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LA JOS KOSSUTH SENT WORD... 
Papers delivered on the occasion of the 
bicentenary of Kossuth’s birth 

Edited by 

Laszlo Peter, Martyn Rady, Peter Sherwood 



Hungarian Cultural Centre London 
School of Slavonic and East European Studies 
University College London 
































































































LAJOS KOSSUTH SENT WORD ... 
Papers delivered on the occasion of the 
bicentenary of Kossuth’s birth 




















































































LAJOS KOSSUTH SENT WORD ... 
Papers delivered on the occasion of the 
bicentenary of Kossuth’s birth 

Edited by 

lASZLO PETER, MARTYN RADY, 
PETER SHERWOOD 


Hungarian Cultural Centre, London 
School of Slavonic and East European Studies, 
University College London 


LA JOS KOSSUTH SENT WORD ... 

Papers delivered on the occasion of the bicentenary of Kossuth’s birth 

EDITED BY LASZLO PETER, MARTYN RADY, 

PETER SHERWOOD 


© School of Slavonic and East European Studies 2003 
SSEES Occasional Papers No. 56 
ISBN: 0-903425-67-X 


All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be stored in a retrieval system 
or transmitted in any other form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, 
recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the School of Slavonic and 
East European Studies. 

Copies of this publication and others in the School’s refereed series of Occasional 
Papers can be obtained from the Director’s Office, SSEES-UCL, Senate House, 
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Front Cover: Lajos Kossuth, with a deputation of the Hungarian diet, enters 
Vienna on 15th March 1848. Contemporary lithograph from the National 
Museum, Budapest 


Typeset and printed in Great Britain by Q3 Digital/Litho 
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Preface 


The Hungarian Cultural Centre in London and the Centre for the Study of 
Central Europe, School of Slavonic and East European Studies (SSEES), 
University College London organized a conference ‘Lajos Kossuth Sent 
Word to commemorate the bicentenary of his birth in March 2002 
with both Hungarian and British participants. Academician Domokos 
Kosary gave his support to the conference from the start; he was sched¬ 
uled to deliver the keynote speech but on medical advice could not travel 
from the heart of Europe to its edge. Thanks to the generous financial 
support of the Hungarian Cultural Centre and its Director-General, Mrs 
Katalin Bogyay, and the encouragement of Professor George Kolankie- 
wicz, Director of SSEES, the papers read at the conference and two 
contributions commissioned after the conference can be published here. 

The volume brings together the results of recent research on Kossuth’s 
politics in the setting of the Habsburg Monarchy’s great nineteenth 
century revolutions. The contributions, by many of the leading scholars 
on the subject, offer a variety of (and in some respects even contradictory) 
perspectives and assessments of such complex subjects as the 1848 revo¬ 
lutions. Our aim is to take the subject further by looking at it from new 
perspectives that may offer fresh insights into the political personality of a 
remarkable politician, rather than to try to achieve some common outlook 
either on Kossuth or on the revolutions themselves. This accounts for the 
catholicity of the volume. 


The Editors. 


Digitized by the Internet Archive 
in 2019 with funding from 

UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies (SSEES) 


https://archive.org/details/SSEES0026 


Contents 


Preface v 

Introduction 1 

Laszlo Peter 

Lajos Kossuth in the Batthyany Cabinet 15 

Aladar Urban 

Kossuth, Parliamentary Dictator 41 

Robert Hermann 

Kossuth and the Emancipation of the Serfs 71 

Gabor Pajkossy 

Lajos Kossuth and the Conversion of the Constitution 81 

Laszlo Peter 

Kossuth’s Nationality Policy, 1847-1853 95 

Andras Gergely 

Lajos Kossuth, Domokos Kosary and Hungarian Foreign 

Policy, 1848—49 105 

Martyn Rady 

Kossuth and Stun Two National Heroes 119 

Robert Evans 

Mirror Images: Kossuth and Jelacic in 1848-49 135 

Alan Sked 

Kossuth’s Pie in the Sky: Serbia and the Great Danubian 
Confederation Scam 183 

Ian D. Armour 


A Comment on Dr. Armour’s Paper, ‘Kossuth’s Pie in the Sky: 

Serbia and the Great Danubian Confederation Scam’ 205 

Robin Okey 


Vll 


viii Contents 

Kossuth in Exile and Marx 211 

Klara Kingston-Tiszai 

Kossuth in Exile 219 

George Gomori 

Marketing Hungary: Kossuth and the Politics of Propaganda 221 

Tibor Frank 

Comments on Tibor Frank’s Paper ‘Marketing Hungary’ 251 

Daniel Abondolo 

Contributors 255 

Select Index 257 


Introduction 

Lajos Kossuth sent word... 

Laszlo Peter 

The 1848 Revolutions in Europe were predictable and were indeed 
predicted. When, however, in November 1847 Archduke Istvan, palatine 
and locumtenens, opened the Hungarian diet in Pressburg nobody thought 
that it was going to be for the last time. Yet the Hungarian revolution 
turned out to be a good fit in the chain reaction of popular upheavals that 
shook the continent in the spring of 1848. Indeed the Hungarian revolution 
lasted longer than any of the others; it required the armies of two great 
powers to suppress it and 1848 brought lasting changes to the country. It 
removed much that was obsolete in order to create a Hungarian ‘civil 
society’ (polgari tarsadalom) out of legally and culturally diverse social 
groups, that is, a society based on laws applied to everybody equally in 
place of a society based on a hierarchy of privileges. The Hungarian revo¬ 
lution became a focus for national aspirations to attain independence and it 
made endemic the conflicts within the kingdom between the Hungarian and 
their rival Slav and Romanian movements. It is no exaggeration to say that 
1848 was the year, more than any other, in which the Hungarians made 
history. 1848 became the emblem of national identity. 

Lajos Kossuth was the protagonist of the revolution, the driving force 
behind events in Hungary between June 1846 and August 1849. This was 
recognized by contemporaries as well as by posterity both in Hungary and 
abroad. No other man had a more profound influence on Hungarian 
national mentalite and no other Hungarian has become even remotely as 
well known abroad as Kossuth. ‘Not less than one hundred and ten books 
have appeared in the English language, of which Kossuth is the subject; 
several thousand English articles were written about him and one hundred 
and fifty three English poems addressed to him’, wrote Istvan Gal over 
half a century ago. 1 In Hungary literature on 1848 and Kossuth could fill a 

1 Stephen Gal, Hungary and the Anglo-Saxon World , Budapest, 1944, p. 17. 


1 



2 


Introduction 


large library. In a single year, on the 150 th anniversary of the revolution, 
in 1998, over 250 publications appeared 2 and in the course of 2002, the 
bicentenary of Kossuth’s birth was celebrated by commemorative retro¬ 
spection at numerous conferences and by a spate of new publications. 

