The Congress of Vienna was the assembly of Victors who defeated Napoleon first in the battle of Leipzig in 1813and then in the battle of Waterloo in 1815. As the name suggests it was organized in Austrian capital city of Vienna, under the chairmanship of Austrian Chancellor Metternich. The main objective of the Congress was to restore the map of the Europe disturbed by the forces of revolution and Napoleonic wars.
Napoleon had changed the political map of Europe within a short period. He had taken away territories from many states to add them to some states and to create some new states. After his overthrow, it was decided by the victor powers to restore the political map of Europe in such a way that peace can be ensured in entire Europe. The work of Congress started when Napoleon was exiled after his defeat in battle of Leipzig and finally completed in 1815 after the defeat of Napoleon in battle of Waterloo.
There were serious differences among the victors regarding the fate of Poland and Saxony. Prussia wanted to annex whole of Saxony in exchange for the Polish territories she was surrendering to Russia. Russia was also supporting Prussia since she will be benefitted by getting large portions of Poland. But Metternich was opposed to this idea since he was averse to allow Prussia so large an extension near Austrian borders. Britain and France supported Metternich in his stand on the issue. This issue lingered on and in early 1815 Austria, Britain and France formed a defensive alliance to counter the claims of Prussia and Russia. This step resulted in Russia and Prussia backing away from their demands and in the end Prussia secured only two-fifths of the Saxony.
The Vienna Settlement was based on the three principles, viz., balance of powers, restoration of legitimate rule and compensation to the victors.
Principle of Balance of Powers
The principle of balance of power was used by Congress of Vienna to ensure that in future no single nation would be too powerful to disturb the peace of Europe at will.
In accordance with this principle, the French borders were put to 1791 position and France was surrounded by a ring of powerful states to check French aggression from all the directions.
Prussia was strengthened by giving territories on river Rhine.
To enlarge and strengthen the kingdom of Sardinia, Savoy and Piedmont were restored and Genoa and Nice were added.
Austrian Netherland, was joined with Holland to create another powerful entity.
Principle of Restoration
The principle of restoration of legitimate rule was adopted to restore the dynasties displaced by forces of revolution and by Napoleonic wars. It was also decided to restore boundaries of several states, as far as possible, as they were before the advent of the French Revolution.
The rule of Bourbon dynasty was re-established in France, Spain, and Naples-Sicily.
House of Orange was restored in Holland.
House of Savoy (King of Sardinia) was restored in Piedmont and Sardinia.
Pope was restored in Papal States in Central Italy.
The various German princes whose territories had been included by Napoleon in the Confederation of the Rhine were also restored to their territories.
The Swiss Confederation was also restored.
Tyrol was restored to Austria. The right of Austria to the Austrian Netherlands was recognised. However, to create a stronger state on the northern frontier of France, the Austrian Netherland was given to Holland.
Members of the Hapsburg family were restored in the Italian states of Parma, Modena and Tuscany.
Principle of Compensation
Principle of compensation to the victors was adopted to redistribute the territory of Europe among victors. So, in addition to territorial provisions made under ‘balance of powers’ after applying compensation principles the final territorial gains of nations were:
Prussia was given all the German territories which had been taken away from her by Napoleon. Prussia was also given Swedish Pomerania, two-fifths of Saxony, most of Rhineland and whole of Westphalia (Prussia was given these territories to act as bulwark against any future French aggression).
Most of the Grand Duchy of Warsaw, Finland (taken away from Sweden) and Bessarabia (taken away from Ottoman Empire) were given to Russia.
Norway was taken from Denmark and given to Sweden to compensate her loss of Finland and Swedish Pomerania (Denmark was punished on account of her alliance with Napoleon for a long time).
As compensation for Austrian Netherlands which was given to Holland, Lombardy and Venetia were given to Austria. Austria also got the Illyrian provinces along with eastern coast of the Adriatic. Austrian control over the German states was re-established by creating Confederation of German States. Austria also recovered her Polish possessions.
Great Britain was compensated with Malta, Ceylon, the Cape of Good Hope colony, and Dutch Guiana taken away from Holland. That is why Holland was given Austrian Netherlands.
Congress of Vienna: A Critical Analysis
In the name of legitimacy France was restored but she was hemmed in by the Netherlands, Prussia and Piedmont- Sardinia. Austria replaced France and emerged as the new leader of Continental Europe.
