The European Continent After Vienna
Post-Napoleonic Europe was characterized by a general lack of major conflict between the great powers, with Great Britain as the major hegemonic power bringing relative balance to European politics.
Compare post-Napoleonic Europe to the pre-French Revolution continent
- At the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the European powers came together at the Congress of Vienna in 1815 to reorganize the political map of Europe and develop a system of conflict resolution aiming at preserving peace and balance of power, termed the Concert of Europe.
- From this point until the outbreak of World War I, there was relative peace and a lack of major conflict between the major powers, with wars generally localized and short-lived.
- The British and Russian empires expanded significantly and became the world’s leading powers. Britain’s navy had supremacy for most of the century, leading to the period often called the Pax Britannica (British Peace).
- From the 1870s onward, many nations experienced a sort of “golden age,” known as the Belle Époque, which coincided with the Gilded Age in the U.S.
- European politics saw very few regime changes during this period; however, tensions between working-class socialist parties, bourgeois liberal parties, and landed or aristocratic conservative parties increased in many countries. Some historians claim that profound political instability belied the calm surface of European politics in the era.
- Belle Époque: A period of Western European history conventionally dated from the end of the Franco-Prussian War in 1871 to the outbreak of World War I around 1914. Occurring during the era of the French Third Republic (beginning 1870), it was characterized by optimism, regional peace, economic prosperity and technological, scientific and cultural innovations. In the climate of the period, especially in Paris, the arts flourished.
- Concert of Europe: Also known as the Congress System or the Vienna System after the Congress of Vienna, a system of dispute resolution adopted by the major conservative powers of Europe to maintain their power, oppose revolutionary movements, weaken the forces of nationalism, and uphold the balance of power. It is suggested that it operated in Europe from the end of the Napoleonic Wars (1815) to the early 1820s, while some see it as lasting until the outbreak of the Crimean War, 1853-1856.
- hegemonic: The political, economic, or military predominance or control of one state over others.
- Pax Britannica: The period of relative peace in Europe (1815–1914) during which the British Empire became the global hegemonic power and adopted the role of a global police force.
The 19th century was the century marked by the collapse of the Spanish, Napoleonic, Holy Roman, and Mughal empires. This paved the way for the growing influence of the British Empire, the Russian Empire, the United States, the German Empire, the French colonial empire, and Meiji Japan, with the British boasting unchallenged dominance after 1815. After the defeat of the French Empire and its allies in the Napoleonic Wars, the European powers came together at the Congress of Vienna in 1815 to reorganize the political map of Europe to preserve peace and balance of power, termed the Concert of Europe.
The British and Russian empires expanded significantly and became the world’s leading powers. The Russian Empire expanded in central and far eastern Asia. The British Empire grew rapidly in the first half of the century, especially with the expansion of vast territories in Canada, Australia, South Africa, and heavily populated India, and in the last two decades of the century in Africa. By the end of the century, the British Empire controlled a fifth of the world’s land and one-quarter of the world’s population. During the post-Napoleonic era, it enforced what became known as the Pax Britannica, which had ushered in unprecedented globalization, industrialization, and economic integration on a massive scale.
At the beginning of this period, there was an informal convention recognizing five Great Powers in Europe: the French Empire, the British Empire, the Russian Empire, the Austrian Empire (later Austria-Hungary), and the Kingdom of Prussia (later the German Empire). In the late 19th century, the newly united Italy was added to this group. By the early 20th century, two non-European states, Japan and the United States, would come to be respected as fellow Great Powers.
The entire era lacked major conflict between these powers, with most skirmishes taking place between belligerents within the borders of individual countries. In Europe, wars were much smaller, shorter, and less frequent than ever before. The quiet century was shattered by World War I (1914–18), which was unexpected in its timing, duration, casualties, and long-term impact.
Pax Britannica (Latin for “British Peace,” modeled after Pax Romana) was the period of relative peace in Europe (1815–1914) during which the British Empire became the global hegemonic power and adopted the role of a global police force.
