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French revolution and aftermath, 1789-1815: Part IX- The Congress of Vienna

French revolution and aftermath, 1789-1815: Part IX- The Congress of Vienna

The Congress of Vienna

  • The Congress of Vienna was an assembly in 1814–15 that reorganized Europe after the Napoleonic Wars (and defeat of Napoleon).
  • The final Act of Congress was signed on June 9, 1815.
  • France was also dealt with separately by the second treaty of Paris (1815).
  • All the European states, except Turkey, were represented.
  • Main business of the Congress was transacted by four Great Powers that were chiefly instrumental in the overthrow of Napoleon:
    • Austria:
      • Represented by Chancellor Metternich and King Francis I.
      • Metternich was the president of Congress. His influence and diplomatic ability were exerted to secure a settlement which not only promoted the interests of Austria but gave her a commanding position in Europe.
    • Prussia:
      • Represented by Frederick William III
    • Russia:
      • Represented by Czar Alexander I
      • Czar Alexander was a liberal man.
        • He granted a constitution to Finland and Poland and checked the vindictive zeal of those who sought to improve very severe terms on France.
        • He supported the abolition of slavery which England advocated.
      • But he was ill balanced and was swayed by contradictory influences. He fell under the influence of Metternich and was converted to his reactionary policy.
    • Great Britain:
      • Represented by foreign ministers Lord Castlereagh and Duke of Wellington.
      • Castlereagh and Wellington did much to harmonise conflicting interests of the Allies.
  • France was represented by foreign minister Talleyrand.
  • Immediate problems to tackle for the Vienna:
    • To redraft the political map of Europe which Napoleon had badly disfigured.
    • To isolate France by establishing a ring of strong states around her.
    • To damp her explosive political theories
    • To restore as far as possible the traditional forces of order amidst which alone her monarchical conquerors felt safe and comfortable.
    • To re-establish the balance of political power on the continent which France under Napoleon had so rudely destroyed.
  • Congress of Vienna was based in 3 principles:
    • Principle of Balance of Power (Security against French aggression):
      • France was reduced to boundaries possessed before outbreak of French Revolution (1789).
      • To pay a heavy war indemnity.
      • To maintain an allied army of occupation for 5 years.
      • To restore art-treasuries which Napoleon had brought from different countries.
      • Ring her around with strong states. So:
        • Belgium, which was previously an Austrian province was joined with Holland in north.
        • Prussia was given territories on the Rhine in east.
        • The kingdom of Sardinia-Piedmont was strengthened by acquisition of Genoa.
    • Principle of legitimacy:
      • By French diplomat Talleyrand in order to save France from territorial spoliation.
      • He used it with great skill to retrieve by diplomacy the position of influence which France had lost on the battle field.
      • The principle means that the only valid title to sovereignty consists in long possession, with European recognition/ It thus denied the validity of the changes made by Napoleon and also the rights of the people to change their rulers.
      • It thus exactly suited the demands of the reactionary sovereigns and was supported by them (like Austria).
      • According to this principle:
        • The rule of Bourbons was restored in France, Spain and Naples.
        • The rule of House of Savoy was restored in Sardinia-Piedmont.
        • The rule of House of Orange was restored in Holland.
        • Pope was restored to his temporal possession in central Italy.
        • German princes were restored whose territories was included by Napoleon in Confederation of Rhine.
        • Swiss Confederation was restored and neutrality of Switzerland was guaranteed by Powers.
    • Principle of compensation to the victors:
      • In many cases, the principle of legitimacy was compromised to compensate victors at the cost of defeated party.
        • Norway was torn from Denmark (it had joined Napoleon) and given to Sweden (it had supported allied) by way of compensation for latter’s cession of Finland to Russia and Swedish Pomerania to Prussia.
        • Saxony (which had supported Napoleon) surrendered a large portion of territory to Prussia.
        • Russia:
          • secured Poland, Finland (from Sweden) and some Bessarabia (from Turks).
        • Prussia:
          • obtained Swedish Pomeria and some Polish territory, 40% of Saxony and part of Rhine.
        • Austria:
          • Received Venetia and Lombardy as compensation for the loss of Belgium.
