The Holy Alliance

The stipulations of the Congress of Vienna ( June 9, 1815) were the most important diplomatic act in Europe since the Peace of Westphalia, which concluded the Thirty Years’ War. Three rulers, those of Austria, Russia and Prussia, attempted to, give to it a religious consecration. On September 14, 1816, under the inspiration of the Czar Alexander, they signed at Paris the treaty of the Holy Alliance, by which they asserted, “to the world their unshakable determination to take for the rule of their con-duct, whether in the administration of their respective states or their political relations with all other governments, only the precepts of the Christian religion, of justice, of charity, and of peace.” Therefore they bound themselves in the first article to regard each other as-brothers, in the second to show to each other an unalterable friendship, and to consider themselves as commissioned by Providence to govern three branches of the same family: to wit, Austria, Russia and Prussia, forming only one Christian nation having for sovereign “Him to whom belongs all power because in Him one finds all the treasures of love, of science, and of infinite wisdom.” The treaty of the Holy Alliance could not be signed by Kings in Constitutional countries, but all could share and sustain its principles, which were really to, stifle all demands for political freedom. Undertaken in the name of the Church, the Alliance received papal aid.

The Revolution of 1789, undertaken to assure the greatest possible amount of liberty, had on the contrary increased the strength of the government in those countries where it had momentarily triumphed, as well as in those which had only felt its reaction. Twenty-three years of war had accustomed the people to furnish more largely the tax of blood and of money. They paid more taxes and conscription had replaced voluntary enlistment. Besides the administrative authority, distributed formerly into many intermediate bodies, was concentrated entirely in the hands of the Prince, as an energetic centralization had placed in his hands all of the national strength. The governments were stronger in 1815 than in 1789. They had more resources to compel obedience, and they no longer encountered the traditional obstacles which seemed so weak but which were so, strong. Leipsic and Waterloo had made them masters of the world. They undertook to organize their conquests in a manner to restore order, and this order soon appeared to them to be unassured except on condition of arresting all movement that is, to stifle the new life which was for them, as Frederick William IV expressed it, only the “contagion of impiety.” This was the work which the Holy Alliance attempted. It was in effect to fight revolution with the allied forces of all the sovereigns, who were to brook no interference with their rule. Armies were to stifle aspirations for liberty or reform. Though signed only by the three Emperors, it really was supported by every important military power in Europe with the exception of Great Britain, which then adopted its policy of nonintervention. Yet even in England the Tories governed in the interests of the Crown and against those of the people who had no, share in the government, Parliament being by no means representative. It seemed as if nothing had taken place in Europe during the last quarter of a century. In truth the people had learned how sweet is liberty and that it can be obtained if sought. So they revolted.

Repression first produced plots and assassinations and then revolutions. The first serious stand made by the friends of popular government against the Holy Alliance was in Spain, when the Spaniards, after the fall of Napoleon, had restored to the Bourbon monarch, Ferdinand VII, the crown conquered for him and without him. The delegates of the Cortes went to meet him on the frontier to present to him the constitution of 1812. “Do not for-get,” they said, “that on the day that you violate it, the solemn compact which has made you King will be broken.” Some weeks later Ferdinand tore this constitution to pieces and never substituted another for it. He pushed his persecution with so great cruelty that the members of the Holy Alliance themselves protested, but in vain (1817). Conspiracies multiplied with executions, and isolated riotings were followed by an insurrection of the whole army. Riego at Cadiz (Jan. 5, 1820), and Mina in the Pyrenees, proclaimed the constitution of 1812. Ferdinand, abandoned by everyone, swore fidelity to it. Before reactionary Europe had recovered from its surprise other revolutions ensued. The Spanish revolution was followed by a similar outbreak in Portugal. In Naples another Ferdinand, as great a tyrant and as great a coward, and who ruled by virtue of the authority of the Congress of Vienna, found himself forced by a public demonstration to grant a constitution to his people. Even in Turkey the tendency was felt, where the Greeks and the Roumanians attempted revolution in March and April, 1821.

The Emperors trembled, and at the suggestion of Metternich a man of great skill and who as prime minister of Austria was its real ruler through the Emperor Congresses were held, first at Troppau (1820) and later at Laibach (1821). It was then decided that the monarchs of Europe should lend their aid to the maintenance of the present order, and in the case of Spain and Italy t0 the restoration of the condition made by the Constitution Congress of Vienna. The Congress of Laibach declared : “Useful or necessary changes in the legislation and administration of the States are to emanate only from the free will, the enlightened and the deliberate impulse of those whom God has made rendered depositaries of power.” The divine right of Kings was declared, and it was to be enforced by the sword. Great Britain held apart, fearing that some day the powers might feel sufficiently strong to interfere in her internal affairs, and Castlereagh declared in the British Parliament that no power has the right to interfere in the affairs of another power simply because the latter makes changes in the Government which do not please the former. “There are revolutions which are just and necessary,” declared Castlereagh.

The policy was to be initiated by the restoration by Austria in Naples of what Metternich called “order.” An Austrian army set out from Venetian Lombardy. Formidable as it was, it was announced that it was to be followed by 100,000 Russians. The recruits of the Pope and of Santa Rosa were unable to withstand the skilled veterans of the Napoleonic wars in the skirmishes at Rieti and Novara, and the Austrians entered Naples, Turin and Messina. Jails were filled and revolutionists were executed as the army advanced. All captured in Piedmont were beheaded, while in Sicily at one time the prisons contained 16,000 patriots. To prevent the spread of revolution the King of Sardinia established forced labor and decreed that no one should be allowed to learn to read, who did not possess property to the value of $300 (1825). The King of Naples forbade the importation of most foreign books in order to keep his subjects in ignorance. To ensure the payment of taxes and the obedience of his subjects he kept 10,000 Swiss mercenaries by his side.

Metternich took great pride in the state of affairs in Italy. He now declared that the Spanish peninsula ought to be reduced to the same subjection. At a new congress held at Verona the Continental powers resolved on intervention in Spain, and France was chosen as the power to rob the Spaniards of their liberty. An army of the same soldiers who had before sown the seeds of liberty through Europe, now invaded Spain, under the Duke of Angoulême and (1823) restored King Ferdinand to absolute power. Ferdinand made arbitrary arrests and executed all the Liberals on whom he could lay his hands, to celebrate his return to absolute power. A counter revolution at Lis-bon followed that at Madrid, and the King declared the constitution of Portugal abolished and. ruled for a few months with absolute power. But the French armies and the Holy Alliance could not restore to Spain her vast American colonies, which had been lost during and since the Napoleonic wars. One by one they had revolted and the Monroe Doctrine, announced by the great Republic of the United States at the suggestion of Canning, checked the Holy Alliance in any attempt to restore South America to the Bourbons. (See volume American History.)

Cowed by the display of force, the people of Europe seemed submissive to the doctrine of the divine right of Kings to misgovern their subjects.