Sample donated: Virgil Keller
Last updated: November 15, 2019
The Congress of Vienna was the first of a series of 7 conferences held by the power players of the European continent. Originally Metternich’s idea, this system for diplomatic relations and decision making processes which lasted until the year 1822. It was disbanded due to rivalry and disagreement among its remaining members. The Congress System has consisted of several alliances, based on the theories proposed by Talleyrand, Metternich and other leaders. In creating peaceful Europe, Talleyrand proposed a theory of “legitimacy”.His theory was greatly supported by Metternich, which stated that those who were to lead the nations reorganized by the Congress of Vienna should and must be the legitimate heirs to their respective thrones. This was proposed in order to return stability and equilibrium to the European continent by returning to the governmental institutions of pre-Napoleonic times An alliance consisting of the four major powers (also known as the Quadruple Alliance) whose primary goal was to bring about the defeat of Napoleon.And later to control the reorganization of the European continent, in such a manner that would increase the lifespan of their respective “Autocratic Monarchical Systems”.
The member nations were Russia, Prussia, Austria, and Great Britain. In 1818 the Quadruple Alliance became the Quintuple Alliance, as France was admitted. It is important to note that the Quadruple Alliance was “preserved” in original form in case the French became the aggressors. Through the period of 1818-22 a Congress System has been created.In which all matters of international importance were discussed at meeting of all European powers in order to keep the Balance of Power. The creator and great proponent of this system was Metternich, an Austrian diplomat. A series of congresses were held, which have led to creation of present day Europe and international relations.
The first and the most important congress was held in Vienna (1815) at which the members of the Quadruple Alliance reorganized the map of Europe, returning the continent to its former divisions. Many of the decisions made during that conference were directly involved in the outbreak of World War I.Second conference led to the creation of Quintuple alliance, in which the French were allowed to become a member of the alliance formed by the Four Great Powers. The congress of Troppau (1820 through Verona, was vital for keeping peace in Europe.
This conference has determined the course of action that the Great Powers would employ in dealing with the events such as: the unification of both Italy and Germany, the liberal revolt in France and the successful Belgian revolt in which Belgium became independent of the Netherlands.Conferences of Verona and St. Petersburg have dissolved all the alliances, Quadruple and the alliance between Austria, Russia, and Prussia. This settlement was the first attempt to establish a general peace in Europe by co-operation between the major powers. The idea of collective security called “Concert of Europe” was also developed. It suggested the great European powers co-operate to safeguard the stability and peace of Europe.
This arrangement became known as The Congress System, because the powers worked through international congresses and also putting ideas of the European conerns into practice. The inclusion of France in a so-called Quintuple Alliance in 1818 at Aix-la-Chapelle further deepened the divisions between the powers. In the years that ensued, Britain and Russia embarked upon a contest to fill the “power-vacuum” left by the collapse of French hegemony, Britain backed by Austria and Russia with the support of Prussia and France.This resulted in the allied powers becoming increasingly split into two opposing camps, each fighting for the dominant influence in post war affairs. There were clear conflicting interests between the two sides, for Britain peace meant a prosperous economy, and Austria provided the central-anchor of the newly constructed Europe guarding against the threat from east and west. This commonality of interest brought about increasing Anglo-Austrian cooperation.
Metternich, however, frightened of a Franco-Russian alliance, tried to maintain good relations with Russia. Russia, suspicious of Anglo-Austrian cooperation and resentful at Britain’s attempt to keep a check on Russian power whilst advancing her own naval supremacy, looked increasingly towards France to help break their control of the alliance. France, desperate to end her period of isolation, saw an opportunity to link the two greatest European military forces that could in turn be directed against Britain.Even at this early stage it proved near impossible to achieve a commonality of interest between the Great Powers, and in later years, it was to be the conflict between national interests and the peace of Europe that was to tear the alliance apart. The conflict of interest between the powers continued at the conferences of Troppau in 1820. In the years 1818-20, nationalist and liberalist revolutions had compounded Metternich’s problems in Europe. An uprising in Spain triggered mutiny among the army.
