The revolutionary leaders of the post-Napoleonic generation remained firm for liberty, equality, and fraternity. The first two words of the great revolutionary motto continued to signify the abolition of noble and clerical privileges in society and, with few exceptions, laissez-faire economics. They also involved broadening civil rights, instituting representative assemblies, and granting constitutions, which would bring limited monarchy or possibly even a republic.
Fraternity, intensified by the romantic cult of the nation, continued to evolve into the formidable doctrine of nationalism. The nationalists of the post-1815 generation dreamed of a world in which each nation would be free of domination by any other, and all nations would live together harmoniously. In practical terms, this signified movements toward national unity and national independence. It meant growing pressure for the unification of Germany and Italy. And it inspired demands for freedom by peoples living under the control of a foreign power—by Belgians against their Dutch rulers, by Poles against Russians, by Greeks and Serbs against Turks, and by Italians, Hungarians, and Czechs against the Habsburgs.
The first revolutionary outbreaks after 1815 took place in Spain, Portugal, and the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. The trouble began in Spain. During the war against Napoleon, representatives from the liberal middle class of Cadiz and other commercial towns had framed the Constitution of 1812. Based on the French constitution of 1791, this document greatly limited the power of the monarchy, gave wide authority to a Cortes elected by a broad suffrage, and deprived the Spanish church of some of its lands and privileges. The Bourbon Ferdinand VII (r. 1814-1833) suspended the constitution, restored the social inequalities of the Old Regime, and reestablished the Jesuits and the Inquisition.
It was Ferdinand’s attempt to subdue the rebellious colonies that triggered revolution at home. The independence movement in Spanish America had been the outcome of the refusal of the colonial populations to accept either Napoleon’s brother Joseph as their king or the closer ties between colonies and mother country implicit in the constitution of 1812. Behind the movement lay several other factors: the powerful examples of the American and French revolutions, the sympathetic interest of Great Britain, and the accumulated resentment of colonial peoples at centuries of indifferent rule by Spanish governors. The colonial rebels had won their initial success at Buenos Aires in 1810, and their movement spread rapidly to Spain’s other American possessions.
Ferdinand determined to crush the rebels by force. To transport troops he bought three leaky hulks from Russia. At the end of 1819 this motley new armada, carrying twenty thousand men, was about to sail from Cadiz. It never sailed, for on January 1,1820, a mutiny broke out at Cadiz. Uprisings soon followed in Madrid, Barcelona, and other Spanish cities. Ferdinand, virtually a prisoner, surrendered.
Napoleon’s attempt to place his brother on the Spanish throne gave the many people in South America who were chafing under so-called tax reform, disastrous market manipulation, and heavy-handed administration their opportunity. The Creoles—people of Spanish descent who were born in America—led the way, for they once had held many important positions from which a nervous Spain had been removing them for years. With the loss of their king, they argued that sovereignty had moved from the monarchy to the people, by which they meant themselves. They intended no reconstruction of society, for they controlled wealth and education and considered themselves superior to the indigenous peoples and those of mixed race, and they wished to govern the Spanish colonies without interference.
Thus there arose Simon Bolivar (1783-1830), “the Liberator,” who led Latin American armies to victory over the royalists. In 1819 he became president of Greater Colombia, and in 1826 he called for a conference of South American republics to meet in Panama. He organized the government of Bolivia, was head of state in Peru, and inspired followers throughout Latin America. Competing interest groups, regional differences, and unstable economies split Greater Colombia, however, and Bolivar went into exile, declaring America to be ungovernable. Nonetheless, by 1825 all of Latin America had broken away from Spain.
The liberal minorities in Portugal and Naples followed the Spanish lead. An army faction seized control of the Portuguese government in 1820, abolished the Inquisition, and set up a constitution. Brazil declared its independence, with a prince of the Portuguese royal house as its emperor. In Naples the revolution was the work of the Carbonari (Charcoal Burners).
This secret society, with a membership exceeding fifty thousand, had been opposed to the French and their reforms in the days of Napoleon, but it now sponsored a vaguely liberal program inspired by the French Revolution and the Spanish constitution of 1812. King Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies (17591825) gave in at the first sign of opposition in 1820 and accepted a constitution.
However, the strength of the revolutionary movement of 1820 ebbed as quickly as it had risen. The reforms introduced hastily by the inexperienced liberal leaders in Spain and Naples alienated the bulk of the population at home and so alarmed the conservative leaders of the great powers that they sponsored counterrevolutions. The Spanish revolutionaries were further weakened by a split between moderados, who wanted to keep the constitution of 1812, and exaltados, who wanted to set up a violently anticlerical republic. Only in Portugal did the revolutionary regime survive, and only because it had British protection.
The revolutions of 1820 tested both the stability of the Vienna settlement and the solidarity of the Quadruple Alliance of Britain, Prussia, Austria, and Russia. Though legitimacy was restored in Spain and Italy, the Quadruple Alliance was split in two. While the Continental allies increasingly favored armed intervention to suppress revolution, Britain inclined toward nonintervention.
The split became evident at the meeting of the Quadruple Alliance at Troppau in Silesia late in 1820. Castlereagh was willing to see Austria intervene in Naples, but without the backing of the Alliance. The Alliance, Castlereagh declared, was never designed “for the superintendence of the internal affairs of other states,” and Britain refused to participate formally in the Troppau meeting.
Metternich, supported by Alexander, pressed for a blanket commitment from the Alliance, and the result was the Troppau Protocol, signed by Austria, Prussia, and Russia. It declared war on all revolutionary governments that threatened European stability. Under the terms of the Troppau Protocol, an Austrian army toppled the revolutionary government of Naples in 1821. In 1823 a French army restored the absolute authority of Ferdinand VII.
French intervention in Spain provoked the strong opposition of Great Britain and ended the Quadruple Alliance. George Canning (1770-1827), who became British foreign minister in 1822, suspected that the Continental powers might now help Spain recover its former American colonies; so did the United States, which had recognized the independence of the new Latin American republics. But America also feared a possible Russian move southward from its outpost in Alaska along the Pacific coast or an attempt by Britain to extend its possessions in the Caribbean.
Therefore, when Canning proposed a joint Anglo-American statement to ward off European interference in Latin America, the government of President James Monroe (1758-1831) refused the invitation. However, in a message to the American Congress in December 1823, the president included a statement that later became known as the Monroe Doctrine.
Although this document marked an important assertion of policy by the youthful American republic in opposing European intervention in the Americas, it had little immediate international significance. The European powers were not fully committed to restoring Spain’s American empire in any event.