The main objective of the participants was to restore peace in Europe and to put an end to the age of warfare. The principle of compromise was applied wherever possible and that is why not a very harsh treaty was imposed on France. In comparison, France was not held responsible for the actions of Napoleon. French frontiers were not changed drastically and in fact they were only restricted to as they were in 1790.
In the first treaty neither war indemnity was asked from France nor was she asked to return art works stolen from other areas by Napoleon. Even when Napoleon was defeated second time in 1815, very mild treaty was imposed. The signing of the treaty took place on November 20, 1815. In this second treaty, an indemnity of seven hundred million francs was awarded to the Allies and 240 million francs were awarded to private creditors.
France also had to pay for the upkeep for the Allied Army of Occupation in Northern France. The period of Allied occupation was cut short in 1818 when France paid off war indemnity. France was also asked to return arts which Napoleon had plundered from other countries , although it was not imposed strictly and only some art treasures taken by Napoleon were returned to their original owners.
It is true that Second Peace of Paris was harsher than the first treaty but it was still a generous peace. Neither indemnity nor occupation payments were as heavy as they could be; because France had suffered lesser devastation than what other countries had suffered from Napoleonic Wars. The decisions made were probably wise, because France did not attempt to expand or regain territories and once again became a part of the European system.
Russia gained immensely out of the arrangements made at the Congress of Vienna and it started taking an active part in the affairs of Western Europe and continued to do so till her defeat in the Crimean War. The reduced number of German states later helped the cause of German Unification. The newly strengthened kingdoms of Russia and Sardinia were to help the cause of unification of Germany and Italy.
Defects of settlement by Congress of Vienna
Destruction of Liberal and Progressive Ideas
The most fundamental among them was its efforts to destroy the liberal and progressive ideas of the age. The leaders of the Vienna Congress had tried to wipe out the ideas of the age of enlightenment popularized by the success of French revolution of 1789 because these ideas were completely against the interests of the old order. They repudiated the influence and example of revolutionary French democracy.
Victorious powers talked about the “rights, freedom, and independence of all nations”, but they did not want to honour every demand of nationalism. They were determined to prevent another European war that is why they were more interested in maintaining balance of power and did not averse to sacrifice nationalist aspirations of people at the altar of European peace. Because of these reasons, Congress of Vienna neglected nationalist aspirations of the Poland, Belgium and yoked Norway to Denmark. Vienna Congress ignored nationalist movements of Poles, the Spaniards, the Italians and the Germans.
March Against Change
Another defect of the settlement was that instead of moving with under currents of the age, the Vienna Congress tried to march against the winds of change (nationalist aspirations, government based on ideas of French Revolution etc.). As a result of this, the union of Holland and Belgium lasted only 15 years, till 1830.
The Italian and German settlement survived only about 50 years and Polish settlement till the end of World War I. This temporary nature of territorial adjustments was result of unnatural unions. Take the example of Holland and Belgium merger. Holland was democratic, Protestant and Teutonic. Belgium was conservative, Catholic and the majority of her people spoke the French language. No wonder people of Belgium opposed this merger and got their independence in 1830.
Similarly, the union of Russia and Finland was dissolved in 1917 when Russian Revolution succeeded and that of Sweden and Norway in 1905. German settlement and Confederation was destroyed by Bismarck and same was done with Italian settlement by Count Cavour.
Against the Aspirations of Masses
The works of the Congress of Vienna were against the aspirations of the masses. The hopes of the liberals were frustrated. The people had supported their rulers with the hope of getting liberty and equality but the old monarchies had no intentions to rule as per ideas of enlightenment and re-imposed a despotic order based on class privileges.
The rulers who were restored by the Vienna Settlement set up reactionary regimes in their countries and there was repression everywhere. This was particularly true in Spain and Naples where the Bourbons were restored. Metternich himself tried to police Europe although resources at his disposal were inadequate to do so efficiently in entire Europe. It also stretched Austria beyond her capacity and later resulted in creating bad blood between Austria and liberals, nationalists of neighbouring countries.
Wherever liberalism raised its head , it was crushed. The Protocol of Troppau helped the European States to interfere in the internal affairs of other States. In Metternich’s words, European people want peace not the liberty.
