More fateful was the attitude of the Orthodox Ruthenian peasantry, who w ere divided from their Catholic Polish over-lords by centuries of religious and feudal oppression.
On the occasion of the Galician outbreak of 1845, when the Ruthenian peasantry massacred some hundreds of Polish landowners, an outbreak generally attributed to the machinations of the Austrian government, Wielopolski wrote his famous Lettre d'un gentilhomme polonais au prince de Metternich (Brussels, 1846), which caused a great sensation at the time, and in which he attempted to prove that the Austrian court was acting in collusion with the Russian in the affair.
The Czartoryscy, who were to dominate Polish politics for the next half-century, came of an ancient Ruthenian stock which had intermarried with the Jagiellos at an early date, and had always been remarkable for their civic virtues and political sagacity.
But in spite of the constant renewal of negotiations for a compromise it was impossible to arrive at any agreement, until the outbreak of war left all the projects for a Ruthenian university at Lemberg, a Slovene one in Laibach, and a second Czech one in Moravia, unrealized.
In spite of the assurances of Catherine, Russia has repeatedly persecuted the Ruthenian Uniates, in order to incorporate them into the Holy Orthodox Church; and she has occasionally taken drastic measures against the Poles, particularly after the revolts of 1830 and 1863.
Count Stadion began it in Galicia, where, before bombarding insurgent Cracow into submission (April 26), he had won over the Ruthenian peasants by the abolition of feudal dues and by forwarding a petition to the emperor for the official recognition of their language alongside Polish.
Two-thirds of the grandduchy consisted of old Russian lands inhabited by men who spoke the Ruthenian language and professed the Orthodox Greek religion, while in the north were the Lithuanians proper, semisavage and semi-catholic, justly proud of their heroic forefathers of the house of Gedymin, and very sensitive of the pretensions of Poland to the provinces of Volhynia and Podolia, the fruits of Lithuanian valour.
Beust promised them that there should be a special minister for Galicia, a separate board for Galician education, that Polish should be the language of instruction in all secondary schools, that Polish instead of German should be the official language in the law courts and public offices, Ruthenian being only used in the elementary schools under strict limitations.