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The Congress of Vienna, widely considered the precursor to today’s United Nations, was the international conference called by the victorious allied nations for the purpose of redrawing the map of Europe and restoring disenfranchised monarchies after their defeat of Napoleon. Many territorial decisions had to be made in the conference which was held in Vienna, Austria, from September 1814 to June 1815. But the main goal of the conference was to create a balance of power that would preserve the peace, which was at the very heart of Great Britain’s prolonged war with Napoleon.

The Main Players

Though the conference opened with a series of glittery balls and conferences, the delegates soon got down to work. Mainly, the four major powers of Europe (Austria, Russia, Prussia, and Great Britain) were left to make most of the big decisions. Austria was represented by Prince Klemens von Metternich, the Austrian minister of state who was also acting president of the Congress. The Russians sent Alexander I, Emperor of Russia.

The main delegate from Prussia was Prince Karl August von Hardenberg, and Great Britain was represented by Lord Castlereagh, and later Arthur Wellesley, the first duke of Wellingtom. This group of major powers decided that France, Spain, and the smaller powers would have no say in important decisions. However, the French diplomat, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand, was successful in allowing France to have an equal voice in the negotiations. Talleyrand became the deciding vote in many of the decisions.

Important Decisions

  • France was deprived of all territory conquered by Napoleon
  • The Dutch Republic was united with the Austrian Netherlands to form a single kingdom of the Netherlands under the House of Orange.
  • Norway and Sweden were joined under a single ruler
  • Switzerland was declared neutral
  • Russia got Finland and effective control over the new kingdom of Poland
  • Prussia was given much of Saxony and important parts of Westphalia and the Rhine Province.
  • Austria was given back most of the territory it had lost and was also given land in Germany and Italy (Lombardia and Venice)
  • Britain got several strategic colonial territories, and they also gained control of the seas.
  • France was restored under the rule of Louis XVIII.
  • Spain was restored under Ferdinand VII

Outcomes of the meeting

The goal of the congress was to reestablish a balance of power amongst the countries of Europe and have peace between the nations. The Congress was highly successful in achieving its goal, for the peace in Europe was left undisturbed for almost 40 years.

The Delegations

At the Congress of Vienna, the monarchs and princes of Europe redrew their boundaries, to the advantage of Prussia (in Saxony and the Ruhr), Austria (in Illyria and Venetia), and Russia (in Poland and Finland). British conquest of Dutch and French colonies (S. Africa, Ceylon, Mauritius) was recognized, and France, under the restored Bourbons, retained its expanded 1792 borders. The settlement brought 50 years of international peace to Europe.

Prussia

Hardenberg, Prince Karl August von (1750-1822), chancellor of Prussia (1810-17), who reformed the Prussian state and played a leading role in the coalition that defeated Napoleon. Born on May 31, 1750, in Hannover, Hardenberg entered the service of the king of Prussia in 1792. In 1795 he negotiated the Treaty of Basel, ceding Prussian territory west of the Rhine to revolutionary France. He was foreign minister from 1804 to 1806, when Napoleon, after defeating and occupying Prussia, had him removed from office.

Appointed chancellor in 1810, Hardenberg carried out extensive reforms, imposing a uniform system of taxation, abolishing restrictions on internal trade, easing the condition of the peasantry, and granting equality to Jews. His attempt to establish a consultative representative assembly, however, was thwarted by opposition from the aristocracy. After Napoleon's hold on Europe was weakened by the failure of his Russian campaign, Hardenberg formed an alliance with Russia (1813), beginning Germany's War of Liberation against the French.

In 1814-15 he represented Prussia at the Congress of Vienna, where the allies redrew the map of Europe after Napoleon's downfall. His collaboration with Great Britain and Austria in opposing Russian plans for the annexation of Poland was repudiated by Prussia's King Frederick William III, but he secured compensation for Prussia, which received parts of Saxony and the Rhineland. in Germany he agreed to a confederation of states under the presidency of Austria. Hardenberg died in Genoa, Italy, on November 26, 1822.

