November 1, 1814: The Congress of Vienna opens.

After Napoleon was defeated by the Sixth Coalition and exiled to the island of Elba, the major European powers met in Vienna over the course of seven months for a series of conferences chaired by the German-Austrian statesman Klemens von Metternich. The “Four Great Powers”, who, together, had formed the basis of the Sixth Coalition, were Austria, the United Kingdom, Prussia, and Russia. France, which restored Louis XVIII to the throne after Napoleon’s final defeat at Waterloo, was also represented at the conference. Besides those five, Spain, Portugal, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland, and a handful of German states also sent representatives to the Congress of Vienna, which would ultimately decide the continent’s future. Other groups (companies, cities, religious organizations) also sent representatives to Vienna.

The main goal of the congress was to establish a balance of power in Europe that would ensure peace and stability in the years following the Napoleonic Wars. If this end were achieved, no one power could attain as much dominance over the continent as Napoleon’s French Empire had, and so the mostly conservative delegates divided countries, redrew territorial lines, and encouraged the restoration of monarchies. The Congress of Vienna also established the German Confederation, which replaced what Napoleon had created to replace the Holy Roman Empire, the Confederation of the Rhine. Territories were exchanged, ceded, and recovered, and nascent movements promoting nationalism and liberalism were temporarily suppressed - the creation of the Holy Alliance (between Russia, Austria, and Prussia) was also created to help maintain the strength of the monarchies against revolution. Ultimately, the Congress was more successful in preventing a European war to the scale of the Napoleonic Wars than maintaining the status quo; the Revolutions of 1848 shook Europe less than forty years later, but Europe did not see a conflict like the Napoleonic Wars until 1914. 

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