These suppressed aspirations erupted with a volcanic force in the form of revolutions of 1830 and 1848. These revolutions were able to change the face of the old regimes to a great extent. The remnants were wiped out by the processes of Italian and German unification. The Italians and Germans fought hard to satisfy their nationalist aspirations and finally succeeded in creating the united nation for themselves. That is why it is commented that history of nineteenth century is the history of undoing cardinal errors of Congress of Vienna.
Vienna Congress and End of Old Age
The age of revolution was declared closed with defeat of Napoleon and France again turning a Monarchy. The map of Europe was also redrawn to erase the effects of revolution from the political conscience of Europe. The age of revolution did result in many wars in Europe and removal of old seated monarchies. But, after the Vienna Congress this age of wars came to an end. Dynasties replaced by the Napoleon were restored in their respective countries.
An era of political uncertainties largely came to an end and next war fought in Europe was four decades after the Congress on Vienna. Hence it has been said that with Congress of Vienna (old) age of revolution came to an end.
Beginning of New Age
Congress of Vienna has unconsciously carried out certain arrangements responsible for the revolutionary transformations in future. Italian states of Piedmont and Sardinia was strengthened by giving Genoa and now the King of Sardinia could aspire to lead the process of unification of Italy. King Charles Albert could not succeed in 1848 but his son Victor Immanuel-ll carried out Italian unification successfully during 1860s.
The Confederation was formally created by a second treaty, the Final Act of the Ministerial Conference to Complete and Consolidate the Organization of theGerman Confederation. This treaty was not concluded and signed by the parties until 15 May 1820. The Austrian Empire and the Kingdom of Prussia were the largest and the most powerful members of the Confederation. It is interesting to remember that large parts of both countries were not included in the Confederation, because neither they had been part of the former Holy Roman Empire, nor had the greater parts of their armed forces been incorporated in the federal army.
As per the treaty, it was decided that there would be a Diet (federal assembly) at Frankfurt which has to consist delegates from the sovereign German states. Austria and Prussia each had one vote in the Federal Assembly.
All states were not given separate voting rights. Austria was the head of the German Confederation and Austrian delegate used to preside the Federal Assembly. The member states were forbidden to enter into an alliance with foreign power either against the Confederation as a whole or against one or more fellow members.
The Holy Alliance is the name of the treaty signed on September 26, 1815, in Paris by the monarchs of Austria, Prussia, and Russia. It was brainchild of Alexander I who was encouraged to put forward his scheme of Holly Alliance due to his increased influence in Europe after the overthrow of Napoleon. Czar Alexander I was a visionary, a mystic, a man of moods and unstable imagination. He also had liberal views because of the influence of his Swiss tutor.
Czar wanted that rulers of the European States should apply the principles of Christianity in their dealings with one another and with their peoples. As per the treaty they have to regard their subjects as their children. He wanted to spiritualise politics so that earth could be forever get rid of the scourge of war. He intended to set up a General Council or Senate consisting of 66 delegates from the different countries whose duty was to settle disputes and maintain the peace of Europe. Russia, Austria and Prussia made the required declaration but the declaration was not observed in actual practice. The Holy Alliance was an attempt to apply the principles of morality in the field of international diplomacy. The alliance lasted until the Crimean war (1853-1856). According to some Holy Alliance helped to prevent Prussia and Austria from fighting against Russia in the Crimean War. Otto von Bismarck managed to reunite the Holy Alliance after the unification of Germany but the alliance again faltered by the 1880s over the eastern question.
Great Britain refused to subscribe to the principle of the Holy Alliance. Metternich looked upon it as “a loud-sounding nothing” or “moral demonstration.” The practical importance of the Holy Alliance was negligible.
Its principles were never put into practice. However, the people of Europe confused the Holy Alliance with the Quadruple Alliance and as the Quadruple Alliance was used for the purpose of suppressing nationalism and liberalism everywhere in Europe, the Holy Alliance was also condemned and was regarded as a symbol of reaction, a league of princes against their peoples and a conspiracy against liberalism. However, the attitude of the various Powers towards the Holy Alliance showed that there was no unanimity of purpose among the Powers and there was every possibility of their falling out if circumstances so required.
Concert of Europe
The Vienna Congress restored the pre-revolutionary conditions as far as possible. However, the fear of revolution did not allow European powers to rest until they had devised means to secure permanence of the Vienna settlement. The idea of a Concert of Europe was suggested by the Austrian Chancellor, Kaunitz, in 1971; Quadruple Alliance was formed on 20 November 1815 by Great Britain, Austria, Prussia and Russia.