Public interest does not, of course, necessarily either help under¬ 
standing or offer insight into a subject; indeed it invariably constrains the 
historians’ outlook. Nevertheless, today we know so much more about the 
Hungarian revolution than historians did before 1945 because in the inter¬ 
vening years research has benefited from the strong public interest in the 
subject. Much has been uncovered by the publication of important 
primary sources and monographs based on rigorous scholarship. Yet 
notwithstanding the knowledge gathered on 1848 and indeed the wealth 
of available primary sources, including the surviving papers of Kossuth 
himself — a graphomane — several questions about the revolution and 
the War of Independence remain unanswered. As for Kossuth’s political 
personality, if he is no longer quite an enigma, there are aspects of his 
career that remain relatively obscure. The charismatic Hungarian leader, 
still remembered in folksongs as the country’s liberator, has inspired 
many scholars to write hagiographies about him and others to denounce 
him as a dangerous demagogue and rabid nationalist. 

This introduction will briefly outline Kossuth’s long and eventful life 
and explore the question of how a landless noble living in relative poverty 
was able to rise with such spectacular speed to the heights of political 
leadership in a society as strictly hierarchical as Hungary was before 
1848. 3 

Lajos Kossuth was bom in Monok, Hungary, on 19 September 1802 
and died in Turin, Italy, on 20 March 1894. His life virtually encom¬ 
passed the whole nineteenth century. Belonging to an old but impover¬ 
ished noble family, as C.A. Macartney observed, he was ‘a member of 
that dangerous class which possesses birth and brains but no means’. 4 His 


2 According to Robert Hermann in BUKSZ, Budapest, 3, 2000, p. 264. 

3 Most historians take for granted Kossuth’s dominant role in Hungarian nineteenth 
century politics. They do not ask the question that the Szekel primor Janos Palffy, 
an adherent and later opponent of Kossuth, asked: how a ‘poor noble could, on his 
own, stir up such a magnificent and truly national revolution in this aristocratic- 
monarchic nation’, Janos Palffy, Magyarorszagi es erdelyi urak , ed., Attila T. 
Szabo, 2 vols, Kolozsvar, 1939 (hereafter Magyarorszagi) p. 81, quoted by Akos 
Egyed, ‘Kossuth es a szekelyek 1848-ban Szazadok , 128, 1994, p. 835. 

4 C. A. Macartney, Hungary, A Short History , Edinburgh, 1962, p. 138. The 
summing up may reveal as much about Macartney’s attitudes as about the character 
of Kossuth. 



Laszlo Peter 


3 


family came originally from Kossuthfalva in County Turoc (now part of 
Martin, Slovak Republic). They probably had a Slavonic background and 
were ennobled in 1263. The claim that the Kossuths were Slovaks is a 
misconception, apparently ineradicable from books in English. 5 They 
were Hungarian nobles, living in multilingual upper Hungary, filling 
minor county offices. Some members of the large family became Slovak 
when Slovak nationality was formed in the nineteenth century. Kossuth’s 
father had actually moved down from Turoc to Zemplen in the 1780s to 
fill a county post as a solicitor. Kossuth’s mother was half-German. Her 
only son, Lajos (later followed by four sisters, all bom in the Hungarian 
village of Monok) was given a good education. Although a Lutheran, he 
went to a Catholic grammar school in Satoraljaujhely, where he came top 
of the class, then to a Lutheran college at Epeijes (Presov) before moving 
to the Calvinist law school in Sarospatak. Combining three religions in 
education was unusual in multi-denominational Hungary. 6 It set Kossuth 
at an early age against confessional prejudice and fostered religious toler¬ 
ance. 

Everyone around Kossuth, including all his teachers, recognized that 
he possessed an abundance of talent (he was particularly good at 
languages) which he combined with hard work. In the Law School, 
however, Sandor Kovy, a renowned jurist, predicted that dominus 
Kossuth would become an orszaghabonto (troublemaker for the 
country). 7 At the early age of twenty-one, having passed the bar examina¬ 
tion, Kossuth became a practising lawyer in Pest. He attended the 
1825-27 diet as an ablegatus absentium , a learner rather than a partici¬ 
pant in politics as yet. 8 After that Kossuth moved back to Zemplen where 
he soon became a county judge. A handsome, intelligent and hardworking 

5 See, for instance, A. J. P. Taylor’s classic howlers which he went on repeating in 
his The Habsburg Monarchy 1815-1918, London, 1942 (hereafter Habsburg 
Mon.), p. 57, unchanged in the second edition 1948 (and several reprints), p. 51. He 
must have got it from the Hungarian emigre Oscar Jaszi’s work who wrote that 
Kossuth was a ‘small nobleman of Slovak extraction, who, according to reliable 
tradition, in his early childhood still read the Slovak prayer book in the church’ 
[where, in the Hungarian Monok?], The Dissolution of the Habsburg Monarchy 
(first published in Chicago 1929) repr. 1961, pp. 307-08 (NB. The sociologist 
Jaszi’s book is brilliant but it bristles with errors, e.g. on p. 310 there are three). 

6 Gyorgy Szabad points this out in his Kossuth politikai palyaja, Budapest, 1977, 
(hereafter Kossuth) p. 11. 

7 Domokos Kosary, Kossuth Lajos a reformkorban, Budapest, 1946 (hereafter 
Kossuth), p. 47. 

8 Widows of aristocrats sent proxies to the diet who sat in the Lower Chamber 
without a vote. 



4 


Introduction 


young man, he now had well paid jobs, moved in the leading circles of the 
county, and threw himself into politics as an effective presenter of liberal 
nationalist ideas. A rising star with many friends, he also acquired a repu¬ 
tation for being a firebrand and managed to antagonize local conserva¬ 
tives. They brought a corruption charge against him and Kossuth could 
extricate himself from the situation only by moving in 1832 to Pressburg, 
once more as an absentee deputy for the diet. 9 

From now on and for the rest of his life Kossuth became a player in 
national politics. The Opposition leaders in Pressburg understood the need 
for publicity and had endless discussions on how to report the day-to-day 
proceedings of the diet. Kossuth cut short the debate by doing the job 
himself, sending out hand-written reports, the ‘ Gazette ’ of the diet. 10 He 
became well known overnight as the leader of the jurati group, young people 
with law degrees attached to deputies, who helped Kossuth to copy and 
distribute the Gazette. He soon became an associate of Baron Miklos 
Wesselenyi, leader of the Opposition in the diet’s Upper Chamber. After the 
dissolution of the diet both men, together with other opposition politicians, 
were charged by the authorities with sedition. Kossuth was arrested in May 
1837 and Wesselenyi in January 1839. The diet, reconvened in the latter 
year, demanded an amnesty for all the prisoners which the two moderate 
leaders Count Istvan Szechenyi and Ferencz Deak eventually secured. In 
May 1840 Kossuth emerged from prison a national hero. 

An admirer of Szechenyi, who had launched the reform movement to 
create a Hungarian civil society, Kossuth was deeply hurt when the Count, 
whom he called the ‘greatest Hungarian’, rebuffed his offer that they should 
work together for reform. In fact they soon became enemies and this led to 
bitter public debate over reform policy right up to 1848. Their conflict has 
been frequently described, particularly by non-Hungarian authors, as being 
between a ‘liberal’ Szechenyi and a ‘nationalist’ Kossuth. This is, however, a 
false contrast: both men were nationalist and liberal; what separated them 
was that on national issues Kossuth was always, and on liberal issues some¬ 
times, more radical than his aristocrat opponent. 