Between 1815 and 1914, a period referred to as Britain’s “imperial century,” around 10 million square miles of territory and roughly 400 million people were added to the British Empire. Victory over Napoleonic France left the British without any serious international rival, other than perhaps Russia in central Asia. When Russia tried expanding its influence in the Balkans, the British and French defeated it in the Crimean War (1854–56), thereby protecting the by-then feeble Ottoman Empire.
Britain’s Royal Navy controlled most of the key maritime trade routes and enjoyed unchallenged sea power. Alongside the formal control it exerted over its own colonies, Britain’s dominant position in world trade meant that it effectively controlled access to many regions, such as Asia and Latin America. British merchants, shippers, and bankers had such an overwhelming advantage over everyone else that in addition to its colonies it had an informal empire.
The global superiority of British military and commerce was aided by a divided and relatively weak continental Europe and the presence of the Royal Navy on all of the world’s oceans and seas. Even outside its formal empire, Britain controlled trade with countries such as China, Siam, and Argentina. Following the Congress of Vienna, the British Empire’s economic strength continued to develop through naval dominance and diplomatic efforts to maintain a balance of power in continental Europe.
In this era, the Royal Navy provided services around the world that benefited other nations, such as the suppression of piracy and blocking the slave trade. The Slave Trade Act 1807 banned the trade across the British Empire, after which the Royal Navy established the West Africa Squadron and the government negotiated international treaties under which they could enforce the ban. Sea power, however, did not project on land. Land wars fought between the major powers include the Crimean War, the Franco-Austrian War, the Austro-Prussian War, and the Franco-Prussian War, as well as numerous conflicts between lesser powers. The Royal Navy prosecuted the First Opium War (1839–1842) and Second Opium War (1856–1860) against Imperial China. The Royal Navy was superior to any other two navies in the world, combined. Between 1815 and the passage of the German naval laws of 1890 and 1898, only France was a potential naval threat.
The Pax Britannica was weakened by the breakdown of the continental order established by the Congress of Vienna. Relations between the Great Powers of Europe were strained to breaking by issues such as the decline of the Ottoman Empire, which led to the Crimean War, and later the emergence of new nation states of Italy and Germany after the Franco-Prussian War. Both wars involved Europe’s largest states and armies. The industrialization of Germany, the Empire of Japan, and the United States contributed to the relative decline of British industrial supremacy in the early 20th century.
Map of the world from 1897. The British Empire (marked in pink) was the superpower of the 19th century.
The Belle Époque (French for “Beautiful Era”) was a period of Western European history conventionally dated from the end of the Franco-Prussian War in 1871 to the outbreak of World War I in around 1914. Occurring during the era of the French Third Republic (beginning 1870), it was a period characterized by optimism, regional peace, economic prosperity, and technological, scientific and cultural innovations. In the climate of the period, especially in Paris, the arts flourished. Many masterpieces of literature, music, theater, and visual art gained recognition. The Belle Époque was named, in retrospect, when it began to be considered a “Golden Age” in contrast to the horrors of World War I.
In the United Kingdom, the Belle Époque overlapped with the late Victorian era and the Edwardian era. In Germany, the Belle Époque coincided with the Wilhelminism; in Russia with the reigns of Alexander III and Nicholas II. In the newly rich United States emerging from the Panic of 1873, the comparable epoch was dubbed the Gilded Age. In Brazil it started with the end of the Paraguayan War, and in Mexico the period was known as the Porfiriato.
The years between the Franco-Prussian War and World War I were characterized by unusual political stability in western and central Europe. Although tensions between the French and German governments persisted as a result of the French loss of Alsace-Lorraine to Germany in 1871, diplomatic conferences, including the Congress of Berlin in 1878, the Berlin Congo Conference in 1884, and the Algeciras Conference in 1906, mediated disputes that threatened the general European peace. For many Europeans in the Belle Époque period, transnational, class-based affiliations were as important as national identities, particularly among aristocrats. An upper-class gentleman could travel through much of Western Europe without a passport and even reside abroad with minimal bureaucratic regulation. World War I, mass transportation, the spread of literacy, and various citizenship concerns changed this.
