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A War Of Independence Essay, Research Paper

When a suppressed nation decides to take up action in order to achieve its freedom, many issues

are raised, for, such actions do not affect only the conquered and the conquerors but they have an

enormous impact on all neighbor nations. Therefore, the Greek war of independence is a

multidimensional event which did not have to do only with the two peoples directly involved

(Turkish and Greek) but with the rest of the European countries as well. For this reason the

Greek war of Independence has to be examined within the broader context of the relations of the

European states, their economic and imperialistic interests and plans, their recent experience of

wars and how all these factors are interwoven.

After the defeat of Napoleon, European states decided that they had somehow to preserve a

balance in Europe so as to avoid any future offensive advances of any country. For this reason,

the most powerful countries of Europe (Great Britain, Austria, Russia, France and Prussia)

gathered in Paris in 1815, in an effort to secure a lasting peace in the Continent. Actually their

main purpose was to contain the so far offensive policy of France. As a matter of fact we can

verify this from a state speech that Lord Castlereagh, the British Minister of Foreign Affairs,

gave at the Cabinet in 1820: “It was a union for the Reconquest and liberation of great

proportion of the Continent of Europe from the Military D minion of France. [...]. It was never

intended as a union for the Government of the World, or for the Superintendence of the Internal

Affairs of other States” (quoted in J. Joll, 71). However, at the back-stages of all these official

conferences many secret agreements were being concluded among the allies, the one trying to

steal away power from the other.

That is how the European picture, more or less, looked like when the Greek struggle for

independence broke out in 1821 –in the beginning rather unsuccessfully– in the Danubian

Principalities under the leadership of Alexander Ipsilantis. In fact, during that time the Great

Powers were at the Conference of Laibach with an agenda full of insurrections in Spain and

Italy. Consequently, the news concerning Greece were the last thing the Great Powers wanted to

hear. Especially Metternich, the Austrian chancellor, was altogether appalled by the news and

he tried to influence the Tsar against the Greeks. According to Gaston Isambert, in order to

apprehend Metternich’s foreign policy “we have to penetrate deep to +. de Metternich’s

character”. Isambert also claims that Metternich was viewing the sultan as a means to make the

subjugation of nations a legitimate action. Furthermore, Metternich was very much afraid that the

Russians, under the pretext of protecting the Greek Christians, might interfere in the internal

affairs of the Ottoman Empire (Isambert, 65-66) and thus find a way out to the Mediterranean


As far as how the British viewed the Greek uprising, Finley says: “The British Cabinet was

more surprised by the Greek Revolution, and viewed the outbreak with more aversion than any

other Christian government [...]. The immediate suppression of the revolt seemed therefore to be

the only way of preventing Greece from falling under the protection of Emperor Alexander, and

of hindering Russia from acquiring naval stations in the Mediterranean.” (Finley, 2). At that time

Castleragh was the head of the Foreign Office and it seems that more or less he was sharing the

same anxieties with Metternich. However, in letter that Castlereagh sent to Bagot, the British

ambassador in Russia, on 28 October 28 1822, he does not seem to be quite sure of how the

Greek question should be handled: “Ought the Turkish yoke to be forever riveted upon the necks

of their suffering and Christians subjects?” (quoted in Joll, 83 ). In this statement we discern

some sympathy, and maybe even a willingness to help the Greeks but reading the same letter

further down we can understand why the policy of Gastlereagh and generally of England had

been rather inconsistent, especially during the first years of the Greek revolt. Castlereagh feared

that, even if the Turks could be removed from the Greek territories, the Greeks would not be

capable of forming a government without the influence of a foreign power and the power he was

referring to was Russia. Castlereagh concludes his letter by saying that he could not put into

danger “the frame of long established relations, and to aid the insurrectionary efforts now in

progress in Greece” (quoted in Joll, 84). Accordingly, one can argue that, as far as the eastern

Mediterranean issue was concerned, what had brought together Castlereagh and Canning was

their common wish to maintain the peace in the East and that this can be considered as the

quintessence of the British and Austrian policy of that period.

