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Congress of Vienna

The congress of Vienna was brought together by the main European nations that had defeated Napoleon to rearrange the geopolitical order of France after 25 years of revolutionary and Napoleonic havoc but in reality the protagonists of this congress were 4: the representatives of Austria, Prussia, Russia and England, to which France itself was later added because the first problem of great importance was the French one, which will then also be punished with clauses and damages when Napoleon returns, but which it was necessary to hear because if the French people had been left in second place plan would certainly not accept the decisions made.

It was decided to involve France almost immediately, which decided to send diplomat Talleyrand, who was part of one of the 200 delegations present, as a representative. Two problems of a political and geopolitical nature had been raised by the events of recent decades, namely the French Revolution and Napoleon, and the congress had to provide exhaustive answers in this regard: who governs the state and how Europe should be divided. In fact, as regards the first question, while before in the ancient regime there was a hereditary and direct descent of the sovereign’s power, the French Revolution had made an explicit break with the past by eliminating a pre-existing power, and it is necessary to establish criteria in this regard. The two principles with which the issues are addressed are those of legitimacy and balance: these two principles are always applied by integrating them but sometimes one prevails over another. The principle of legitimacy establishes that power belongs to the legitimate sovereign, even if he had been dethroned or ousted and deprived of power: this principle states that there is a recognition of the sovereign from above and not by the people. One of the cases on the basis of which the principle of equilibrium is applied were Napoleon’s expansionist manias that had made France a nation too strong militarily: consequently the presence in the center of Europe of a nation that was too strong would have destabilized even in the future structure of Europe and therefore it was decided to downsize the French state, which also lost the colonies and to ensure that the power relations between the nations were balanced with the application of a principle of common sense. Even the decision to downsize France, which on the surface might seem unfair to the French people, was actually a victory for Telleyrand because a first purpose was to divide France into sectors.

The application of the principle of equilibrium finds its example in the Germanic confederation: in fact, at the beginning of the Napoleonic wars, the Germanic Holy Roman Empire still existed but once this territory was conquered by Napoleon, the empire was declared dead. The congress did not decide to restore such an antiquated structure, but opted for the formation of a confederation made up of independent duchies and principalities. The purpose is therefore to prevent a strong nation right in the heart of Europe: in fact, the four main European nations bordered on Germany. These principles were also applied in other cases such as that of the dispute between Austria and Russia over the domination of Poland and Saxony. In the congress the theory of buffer states around France was also applied for the first time, with Holland incorporating Belgium and the kingdom of Savoy strengthened, even if in Belgium there was a legitimate sovereign and there was no application of the principle of legitimacy. These were the decisions that were taken in the congress and they seemed to have rearranged the whole structure of Europe even if there could have been discontent states, rebellions, as had happened with the 100 days in France and we had to worry about maintaining the balance because anyone could rebel. There was therefore to be a prompt intervention of the main European nations in the event of revolts, a sort of defensive alliance. The first to propose an alliance was the Tsar who, almost taking it as a sacred question and as if there must be a religious concern, decided to propose the alliance to Catholic Austria, and Protestant Prussia, which together with Orthodox Russia they formed the holy alliance, which was proposed both to England, which refused this sacred intent, as well as the pope who did not want to ally with the Protestants. Later, however, England also decided to join this alliance even though it clearly rejected any sacred reference, opting for a more banal fourfold alliance. The response that the congress had provided on the European question had, however, been unsatisfactory, as it had ignored or had responded inadequately to the questions that had a more characteristic connotation. We thus have the delineation of two issues: the political one, which concerns nations that had long since completed their unification, but which had problems in the government of the state, especially France where the people had become accustomed to having a minimum of power even during the empire, and the imposition of a figure from above was not well accepted because the people asked to participate in public works. In two countries, however, there was always the political problem but it was subordinated to the problem of national unity: these countries were Italy and Germany. Consequently in some countries the first aspect is more accentuated, and in others the second; but essentially in almost all European countries both exist.


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