Attempts were made to re-instate the liberal constitution of 1812.The rebellion proved successful and news of the success inspired other uprisings in areas such as Piedmont, Naples and Portugal. Metternich, at the head of an empire made up of diverse national groupings saw the revolutions as a threat to the security of the Habsburg monarchy.
Although he was prepared to ally with Britain to stop Russian ambitions in Spain, as the revolutions spread to Italy he looked elsewhere for support. He found an ally in Alexander who was similarly concerned by the spread of French liberalism.It was this split between the Great Powers that was to prove decisive in the break down of the Congress system. Britain, as expressed by Castlereagh in his State Paper of 1820, was quite content for Austria to act in Italy on her own authority, but not with the authority of the alliance. Britain, as a liberal monarchy, was not prepared to suppress other liberal monarchies emerging on the continent.
The result was that Britain only sent observers to the Troppau conferences in 1820 and France.In their absence, Metternich was able to consult with Alexander I in private, and, through his brilliant personal skills, influence Alexander’s opinions. The results were the ‘Troppau Protocol’ and a degeneration of Franco-Russian relations. The former allowed resulted in Britain becoming increasingly isolated from the affairs of Europe. It could be said that the Congress system died at Troppau. The policy laid out so clearly in the State Paper by Lord Castlereagh left Britain little room to maneuver.Indeed, from this point onwards, common interests between the Great Powers began rapidly to evaporate.
It was essentially a difference of opinion on what constituted the ‘peace of Europe’ that split the powers. The liberal monarchies of Britain and France, although willing to tolerate intervention by Austria in Italy to protect her own national interest, were not prepared to condone allied intervention when they did not consider the peace of Europe to be “threatened”.Although relations were stretched to their limits, the ties of friendship and mutual understanding between Castlereagh and Metternich prevented the alliance from disintegrating. In addition, some credit must be given both to Metternich’s diplomacy and to the fact that it suited Britain’s national interests to remain involved in Europe, at least nominally at this point, in order to exercise some influence over European events. The Greek revolt against their Turkish masters unearthed a growing problem. Both Metternich and Castlereagh were concerned for different reasons.
Castlereagh was worried that if Russia was to support her fellow Othodox Christians against their Moslem masters, the “sick man of Europe”, the Ottoman empire, might die leaving a power vacuum in the Balkans. This constituted a very real threat to the peace of Europe, an expanding Russia would be more difficult to negotiate with. Metternich, however, cared little for the Greeks and was far more concerned with maintaining the “Troppau Protocol”. The result was that despite differing reasons for acting, the Anglo-Austrian alliance was renewed out of necessity.However, there was no harmony of interest, the alliance simply showed that the ties between Metternich and Castlereagh were still strong enough to sustain cooperation. Russia caused further problems when revolution in Spain developed into civil war.
Alexander proposed sending Russian troops to the Iberian Peninsula and the prospect of a Russian army marching through Europe appealed neither to Castlereagh nor Metternich. The Congress of Verona was called in 1922 to discuss these issues. It was here that the Congress system disintegrated.Canning, who had replaced Castlereagh as foreign secretary, told Duke of Wellington that Britain would not condone intervention in Spain in the name of the alliance. This policy left little room for negotiation and marked Britain’s withdrawal from the Congress system.
French intervention in Spain and Russian intervention in Greece was the end result. Metternich’s system of European diplomacy had failed. After the above congresses held in the period 1818-1822, the Congress System finally ended, mostly because of the disagreement between the Allies.
With the collapse of this system, the powers then carried out their own policies independently. The Congress System was short-lived and only an informal system. However, it set up a good tradition of using international conferences to settle disputes. Therefore it represented the first attempt to promote international co-operation. Most importantly, the rivalries also made a “balance of power” between the great powers possible. There was relative peace and stability in Europe until the First World War in 1914.