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Conservative Order and Counter-Enlightenment

Congress of Vienna and Treaty of Paris, 1814-15 | Conservatism and Counter-Enlightenment

Congress of Vienna

Ambassadors at the Congress of Vienna. They intended to protect the old order.

Congress of Vienna and Treaty of Paris, 1814-15

In 1814, following Napoleon's defeat in Germany and exile to Elba, the enemies of Napoleon gathered at Vienna to create a balance of power in Europe to their favor. The gathering was called the "Congress of Vienna" and their work called the "Concert of Europe." The congress was in session during Napoleon's return from exile on the Island of Elba, and it ended in June 1815, a few days before Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo.

At the Congress the British succeeded in getting a declaration against the slave trade. But the more conservative powers were interested mainly in squashing the Enlightenment and nationalism. They viewed the Enlightenment as having inspired the French Revolution and they viewed the French Revolution as having encouraged an attack on their religion. Conservatives wanted a return to respect for the wisdom of traditional authorities, and they wanted to shore up obedience.

Alexander I, the tsar of Russia, an Orthodox Christian, wanted an international order based on Christianity, and he talked the emperor of Prussia, a Protestant, and the emperor of Austria, a Roman Catholic, into joining him in what was called a Holy Alliance. Austria and Prussia did not want to offend Alexander, so they joined their kingdoms to Alexander's creation, agreeing with Alexander that the "sublime truths" of Christianity ought to guide relations between nations and guide the domestic affairs of nations. Strong religious conviction, they held, was necessary for maintaining upright and loyal subjects. The rulers of Russia, Austria and Prussia agreed that challenges to their authoritarian rule by liberalism and revolution ought to remain suppressed.

Britain, the most liberal of the powers, did not join the Holy Alliance. Viscount Castlereagh, foreign minister of Britain – the most scientific-minded and liberal of the four powers – dismissed the Holy Alliance as mystical nonsense and thought Alexander to be unbalanced.

Leading the Congress of Vienna was the foreign minister for Austria's monarch, Klemens von Metternich. According to Metternich the people of Europe wanted peace rather than liberty. And peace was what Metternich wished to provide them, within a context of what he saw as legitimate rule. Legitimate rule for Metternich was that of an authoritarian monarchy. Metternich wanted to restore to the continent the old aristocratic and monarchical order and empire.

Asserting what they believed to be their authority, the men at the Congress of Vienna redrew the map of Europe. What was to be known as the Treaty of Paris was signed there on 20 November 1815, four months after Napoleon had surrendered to the British and with Louis XVIII sitting on France's throne.

Belgium was taken from what had been Napoleonic France and combined with the United Netherlands. Austria was given authority in Germany again – except areas ruled by Prussia. Genoa, Sardinia, Piedmont and Savoy were to be ruled by the House of Savoy, as was the city of Nice. Lombardy (around Milan) and Venetia (in northern Italy) were given to Austria. To compensate Austria for its loss of Polish territory it was given Slavic territory along the Dalmatian Coast (along the eastern side of the Adriatic Sea, formerly possessed by Venice).

The four powers that had met at the Congress of Vienna recognized the restored the monarchy. They were to occupy France, the defeated power, until 1818. Then France was to join the victorious nations, making the alliance of four an alliance of five.


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