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Congress of Vienna: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: David Wilson

David has taught college history and holds an MA in history.

After the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte, leaders of Europe came together to negotiate peace at the Congress of Vienna, keeping Europe from conflict for a century. In this lesson, learn about the steps taken to ensure stability and the legacy of this meeting.

Nearly Took It All

Imagine taking over the world! It seems like a cool idea: you'd never have to do homework, you could stay up late every night, and you could have pizza for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Throughout history, some very determined leaders have tried to become the most powerful person in the world.

One of the most famous, Napoleon Bonaparte, nearly conquered all of Europe. From 1795 to 1814, Napoleon launched a number of wars, fighting against almost every European country from Spain to Russia. In 1814, he was finally defeated by an alliance, a military friendship, of Great Britain, Russia, Austria, and Prussia, a part of eastern Germany. After he lost his last battle, the leaders of Europe came together, in a meeting called the Congress of Vienna, to determine how to prevent anyone else from taking power like Napoleon had.

Famous painting of Napoleon at war
Painting of Napoleon

End of an Era

For eight months, beginning in September 1814, European leaders met in Vienna, the capital of Austria, to discuss how to deal with the countries Napoleon had taken over - the biggest questions being what the new political and territorial boundaries would be. Some weren't even countries anymore: the Holy Roman Empire, located in modern-day Germany, had been defeated by Napoleon, leaving the area without anyone to rule over it.

The goal of the Congress of Vienna was to create a plan to keep peace throughout Europe and to devise a new political system for the continent. However, each leader had his own idea for how to make peace, leading to many disagreements about how best to re-organize Europe. The British wanted a 'balance of power', meaning that no one country could become the most powerful. The Russians wanted a Holy Alliance with the Christian leaders of Europe as one organization.

Cartoon making fun of the Congress of Vienna dividing Europe
Cartoon of Congress

In addition to deciding what to do with the areas that Napoleon had taken over, including the Holy Roman Empire, parts of Italy, and central Europe, the Congress of Vienna addressed many other issues also. They had to decide on the rights of German Jews and on who would have rights to use the rivers of Europe for trade. Disagreements about who would control Poland nearly led to some of these allies fighting one another, but ultimately the leaders of Europe decided that Poland would be split between Prussia, Russia, and Austria.

Map of Europe in 1814: France (purple), Austria (blue), Prussia (green), and Russia (orange)
Map of Europe in 1814

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