Congress of Vienna
Congress of Vienna
It was in October 1814, when ambassadors of the major powers of Europe got together under the chairmanship of Austrian Statesman Klemen’s Wenzel von Metternich for a conference at Vienna in Austria, which in history came to be known as the Congress of Vienna.
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The new waves of political radicalism and nationalism had caught Europe in international warfare for about 22 years before the conference at Vienna - Congress of Vienna introduction. In 1789, the French Revolution followed by Napoleonic wars between the years 1804–1815 had created turmoil in whole Europe. Napoleon Bonaparte crowned himself as the Emperor of France and soon conquered many European States. But when in 1812, France was defeated during its invasion over Russia and Napoleon’s suffered complete military defeat, Bourbon monarchy was ultimately restored in France. Napolean Bonaparte was exiled to Elba and the need was aroused to restore peace in Europe and to create back the normalcy and order, of the era before French Revolution, Congress summoned all the European States for a series of sessions to Vienna.
Great Britain, Russia, Austria and Prussia were the major powers who authoritatively controlled the Congress but later France was also added to this list. In the conference, the major decision was made to redraw the map of Europe. The sole purpose of Congress was to prevent wars, conflicts in future and restoration of order in Europe. The four principles, which guided the Congress, were restoration of power of balance, restoration of monarchies in whole Europe, reducing boundaries of France to its original and punishing the nations allied to Napoleon. (Ola Kirstian) Congress vividly followed these principles and ultimately at the conclusion of Congress, many nations like Austria, France, Prussia, Great Britain, Russia, Portugal, Spain and Sweden signed the treaty in June 1815. The Congress took major decisions to implement its guidelines. France territories were contained and the states and territories surrounding France were strengthened to prevent its aggression and expansion in future. Russia was given Poland and Finland while Prussia got Westphalia, Rhineland, and parts of Poland and Saxony. Austria got back its lost territory and also parts of Italy and Germany. Kingdom of Netherlands was given Austrian Netherlands and Dutch Republic. Switzerland’s neutrality was guaranteed and Hanover was made a Kingdom. Former Dutch colonies in South Africa and Ceylon were annexed by Britain. Genoa, Nice, Savoy and Piedmont were given to Sardinia. After the disappearance of Holy Roman Empire, 39 independent states joined together to form German Confederation. Congress also condemned slave trade and guaranteed freedom of navigation in many rivers.
Congress was successful in its objectives. Next forty years was a period of more or less stability as no major power got involved in any aggression or hostility and the conflicts were resolved peacefully. Congress adopted the resolution, “There is always an alternative to conflict” (Smoler, 1996), which became the hallmark towards the path of peace as various European states pledged to adopt peaceful methods and means of conferences to settle disputes and problems. This was marked as an important and historical step towards European Cooperation.
Though the Congress of Vienna was a very important turning point in the history of Europe yet there were several points they did not resolve fully in the conference. The congress completely failed to regard the new social changes of liberalism, nationalism and growing aspirations of the local population. Metternich, leader of Austria too did not approve of social changes and forces and suppressed them to his best of capability. Belgian and Greek established their independent states in 1830 and thus the dictates of Congress were overturned in Europe itself. The disenchantment grew in the urban classes of Europe due to emergence of radical ideas in Italy and Germany and their political repression. There was revolt in Sicily and France against the autocracy and soon the effects of revolt spread like wildfire in whole of Europe. This led to the revolutions in 1848 and Europe once again witnessed its share of civil unrest. The policies of Congress also did not apply toward the new developments taking place overseas. Spanish Empire collapsed in America in 1810-1823 and this led to the establishment of independent, liberal and republic Brazil Empire with few more new independent states. The United States also stood firmly rooted to the principles of liberalism, federalism and democratic republic.
It was in 1853-1856 that the Great Powers fought first war popularly called as Crimean War and the system of congress eventually broke down after twenty years of conflict. No-doubt, Congress of Vienna managed to establish a stable international system in the 19th century but its non-acceptance of changing times and the new waves of forces failed to build stability in Europe.
1. Ola Kristian, Congress of Vienna. All Empires Online History Community. Retrieved on
July 19, 2007 from W.W.W:
2. Smoler J. (1996) The Congress of Vienna. aol.com. Retrieved on July 19, 2007 from