European politics saw very few regime changes, the major exception being Portugal, which experienced a republican revolution in 1910. However, tensions between working-class socialist parties, bourgeois liberal parties, and landed or aristocratic conservative parties increased in many countries, and some historians claim that profound political instability belied the calm surface of European politics in the era. In fact, militarism and international tensions grew considerably between 1897 and 1914, and the immediate prewar years were marked by a general armaments competition in Europe. Additionally, this era was one of massive overseas colonialism known as the New Imperialism. The most famous portion of this imperial expansion was the Scramble for Africa.
Diplomacy in the 19th Century
The Congress of Vienna established many of the diplomatic norms of the 19th century and created an informal system of diplomatic conflict resolution aimed at maintaining a balance of power among nations, which contributed to the relative peace of the century.
Describe the role diplomacy played on the European continent after Napoleon
- Although the notion of diplomacy has existed since ancient times, the forms and practices of modern diplomacy were established at the Congress of Vienna in 1815.
- The Congress of Vienna was a meeting of the major powers of Europe aimed at providing a long-term peace plan for Europe by settling critical issues arising from the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars.
- The goal was not simply to restore old boundaries but to resize the main powers so they could balance each other and remain at peace. Another goal was to develop a system of diplomatic conflict resolution called the Concert of Europe, whereby at times of crisis any of the member countries could propose a conference.
- Meetings of the Great Powers during this period included: Aix-la-Chapelle (1818), Carlsbad (1819), Troppau (1820), Laibach (1821), Verona (1822), London (1832), and Berlin (1878).
- The Concert’s effectiveness ended with the rise of nationalism, the 1848 Revolutions, the Crimean War, the unification of Germany, and the Eastern Question, among other factors.
- Later in the century, German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, through juggling a complex interlocking series of conferences, negotiations, and alliances, used his diplomatic skills to maintain the balance of power in Europe to keep it at peace in the 1870s and 1880s.
- Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord: A French bishop, politician, and diplomat. He worked at the highest levels of successive French governments, most commonly as foreign minister or in some other diplomatic capacity. His career spanned the regimes of Louis XVI, the years of the French Revolution, Napoleon, Louis XVIII, and Louis-Philippe.
- Congress of Vienna: A conference of ambassadors of European states chaired by Austrian statesman Klemens von Metternich and held in Vienna from November 1814 to June 1815, though the delegates had arrived and were already negotiating by late September 1814. The objective was to provide a long-term peace plan for Europe by settling critical issues arising from the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars. The goal was not simply to restore old boundaries but to resize the main powers so they could balance each other and remain at peace.
- Concert of Europe: A system of dispute resolution adopted by the major conservative powers of Europe to maintain their power, oppose revolutionary movements, weaken the forces of nationalism, and uphold the balance of power. It is suggested that it operated in Europe from the end of the Napoleonic Wars (1815) to the early 1820s, while some see it as lasting until the outbreak of the Crimean War, 1853-1856.
Development of Modern Diplomacy
In Europe, early modern diplomacy’s origins are often traced to the states of Northern Italy in the early Renaissance, where the first embassies were established in the 13th century. Milan played a leading role especially under Francesco Sforza, who established permanent embassies to the other city states of Northern Italy. Tuscany and Venice were also flourishing centers of diplomacy from the 14th century onward. It was in the Italian Peninsula that many of the traditions of modern diplomacy began, such as the presentation of an ambassador’s credentials to the head of state. From Italy, the practice spread across Europe.
The elements of modern diplomacy arrived in Eastern Europe and Russia by the early 18th century. The entire edifice would be greatly disrupted by the French Revolution and the subsequent years of warfare. The revolution would see commoners take over the diplomacy of the French state and of those conquered by revolutionary armies. Ranks of precedence were abolished. Napoleon also refused to acknowledge diplomatic immunity, imprisoning several British diplomats accused of scheming against France.
After the fall of Napoleon, the Congress of Vienna of 1815 established an international system of diplomatic rank with ambassadors at the top, as they were considered personal representatives of their sovereign. Disputes on precedence among nations (and therefore the appropriate diplomatic ranks used) were first addressed at the Congress of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1818, but persisted for over a century until after World War II, when the rank of ambassador became the norm. In between, figures such as the German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck were renowned for international diplomacy.