Frederick William III (1770-1840), king of Prussia (1797-1840). He was the son of Frederick William II, born in Potsdam. He was given military training in his youth and from 1792 to 1794 fought against France during the French Revolution. In 1797 he succeeded to the throne and set about rebuilding the economy and the army, which had suffered during the reign of his father. He kept Prussia neutral in the Napoleonic Wars until 1805, when persuaded by Russia and the aroused spirit of his people, he joined the allies against France. Prussia was defeated at Jena and Auerstädt in 1806.

By the Treaty of Tilsit in 1807, various Prussian territories were ceded to France. Through the efforts of the administrators Baron H. F. K. vom Stein, Count A. N. von Gneisenau, Prince K. A. von Hardenberg, and G. J. D. von Scharnhorst (1755-1813), the Prussian army was reconstituted between 1807 and 1812 and participated in the victorious campaigns against Napoleon from 1813 until 1815.

In this period, Frederick William promised the Prussian people a constitution. At the close of the war in 1815, however, he joined the Holy Alliance and participated in the alliance's repression of liberal movements in Europe. Within Prussia, he accomplished the reorganization of parts of the administrative system and consented to formation of the Zollverein, or customs union.

Russia

Alexander I (of Russia) (1777-1825), emperor of Russia (1801-25), son of Emperor Paul I (1754-1801). He abolished many barbarous and cruel punishments then practiced and in 1802 introduced a more orderly administration of government by the creation of eight ministries. He improved the condition of the serfs and promoted education, doubling the number of Russian universities by establishing those at Saint Petersburg, Kharkiv, and Kazan. Alexander was for a time the ally of Prussia against Napoleon of France. In 1807, however, after the battles of Eylau and Friedland, Alexander allied himself with the French. He broke the alliance in 1812, and later that year Napoleon invaded Russia, only to lose his army in a disastrous retreat from Moscow.

Alexander was prominent thereafter in the European coalition that led to Napoleon's fall. In 1815 Alexander instituted the Holy Alliance of Austria, Russia, and Prussia. The purpose of the alliance, as it was conceived, was to achieve the realization of high Christian ideals among the nations of Europe, but it soon ceased to have any real importance. The last years of Alexander's life and reign were reactionary and despotic. He was succeeded by his brother Nicholas I.

France

Talleyrand-Périgord, Charles Maurice de (1754-1838), French statesman and diplomat, who flourished through the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars and played a major part in the outcome of the Congress of Vienna. He also had a remarkable ability to survive in the turbulent period of the French Revolution, the Napoleonic wars, and the restoration of the monarchy. On the darker side, Talleyrand was not above playing both sides of the political street to be assured of coming out on top. Through bribes and speculation he amassed a huge fortune.

Talleyrand was born in Paris on Feb. 2, 1754. From either birth or accident he had a clubfoot. Educated in theology at the seminary of Saint Sulpice, he was ordained a priest in 1779, became abbot of Saint-Denis, and in 1780 was appointed agent-general of the French clergy. In 1789 Talleyrand was named bishop of Autun. Two years later he resigned his see, after subscribing to the new civil constitution of the clergy drawn up by the national constituent assembly, and was subsequently excommunicated. In 1792 he was sent by the French government to London, where he conducted informal negotiations for a British-French alliance.

After the overthrow of the French monarchy in September 1792, Talleyrand returned to England as a private citizen. Following the outbreak of hostilities between France and Great Britain in 1793, he was listed as an émigré by the French authorities, and after being expelled from England in 1794, he went to the United States. Talleyrand was permitted to return to France in 1796, and the following year he was appointed foreign minister under the Directory.

In July 1799 he resigned this office, and subsequently he was instrumental in effecting the coup d'état of 18 Brumaire that established the rule of the Consulate under the first consul Napoleon Bonaparte. Talleyrand served as Bonaparte's foreign minister from 1799 to 1807, when he resigned because of his opposition to the wars against Austria, Prussia, and Russia in 1805-6. After the fall of Napoleon, he represented France at the Congress of Vienna in 1814-15, where he obtained advantageous terms for France from the victorious Allies, including the restoration of the boundaries of 1789.

