Nations of Europe and the Great War - Charles Morris

The Holy Alliance and Its Unholy Work

Events Leading to the Monroe Doctrine and the Foreign Policy of the United States


We have not yet told the whole story of the Congress of Vienna. While arranging for a new distribution of power and authority in Europe, it took another seemingly necessary step; that of providing an instrumentality for making its work durable. The plan devised by the Congress for the suppression of revolution by the restless population of Europe, wrought to desperation by the effort of the imperial autocrats to rob them of the liberties which they had for a brief period enjoyed, was the establishment of an association of monarchs which adopted the grandiloquent title of the Holy Alliance. It included Alexander of Russia, Francis of Austria, and Frederick William of Prussia, men whose ideas of holiness embraced the recognition of their august majesties as the deities of a new religion.

Significance of the Name

These devout autocrats proposed to rule in accordance with the precepts of the Bible, to stand by each other in a true fraternity, to govern their subjects like loving parents, and to see that peace, justice, and religion should flourish in their dominions. An ideal scheme it was, but its promulgators soon won the name of hypocrites and the hatred of those whom they were to deal with on the principle of love and brotherhood. Reaction was the watchword, absolute sovereignty the purpose, the eradication of the doctrine of popular sovereignty the sentiment which animated these powerful monarchs; and the Holy Alliance meant practically the determination to unite their forces against democracy and revolution wherever they should show themselves. They may have felt that the existing system was the best of all possible systems and that all who opposed it were enemies of wholesome government.

Their promises had been sufficiently gratifying. Under the inspiration of the Czar Alexander a treaty or compact was signed by the trio of autocrats, in which they proposed to manifest "before the whole world their unalterable determination to adopt as the rule of their conduct, whether in the administration of their respective states or in their political relations with every other government, the precepts of the Christian religion, precepts of justice, of charity and of peace."

In the first article of this compact they pledged themselves to regard one another as "brothers," in the second they agreed "to show one another unalterable good will," regarding themselves as "delegated by Providence to govern three branches of one and the same family, namely, Austria, Prussia and Russia," to form them into a single Christian nation, having as sovereign "Him to whom alone belongs power as a property, because in Him are found all the treasures of love, knowledge and infinite wisdom."

A Dangerous Doctrine

It is rather dangerous for any man or group of men, however abundantly they regard themselves to be filled with the sentiments of fatherly and brotherly love, to undertake to think and act for millions of subjects likely to be affected by very different ideas and aspirations. Such individuals are too apt to imagine that to them belong "the earth and the fulness thereof," that their word is law, their ideas wisdom, their political views the only just and true ones. In consequence, even when moved by the best intentions, they frequently cause more mischief than they can cure. Such was certainly the case with the imperial members of the Holy Alliance. Satisfied in their minds that the existing status of society was the one designed by the Creator of the Universe, they were vigorously bent on maintaining it and putting down with a vigorous hand any one who presumed to hold different views.

A remark made by the Czar Alexander shows luminously how little he was fitted to act as the arbiter of fate to his subjects. "You are ever speaking to me of principles," he said to one of his advisers. "I do not know what they are; what attention do you think I pay to your parchments or your treaties?" Such was the man who proposed to act as the vicegerent of God, and who had just taken a leading part in the dividing up of Europe on new lines, often with sublime indifference to the aspirations of the peoples or the rights of the former or present rulers. Thus Belgium was forcibly attached to Holland, in utter disregard of Belgian public opinion. Italy was in the same arbitrary way handed over to Austria, with equal disregard of public sentiment. So unwise, in fact, proved the autocratic allies that the edifice they thus laboriously built was quickly shaken by the hand of revolt; so rudely indeed that it rapidly began to fall to pieces, and in little over half a century had disappeared.

It was not long before the people began to move. The attempt to re-establish absolute governments shook them out of their sluggish quiet. Revolution lifted its head in the face of the Holy Alliance, its first field being Spain. Ferdinand VII, on returning to his throne, had but one purpose in his weak mind, which was to rule as an autocrat, as his ancestors had done. He swore to govern according to a constitution, and began his reign with a perjury. The patriots had formed a constitution during his absence, and this he set aside and failed to replace by another. On the contrary, he set out to abolish all the reforms made by Napoleon, and to restore the monasteries, to bring back the Inquisition, and to prosecute the patriots. Five years of this reaction made the state of affairs in Spain so intolerable that the liberals refused to submit to it any longer. In 1820 they rose in revolt, and the king, a coward under all his show of bravery, at once gave way and restored the constitution he had set aside.

