Chapter 21 - Reaction, Revolution, and Revolution


IN SEPTEMBER 1814, hundreds of foreigners began to converge on Vienna, the capital city of the Austrian Empire. Many were members of European royalty – kings, archdukes, princes, and their wives – accompanied by their diplomatic advisers and scores of servants. Their congenial host was the Austrian emperor, Francis I, who never tired of regaling Vienna’s guests with concerts, glittering balls, sumptuous feasts, and countless hunting parties. One participant remembered, “Eating, fireworks, public illuminations. For eight or ten days, I haven’t been able to work at all. What a life.” Of course, not every waking hour was spent in pleasure during this gathering of notables, known to history as the Congress of Vienna. These people were also representatives of all the states that had fought Napoleon, and their real business was to arrange a final peace settlement after almost a decade of war. On June 8, 1815, they finally completed their task.

The forces of upheaval unleashed during the French revolutionary and Napoleonic wars were temporarily quieted in 1815 as rulers sought to restore stability by reestablishing much of the old order to a Europe ravaged by war. Kings, landed aristocrats, and bureaucratic elites regained their control over domestic governments, and internationally the forces of conservatism tried to maintain the new status quo; some states even used military force to intervene in the internal affairs of other countries in their desire to crush revolutions.

But the Western world had been changed, and it would not readily go back to the old system. New ideologies, especially liberalism and nationalism, both products of the revolutionary upheaval initiated in France, had become too powerful to be contained. Not content with the status quo, the forces of change gave rise first to the revolts and revolutions that periodically shook Europe in the 1820s and 1830s and then to the widespread revolutions of 1848. Some of the revolutions and revolutionaries were successful; most were not. Although the old order usually appeared to have prevailed, by 1850 it was apparent that its days were numbered. This perception was reinforced by the changes wrought by the Industrial Revolution. Together the forces unleashed by the dual revolutions-the French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution-made it impossible to return to prerevolutionary Europe. Nevertheless, although these events ushered in what historians like to call the modern European world, remnants of the old remained amid the new.

The Conservative Order (1815-1830)

FOCUS QUESTIONS: What were the goals of the Congress of Vienna and the Concert of Europe, and how successful were they in achieving those goals?

The immediate response to the defeat of Napoleon was the desire to contain revolution and the revolutionary forces by restoring much of the old order.

The Peace Settlement

In March 1814, even before Napoleon had been defeated, his four major enemies – Great Britain, Austria, Prussia, and Russia - had agreed to remain united, not only to defeat France but also to ensure peace after the war. After Napoleon’s defeat, this Quadruple Alliance restored the Bourbon monarchy to France in the person of Louis XVIII and agreed to meet at a congress in Vienna in September 1814 to arrange a final peace settlement.

The leader of the Congress of Vienna was the Austrian foreign minister, Prince Klemens von Metternich (KLAY-menss fun MET-ayr-nikh) (1773-1859). An experienced diplomat who was also conceited and self-assured, Metternich described himself in his memoirs in 1819: “There is a wide sweep about my mind. I am always above and beyond the preoccupation of most public men; I cover a ground much vaster than they can see. I cannot keep myself from saying about twenty times a day: ‘How right I am, and how wrong they are.”

THE PRINCIPLE OF LEGITIMACY Metternich claimed that he was guided at Vienna by the principle of legitimacy. To reestablish peace and stability in Europe, he considered it necessary to restore the legitimate monarchs who would preserve traditional institutions. This had already been done in France and Spain with the restoration of the Bourbons, as well as in a number of the Italian states where rulers had been returned to their thrones. Elsewhere, however, the principle of legitimacy was largely ignored and completely overshadowed by more practical considerations of power. The congress’s treatment of Poland, to which Russia, Austria, and Prussia all laid claim, illustrates this approach. Prussia and Austria were allowed to keep some Polish territory. A new, nominally independent Polish kingdom, about three-quarters of the size of the duchy of Warsaw, was established, with the Romanov dynasty of Russia as its hereditary monarchs. Although Poland was guaranteed its independence, the kingdom’s foreign policy (and the kingdom itself) remained under Russian control. As compensation for the Polish lands it lost, Prussia received two-fifths of Saxony, the Napoleonic German kingdom of Westphalia, and the east bank of the Rhine. Austria was compensated for its loss of the Austrian Netherlands by being given control of two northern Italian provinces, Lombardy and Venetia (vuh-NEE-shuh) (see Map 21.1).

A NEW BALANCE OF POWER In making these territorial rearrangements, the diplomats at Vienna believed they were forming a new balance of power that would prevent anyone country from dominating Europe. For example, to balance Russian gains, Prussia and Austria had been strengthened. According to Metternich, this arrangement had clearly avoided a great danger: “Prussia and Austria are completing their systems of defense; united, the two monarchies form an unconquerable barrier against the enterprises of any conquering prince who might perhaps once again occupy the throne of France or that of Russia.“

Considerations of the balance of power also dictated the allied treatment of France. France had not been significantly weakened; it remained a great power. The fear that France might again upset the European peace remained so strong that the conferees attempted to establish major defensive barriers against possible French expansion. To the north of France, they created a new enlarged kingdom of the Netherlands composed of the former Dutch Republic and the Austrian Netherlands (Belgium) under a new ruler, King William I of the house of Orange. To the southeast, Piedmont (officially part of the kingdom of Sardinia) was enlarged. On France’s eastern frontier, Prussia was strengthened by giving it control of the territory along the east bank of the Rhine. The British at least expected Prussia to be the major bulwark against French expansion in central Europe, but the Congress of Vienna also created a new league of German states, the Germanic Confederation, to replace the Napoleonic Confederation of the Rhine.

Napoleon’s escape from Elba and his return to France for one hundred days in the midst of the Congress of Vienna delayed the negotiations but did not significantly alter the overall agreement. It was decided, however, to punish the French people for their enthusiastic response to Napoleon’s return. France’s borders were pushed back to those of 1790, and the nation was forced to pay an indemnity and accept an army of occupation for five years. The order established by the Congress of Vienna managed to avoid a general European conflict for almost a century.

Next Reading: 21-2 (Conservative Domination: The Concert of Europe)