Alexander I of Russia

At this point it is worthwhile mentioning Castlereagh’s reference to Russia as the possible

power influencing the Greeks. As a matter of fact, at that time, everybody thought that Russia

was supporting the Greeks. Russia, more than any other European state, had obvious reasons for

longing a Greek revolution against her “eternal” enemy, Turkey, because if the Ottoman Empire

collapsed, the Russians would have access to the Mediterranean Sea. Furthermore, Russia was

in the eyes of the other states as a probable sponsor of the revolution since both nations

belonged to the Orthodox faith. Additionally, the belief that the Tsar was behind the Revolution

of Greece became even more intense by the Greeks themselves. In fact, Greeks had the false – as

it turned out to be later on – impression that Russia would come to their rescue. This impression

was justified by the fact that Tsar Alexander had vaguely given some faint hopes to the

revolutionaries before the revolution. (Finley, 1). However, the Tsar and his ministers were in a

dilemma. On the one hand, the Greeks, being in friction with the Turks, were affecting

tremendously the commercial activities of Russia. This was because during the years before

1821, Russia started exporting grain to the Western European countries using mainly Greek

vessels that carried the Turkish flag. However, since Greeks were in conflict with the Ottoman

Empire, the former were not allowed any more to pass through the Straits and consequently the

exporting power of Russia was curtailed. (Anderson, 60). On the other hand, it goes without

saying that the Tsar did not wish any alteration of the existent status quo in Europe. Monarchies

should be preserved, and therefore, Tsar Alexander’s objective would, naturally, be to preserve

his monarchical rule.

In Laibach the Powers were taken aback. Metternich and Castlereagh on the one side were

against any Russo-Turkish conflicts, let alone war, and on the other side there was Russia facing

a two-blade knife. Both Castlereagh and Metternich put all their efforts on influencing the Tsar

against the Greeks. That is how the Tsar decided to keep a rather neutral stance.


Though the Greek Revolution took place in 1821, it was not officially discussed before the

Conference of Verona (October-November 1822). However, during the period between the two

conferences the Great Powers were feverishly trying to influence one another on their conduct

regarding the Greek issue. This atmosphere is successfully described by Finley who says that

Europe was threatened by a “war of opinion”. (Finley, 3).

This is how the diplomatic arena had shaped when the Great Powers met at the Conference of

Verona in 1822. Castlereagh died before the Conference took place and was succeeded by

George Canning. + mentioned this takeover of the Foreign Office by G. Canning since historians

identify him as the main cause for the shift of the British policy towards the Greek cause and for

the reevaluation of the relations of England with the other European Powers. However,

Castlereagh had started differentiating his position from the alliance some months before he

died; the reason was not disagreements concerning Greece but the insistence of Alexander + on

applying to Spain the principles of the Protocol of Troppau, something that Gastlereagh did not

want. (Bridge & Bullen, 40). It is also clear that “Alexander, unlike Gastlereagh, had evolved

no clear strategy with which to pursue Russian aims in the postwar world.” (Bridge & +ullen,

28). Actually, it appears that “Lord Gastlereagh as the representative of this country, demurred

to pledge which his sovereign could not undertake independently of Parliament”, showing how

Castlereagh felt to the proposal of Alexander to come to the “assistance in case of domestic as

well as of international difficulty.” (L. Courtrney, 372).

Canning, did not attend the conference of Verona but he sent the Duke of Wellington, who was

given instructions to maintain strict, neutral stance (D. Dakin, 148-149). Furthermore,

“Wellington had been instructed, if necessary, to break the unity of the Congress.” (Temperley,

66). However, what was mainly to be discussed at this Congress was the Spanish question,

which in turn could have helped the Greeks. The Spanish question had always been the apple of

discord between the Great Powers, and had the revolution of Spain divided the Powers into

different groups, the Greeks could have taken advantage of this. The strong European states,

though, were flexible enough to form the appropriate groups and agreements according to the

subject in question. (Isambert, 142). Surprisingly but logically enough the Great Powers had not

included in the Conference of Verona the Greek Revolution. Had they done so they would have

officially accepted that indeed there were problems in the East and the Greek Revolution would

have been established for good. Furthermore, they might have added fuel to the fire encouraging

the Greeks to increase their hostilities against the Turks.

