
THE UNUSUAL STORY OF THADDEUS KOSCIUSKO
ALBERT C. CIZAUSKAS
Lech Walesa, winner of the 1983 Nobel Peace prize, is not an isolated phenomenon in Poland's history. He is but the most visible current manifestation of an enduring spirit of resistance to domination, a spirit linked in history with the fate of Poland's neighbor, Lithuania. One of the most dramatic chapters of this history took place almost two centuries ago, in the association of its central figure, Thaddeus Kosciusko,1 with the American Revolution.
Few Americans, if asked, would recall that this man played a pivotal role in their Revolution. Fewer still that he challenged the combined might of Russia and Prussia in resisting the partitions of the old Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The same remains true of Lithuanian Americans. Yet Kosciusko strode large upon the international stage of his turbulent era. He was a close friend of Thomas Jefferson and other Revolutionary War leaders, was courted by both Napoleon and Czar Alexander for their very different purposes, celebrated in adulatory verse by Keats, Coleridge, Byron and other English poets, and eulogized in a biography by John Quincy Adams as one of the two most eminent foreigners (the other being Lafayette) to fight for American independence. His selfless efforts on behalf of freedom, successful in America but ironically unsuccessful in his own country, are memorialized in bronze in Lafayette Park across from the White House. His statue . there is engraved with the inscription: "And freedom shrieked as Kosciuszko fell"2 a reference to his gallant but unavailing resistance to Russian aggression.
Kosciusko's deep concern for political freedom, however, extended well beyond the horizon of the battlefield. Throughout his career, he was imbued with a humanitarian idealism that put him in the vanguard of an age when revolutionary nationalism and liberal optimism were changing the political and social life of the West. As leader of his nation against Russia, he broadened the military character of its struggle for independence by pledging to emancipate serfs and to endow them with land. As a private individual, he reduced the compulsory labor of serfs on his own estate and before his death liberated them entirely. One of the more revealing insights into his character was his instruction to Thomas Jefferson to purchase the freedom of American slaves and to finance their education from the accumulated proceeds of the farmer's Revolutionary War pay.
The core of Kosciusko's political philosophy was his belief in the equality of all men, even serfs and slaves, and in the need for education and economic independence to make this belief viable, but he also understood that political freedom was a necessary precondition of social justice. This message, which has particular significance today, is reflected in the life of an unusual man as seen in the context of his time.
A Thwarted Romance
Usually identified as a Pole, Kosciusko was born the 12th of February, 1746, the youngest child in a family of Lithuanian-Ruthenian stock. It is a historical coincidence that the 12th of February is also the date of Lincoln's birth, since both men shared similar social ideals. The Kosciusko family was descended from landed gentry with modest holdings in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The Grand Duchy had been united for several centuries with the Kingdom of Poland in a Commonwealth, the political fates of both countries being merged until the third and final partition of their joint nation in 1795.
Showing potential for advancement, Kosciusko was sent to Paris in his early twenties on a royal stipend to study military engineering, artillery and political science. It was probably during this formative period that the groundwork was laid for his liberal social outlook. Having already evinced signs of idealism, the young student could hardly fail to have been influenced by the intellectual ferment of the Enlightenment with its notions of human perfectibility and the rights of man.
Upon completing his formal education and returning home, Kosciusko, a younger son in a family of modest means, had limited prospects, particularly in a country with unsettled conditions due to foreign domination. For want of something better, he accepted the post of tutor to the children of a wealthy and highly-placed noble. He was then 28 years of age. In a short time, he fell in love with one of his changes, 18-year-old Ludvika Sosnowska. It was evidently a mutual attraction for, after a few months, Kosciusko proposed and was accepted by the teen-aged patrician.
According to John Quincy Adams, Thaddeus, sensing the difficulties inherent in his socially-inferior position, persuaded Ludvika to elope with him to the American colonies whose "shot heard round the world" had fired the enthusiasm of the young idealist. Adams writes that the romantic couple was pursued, overtaken and separated for many long years by the interposition of parental authority, the ardent suitor being severely beaten by the father's retainers. Obviously, Ludvika's father, a provincial governor, entertained rather strong notions about Kosciusko's suitability as a prospective son-in-law. Ludvika was subsequently married off to a fellow aristocrat with higher claims to wealth and prestige than those of the relatively impecunious son of an undistinguished country squire. It was a humbling experience and one which implanted in the scorned suitor a life-long aversion to social pretense and class inequality.