The objective of Quadruple Alliance was maintenance of the treaties, signed with France, and consolidations of relations between these four powers. The powers also decided to hold periodical meetings. The task was cut off for the Alliance and it was maintenance of the order created by Vienna Congress and to tackle any challenge, which could disturb European peace, together. It was in this way that the Concert of Europe was formed.
This system of diplomacy by conference was the most interesting experiment of Nineteenth century. On different occasions members of European Concert met and in these meetings the dominating personality was the Austrian Chancellor, Metternich. However, the Concert of Europe broke up in 1823 after holding four conferences.
Congress of Aix-la-Chapelle (1818)
This was the first Congress under the above system. This Congress marked the Zenith of the system by which the Allied powers endeavoured to establish a joint control over the affairs of all continental States. In this meeting, the Congress was recognized as the Supreme Council of Europe. In this Congress, it was decided to withdraw Allied Army of Occupation from France on account of her payment of whole of war indemnity. It was in this Congress that it was decided to admit France into concert of Europe. Thus, Quadruple Alliance was further extended by the inclusion of the French State.
In this Congress, certain differences arose among the Powers which only increased with time. Some differences which emerged among nations were: question of bringing back the rebellious colonies of Spain in South America under Spanish rule, suppression of slave trade, menace of Barbary Pirates in Mediterranean etc. In his meeting, Czar Alexander I proposed that a declaration should be signed by all the powers guaranteeing the existing territorial boundaries and also the rights of sovereign princes. It wanted to establish universal guarantee of the status quo which in turn would have resulted in the systematic suppression of nationalism, liberalism and constitutionalism in Europe. This scheme could not be succeeded because Great Britain opposed it vehemently.
The question was whether the Powers had any right to intervene in the internal matters of a State merely on the ground that the status quo had been upset in a particular country. The principle of intervention in the internal affairs of other state was, however, accepted in 1820 by the Congress of Troppau in spite of protests of Great Britain.
Congress of Troppau (1820)
The second Congress met at Troppau in 1820. In 1820, revolutions had broken out in Naples, Spain, and Portugal which had forced their rulers to grant liberal constitutions to the people. Great powers were unanimous in condemning the revolutions but differed in steps to be taken to deal with the situation.
Russia offered armed assistance to the Spanish king but Metternich did not approve the action because of his fear of Russian aggrandisement. Situation in Naples was considered to be more urgent problem than others and consequently it was this revolt that occupied Congress of Troppau. Special interest of Austria (Venetia and Lombardy were part of Austrian empire. Parma, Modena and Tuscany were ruled by members of Hapsburg family) in Italy was recognised by all powers and it was decided that she should be allowed to suppress the revolt in Naples. Apart from that there was a treaty between King of Naples and Austria by which Austria was bound to come to the rescue of Naples.
But Metternich was not happy with mere recognition of legal right of Austria to intervene in Naples. He also wanted a moral justification for such action. Moral justification would had made it within the rights of a State to interfere in internal matter of other State even if there is no prior treaty obliging one State to interfere in other State for maintenance of order. Britain was not ready to accept it.
But it is here that Czar Alexander I declared himself to be a convert of Metternich. The result was that the Quintuple Alliance was divided into two parts. On the one side were the reactionary governments of Russia, Austria and Prussia and on the other were Great Britain and France. It is in this Congress famous Troppau Protocol was passed which justified the intervention of one State in the internal affairs of other States.
Great Britain, however, refused to be a party to the above declaration. Her contention was that the Protocol was bound to be considered as a league of sovereigns against their subjects and there is a chance that because of such a declaration revolutionary tendency would get an impetus.
Congress of Laibach (1821)
The third Congress was held at Laibach. Austria was allowed to send her troops to Naples to suppress the revolt there. While returning, the Austrian troops also put down a revolt in Piedmont.
Congress of Verona (1822)
The fourth and last Congress was held at Verona in 1822. There were two questions before the Congress, Greek and Spain. The Greeks revolted against Turkey and Czar Alexander was itching to take isolated action as Austria had done in the case of Naples and Piedmont. However, Austria was Russia’s rival in the Balkans and Metternich, Austrian Chancellor, was determined to prevent Russian intervention in Greek affairs. It was no brainer that Metternich was also supported by Great Britain who was also uncomfortable with idea of Russian interference in the Balkans. Due to these different views and conflicting interests of the Great powers, the Greek question was not taken up by the Congress of Verona and the Spanish question alone remained before it.
