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Congress of Vienna: Members, Objectives & Results

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  • 0:52 Everyone Has an Agenda
  • 2:23 The Problem of Poland
  • 3:43 Surprise!
  • 4:28 Final Settlement
  • 5:36 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amy Troolin

Amy has MA degrees in History, English, and Theology. She has taught college English and religious education classes and currently works as a freelance writer.

In this lesson, we will study the Congress of Vienna, which established a balance of power in Europe after Napoleon's defeat. We will meet the Congress' members, examine its objectives, and take a look at its results.

Wanted: A Balance of Power

French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte was all washed up. Hemmed in by his enemies on both sides, he decided to abdicate his throne on April 6, 1814. Now his enemies had to figure out what to do with him and how to reestablish a balance of power in Europe that would create stronger security and prevent future wars.

They began with the Treaty of Paris on May 30, 1814. Signed by France, Austria, Britain, Russia, Prussia, Sweden, and Portugal, the quite lenient treaty restored the French monarchy, putting Louis XVIII on the throne. It also returned France's borders to those effective on January 1, 1792. Napoleon was unceremoniously shipped off to exile on the island of Elba.

Everyone Has an Agenda

The signers of the treaty further agreed to meet at the Congress of Vienna in September of 1814. The Congress was designed to meet four primary goals:

  1. To establish a much-needed balance of power for a secure Europe.
  2. To encourage conservative regimes that would renounce the democratic ideals of the French Revolution.
  3. To contain France within its current borders.
  4. To learn how to cooperate with each other for long-term peace.

The Congress' five major players were all on board with these objectives, but they also had their own agendas. Let's meet the five primary negotiating countries and their representatives.

  • Russia, represented by Tsar Alexander I, wanted a peaceful Europe, but also wanted to control Poland.
  • Great Britain, represented by Robert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh, opposed Russian expansion and pushed to strengthen the German and Italian states.
  • Austria, represented by Prince Klemens von Metternich, desired order in Europe but also desired to be in charge of the confederations of German and Italian states.
  • Prussia, represented by Prince Karl August von Hardenberg, wanted Poland but was willing to make some compromises for the common good.
  • France, represented by Prince Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand, merely longed to stay in one piece.

The Problem of Poland

It didn't take long for conflicts to break out among the major players. Both Russia and Prussia wanted to annex Poland. The other countries feared that Russia's expansion would make it too powerful. After all, they were seeking a balance of power. They didn't want any one country to have too much territory.

Pretty soon, the representatives were making behind-the-scenes deals. Russia and Prussia created an alliance in which the Prussians agreed to give up Poland if Russia would support Prussia's demand for Saxony. On the other side, Austria, France, and Great Britain made a treaty to oppose Russia and Prussia's plans, even vowing to go to war, if necessary. The situation was a touchy one. At any moment, the Congress might simply disintegrate, plunging Europe back into instability and even war.

Finally, however, France's Talleyrand came up with a compromise. Russia would receive most of Poland. Prussia would get some of Saxony and pieces of Rhineland and Westphalia. Austria, too, would annex a few extra territories. The big players all agreed that this compromise would work, and the balance of power prevailed. Of course, no one asked Poland or the other annexed territories what they thought about the matter.

Surprise!

The Congress of Vienna received an unpleasant surprise on March 1, 1815. Napoleon Bonaparte had escaped from Elba and returned to France, and he was raising an army to restore France to glory. The new king fled as Napoleon approached Paris, and for a hundred days, the French emperor reigned again. Britain, Austria, Prussia, and Russia hurried to meet Napoleon's forces on the battlefield, and an army led by Britain decisively defeated the emperor at the Battle of Waterloo on June 18, 1815. Napoleon gave up his throne once again, and this time ended up on the island of St. Helena, far away from France. He would never return.

A Final Settlement

Meanwhile, in Vienna, the Congress' representatives were working out a final settlement. All five major players and several other smaller countries signed the Final Act on June 9, 1815. Its provisions included the following:

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