Congress of Vienna and the Concert of Europe
The Congress of Vienna of 1815 established many of the diplomatic norms for the 19th century. The objective of the Congress was to provide a long-term peace plan for Europe by settling critical issues arising from the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars. The goal was not simply to restore old boundaries but to resize the main powers so they could balance each other and remain at peace. The Concert of Europe, also known as the Congress System or the Vienna System after the Congress of Vienna, was a system of dispute resolution adopted by the major conservative powers of Europe to maintain their power, oppose revolutionary movements, weaken the forces of nationalism, and uphold the balance of power. It is suggested that it operated in Europe from the end of the Napoleonic Wars (1815) to the early 1820s, while some see it as lasting until the outbreak of the Crimean War, 1853-1856.
At first, the leading personalities of the system were British foreign secretary Lord Castlereagh, Austrian Chancellor Klemens von Metternich, and Tsar Alexander I of Russia. Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord played a major role at the Congress of Vienna in 1814–1815, where he negotiated a favorable settlement for France while undoing Napoleon’s conquests. Talleyrand polarizes scholarly opinion. Some regard him as one of the most versatile, skilled, and influential diplomats in European history, and some believe that he was a traitor, betraying in turn the Ancien Régime, the French Revolution, Napoleon, and the Restoration. Talleyrand worked at the highest levels of successive French governments, most commonly as foreign minister or in some other diplomatic capacity. His career spanned the regimes of Louis XVI, the years of the French Revolution, Napoleon, Louis XVIII, and Louis-Philippe. Those he served often distrusted Talleyrand but like Napoleon, found him extremely useful. The name “Talleyrand” has become a byword for crafty, cynical diplomacy.
The Concert of Europe had no written rules or permanent institutions, but at times of crisis any of the member countries could propose a conference. Diplomatic meetings of the Great Powers during this period included: Aix-la-Chapelle (1818), Carlsbad (1819), Troppau (1820), Laibach (1821), Verona (1822), London (1832), and Berlin (1878).
The Congress of Aix-la-Chapelle (1818) resolved the issues of Allied occupation of France and restored that country to equal status with Britain, Prussia, Austria, and Russia. The congress, which broke up at the end of November, is of historical importance mainly as marking the highest point reached during the 19th century in the attempt to govern Europe by an international committee of the powers. The detailed study of its proceedings is highly instructive in revealing the almost insurmountable obstacles to any truly effective international diplomatic system prior to the creation of the League of Nations after the First World War.
The territorial boundaries laid down at the Congress of Vienna were maintained; even more importantly, there was an acceptance of the theme of balance with no major aggression. Otherwise, the Congress system, says historian Roy Bridge, “failed” by 1823. In 1818, the British decided not to become involved in continental issues that did not directly affect them. They rejected the plan of Alexander I to suppress future revolutions. The Concert system fell apart as the common goals of the Great Powers were replaced by growing political and economic rivalries. There was no Congress called to restore the old system during the great revolutionary upheavals of 1848 with their demands for revision of the Congress of Vienna’s frontiers along national lines.
The Congress of Vienna was frequently criticized by 19th-century and more recent historians for ignoring national and liberal impulses and imposing a stifling reaction on the Continent. It was an integral part of what became known as the Conservative Order, in which the liberties and civil rights associated with the American and French Revolutions were de-emphasized so that a fair balance of power, peace and stability might be achieved.
In the 20th century, however, many historians came to admire the statesmen at the Congress, whose work prevented another widespread European war for nearly a hundred years (1815–1914). Historian Mark Jarrett argues that the Congress of Vienna and the Congress System marked “the true beginning of our modern era.” He says the Congress System was deliberate conflict management and the first genuine attempt to create an international order based upon consensus rather than conflict. “Europe was ready,” Jarrett states, “to accept an unprecedented degree of international cooperation in response to the French Revolution.” It served as a model for later organizations such as the League of Nations in 1919 and the United Nations in 1945. Prior to the opening of the Paris peace conference of 1918, the British Foreign Office commissioned a history of the Congress of Vienna to serve as an example to its own delegates of how to achieve an equally successful peace.
