Congress System


Congress System
   A new form of diplomacy whereby the Great Powers agreed to meet at regularly fixed conferences, established by Article VI of the Quadruple Alliance signed in Paris on November 20, 1815 among Britain, Russia, Austria, and Prussia. The system was not, strictly speaking, meant to mimic the Congress of Vienna, which had met between 1814 and 1815 to discuss the political reconstruction of Europe in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars, but rather to serve as an opportunity with which to hammer out their diplomatic differences and seek to maintain peace.
   France was returned to the diplomatic fold at the Congress of Aix-la-Chapelle (September–November 1818); at Aix-la-Chapelle the powers discussed affairs connected with the occupation and rehabilitation of France; at Troppau, in October– December 1820, the revolution in Spain, which had began as an army revolt in January, occupied the chief concerns of the delegates, together with the crisis arising out of the Neapolitan revolt. Significantly, the three autocratic powers of Russia, Austria, and Prussia maintained their right to military intervention in the name of the alliance in the event that revolution threatened the stability of other states. At Laibach, January–May 1821, the powers considered the constitution of Naples and the mandate given to Austria to march troops into Italy; and at Verona, October– December 1822, the Russians and Austrians sought to support a French expeditionary force dispatched to Spain to put down a revolt there. Russia also argued for intervention in the Greek revolt against Turkish rule. The British, represented by the Duke of Wellington, opposed this policy and withdrew from the conference before it concluded its business.
   For France, the various congresses permitted her to reestablish her reputation as a stable nation dedicated to the balance of power and international cooperation against radicalism. As early as the Congress of Troppau, Britain attended with the status of little more than that of an observer, wishing to distant herself from the other powers’ wish to interfere in the internal affairs of states whose autocratic governments stood at risk from revolution. So little did the Congress System appear to benefit her interests that Britain abandoned it after Verona. Austria, Russia, and Prussia met for a final congress at St. Petersburg in 1825, although when major differences arose between the first two, no further congresses were held. International conferences later met at Berlin in 1878 and, of course, in 1919 at Versailles, where the delegates established a permanent system of conferences in the form of the League of Nations, the forerunner of the United Nations created in 1945.
   See also <>; <>; <>.
   FURTHER READING:
    Kissinger, Henry. A World Restored: Metternich, Castlereagh, and the Problem of Peace 1812-1822 . London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2000;
    Lowe, John. The Concert of Europe: International Relations, 1814-70 . London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1991.
   GREGORY FREMONT-BARNES

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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