1902 Encyclopedia > Congress


CONGRESS, in diplomacy, a term applied to an assem-blage of sovereigns or ambassadors of the highest rank, convoked for the purpose of concluding a general peace, or of treating the general political interests of Europe. In this latter sense a modern congress may be regarded as a representative council of states or nations, by which differ-ences may be adjusted, and the rules of international law determined and enforced. The greatest progress yet made in the relations of sovereign states is, that disputes, which in former times would have led to immediate war, may now be resolved, in many instances, by the common deliberations of the European powers. The term CONGRESS, however, is only strictly applicable to meetings of this nature on the most important occasions, and when all the powers are re-presented. The term CONFERENCE is used to describe diplo-matic meetings of ministers of the first or second rank, called together for a special purpose, either to modify existing treaties by consent, or to suggest means of dealing with a critical state of affairs. Meetings of this kind have become in modern times very frequent, and are the recognized mode of dealing with the questions arising between sovereign states, and sometimes even between states and their subjects. The proceedings of these conferences are recorded in protocols, agreed to and signed by the plenipo-tentiaries. These documents have not always the form of treaties or conventions, but they establish the principles on which the powers agree to act, and the rules by which they are bound in honour and good faith. The number of Con-gresses which have been held in the last two centuries is not very large, and we shall proceed briefly to pass them in review. Conferences have occurred so frequently that it would be impossible to describe them in detail. The most important examples are, perhaps, the Conference of Petersburg in 1825, which led to the independence of Greece; the Conference of London in 1831, which separated the kingdom of Belgium from Holland; the Conference of Paris on the affairs of Crete ; the Conference of 1871 for the modification of the Treaty of Paris of 1856 ; and the abortive Conference of Constantinople in 1877, when the six powers vainly endeavoured to obtain from the Porte guarantees for the better government of its Christian subjects. These two forms of diplomatic council differ more, however, in form and degree than in kind. Their object is the same, namely, to determine and enforce the mutual obligations of states; and they may therefore be treated under one head.
The first time we have been able to trace the use of the term Congress in its modern sense, is in 1636, when the Pope attempted to open negotiations for peace at Cologne, under his own mediation ; but the attempt failed, and the Thirty Years' War continued for twelve years more to devastate the world. At length, however, it was agreed by the preliminaries of Hamburg, signed on the 25th Decem-ber 1641, that a Congress should be held at Munsterandat Osnaburgh, in Westphalia, meeting simultaneously in both those towns; the French mediating minister, representing the Catholic party, being at Munster, and the Swedish minister, representing the Protestants, at Osnaburgh. The opening of the Congress was fixed for the 11th July 1643 ; but the proceedings were delayed by numerous formalities, by questions of rank and precedence, by questions of neu-trality and safe-conduct, and by the death of Richelieu and Louis XIII. The negotiations began in earnest in June 1645. Never before had so august an assembly met in Europe for the termination of a sanguinary war, for the establishment of peace between two hostile creeds, and for the regulation of territorial questions by common agreement. The Empire was represented by Count Maximilian von Trautmansdorf; France by Count d'Avaux; Sweden by John Oxenstiern, a son of the great chancellor; the Pope by Cardinal Chigi, afterwards himself Pope Alexander VII. ; Spain by Count Peñaranda, and by two of her subjects from Franche Comté, not to mention lesser names. England had no representative at the Congress of West-phalia. The questions in dispute and the result of these long deliberations (which were not terminated until the 24th October 1648 by the signature of the two great treaties of Munster and Osnaburgh) were worthy of the statesmen engaged in them and of the time spent in the negotiations ; for the Congress of Westphalia laid the foundations of modern Europe, and its leading principles subsisted not only into the present century, but down to the war of 1870-71. It terminated the long contest between France and Austria. It established the equal rights of the Catholic, Lutheran, and Calvinistic churches in Germany. It rendered 350 German princes almost independent of the Empire, and it planted the germ of the future greatness of Prussia. This form of the German body remained unaltered till the French Revolution. But it also gave to France and Sweden a right, as mediating powers at Munster, to interfere in the affairs of Germany—_ a right which supported the aggressive policy of Louis XIV., and caused, in the event, innumerable quarrels. The diplomatic communications at Munster all passed through the mediators, and were generally framed in Latin. The discussions were also carried on in that language. A separate peace between the Dutch and the Spaniards was also signed at Munster in 1648, as represented in Terburg's celebrated picture, now in the National Gallery, but this was not an act of the Congress.