An aura of romantic legend has surrounded this bittersweet episode. The most fanciful version is Adams' that, years later, Thaddeus and Ludvika were reunited, married and had a daughter of their own. Adams intriguingly alleges that Kosciusko was the "high-born dame's" third husband but says nothing of the identity or fate of the two earlier spouses. Although the record shows conclusively that Kosciusko never married, there is no need for colorful myths. The true story of the forcibly-separated lovers and their later meeting under dramatic circumstances adds a sentimental twist to Kosciusko's career worthy of a Dickens' plot. It also accords with what is known of the man's temperament, or, as Adams puts it: "The private life of Kosciusko was to the full as romantic as the public one."
A Successful Revolutionary
Following the aborted attempt at marriage, Kosciusko made his way to the Colonies via Paris. Some biographers mention accounts of a shipwreck in the French West Indies but this seems unlikely because the entire voyage took Kosciusko only two months. At any rate, he arrived at Philadelphia in August of 1776. These heady days of patriotic fervor shortly after the Declaration of Independence had transformed an uncertain rebellion into a revolution. Kosciusko, a romantic idealist from a country under Russian domination, was deeply influenced by the liberal principles of Thomas Jefferson on the inherent right of men to redress political injustice and, in freedom, to pursue personal fulfillment. His emotional summons in later years to his own countrymen when he rallied them against foreign aggressors bore the unmistakable imprint of the Declaration.
Kosciusko's arrival in the Colonies also coincided with a time of military reverses. New York had fallen to the British and Philadelphia was menaced. The young engineer was quickly assigned to strengthen the Delaware River approaches to the latter city. Drawing for the first time upon his professional training and exhibiting a skill in using to tactical advantage a particular terrain, he helped slow the British advance. Congress recognized these initial services by appointing Kosciusko Colonel of engineers in which position he made three key contributions to the eventual success of the American cause. The most notable was his role in the decisive battle of Saratoga where his fortifications led to the first major victory for the Americans and assured them of open French support.
The second was his assignment to erect a permanent barrier on the Hudson against British attempts to split the Colonies. This was successfully accomplished on the heights at West Point where the U.S. Military Academy was subsequently established, in part at Kosciusko's recommendation. The Academy's first manual on the use of mobile horse artillery was based on a treatise written by him some years later at the request of the American Minister to Paris.
His final contribution came while serving as chief engineer to the Army of the South under General Nathanael Greene. Kosciusko's exploration of the Carolina wilderness, location of defensible campsites and construction of a river fleet enabled General Greene to maneuver swiftly and effectively against Cornwallis, leading to the British commander's subsequent encirclement at Yorktown.
It was during Kosciusko's service in the South that we first hear of his reaction to the "peculiar" institution of slavery which, in its contradiction of the principles of the Revolution, must have puzzled the young idealist. Employing a simple eloquence in one of his letters, he called Green's attention to the plight of two "naked" (sic) slaves whose "skin can bear as well as ours" some "good things" to wear. From this time on, Kosciusko viewed forced servitude with even greater repugnance than before, condemning the relationship between master and subject as one which should not be tolerated in enlightened societies.
After the war, Congress conferred upon the "eminent" foreign volunteer the brevet rank of Brigadier General, a grant of land in the Ohio territory (where the city of Columbus now stands), and a special resolution of thanks. He was also invited to join the Society of the Cincinnati, the prestigious organization of officers of the American Revolution, and present among the select company in Fraunces Tavern on December 4, 1783, when Washington bade farewell to his former comrades-in-arms.
Despite his sober attention to duty, Kosciusko was also known during the Revolution as a man of high spirits and engaging personality, popular with members of both sexes. A hint of a somewhat puckish sense of humor appeared at this time in a letter to a fellow officer fruitlessly in love. "Go so far as to ruin the girl," he advised, "then marry her and apologize later to her parents." Interestingly, Kosciusko did not follow this advice in his own love affairs.
