After Napoleon's domination of Europe from around 1800 to 1814, the rulers of Europe wanted to insure that no one would ever be able to come so close to taking over all of Europe again. To this end, the diplomats from all of the Great Powers met at the Congress of Vienna to negotiate from 1814 to 1815. There they reorganized European boundaries in hopes of creating a stable Europe where coalitions of nations could always ally to defeat one nation that got out of hand.

The rulers after Napoleon were dedicated to stopping revolution (like the French Revolution in their own countries. Louis XVIII, whose brother Louis XVI had been executed during the French Revolution, certainly didn't want another revolution in France. The Tory government in Great Britain was archconservative and greatly opposed social upheaval. Metternich, the foreign minister in Austria, was willing to do anything to stabilize Europe and preserve Hapsburg power.


In France, Louis XVIII did his best to balance the tense situation following Napoleon's defeat. On both sides, Louis granted amnesties, hoping to "start over" in France. The wealthy, however, remembering the leveling effects of the Revolution, became passionately anti-revolutionary, or reactionary. The reactionary element only increased after the King's nephew, the Duke of Berry, was assassinated in 1820. In 1824, Louis XVIII died, and was replaced by the assassinated Duke's father, Charles X. Unlike the moderate Louis, Charles was a hard-core reactionary, and hated all the changes taking place in France, even the ones Louis had initiated. Charles believed himself to be a monarch appointed by God, and he started trampling on basic elements of liberalism like the French constitution.


Poland was a state recreated by the Congress of Vienna and ruled by Czar Alexander I. Initially, its government was quite liberal; though ruled by Alexander, Poland had a constitution. Alexander considered himself an "enlightened despot" and spoke often of granting freedom to the people, but he soon found that when he did give the people some self-government, they didn't always agree with what he wanted them to do. Liking liberal reforms in theory more than practice, Alexander increasingly curtailed Poland's right of self- government. As a result of its frustrated desire for self-rule, Polish Nationalism began to rise. Secret societies developed, and a university movement (which Alexander put down in the 1820s) got underway.


In Germany, nationalists motivated by Romantic ideas such as the belief in a special German Volksgeist hated the results of the Congress of Vienna, since the ongress split up into a loose federation called the Bund. Dissatisfaction centered among students and intellectuals, who began to form highly nationalist clubs called Burschenschaft. In 1817, the Burschenschaft held a national meeting at Wartburg, convincing Metternich that German nationalism was a force to be reckoned with. When the German nationalists began assassinating reactionary leaders, Metternich intervened by pushing the Carlsbad Decrees through the Bund in 1819. The decrees outlawed the Burschenschaft and pushed them underground. Secondarily, the decrees increased government regulation of the universities, limiting what was taught, and made way for government censorship of German newspapers. The Carlsbad Decrees quieted the German nationalist movement for about a decade.

Great Britain

In Great Britain, in 1815, the aristocrat-dominated Parliament passed the Corn Law, which raised tariffs on grain to make imports impossible. The high tariffs also raised prices beyond the reach of the working class. In December 1816, starving workers rioted in London. Meanwhile, in Manchester, the ascendant industrialists who dominated the city had been hoping to get Parliamentary representation for some time. Realizing how discontented the workers were, the industrialists helped organize 80,000 workers to demonstrate at St. Peters Field against the Corn Law and for universal male suffrage. The protest was peaceful, but British soldiers nonetheless fired into the crowd, killing several. The event became a national scandal, called the Peterloo Massacre. The Tory Parliament, frightened of the potential for worker revolts, passed acts in 1819 aimed at stopping mass political organization. Not appeased, a group of workers decided to try and assassinate the Tory cabinet. This group, known as the Cato Street Conspiracy, was discovered in 1820. Several members were executed.

Popular pages: Europe (1815-1848)