The term Congress was applied to the diplomatic meetings which negotiated the Peace of Nimeguen in 1678 and the Peace of Ryswick (so called from a castle near the Hague) in 1697. A contemporary French author, De Rouille, remarked that these meetings ought to be termed assemblies, not congresses, since the latter word was coarse and inappropriate. The term has since entirely lost its improper meaning, derived from an obsolete form of ecclesiastical procedure, and the diplomatic signification has triumphed. At Nimeguen England appeared for the first time at a Continental Congress, from the interest she took in the fate of Holland, and was worthily represented by Sir William Temple; France by Colbert de Croissy, D'Estrades, and D'Avaux ; Spain by Don Pedro Ronquillo, governor of the Low Countries ; and Holland by the count of Nassau and Beverning. Separate treaties were signed between the various parties. The Congress of Ryswick was of still greater importance to England, for it ter-minated the war in which we had long been engaged with France, and extorted from Louis XIV. the recognition of the right of William and Mary to the British crown. The peace was of short duration, for the War of Succession broke out in 1701; the grand alliance was formed between England, Holland, and Austria; France was defeated; peace was nearly restored in 1709 at the conferences of Gertruydenberg, which were privately carried on between the marquis de Torcy and the Grand Fensionary, but not finally concluded till 1712, when a Congress of all the belligerent powers (except the king of Spain) assembled at Utrecht. France was represented by the marshal i'Huxelles, England by the bishop of Bristol (it was the last time an English bishop acted in a civil and diplomatic capacity), the emperor by Count Sinzendorf. The decisive negotiation for peace was, however, carried on secretly and separately between London and Versailles, and whilst the Congress was occupied with formalities, Bolingbroke came to an agreement with France, which broke up the alliance and compelled the other powers to terminate the war. The other Congresses of the 18th century are those of Soissons in 1727, remarkable for the fact that Cardinal Fleury, then prime minister of Louis XV., attended it in person, and of Aix la-Chapelle in 1748, which terminated a general war. By each of these Congresses the treaties of Westphalia, Nimeguen, Ryswick, and Utrecht were renewed and con-firmed ; so that their labours formed a continuous series and identical body of international legislation. No Con _ gress was held at the termination either of the Seven Years' War in 1763 or of the American war in 1783, but the style of a Congress was assumed by the German plenipotentiaries who met at Teschen in 1779 to end the war of the Bavarian succession. It hardly deserved the name.
The French Revolution and the wars of the Empire swept away the entire political fabric of continental Europe and the treaties on which it was based. No attempt was made during that period to convoke a Congress for the purpose of a general pacification and territorial settlement; for the Congress of Rastadt, which met in December 1797 and sat till April 1799, was designed mainly to re-establish amicable relations between France and the German empire, and was not attended by the re-presentatives of England, Russia, or Spain. These nego-tiations proved abortive ; war was renewed ; the Congress was broken up ; and the ministers of the French Directory—Bonnier and Roberjot—were massacred by a party of Austrian Szeklers as they quitted the town. The Austrian Government never entirely cleared itself of com-plicity in this crime against the rights and usages of nations ; and the event aggravated the hostility existing between France and Germany.
Upon the fall of Napoleon, it was agreed by the 32d Article of the Peace of Paris, signed on the 30th May 1814 between France and the allied powers, that "within two months all the powers which had been engaged in the war on either side should send plenipotentiaries to Vienna to settle, at a general Congress, the arrangements required to complete the provisions of the Treaty of Peace." The Congress of Vienna, which met, with some allowance for delays, early in November of the same year, was by far the most splendid and important assembly ever convoked to discuss and determine the affairs of Europe. The emperor of Russia, the king of Prussia, the kings of Bavaria, Denmark, and Wurtemberg, were present in person in the Austrian capital at the court of the Emperor Francis. Frince Metternich presided over the Congress. Prince Talleyrand represented France. Great Britain sent the secretary of state for foreign affairs—Lord Castlereagh, — besides the duke of Wellington, Lord Clancarty, and Lord Cathcart. Mr Stratford Canning, now the sole survivor of that illustrious assembly, took part in the discussion of the affairs of Switzerland, where he was then minister. Prussia was represented by Prince Hardenbergand Baron Humboldt. A hundred sovereigns and ministers were collected in Vienna, all animated by a general desire for peace and a lively sense of their own interests. Chevalier Gentz, who was named protocolist to the Congress, and who in fact drafted the treaties which were ultimately signed by all the powers, has left us a curious account of the secret proceed-ings of this prodigious assembly. Strange to say, the Con-gress itself, that is to say, the representatives of all these principalities and powers, never met in council; nor did any formal exchange of their respective credentials take place. The