Revolution in Spain and Naples

The shock given the Holy Alliance by the news from Spain was quickly followed by another coming from Naples. The Bourbon king who had been replaced upon the throne of that country, another Ferdinand, was one of the most despicable men of his not greatly esteemed race. His government, while weak, was harshly oppressive. But it did not need a revolution to frighten this royal dastard. A mere general celebration of the victory of the liberals in Spain was enough, and in his alarm he hastened to give his people a constitution similar to that which the Spaniards had gained.

These awkward affairs sadly disturbed the equanimity of those statesmen who fancied that they had fully restored the divine right of kings, and of the monarchs who held that they were called upon by God to govern their subjects in their own way. Metternich, the Austrian advocate of reaction, hastened to call a new Congress, in 1820, and another in 1821. The question he put to these assemblies was: Should revolution be permitted, or should Europe interfere in Spain and Naples, and pledge herself to uphold everywhere the sacred powers of legitimate monarchs? His old friends of the Holy Alliance backed him up in this suggestion, both Congresses adopted it, a policy of repression of revolutions became the program, and Austria was charged to restore what Metternich called "order" in Naples.

While those at the head of affairs were thus engaged in formulating their views, the demand for liberty and human rights was growing more insistent among the people, secret revolutionary societies were widely formed, and a perilous insurrectionary spirit was evidently abroad. The result was a determination in the minds of the monarchs to proceed against this growing anarchy before it gained too great headway, and to begin by putting down the revolutionists in the two kingdoms in which they had recently triumphed, Spain and Naples.

Work of the Holy Alliance in Italy

There was no evident intention to make a distinction between just grievances and inopportune demands. The revolutions in Greece, Spain, Naples and Turin were represented in a circular note "as being of the same origin and worthy of the same fate." If no measure was taken against the Greeks, it was because Russia was interested in that revolt of its coreligionists, since this would give it allies within the Turkish empire. As for Italy, Austria took it upon herself to destroy there "the false doctrines and criminal associations that have called down upon rebellious peoples the sword of justice."

A numerous army, which was to be followed by one hundred thousand Russians, in case of need, set out from Lombardo-Venetia. At Rieti and Novara Pepe's and Santa Rosa's recruits could not hold out against the veterans of the great wars of the empire, and the Austrians entered Naples, Turin and Messina. Behind them the jails were filled and scaffolds were erected. Austria lent its prisons as well as its soldiers. There were sixteen thousand at one time in the prisons of the two Sicilies, and in 1822 there were also witnessed in the kingdom nine cases of capital punishment for political offenses. In Piedmont all the leaders who could be caught were decapitated—the others were executed in effigy. No insurrection had broken out in the States of the Church, properly so called; yet four hundred persons were imprisoned there, and many were condemned to death, but the Pope commuted the sentence. The notable Piedmontese, Silvio Pellico, has told with the gentleness of a martyr what tortures were added to captivity by that pitiless policy.

The Spanish Revolt Put Down

The Holy Alliance next decided to undertake the same work of repression beyond the Pyrenees. There savage outrages had been perpetrated on both sides. To dispel the suspicions which France had for a moment inspired by its hesitancy regarding Austrian intervention in Italy, Louis XVIII's government asked permission to suppress in Spain agitations that threatened to reach the southern departments of France. England, where irritation was increasing against the pretensions of the Holy Alliance to regulate the affairs of Europe, held aloof, there being much difference of opinion among its statesmen.

The French army commanded by the Duke of Angoulenle entered Spain on April 7, 1823. It had few occasions to fight and encountered serious resistance only at Cadiz, which it besieged. On August 31st it captured by assault the strong position of the Trocadero, and this success brought about the surrender of the city. The army carried its liberal spirit into Spain. Its officers opened the prisons confining men whose crime was the spreading of ideas similar to those of France, and Angouleme sought to prevent acts of violence on the part of a royalist reaction, and to stop arbitrary arrests and executions.