A humorous reference to the undoubted difficulties Americans must have had with his name was made by a fellow passenger aboard the same ship with Kosciusko, by then well-known and on the way back to his homeland in 1784:
"Our Polish friend whose name still sounds so hard To make it rhyme would puzzle any bard."
A "Hero of Two Worlds"
The returned veteran spent several relatively uneventful years managing the family estate before plunging into the maelstrom of the Commonwealth's worsening political situation. It was then that he took an unusual step for a member of the land-owning class. Chafing at the serfdom still binding the peasants, the ex-revolutionary backed up his ideals in a costly gesture by reducing in half the compulsory labor for the men and abolishing it entirely for the women among the serfs on his own estate.
Kosciusko also took time out for romantic pursuits. He considered marriage once more but like the luckless hero on a late night rerun of an old movie on television, he again sought out an 18-year-old daughter of yet another high dignitary, only to have his suit turned down by the lady's father in a virtual repetition of the earlier episode. Lack of wealth and aristocratic position once again were the determining negative factors, aggravated by malicious gossip about his first attempt at marriage. More important, as it turned out, relations were reestablished with his first love, now the Princess Lubomirska, who acknowledged her continued affection for him. Using her influence at court as the wife of a prominent aristocrat, she persuaded the king to commission her former suitor as major general.
Kosciusko's reputation as an experienced soldier-engineer must also have helped, for the year was 1789 when the tangled strands of Eastern European politics were once again beginning to close round the Commonwealth. The king, Stanislas Augustus Poniatowski, was a weak if well-intentioned ruler torn between his attraction to the liberal ideals of the French Enlightenment and his sentimental attachment to Empress Catherine the Great of Russia. As a young envoy to the Russian court he had shared her bed (along with scores of others), later owing his election as Poland's King and Lithuania's Grand Duke largely to her efforts. For a number of years, Catherine continued to manipulate the puppet king and intervene with impunity in the internal affairs of the neighboring state with the intent of eventual absorption.
Inevitably, the progressive and nationalistic sentiments of the French Enlightenment spread to the Commonwealth and exerted pressure for change. Poniatowski's ardor for Catherine also cooled with time. A seeming opportunity to throw off Catherine's harsh embrace came about in 1789 when Frederick William II of Prussia (the nephew of Frederick the Great) offered an alliance as a counterpoise to her expansionist ambitions. Emboldened by the friendship of the Prussian state, the Commonwealth's Diet forced the expulsion of Catherine's troops who had been a galling burden for many years. The king followed by issuing a relatively liberal constitution in a further act of defiance. The document, drawn up by the Diet, strengthened and modernized the antiquated machinery of government with badly-needed reforms which had been opposed by Catherine who preferred a weak and subservient Commonwealth. Chief among these reforms was the restoration of a hereditary monarchy in place of an elective one, and the repeal of the notorious "liberum veto" by which a single member had the right to obstruct parliament's will.
As it turned out, the burst of independence from Russia was short-lived. Catherine had finally disengaged herself from a long and nagging war with Turkey which had distracted her attention from the Commonwealth. When a group of conservative nobles, critical of the liberal implications of the new Constitution, rebelled against the government in 1792, Catherine saw her chance and supported the dissidents. The king interpreted these developments as extremely grave threats not only to his rule but also to the very existence of the Commonwealth. His one hope lay in obtaining the promised help of his Prussian ally. Frederick's attention, however, was diverted by revolutionary France and he refused to honor his pledge.
Poniatowski, nevertheless, decided to resist Catherine when she sent a large army to restore her position. The king countered by appointing Kosciusko second in command to his nephew, Prince Jozef Poniatowski, who turned out to be an able military leader. The under-supplied and ill-trained troops, however, were no match for the imperial Russian forces. They escaped annihilation at the start only through an orderly retreat made possible by a skillful rearguard action carried out by Kosciusko. Regrouping themselves, the king's men subsequently defeated the Russians in a pitched battle during which Kosciusko, employing tactics similar to those at Saratoga, occupied heights from which his artillery commanded the field. Unfortunately, Prince Poniatowski and Kosciusko were unable to take advantage of this victory because of their chronic lack of material, food and trained troops. Panic-stricken, the king quickly surrendered to Catherine and the conservative party.
