What Is the Metternich System?

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The Metternich system, also known as the Congress system, was a series of meetings called among the great powers of Europe to discuss problems and attempt to resolve issues without violence. The system was modeled after an international summit in Vienna in 1814, and the first Congress occurred in Aix-la-Chapelle in 1818 to decide the issue of the occupation of France. Britain, Prussia, Russia and Austria attended.

Klemens von Metternich was the architect of the Vienna Congress of 1814 that initiated the Congress system. He viewed disputes between the great powers of Europe as dangerous, ones that could lead to war or revolution if they were not dealt with in a diplomatic manner. He also saw the great powers as shepherds of lesser countries and felt they should be the ones to control the destiny of Europe.

The first five meetings of the Congress were the most fruitful, but it soon became apparent that the most powerful countries of Europe had difficulty agreeing on many issues. The system supported independence for Greece and Belgium in 1830 and 1831, respectively, but by the 1850s, many of the participants found themselves in open war with one another. The system continued to unravel through the rest of the 19th century, until it collapsed completely on the eve of World War I.