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CERTAIN basic principles in society and in politics were proclaimed by the French Revolution. The Napoleonic Era served to communicate them to Europe. The ensuing period was marked by a bitter struggle within nearly every European state for their general acceptance or for their wholesale rejection. To all Frenchmen liberty, equality, and fraternity already meant definite facts or rights: those who espoused them were inherently revolutionaries—radicals or liberals— while those who repudiated them were reactionaries or conservatives, intent upon maintaining or restoring the political and social institutions of the old regime. The Bourbon settlement of 1814 in France was in the nature of a compromise, a nice balancing of the forces of revolution and reaction. Outside of France the sovereigns of Europe were almost without exception reactionaries, determined to bolster up the theories and practices of the eighteenth century, but many of their subjects who, in the years between 1789 and 1814, had learned from the French in one way or another the significance of popular sovereignty, individual rights, and national patriotism, gave unmistakable signs of a contrary determination. The question resolved itself into this: should revolutionary or reactionary doctrine henceforth shape the society and politics of the European nations? It was a question fraught with the most momentous consequences to succeeding generations. Another fifteen years would pass before the outcome could be indicated—the fifteen years (1815–1830) of conflict between liberals and conservatives which we shall now proceed to treat as The Era of Metternich.
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Copyright © 2016 by Carlton Hayes
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REVOLUTION OR REACTION?
THE CONGRESS OF VIENNA AND THE RECONSTRUCTION OF EUROPE
THE BOURBON RESTORATION IN FRANCE
THE BOURBON RESTORATION IN SPAIN
REACTION IN PORTUGAL
TORY REACTION IN GREAT BRITAIN
TRIAL AND ABANDONMENT OF LIBERAL ADMINISTRATION IN RUSSIA
MAINTENANCE OF AUTOCRACY IN CENTRAL EUROPE
FAILURE OF METTERNICH’S POLICIES AND PARTIAL TRIUMPH OF LIBERALISM, 1822–1830
CERTAIN BASIC PRINCIPLES IN society and in politics were proclaimed by the French Revolution. The Napoleonic Era served to communicate them to Europe. The ensuing period was marked by a bitter struggle within nearly every European state for their general acceptance or for their wholesale rejection.
To all Frenchmen liberty, equality, and fraternity already meant definite facts or rights: those who espoused them were inherently revolutionaries—radicals or liberals— while those who repudiated them were reactionaries or conservatives, intent upon maintaining or restoring the political and social institutions of the old regime. The Bourbon settlement of 1814 in France was in the nature of a compromise, a nice balancing of the forces of revolution and reaction. Outside of France the sovereigns of Europe were almost without exception reactionaries, determined to bolster up the theories and practices of the eighteenth century, but many of their subjects who, in the years between 1789 and 1814, had learned from the French in one way or another the significance of popular sovereignty, individual rights, and national patriotism, gave unmistakable signs of a contrary determination. The question resolved itself into this: should revolutionary or reactionary doctrine henceforth shape the society and politics of the European nations? It was a question fraught with the most momentous consequences to succeeding generations. Another fifteen years would pass before the outcome could be indicated—the fifteen years (1815–1830) of conflict between liberals and conservatives which we shall now proceed to treat as the Era of Metternich.
Throughout the period the distinction between liberals and conservatives was everywhere based largely on differences among social classes and in geographical location. The princes whose divine authority to rule was questioned; the nobles whose lands and privileges were confiscated or threatened with confiscation; the ecclesiastics whose consciences were violated or activities abridged: these pillars of the old regime were uniformly conservative. On the other hand, the great bulk of the bourgeoisie,—the professional classes, business men, traders, and shopkeepers,—whose traditional repugnance to nobles and clergymen was sharpened by an ambition to secure complete control of national policies and. finance; the generality of the Continental universities—professors and students—together with other “intellectuals” drawn from many walks of life, who were intensely patriotic and who dreamed of the perfectibility of mankind; the workingman of the town and many a day-laborer in the fields, who felt that any change might add to the contents of his dinner-pail: these groups, restless under the old regime, were solidly liberal. The peasantry who still constituted the majority of European population were swayed between the contending parties: still respectful of authority in state and church, sincerely religious, and innately skeptical of the fine phrases which were on liberal lips, they could at times and in places be reckoned conservative; but there was one important respect in which many of them doggedly resisted alliance with the reactionaries, and that was their fanatical attachment to the social achievements of the Revolution—they were done forever with feudalism and serfdom, they would own their own lands. As a general rule it may be observed that the further west one went and the nearer to revolutionary France one came, the larger proportion of liberals one found, and that, conversely, the further east one went and the more remote from France, the larger proportion of conservatives one encountered.
For several years after the downfall of Napoleon the conservatives enjoyed throughout Europe an influence perhaps out of proportion to their actual numbers. There was a renewed loyalty on the part of patriots to the monarchs who had headed the great national uprisings against Napoleonic despotism. There was a marked revival of devotion to the Catholic Church, whose supreme pontiff, the venerable Pius VII, in the face of insults and injuries from Napoleon, had set a noble example of Christian charity and fortitude. Above all, there was universal horror at the bloodshed and wretchedness which the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars had entailed. Thousands upon thousands of human beings, drawn from every nation and from every social class, had been butchered. Famine, pestilence, crime, and indescribable disease,—the attendant miseries of war,—had walked abroad in every land. Small wonder that prince, priest, and people united in extolling the blessings of peace! Even the liberal bourgeoisie perceived that the revival of Continental industry and trade was a concomitant of peace. With some justice Metternich was able to avow that “what the European peoples want is not liberty but peace.” To prevent the recurrence of such insurrections as the Revolution had witnessed and of such wars as the career of Napoleon had involved,—in a word, to preserve domestic and foreign peace,—became the watchword and countersign of reactionary Europe.