During the July Revolution of 1830, Louis Philippe, duc d'Orléans, was persuaded by Talleyrand to accept the French crown offered to him by the Paris revolutionaries. Talleyrand served as the French ambassador to Great Britain from 1832 to 1834 and helped bring about an era of good relations between the two nations. He also took part in the negotiations that in 1839 led to the general recognition of the independent kingdom of Belgium. He died in Paris on May 17, 1838.

Austria

Metternich, Prince Klemens Wenzel Nepomuk Lothar, von (1773-1859), Austrian statesman and diplomat, who was the dominant figure in European politics between 1814 and 1848. Metternich was born into an aristocratic family on May 15, 1773, in Koblenz, Germany, and attended the universities of Strasbourg and Mainz. His family fled the revolutionary French armies to Vienna in 1794, and Metternich there married

Countess Eleanor Kaunitz (flourished 1795-1825), whose family was prominent at the Austrian court. He served the Habsburgs first as an envoy to the Congress of Rastadt (1797) and then as ambassador to Saxony (1801), Prussia (1803), and Napoleonic France (1806).

In 1809 Metternich was appointed minister of foreign affairs for the Habsburg state, then in disarray following several defeats by the French army. He arranged the marriage of the Austrian archduchess Marie Louise (1791-1847) to Napoleon, but he planned to renew the war with France when the opportunity arose. After Napoleon's disastrous Russian campaign in 1812, Metternich played a leading role in the formation of a new European coalition that two years later defeated the French emperor.

At the Congress of Vienna (1814-15), which redrew the map of Europe after Napoleon's downfall, he blocked Russian plans for the annexation of the whole of Poland and Prussia's attempt to absorb Saxony. He succeeded in creating a German confederation under Austrian leadership but failed to achieve a similar arrangement for Italy. His attempt to make the postwar Quadruple Alliance (Great Britain, Russia, Prussia, and Austria) into an instrument for preventing revolution in Europe also failed. As chancellor of the Habsburg Empire (1821-48) he was, however, able to maintain the status quo in Germany and Italy, and he remained Europe's leading statesman until driven from power by the Revolution of 1848. He died in Vienna on June 11, 1859.

Metternich equally resented liberalism, nationalism, and revolution. His ideal was a monarchy that shared power with the traditional privileged classes of society. He was a man of order in an increasingly disorganized world of rapidly changing values.

Conceited and indolent by nature, he often assumed responsibility for policies he had not himself formulated. Some have judged him a reactionary who tried to stop progress. To others he was a constructive force, misunderstood by contemporaries and historians alike.

Great Britain

Castlereagh, Robert Stewart, Viscount (1769-1822), British statesman, born in county Down, Ireland, and educated at the University of Cambridge. In 1790 he entered the Irish parliament as a Whig, but he joined the Tory party when he entered the British House of Commons in 1795. A year later he was created Viscount Castlereagh, a courtesy title. As chief secretary for Ireland from 1799, he energetically supported the attempt of the British Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger to bring about the political union of Ireland with Great Britain.

Pitt's proposed legislation, known as the Act of Union, was carried in the Irish parliament in 1800, largely through Castlereagh's skill in bribing parliamentary members. Soon after the act became law (January 1, 1801), Castlereagh resigned from office because of the opposition of King George III to the passing of a Catholic emancipation act, which Castlereagh had hoped would follow the Act of Union.

Castlereagh was a member of the House of Commons from 1801 until his death, serving as leader from 1812. As secretary of state for the war and colonial department during most of the period from 1805 to 1809, he helped plan British campaigns in the Peninsular War. From 1812, as foreign secretary in the Tory cabinet of Robert Banks Jenkinson (1770-1828), 2nd earl of Liverpool, Castlereagh played a leading part in the coalition of nations against Napoleon, keeping it united during the critical campaigns of 1813-14.

Castlereagh represented Great Britain at the Congress of Vienna (1814-15), which redrew the map of Europe after the Napoleonic Wars. At the Congress of Aix-la-Chapelle (1818), he resisted Russian attempts to draw Britain into a European league to oppose revolution. In 1822, suffering from depression and fearful that he was about to be exposed as a homosexual, Castlereagh committed suicide.