In the event, Frederick did send troops into Poland but not to oppose the victorious Russians. Instead he proceeded to occupy Polish-Lithuanian territory, a continuation of the age-old "Drang nach Osten" of the Germanic people. Frederick had entered into a secret pact with Catherine to help himself to the territory of a helpless country, a betrayal foreboding the one in 1939 but with the role of the jackals reversed.
In this partition, Russia seized much of the remaining territory of the Grand Duchy in the East while Prussia occupied large areas of northwestern Poland, leaving the Commonwealth with one-half the lands not taken in the first partition twenty years earlier.
At this low ebb in the nation's fortunes, Kosciusko was sent on a secret mission to Paris in January of 1793 to persuade the French revolutionaries to help avert what otherwise appeared to be the next step in the unfolding drama, the inevitable and total extinction of the Commonwealth. The anti-royalist regime in Paris had already conferred honorary citizenship upon Kosciusko because of his stand in the 1792 campaign against the Empress Catherine. Now, preoccupied in defending the life of their own revolution, the French could offer no help beyond moral support.
During this troubled period, Kosciusko frequently traveled across the numerous boundaries that criss-crossed Europe. At times he assumed other names to escape detection. On one of these journeys he displayed a wry sense of humor when he called himself Herr "Bieda", a word meaning "misfortune" in Polish
Critical of what they perceived as the king's premature surrender and his renewed servility toward Catherine, a number of military officers, including Kosciusko, resigned their commissions and fled in protest to the neighboring kingdom of Saxony. Kosciusko's inspiring leadership in 1792 and the moral force of his character now persuaded the patriots that he was ideally suited to lead the nation in the resistance they were planning to resume against Russia and Prussia.
Meanwhile, the country was seething under the humiliation of the second partition. When Russia began to force the disbanding of even the small remnant of the nation's military forces, the exiles' plotting came to a head, even though the timing was premature. In March of 1794, they returned to Cracow, Poland's ancient capital, as spontaneous uprisings flashed through the country.
On March 24, in a moment of high drama, Kosciusko took an oath as commander-in-chief in the city's marketplace where, years later, President Ford hailed him as a "hero of two worlds." In accepting the leadership of the Insurrection, including dictatorial powers, he made explicit his democratic intentions by pledging to restore authority to a civilian Diet once the fighting had ceased. Kosciusko then proclaimed an "Act of Insurrection," calling upon all the people of the Commonwealth, Poles and Lithuanians, aristocrats and gentry; peasants and townspeople, to drive out the foreigners occupying their lands. Citing grievances against Catherine and Frederick, he justified the Insurrection to countries "who know how to value liberty" and assured his countrymen of their undeniable right to resist tyranny and armed conquest. In tone and language, these sentiments echoed another people's vindication of an earlier act of rebellion.
But Kosciusko revealed a goal beyond military resistance: in this Act, he specified the people's "sacred rights to liberty, personal security and property," substituting Locke's notion of the right to property for Jefferson's "pursuit of happiness." The protection of property was important for the people of the Commonwealth in view of the widespread confiscation of homes and estates for political reasons. While acknowledging this, the newly-proclaimed leader had in mind a broader definition of the right to property. In an ensuing proclamation (the Edict of Polaniec), Kosciusko made his intent clear when he promised not only to abolish serfdom throughout the Commonwealth but also to invest the peasants with proprietary rights to the lands they tilled. Kosciusko understood that the right to possess property, in essence the right to the fruit of one's own labor, was essential for economic independence without which political freedom was meaningless. It is interesting that Lafayette, the other member of Adams' pair of "eminent foreigners," had drawn up a similar set of humanitarian principles for the French Revolution's Declaration of the Rights of Man.
