Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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CONGRESS (IN INTERNATIONAL LAW). By congress is understood a meeting of ministers plenipotentiary or sovereigns of different states, having the power and mission to conclude a treaty of peace, determine the consequences of a treaty concluded, or settle undecided points of international law. The following are the most celebrated congresses: 1641-8, a congress at Münster and Osnabruck, which brought about the peace of Westphalia; 1659, the congress of the Pyrences; 1663, the congress of Aix-la-Chapelle; 1681, the congress of Frankfort; 1712-13, the congress of Utrecht; 1748, the congress of Aix-la-Chapelle; 1797, the congress of Rastadt; 1802, the congress of Antwerp; 1808, the congress of Erfurt, the first congress of sovereigns ever held; 1813, the congress of Prague; 1814, the congress of Châtillon; 1814-15, the congress of Vienna; 1818, the congress of Aix-la-Chapelle; 1820-21, the congress of Troppau and Laybach; 1822, the congress of Verona; 1856, the congress of Paris; 1878, the congress of Berlin. We see by this simple enumeration, that a distinction must be drawn between congresses and treaties of peace. All congresses do not lead to treaties. And, although there is reason to connect these great meetings with the acts which have defined the territorial distribution of Europe, they must not be confounded with them. The dissolution of a congress without result has been frequently witnessed in modern times, and instances of such are easily cited. Among the number are the congresses of Cambrai, 1721-5; of Soissons, 1729; of Breda, 1747; of Focsani, 1772; of Bucharest, 1793; of Lille, 1797; of Rastadt, 1799; of Ghent and Châtillon, 1814. In our time a greater importance has been attached to congresses than in former ages. These great assemblies of diplomates or sovereigns first took place in the nineteenth century. In the middle ages gatherings of princes were frequent, especially in the time of the crusades, and on the occasion of the German diets. They became rare from the time that the intricate affairs of monarchs could no longer be discussed without the agency of ministers and ambassadors. The wars of the empire, by shaking states to their foundation, renewed direct relations among princes. Napoleon, at the height of his power, established the first precedent of this kind of meeting, so much in favor during the restoration. Still, the congress of Erfurt, in spite of the secret agreement of Oct. 12, 1808, which strengthened the ties of Tilsit, between France and Russia, was more a display made by the master of the west than a meeting for the transaction of business. The guests at Erfurt, with one exception, met at Vienna in 1815, but they alternated their negotiations with the splendor of the feast, and crowned heads appeared there attended by the chiefs of their cabinets. The international law of Europe, inaugurated by the treaty of Vienna, was reaffirmed in the congresses of Aix-la-Chapelle, Troppau, Laybach and Verona, which, like that of Vienna, but on a limited scale, were assemblies of sovereigns attended by their ministers. The restoration was, and endeavored to seem, in its principles and methods, the opposite of the French revolution. "The successive coalitions," says Wheaton in his" Elements of International Law," "formed by the great monarchies of Europe against France, after the revolution of 1789, were caused by the dangers with which the revolution threatened, both the social order of Europe by the dissemination of its principles, and the balance of power by the development of its military ascendency. Such was the principle of intervention in the internal affairs of France, acknowledged by the allied courts. France demanded non-intervention as a right, on the basis of the respective independence of nations. The final result of these coalitions was the establishment of a permanent alliance between the four great powers, Great Britain, Austria, Prussia and Russia, an alliance which France joined in 1818. at the congress of Aix-la-Chapelle. According to the powers which had already taken part in the alliance known under the name of the holy alliance, viz., Russia, Austria and Prussia, the object of this new alliance was to found a perpetual system of intervention among the different states of Europe, in order to prevent all change in the internal form of their respective governments, whenever such change should be considered as threatening to the existence of monarchic institutions under the legitimate dynasties of the houses reigning at the time. This general right of intervention has been used sometimes in times of popular revolutions, when the change in the form of government had not its origin in the voluntary concession of the reigning sovereign or been confirmed by him, under circumstances which excluded all idea of violence against him. In other cases the allied powers extended the right of intervention to every revolutionary movement which might be considered as endangering, by its immediate or remote consequences, the social order of Europe in general, or the individual security of neighboring states."


—The preceding lines characterize the four congresses which took place from 1818 to 1822. The object of that of Aix-la-Chapelle, in 1818, was to deliver France from military occupation, which had been imposed on it in 1815, and to receive it into the agreement of the five powers. The contribution to be paid by France was reduced from 700 to 265 million francs, and its readmission into the European Areopagus was confirmed by protocol of 15th of November. Those of Troppau and Laybach, in 1820 and 1821, had for their object the establishment of an understanding between Austria, Russia and Prussia, as to the means necessary to put down the Italian revolution at Naples and Turin. England and France were represented at these congresses by ministers plenipotentiary. It was during the congress of Laybach that Great Britain, by a circular note of Jan. 19, 1821, raised the first protest against the system of intervention of the holy alliance. The congress of Verona, in 1822, undertook to continue the war against the revolution in Spain; the Spanish constitution was overthrown by the army of the duke of Angoulême. England's protest was more energetic than in 1821, and Canning's note of Sept. 27, 1822, against the Spanish war, was one of the most important historic monuments of the period, though it was unable to prevent the restoration of Ferdinand VII. by a foreign army. The attitude of England contributed greatly to put an end to the use of congresses under the restoration. The advantages gained in France by the liberal opposition aided also in preventing their renewal. Although frequent interviews between sovereigns have taken place since then, we can only mention the meeting at Warsaw, Oct. 20, 1860, between the emperor of Russia, the emperor of Austria and the prince regent of Prussia, or that of Sept. 6, 1872, between the same sovereigns, the prince regent of Prussia having become the emperor William of Germany, as having any analogies with the sovereign assemblies of the restoration. This resemblance is remote, however, for the congresses of 1818 and 1822 rested on an evident principle, and had a definite object, while in 1860 the interview had an accidental character, which it continued to retain, since it had no consequences and resulted in no system of alliance, while the interview of 1872, if not accidental, had no avowed political object.