But Ferdinand did not mean that his saviors should impose conditions on him. The military commissions were implacable. Riego, seriously wounded, was carried to the gibbet on a hurdle drawn by an ass; at one and the same place fifty-two companions of a cabecilla were put to death. A counter-revolution was effected at Lisbon as well as at Madrid. There the king declared the constitution abolished and restored absolute power for a few months. Despite the congratulations sent by the secular rulers and the Pope to the honest but not brilliant French prince who had led this easy campaign, the elder branch of the Bourbons failed to gain enough military glory by it to become reconciled with the country. Men saw in that expedition only French soldiers placed at the service of a knavish and cruel king, and the finances of France saddled with an expense of two hundred millions. But small as it was, success inspired the reactionist ministry with a confidence in their plans, which the elections, held under a peculiarly restrictive law, further increased by admitting to the Chamber only nineteen Liberal Deputies.

The Allies Gain Freedom for Greece

Only in two regions did the spirit of revolt triumph during this period of reaction. These were Greece and Spanish America. The historic land of Greece had long been in the hands of a despotism with which even the Holy Alliance was not in sympathy—that of Turkey. Its very name, as a modern country, had almost vanished, and Europe heard with astonishment in 1821 that the descendants of the ancient Greeks had risen against the tyranny under which they had been crushed for centuries.

The struggle was a bitter one. The sultan was atrocious in his cruelties. In the island of Chios alone he brutally murdered 20,000 Greeks. But the spirit of the old Athenians and Spartans was in the people, and they kept on fighting in the face of defeat. For four years this went on, while the Powers of Europe looked on without raising a hand. Some of their people indeed took part, among them Lord Byron, who died in Greece in 1824; but the governments failed to warm up to their duty.

In fact, the governments, even the British, at first condemned the revolt of the Greek patriots. The view of British statesmen was that the struggle for Greek liberty compromised the existence of Turkey, the preservation of which was thought to be essential to the security of the British empire in India. Evidently self-interest weighed heavier than human rights.

"British Liberalism," said Chateaubriand, "wears the liberty cap in Mexico and the turban at Athens." As for the Holy Alliance, it saw in that insurrection only a revolt, and, by a strange application of the doctrine of Divine right, it pretended that its principle of legitimacy had to protect the throne of the head of the Osmanlis. "Do not say Greeks," Nicholas said one day in 1826 in answer to Wellington, who was speaking to him of England's sympathy for them; "do not say Greeks, but insurgents against the Sublime Porte. I will no more protect their revolt than I would wish to see the Porte protect a sedition among my subjects."

Yet a few months later these words were superseded by acts far from being in keeping with them. The reason was that opinion in favor of the Hellenes was becoming irresistible; the whole of Liberal Europe espoused a cause heroically supported for national independence and religion. Sympathy was aroused, even among the conservatives, by the magical name Greece and by the struggle of Christians against Mussulmans; and in France as well as in England the finger of scorn would have been pointed at him who would not applaud the legendary exploits of Niketas, Bozzaris and Canaris, bold chiefs who led their palikars against the thickest ranks of the Janissaries and their fireships into the midst of the hostile squadrons. It had become necessary that the politicians should swim with the current of public opinion. Into it Canning easily drew England. This country, seeing Italy subject to Austrian influence, Spain returned to friendship with France, the Orient agitated by Russia's intrigues or threatened by its arms, was growing uneasy for the security of the shores of the Mediterranean, to which higher commerce was about to return. In that sea it had indeed formidable supports in Gibraltar, Malta and the Ionian Islands; but these were fortresses, not provinces, and it was important for the security of the British interests in the Mediterranean that the rulers of Russia should not gain the mastery at Constantinople as those of Austria had done at Milan, Rome and Naples, and the Bourbon royal family at Madrid.

The diversity of opinion and of interests, with the steady pressure upon national politics of an awakened public demand for Greek liberty, reached a desirable result in 1827, when the three most interested Powers, Great Britain, France and Russia, covenanted to put an end to the war of extermination then proceeding in the Peloponnesus, through the barbarity of Ibrahim Pasha, son of the viceroy of Egypt. The allied squadrons of these three Powers attacked the Ottoman fleet in Navarino Bay on October 20, 1827. When the battle was at an end the Ottoman fleet had ceased to exist. The victory had been an easy one, despite the boasting of the victors. It did not bring to an end the determination of the Turks to put down the insurgent Greeks, the maritime war being followed by one on land. Russia declared war against Turkey April 26, 1828, and France sent 15,000 troops to the Morea to terminate the persistent Greek question, which then threatened to give rise to national complications.

