After Napoleon's domination of Europe from around 1800 to 1814, the rulers of Europe wanted to insure that no one would ever be able to come so close to taking over all of Europe again. To this end, the diplomats from all of the Great Powers met at the Congress of Vienna to negotiate from 1814 to 1815. There they reorganized European boundaries in hopes of creating a stable Europe where coalitions of nations could always ally to defeat one nation that got out of hand.
The rulers after Napoleon were dedicated to stopping revolution (like the French Revolution in their own countries. Louis XVIII, whose brother Louis XVI had been executed during the French Revolution, certainly didn't want another revolution in France. The Tory government in Great Britain was archconservative and greatly opposed social upheaval. Metternich, the foreign minister in Austria, was willing to do anything to stabilize Europe and preserve Hapsburg power.
In France, Louis XVIII did his best to balance the tense situation following Napoleon's defeat. On both sides, Louis granted amnesties, hoping to "start over" in France. The wealthy, however, remembering the leveling effects of the Revolution, became passionately anti-revolutionary, or reactionary. The reactionary element only increased after the King's nephew, the Duke of Berry, was assassinated in 1820. In 1824, Louis XVIII died, and was replaced by the assassinated Duke's father, Charles X. Unlike the moderate Louis, Charles was a hard-core reactionary, and hated all the changes taking place in France, even the ones Louis had initiated. Charles believed himself to be a monarch appointed by God, and he started trampling on basic elements of liberalism like the French constitution.
Poland was a state recreated by the Congress of Vienna and ruled by Czar Alexander I. Initially, its government was quite liberal; though ruled by Alexander, Poland had a constitution. Alexander considered himself an "enlightened despot" and spoke often of granting freedom to the people, but he soon found that when he did give the people some self-government, they didn't always agree with what he wanted them to do. Liking liberal reforms in theory more than practice, Alexander increasingly curtailed Poland's right of self- government. As a result of its frustrated desire for self-rule, Polish Nationalism began to rise. Secret societies developed, and a university movement (which Alexander put down in the 1820s) got underway.
In Germany, nationalists motivated by Romantic ideas such as the belief in a special German Volksgeist hated the results of the Congress of Vienna, since the ongress split up into a loose federation called the Bund. Dissatisfaction centered among students and intellectuals, who began to form highly nationalist clubs called Burschenschaft. In 1817, the Burschenschaft held a national meeting at Wartburg, convincing Metternich that German nationalism was a force to be reckoned with. When the German nationalists began assassinating reactionary leaders, Metternich intervened by pushing the Carlsbad Decrees through the Bund in 1819. The decrees outlawed the Burschenschaft and pushed them underground. Secondarily, the decrees increased government regulation of the universities, limiting what was taught, and made way for government censorship of German newspapers. The Carlsbad Decrees quieted the German nationalist movement for about a decade.
In Great Britain, in 1815, the aristocrat-dominated Parliament passed the Corn Law, which raised tariffs on grain to make imports impossible. The high tariffs also raised prices beyond the reach of the working class. In December 1816, starving workers rioted in London. Meanwhile, in Manchester, the ascendant industrialists who dominated the city had been hoping to get Parliamentary representation for some time. Realizing how discontented the workers were, the industrialists helped organize 80,000 workers to demonstrate at St. Peters Field against the Corn Law and for universal male suffrage. The protest was peaceful, but British soldiers nonetheless fired into the crowd, killing several. The event became a national scandal, called the Peterloo Massacre. The Tory Parliament, frightened of the potential for worker revolts, passed acts in 1819 aimed at stopping mass political organization. Not appeased, a group of workers decided to try and assassinate the Tory cabinet. This group, known as the Cato Street Conspiracy, was discovered in 1820. Several members were executed.
After Napoleon, a period of Reactionary governments swept Europe. Having swung so far one way during theFrench Revolution andNapoleon's rule, the historical pendulum now swung back the other way, as rulers tried to prevent the "excesses" of the French Revolution from happening again. Fear among the traditional rulers was not without basis, either. Revolution was brewing throughout Europe.
Among the reactionary rulers and leaders of Europe in the post-Napoleonic era, only the liberal, progressive, and fervently Christian Alexander I, Czar of Russia, seemed a wild card when it came to change. He certainly wanted to rule, but he also wanted to change the world for the better. Highly educated, he saw himself as an "enlightened despot" or a "philosopher-king" able to foresee reforms that were in the best interest of all. In 1815, the rulers of Europe were all worried about what Czar Alexander might do. However, once Alexander found out that granting constitutions and self-government to people led to them doing things that he sometimes disagreed with, his interest in liberal reforms began to sour, and he fell further into the reactionary fold over time.
Why was Metternich so upset about possible German unification? He was afraid that a powerful and unified Germany might upset the balance of power, not to mention pose a threat to neighboring Austria. Although Austria did not have a tremendous amount of formal influence in the German Bund, it could put informal pressure on the German states, and Metternich did this heavily in the period to get the Carlsbad decrees passed.
British Parliament designed the Corn Law (1815) to protect the profits of landed aristocrats in Britain. But the action demonstrates the degree to which Parliament was out of touch with the social and political situation. The tariffs raised food prices, naturally affecting the poor. The raise in prices also affected the industrialist manufacturers, who had to pay their workers more to insure that they had people physically able to man the industrial factories. Whereas the poor had no political power, and little tendency to political action, the wealthy manufacturers had both. The teaming up of the manufacturers and poor demonstrated a changing reality in British social and political life. Parliament's eventual recognition of this change can be seen in the Tory government's subsequent passage of a high tax on newspapers as an attempt to limit the spread of ideas among workers. The Tory government even went so far as to restrict the right of public assembly.