9 It was a close shave, as he himself recalled in old age. For the Zemplen years see 
Istvan Deak, The Lawful Revolution. Louis Kossuth and the Hungarians, 
1848-1949, New York, 1979 (hereafter Lawful Revolution ) pp. 17-24. For 
comprehensive accounts of Kossuth’s early years see Kosary, Kossuth , on the 
Zemplen years pp. 42-90 and Istvan Barta, A fatal Kossuth, Budapest, 1966 
(hereafter A fatal) pp. 23-182; on the embezzlement charge, pp. 59f. 

10 Orszaggyulesi and later Torvenyhatosagi Tudositasok, have all been published in 
Kossuth Lajos osszes munkai, Budapest, 1948 (hereafter KLOM). There were 346 
reports of the diet for less than 100 subscribers. 



Laszlo Peter 


5 


The year 1841 was a turning point in Kossuth’s life. He married and 
settled in Pest where he was allowed to edit the Pesti Hirlap , a new journal. 
The leader articles of the 365 issues under Kossuth’s editorship championed 
social reform, adopted a policy of magyarization and indirectly attacked the 
governmental system. At the same time the paper was able to claim the 
support of an ever-growing segment of the educated Hungarian public. 11 
Szechenyi, watching with growing apprehension the popularity of the paper 
and its editor, attacked Kossuth: he said Kossuth may not have been fully 
aware of what he was doing but he was playing with fire; the paper was 
flirting with revolution. But Szechenyi was too late; the journalist was 
already popular and unstoppable. The long drawn out debate between them 
isolated the Count rather than Kossuth. Deak and Eotvos, though, had reser¬ 
vations about Kossuth’s radicalism on national issues, but they kept away 
from Szechenyi. Kossuth did not benefit from the encounter either; in 1844 
he lost the editorship of the Pesti Hirlap. Yet he threw himself into public 
life with renewed vigour, enrapturing his audience with his fiery oratory in 
the County Hall in Pest. He also founded associations: the Vedegylet, the 
Trade Defence League, launched in the autumn of 1844, headed by liberal 
nationalist magnates. Kossuth, acting as its manager, organized ‘Buy 
Hungarian’ campaigns to boycott Austrian goods. The Trade Association 
was to foster national commerce, the Association for Industry to promote the 
establishment of factories. Energetic and indefatigable, Kossuth had a hand 
in many other initiatives, including the plan to build railways to the Adriatic. 
The practical results of this economic nationalism were slight and the Trade 
Association became a financial and moral disaster. 12 Kossuth withdrew from 
most of the associations in 1846. 

The outbreak of the peasant revolt in Galicia in February 1846 had a 
profound effect on the life of the whole Monarchy 13 and at once polarized 
Hungarian politics. The national liberals were forced to pull their act 
together. They had a problem: their support came from the counties where 
the majority of the nobility fully embraced nationalism, but was not yet 
won over to wholesale reform of social institutions. This was why the 
various factions of the Opposition were reluctant to form a party under a 
programme. After Galicia Kossuth broke through the stalemate. At a 
meeting in June 1846 the moderate and radical factions accepted 
Kossuth’s proposal to adopt the emancipation of the serfs as a firm 

11 With ten thousand copies the paper’s circulation was as large as all the other papers 

put together. 

12 See especially Kosary, Kossuth, pp. 301-25. 

13 For a brief account see Macartney, Habsburg Mon. pp. 307-09. 



6 


Introduction 


commitment. There was, however, no agreement at this time on whether 
the abolition of the nobility’s tax privilege should also be included in the 
programme. 14 From now on policy initiatives which the liberals eventu¬ 
ally adopted tended to come from Kossuth. 

Meanwhile, however, the Conservatives raced ahead. The supporters of 
the government, in two moves in November 1846 and March 1847, organ¬ 
ized the politicians of ‘judicious reform’ (fontolva haladok) into a party. This 
finally forced the liberal-nationalist camp to bring together the factions of the 
Opposition under a comprehensive programme in June 1847. The opposi¬ 
tional declaration was assembled by Deak from drafts prepared by Kossuth, 
Batthyany and Eotvos, but the dominant influence was Kossuth’s. 15 His hold 
on the ‘leading county’ of Pest became so firm that, with Batthyany’s finan¬ 
cial support, he was elected as the county’s first deputy for the diet called 
together for November 1847. The deputy foispan Gabor Foldvary was 
furious. In his report to the Chancellor about the election he predicted that 
Kossuth would cause more trouble than the rest of the diet put together. 16 

Much depended, of course, on the choice of the liberal leader in the 
Lower Chamber. As in 1843, Deak stayed away from the diet, Szechenyi 
was in government service, Wesselenyi had withdrawn and Batthyany, a 
remote magnate, was leader in ‘the other place’. Eotvos was not even 
elected but, in any case, he was not leadership material. Leadership of the 
Opposition in the Lower Chamber, without any formality or even discus¬ 
sion, naturally fell into Kossuth’s lap. And as the liberal camp, for the 
first time, was nearly as strong as the supporters of the government, a 
confident Kossuth was on his feet every day, making over sixty speeches 
at the diet between November 1847 and April 1848. 17 He overplayed his 
hand and leading liberals soon started to plot against his overbearing lead¬ 
ership. 18 Kossuth was saved by Paris. 

At the outbreak of revolution in Europe there was one man in the 
Habsburg Monarchy who knew exactly what was to be done; Kossuth 
grasped the opportunity with both hands. The door was now open for 
carrying out wholesale social reform, including the introduction of 

14 Kosary, Kossuth , pp. 337-38; Szabad, Kossuth , pp. 96-98. 

15 Kosary, Kossuth , pp. 346-49; KLOM XI, pp. 23-26, 152-64. 

16 On 19 October, ibid., p. 222. 

17 Andras Molnar, ‘Kossuth cenzurazott orszaggyulesi beszede’, Szazadok 136 
2002, p. 909. 

18 Baron Zsigmond Kemeny, Forradalom utdn, Budapest, 1908 (hereafter 
Forradalom ), pp. 104-23; Lajos Kovacs, Grof Szechenyi Istvdn kozeletenek hdrom 
utolso eve 1846-1848, 2 vols, Budapest 1889 (hereafter Szechenyi) I, pp. 233-34, 
II, pp. 23-39. 



Laszlo Peter 


7 


general taxation and the emancipation of the serfs without immediate 
compensation to the landlord. For the collapse of the Mettemich system 
made it possible to compensate the nobility for its sacrifices by the estab¬ 
lishment of an independent and responsible government in which the 
landed gentry rather than the aristocracy would be the dominant force. 19 
Also, when on 3 March 1848 Kossuth read his Address draft in the 
Circular Session of the lower chamber, demanding the introduction of 
constitutional institutions in all parts of the Monarchy, the Hungarian 
leader became for a while the toast of the liberal public in Vienna. 