Otto von Bismarck: Balance of Power Diplomacy
Otto von Bismarck was a conservative Prussian statesman and diplomat who dominated German and European affairs from the 1860s until 1890. He skillfully used balance of power diplomacy to maintain Germany’s position in a Europe which, despite many disputes and war scares, remained at peace. For historian Eric Hobsbawm, it was Bismarck who “remained undisputed world champion at the game of multilateral diplomatic chess for almost twenty years after 1871, [and] devoted himself exclusively, and successfully, to maintaining peace between the powers.”
In 1862, King Wilhelm I appointed Bismarck as Minister President of Prussia, a position he would hold until 1890 (except for a short break in 1873). He provoked three short, decisive wars against Denmark, Austria, and France, aligning the smaller German states behind Prussia in its defeat of France. In 1871, he formed the German Empire with himself as Chancellor while retaining control of Prussia. His diplomacy of pragmatic realpolitik and powerful rule at home gained him the nickname the “Iron Chancellor.” German unification and its rapid economic growth was the foundation to his foreign policy. He disliked colonialism but reluctantly built an overseas empire when demanded by both elite and mass opinion. Juggling a very complex interlocking series of conferences, negotiations and alliances, he used his diplomatic skills to maintain Germany’s position and used the balance of power to keep Europe at peace in the 1870s and 1880s.
The World Fairs
World fairs during the late 19th century and early 20th centuries showcased the technological, industrial, and cultural achievements of nations around the world, sometimes displaying cultural superiority over colonized nations through human exhibits.
Assess the World Fairs and their purpose in the late 19th and early 20th centuries
- World fairs are international exhibits displaying the achievements of nations, largely focused on technological and industrial developments.
- World fairs originated in the French tradition of national exhibitions that culminated with the French Industrial Exposition of 1844 held in Paris.
- The Great Exhibition held in London in 1851 established many of the familiar components of world fairs and is usually considered to be the first international exhibition of manufactured products.
- Since their inception, the character of world expositions has evolved and is sometimes categorized into three eras: industrialization, cultural exchange, and nation branding.
- Also present in many world fairs at the time as well as in smaller local fairs were exhibits of people from the colonized world in their native environments, often with an explicit narrative of European superiority.
- human zoos: Public exhibitions of humans, usually in a so-called natural or primitive state. The displays often emphasized the cultural differences between Europeans of Western civilization and non-European peoples or other Europeans with a lifestyle deemed primitive. Some placed indigenous Africans in a continuum somewhere between the great apes and the white man.
- The Great Exhibition: An international exhibition that took place in Hyde Park, London, from May 1 to October 11, 1851. It was the first in a series of world fairs, exhibitions of culture and industry that became popular in the 19th century, and was a much anticipated event. It was organized by Henry Cole and Prince Albert, husband of the reigning monarch Queen Victoria. It was attended by numerous notable figures of the time, including Charles Darwin, Samuel Colt, members of the Orléanist Royal Family, and the writers Charlotte Brontë, Charles Dickens, Lewis Carroll, George Eliot, and Alfred Tennyson.
A world’s fair, world fair, world exposition, or universal exposition (sometimes expo for short), is a large international exhibition designed to showcase achievements of nations. These exhibitions vary in character and are held in various parts of the world.
World fairs originated in the French tradition of national exhibitions that culminated with the French Industrial Exposition of 1844 held in Paris. This fair was followed by other national exhibitions in continental Europe and the United Kingdom.
The best-known “first World Expo” was held in The Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, London, United Kingdom, in 1851, under the title “Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations.” The Great Exhibition, as it is often called, was an idea of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband, and is usually considered to be the first international exhibition of manufactured products. It was arguably a response to the highly successful French Industrial Exposition of 1844; indeed, its prime motive was for Britain to display itself as an industrial leader. It influenced the development of several aspects of society, including art-and-design education, international trade and relations, and tourism. This expo was the most obvious precedent for the many international exhibitions considered world fairs.
Since their inception in 1851, the character of world expositions has evolved. Three eras can be distinguished: industrialization, cultural exchange, and nation branding.