business was entirely transacted by committees of the five great powers—Austria, England, France, Prussia, and Russia ; to whom, for certain purposes, the ministers of Spain, Sweden, and Portugal were added. Even with this arrangement the progress of the negotiations was extremely slow. For three months nothing was done. It was said, " Le Congres danse, mais ne marche pas." Serious differ-ences arose ; the pretensions of Russia and Prussia, acting in concert, seemed even to threaten a renewal of war; and a secret treaty was concluded on the 3d December between England, France, and Austria, in view of that con-tingency. The return of Napoleon from Elba in March 1815 roused the Congress from its lethargy and terminated its disputes, by the necessity for common action ; and at length the great treaties of Vienna were signed on the 7th June 1815—eleven days before the battle of Waterloo—by the plenipotentiaries of the eight powers. It is acknow-ledged by the draftsman of these treaties that, after all, this work was somewhat hastily and imperfectly done. Yet upon the whole, that Congress succeeded in restoring peace to Europe, which was not seriously disturbed for forty years ; and it laid the foundation of a system of public law, which was long held sacred, as the common basis of the rights of every member of the European family. At the present time, after the changes which have taken place in Poland, in Italy, in Germany, in Denmark, and in France, it can hardly be said that any fragments of the work of the Congress of Vienna retain their authority, or that any similar general compact has taken its place.
The intimate relations which had sprung up during the war gave rise to a mystical union of the northern sovereigns, projected and prepared by the emperor of Russia, under the name of the Holy Alliance ; and the intention of the authors of that agreement was that the powers should meet and act together in the event of fresh disturbances occurring in Europe. The practical result of this policy was seen in 1822 when another Congress met at Verona, not for the purpose of restoring peace, but in order to crush the signs of freedom and independence then beginning to display themselves in Europe. In Spain the nation demanded a constitution—she was invaded by France; in Naples a popular movement took place—Naples was occupied by Austrian troops, and the king fled to Laybach ; in Germany, the people were irritated by the breach of all the liberal promises made during the war. The Congress of Verona was the source and centre of the most violent reactionary policy ; and although the duke of Wellington attended it on behalf of England, it was chiefly to protest against its system of despotic intervention in the affairs of other states. M. de Chateaubriand has left an account of this, the darkest hour of the politics of Europe, in which he took an active and inglorious part. On this occasion, however, England renewed her protest against the slave trade, and obtained a declaration of the Powers condemning it.
The last Congress held in Europe was that of 1856, which met in Paris to terminate the Crimean war. Austria and Prussia, though not actual belligerents, were admitted to take part in the deliberations and general acts of the Con-gress, and for the first time in history the ambassadors of the Ottoman Porte appeared at a European Congress, and were formally received into the concert of the great powers. Count Walewski presided over this Congress, as minister of foreign affairs of France; Lord Clarendon, British secretary of state, and Lord Cowley were the representatives of England. In this Congress it was remarkable that France, eager for peace and anxious to court the good-will of Russia, sided with her recent adversary, and that the concessions obtained by the victorious allies were due mainly to the firmness of the British plenipotentiaries. After the con-clusion of the negotiations for peace, the question of the maritime rights of belligerents and neutrals was formally brought before the Congress, as a body representing all the great powers of Europe; and a declaration was signed.
which has been discussed more fully in another place. (See DECLARATION OP PARIS.) But this is an important example of the authority which may be fitly assumed and exercised by a Congress, to determine controverted ques-tions of public law by a species of declaratory enactment.
In the autumn of 1863, the Emperor Napoleon formally proposed to the other great Powers that a Congress should assemble in Paris for the purpose of settling various ques tions, which appeared to threaten the future peace of Europe. To this proposal the Continental states assented , but England gave a positive refusal, on the ground, stated by Lord Russell, that such measures of prospective legisla-tion were more likely to embroil the several Powers than to establish peace. The project was therefore abandoned ; but the wars which ensued in Denmark, in Austria, and in France, within the next seven years, justified the views taken by Napoleon III. as to the dangers that threatened the peace of the world.
The most convenient summary of the Acts of the various Con-
gresses which have been held from 1645 to 1815 is to be found in
Koch Scheie's Histoire Abrégée des Traités de Paix. The Acts
of the Congress of Vienna were published at great length by Kluber
in his Geschichte des Wiener Congresses. The proceedings of the
Congresses and Conferences in which Great Britain has taken part
have invariably been laid before Parliament. (H. R.)

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