By appealing to the lower classes to defend the nation and giving them for the first time a personal stake in the outcome, Kosciusko had also sought to make the Insurrection a popular movement like that of the American Revolution. His plans for social reform, however, could not be realized during the military crisis, but he did require landowners to meliorate some of the conditions of servitude as an interim measure. Just how the reforms would ultimately have been interpreted and how they would have affected the land-owning class are matters of conjecture since the opportunity to do so was lost through military defeat. Some clues are available in Kosciusko's American will, the manumission of his own serfs and later appeals along these lines to both Napoleon and Czar Alexander. Ironically, Kosciusko was faulted by the more radical elements in the Insurrection as a temporizing pragmatist and by the great families as a dangerous idealist. What is clear is that Kosciusko deliberately rejected the violent path of the French Revolution whose excesses he had seen at first hand in 1793. He restrained attempts in this direction by some of his followers and reassured a frightened Poniatows-ki that regicide would not disgrace the Insurrection.
The initial response to Kosciusko's summons to the nation was heartening. Most of the veterans of the unsuccessful campaign of 1792 joined the struggle, including Prince Jozef Poniatowski who voluntarily accepted a subordinate role. Peasants and townspeople flocked in huge numbers to his standard. By June of 1794, three months after the outbreak of the Insurrection, he commanded as many as 150,000 men according to one source, but it was an unwieldy and uncoordinated force of which only about half were armed to some extent. Another sign of weakness was the less than wholehearted support of the upper classes who feared Kosciusko's liberalism.
In the beginning, patriotic fervor and Kosciusko's military skill resulted in unexpected victories against the surprised Russians. Notable among these was the battle at Raclawice where Kosciusko's peasants, many of them armed only with scythes, routed a larger professional army in fierce hand-to-hand fighting. The memorial at Lafayette Park depicts the scythe-bearing peasants at Raclawice and the American colonists at Saratoga as symbols of the two most brilliant and vivid of Kosciusko's military exploits. After Raclawice, the commander-in-chief adopted the peasants' white cloak and cap in deference to their valorous spirit. No foreign support, however, came to Kosciusko's aid after Raclawice, unlike that of the French after Saratoga.
Enthusiasm and able leadership were not enough to sustain the momentum of early successes which included the rescue of a beleaguered Warsaw from the Prussians. Against ill-equipped volunteers and conscripts, Catherine and Frederick hurled their trained regulars in repeated and savage battles. Kosciusko continued to maneuver and fight and fight again, until, on October 10, 1794, he was overwhelmed at the small village of Maciejowice in a climactic encounter between seven thousand of his men and almost twice the number of Russians. Kosciusko was severely wounded, captured and sent to St. Petersburgh where he was imprisoned by Catherine. The injuries he had sustained enfeebled the fallen patriot for the remainder of his life.
A coincidence of the sort that so often lent a personal dimension to Kosciusko's heroics took place during his enforced conveyance to Russia. At one point, his party was some miles from the estate of the Princess Lubomirska who, hearing of her former suitor's misfortune and presence nearby, gave the defeated leader some clothes and books to comfort him and his comrades in exile.
Two years later, in December of 1796, shortly after the death of the Empress, her son, Czar Paul I, freed Kosciusko in exchange for a promise never to return to his homeland.
Although he honored this pledge, Kosciusko could not be reconciled to the Russian occupation of his country and sought every opportunity, albeit vainly, to restore the independence of the Commonwealth. Czar Paul admired the man's selfless patriotism and lavished valuable gifts upon him including a large sum of money deposited in his name in London. The liberated prisoner never availed himself of the money and distributed the gifts to friends, among them Jefferson to whom he gave a sable fur.
The tragic aftermath of Kosciusko's defeat was the third and final partition of the Commonwealth in 1795, obliterating it from the map of Europe.
A World Celebrity
Nothing as momentous as his leadership of the Insurrection of 1794 occurred during the remainder of his life. But Kosciusko had now become internationally-renowned, the underdog who had struck back at two of Europe's most powerful despots and for a brief moment had held them at bay. His humanitarian and democratic spirit had also endeared him to Europe's liberals. Historical romances, an operetta and musical pieces were composed in his honor. When he visited England after his release from Russian confinement, Kosciusko was enthusiastically acclaimed despite his earlier role in America against the British. Leading poets praised him. The Whig Club of England presented him with a costly sword which Jefferson described as an "elegant sabre, mounted in gold and...believed to cost 200 guineas." When he sailed for America, large numbers of well-wishers bade him an emotional farewell.
