Nations of Europe and the Great War - Charles Morris

The Congress of Vienna

Radical Changes in the Map of Europe


The terrific struggle of the "Hundred Days," which followed Napoleon's return from Elba and preceded his exile to St. Helena, made a serious break in the deliberations of the Congress of Vienna, convened by the victorious Powers for the purpose of recasting the map of Europe, which Napoleon had so sadly transformed, of setting aside the radical work of the French Revolution, and, in a word, of turning back the hands of the clock of time. Twenty-five years of such turmoil and volcanic disturbance as Europe had rarely known were at an end; the ruling powers were secure of their own again; the people, worn out with the long and bitter struggle, welcomed eagerly the return of rest and peace; and the emperors and kings deemed it a suitable time to throw over-board the load of new ideas under which the European "Ship of State" seemed to them likely to founder.


The art of map-making, that of recasting the boundaries of countries and throwing into the waste heap the carefully prepared maps of the past, is one that goes on side by side with that of war, and is put into effect as one of its most common results. In our day the widening of the borders of victorious countries and narrowing of those of defeated nations is one of the chief results of war, and numerous instances of it might be cited. Of recent examples may be named the taking of the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine from France and adding them to Germany in 1871, an injury which France still bitterly resents and to retrieve which became the most prominent object of the French people in taking part in the war of 1914. A second instance of considerable interest was that which followed the Balkan War of 1912-13, succeeding which decided changes in the boundaries of the countries involved took place, one of its results being the founding of a new and turbulent nation, that of Albania.

Empire Building

In this work of empire building history presents few instances to compare with that arising from the Napoleonic wars, which led to the boundaries of the empire of France being enormously extended, while the multitude of minor states in Germany were in considerable measure swept out of existence, their relics being used for the building up of fewer and larger states. As we have already seen, the remnant of the once powerful kingdom of Poland was at this time dismembered and divided between the great robber nations surrounding—Austria, Russia and Prussia. It would be difficult to find an example of national brigandage surpassing this in political depravity and indignity, since even the ordinary pretence of warlike retribution was lacking. It is something which the Polish people have never forgotten or forgiven, and efforts to placate them and obtain their earnest aid were made alike by Germany and Russia at the opening of the war of 1914.

We speak of these matters here from the fact that the Congress of Vienna, with which we are now concerned, was convened for the purpose of overthrowing the wholesale map-making of Napoleon and restoring the older condition of affairs so far as appeared possible or desirable. The task of the Congress was far from an easy one. Many of the smaller German States could not be restored to their original owners. Those who had benefited by occupying them were sure to protest effectively against giving them up, and all statesmen of sound judgment could not but perceive that Napoleon had done excellent work in destroying the intricate medieval division of Germany into minor units, much of it the work of robber barons of the past. As for the derelict "Holy Roman Empire," to attempt to restore it would be like lifting a fiction into the attitude of a fact. Such was the character of the problem which lay before the members of the Congress that had been convened to try and overthrow the work done by Napoleon's autocratic will.

Membership of the Congress

The Congress of Vienna, opened in September, 1814, was, in its way, a brilliant gathering. It included, mainly as handsome ornaments, the emperors of Russia and Austria, the kings of Prussia, Denmark, Bavaria and Wurtemberg; and, as its working element, the leading statesmen of Europe, notably the English Castlereagh and Wellington, the French Talleyrand, the Prussian Hardenberg, and the Austrian Metternich. Checked in its deliberations for a time by Napoleon's fierce hundred days' death struggle, it quickly settled down to work again, having before it the vast task of undoing the mighty results of a quarter of a century of revolution. For the French Revolution had broadened into a European revolution, with Napoleon and his armies as its great instruments. The whole continent had been sown thickly with the French ideas of human rights, and a crop of new demands had grown up, not easily to be uprooted.

The exile of Napoleon to Elba had been followed by a treaty at Paris, in which the widely expanded borders of the French empire were forced back within their original limits, France surrendering fifty-eight fortified places still held by its troops, 12,000 pieces of artillery, and a considerable number of warships. After the final Napoleonic downfall at Waterloo a second treaty of Paris had been signed, November 20, 1815, through which France lost still more heavily, more territory was taken, a war indemnity of over 1,000,000,000 francs was exacted, and arrangements were made for five years of foreign occupation.