The Court had to give way: the reform package went through and in 
the April Laws Hungary, in effect, received a new constitution with a 
devolved government, headed by Batthyany, in which Kossuth became 
minister of finance. He was now, as the ‘mouthpiece of the govern¬ 
ment’, the driving force in attaining full institutional separation (save for 
the common person of the monarch) from the rest of the empire. 20 As 
minister, Kossuth was dealing with matters well outside his remit 21 and 
had a stronger power base in the new national assembly than all the rest 
of the cabinet together. Kossuth took over when the Austrian govern¬ 
ment’s demand for the revision of the April Laws and the invasion by 
Jelacic, the ban of Croatia, led in September to the disintegration of the 
Batthyany government. As president of the committee of national 
defence, elected by the national assembly, Kossuth became a parliamen¬ 
tary dictator. In his hands came together all the branches of the execu¬ 
tive power; he administered the counties largely through commissars 
who replaced the county officials. Above all, he exercised political 
control over the national army and influenced military strategy in the 
war against the imperial army (although the generals frequently diso¬ 
beyed him). He reached the peak of his personal authority by forcing 
through the national assembly the Independence Declaration that 
deposed the Habsburg dynasty on 14 April 1849. As Governor-president 
of Hungary, and as such politically unassailable, he appointed the 
Szemere cabinet, yet instead of exercising presidential power, he 
remained in charge as the head of the government. 22 After the Hungarian 

19 See Gyorgy Spira’s analysis in his A magyar forradalom 1848-49-ben, Budapest 
1959, pp. 51-54 and 65-68 and especially ‘Kossuth es az utokor’ in Jottanyit se a 
negyvennyolcbol!, Budapest 1989, pp. 73-104 (78-88). 

20 Laszlo Peter, ‘Old Hats and Closet Revisionists: Reflections on Domokos Kosary’s 
Latest Work on the 1848 Hungarian Revolution’, The Slavonic and East European 
Review’, 80, 2002, pp. 296-319 (305-09). 

21 Gyorgy Spira, ‘Kossuth hagyatekabol’, Szazadok, 128, 1994, p. 889. 

22 Deak, Lawful Revolution, pp. 274-76. 



8 


Introduction 


army units suffered decisive defeats from the Austrian and Russian 
armies Kossuth resigned on 11 August 1849, appointing General Gorgei 
commander-in-chief and dictator (knowing that the general would 
surrender). He then fled with close associates and many soldiers to the 
Ottoman Empire. His party was interned by the Turkish authorities at 
Vidin (Bulgaria) and later transferred to Kiitahia (Anatolia). Austria 
demanded Kossuth’s extradition but Palmerston, helped by the French, 
saved Kossuth and his entourage; the western powers strengthened the 
backbone of the Sublime Porte by arranging a naval demonstration 
against Austria and Russia. Eventually the US government sent the 
frigate ‘Mississippi’ which took Kossuth’s party to Marseilles and then 
to England in 1851. 

For the rest of his life Kossuth remained an emigre and a world famous 
one at that. Already in Vidin he resumed leadership of the nation, styling 
himself once more Governor-president and denouncing General Gorgei as a 
traitor (a most unfair slur on the character of Hungary’s greatest soldier of 
modem times). 23 Kossuth’s aim was to rekindle the revolution in order to 
liberate Hungary from Habsburg rule. He sent emissaries there to organize 
resistance, used his oratorical brilliance at public meetings in England and 
America to persuade governments to intervene on behalf of Hungary, raised 
funds to further the cause of Hungarian independence and in 1861 even 
printed money in London for the liberation. When France and Sardinia, and 
later Pmssia, prepared for war on Austria, Kossuth organized Hungarian 
legions for the invasion. That never happened: without Hungary the 
Habsburg empire would not have been a great power and its survival was a 
vital European interest. Kossuth’s Danubian confederation scheme for 
Hungarians, South Slavs and Romanians, as a substitute for the Habsburg 
Empire, was nowhere taken seriously. In Hungary it even had the opposite 
effect, helping Deak to clinch a constitutional settlement with Emperor Franz 
Joseph in 1867 through which Hungary acquired ‘home rule’ of sorts and 
unparalleled influence in central Europe. Kossuth, however, in his 
‘Cassandra letter’ to Deak denounced the settlement, as a sell-out, raising the 
spectre of the ‘death of the nation’. 24 Through extensive correspondence 

23 Domokos Kosary, A Gorgey-kerdes tortenete , 2 vols, Budapest 1994, cf. Laszlo 
Peter, The “Gorgey Question” Revisited: Reflections on Academician Domokos 
Kosary’s Work’, The Slavonic and East European Review, 76, 1998, pp. 85-100. 

24 Do not take the nation to a position from which it could no longer be the master 
of its fate’, wrote Kossuth, Deak Ferencz beszedei, ed. Mano Konyi, 6 vols, 
Budapest, 1898, 5, pp. 7—8. Adherents of Kossuth, and frequently even others, 
have read this letter as a prediction that the Habsburg Empire would fall — and 
Hungary with it. I cannot find this ‘prophecy’ in the letter. 



Laszlo Peter 


9 


from Turin, where he finally settled, Kossuth carried out rather effective 
agitation against the Dualist system. 25 His reputation was enhanced by the 
publication of his memoirs in the 1880s. 26 Franz Joseph repeatedly urged the 
Hungarian government to check the spread of the ‘Kossuth cult’ in the 
country, to no effect. 27 On his death in 1894 his body was taken back to 
Budapest for public burial; this turned into a massive demonstration for the 
political ideal the Great Exile had stood for throughout his life. 

Even this briefest outline suggests that Kossuth’s career cannot be 
measured in terms of success in the strict sense. From a practical 
perspective his political path was, not to put too fine a point on it, 
strewn with conspicuous failures. It may be argued that even at the 
beginning of his career, in Zemplen, he failed as a budding politician 
so conspicuously that he was forced to flee to Pressburg. There the 
publication of the diet Gazette led to his arrest and three years’ impris¬ 
onment. Then came the Pesti Hirlap and, in spite of its astounding 
success, he lost the editorship of the paper after only four years. The 
‘Buy Hungarian’ movement was a flop, the Commercial Society a 
disaster. Soon after he became leader of the Opposition he came close 
to losing his position. He re-emerged as the dominant force within the 
Batthyany government. By insisting (and repeatedly) on a one-sided, 
too loose interpretation of the April Laws to wring further concessions 
from the Court, Kossuth pushed for the unattainable aim of ‘personal 
union’ and this led to an intractable conflict with Vienna. To accept the 
imperial army’s challenge in October 1848, at a time that the revolu¬ 
tionary movement in the rest of Europe was on the wane, bordered on 
recklessness. It is difficult to imagine Hungary sliding into military 
conflict with the imperial army without the presence of Kossuth in the 
saddle. The country was told that the war was about the defence of the 
April Laws — rather than about the defence of all that Kossuth and 
Batthyany had read into the April Laws. All in all, it could be argued 
with a dash of hyperbole, that more than any other person Kossuth was 
responsible for securing the April Laws in the spring of 1848 only to 
gamble them away a few months later. 


25 Gyula Szekfu, ‘Az oreg Kossuth 1867-1894’ in Emlekkonyv Kossuth Lajos 
sziiletesenek 150. evfordulojara, 2 vols, Budapest, 1952, 2, pp. 341-433 (esp. 355f, 
369f, 396f etc). 