Kosciusko was accorded another warm welcome in Philadelphia, the young nation's capital in the summer of 1797. The Philadelphia Gazette of August 19 reported that the "illustrious defender of the rights of mankind, the brave but unfortunate Kosciusko" had been greeted by a "federal salute" and that, on landing, as a further mark of respect, the citizens who were present unhitched his carriage and insisted on pulling him to his lodgings. Washington himself paid a tribute: "I welcome you to the land whose liberties you had been so instrumental in establishing. No one has a higher respect and veneration for your character than I have." President John Adams also sent his greetings.
The home selected for his stay3 soon became a center of attraction, frequented by government officials, former Army comrades and the just plainly curious. Perhaps his most unusual visitor was one Chief Little Turtle who presented Kosciusko with a tomahawk in exchange for the latter spectacles, suggesting that the custom of American Indian chiefs calling upon celebrities is as old as the Republic itself.
One of Kosciusko's most welcome visitors soon became Thomas Jefferson, then Vice President under Adams. Both men shared a liberal idealism which for Kosciusko had been shaped in large part by the principles of the American Revolution, of which Jefferson had been one of the prime authors. Not surprisingly, the two quickly became congenial friends. Jefferson wrote at this time: "I see him often, and with great pleasure...He is as pure a son of liberty as I have known, and of that liberty which is to go to all, and not to the few or to the rich alone." Much indeed can be inferred of Kosciusko from this relationship. A considerable body of correspondence on a variety of subjects grew up between them over the next twenty years, its tone attesting to a mutual liking and respect.
Out of Kosciusko's friendship arose a curious series of events which were not concluded until more than half a century later and many years after his death. Originating from a generous impulse, the affair began when Kosciusko appointed Jefferson executor of a will authorizing the latter to employ the proceeds of Kosciusko's Revolutionary War pay in purchasing the freedom of American slaves and financing their
education or otherwise and (instructing them) ... in the duties of morality which may make them good neighbors, good fathers or mothers4, husbands or wives and in their duties as citizens teaching them to be defenders of their Liberty and of the good order of society and in whatsoever may make them happy and useful.
Both high-minded and practical, this American will illustrates in homely fashion the basic tenets of Kosciusko's social philosophy which had been proclaimed in more general terms during the Insurrection: personal freedom had to be supplemented with the means (in this case education) for earning a livelihood and also for instilling a sense of personal and civic morality. This compassionate understanding of the needs and responsibilities of society's deprived classes was summed up later when Kosciusko declared that "Liberty alone does not provide for the peasant and his family."
Unfortunately, conflicting claims to the American funds arose after his death due to Kosciusko's uncharacteristic carelessness in drawing up later wills in Europe. Undergoing protracted litigation, the bequest to Jefferson remained legally blocked until 1852 when the U.S. Supreme Court awarded the American investments to relatives in Europe, thus frustrating Kosciusko's original intent. One last piece of misfortune was that most of the funds, which had grown several times in the intervening years, were embezzled by one of the administrators.
Life in Philadelphia also had its lighter moments. Kosciusko was still a handsome figure, just over 50 years of age, wounded but not visibly disfigured, a veteran of wars on two continents whose exploits had been widely reported in the western press. It did not take long for the young female members of Philadelphia's society to become aware of the romantic celebrity in their city. Kosciusko, always partial to feminine company, made sketches of his youthful admirers, employing a talent for portraiture which he indulged in his quieter moments. One of his pieces from this period depicts a pretty, blonde-haired Miss Pollock whose portrait may be seen at the Historical Society of Philadelphia.