Reaction The Order of the Day

Reaction was the order of the day in the Vienna Congress. The shaken power of the monarchs was to be restored, the map of Europe to be readjusted, the people to be put back into the submissive condition which they had occupied before that eventful 1789, when the States-General of France began its momentous work of destroying the equilibrium of the world. As for the people of Europe, deeply infected as they were with the new ideas of liberty and the rights of man, which had made their way far beyond the borders of France, they were for the time worn out with strife and turmoil, and settled back supinely to enjoy the welcome era of rest, leaving their fate for the present in the hands of the astute plenipotentiaries who were gathered in their wisdom at Vienna.

These worthy tools of the monarchs had an immense task before them—too large a one, as it proved. It was easy to talk about restoring to the nations the territory they had possessed before Napoleon began his career as a map-maker; but it was not easy to do so except at the cost of new wars. The territories of many of the Powers had been added to by the French emperor, and they were not likely to give up their new possessions without protest, if not war. In Germany the changes, as already stated, had been enormous. Napoleon had found there more than three hundred separate states, some no larger than a small American county, yet each possessed of the paraphernalia of a court and sovereign, a capital, an army and a public debt. And these were feebly combined into the phantasm known as the Holy Roman Empire.

When Napoleon had finished his work this empire had ceased to exist except as a tradition, and the great galaxy of sovereign states was reduced to thirty-nine. These included the great dominions of Austria and Prussia; the smaller states of Bavaria, Saxony, Hanover and Wurtemberg, which Napoleon had raised into kingdoms; and a vastly reduced group of minor states. The work done here it was somewhat dangerous to meddle with. The small potentates of Germany were like so many bulldogs, glaring jealously across their new borders, and ready to fly at one another's throats at any suggestion of a change. The utmost they would yield was to be united into a confederacy called the Bund, with a Diet meeting at Frankfort. But as the delegates to the Diet were given no law-making power, the Bund  became an empty farce.

Brief Summary of Changes

The great Powers took care to regain their lost possessions, or to replace them with an equal amount of territory. Prussia and Austria spread out again to their old size, though they did not cover quite the old ground. Most of their domains in Poland were given up, Prussia getting new territory in West Germany and Austria in Italy. These provinces in Poland were ceded to Alexander of Russia, who added them to his own Polish dominions, and formed a new kingdom of Poland, with himself as king. So in a shadowy way Poland was brought to life again. Britain got for her share in the spoils a number of French and Dutch colonies, including Malta and the Cape Colony in Africa. Thus each of the great Powers repaid itself for its losses.

In Italy a variety of changes were made. The Pope got back the States of the Church; Tuscany was restored to its king; the same was the case with Naples, King Murat, Napoleon's old Marshal, being driven from his throne and put to death. Piedmont, increased by the Republic of Genoa, was restored to the king of Sardinia. Some smaller states were formed, as Parma, Modena and Lucca. Finally Lombardy and Venice, much the richest regions of Italy, were annexed to Austria, which country was made the dominant power in the Italian peninsula.

Louis XVIII, the Bourbon king, brother of Louis XVI, who had reigned while Napoleon was at Elba, came back to the throne of France. The title of Louis XVII had been given to the poor boy, son of Louis XVI, who had died from cruel treatment in the dungeons of the Revolution. In Spain the feeble Ferdinand returned to the throne which he had given up without a protest at the command of Napoleon. Portugal was granted a monarch of its old dynasty. All seemed to have floated back into the old conditions again.

