After the final defeat of Napoleon, the Quadruple Alliance, the victorious allies (Russia, Prussia, Austria and Great Britain) together with a number of smaller governments agreed to meet to settle issues that had arisen as a result France’s aggressive policies under Napoleon. This was the famous Congress of Vienna (September, 1814 – June, 1815). Primary representatives were Klemens von Metternich of Austria, Robert Castlereigh of Great Britain and the French representative, Charles Talleyrand. Czar Alexander I of Russia participated personally. Due to Tallyrand’s machinations, France became a full fledged participant in the proceedings, even though officially the country was there to "observe." There was a profound desire for a lasting peace; thus the need for a stable settlement that would not result in another continental war.
. The primary concern of the nations at the Congress, in addition to their own self interest, was a return to the traditional Balance of Power. It was their belief that an equilibrium of political and military force would discourage further aggression by any combination of states, or domination by a single state. There was also general agreement that they each should be compensated in the form of territory for their struggle with France. Great Britain received colonies and outposts which it had won during the wars. Austria surrendered Belgium, but received territory in southern Germany and provinces in northern Italy.
The allies were considerably lenient to France with Napoleon safely carted away to St. Helena They agreed to the restoration of the Bourbon dynasty, and gave France the boundaries it possessed in 1792 (larger than its boundaries in 1789.) No reparations were required; as a result, there was no feeling of injustice or outcry for revenge which would later characterize the Peace of Versailles at the end of World War I. They also took steps to prevent renewed aggression by France: Belgium and Holland were united under a single Dutch monarchy very capable of opposing France militarily. Prussia was given considerably more territory on France’s eastern border to stand as the "sentinel on the Rhine" against France. Napoleon had destroyed the Holy Roman Empire in 1806 when he formed the Confederation of the Rhine. The Vienna conference reformed the several hundred German states into the German Confederation, comprised of thirty eight independent states, including Prussia and Austria. Members of the confederation pledged to come to the aid of any of them who were attacked. However, there was no provision for enforcement of the provisions of the Confederation. It merely gave Austria (and thus Metternich) a pulpit to bully the smaller German states. It also was not a move toward German unification, although it might have appeared otherwise. Each of the German states was proud of its autonomy and traditions. The end result was merely a rivalry between Prussia and Austria for domination of Central Europe.
The agreement was almost upset by the escape of Napoleon from Elba; however after his final defeat at Waterloo, it was agreed that Louis XVIII should return as King of France, France must pay an indemnity of 700 million francs, and support an army of occupation of five years. The allies were not lenient to France without good cause. They were dealing with the restored Bourbon monarchy, not the defeated Napoleon. They wished to solidify that monarchy, as leaving France weak might lend itself to further upheavals in the country led by the Jacobins.
A problem arose over compensation toward Russia and Prussia. The Russian Czar, Alexander I, wanted to see Poland restored, over which he expected to rule. The Prussians agreed, but demanded Saxony, a large German province as compensation. Metternich and Castlereigh objected, and in an attempt to thwart Prussia, struck a secret alliance with Talleyrand and France against Prussia and Russia. Faced with the possibility of war, Russia agreed to a much smaller Poland and Prussia received only a small part of Saxony. The real winner was France, who emerged from the debate as a great European power, no longer isolated.
The powers also planned to meet periodically to discuss "common interests." This "congress system" lasted for many years and prevented the further outbreak of international hostilities for most of the nineteenth century. It became known as the "Concert of Europe," whereby the parties agreed to take any action necessary to prevent uprisings which would threaten the status quo.
Intervention and Repression:First and foremost, the leaders of the various states planed to restore the "old order" of monarchies in Europe. They were much less flexible in their own countries where steps were taken to suppress liberal and revolutionary ideas such as had flourished in France at the time of the Revolution. Metternich, highly educated and fluent in five languages, believed sincerely that Europe would find peace only if its legitimate sovereigns were unchallenged by nationalism and liberalism. It was also important that a single state not dominate the entire continent, as had France under Louis XIV and Napoleon.
Castlereigh of Britain was not concerned with territorial gains on the continent, but rather the elimination of the French threat to Britain’s commercial interests around the world. As a result of the Napoleonic Wars, Britain had emerged with a tremendous worldwide empire that encompassed one of every five people in the world. He wanted a declaration of freedom of the seas.
