The Transformation of European Politics, 1763-1848

By Paul W. Schroeder | Go to book overview

11
War Ended, Peace Launched, 1813- 1814

PART of the conventional wisdom about the final coalition, that it succeeded because the allies, despite many disagreements, remained united, and that Napoleon's intransigence and Castlereagh's leadership were vital factors in keeping them so, is true. Another part of the conventional view, however, is wrong: that the coalition preserved its unity by putting military victory ahead of the individual interests and divergent aims of its members. First of all, this did not happen. Military victory was never the primary goal for the coalition as a whole, even in the final stages of the war. The allies, though they sometimes differed sharply over terms, always sought a negotiated peace in one form or another and agreed that the war should be ended as soon as the right terms were attained. The reason the war lasted to a military decision, though not total victory, was Napoleon's persistent refusal to negotiate seriously. As soon as a French government agreed to negotiate, the war was ended, though at the time the French army was still capable of fighting and controlled most of France and vital areas outside it as well. Secondly, when, as happened at particular times, certain allied leaders did try to make military victory the primary goal of the alliance, they did so not to hold the coalition together but to promote special purposes of their own, and invariably in so doing they jeopardized allied unity. Pursuit of military victory as the prime goal tended to tear the final coalition apart, just as it had done to earlier ones.

Finally, it was important that the allies generally sought unity and were willing to co-operate in reaching a common goal; but this spirit was only a necessary and not a sufficient condition either for maintaining allied unity or for constructing a satisfactory peace. Maintaining the right spirit was less critical than learning the right ideas. What primarily kept the allies together was not mutual goodwill, but the fact that they achieved, or at least approached, consensus on a sane, practical concept of peace. This was the product of learning, of changing their previous concepts of peace and victory to fit reality.

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