Friday, October 1, 2010

The Congress of Vienna: 1814-1815

Emperor Napoleon I of France on his death bed (left) and Prince Klemes von Metternich (right) of Austria who organized the Congress of Vienna

Per Scriptum E. Wesley – Mackinac Center Intern

In 1814, Europe sat in tatters from the recent ravages of Napoleon (“History of Europe”). Revolution and chaos stormed the continent, and the world watched as the victors met in council. The Quadruple Alliance of Great Britain, Prussia, Russia, and Austria had just stopped the French advance and brought back the Bourbon dynasty to France with Louis XVIII’s restoration (Spielvogel 590). In September Prince Klemes von Metternich of Austria called this alliance together to discuss how to return Europe to its old glory (ibid). Parts of the resulting Congress of Vienna were friendly to Biblical concepts of law and liberty, while others were not.

With the understanding that order must be restored to the map of Europe after the desolations of a tyrant at war, the Congress set forward the principle of legitimacy (ibid). Accordingly, the Congress would restore the old monarchs of Europe where the revolutions caused by French intervention had threatened their autonomous authority (ibid). However, the Congress also attempted to build a balance of power between the great empires of Europe (591). R. B. Mowat in his book The Great European Treaties of the Nineteenth Century explains the following articles of the 1814 treaty:

“Article I contained the usual peace and friendship stipulation. Article II declared that the limits of France (with certain modifications) should be the same as they existed on January 1, 1792. Article III particularized these limits as modified. Article IV dealt with the road connecting Geneva with other parts of Swiss territory. Article V stipulated for the free navigation of the Rhine. Article VI provided for an increase of territory for Holland, for the independence of the States of Germany and the Government of Switzerland and Italy. Article VII declared that Malta should belong in full sovereignty to His Britannic Majesty. Articles VIII to XI provided for the restoration of certain colonies to France, and the cession of others to Great Britain, &c. By Article XII Great Britain guaranteed most favored nation treatment in India to French subjects and commerce, and France undertook to erect no fortifications on her possessions on the continent of India. Article XIII replaced French fishery rights in Newfoundland on the footing of 1792. Article XV dealt with the disposal of the arsenals and ships of war, &c., found in the ports of the territories to be evacuated by France, and further declared Antwerp to be solely a commercial port.

Article XVI secured the non-molestation of individuals for action taken during the war, and Article XVII provided that inhabitants of ceded territories should be at liberty, if they thought fit, to retire to other countries within a period of six years. By Article XVIII the Allied Governments renounced all pecuniary claims on France against a similar renunciation by France. By Article XIX France undertook to liquidate all debts owing by her beyond her own territories, and Article XX provided for the execution by commissioners of the stipulations of the two preceding Articles. Articles XXI to XXXI had reference to debts, claims of individuals, Caisses d'Amortissement, pensions, abolition of the Droits d'Aubaine, restoration of documents belonging to ceded countries, &c.

Article XXXII ran as follows: ‘All the Powers engaged on either side in the present war shall, within the space of two months, send Plenipotentiaries to Vienna for the purpose of regulating, in General Congress, the arrangements which are to complete the provisions of the present Treaty.’

Article XXXIII contained the usual ratification clause (Oaks).”

The political effect of these articles expanded the empires of the Quadruple Alliance, and created a new balance of power. (To see the changes go to the map of Europe After the Congress of Vienna or see an animation here.) Europe Prussia was granted the Grand Duchy of Warshaw, a bit of Poland, much of the German state Saxony, Pomerania from Sweden, and most of the Rhineland (“History of Europe,” Spielvogel 590). Russia gained Finland, Bessarabia from the Ottomans, and became a trustee over most of Poland (ibid, Spielvogel 590-591). This new situation was particularly unfair for Poland, because although given its own legitimacy, Polish foreign policy and territorial domain was given to the Romanovs of Russia (Spielvogel 591). Austria redeemed Tyrol, and grabbed Lombardo-Venetia, and Dalmatia (“History of Europe,” Europe After). As such, the Austrian Hapsburgs dynasty won access to the Mediterranean Sea (“History of Europe”). Great Britain increased its colonial presence and maintained its shipping by gaining the Island of Heligoland west of Denmark, the Ionian Island west and north of Greece, and the Island of Malta south of Sicily (“History of Europe,” Europe After). Furthermore, Sweden gained Norway from Denmark, and Denmark got the Holstein and Lauenburg duchies (ibid). France’s territory resembled that of its 1792 domain. As buffer zones against French aggression, a united Netherlands was created and the Piedmont-Sardinia kingdom expanded to include Chambery, Nice, and Genoa (ibid). From an international standpoint, Europe had achieved balance.

International balance was not enough to establish European stability. New national superpowers that did not blend well with ethnic distinctions within their empires led to a rage of internal unrest and rebellion, fuelled by liberals and nationals. Eventually, European monarchs had to become aware of the problems when the revolutions of 1848 broke out (Spielvogel 605-608). With a 21st-Century vantage point, the principle of legitimacy and the new balance of power are obviously philosophical contradictions. If a monarch is legitimate in internationally realizing national realms, imposing a higher principle of international balance at the expense of old kingdom borders is a blatant denial of the Congress’s concept of legitimacy. This contradiction can be further explained by the lust for power of those who represented the monarchies of Europe. They only went along with old national legitimacy as long as it boosted the power of the monarchs. Balancing international lusts for gain became more important than the principle of legitimacy for the Congress. Because the Congress blended true ideals of government with lust for power, the results were mixed.

Sources and References:

Europe After the Congress of Vienna. 1912. Cambridge Modern History Atlas. Emerson Kent. Web. 29 Sep. 2010.

“History of Europe in the 19th century: Europe and the Congress of Vienna 1815-1848.”, n.d. Web. 29 Sep. 2010.

John Emerich Edward Dalberg, Lord Acton, The History of Freedom and Other Essays, ed. John Neville Figgis and Reginald Vere Laurence (London: Macmillan, 1907).
Accessed from on 2010-09-30.

Oaks, Augustus; R. B. Mowat (1918). The Great European Treaties of the Nineteenth Century. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Spielvogel, Jackson J. Western Civilization Volume II: Since 1500, Sixth Edition. Belmont: Thomson Wadsworth, 2006. Print

Thomas Babington, Lord Macaulay, The Miscellaneous Writings of Lord Macaulay, vol. 2, (London: Longman, Green, Longman, and Roberts, 1860).
Accessed from on 2010-09-30.

Images of Napoleon sur son lit de mort Horace Vernet 1826 and Prince Metternich by Lawrence from Wikipedia (tempered and blended by Wesley Reynolds)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.