Czar Alexander I, a religious (though quirky) man, had succeeded his father, Paul I who had been assassinated. There is some evidence that Alexander knew of the plot. He considered himself an enlightened monarch, so much so that Thomas Jefferson once said of him, "A more virtuous man, I believe, does not exist, nor one who is more enthusiastically devoted to better the condition of mankind. Despite his claims of enlightenment, he had rejected a constitution for the Russian people, and seemed to feel that God was on his side only when God agreed with him. Alexander proposed a Holy Alliance, stating that the relations of the various European sovereigns, whom he called the "delegates of Providence," should be based "upon the sublime truths which the Holy Religion of our Savior teaches." Austria and Prussia agreed, but Britain begged off. Castlereigh called the Holy Alliance "a piece of sublime mysticism and nonsense. The three signatories promised that they would offer mutual assistance whenever religion, peace or justice was threatened.
High sounding as it might be, it was in reality justification for suppression of any liberal or nationalist movements in Europe. Later, in 1820, when revolutionaries forced the King of Spain and the two Sicilies to grant liberal constitutions against their wills, Metternich and Alexander decreed the principle of active intervention to maintain the old regimes wherever they were threatened.
Those who are happy with the status quo and do not wish to see it changed are typically Conservatives. Those who wish change—or perhaps "progress," as they might call it are Liberals. Those who wished to restore the Old Order and keep it as it had been, such as Metternich, were arch Conservatives. Those who wished to abolish the monarchies and establish representative governments were Liberals.
Metternich was particularly determined to preserve the old Order. Working through the German Confederation, Metternich had the Carlsbad Decrees issued in 1819. The decrees required the German member states to suppress subversive ideas in universities and newspapers. A committee was established which employed spies and informers to investigate and punish liberal or radical organizations.
Born into a noble family, Metternich believed in his heart that the most stable and proper arrangement of society was a judicious combination of monarchy, aristocracy, and respectful commoners. He also believed that liberalism, as typified in the American and French Revolutions were responsible for the period of warfare, bloodshed and suffering that had just ended. Those who stirred up liberal ideas such as representative government, he believed, were engaged in a conspiracy to destroy the existing order, and were inclined to stir up the lower classes who in their hearts really wanted to be left alone. Liberalism, which Metternich opposed, was closely aligned with Nationalism. Liberals believed that each national group had a right to establish its own independent government and seek to fulfill its own destiny. Metternich bitterly opposed this idea, as it not only threatened the existence of the aristocracy, but also threatened to destroy the Austrian Empire and revolutionize central Europe.
It is important to understand the complexities of the Austrian Empire to appreciate Metternich’s position. The empire was a polyglot of several nationalities. It was dominated by German speaking people, but they were only one fourth the population. Magyars dominated Hungary, but were also a distinct minority. In Bohemia and Moravia, Czechs were the major group. In addition, there were Italians, Poles, Croats, Romanians Serbs, Ruthenians, and Slovenes The latter groups together formed a majority of Austria’s population, but each group alone was only a small percentage. Linguistic differences were present in different provinces; with different languages often extant within the same village.
This made Austria strong in a sense, because of its large population and vast territory; but at the same time made it weak because of its many nationalities, who all could potentially become dissatisfied with their status within the empire. To give rise to liberal sentiments, in which each of these groups might express nationalist sentiment or demand some other form of recognition was potentially disastrous to the Austrian Empire. Metternich had no choice but to oppose it.
Metternich was not wrong. It was the eruption of these nationalist sentiments which led a Serbian nationalist, Gavrilo Princeps, to assassinate the Austrian heir, Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie in Sarajevo in 1914. This event was the spark which ignited World War One, the most devastating conflict the world had ever seen, and marked the end of the Austrian Empire.
Metternich’s conservative desires to restore and maintain the old order were not peculiar to him. There was general feeling among the victorious parties that the old order must be restored at all costs. In the German states, all legislation inspired by the French was repealed, and strict censorship was imposed. When the French abandoned the Papal States, Pope Pius VII removed anything that even closely reminded one of the occupiers. All administrative reforms imposed by the French were repealed. Oddly, laws providing for vaccinations against disease and even street lights were removed as they were reminders of the French.
Italian hatred of the French is illustrated by the famous phrase, "Death to France is Italy’s cry;" in Italian: "Morte Alla Francia Italia Anela." The phrase forms the Acronym: "Mafia."
In Prussia, the Junkers owned 40 per cent of the land and held all the important political offices. They also dominated the officer’s corps in the army. In Austria, 70 per cent of those who held offices had held those positions before Napoleon.
Established churches had suffered during the revolution. Both Catholic and Protestant conservatives now insisted that the established church offered moral authority which complemented the authority of the state. A marked revival of religion thus occurred throughout Europe.