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Congress Of Vienna



  • With the defeat of Napoleon in the final battle of Waterloo, Prince Metternich the Chancellor of Austria convened the Congress of European Power in Vienna. It was the first meet of its kind in the diplomatic history of Modern Europe wherein all the concerned powers affected by Napoleonic wars attended. Kings, Prime Ministers and diplomats from several countries came to Vienna and participated in the discussions which were held over several days.

Role of Prince Metternich

  • Prince Metternich, a diplomat par excellence, set upon himself the task of undoing the work of Napoleon. He wanted to remake the map of Europe on the basis of two important principles (a) the principle of legitimacy and (b) the principle of compensation. All the representatives along with Metternich opposed the idea of revolutions and upheld the cause of royal absolutism and efficacy of the old order.

The Principle of Legitimacy

  • Napoleon had dethroned many kings of Europe and the peacemakers decided to restore them to their original positions. Accordingly, Bourbon monarchies were restored to France, Spain and the kingdom of the two Sicilies. Louis XVIII, who had fled France on the return of Napoleon from Elba, became the king of France.

The Principle of Compensation

  • France was found guilty beyond all doubt but her new foreign minister, Talleyrand, argued that his country should not be punished for what Napoleon did. In the end the allies decided that France should surrender all the territories she had acquired after 1792. For this purpose, Austria was made strong with new additions. She got the Italian provinces of Lombardy and Venice in addition to illyria. She also got the control of the Confederation of the German States. Russia continued to retain Finland. Prussia received Pomerania and a part of Saxony as her share of spoils. Britain received Malta, Ceylon, Trinidad, Heligoland, Mauritius and the Cape of Good Hope.

Alliance Systems  | CONGRESS OF VIENNA 

  • The leading powers of Europe, Austria, Prussia, Russia and Britain entered into an alliance-the Quadruple Alliance. It was directed against France. The representatives of the Quadruple Alliance agreed to hold meetings at regular intervals to consider measures for “the maintenance of peace in Europe.” Czar Nicholas I proposed the Holy Alliance. He appealed to all the Christian rulers of Europe to join his proposed alliance.

Spirit of Nationalism Suppressed

  • States became mere pawns on the chessboard and the peace makers moved them from place to place. In their enthusiasm to encircle France with powerful neighbours so as to keep her on constant check, Austria was made strong at the expense of Italy and Germany. Catholic Belgians came under Protestant Dutch rule and the unwilling Norwegians came to be controlled by Sweden.

Subsequent Developments (The Era of Metternich 1815-48) | CONGRESS OF VIENNA 

  • German and Italian states frequently arose in revolt to liberate themselves from Austrian clutches. National movements everywhere started in protest against the Vienna settlement. Metternich considered democracy and nationalism to be dangerous to the Vienna settlement (which basically was a parcelling of territories among the victorious powers after the battle of Waterloo). He launched a crusade against all the liberal tendencies with the help of other rulers of Europe and oppressed all the demands for constitutions and parliaments. He declared that democracy could “change daylight into darkest night” and the ideas of French revolution as “the volcano which must be extinguished”.
  • Even though majority of European population was restive, but to the credit of the peacemakers (people of the Vienna Congress’), there was no war for the next 60 years in Europe, other than the war of Crimea. This is usually called as The Concert of Europe which basically was an attempt by the statesmen of the Big Four (Britain, Russia, Prussia and Austria) to maintain peace and ensure security. Its attempt may be equated with that of the League of Nations which was established roughly a century later.
  • In 1818, France was offered to join the Concert, which it did. In 1820, there were revolts in Spain, Portugal, Italy, Germany and in parts of Britain. Congress came to the conclusion that intervention by the Big Four could be justified in a country where revolts were taking place. Britain tried to reduce the scope of intervention but this was the time when Metternich shrewdly incorporated full intervention. This was the beginning of Britain’s disillusionment when it felt Metternich misusing the powers of the Concert. This was the first nail in the coffin of the Congress’ system. This is sometimes called as Britain’s era of ‘splendid isolationism’.
  • In 1822, Greek War of independence and Spanish Revolt led to a situation where Austria, Prussia and Russia accepted French efforts to quell the revolt in Spain on the basis of distress call received by the Spanish aristocracy. This was when Britain vehemently opposed any meddling into the internal affairs of any state and withdrew totally from the Congress thereby driving the final nail into the coffin of the Congress.
  • The first step towards German unification was taken by Napoleon himself when he unwittingly created the ‘Rhine State Federation’. From 300 or so small kingdoms, 38 states, came into being and formed the German Diet. After Napoleon’s defeat and Vienna Congress’ the German diet continued in existence under the control and presidentship of Austria. Unfortunately the German diet did not entirely represent the peoples’ aspirations since it consisted of representatives of many rulers who were jealous and suspicious of one another.
  • The German unity was in itself a big question with disunion, discord and, in the case of certain eventualities, even civil war. The origin of national movement can be traced to societies of students (Burschenschaft). These societies tried to achieve their goal by organising cultural activities in which the university teachers and students participated. When their activities started stirring the public, especially the students in most of the universities, Metternich pressed upon the German diet to pass laws effectively bringing the entire educational system under police vigilance. Metternich suppressed all student societies, gagged the press, appointed curators to watch classroom lectures in German Universities and persecuted German intellectuals.
  • His dictatorial behaviour provoked German writers, philosophers, historians and poets. While the diet’s laws brought about the iron rule of Austria and stamped out nationalism, Germany witnessed the birth of economic nationalism. A customs union (Zollverein) formed in 1819 with Prussia as the leader and the founder, aimed at the free flow of trade inside the German territory helped it to become a liberal economic entity. By 1822 many German states had joined the customs union. In time, even Holland, Belgium and Britain signed treaties with Prussia’s customs union thereby bringing forth a rapid economic and commercial transformation. Profits from this venture resulted in construction of railways and banks. This brought about the economic unity of the Germans. Austria did not join the Zollverein.
  • The July Revolution of 1830 in France had its impact on Germany. People demanded constitutions in almost all the German states. From 1840, Metternich faced problems to get all his plans approved by the new Austrian emperor. Similarly, in Prussia the new emperor Frederick William IV introduced a limited era of liberalism with the granting of a constitution which provided for a parliament. But this spell of liberalism ended suddenly with the Prussian king reversing his earlier stand. He dissolved the parliament which was pressing him for more political reforms. During this time, the Orleans Monarchy fell in France and paved the way for more revolutions in central Europe. In 1848, a new parliament (Vorparliament) was elected at Frankfurt and the king appointed a liberal ministry to govern the kingdom to appease his rebellious subjects and observed “henceforth Prussia is merged in Germany”. The Vorparliament ordered elections for a new National Assembly. The National Assembly offered the crown of Germany to Frederick William IV of Prussia in March 1849 which was rejected by the king. The king felt that the crown must have been offered by German princes and not by a revolutionary assembly. The Republican party in Prussia was suppressed by the Prussian troops. The efforts of Frankfurt’ National Assembly to restore German unity ended in a failure.  CONGRESS OF VIENNA



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