ERC Securing Europe, Fighting its enemies, 1815-1914


For the Benefit of All Mankind. A Blueprint of European Peace and Security after 1815

In times of turmoil, it is good to have leaders with a vision, preferably a vision for peace and prosperity. Following a preponderance of perils – protracted warfare, brigandry, plagues and destroyed harvests – leading statesmen from Europe and beyond convened after 1814 to discuss the creation of a new world order. Within this order, integrity of states, sovereigns, and borders was supposed to be respected – albeit with an allowance made for the most powerful states, the Great Powers, who ought to be respected more than the other, smaller ones. In this new world order, big players carved out their respective spheres of influence, yet smaller powers did try to make inroads and push their own ideas of cooperation and collaboration.

These smaller and larger powers met, exchanged and negotiated at the Congress of Vienna, that convened between September 1814 and June (or actually February) 1815. Elsewhere, excellent narratives have been produced, laying down the novelty of the Congress diplomacy (see for example Vick and Jarrett). Other studies have pointed out that this order was more of a restoration of old dynasties and modes of repression (Zamoyski). Here, I would like to make a case for the study of the multifarious and seemingly insignificant visions of overridden smaller powers that were disseminated at Vienna, or in preparation towards the Congress, that provide unique insight in the makings and workings of international orders.

Pamphlet Franz Tidemann, Mayor of Bremen (Source: Google Books)

I recently came across one of these overlooked sources, a pamphlet by the Mayor of Bremen, Franz Tidemann, that, when reading it, a historical world opens up. Apparently trivial sources, including plans and proposals, such as his, that were effectively ignored, can opens up vistas on historical new world order – vistas that show more relief, and more nuances than an exclusive focus on superpower might would offer us. To grasp the world order that took shape at the Congress of Vienna, we should be attentive of the plans and blueprints that were forgotten almost as soon as they were issued.


Insignificant voices

In September 1814, Vienna was not only flooded  by a multitude kings, emperors and sovereigns, accompanied by their flocks of diplomats and scribes. The Congress also attracted representatives from smaller states, free cities and non-state organisations. These lobbyists avant la lettre were not invited to the whist tables where big power brookers concluded their deals. Still, if they were ingenious and resourceful enough (or in possession of a nice collection of wines), they could, as I have described elsewhere, negotiate their way through the corridors of power.

One of the political (non)entities in presence at the Congress was the Bremen representative Johann Schmidt. He travelled to Vienna on behalf of Franz Tidemann, the mayor of this northern German city-state. Schmidt had headed to Vienna to participate in a tug for survival that involved the other German princes, dukes, earls and marquesses who dreaded being gobbled up by the victors Prussia, Bavaria and Wuerttemberg or feared being reduced to a mere puppet state. Schmidt, however, had more on his agenda than securing Bremen’s sovereignty alone. In his baggage he carried a vision for the future of the entire continent. His sovereign, Mayor Tidemann, had just published a blueprint for Europe’s future: Was könnte für Europa in Wien geschehen? (1814).

Tidemann’s essay can be considered a veritable blueprint of hope, offering a fascinating combination of extreme idealism and vigorous militancy. Tidemann laid down a program  – for the benefit of humanity and mankind as a whole – in which he proposed the creation of a ‘Bund’, a European Federation of states, based on two legs: a ‘general European-Christian Law of Nations’, and an obligation to provide mutual military assistance in times of crisis (p. 9 and further). Through collective action and intervention, this Federation would create a supranational regime of free trade, ending all tariffs in Europe and the US. On the domestic front, the regime would protect the rights of religious minorities. Yet in the eyes of Tidemann, all this provision of welfare and security depended on the total defeat of one ‘common enemy’. Only the destruction of the Barbary Corsairs, an invasion of the Ottoman Empire, and the colonization of the Near East and Maghreb could ensure a secure future for all peoples of Europe.

Tidemann was not a conservative adherent of absolutist principles. On the contrary, he had published an antalogy of hymns for the benefit of the inmates of correction houses. He was president of the Bremer mission association and a devout Christian, caring for the social wellbeing of his residents. But he also was the Mayor of a Hanseatic port city, that had suffered badly during the times of the Napoleonic trade blockade, the Continental System and the military occupation and siege of his city. In a grand leap forward, Tidemann, but not only Tidemann, other Hanseatic, and Dutch, diplomats and representatives followed suit, advocated a total makeover of the global system of trade and barriers. And it also echoed, or preluded, the ‘Charitable Plan for All of Humanity’ advocated by Sir Sydney Smith, which called for an end to slavery and a concerted effort to persuade the Porte and ‘ Robber States’ of Northern Africa to end their practices of raiding captured merchant ships and selling crew and passengers at the Ottoman slave markets.

Purchase of Christian captives from the Barbary States (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

‘Chasing the Turcs from Europe’

Tidemann’s plans were imbued with the new flavor of the day: modern day imperialism. They were religiously charged, motivated by grand schemes, and Enlightenment ideals. Tidemann campaigned for commercial expansion, collective security, and a highly asymmetrical division of power at the expense of Non-European polities and peoples. Pamphlets like Tidemann’s, even if they were not the stuff of direct implementation, nonetheless foreshadowed the dynamics of the European system of the ‘Balance of Power’. This new global order would rest on international cooperation, depended on a cultural convergence of Christianity and global commercial enterprise. Just like this global order, Tidemann’s vision of security was exclusive. Security was a sword to wield on behalf of the colonizing powers (even of the smallest stature, like Bremen), it was a tool to be used against the protectionists, slave traders and ‘barbaric’ states of the world. On page 10, in the same paragraph, Tidemann both calls for a ‘Verjagung der Tuerken aus Europa’  (expulsion of Turcs from Europe), an and end to intolerance and persecution of ‘Verschiedendenkende’  (dissenters).

How (in)significant was this voice from Northern Germany in the end? It was not Tidemann’s impact, but the way his text echoed the spirit of the day that should interest us here, and renders his pamphlet salient. Bremen obtained its sovereignty and independence. With eventual British advocacy joint campaigns against the Barbary Corsairs were initiated (with Bremen as part of the coalition of the willing). However, the plan’s idealism met a largely ambiguous reality. The ideal of free trade was negotiated for the Rhine, but not for the Mediterranean, where England ruled the waves (which Tidemann had already foreseen and criticized, p. 12-13). And even within the Rhine Commission, Prussia called the shots. The Ottoman Empire was left alone after the Congress of Vienna – but only for the time being, as its territories increasingly became a bone of contention between the Great Powers. Tidemann experienced the Great Power schemes and intimidations at first hand. He lived to see how Bremen, a member of the German Federation, was increasingly subjected to the encroachments of Prussia and Austria, who used the Federation to discipline and dominate the smaller German powers.

Tidemann’s hubris?

Tidemann’s vision for the benefit of all mankind was a strange combination of free-floating idealism and warped great power politics. Tidemann’s plans (and the many others like it) were all too quickly appropriated in grand imperialist schemes that were not so benevolent and rested on invasions and exclusions. The post-1815 order did bring collective peace and prosperity, but not in a universal, nor even general European sense. Two later World Wars worked to cut the aggressive imperialist part from collective peace and finally mobilize all powers, including the larger ones, to create a veritable system of universal human rights and the self-determination of all states. And even after 1945, this system remained shaky and object to great power machinations.