Excesses of the Congress

In fuller review of the work of the Congress, it is a matter well worthy of interest to note that all the excesses with which Napoleon had been reproached were repeated there; the four sovereigns (of Russia, Britain, Prussia and Austria) who had set themselves up as the instruments of Providence against revolutionary France, rearranging the map of Europe to the advantage of their ambition. A veritable market of men was held. The commission entrusted with reapportioning the human flock among the kings, known by the significant name of Valuation Commission, was very much taken up with the demands of Prussia, which claimed an indemnity of three million three hundred thousand souls. They went so far as to discuss the quality of the merchandise, and they did France the honor of acknowledging that a former Frenchman of Aix-la-Chapelle or Cologne was worth more than a Pole; so, to equalize the division, they gave fewer men on the left bank of the Rhine than on the right bank of the Oder. While the four Powers were in accord, there were no ecclesiastical princes, and the free cities were a cheap booty that was divided unscrupulously. At one time this trade in subjects, however, came near leading to the rupture of the coalition. Russia and Prussia had come to an understanding that would give the former the whole of Poland and the latter all of Saxony in exchange for its Polish provinces. "Everyone must find what suits him," the Czar had said. But Britain, Austria and France agreed, in a secret treaty, to make this plan fail, and the French ambassador, Talleyrand, succeeded in saving the king of Saxony; but at the same time he compromised France by proposing to give to Prussia, in exchange for the Saxon provinces which it wanted, those of the Rhine, which it did not want.

Britain had no territorial claim to make on the continent; it had obtained restitution to its royal house of the Electorate of Hanover, along with some additions of territory; but as Hanover was a male fief, a separation was foreseen that took place in 1837. However, it could well remain satisfied with keeping what it had acquired on the sea during its struggle against the Revolution and the Empire—Heligoland, opposite the mouths of the Elbe and the Weser; the protectorate of the Ionian Islands, at the entrance to the Adriatic; Malta, between Sicily and Africa; Santa Lucia and Tabago, in the Antilles; the Seychelles and the Isle of France, in the Indian Ocean; the Dutch colony of the Cape of Good Hope, and the island of Ceylon.

France, while diminished by the increase in power of the four great states, was still a large and important country, and seemed formidable enough for precautions to be taken against it along its frontiers, these having been left open to future invasions. The coalition established as its outposts the following countries: on the north Belgium and Holland, united in a single kingdom under the scepter of the Prince of Orange; on the northeast the Rhenish country, divided between Prussia, which got the largest share, Holland, which obtained Luxembourg and Limbourg, Hesse-Darmstadt and Bavaria, France's old ally, which was put at its doors to become its enemy. Lastly, in the south the re-establishment of Savoy and Piedmont placed Lyons, France's second capital, within two days march of the coalition's armies.

Confederation of the Rhine

The most difficult matter had been the reconstruction of the Confederation of the Rhine, which was turned anew against France under the name of the Germanic Confederation. Long and violent debates in the Congress arose on this subject, the small states making energetic efforts to save their independence. Those who held for German unity, and even Prussia, wished to restore the old empire of Germany. Austria dared not resume the ancient crown of the Hapsburgs, and the kings of Bavaria and Wurtemberg did not mean to let fall from their heads those which Napoleon had placed upon them. Already, when there was question of the spoliation of Saxony, Bavaria had promised thirty thousand men to Talleyrand if France, united with Austria and England, wished to throw Prussia back into Brandenburg and Russia behind the Vistula; and Wurtemberg, Hanover, Baden and Hesse were in accord with this. It was agreed that the empire destroyed in 1806 could not be restored; and when the news of the return from Elba came, the Confederation of the Rhine was formed, a device thus irreverently characterized: "A hut to shelter Germany during the storm was built in great haste, a wretched shelter which the princes themselves destroyed later on." This Confederation was to be composed of thirty-nine states sending deputies to a diet at Frankfort, the perpetual presidency of which would devolve on Austria.

That diet was to consist of two assemblies, the one ordinary, with seventeen votes (that is, one vote for each of the large states, and one also for each of the groups into which the small states had been arranged); and the general assembly, in which each state had a number of votes in proportion to its importance, in all sixty-nine votes. The former would decide current business; the latter was to be convened whenever there was question of the fundamental laws or of the great interests of the federal pact. The Confederates would retain their sovereign independence, their armies, and their diplomatic representation. But the Confederation would also have its own army and fortresses, these to be built out of the indemnity paid by France—Luxembourg, Mayence and Landau, to close against France the approach to the Rhine; Rastadt and Ulm, to keep it at the foot of the Black Forest or in the valley of the Danube.