The first era could be called the era of “industrialization” and covered roughly the period from 1800 to 1938. In these days, world expositions were especially focused on trade and were famous for the display of technological inventions and advancements. World expositions were the platforms where the state-of-the-art in science and technology from around the world were brought together. The world expositions of 1851 London, 1853 New York, 1862 London, 1876 Philadelphia, 1889 Paris, 1893 Chicago, 1897 Brussels, 1900 Paris, 1901 Buffalo, 1904 St. Louis, 1915 San Francisco, and 1933–34 Chicago were landmarks in this respect. Inventions such as the telephone were first presented during this era.
The 1939–40 New York World’s Fair diverged from the original focus of the world fair expositions. From then on, world fairs adopted specific cultural themes forecasting a better future for society. Technological innovations were no longer the primary exhibits at fairs.
From Expo ’88 in Brisbane onward, countries such as Finland, Japan, Canada, France, and Spain started to use world expositions as platforms to improve their national images.
Colonialism on Display
Human zoos, also called ethnological expositions, were 19th-, 20th-, and 21st-century public exhibitions of humans, usually in a so-called natural or primitive state. The displays often emphasized the cultural differences between Europeans of Western civilization and non-European peoples or other Europeans with a lifestyle deemed primitive. Some of them placed indigenous Africans in a continuum somewhere between the great apes and the white man. Ethnological expositions have since been criticized as highly degrading and racist.
The notion of human curiosity and exhibition has a history at least as long as colonialism. In the 1870s, exhibitions of exotic populations became popular in various countries. Human zoos could be found in Paris, Hamburg, Antwerp, Barcelona, London, Milan, and New York City. Carl Hagenbeck, a merchant in wild animals and future entrepreneur of many European zoos, decided in 1874 to exhibit Samoan and Sami people as “purely natural” populations. In 1876, he sent a collaborator to the Egyptian Sudan to bring back some wild beasts and Nubians. The Nubian exhibit was very successful in Europe and toured Paris, London, and Berlin.
Both the 1878 and the 1889 Parisian World’s Fair presented a Negro Village (village nègre). Visited by 28 million people, the 1889 World’s Fair displayed 400 indigenous people as the major attraction. The 1900 World’s Fair presented the famous diorama living in Madagascar, while the Colonial Exhibitions in Marseilles (1906 and 1922) and in Paris (1907 and 1931) also displayed humans in cages, often nude or semi-nude. The 1931 exhibition in Paris was so successful that 34 million people attended it in six months, while a smaller counter-exhibition entitled The Truth on the Colonies, organized by the Communist Party, attracted very few visitors—in the first room, it recalled Albert Londres and André Gide’s critiques of forced labor in the colonies. Nomadic Senegalese Villages were also presented.
In 1904, Apaches and Igorots (from the Philippines) were displayed at the Saint Louis World Fair in association with the 1904 Summer Olympics. The U.S. had just acquired, following the Spanish–American War, new territories such as Guam, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico, allowing them to “display” some of the native inhabitants. According to the Rev. Sequoyah Ade:
To further illustrate the indignities heaped upon the Philippine people following their eventual loss to the Americans, the United States made the Philippine campaign the centrepoint of the 1904 World’s Fair held that year in St. Louis, MI [sic]. In what was enthusiastically termed a “parade of evolutionary progress,” visitors could inspect the “primitives” that represented the counterbalance to “Civilisation” justifying Kipling’s poem “The White Man’s Burden.” Pygmies from New Guinea and Africa, who were later displayed in the Primate section of the Bronx Zoo, were paraded next to American Indians such as Apache warrior Geronimo, who sold his autograph. But the main draw was the Philippine exhibition complete with full size replicas of Indigenous living quarters erected to exhibit the inherent backwardness of the Philippine people. The purpose was to highlight both the “civilising” influence of American rule and the economic potential of the island chains’ natural resources on the heels of the Philippine–American War. It was, reportedly, the largest specific Aboriginal exhibition displayed in the exposition. As one pleased visitor commented, the human zoo exhibition displayed “the race narrative of odd peoples who mark time while the world advances, and of savages made, by American methods, into civilized workers.”