The long struggle of the Greeks for liberty, which they would have been unable to gain without external aid, culminated on the 3d of February,1830, when a protocol of the allied Powers proclaimed their independence. The Porte, unable longer to continue the struggle against its enemies, recognized Greek independence on April 25, 1830, and Greece was added to the states of Europe. A kingdom was established under Prince Otho of Bavaria, whose rule was for a time practically absolute, years passing before a system of constitutional government was gained. Otho held the throne, with steadily growing unpopularity, until 1863, when he was compelled to abdicate, being succeeded by Prince William George of Denmark as King George.

Liberty for Spanish America

The story of the struggle for liberty in Spanish-America, with its gradual attainment during the first quarter of the nineteenth century, does not come within the scope of this work, except as an example of the prevalence of the desire for liberty throughout the civilized world, which in America had replaced the often barbarous rule of Spain with a series of republics, copies of that of the great exemplar of republican government, the United States. Just here, however, is a matter worthy of consideration, as one of the last manifestations of vitality in the Holy Alliance.

Not content with its "fraternal" work on the European continent, the Holy Alliance turned an observing eye on the great continent across the Atlantic, in which there seemed a promising field for its benevolent interposition. Spain had met with severe reverses in America, retaining of its once vast colonial empire on that continent only the two islands of Cuba and Porto Rico. It naturally desired to regain the lost provinces, and King Ferdinand turned for aid to the great anti-liberal alliance, of which France then constituted a fourth member. The members of the alliance viewed the proposition favorably. It promised to add materially to the territory under their system of government, the God-given one, as they maintained, and also to enable each of them to add to its colonial possessions. The King of Spain, small in mental caliber as he was, did not imagine that the benevolence of the Alliance would stretch to the extent of returning all this territory to him. He knew well that they proposed to pay themselves liberally for any service rendered him, and that he would have to be content with the portion they chose to leave him. If they should undertake to pull his chestnuts from the fire they doubtless meant to keep a due share of the fruit.

The Birth of the Monroe Doctrine

This very ingenious scheme did not remain a secret. George Canning, British minister for Foreign Affairs, discovered what was in view and did not approve of it. The British realm at that time had an active trade with the former Spanish colonies and this would be sure to decrease materially in the event of the territory of these colonies falling into the hands of the members of the Holy Alliance. He informed the American government of what was in the wind, and suggested that Britain and the United States should join in checking this proposed action.

It was anything but welcome news to the United States. There was reason to believe that France would claim Cuba for her share of the spoils, thus securing not only a new foothold in America but a rich island very near the United States coast. There was also trouble brewing in the Pacific, where Russia held Alaska and claimed coastal possessions in that locality reaching nearly to San Francisco, and also declared that it had the right to keep the vessels of other nations out of the North Pacific.

It was this state of affairs that gave rise to the famous "Monroe Doctrine," which in this way, therefore, was a direct outgrowth of the formation and purpose of the Holy Alliance. Canning's suggestion that the United States and Great Britain should join hands in dealing with this project did not appeal to President Monroe, who was an advocate of Washington's suggestion to avoid entangling alliances with any European Power. As it was, then, he acted for the United States alone, under the advice of John Quincy Adams, his secretary of state, and Thomas Jefferson, one of America's shrewdest statesmen. The result of their conference was the issue in 1823 of the "Monroe Doctrine," a declaration of policy that has more than once been effectively applied and which still exists in full force.

One of the phrases of this celebrated doctrine—" The American continents, by the free and independent condition which they have assumed and maintain, are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European Powers"—was specially directed against the colonizing purposes of Russia. Its concluding phrase reads: "With the governments who have declared their independence and maintain it, and whose independence we have, on great consideration and on just principles, acknowledged, we could not view any interposition for the purpose of oppressing them or controlling in any other manner their destiny by an European Power in any other light than as the manifestation of an unfriendly disposition toward the United States."

This evidently was intended to warn off nations in general from meddling in American matters. It was effective so far as the Holy Alliance was concerned. Its projects fell dead, and with them the Alliance itself, for from this time forward it ceased to play a part in European politics.