—Mention should perhaps be made here of the congress of German princes which met at Frankfort in 1863, under the presidency of Austria, to reform the Germanic confederation, but which failed because Prussia refused to assist.


—The congress of 1856, which put an end to the Crimean war, is celebrated on account of its declarations regarding neutrality.


—As a general rule, every state has the right to bring about the meeting of a congress, and it is proper to receive the representatives of all the states interested in any way in the questions to be debated at such congress; but the initiative belongs to the great powers, and those of the second order interested are not always received. In order that a congress may take place it is essential that the parties should agree on the principles by which the negotiations are to be guided. Consequently, there should be a general preliminary understanding between the powers as to the method of solving the questions. The congress which was to regulate the affairs of Italy at the end of 1859, was not able, as we know, to assemble, on account of inability to reconcile opposing interests. The method pursued by congresses in their work is not uniform, and depends upon the more or less general character of the meeting, the number of states represented, and their reciprocal relations. The congress of Paris in 1856, did not embrace, in the decisions it had to take, the total of European politics, as did the congress of Vienna. Therefore it did not follow the same course. At the congress of Paris only seven states were represented, and the number of questions to be solved were limited. Questions, therefore, were not subdivided among different committees, whose sole work was to report to the assembly of the great powers. At Vienna all Europe was assembled, and everything had to be remodeled. To facilitate the transaction of business the work was divided among a number of special commissions, which reported to the great powers. The latter accorded or withheld their assent. Most frequently the decision was made in advance, in consequence of a preliminary exchange of notes. This method of action was favorable to the influence and the independence of the middling and small states.


—The choice of the city where the congress is to meet is not without importance, for it is essential that no one of the interested parties should be able to exercise a predominant influence on the members of the congress. Therefore the custom of choosing cities in neutral, or at least disinterested, states, such as Belgium or Switzerland, is a good one. In case of failure to agree in this respect, the place in which the congress is held is declared neutral during its deliberations. Since, generally speaking, a congress is only convened for important purposes, each state chooses as its representative its ablest negotiators, and its officials of highest rank. When the sovereign does not appear in person at the congress, he sends his minister of foreign affairs, or at least an important person enjoying his special confidence. He takes care, besides, that his representatives at the congress be in possession of the necessary qualities and learning to succeed; and, as it rarely happens that these qualities and this learning are in the possession of a single man, the chief of the state constitutes the embassy of as many persons as are necessary for a full representation. He sends one with a talent for winning men, with insinuating manners, a great name, accustomed to great state entertainments; another, with a knowledge of history and international law, to act as a support to arguments; the third, a ready writer; and so on to the end of the chapter. It is the more necessary to provide beforehand, for everything, even for the unforeseen, since difficult questions may suddenly arise, and since problems for solution are numerous, and the time between sessions is occupied in preparing a favorable basis for future discussions. Questions of etiquette do not delay business as formerly. The congress of Utrecht is famous in this regard, as is well known. For the last 50 years questions of form have been simplified, and an unforeseen difficulty is avoided in one way or another. After the congress has met, the representatives of the different powers begin by making the customary visits; then the congress proceeds to the choice of a president. If the meeting takes place under the mediation of a neutral state, or on the territory of a great power interested in the negotiations, it is customary to elect as president the representative of the mediating state, or that of the interested power on whose territory the negotiations take place. This custom is purely one of courtesy, and in no way deprives the plenipotentiaries of their right of selection. This operation is followed by an exchange of credentials and fixing the order of the day. Questions of secondary importance are usually decided by an absolute majority of votes; those of prime importance, unanimously. We must not omit to state that unanimity is the rule, for each state is sovereign and free in its decision. The decisions of other states can not be imposed on it against its will. An exact report of each session (called a protocol) is drawn up, which is submitted to the plenipotentiaries for approval, and signed by them. If one of them finds that his views have not been correctly or completely reported, he may have his vote recorded in the protocol. Each minister gives an account of the deliberations and decisions of the congress to his government; and, thanks to the telegraph, he can at present be in continual communication with his chief. The electric telegraph tends more and more to modify ancient usages, and very naturally, to restrain the power of diplomates, since each report of a session may be immediately followed by new instructions.*63


Notes for this chapter

Attention should be here called to the congress of Berlin, held July 13, 1878. The treaty of Berlin contains the following stipulations: The principalities of Roumania (proclaimed a kingdom in 1881), Servia and Montenegro, to become independent states, Roumania to cede to Russia Bessarabia, and receive the Dobrudscha in return. Servia obtained Nish, Tirot, and almost the entire northern territory of the Morava. Montenegro received Nikschitz, Podgorizza and Antivari. Austria-Hungary was to occupy Bosnia and the Herzegovina. Russia obtained the largest part of Armenia, with Ordahan, Kars and Batum. The land between the Danube and the Balkan to be constituted into a Christian principality, Bulgaria, which, however, remains under the suzerainty of the porte. South of the Balkans a province of Roumelia, under a Christian governor, is to be formed. Turkey was thus left with 4,800,000 inhabitants, and a territory of about 170,000 kilomètres in Europe: while in Asia it retained 1,890,000 square kilomètres, with 17,000,000 inhabitants.

Footnotes for CONGRESS (U. S.)

End of Notes

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