          • She also got some area from Bavaria and Illyrian provinces and coast of Adriatic.
          • These gains couples with the fact that restored rulers of Parma, Modema and Tuscany belonged to the Hapsburg dynasty, gave Austria a commanding position in Italy.
        • England:
          • She got
            • Malta, Ionian Island in Europe,
            • Trinidad from Spain,
            • Ceylon and Cape of Good Hope from Holland.
          • So she became great colonial power.
      • Germany was made a loose confederation of 39 states, as Metternich did not want a united Germany and selfishness and jealousy of German princes who were not willing to surrender their independence and merge their states into a united Germany.
  • Criticism of Vienna settlement:
    • The Vienna Congress ignored the forces of the time
      • The diplomats in Vienna Congress ignored popular sentiments and made a settlement that did not stand the test of the time.
      • There was little that was permanent and much that was temporary.
        • It is usually pointed out that the history of the nineteenth century is mainly concerned with the undoing of the work of the Vienna Congress.
      • The real charge that may be brought against the monarchs of Vienna is that they ignored the challenge of the French Revolution.
      • They willfully shut their eyes to the new forces of democracy and nationalism which the French Revolution had let lose all over the Europe.
      • They calmly set aside all national considerations in order to secure the balance of power and dynastic interests.
      • True to the traditions of Old Regime, they thought in terms of dynasties and states and proceeded once more to treat the European peoples as so many pawns in the game of dynastic aggrandizement.
        • That was why the aspirations of the people of Germany were ignored and the princes were left all powerful there,
        • that was why the Italian states were handed over to the domination of Austria,
        • that was why Belgium was yoked to an uncongenial partner (holland) and Norway joined to Sweden.
      • In each case the newly awakened national aspirations were ignored.
      • Thus, the autocrats of Vienna set themselves against the new forces of the age. It was the failure to gauge the potential strength of the new forces that betrayed their lack of insight and constituted the chief defect in their work.
    • Other criticism:
      • The diplomats ignored popular sentiments and disregarded sentiment of nationalism.
      • Principle of legitimacy was not for all.
      • Disrespect paid to the views of smaller states.
  • Criticism of the Vienna Congress has been unduly harsh:
    • It is on this ground that the work of the Congress has been strongly criticised and often with undue harshness. But it should be noted, as Ketelby remarks, “it is given to few Congress to legislate for a century.”
    • The diplomats of Vienna were not prophets and could not be expected to provide against remote contingencies.
    • Their settlement has at least secured peace for forty years.
    • Besides, the diplomats were handicapped by previous pledges and treaties by which they had agreed to restore many of the rulers and to compensate others.
      • Hence they had to adopt the principles of legitimacy and compensation.
      • But it was hypocritical not to extend the doctrine of legitimacy to republics like Venice and Genoa. Both of them had a longer and more glorious life of independence than many monarchies, but both were extinguished in the supposed interest of securing North Italy against French aggression.
  • Vienna Congress accomplished certain accomplished facts:
    • Arrangements of Vienna embodied the profound changes in political relationships and values which had taken place during the previous twenty years. In other words, they recognised certain important changes that had taken place in their relative position of the Powers and gave effect to certain tendencies which were already at work.
      • Thus Russia was recognised as a great power, and her aggrandizement and intrusion into the affairs of Western Europe were acknowledged.
      • The decline of the European importance of Sweden was registered by the abandonment of her trans-Baltic ambitions. The loss of Western Pomerania made her a mere Scandinavian power with very little influence in Europe.
      • The changes made by Napoleon in Germany were recognised.
      • The Holy Roman Empire disappeared and the number of the German states were considerably reduced.
  • The Vienna settlement contained the seed of momentous development:
    • Some of the territorial readjustments were pregnant with important consequences.
    • Unification of Italy:
      • The strengthening of the Kingdom of Sardinia by the addition of Genoa stimulated the House of Savoy towards the fulfillment of its Italian mission.
      • Hence an unconscious step was taken towards Italian unity.
    • Unification of Germany:
      • The acquisition of the Rhine lands by Prussia was an important step towards Prussianisation of Germany. Henceforth she, and not Austria, became the champion of Germany against France.