26 Kossuth Lajos iratai, 12 vols, Budapest, 1880-1906. 

27 Ferenc Eckhart, ‘Ferencz Jozsef es a Kossuth-kultusz’, Magyar Szemle, 1, 
Budapest, 1927, pp. 370-78. 



10 


Introduction 


In April 1849, after the Spring Campaign, when Gorgei’s strategy had 
paid off and the Austrian army was practically driven out of the country, 
instead of exploring the by then undoubtedly faint chance of a compromise, 28 
Kossuth forced through the national assembly the Independence Declaration, 
an act based on hopelessly unrealistic calculations. The defeat of the Inde¬ 
pendence War was unavoidable in 1849, yet the emigre Kossuth sent in 
agent after agent to organize new uprisings. His policy of cajoling western 
governments to liberate Hungary was a non-starter because no power could 
contemplate a Europe without the Habsburg Empire. Kossuth was dined and 
wined in the United States by the great and the good but politically his visit 
there was yet another flop. 29 We could go on and on listing the failures, all of 
which could be properly substantiated, but even without that it is clear that 
for Kossuth politics was not the art of the possible. 

Yet the vantage point from which Kossuth appears as a failed politician 
is flawed. It is not quite accurate and it is even disingenuous: the policy 
failures occurred largely on the nationalist side of Kossuth’s programme. 
On the social side he should be credited with enduring achievements. He 
had the lion’s share of responsibility for putting together the reform 
programme for the Opposition in 1847 and pushing through the diet in the 
following year basic liberal reforms such as the liberation of the serfs, the 
principle of general taxation, the dismantling of the system of privileges 
and the introduction of representative and responsible government. The 
liberal reforms were combined with the bogus programme of building a 
centralized national state. But the critical point to be made is that the county 
gentry could not have been won over to the liberal reforms without 
Kossuth’s partly unrealistic, national radicalism. Later, the Danubian 
confederation plan might have been a non-starter but it germinated the idea 
that Hungarians could not secure their national aspirations without accom¬ 
modation with the other nations of the Danube region. 

Hungary did not lack brilliant men engaged in politics in the 1840s. 
They did not, however, have what Kossuth undoubtedly possessed to 
secure political leadership. Szechenyi, Deak and Eotvos, all intellectually 
Kossuth’s superiors, were more original, more profound thinkers and 
revealed much better judgement. Yet they lacked some other qualities and 
attitudes that elevation to leadership requires. Had Szechenyi been 
endowed with at least some of these, the social transformation of 1848 
would have been quite different from how it turned out. A free-wheeling 

28 See Domokos Kosary’s argument, Magyarorszdg es a nemzetkdzi politika 
1848-1849-ben , Budapest, 1999, pp. 66-70. 

29 Deak, Lawful Revolution , pp. 342-45. 



Laszlo Peter 


11 


intellectual who single-handedly fired public opinion for reform, 
Szechenyi did not know how to use the public opinion he had stirred up. 
Perhaps he was too big a man to bring it under his control; perhaps he 
never tried, as he was primarily addressing his own class, the aristocracy 
(in contrast to Wesselenyi). 30 Also, he lacked presentation skills: his 
powers of oratory were meagre and he could, unwittingly, offend his 
audience. Apart from close associates he was admired rather than liked 
and accepted. 31 Eotvos, in contrast to Szechenyi, had presentation skills. 
His speeches were masterful products of a first class brain, yet they were 
too high powered for the not so well educated county deputy who unfairly 
labelled him a ‘Centralist’ — an enemy of the county system. Eotvos 
spoke for a tiny minority within the minority of liberal nationalists. 

Leadership should have stayed with Deak. He had become a respected 
leader of the reformers in the Lower Chamber by the end of the 1830s, by 
which time his authority was recognized on all sides. His speeches had 
clarity, were penetrating to the core, and expressed all that most people 
would have loved to say, had they had the ability to do so. But in the 
1840s he inexplicably withdrew from the rough-and-tumble of daily 
affairs. He did not disengage from politics: he retained his authority, 
carrying on an extensive correspondence and giving advice to others. He 
remained active in his own county Zala and drafted legislation for the 
Opposition, including the penal code. 32 But he refused to attend the 
1843-^44 diet and because of poor health remained on his estate in Kehida 
rather than attending the last diet in 1847. 33 


30 Szechenyi was upset in 1833 by seeing Wesselenyi ‘going along’ with the 
provincial nobles rather than ‘exert influence’ on them, Kosary, Kossuth, p. 262. 

31 Apart from Szechenyi the aristocracy produced only two other politicians, Baron 
Miklos Wesselenyi and Count Aurel Dessewffy in the 1830s. By 1848 the former was 
in broken health, the latter dead. The rest of the aristocrat politicians of that vintage 
were not leadership material. This was pointed out by Zsolt Trocsanyi, Wesselenyi 
Miklos, Budapest, 1965, p. 65. Count Lajos Batthyany became leader of the 
Opposition in the Upper Chamber in 1843; Eotvos too became prominent in the 
1840s. 

32 Istvan Deak writes that Deak was ‘lazy, pessimistic and depressive’, Lawful 
Revolution, p. 34, (this is largely, though not entirely, unfair). 

33 The country was flabbergasted when in 1843 Deak declined to accept the mandate 
from Zala because of the breach of peace over his election and also refused to 
accept the post from Pest, the leading county, which everybody urged him to 
accept. In 1847 Deak was ill (an established fact), see Zoltan Ferenczi, Deak elete, 
3 vol, Budapest 1904,1, pp. 366-90 and II, pp. 61-70. 



12 


Introduction 


The power vacuum was promptly filled by Kossuth, 34 and his elevation 
was entirely deserved. As Istvan Deak noted, Kossuth had ‘an unheard of 
capacity for hard work’ and, while the other leaders were landlords who 
took up politics, Kossuth was a professional politician through and 
through. 35 Indeed, he was the very first one in Hungary. Also he had much 
better social skills than others to be a leader. But these attitudes and skills 
flourished on natural endowments. C. A. Macartney wrote that although 

his thought was neither profound nor original, his facility in expressing it in 
convincing terms was unique. He was one of the most persuasive men ever to 
be bom. He was of notably handsome appearance, with brilliant blue eyes under 
a magnificent forehead, a most winning manner and a beautifully modulated 
voice. As a speaker he possessed an unfailing readiness and gift of impromptu 
and an inexhaustible fluency which seldom failed to carry his audiences with 
him, at any rate if they were large. He was no less gifted with his pen, having an 
extraordinary gift of enlisting his readers’ sympathy for whatever cause he was 
pleading, by emotional appeal rather than intellectual, but no the less strongly 
for that. He was a superb player on the heartstrings of the Hungarian people, 
because they were also his own. 36 

Kossuth’s technical brilliance chimed with the time and place; for oratory 
becomes a necessity in times of crisis and especially of war. Skilful 


34 See Kosary, Kossuth , pp. 299f. 

35 Deak, Kossuth, p. 30. A landless noble, Kossuth earning well as editor of Pesti 
Hirlap bought a small property at Tinnye in County Pest which, however, he soon 
had to sell: Kosary, Kossuth, pp. 288 and 324. 

