The American Historical Review/Volume 23/Reviews of Books/Three Peace Congresses of the Nineteenth Century
Four of the most timely papers read at the Cincinnati meeting of the American Historical Association have here been collected and delightfully published, with a prefatory note by , under the imprint of the Harvard University Press. The papers, because of their pertinency to the present war and its issue and also because of the well-recognized competency of their authors, should now be read with pleasure and profit by a wide circle.
Messrs. Hazen, Thayer, and Lord, in dealing respectively with the Congresses of Vienna, Paris, and Berlin, have not bored us with repetitious discussion of the detailed problems that came before the assembled diplomatists or of the merits of the solutions reached. Rather, they have all conformed admirably to the dictum laid down by Mr. Hazen that he would content himself with describing "the manner in which the Congress approached its problems, the way in which it handled its business, its mode of organization, its methods of work, the machinery it employed in the discharge of its highly complicated task". To many it will seem a pity that the authors have not broadened the scope of their papers sufficiently to admit of some indication of the hopes and aspirations voiced in the press and popularly entertained immediately before, and during, the several congresses. Such hopes and aspirations—even prior semi-official pronouncements of the governments concerned—have so often been at variance with the treaty achievements, that a frank recognition of this fact might go far to restrain undue optimism about the millennium's being ushered in by the congress which will terminate the present war. With the exception of Mr. Lord's passing reference to the petitions of representatives of the Alliance Israelite and of the Peace Society to the Congress of Berlin, the congresses are considered as jousting matches for brightly caparisoned (though not over-chivalrous) noble diplomatists, never as dickerings of cabals unrepresentative of their fellow nationals in social position, in manners, in purpose, and in "interests". Perhaps the authors have done wisely to exclude consideration of contemporaneous public opinion of the congresses, for otherwise their studies would have been expanded to much larger dimensions, would have lacked unity, and would have engulfed the "gentle reader" in a most desperately abysmal slough of pessimism.
As it is, the effect of the hour's perusal of the three papers is to produce a feeling bordering on despair. The most striking lesson to be drawn from the Congress of Vienna is that a power, overwhelmingly defeated on the battlefield and actually occupied in large part by the victorious troops of a grand alliance, may, if it has a diplomatist of the calibre and shrewdness of Talleyrand, set its conquerors at variance one with another and in the name of "legitimacy" or of some other mouth-filling fiction preserve its territorial integrity and continue to play a role as a great power. The Congress of Vienna was not even a congress, yet it accomplished much more of permanent value than did the Congress of Paris. In the latter there is only a comedy of errors played by a humorous green-table troupe—the pompous, ponderous, Palmerstonian Clarendon; Walewski, the much-talking and little-thinking agent of Napoleon III. the "arrogant, mannerless, and haughty" Count Buol; the bluff, jovial, "old-soldierly" Count Orloff; and the Turkish grand vizier, "the only self-made man"—as much like Gilbert-and-Sullivan in their procedure as they were like Hamlet in their crazy and tragical achievements. It is not surprising that historical interest has centred less in this burlesque than in the two side-shows which accompanied it—the Declaration of Paris on maritime law in time of war, and the quiet but effective intrigues of Count Cavour.
Both at Paris and at Vienna the visiting diplomatists were constantly distracted from business by banquets, receptions, and balls; at Berlin, they had only to retire to Bismarck's buffet and to sample his "jug of port", and they were forthwith refreshed and invigorated for the tasks before them. Yet in sheer futility the Congress of Berlin outrivalled its predecessors. Mr. Lord, after endorsing the statement that "the treaty of San Stefano was the wisest measure ever prepared for the pacification of the Balkan Peninsula", affirms that had the powers other than Russia
been actuated only by disinterestedness, moderation, and foresight, they would then have assembled in congress resolved, at the least, to confirm the essential arrangements of San Stefano, to stipulate analogous arrangements for the western half of the peninsula, and to provide for the collective guardianship of Europe over the organization and free development of the liberated nations.
That they did nothing of the sort was due to their indifference to the principle of nationality, to their unfounded jealousy of Russia, and to the fact that they consulted only their own selfish interests; their selfishness was to bear fruit in wars of the twentieth century.
In a word [concludes Mr. Lord] the great fault of the Congress of Berlin, as of so many congresses in the past, was the failure to recognize that the peace of Europe is not ensured nor the interests of any Power permanently served by creating unnatural, unjust, and intolerable conditions; the failure to recognize that even in international politics justice is, in the long run, the surest foundation of states and nations.
All the papers are interesting and suggestive. Mr. Thayer's alone is rather shabbily dressed so far as literary form is concerned and not exactly punctilious in its impartiality; the author of Germany versus Civilization, in characterizing Prussian diplomatists, even the aristocratic Manteuffel, must needs lay aside his sense of humor and his mellow historical-mindedness in favor of a somewhat unseemly vindictiveness. Brennus could hardly be a prototype of modern Prussian diplomacy, as Mr. Thayer maintains, for Brennus was a Celt!
Mr. Coolidge's article on "Claimants to Constantinople" is a clear, well-balanced, and fair-minded, though appropriately brief, account of the most difficult question in the international relations of modern times. It deals mainly with the political aspects of the problem, and only incidentally with the economic. Mr. Coolidge brings out best "the clash between the interests and we may say the legitimate ambitions of Russia and Germany". So baffling to us does he make the clash that he can have a good laugh at us by suggesting "that the Russians shall have Constantinople and the Straits, and the German railway shall go under them somewhere by a tunnel". But what will be the effect of the revolution at Petrograd upon Russian claims to Constantinople?