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On April 12th, 1814, after an unsuccessful suicide attempt, Napoleon Bonaparte acceded to the demand of the Allied Powers, Britain, Prussia, Austria, and Russia, that he abdicate the Imperial throne. The erstwhile Emperor of the French, the conqueror who had carried the message of the rights of man throughout Europe on his army's bayonets, was speedily conveyed into exile on Elba, an island in the Mediterranean between Italy and his native Corsica. The victorious allies whose armies occupied northern France then restored to the French throne Louis XVIII, the Count of Provence who was the brother of the executed Louis XVI. France and the allies then concluded the Peace of Paris by which treaty France renounced claims over Italy and Germany, yielded some colonies to Britain, and returned to its 1792 borders. But important questions still remained unanswered. What would be the fate of the German states that had constituted the Confederation of the Rhine? What would become of the Grand Duchy of Warsaw? What would the allies do with Joachim Murat, Napoleon's hand-picked king of Naples? And how would the precarious European peace be preserved?

The unresolved issues of the Napoleonic wars were to be settled at a second gathering of representatives of the great powers, Russia, Austria, Prussia, Britain, and France, to be held in Vienna starting on October 1st, 1814. These issues concerned Germany, Poland, Italy, and European stability. In particular, the opinions on Germany ranged from reconstituting the Holy Roman Empire under Austria's king to creating a liberal constitutional confederation of German states. As for Poland, the solutions included its independence, client-state status, or repartition. In Italy, some called for Austrian dominance and others thought of French or British sponsorship or even independence. And plans for European stability included harsh penalization of France, collective security, or periodic consultation. The Final Act of the Congress of Vienna was to resolve these issues and determine the shape of Europe for years to come.