      • Austria by abandoning her outpost on the west in exchange for Italian possessions, and by relinquishing the duty of guarding the Rhine frontier, became a non-German power with important interest outside Germany.
      • The result was that she came to neglect German interests.
      • It was this policy which eventually led to her expulsion from Germany and the unification of that country under the dominant leadership of Prussia.
    • Thus, two of the most remarkable achievements of the nineteenth century- unification of Italy and Germany- had their germs in the work of the Vienna Congress.

Holly Alliance and Concert of Europe

  • The Congress of Vienna had sealed triumph of reaction. It restored pre-revolutionary conditions as far as possible.
  • The Vienna treaties were entrusted to the collective guarantees of the Powers, but past experience had convinced them of the necessity of having some sort of machinery for closer international co-operation in the interest of European peace. Two schemes were put forward:
  • Holly Alliance:
    • It was sponsored by Czar Alexander of Russia, who under the impulse of generous nature, wanted to spiritualise politics by calling upon his brother monarchs to act upon christian principles.
    • Its objects were to promote peace and goodwill by bringing christianity in public life.
    • All the potentates of Europe, except the Pope and Sultan, were invited to sign the document and all did so except prince regent of England but nobody except Czar took it seriously.
    • It was ‘piece of sublime mysticism and nonsense. Metternich called it a “loud sounding nothing”.
    • Holy Alliance attached to European System between 1815 and 1825, but its basic conceptions were never applied to contemporary politics.
    • Significance:
      • Holy Alliance was open to all countries, great or small, and amounted in vague way to a true league of European Nations.
      • In future it bore a riper fruit in the great international peace movement which began with hague Conference of 1899.
    • The Holy Alliance was the hobby of Czar Alexander I and it came to an end with his death in 1825. It was not a treaty, it was in nature of pious wish inspired by dreamy idealism of Alexander I.
  • Quadruple Alliance:
    • A more positive and practical policy was necessary to safeguard the Vienna settlement with the collective guarantee of Powers.
    • So, Quadruple Alliance was signed in November 1815 by big 4 Powers: Russia, Prussia, Austria and Britain.
    • Objects:
      • Maintenance of treaties with France.
      • Preservation of political stability of Europe.
      • Friendly relations amongst 4 sovereigns for the welfare of the world.
      • It was also agreed that signatory Powers should meet from time to time in diplomatic congresses to discuss any problem which might arise. This proposal for periodic meetings constituted Concert of Europe or Congress System.
      • The years that followed Quadruple Alliance have been called the Age of Congresses.
    • Under guidance of Metternich, the Quadruple Alliance virtually established a dictatorship of Great powers and suppressed liberalism thus came into conflict with the new forces of nationality and democracy.
  • Concert of Europe or Congress System:
    • The Concert of Europe, formed after the Congress of Vienna in the post-Napoleonic era, was a system of dispute resolution adopted by the major conservative powers of Europe to:
      • maintain their power,
      • oppose revolutionary movements,
      • weaken the forces of nationalism, and
      • uphold the balance of power.
    • It was mainly devised by the ‘Big Four’- Austria, Russia, Prussia and England.
    • It inaugurated the system of diplomacy by conference as distinguished from old system of individual diplomacy. It was a new experiment in internationalism.
    • It assumed the responsibility and right of the great powers to intervene and impose their collective will on states threatened by internal rebellion.
      • The Congress recognised the predominant interest of Austria in Italy and therefore authorised Austria to suppress the revolt in Naples (1820).
      • In Spain it authorised France to suppress the revolt (1822) as both were ruled by Bourbon family.
      • Hence the powers suppressed uprisings in Italy (1820) and Spain (1822) but later condoned Belgium’s rebellion and proclamation of independence (1830).
    • Causes of the failure of Concert of Europe:
      • The Concert of Europe as an agency for international co-operation broke up mainly on two rocks, one divergence of principles and the other of the mutual jealousy of the Powers.
      • Divergence of principles:
        • From the very beginning, England set her face against the principle of intervention in the internal affairs of other States to suppress revolutions adopted by the Congress of Troppau in 1820 under influence of Metternich.
