Michał Kleofas Ogiński started taking part in the political life of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (PLC) immediately after he had come of age. His great-great-grandson Andrzej Zaluski in his book “Mykolas Kleopas Ogiński: life, activities and creative work” writes, “Michał Kleofas was nineteen when, in 1784, father sent him to the Little Sejm in Trakai. Before that time, six of the Ogińskis had already occupied the post of Trakai Voivode. Andrzej was the last. He was not well enough to go, so he sent Michał instead of himself.”
Ogiński became the member of the Sejm in two years, in 1786. Occupying this post in accordance with the wishes of his father, Ogiński was elected into the institution that managed state finance, the Treasury Commission of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (GDL). The king approved of this appointment. While in the Commission, Ogiński was looking into the reorganization of the customs network, prepared and presented to the Sejm his proposals regarding the improvement of the tax collection system, the building of a port in Šventoji; he also took care of other matters that concerned the improvement of the economic situation in the GDL. This work received an excellent evaluation – in 1788, Ogiński was awarded the Order of St. Stanislaus, and in 1789, the Order of the White Eagle, for his services to the state. When the Four-Year Sejm passed a resolution to increase the army, on March 2, 1789, Oginskis was granted his first military rank, captain of the 10th Banner cavalry of the GDL’s army. In the same year, he was named the Sword-bearer of the GDL.
It is not known when exactly Michał Kleofas set his sights on a diplomatic career. It might have happened after his father’s death. In 1787, he received proposals to go on diplomatic service in London, Stockholm, Constantinople, and on December 15, 1788, the Sejm offered to appoint him envoy to Saxony or Stockholm. In his “Memoires”, Ogiński writes that he declined the offer, given that Poland, at that time, had implemented too few reforms and so an envoy could not achieve much.
Ramunė Šmigelskytė-Stukienė in her book “Michał Kleofas Ogiński: a politician, diplomat, minister, and his collection of passports” (“Mykolas Kleopas Oginskis: politikas, diplomatas, ministras ir jo pasų kolekcija”; Vilnius, 2013) notes that “in March 1790, after signing a treaty of alliance with Prussia, Ogiński was appointed Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Minister of the PLC in the United Provinces of the Netherlands. The diplomatic road tookhim from Warsaw through Reichenbach, Dresden, Leipzig, Hanover to The Hague, Amsterdam and London. The Commonwealth then drew the attention of the entire of Europe due to the reforms it had started implementing. The impact made by the French Revolution, the competition of Prussia and Great Britain over the influence in the region, the intention of Prussia to occupy Gdańsk and Toruń, as well as other circumstances, turned The Hague, in summer of 1790, a centre of European diplomatic life.Possessed of broad erudition and excellent communication skills, the 25-years-old Michał Kleofas Ogiński felt like at home at this environment and soon gained success in his endeavours to gain support for the reforms of the Commonwealth. He achieved an agreement with Amsterdam bankers that brought a loan of three million florins to the Treasury of the PLC. Defending the interests of the Commonwealth, Ogiński conducted negotiations with the Ambassador of Great Britain, lord Auckland (William Eden), Prussian envoy Count Keller (Dorotheus Ludwig Christoph von Keller); he established close contacts with English envoy to Prussia, Joseph Ewart, Portuguese envoy Antonio de Araujo e Azevedo as well as other diplomats. Aware that the political course of The Hague is determined by the position of Great Britain, Ogiński, at the turn of 1790–1791, went on a diplomatic mission to London. Its main task was to ensure the political support of the government of Great Britain, and concurrently, to engage its interest in strengthening trade relations with the Republic, as well as to negotiate a trade agreement.Negotiations held in London with Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger revealed that Great Britain supports the Prussian pretensions to Polish cities Gdańsk and Toruń. Only in the case the Commonwealth had agreed to the territorial concessions, it would have been guaranteed free trade in the Baltic Sea. Given that the Commonwealth could not concur with the demand to sacrifice its territorial unity, Ogiński’s mission reached a dead end – he was not able to change the geopolitical situation in Europe. On his way from The Hague to Warsaw, Ogiński stopped in Berlin, where he had several informal meetings with the ruler, Friedrich Wilhelm II, other dignitaries of the royal environment, the Minister of Foreign Affairs Herzberg. Upon his return to Warsaw and the submission of his in-depth report, Ogiński had to resign from his post due to complicated personal circumstances – his credentials were officially revoked in December 1791.
Seeking to regain his estates, sequestered on the order of the Targowica Confederation (the Sejm opposition loyal to Russia), Ogiński was forced to seek assistance in St. Petersburg. His assets were returned on the condition that Ogiński accept the post of the Treasurer of the GDL in the government of the Republic restructuredfollowing the scenario by Catherine II, the Empress of Russia. Ogiński resigned from this post, which approximately corresponds to that of a nowadays Minister of Finance, in the first days of the Uprising of 1794, when he stepped into the ranks of insurgents.
Ogiński was one of the leaders of the uprising in Lithuania, and for the first time in his life, he participated in military action. Living in emigration after the failure of the uprising, he, together with his comrades, contributed to attempts of the restoration of the PLC, undertook important missions to Constantinople and Paris. Upon his return to Lithuania post-1802, he became adviser to the Emperor of Russia in St. Petersburg, was appointed Senator from Lithuania. At that time he drafted and submitted to the emperor a memorandum for the restoration of the GDL, in which he proposed to restore the GDL as an autonomous part of the Russian Empire. This project was not destined to be realized.