This series has six easy 5 minute installments. This first installment: Events Leading up to the Congress.
Between 1875 and 1910 European civilization reached the zenith of power in the world. In this series the leaders meet in Berlin. They primarily decide the Balkan countries but discuss the wider world, too. This is a highlight of an era when the powers of Europe could decide the fate of entire regions and make their decisions stick. Two giants of that era, Benjamin Disraeli and Otto von Bismarck went head to head.
This selection is from The Eastern Question: A Study in Diplomacy by Stephen P.H. Duggan published in 1902. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Stephen P.H. Duggan (1870-1950) was a Professor of Diplomatic History at CCNY, head of the Education Department at CCNY, founder of The Institute for International Education, and Director of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Had the provisions of the Hatti-Humayoun of February 18, 1856, been carried out, the Ottoman Empire would have been regenerated and would have become a lay State. This celebrated edict provided for perfect religious equality; it opened all positions, civil and military, to Christians; it established mixed tribunals which should publicly administer a new code of laws that was to be drawn up; it guaranteed equality of taxes, did away with the kharadj, decreed the abolition of tax-farming, and provided that Christians should have seats in all provincial boards of administration ; and it promised general improvement by the building of roads and canals and by new methods in the conduct of the finances. Even had the Ottoman Porte been never so well inclined to carry out the provisions of the edict faith fully, almost insuperable difficulties stood in the way. Muslim contempt for the infidel was not lessened, and the Turks refused to be associated with Giaours in administration, to recognize their authority in civil and military matters, or to accept their verdicts when they participated in the mixed tribunals. The Christians, on the other hand, preferred to pay an army tax rather than serve in the army; they were afraid to occupy seats in the mixed tribunals or to hold places of prominence; and the Greek bishops, though they gladly accepted religious equality, objected to relinquishing any of their historic rights, which the Sultan thought should be given up under the new regime. As a matter of fact, it was not long before all attempts to give effect to the edict were abandoned, and things reverted to their former condition. The Powers had promised not to interfere, and could, therefore, only protest. Fanaticism increased, and in 1860 the uprising of the Druses against the Maronites in Syria resulted in such massacres that Syria was occupied by French troops. The Ottoman Porte answered the protests of the Powers with new promises of reform, and there the matter ended. After the accession of Abdul- Aziz in 1861, a few attempts at improvement were made by the reformers Fuad and Ali, but the opposition of the Old Turk party and the vacillation of the Sul tan defeated their efforts. The condition of affairs became so outrageous that the Powers instituted an investigation in 1867, and showed in a published memoir that the Hatti-Humayoun of 1856 was practically a dead letter. But the stirring events of 1860-1870 in Central Europe to a great extent diverted attention from Turkey, and when the next decade opened the tendency to retrogression continued unchecked.
Meanwhile evidences of disintegration in the Empire had been steadily accumulating. A convention was signed August 19, 1858, by the representatives of the Powers at Paris, by which it was provided that the principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia should have a common name, the United Principalities; but they were to retain their separate administrations, and the Divan of each was to elect its own hospodar. The Romanians of the two provinces, however, determined to form a united State, and elected the same person, Colonel Alexander Couza. The Powers yielded before this expression of the national will, and 4n 1859 recognized the union, as also did the Porte in 1861. But the Romanians soon discovered that, on account of local jealousies, government by one of themselves was not a success; and early in 1866 Couza was compelled to abdicate, and Prince Charles of Hohenzollern was called to the throne. With a single head, a capital, a ministry, and an assembly, Romania, though legally under the suzerainty of the Porte, became practically in dependent, and recognition of its independence was at length accorded in 1878.
The success of the Romanians inspired the various Serbian nationalities, who hoped to form a great Serbian State. In 1861 the Herzegovinians demanded a national bishop and separate ecclesiastical privileges, and when these were refused by the Sultan they revolted. They were soon joined by the Montenegrins and Serbs, and although the revolt was unsuccessful, the Powers compelled the Sultan to withdraw all Turkish troops from Servia except from Belgrade and four fortresses; and in 1867, by friendly agreement, they were withdrawn entirely from Serbian territory. Serbia thus became independent in all military and administrative matters, and was also ready for recognition in 1878.
The Cretans, frenzied by the increasing tyranny of the Turks, rose, in 1866, with a view to ultimate annexation to Greece, with whose people they were allied in blood and language. The Greek Government and people aided them, and war between Greece and Turkey seemed to be imminent. But the Powers interfered and decided that Crete should remain with Turkey, but that the Sultan should grant a constitution to the Cretans. The Organic Law of 1868 was therefore promulgated, but like all the other reforms, it soon became a dead letter.
Egypt also sought to remove the Turkish yoke, but by the use of money rather than of force. In 1867 the Pacha bought from the Sultan the title of Khedive and obtained independence in all that concerned customs duties, police, postal, and transit affairs.
In Bulgaria the patriotic party, backed up by Russia, obtained from the Sultan, in 1870, the right to have an exarch of their own and a national church, despite the excommunication of the Greek Patriarch of Constantinople.
In 1871 Russia, taking advantage of the Franco-Prussian War, issued a circular-note to the various European Powers declaring herself to be no longer bound by that part of the Treaty of Paris which imposed disabilities upon her in the Black Sea. The London Conference, while it condemned the method, recognized the fact.
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