        • Hence when she could not prevent France from intervening in Spain, she withdrew from the Congress which was subsequently held at Verona.
        • England’s Withdrawal dealt a deathblow to the Concert.
        • England, with her parliamentary institutions, could not be expected to work in harmony with the three autocratic Powers who had converted the European Concert into a “league to bind Europe in chains.”
        • England’s attitude was thus a stand against the dictatorship of the Great Powers which the Concert had established under Metternich‘s guidance.
        • The Concert for the preservation of peace and order soon degenerated into a clique for the preservation of autocracy.
        • Metternich‘s principle of status qua became closely identified with tyranny, stagnation and reaction. Hence his system of diplomacy by congresses became thoroughly discredited.
      • Mutual jealousy of the Powers:
        • As the outlook of the Powers differed, so also their interest. This gave rise to jealousies which it was found impossible to overcome.
        • A Concert implies a common bond of union and a community of interest, without which it is sure to break in pieces.
          • But in no sphere of activity, political or commercial or in constitutional outlook, was to be found any community of purpose or interest.
          • Each power had its own sphere of interest which it guarded with extreme Jealousy and in which it would not tolerate joint action.
        • In brow-beating the weaker states, the members of European Concert acted in harmony:
          • For e.g.checkmated the territorial ambition of Bavaria, gave lecture to the ruler of Monaco as to how he should see to the better government of his principality.
        • But when questions arose involving their own conflicting interest, it was found difficult to overcome mutual jealousies and to take concerted action.
          • Thus England would not consent to joint action in suppressing the Barbary pirates for fear of admitting Russian ships into Mediterranean.
          • England would not also allow European intervention in bringing back the rebellious South American colonies of Spain to Spanish allegiance, lest her commercial interests in that region were jeopardized.
          • The other Powers, therefore, refused to give England authority to search the seas for the suppression of the slave-trade, lest she would utilise the position to steal a march upon them.
          • When the Greeks broke into revolt against Turkey, Czar look upon the Turkish question as coming naturally within the sphere of Russian politics, and demanded isolated action in Turkey, similar to that Metternich had done in Italy.
            • But as Austria was Russia’s rival in the Balkans, Metternich was determined to prevent Russian interference in the affairs of Greece.
            • In this he was supported by Great Britain, the ever-watchful enemy of Russia in the Near East.
            • Hence Metternich succeeded in checking Russian action and in shelving the Greek question.
        • England strongly opposed the policy of any intervention in Spain, and when France obtained a mandate from the other Powers to suppress the Spanish revolt (the appeal of Spanish King Ferdinand VII to French King for help was a appeal of a Bourbon king to another Bourbon king and looked like the revival of the old Bourbon Family Compact, and so made England uneasy), England withdrew from the Congress and European Concert broke up.
        • England now took up an independent line of action. She had eyed with the great jealousy the extension of the French influence in Spain, and now she feared that France might help Spain to recover the rebellious South American colonies. In that case a lucrative trade would be closed to Great Britain.
        • Britain was determined that if France was to dominate Spain, it must be Spain without colonies. Hence she recognised the independence of Spanish colonies in America, with British Prime Minister boasting that he had called a New World into existence to redress the balance of the old.
        • Britain found a valuable ally in President Monroe of the USA.
      • Monroe doctrine:
        • Monroe feared that any attempt to extend the dictatorship of powers to the New World would endanger American social and political institutions.
        • So he issued a declaration in 1823 warning European powers against interfering in American affairs and acquiring further territories in American continent.
          • It stated that further efforts by European nations to take control of any independent state in North or South American would be viewed as “the manifestation of an unfriendly disposition towards the United States”.
          • This is called Monroe doctrine which became a United States policy of opposing European colonialism in the Americas.
        • Monroe doctrine gave a death blow to the Concert of Europe. It clearly warned European powers against intervention in affairs of American Spanish colonies which soon slipped away from the hands of Spain.
      • Lack of democracy:
        • Concert of Europe was dominated by a few selected powers.
      • The Concert was largely a by-product of the Napoleonic wars, the fruit of a common uprising against a common enemy. When this common enemy was overcome it lost its unity and cohesion, and the nations returned to their individual diplomacy on the principles of the Balance of Power.
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