36 Macartney, Habsburg Mon., p. 249. Istvan Deak captured Kossuth’s oratorical 
technique: ‘What struck most observers was the virility and elegance of the man. At 
forty-six, his brown hair was now lightly flecked with white; his beard — full and 
wavy and thereafter so much in vogue in Hungary — gave him dignity and enhanced 
the handsomeness of his face. He was frail, and when he began to speak, he always 
acted as though he were about to collapse. Then, as if overcoming with a superhuman 
effort his weakness, his exhaustion, and his many illnesses (of which he complained 
constantly), his voice rose gradually until it rolled into a rumbling storm. Kossuth was 
not only a brilliant speaker — alternately majestic, dignified, fearsome, mellow, 
flattering and humble, refined and direct in simplicity — but his voice carried farther 
than that of anyone else, an indispensable attribute for someone constantly addressing 
crowds.’ Kossuth could enrapture his audience not only in Hungarian and German but 
also in English. Deak writes that in America Kossuth was ‘continually asked to make 
speeches, and his listeners waxed delirious over the elegance of his manners, his 
costume, his beard, his hat and his dignified, faultless, and thoroughly antique 
English.’ Deak, Lawful Revolution, pp. 74 and 343. On the effect of Kossuth’s oratory 
on Hungarian peasants see Alice Freifeld, Nationalism and the Crowd in Liberal 
Hungary, 1848—1914, Baltimore, 2000, esp. pp. 76—78. For contemporary descriptions 
see Kosary, Kossuth, pp. 326-28; Palffy, Magyarorszdgi, pp. 78-118. 



Laszlo Peter 


13 


oratory can change people’s lives; Kossuth’s changed the life of a whole 
nation in 1848. 

Yet it would be a myopic view to attribute Kossuth’s ascendance to 
his voice, his oratory and pen. Equally important was that his phenom¬ 
enal stamina turned every failure to success. As Kosary points out, 
irrespective of the outcome of Kossuth’s enterprises, each made 
Hungarian nationalism stronger and more demanding. 37 In Zemplen 
Kossuth had a small circle of friends and admirers. As editor of the 
gazette he became the leader of some hundred jurati. The prison years 
brought him publicity at the diet; the Pesti Hirlap attracted 10,000 
subscribers. The Vedegylet might have been a flop but 50,000 people 
patronized it. Kossuth maintained an extensive correspondence with 
supporters in most parts of the country. In the 1840s he was in fact 
building up the cadre system of a political party. 38 Kossuth instinctively 
understood the benefits of what is today called networking — and no one 
else in Hungary did. 

Yet ultimately it is not even primarily the professional competence of 
this modem charismatic politician that can satisfactorily explain his rapid 
rise and lasting significance in Hungarian politics. Kossuth expressed 
with verve and in pure, emotional form the deepest aspirations of a great 
number of Hungarians for national liberty, however unrealistic that might 
have been. Without Kossuth it would be difficult to imagine how 
Hungary could have become simultaneously embroiled in conflict with 
Vienna, the Slavs and the Romanians. This was a great disservice to the 
cause that Kossuth, the architect of the policy, so faithfully served 
throughout his life. Yet the Independence War also provided historical 
memory of a struggle that reinforced the identity of Hungarians as a 
community and the ideal of national liberty was predicated on a society 
based on legal equality. Kossuth set a standard for Hungarian politics, the 
social consequences of which outlasted even the Habsburg Monarchy. 
That standard was in the nineteenth century more effective in liberating 
the serfs and creating Hungarian-speaking middle classes than the alterna¬ 
tive schemes available. And it would be unimaginable on any other 
Hungarian politician’s bicentenary to find ordinary people bursting, with 
eyes dimmed with tears, into a song about him. 


37 Kosary, Kossuth, p. 325. 

38 Kosary’s descriptions shed light on this process, ibid., pp. 190-91, passim, 310-12. 







































































Lajos Kossuth in the Batthyany Cabinet 


Aladar Urban 

Lajos Kossuth, reached the zenith of his power in 1848-49. He became 
minister of finance in the first Hungarian ministry, acted as spokesman 
for the government and when the cabinet resigned in September 1848, he 
was elected chairman of the National Defence Committee by the National 
Assembly. He was now in charge of the government. Then, in April 1849, 
he became Governor-president of Hungary after the House of Habsburg 
had been deposed. 

Kossuth’s proposed Address to the throne, delivered on 3 March, 
which was prompted by the February revolution in Paris, was the opening 
move in his rise to power in 1848. The draft Address gave shape to the 
Opposition’s plans: general taxation (including the nobility) was to be 
introduced together with the abolition of serfdom and combined with a 
system of compensation to the landlord for the loss of his revenues. In 
addition to social reform affecting the vast majority of the population, the 
Address extended to political institutions. It demanded representation for 
the towns, the creation of proper representative government, the national 
reform of the army system, the ‘introduction of financial responsibility’ 
and, in order to secure all these, the creation of an ‘independent’ national 
government. Kossuth also referred to the threatening financial crisis and 
the general economic backwardness for which he blamed the system of 
imperial bureaucratic government. Yet, he went on resourcefully, the 
introduction of modem ‘popular constitutional institutions’ could provide 
security against ‘possible adverse events’, could ‘bind together the 
Monarchy’s various provinces’ and could offer ‘unfailing support to the 
reigning house’. 1 The famous speech was made in the Circular Session 
which approved the draft as did the Lower House unanimously (i.e. nem. 
con.) the next day. The draft Address was then duly sent to the Upper 
House which, however, could not be called together as its president, 


1 Kossuth Lajos osszes munkdi , Budapest, 1948, (hereafter KLOM), XI, pp. 619-28. 

15 



16 


Lajos Kossuth in the Batthyany Cabinet 

Archduke Istvan, the palatine, and his two deputies, the chief justice and 
the lord chief treasurer, had been summoned to Vienna precisely in order 
to block the proceedings. 2 

The outbreak of the revolution in Vienna on 13 March put an end to 
these delaying tactics. The palatine rushed back to Pressburg and on 14 
March the Upper House passed the Address. On Kossuth’s proposal a 
deputation appointed by both Houses submitted the Address to Ferdinand 
on the following day. The deputation and, particularly Kossuth, were 
received enthusiastically by the Viennese 3 and the court conceded the 
demand to appoint Archduke Istvan as the king’s alter ego in his absence 
from the country. The Staatskonferenz, however, opposed the demand 
that Count Lajos Batthyany should be appointed forthwith as the presi¬ 
dent of a responsible government. The palatine, bypassing the Staatskon¬ 
ferenz, then turned to Ferdinand who gave his (verbal) consent to the 
demand and Istvan on 17 March asked Batthyany to form a government. 4 
Thus Kossuth had much reason to be satisfied. His initiative on 3 March, 
together with the revolution in Vienna, lent a decisive impetus to the 
reforms and he kept the promise he had made to the jurati, who had 
bidden him farewell with a musical torch-light procession before his 
departure to Vienna, that he would return from there with Batthyany as 
prime minister. 5 


Kossuth in the Government 

It was taken for granted by both liberals and conservatives that Kossuth 
would be in the cabinet. The young radicals in Pest compiled their own 
ministerial list of ten, of whom five did indeed become ministers. On their 


2 Mihaly Horvath: Huszonot ev Magyarorszag tortenctebol 1823-tol 1848-ig , 
Geneva, 1864, II, pp. 588—600; Arpad Karolyi: Az 1848-diki pozsonyi 
torvenycikkek az udvar elott , Budapest, 1936, pp. 3-4. 