Among the host of figures who crowd the stage from 1815 to 1830, Prince Metternich stands out most prominently, not indeed in any such unique way as did Napoleon Bonaparte from 1799 to 1815, but still conspicuously enough to justify the common use of his name in designating the era. A contrast more striking than that between Metternich and Napoleon can hardly be imagined.
Count Clemens Metternich was born at Coblenz on 15 May, 1773, of a very distinguished family which ranked high among the oldest nobility of the Rhenish Germanies and which had furnished several electors to the great ecclesiastical sees of Trier and Cologne in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. His father had entered the diplomatic service of the Holy Roman Empire, and in the social setting of the old regime and the aristocratic atmosphere of the punctilious Habsburg court young Clemens was reared. He was a sixteen-year-old student at the University of Strassburg when the vigor of the town mob gave him his first knowledge of, and distaste for, the French Revolution, a distaste which the seizure of his princely family estates by Napoleon fourteen years later was not likely to counteract. Following his father’s career, he soon attracted the favorable attention of the veteran Austrian chancellor, Count Kaunitz, whose grand-daughter he married in 1795. This alliance not only brought him large estates in Austria, but made him heir to the prestige of the great diplomat of the eighteenth century and introduced him into the most exclusive circles of Viennese society. Henceforth his rise was rapid. He served as representative of the Habsburg emperor successively at Dresden (1801), Berlin (1803), Petrograd (1805) and Paris (1806). Despite his country’s embarrassment during the years immediately following the catastrophe of Austerlitz, and although he was now pitted against Talleyrand, in many ways as great a master of subtlety as himself, his remarkable good looks, his clever wit, and his charm of manner won him high favor at Napoleon’s court, and gained for him an extraordinary diplomatic experience. Although he urged his sovereign to undertake the premature war of 1809, he was one of the first to counsel peace after the defeat of Wagram.
In 1809 Metternich became the actual head of the Austrian government, under the nominal rule of the well-intentioned but procrastinating Emperor Francis I, a position he was able to retain for nearly forty years. The statesman could not but be impressed with the need of reformation within his country, and he at once made a few proposals for national betterment. But his detestation of revolution from below made him fearful of reforms from above, and he preferred to bring honor and prestige to Austria by means of successful foreign diplomacy rather than through what always seemed to him the more uncertain means of internal changes in society and political organization.
In foreign affairs, Metternich’s hatred of Napoleon was conditioned by his fear of Russian aggrandizement in the event of the French emperor’s downfall. Accordingly, from 1810 to 1813 his policy was to play off Napoleon and Alexander against each other. He pressed forward with alacrity the negotiations for the marriage of an Austrian archduchess to the Corsican adventurer. He watched with glee the herculean combat of 1812 between Napoleon and the tsar, promising to the former the assistance of an army corps of 30,000 position to bestow the greater benefits upon Austria. Such was the success of his well-laid plans that the intervention of Austria was the decisive factor in the Battle of the Nations (October, 1813) and in the campaign of 1814: Napoleon’s power collapsed and Austria became the dominant Power among the victorious allies. Metternich was hailed as the most astute statesman of his age—he hobnobbed with the Russian and Prussian monarchs, he was feted by Talleyrand and Louis XVIII, he was given a fulsome welcome on a visit to England, he was named a magnate of the kingdom of Hungary and a count and hereditary prince of the Austrian Empire.
THE MOST IMPORTANT PROBLEM which confronted European diplomacy, after the restoration of the French Bourbons, was that of general territorial readjustments. Napoleon had badly mutilated the ancient map of Europe. How far could, or should, his victors mend it? To what extent were they justified in rewarding themselves territorially for their efforts and sacrifices? What punishment should they mete out to his late allies? It was a recognition of the decisive part played by Austria and of the commanding personality of Metternich that Vienna was chosen as the scene of the great international congress convened (September, 1814) for the purpose of answering these questions and of reestablishing the balance of power in Europe.
Never had Europe beheld such a galaxy of gold lace and titled dignitaries of the old regime as gathered at Vienna. Six monarchs attended: the Tsar Alexander, a curious mixture of shrewdness and mysticism, of ambition and compassion; the polite and cautious Emperor Francis I of Austria; King Frederick William III of Prussia, who was at once timid and obstinate, and quite fascinated by the Christian-like benevolence of the tsar; and the kings of Denmark, Bavaria, and Wurttemberg. German dukes, princes, and electors were present in crowds, while among the special envoys were two Irish noblemen, the sagacious Lord Castlereagh and the “Iron” Duke of Wellington, who in turn represented Great Britain; Hardenberg and Baron von Humboldt from Prussia; Nesselrode from Russia; Stein, now a personal agent of the Tsar Alexander; the insinuating Talleyrand from France, with his new discovery of “legitimacy”; and last but not least Metternich himself, who discharged the obligations that devolved upon him as host of the imposing congress with becoming grace and dignity. With the possible exception of Alexander, whose predilections for French liberalism and for the “free” institutions of England were still sincere if somewhat vague, the Congress of Vienna in its personnel as well as in its actions was one grand pageant in celebration of the defeat of revolution and the triumph of reaction.
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