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The Congress of Vienna: A Reappraisal

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 July 2011

Henry A. Kissinger
Harvard University
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It is only natural that a period anxiously seeking to wrest peace from the threat of nuclear extinction should look nostalgically to the last great successful effort to settle international disputes by means of a diplomatic conference, the Congress of Vienna. Nothing is more tempting than to ascribe its achievements to the very process of negotiation, to diplomatic skill, and to “willingness to come to an agreement”—and nothing is more dangerous. For the effectiveness of diplomacy depends on elements transcending it; in part on the domestic structure of the states comprising the international order, in part on their power relationship.

Research Article
Copyright © Trustees of Princeton University 1956

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1 It is a legend spread by those who confuse results and causes and by professional diplomats wont to ascribe to mere negotiating skill what is possible only through the exploitation of more deep-seated factors. It has gained currency because Talleyrand, whose monarch had not come to Vienna, was obliged to write voluminous reports, and in order to cement his shaky domestic position, the former Foreign Minister of Napoleon tended to emphasize his indispensability. See, for example, Nicolson, Harold G., The Congress of Vienna, New York, 1946Google Scholar; Cooper, Duff, Talleyrand, New York, 1932Google Scholar; Brinton, Crane, The Lives of Talleyrand, New York, 1936Google Scholar; Ferrero, Guglielmo, The Reconstruction of Europe, New York, 1941.Google Scholar

2 Castlereagh's report. See Webster, Charles, British Diplomacy, 1813–1815, London, 1921, pp. 197ff.Google Scholar, October 2, 1814.

3 The exchange continued through October in a series of memoranda: Castlereagh to the Tsar, October 12, 1814, see Duke, of Wellington, , Supplementary Despatches, Correspondence and Memoranda, 15 vols., ed. by his son, London, 18551872, IX, p. 332Google Scholar; the Tsar's reply, October 30, p. 386; Castlereagh's reply, November 8, p. 410.

4 Schwarz, Wilhelm, Die Heilige Allianz, Stuttgart, 1935, p. 13.Google Scholar

5 d'Angeberg, Comte, Le Congrès de Vienne et les Traités de 1815, Paris, 18631864, II, p. 1934.Google Scholar

6 Text of note to Castlereagh, ibid., II, pp. 1939ff.

7 Text of note to Hardenberg, ibid., I, pp. 316ff.

8 Castlereagh's report Webster, op. cit., p. 212, October 29, 1814.Google Scholar

9 Memorandum re procedure, ibid., pp. 213ff.

10 D'Angeberg, , op. cit., I, p. 406Google Scholar (Hardenberg's note to Metternich). There is yet another indication, although no proof, that Metternich never intended the Polish negotiations as anything but a means to isolate Prussia on die Saxon question: his dismal defeat during his interview with Alexander. At no other time in his career did Metternich choose a frontal attack, negotiate so ineffectively, or surrender so easily.

11 Text, ibid., I, p. 505.

12 Webster, op. cit., pp. 248ff.Google Scholar

13 Ibid., pp. 220ff.

14 Ibid., pp. 247ff.

15 Ibid., p. 255. December 7, 1814.

16 Metternich, Clemens, Aus Metternichs Nachgelassenen Papieren, 8 vols., ed. by Klinkowstroeni, Alfons von, Vienna, 1880, II, pp. 503ff.Google Scholar

17 Ibid., pp. 510ff., December 19, 1814; D'Angeberg, op. cit., pp. 546ff.

18 Webster, op. cit., p. 278, January 1, 1815.Google Scholar

19 Ibid., p. 280.

20 Ibid., p. 282.

21 Ibid., p. 295, January 29, 1815.