3 The immediate publication of Kossuth’s Address in German gave a boost to the 
demand for political reforms in Austria. See Horvath Huszonot ev, pp. 591-93, 
R. John Rath, The Viennese Revolution of 1848 , Austin, 1957, p. 62. For the 
English translation of Kossuth’s Address, see Correspondence Relative to the 
Affairs of Hungary 1847-49. Presented to Both Houses of Parliament..., London, 
1851, pp. 42-44. 

4 For the Palatine s letter to Batthyany, see Grof Batthyany Lajos miniszterelnoki, 
hadugyi es nemzetori iratai, (hereafter Batthyany iratai) ed., Aladar Urban, 
Budapest, 1999, p. 132. 

5 For the events of these days: Aladar Urban, Batthyany Lajos miniszterelndkle.se 
(hereafter Batthyany), Budapest, 1986, pp. 13-36. 




Aladar Urban 


17 


list Kossuth appeared as minister for industry and commerce. Kossuth’s 
‘Buy Hungarian’ campaign and his Commercial Society — initiatives that 
followed his loss of the Pesti Hirlap in 1844 — explains the choice. 

Batthyany, however, was in no hurry to put his cabinet together. He 
was awaiting the arrival in Pressburg of Ferencz Deak, whom he highly 
respected and who had stayed away from the diet. No decision was made 
on the formation of the government until 22 March. We have some infor¬ 
mation from the report to Ambassador Lord Ponsonby by LA. Blackwell, 
the agent sent to the diet by the British ambassador in Vienna. According 
to Blackwell, Batthyany offered the interior portfolio to Bertalan Szemere 
and that of education to Eotvos, but neither was keen to serve in the same 
cabinet as Kossuth. According to Blackwell, they explained that he 
should once more be editing a newspaper. Blackwell’s comment was that, 
if Kossuth wanted to be in the cabinet, Batthyany would have to accept 
his conditions. * 6 Blackwell’s informant was probably Szemere and while it 
is quite possible that he and Eotvos expressed their reservations to 
Batthyany about Kossuth, it is quite improbable that they would have 
brought it to Kossuth’s notice. 

The leaders of the Opposition met on 22 March (Szechenyi was appar¬ 
ently not invited) to discuss the distribution of the ministerial posts but no 
contemporary account of the meeting survives. On the following day, news 
reached Pressburg that the radical youth in Pest had become restless because 
of the delay in the formation of the government. Batthyany then, meeting 
Szechenyi in the Lower House, offered him the Transport portfolio which 
he accepted. 7 There and then Batthyany announced the list of his cabinet 
with eight members. He repeated the announcement shortly afterwards in 
the Upper House. (The Lower House had approved the night before the bill 
on the creation of the responsible ministry 8 which envisaged eight minis¬ 
ters). Kossuth appeared on Batthyany’s list as minister of finance. 

Kossuth was apparently not satisfied with the offer; his statement on the 
afternoon of 23 March to the Circular Session reveals as much. Kossuth said 
that when County Pest had elected him deputy he had promised not to accept 
government office; thus he could not take up the post which had been 
assigned to him before receiving ‘his senders’ permission’. 9 Mihaly Horvath, 


r 

6 J. A. Blackwell Magyarorszagi kiildetesei 1843-1851, ed. Eva Haraszti-Taylor, 
Budapest, 1989, p. 174. 

7 Szechenyi, instead of sitting with the magnates, had arranged to be elected to the 
Lower House to enable him to fight Kossuth’s ‘inflammatory agitation’. 

8 Became Law III of 1848 on 11 th April. 

9 KLOM, XI, pp. 690-91. 



18 


Lajos Kossuth in the Batthyany Cabinet 

the historian, also minister in 1849, wrote that Kossuth wanted the interior 
portfolio; however Kossuth denied this in his memoirs in 1881. 10 Yet it 
appears that contemporaries’ accounts were not without foundation. When 
the palatine submitted to the king the ministerial list * 11 for approval, he noted 
that Kossuth could be offered only finance or the interior ‘because a less 
important post would satisfy neither him nor the country.’ The future minis¬ 
ters and others advised the palatine that this should be finance, a post through 
which Kossuth would not acquire personal influence. In the interior, by 
contrast, his influence would be unrestricted, especially in the forthcoming 
parliamentary elections. Kossuth also viewed his position in the same way 
and, as the palatine noted, ‘he, together with Szemere, will use all his power 
to replace the government, as he has explained to his friends in confi¬ 
dence.’ 12 The Court accepted the palatine’s arguments and on 7 April the 
king approved the list (which was identical with the one Batthyany had 
announced on 23 March). 13 

Ferdinand sanctioned the April Laws and dissolved the last diet on 11 
April. The ministers took the oath and the first cabinet meeting was held the 
following day. 14 Kossuth started energetically to organize his ministry to 
establish independent Hungarian government finance. Politicians assumed 


10 AX/, 11, pp. 269-71. 

11 The ministerial list: President: Count Lajos Batthyany, Internal: Bertalan Szemere, 
Relations with Austria: Prince Pal Esterhazy, Finance: Lajos Kossuth, Defence: 
Colonel Lazar Meszaros, Transport: Count Istvan Szechenyi, Culture and 
Education: Baron Jozsef Eotvos, Agriculture and Industry: Gabor Klauzal, Justice: 
Ferencz Deak. See Urban, Batthyany iratai, 1, p. 158. 

12 ‘Alle seine Gefahrten, aber auch Judex Curiae und Tavemicus, halten dafur, das er bei 
den Inneren Angelegenheiten weit mehr Einfluss austiben konnte, als es bei den 
“Finanzen” der Fall ist. Auf diesem Posten hat er keinen Einfluss auf Personen; ohne 
Controlle der anderen kann er nichts thun, und mit Wien kommt er in keinen 
personlichen Verkehr. Dagegen hatte er bei den ‘Inneren Angelegenheiten’ alle 
Wahlen, besonders die Landtagswahlen, im ganzen Lande, so zu sagen unumschrankt 
zur Disposition ; konnte das Ministerium bis zum nachsten Landtag unhaltbar machen, 
und das radicalste zusammenstellen, was bei den “Finanzen” rein unmoglich ist. Fur 
die Richtigkeit deiser Ansicht spricht femers der Umstand, dass Kossuth selbst mit 
aller Gewalt auf den Tausch des Ministeriums zwischen ihm und Szemere dringt, und 
auch die dafur sprechenden Griinde seinen vertrauteren Freunden mitgetheilt haben 
soli.’ The palatine to Ferdinand on 30 April, ibid., pp. 229-30. 