This pleasant existence, combining for the most part popular good will, social pleasure and intimacy with the leaders of the young American republic, was a welcome respite from the bitterness of defeat and imprisonment. It was cut short, however, by a sudden decision in May of 1798 to return to France. Escorted by Jefferson, he left late at night in a "covered carriage" for New Castle, Delaware, hardly a customary port of embarkation for Europe, bearing a passport under an assumed name arranged by the Vice President. Later correspondence suggests that Kosciusko had received information from his countrymen in Europe which convinced him that he might now be in a position to persuade the French Directory to help restore the Commonwealth. At the same time, Jefferson apparently took advantage of this opportunity to request Kosciusko to use his influence with the French revolutionaries in order to ease the serious tensions that had arisen between the French and American governments. Both objectives required a veil of secrecy because of the obviously sensitive nature of the political matters involved.
Napoleon and Alexander
Kosciusko arrived in France at a time of crisis. A series of military reverses and domestic unrest had panicked the Directory enabling Napoleon to wrest control of the government from that unstable body. Nothing, however, came of Kosciusko's expectations of assistance for his own country. Indeed, as time passed, he came to see in Napoleon a ruthless dictator whose drive to dominate Europe left no room for the revival of an independent Polish-Lithuanian state. Living in virtual retirement, he gradually disassociated himself from many of his countrymen in exile who continued to cooperate enthusiastically with Napoleon, contributing to many of the latter's costly victories.
Eventually recognizing the importance of Kosciusko as a patriotic symbol for his countrymen, Napoleon decided to seek his cooperation in return for vague hints of doing something for Poland and Lithuania. Napoleon was preparing major campaigns in 1806 against Prussia and Russia and wished to utilize the antipathy of Poles and Lithuanians for these countries. Kosciusko, however, asked for concrete assurances from Napoleon that the Commonwealth be restored to its pre-1772 boundaries, its government organized as a constitutional monarchy and the peasants liberated and allowed to possess their lands. Napoleon did not bother to respond. Instead, when he marched into Warsaw, he issued a counterfeit manifesto under Kosciusko's name calling upon the latter's countrymen to rise against their ancient enemies. Many did so eagerly. (Kosciusko was not informed of this fraud until considerably later, at which time he issued a public denial for the record.)
Following Napoleon's defeat of both the Prussians and Russians, he concluded the treaty of Tilsit in 1807 under which he forced Prussia (and later Austria) to cede parts of Poland seized in earlier partitions. These were reconstituted into the disappointingly small "Grand Duchy of Warsaw" under the king of Saxony. With but the barest pretense of autonomy, the new French protectorate was a bitter mockery of Polish trust in Napoleon. Kosciusko's refusal to use his prestige knowingly for what he perceived would be a vain sacrifice of his countrymen to Napoleon's ambitions was proven right in the event.
By March of 1814, Napoleon's fortunes had suffered a complete reversal. The allied powers occupied Paris, forcing Napoleon to abdicate. At this time occurred one of those peripheral incidents that often illuminate and humanize larger historical events. Czar Alexander I, leader of the Russian forces against Napoleon, was the son of the Czar Paul who had freed Kosciusko. Alexander, then a youth of 19, is said to have been impressed by his father's respect for the defeated general. Now, as Czar in his own right, and recognizing, as Napoleon had before him, Kosciusko's moral authority among his countrymen, Alexander sought his support for Russian policies affecting Poland and Lithuania in post-Napoleonic Europe. Harold Nicolson, in his Congress of Vienna, recounts the personal drama of the encounter between the aging hero of Raclawice and the victorious Czar, vacillating between liberal tendencies and strong imperial ambitions. Nicolson writes:
Kosciusko was at that time living in retirement...in the vicinity of Fontainbleau. The Tsar treated him with every consideration and sent a Russian guard of honor to present arms to him outside his cottage. Kosciusko replied by addressing a memorial to the Emperor in which he demanded the complete independence of Poland, a constitution on the British model, and an undertaking that all serfs would be emancipated within ten years. This was asking much. Alexander replied that 'with the assistance of the Almighty' he hoped to 'realize the regeneration of the brave and honorable country to which you belong.' Kosciusko was not convinced.
Kosciusko's proposals to the Czar were consistent with the conditions he had earlier placed before Napoleon. An additional request to the Czar not cited by Nicolson was education for the peasants at the cost of the state. Kosciusko, like Jefferson, appreciated earlier than most of his contemporaries that freedom could not be sustained without education, the basis for a skilled and politically alert citizenry.
