Background and Congress of Vienna

Italy and Germany are two important examples of how language, folk culture and common historical memories led to very strong nationalistic feelings helping to build the two people into sovereign, united and independent nations states by 1870.

Both Germany and Italy emerged as nation-states in the 19th century. Although the idea of nationalism in some form or other can be traced back in time in both cases, the actual development of nation-states took place only in the 19th century. The process of unification was different in the case of Germany from that of Italy. While in Germany the economic and political unity was achieved at a much higher-level, in Italy the unification was achieved mainly at the political and cultural levels. The economic unity in Italy was much weaker in comparison.

In Germany, the unity was brought about mainly from above. But in Italy, the popular Mobilizations also played an important role. Language became an issue in international politics with the dispute between the Danes and the Germans and over Schleswig-Holstein and of the Germans and French over the Rhine frontier during the 1840s. The history of German and Italian nationalism can be said to be a struggle to unite German and Italian speaking people within a single nation state. The protagonists were Prussia and Piedmont-Sardinia which forged national unity by skilful diplomacy and warfare on the one hand and pragmatic handling of popular national sentiments and occasional revolutionary upsurges.

Congress of Vienna, 1814

After defeat of Napoleon in battle of Waterloo, Prince Metternich Chancellor of Austria convened Congress of European Powers in Vienna.

  • European heads met from 1814 to 1815 in Vienna to settle the terms by which the Napoleonic Wars should be concluded. Outcome was ‘Congress of Vienna’. It led to agreements, which called for a return to Europe similar to pre-French Revolution. Most of the decisions were made by 5 great powers – Russia, Austria, Prussia, Britain and France.
  • Its objective was to undone the work of Napoleon. It was guided by 2 principles – 
  • The principle of Legitimacy – Napoleon had dethroned many monarchs; they were declared legitimate and restored. Louis XVIII was restored as French monarch; Papal States were restored to Pope.
  • The principle of Compensation – Countries were compensated with the lands conquered by Napoleon. Austria gained biggest pie. It got Venice, Lombardi apart from being declared as leader of Germany. Austria was strengthened to prevent recurrence of French Revolution like events.
  • Leading power of Europe also entered into alliance – Quadruple Alliance (Austria, Prussia, Russia and Britain). Similarly, Czar Nicholas proposed ‘Holy Alliance’ for all Christian countries. The Vienna Congress heralded ominous alliance system, which ultimately culminated into World Wars. Spirit of nationalism was suppressed as Metternich considered democracy and nationalism dangerous for the Vienna Settlement. Suppression of revolt of Naples, which aimed at Italian unification, was such an instance.

One positive outcome of the Congress was that there was no war for next 60 years. Soon France also joined Big 4 or Quadruple Alliance. Britain however left the Congress when other parties intervened in Spain, which Britain opposed.

However, the Vienna Congress could not suppress the emerging order for too long. Attempts of revolution in 1930 and 1948 were such examples, which were signs of things to come, which were manifested, in German and Italian unification.

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