Chapter 21 - Reaction, Revolution, and Revolution

The Conservative Order (1815-1830)

The Ideology of Conservatism

The peace arrangements of 1815 were the beginning of a conservative reaction determined to contain the liberal and nationalist forces unleashed by the French Revolution. Metternich and his kind were representatives of the ideology known as conservatism (see the box on p. 627). As a modern political philosophy, conservatism dates from 1790 when Edmund Burke (1729-1797) wrote his Reflections on the Revolution in France in reaction to the French Revolution, especially its radical republican and democratic ideas. Burke maintained that society was a contract, but “the state ought not to be considered as nothing better than a partnership agreement in a trade of pepper and coffee, to be taken up for a temporary interest and to be dissolved by the fancy of the parties.” The state was a partnership but one “not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead and those who are to be born.” No one generation has the right to destroy this partnership; each generation has the duty to preserve and transmit it to the next. Burke advised against the violent overthrow of a government by revolution, but he did not reject all change. Sudden change was unacceptable but that did not mean that there should never be gradual or evolutionary improvements.

Burke’s conservatism, however, was not the only kind. The Frenchman Joseph de Maistre (MESS-truh) (1753-1821) was the most influential spokesman for a counterrevolutionary and authoritarian conservatism. De Maistre espoused the restoration of hereditary monarchy, which he regarded as a divinely sanctioned institution. Only absolute monarchy could guarantee “order in society” and avoid the chaos generated by movements like the French Revolution.

Despite their differences, most conservatives held to a general body of beliefs. They favored obedience to political authority, believed that organized religion was crucial to social order, hated revolutionary upheavals, and were unwilling to accept either the liberal demands for civil liberties and representative governments or the nationalistic aspirations generated by the French revolutionary era. The community took precedence over individual rights; society must be organized and ordered, and tradition remained the best guide for order. After 1815, the political philosophy of conservatism was supported by hereditary monarchs, government bureaucracies, landowning aristocracies, and revived churches, be they Protestant or Catholic. The conservative forces appeared dominant after 1815, both internationally and domestically.

Conservative Domination: The Concert of Europe

The European powers’ fear of revolution and war led them to develop the Concert of Europe as a means to maintain the new status quo they had constructed. This accord grew out of the reaffirmation of the Quadruple Alliance in November 1815. Great Britain, Russia, Prussia, and Austria renewed their commitment against any attempted restoration of Bonapartist power and agreed to meet periodically in conferences to discuss their common interests and examine measures that “will be judged most salutary for the repose and prosperity of peoples, and for the maintenance of peace in Europe.”

In accordance with the agreement for periodic meetings, four congresses were held between 1818 and 1822. The first, held in 1818 at Aix-la-Chapelle (ex-lah-shah-PELL), was by far the most congenial. “Never have I known a prettier little congress,” said Metternich. The four great powers agreed to withdraw their army of occupation from France and to add France to the Concert of Europe. The Quadruple Alliance became a quintuple alliance.

The next congress proved far less pleasant. This session, at Troppau (TRAP-ow), was called in the autumn of 1820 to deal with the outbreak of revolution in Spain and Italy. The revolt in Spain was directed against Ferdinand VII, the Bourbon king who had been restored to the throne in 1814.

In southern Italy, the restoration of another Bourbon, Ferdinand I, as king of Naples and Sicily sparked a rebellion that soon spread to Piedmont in northern Italy.

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 INTERVENTION Metternich was especially disturbed by the revolts in Italy because he saw them as a threat to Austria’s domination of the peninsula. At Troppau, he proposed a protocol that established the principle of intervention. It read:

States which have undergone a change of Government due to revolution, the results of which threaten other states, ipso facto cease to be members of the European Alliance, and remain excluded from it until their situation gives guarantees for legal order and stability. If, owing to such situations, immediate danger threatens other states, the Powers bind themselves, by peaceful means, or if need be by arms, to bring back the guilty state into the bosom of the Great Alliance.

The principle of intervention meant that the great powers of Europe had the right to send armies into countries where there were revolutions to restore legitimate monarchs to their thrones. Britain refused to agree to the principle, arguing that it had never been the intention of the Quadruple Alliance to interfere in the internal affairs of other states, except in France. Ignoring the British response, Austria, Prussia, and Russia met in a third congress at Laibach (LY-bahkh) in January 1821 and authorized the sending of Austrian troops to Naples. These forces crushed the revolt, restored Ferdinand I to the throne, and then moved north to suppress the rebels in Piedmont. At the fourth postwar conference, held at Verona in October 1822, the same three powers authorized France to invade Spain to crush the revolt against Ferdinand VII. In the spring of 1823, French forces restored the Bourbon monarch.

The success of this policy of intervention came at a price, however. The Concert of Europe had broken down when the British rejected Metternich’s principle of intervention. And although the British had failed to thwart allied intervention in Spain and Italy, they were successful in keeping the Continental powers from interfering with the revolutions in Latin America.

THE REVOLT OF LATIN AMERICA Although much of North America had been freed of European domination in the eighteenth century by the American Revolution, Latin America remained in the hands of the Spanish and Portuguese. By the end of the eighteenth century, the ideas of the Enlightenment and the new political ideals stemming from the successful revolution in North America were beginning to influence the Creole elites (descendants of Europeans who became permanent inhabitants of Latin America). The principles of the equality of all people in the eyes of the law, free trade, and a free press proved very attractive. Sons of Creoles, such as Simón Bolivar (see-MOHN buh-LEE-var) (1783-1830) of Venezuela and José de San Martin (hoh-SAY day san mar-TEEN) (1778-1850) of Argentina, who became the leaders of the independence movement, even attended European universities, where they imbibed the ideas of the Enlightenment. These Latin American elites, joined by a growing class of merchants, especially resented the domination of their trade by Spain and Portugal. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Napoleon’s European wars provided the Creoles with an opportunity for change. When Bonaparte toppled the monarchies of Spain and Portugal, the authority of the Spaniards and Portuguese in their colonial empires was weakened, and between 1807 and 1824, a series of revolts enabled most of Latin America to become independent.

