European History: Napoleonic Period to Present
One of the memorable events in European history is the conference that was held in Vienna between 1814 and 1815. In attendance were leaders from some of the powerful nations across Europe at the time. Among the leaders in attendance was Von Metternich, who was the Austrian leader at the time. The primary purpose of the conference was to restore peace and stability across Europe following numerous revolutions, particularly the French Revolution (Knight, 2015). The French Revolution took place in France between 1789 and 1999. It was one of the factors that brought and end the monarchy and several wars not only in France but also across Europe. Napoleon Bonaparte’s rise to power in 1799 saw the French Revolution come to an abrupt end. After the revolution, European powers such and Britain, Austria, and Prussia came together with the aim of destroying the French revolutionary government under the leadership of Napoleon and his allies. The key leaders present at the Congress firmly believed that France in itself was a threat to European stability and peace. Moreover, amidst their selfish interests and objectives of dominating Europe, the key leaders present at the conference saw France as a huge threat to their ambitions. The powers were focused primarily on ensuring that France with the help of its allies did not drag Europe into war again as had been witnessed. This paper discusses the Congress of Vienna with a focus on how it counteracted the effects of French Revolution
The European powers were facing the dilemma to either allow the changes made by Napoleon and the French revolutionary government to remain permanently or to restore the pre-revolutionary political and social order of Europe. The decisions made at the Congress of Vienna were mainly in favor of destroying the principles instituted by Napoleon and the French revolutionary government (Knight, 2015). One of the ways the Congress counteracted the effect of the revolution was by pushing for the balance of power where every European nation would enjoy some influence and power when it comes to key political and economic issues. The reason behind the balance of power was the need to prevent the status quo that would ensure that none of the European Great powers enjoyed dominance or gained too much (Cutting, 2011). In the balance of power, France was dismembered although it was treated leniently as the countries forming part of the Vienna Settlement felt that achievement in Europe as a whole was of great importance than punishing France (Cutting, 2011). In fact, the Holy Roman Empire that was powerful and enjoyed dominance in Europe in the pre-revolutionary days was not revived following its abolishment during the Napoleonic conquests.
To counteract the effects of French Revolution, the Congress of Vienna resolved to restrain the power of France. After the uprising, the French government enjoyed immense power and dominance. Under the leadership of Napoleon, the country conquered several territories across Europe. The Congress decided against punishing it and instead opted to restrain and prevent it from threatening the strong buffer states around it (Stråth & Koskenniemi, 2014). To achieve the objective, the Congress decided that barriers were to be created around France. These barriers would allow every state on French frontiers to be strong enough to handle any recurrence of aggression from France. With the barriers, the countries around France would have adequate time to mobilize their forces in the event of an aggression.
In this regard, the Rhineland on the east of France was given to Prussia, which was one of the Great powers in Europe. Besides, the Congress guaranteed that Switzerland would remain neutral. Austria acquired various territories in Northern Italy while Spain and Portugal were guaranteed protection in the event of an invasion, whereas Piedmont received Savoy and Genoa (Stråth & Koskenniemi, 2014). The Congress put the Pyrenees in the territory between France and Spain to inconvenience any French invasion of Spain.
The Congress of Vienna also laid the foundation for legitimacy. The initiative meant that various powerful European dynasties that reigned during the pre-revolutionary days were to be restored to their thrones (Stråth & Koskenniemi, 2014). The legitimacy principle received support from Talleyrand of France as it would help to protect France from punishment. The principle was also adopted by Metternich of Austria who saw it as a convenient expression of the general policy of resisting changes. For the most part, countries forming part of the Congress saw the principle of legitimacy as an insurance against future revolutions in Europe (Jarrett, 2014). Most of the rulers who were restored with the legitimacy principle were previously despotic and reactionary as well as enemies of liberalism. With the principle in place, they were expected to do away with any revolutionary movements that were threats to European peace and stability. Some of the restored rulers included Bourbons who were restored to France, Louis XVIII to Spain, and Ferdinand VII and Ferdinand I to Two Sicilies. Moreover, various German princes were restored to the throne and the Pope was reinstated as the ruler of the Papal States. The House of Orange in Holland and the House of Savoy in Piedmont-Sardinia were restored. The members of the Hapsburg family were restored to the thrones of Tuscany, Modena, and Parma in Italy.
As a way of counteracting the impacts of the revolution, the Congress of Vienna further decided to reward the victors and punish the losers. Victors such as Austria, Russia, Prussia, and England were rewarded with new territories. On the other hand, the defeated nations of Denmark, France, and Saxony were significantly reduced in size for supporting the French Revolutionary government led by Napoleon (Jarrett, 2014). For instance, Russia gained territories in Finland and parts of Prussian Poland. Russia’s gains were greater as compared to other victors as it had negotiated while opting for war. Prussia, on the other hand, recovered German territories that had been taken away by Napoleon as well as Rhineland. Austria was not left behind as it recovered Lombardy and proceeded to acquire Venetia that was in exchange of Austrian Netherlands. The rewards were given along with compensation; countries such as Sweden were compensated for having lost its territories such as Finland to Russia (Jarrett, 2014). Sweden was allowed to gain Norway from Denmark with the latter being penalized for being hostile to Allies.
Five leaders dominated the Congress of Vienna including Metternich of Austria, Alexander I of Russia, Talleyrand of France, Hardenberg of Prussia, and Castlereagh of England (Vick, 2014). Metternich’s goal was to prevent the future outbreak of revolutions in Europe and strongly oppose revolutionary and nationalist movements that were a threat to the Austrian Empire’s existence. Alexander I of Russia looked forward to gain territories and had ambition over Poland (Vick, 2014). Talleyrand’s goal in the Congress was to secure a lenient treaty for France and to safeguard France’s interests that would play a key role in ending the country’s isolation. Prussia’s Hardenberg focused more on securing a deal for the fortunes of Prussia while caring relatively little for Europe as a whole. His wanted to gain more territories since Prussia had lost Prussian Poland to Russia. Castlereagh of England aimed at keeping the European continent together and open for British trade (Vick, 2014). The fact that Napoleon had attempted to close Europe to goods from Britain was a significant concern for him. With peace and stability in Europe, England’s trade was likely to develop and prosper.
Overall, the Congress of Vienna played an integral role in addressing the numerous problems witnessed in Europe after the French Revolution in 1799. The post Revolution era saw Napoleon become Emperor in France and he conquered several territories in Europe creating conflicts among countries. The Congress made vital decisions that counteracted the effects of the French Revolution. It pushed for the balance of power, resolved to restrain the power of France, laid the foundation for legitimacy, and came up with the decision to reward victors, compensate Allies, and punish losers such as France. The Congress was dominated by five key figures including Metternich of Austria, Alexander I of Russia, Talleyrand of France, Hardenberg of Prussia, and Castlereagh of England. All leaders prioritized the interests of their nations at the expense of Europe’s interests.
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