As discussed earlier there was a revolt in Spain in 1820 and the King of Spain, Ferdinand VII, was forced to abolish the Inquisition and proclaim a liberal constitution. Spanish King appealed to the King of France for help against his subjects. This appeal of one Bourbon to another Bourbon looked like the revival of the old Bourbon family pact and Great Britain was not comfortable with this development.
At the Congress of Verona, France expressed her desire to intervene in Spain and asked for the moral support of the Powers. Austria Russia and Prussia backed France but Great Britain opposed the proposal.
The result was that when the British point of view regarding non-intervention was not accepted (At Troppau Britain already had said that she is only willing to support in cases of legal justification not the moral ones), Great Britain withdrew from the Congress and thus the era of Congress ended.
Canning, the new Foreign Minister of England, was happy at the idea of the break-up of the Concert of Europe. He said. “The issue of Verona split the one and indivisible Alliance into three parts as distinct as the constitutions of England, France and Muscovy. Things are getting back to a wholesome state again. Every nation for itself and God for us all. The time for Areopagus, and the like of that is gone by.”
Causes of Failure
The failure of the Concert of Europe was due to many reasons. The principle of intervention in the internal affairs of the States divided the Powers into two camps. Great Britain opposed this principle in 1818. But in spite of that the Protocol of Troppau was made in 1820.
Again in 1822, Great Britain opposed the intervention of France in Spain and despite her protests France had her way. French action was backed by Russia, Prussia and Austria. Great Britain could not put up with this attitude of the other Powers and she withdrew from the Congress of Verona.
The era of Congress collapsed with the withdrawal of Great Britain. The British government was of the view that she is under no obligation to interfere or to assist in interfering in the internal affairs of independent nations. According to the British Government, specific engagement to interfere in France was an exception and should not be taken as a rule . Britain only wanted to limit itself with the state of territorial possessions settled at the Vienna Congress and state of relations between various nations.
Concert of Europe was a unique experiment in field of foreign relations and diplomacy in nineteenth century Europe. The Congress system ensured that the Great Powers of Europe could usually meet together from time to time to resolve disputes among them and to preserve a certain balance of power in the continent. It also achieved some success in it. But as the time progressed Britain, with her parliamentary institutions, found herself unable to pull on with the autocratic Powers of Europe. The Concert of Europe degenerated into a clique for the preservation of autocracy and the suppression of democracy and nationalism in every shape and form.
Mutual jealousies arose among the Powers from the very beginning. In successive Congresses, the Powers disagreed on various questions as discussed earlier but question of moral justification for intervention in internal matters of the States proved the final nail in the coffins for the future of the Concert of the Europe. There was no internal harmony among the Powers. Merely an outward show of co-operation was maintained for some time.
However , such a state of affairs could not last long and the matters were precipitated by the intervention of France in Spain. Concert of Europe was a product of the Napoleonic Wars and its object was to provide against a common enemy-France. However, when the French danger was over, the unity among the Allies was gone and every Power decided to deal individually with her diplomacy.
The British assertion of the principle of non-intervention was partly a return to a policy of isolation, which they were following before the period of French Revolution, and partly a claim for national independence which was not possible to reconcile with a policy of concerted action.
Britain always wanted to follow an independent foreign policy and did not want to commit themselves with the affairs of Continental Europe, and commit only when it was necessary for safeguarding British interest.
The concert of Europe broke up on the divergent interests of the powers, the irreconcilable differences of constitutional outlook and the absence of any agreed principles of political faith (Some were Constitutional monarchies whereas some were autocratic despot of highest order).
The powers were agreed that peace must be maintained but they were not agreed on the point what threatened peace. They had different outlook and as per them things which can cause danger to the peace of the Europe were different. They were ready to defend common interests, but they had none else except the fear of France. There is also a need to state that it was good that the Concert of Europe collapsed. Had that continued, the nationalist and liberal forces in Europe would have got a severe setback. Great Britain rendered a great service to the cause of nationalism and constitutionalism by first protesting and later leaving the Concert.