Simón Bolivar has long been regarded as the George Washington of Latin America. Born into a wealthy Venezuelan family, he was introduced as a young man to the ideas of the Enlightenment. While in Rome to witness the coronation of Napoleon as king of Italy in 1805, he committed himself to free his people from Spanish control. When he returned to South America, Bolivar began to lead the bitter struggle for independence in Venezuela as well as other parts of northern South America. Although he was acclaimed as the “liberator” of Venezuela in 1813 by the people, it was not until 1821 that he definitively defeated Spanish forces there. He went on to liberate Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. Already in 1819, he had become president of Venezuela, at the time part of a federation that included Colombia and Ecuador.

While Bolivar was busy liberating northern South America from the Spanish, Jose de San Martin was concentrating his efforts on the southern part of the continent. Son of a Spanish army officer in Argentina, San Martin went to Spain and pursued a military career in the Spanish army. In 1811, after serving twenty-two years, he learned of the liberation movement in his native Argentina, abandoned his military career in Spain, and returned to his homeland in March 1812. Argentina had already been freed from Spanish control, but San Martin believed that the Spaniards must be removed from all of South America if any nation was to remain free. In January 1817, he led his forces over the high Andes Mountains, an amazing feat in itself. Two-thirds of his pack mules and horses died during the difficult journey. Many of the soldiers suffered from lack of oxygen and severe cold while crossing mountain passes more than 2 miles above sea level. The arrival of San Martin’s troops in Chile surprised the Spaniards, whose forces were routed at the Battle of Chacabuco (chahk-ah-BOO-koh) on February 12, 1817.

In 1821, San Martin moved on to Lima, Peru, the center of Spanish authority. Convinced that he was unable to complete the liberation of all of Peru, San Martin welcomed the arrival of Bolivar and his forces. As he wrote to Bolivar, “For me it would have been the height of happiness to end the war of independence under the orders of a general to whom [South] America owes its freedom. Destiny orders it otherwise, and one must resign oneself to it.” Highly disappointed, San Martin left South America for Europe, where he remained until his death outside Paris in 1850. Meanwhile, Bolivar took on the task of crushing the last significant Spanish army at Ayacucho (ah-ya-KOO-choh) on December 9, 1824. By then, Peru, Uruguay, Paraguay, Colombia, Venezuela, Argentina, Bolivia, and Chile had all become free states (see Map 21.2). In 1823, the Central American states became independent, and in 1838-1839, they divided into five republics (Guatemala, EI Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua). Earlier, in 1822, the prince regent of Brazil had declared Brazil’s independence from Portugal.

The Continental powers, however, flushed by their success in crushing the rebellions in Spain and Italy, favored the use of troops to restore Spanish control in Latin America. This time, British opposition to intervention prevailed. Eager to gain access to an entire continent for investment and trade, the British proposed joint action with the United States against European interference in Latin America. Distrustful of British motives, President James Monroe acted alone in 1823, guaranteeing the independence of the new Latin American nations and warning against any further European intervention in the New World in the famous Monroe Doctrine. Actually, British ships were more important to Latin American independence than American words. Britain’s navy stood between Latin America and any European invasion force, and the Continental powers were extremely reluctant to challenge British naval power.

Although political independence brought economic independence to Latin America, old patterns were quickly reestablished. Instead of Spain and Portugal, Great Britain now dominated the Latin American economy. British merchants moved in in large numbers, while British investors poured in funds, especially in the mining industry. Old trade patterns soon reemerged. Because Latin America served as a source of raw materials and foodstuffs for the industrializing nations of Europe and the United States, exports - especially of wheat, tobacco, wool, sugar, coffee, and hides - to the North Atlantic countries increased noticeably. At the same time, finished consumer goods, especially textiles, were imported in increasing quantities, causing a decline in industrial production in Latin America. The emphasis on exporting raw materials and importing finished products ensured the ongoing domination of the Latin American economy by foreigners.

THE GREEK REVOLT The principle of intervention proved to be a double-edged sword. Designed to prevent revolution, it could also be used to support revolution if the great powers found it in their interest to do so. In 1821, the Greeks revolted against their Ottoman Turkish masters. Although subject to Muslim control for four hundred years, the Greeks had been allowed to maintain their language and their Greek Orthodox faith. A revival of Greek national sentiment at the beginning of the nineteenth century added to the growing desire for liberation “from the terrible yoke of Turkish oppression.” The Greek revolt was soon transformed into a noble cause by an outpouring of European sentiment for the Greeks’ struggle.

In 1827, a combined British and French fleet went to Greece and defeated a large Ottoman armada. A year later, Russia declared war on the Ottoman Empire and invaded its European provinces of Moldavia and Wallachia. By the Treaty of Adrianople in 1829, which ended the Russian-Turkish war, the Russians received a protectorate over the two provinces. By the same treaty, the Ottoman Empire agreed to allow Russia, France, and Britain to decide the fate of Greece. In 1830, the three powers declared Greece an independent kingdom, and two years later, a new royal dynasty was established. The revolution had been successful only because the great powers themselves supported it. Until 1830, the Greek revolt was the only successful one in Europe; the conservative domination was still largely intact.


Next Reading: 21-3 (Conservative Domination: The European States)