In regard to the Conference f Verona and especially to how the British conducted their policy,

+ should give a general account of how Stratfort Canning (G. Canning’s cousin), +.+. Courtney,

Isambert and +. G. Stapleton Canning’s private secretary), viewed Canning himself and his

policy. Stratfort Canning, cousin of the new Foreign Minister of England, claims that his

cousin’s policy must be related to his personality as this was farmed during his youth. He gives

us same extracts of poems that G. Canning wrote about Greece when he was 9 years old saying

that these poems would serve “as for the indications they afford of the source where our young

author derived the first elements of that character which he displayed in afterlife.” (Str. Canning,

29). Further down, Str. Canning gives a general idea of Canning’s foreign policy: “To our

foreign relations he gave a tone which had the effect of maintaining our national dignity without

compromising the country’s peace, although he had often to deal with powers either hostile to

our Constitutional system or jealous to our commercial prosperity. He laid the foundations of

Greek independence, he limited the action of despotic influence abroad;” (Str. Canning, 41).

Courtney, on the other hand, believes that “Mr. Canning soon came to recognize the impropriety

for our joining in the attempts to prevent internal changes in several European countries, and

was thus led to maintain the policy and duty of non-interference.” and that Canning also

considered it vain to prevent any manifestations of national content. However, Courtney adds

that Canning did not adopt right from the beginning a concrete stance to the Greek issue as he did

with Spain (Courtney, 1897, 373). Similarly, Isambert says that “Nothing at the Congress of

Vienna announced openly that there was a change of policy in England” (Isambert, 1900, 149)

and he gives quotation of Stapleton’s: “England has not the right to intervene in the Orient. She

is obliged to respect the sovereignty of the Ottoman Empire to the same degree that she would

like others to respect Hers. The above statement, it is true, shows no signs that Canning was

considering of helping the Greeks in any way. Sometimes, though, the real truth lies under

apparent truths. Namely, Canning was aware that any attempt of his to help the Greeks either

directly or indirectly would provoke his allies, which he wanted to avoid at all costs. In this

respect he had somehow to appease the suspicions of the Great Powers and try to exercise a

neutral attitude, at least during and short after the Congress of Verona.

George Canning

But what happened and how did this Congress end? Actually Isambert argues that this Congress

was the epilogue of the abandonment of the Greeks from Tsar Alexander due to a memorandum,

to the Porte in November, 1822. According to the terms of this memorandum, Turkey had, first

to guarantee amnesty to the Greeks, second to evacuate the Principalities and third to raise the

restrictions concerning trade and passage through the Straits. This memorandum was basically

aiming at the reestablishment of the diplomatic relations between Russia and Turkey (something

that both Austria and England wanted and worked for). Furthermore, it was vital for the

commercial activities of Russia and also it could probably appease the Greeks and slow dawn

hostilities in the area (Isambert, 142).

In any case, it would be naive to accept that this diplomatic step of Russia was taken to relieve

the Greeks per se. Additionally, it is needless to say that what the Tsar did was appreciated by

Great Britain and Austria who thought that a Russo-Turkish war had been avoided, at least for

the moment.

Prince Metternich

However, after the Congress of Verona, on 14 February 1823, Canning sent a letter to Stradford,

the British ambassador in Constantinople, ordering him to inform the Porte that England would

not maintain the earlier friendly relations with Turkey unless the Porte changed its attitude

toward her Christian subjects. In March 1823 he also formally recognized the Greek blockades

against the Turks. Of course it is plausible that this recognition was aiming at the protection of

the British vessels from the Greek pirates and Anderson further claims that “it meant no

weakening of Britain’s neutral attitude in the struggle.” (Andersan, 58). Nevertheless, no matter

what was the real reason behind Canning’s recognition of the blockades of the Greeks, it still

was important for the Greeks since the outcome was the same. Canning took further actions: he

replaced +. Maitland, the British High Commissioner in the Ionian Islands who was against the

new policy of Canning, with Fr. Adam. These we could say are the very first actions denoting

the shift of the British policy concerning the Greek cause.

Nevertheless, before I refer to Canning’s policy as this was shaped in the year 1824, I shall try

to figure out what events or thoughts triggered Canning to alter it. Because even if we accept as

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