The most thorny issue facing the allied coalition, acting through the Congress of Vienna, was the disposition of the Polish problem. At first England which had enjoyed a morally dominant position in the Congress, favored the restoration of an independent, large and viable state. The complicated territorial interests of the other three big powers (Russia, Austria and Prussia), however, interposed serious obstacles to this goal. In the end, the Congress appeased these various appetites and its collective conscience by devising a formula for an "independent" kingdom of Poland centered on Warsaw and a tiny enclave around Cracow as a "free city" under the joint protection of Austria, Russia and Prussia. "Congress" Poland, as it was derisively called by its subjects, was carved, like Napoleon's Duchy of Warsaw, out of Prussian and Austrian shares of the Commonwealth but with only three-quarters the size of even Napoleon's truncated creation. The new state was tightly linked to Russia in the person of the Czar as its hereditary monarch and cynically granted the illusion of an "independent" army and a Diet (largely reserved for the nobility) which had the right to "address petitions" to the Czar.
The charade was short-lived. Alexander appointed a Commissar as his regent and soon even the illusion of autonomy disappeared. In effect, "Congress" Poland confirmed and in some areas extended Catherine's annexations. With portions of the Commonwealth also doled out to Prussia and Austria to placate their demands, the settlement constituted a disguised fourth partition which endured a hundred years. Kosciusko's skepticism about the "Kingdom" was summed up in his shrewd observation to Jefferson that a "name does not make a nation."
Lithuania, Poland's partner in the Commonwealth, did not even have the dubious status of a "problem" for the Congress of Vienna. There was no debate about Russia's continued occupation of Lithuania, which it had absorbed at the time of Catherine's dismemberments of the Commonwealth.
Kosciusko addressed a last appeal to the Czar during the negotiations at Vienna. Taking the Czar's benign assurances about Poland to the Congress at face value, or pretending to do so, Kosciusko identified himself as a Lithuanian and requested comparable assurances for the land of his birth. There was no reply. Disillusioned, Kosciusko wrote to Jefferson that his hopes for political justice from the Congress of Vienna "had gone up in smoke." Now, a disappointed man close to 70 years of age, Kosciusko left France and retired to Solothurn in the Jura mountains of Switzerland where he died on October 15, 1817.
Several months before his death, an incident occurred that nicely wrapped up a loose end of his adventurous career, a sentimental reunion with the Princess Lubomirska.
The poignant episode is described with Victorian flourish in an issue of Harper's magazine of 1868:
Princess Lubomirska...paid him (a visit)...on her journey to Italy, and which at (Kosciusko's) request, was prolonged for several weeks. Her great powers of conversation, her amiability, and sparkling gaiety, shed a lustre of happiness over the last days of his life...The Princess sent him...a golden ring bearing the inscription 'L'amitiŽ a la vertu.'
One other incident of note took place in Switzerland. The would-be emancipator of serfs in his homeland attempted to liberate the serfs on his own estate in Lithuania and again, in a typically practical application of his principles, ceded to them the lands which they worked. An appropriate gesture to close out the life of a humanitarian liberal but one which, in a final irony, was disallowed by Alexander.
The Czar also disallowed a request by the Lithuanians to bury Kosciusko at Vilnius but did permit the Poles to transfer his remains to Cracow, the scene of his dramatic appeal to the nation in 1794. There he was buried beside the great heroes of Poland in the Wavel Cathedral. But more than this, the people themselves erected a monument, raising a hill to his memory with the soil of all the battlefields where Kosciusko had fought, in Europe and America.
1 A spelling frequently used by his American and English friends. The pronunciation may be 'approximated as
Ko-shus'-ko. The spelling ordinarily employed is the Polish "Kosciuszko."
2 From a work by Thomas Campbell, an English poet, describing incidents during the Kosciusko Insurrection of 1794.
3 At third and Pine Streets in Philadelphia, it is now an historic shrine in honor of Kosciusko maintained by the National Park Service.
4 This and subsequent misspellings are as in the original text of Kosciusko's will.