How the Other Countries Fared

In Switzerland, Geneva and Vaud were enlarged at the expense of France with a part of the Gex country and some communes of Savoy; Valais, Geneva and Neufchatel, added to the nineteen old cantons, formed the Helvetian Confederation, which the Congress placed under the guarantee of perpetual neutrality. In Italy the king of the Two Sicilies and the Pope recovered what they had lost; but Austria again became omnipotent in the peninsula. Mistress of the Milanese and Venetia, it made sure of the right bank of the Po by the privilege of putting a garrison in Piacenza, Ferrara and Coracchio; it had placed an archduke on the throne of Tuscany, stipulated the revertibility to the imperial crown of the duchies of Parma, Piacenza and Guastalla, ceded for life to the ex-Empress Maria Louisa, and of that of Modena, given to an Austrian prince. In the last place, though he had received Genoa and Savoy, the king of Piedmont, poorly defended by the Ticino frontier, seemed at the mercy of his formidable neighbor. In the north of Europe Sweden, in compensation for Finland taken by Russia, received Norway taken from Denmark, which was to obtain in compensation Swedish Pomerania and Rugen; but Prussia, bitter against that small state, the only one that had remained faithful to France's fortunes, imposed on it the exchange of these countries for Lauenburg. That duchy, like Holstein, was, moreover, but the personal domain of the king, who, with regard to these two German provinces, became a member of the Germanic Confederation, that is, of a state organized against France. Denmark in 1864 and France in 1870 were to feel the effect of these artificial combinations.

Character of the Work Done

The Germanic Confederation seemed well adapted to assuring the peace of the continent by separating three great military states. The mutual jealousies of Austria and Prussia, the distrust of the small states in regard to the large ones, the delays resulting from the complicated play of the Germanic Institutions, forearmed Germany against sudden impulses. Between three countries of rapid action, Russia turning to account ideas of race and religion to the advantage of an age-long policy, Britain obeying the mercantile spirit, and France too prostrate to precipitate revolutions, Germany, the classic land of long negotiations, could interpose a temporizing spirit. By the very nature of its institutions, living on perpetual compromises, the Confederation represented in European affairs the spirit of arrangement, which is that of diplomacy. But, to render effective service to the peace of the world, this Confederation—organized for defense and not for attack, and independent of Berlin as well as of Vienna—should have formed a real Germany, neither French as in the time of Napoleon, nor Prussian as it has been for more than a generation.

The two great Powers meant, on the contrary, to put their strength at the service of their interests. Austria, occupying but a strip of German territory at its border, would remain satisfied with exerting influence at Frankfort. Prussia would want more. As it needed Hanover to unite its Rhenish province with Brandenburg, and as it needed a slice of Poland to connect the Electorate with the countries of the Teutonic order, so it would make itself ever more and more German; it would cause to be said everywhere, in the pulpit and in the press, that it was the hope, the personification of the German party, and one day it would drive Austria out of Germany, another day it would take Frankfort, nay, even the Diet, and it would lead the Germanic Confederation to suicide, becoming its sole legatee. But at this period, 1815, Prussia was far from having a dream of this greatness. It had, as yet, no Bismarck, the man whose hand was to lead it to glory.

The Rights of the People

As for the rights of the people, in these varied changes, what had become of them? Had they been swept away and the old wrongs of the people been brought back? Not quite. The frenzied enthusiasm for liberty and human rights of the past twenty-five years could not go altogether for nothing. The lingering relics of feudalism had vanished, not only from France but from all Europe, and no monarch or congress could bring them back again. In its place the principles of democracy had spread from France far among the peoples of Europe. The principle of class privilege had been destroyed in France, and that of social equality had replaced it. The principle of the liberty of the individual, especially in his religious opinions, and the doctrine of the sovereignty of the people, had been proclaimed. These had still a battle before them. They needed to fight their way. Absolutism and the spirit of feudalism were arrayed against them. But they were too deeply implanted in the minds of the people to be eradicated. They had been carried by the armies of France throughout Europe and deeply planted in a hundred places, and their establishment as actual conditions was the most important part of the political development of the nineteenth century.

Revolution was the one thing that the great Powers of Europe feared and hated; this was the monster against which the Congress of Vienna directed its efforts. The cause of quiet and order, the preservation of the established state of things, the authority of rulers, the subordination of peoples, must be firmly maintained, and revolutionary disturbers must be put down with a strong hand. Such was the political dogma of the Congress. And yet, in spite of its assembled wisdom and the principles it promulgated, the century that followed was especially the century of revolutions, the result being an extraordinary increase in the liberties and prerogatives of the people.