June 9th in German History: The Final Act of the Congress of Vienna is Signed

I have discussed the Congress of Vienna several times on this blog before. Nevertheless, I think that it is worthwhile to today focus entirely on the Final Act of the Congress. This act would create post-Napoleonic Europe and set the stage for the rest of the nineteenth century. This act was signed on June 9th, 1815.

The Final Act of the Congress of Vienna essentially combined all of the previous treaties signed and so organized the many agreements made during the congress. It was signed by the victors of the Napoleonic Wars, namely Great Britain, Austria, Prussia, and Russia, and also by the defeated nations, mainly France. An important note is that it was signed by the Bourbon monarchy of France which at the time was not really in power, as Napoleon had yet to be defeated at the Battle of Waterloo. The victors had differing desires on what they wanted Europe to look life after the war. Both Prussia and Russia wanted to annex territory and retain territory they had taken during the war, and Austria was chiefly concerned with ensuring a conservative and stable Europe. Britain, on the other hand, wanted to ensure stability by limiting territorial gains in order to prevent any one nation from gaining too much power. Britain was able to ensure that France would not lose any territory in Europe that she had held before 1792 and was able to limit the gains of the other powers. As part of the act, Russia was allowed to retain its annexation of Finland and annexed most of the Duchy of Warsaw, a state Napoleon had created. Prussia was given parts of Saxony, much of the Rhineland, and parts of Poland, namely Danzig. Austria gained Lombardy, part of Northern Italy, and Venice. Germany overall was consolidated from 300 states into 34 and the German Confederation, a loose alliance was created under the leadership of Prussia and Austria. The Netherlands gained modern-day Belgium and Sweden gained Norway, although both nations would soon lose their respective gains. Britain gained many French, Spanish, and Dutch colonial possessions. The Final Act also condemned slavery.

Europe was thus consolidated, smoothing out many of the territorial disputes that had existed before the wars, although it left many ethnic groups under the rule of foreign monarchs. The resulting tensions were just one of the many long-term destabilizing factors that the Final Act would precipitate. The Congress of Vienna would not end Russia’s expansionist ambitions, resolve the power struggle between Austria and Prussia, and failed to prevent colonial conflicts between powers. Further, it did not succeed in preventing liberal revolution in Europe. Nevertheless, it did create a largely stable continent that would not see a conflict of the scale of the Napoleonic Wars for nearly another century. This may have been the best outcome that could possibly have resulted from the machinations of elder statesmen who viewed people and territory as spaces on a map to be divided without concern for their sovereignty.

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