13 Ibid., p. 261. The king appointed Esterhazy minister of ‘contacts with the other 
parts of my joint empire’. 

14 For the German translation of the minutes of the cabinet meeting on 12 April see 
Die ungarischen Ministerratsprotokolle aus den Jahres 1848-1849 (hereafter 
Ministerratsprotokolle ), ed., Erzsebet Fabian-Kiss, Budapest, 1998, pp. 16-18. 
Kossuth drafted most of the ministerial orders that implemented the cabinet 
decisions. See KLOM , XII, pp. 27—31; Urban, Batthyany iratai , pp. 309-10. 



Aladar Urban 


19 


that the complexity of the subject would absorb all Kossuth’s energy and that 
through finance Kossuth ‘would not come into direct contact with Vienna.’ 15 
It is perplexing that politicians in Vienna did not see the implications of 
Kossuth’s appointment. Preservation of the unity of imperial finance, 
together with army unity, were the main concerns of the Staatskonferenz and 
later the Austrian ministry. In striving to attain Hungarian financial inde¬ 
pendence Kossuth had to reckon with resistance from Vienna, although for a 
while he tried to avoid conflict. When the Austrian minister restricted the 
export of silver coins and asked his Hungarian colleague to cooperate, 
Kossuth immediately complied. 16 The measures introduced served common 
interests during the financial crisis which saw the virtual disappearance of 
silver coinage. But conflicts soon developed. Kossuth took over a Treasury 
which was nearly empty. He therefore almost immediately, on 24 April, 
banned the delivery of Treasury revenues (excise, post office, salt) to 
Vienna. 17 On 1 May an unsigned official notice appeared in the Pesti Hirlap 
concerning negotiations between the ministry of finance and the Commercial 
Bank in Pest about the issue of gilt-edged securities, intimating that the 
incoming silver money from the selling of the treasury bonds could serve as 
the basis for issuing ‘passive treasury bonds in lieu of silver money in their 
nominal value.’ 18 

On 23 May Kossuth announced that economic stringency made it 
necessary to issue gilt-edged securities and appealed to all citizens to 
subscribe. The announcement emphasized that the Austrian banknotes in 
circulation remained fully convertible. 19 What was implied by this 
announcement was that Kossuth hoped that the Austrian National Bank 
would be prepared to convert its banknotes to silver money. In fact, from 
March onwards conversion operated only by fits and starts. Not surpris¬ 
ingly, the Pesti Hirlap , the government’s official gazette, published as 
early as 25 May, a government order banning the conversion of Austrian 
banknotes to silver. 20 By this move, within six weeks of the formation of 
the Batthyany ministry, the conflict between the two governments’ fiscal 
policy became manifest. 


15 Istvan Sinkovics, ‘Kossuth az onallo penziigyek megteremtoje’, in Kossuth 
Emlekkonyv, ed., Zoltan I. Toth, (hereafter Kossuth ), Budapest, 1952,1, p. 113. 

16 KLOM, XII, pp. 44-45; pp. 221-22; pp. 633-34. 

17 Batthyany had already issued an order to this effect on 3 April. See Urban, 
Batthyany iratai, p. 234; Kossuth’s order of April 24, KLOM, XII, p. 70. 

18 KLOM, XII, pp. 98-99. 

19 KLOM, XII, pp. 177-191. 

20 KLOM, XII, p. 175. 



20 


Lajos Kossuth in the Batthyany Cabinet 

The announcement on 23 May on the issue of the gilt-edged bonds also 
promised that one- and two-forint Hungarian banknotes would be in 
circulation within six weeks (these small denomination notes had not 
existed in the Monarchy before). In response, on 7 July, even before the 
appearance of the Hungarian banknotes, the Austrian minister declared 
that these banknotes were not legal tender in the Austrian Hereditary 
Lands, their issue being in conflict with the monopoly of the Austrian 
National Bank. For a while Kossuth did not respond to this move as his 
banknotes, because of technical hitches, appeared only on 14 August. On 
10 August, however, contravening the decision by the ministerial council 
to exercise forbearance in the matter, Kossuth banned the acceptance of 
the one- and two-forint banknotes issued in great haste in May by the 
Austrian National Bank. He also severely restricted the export of silver 
coin from Hungary to the Austrian lands. 21 A further sign of deteriorating 
relations with Vienna was that the National Assembly, in the course of the 
budget debate, approved after some discussion the issue of 61,000,000 
forints in notes (that is, banknotes without bullion cover). 22 

The issue of the paper money in Hungary and the breach of the 
Austrian National Bank monopoly were only further stages in the 
conflict between the two governments. In fact the conflict had begun 
when the nominated members of the Hungarian cabinet, even before 
they were confirmed in their appointment, rejected the Austrian 
proposal that Hungary should bear a proportion of the state debt, or 
rather a portion of the interest payments. This conflict was followed by 
the banning of the export of precious metals to Austria, the separation of 
the Hungarian camera (the treasury) and the mines from the imperial 
camera, as well as other conflicts in commerce and at the customs 
level. 23 It may appear from this list that the Austrian government was on 
the defensive and merely tried to preserve as much of the old fiscal 
system as it could, sometimes even by rejecting or misinterpreting the 
law sanctioned by the king. In fact, however, Vienna did more than 
resist. A telling example of this was the demand of the Austrian govern¬ 
ment to be reimbursed for the 100,000 forints it had transferred in June 


21 On the whole process see Sinkovics, Kossuth , pp. 127-51; On Kossuth’s order on 
silver coins, see KLOM, XII, pp. 702-03. 

22 Kossuth, on the issuing of the paper money: KLOM , XII, pp. 792-99. The text of 
the Assembly’s decision in Az 1848/49 evi nepkepviseleti orszaggyules (hereafter 
Nepkepviseleti) ed. Janos Beer, Budapest, 1954, p. 201. On the issue of the 
banknotes, see Sinkovics, Kossuth, pp. 152-73. 

23 On the subordination of Hungarian finance to the imperial authorities, see Erzsebet 
F. Kiss, Az 1848-1849-es magyar miniszteriumok, Budapest, 1987, pp. 261-68. 



Aladar Urban 


21 


to the regiments and Militargrenze units under the command of Jelacic, 
the ban of Croatia, who had rejected any contact with the Hungarian 
government. 24 This amounted to a provocation as, obviously, the 
commander of Croatia could not expect supplies from a government 
which it refused to obey. The Austrian gesture proved an overt encour¬ 
agement to Jelacic, a consequence of which was his attack on Pest. 


‘Kossuth Hirlapja’ 

It was a peculiar feature of the revolution that a member of the govern¬ 
ment ran his own newspaper which bore his name. Kossuth had a clear 
plan: on 17 May he issued a public appeal for subscriptions. In the 
announcement he insisted that ‘the vast majority of the nation are monar¬ 
chists’ and that the paper would cherish this sentiment. Kossuth also 
promised that the paper ‘will be an organ of national independence’. But 
the most significant, if rather prickly, message was that the attitude of the 
paper would be shaped by the development of Austro-Hungarian relations 
‘on the basis of sincere friendship, and, if they prefer, mutual rights, inde¬ 
pendence and interests’. 25 

As the paper’s title revealed, Kossuth saw the paper as his personal 
organ. Yet on June he wrote, in confidence, to Ferencz Pulszky, secretary 
of state in the ministry a latere in Vienna: ‘My Hirlap is about to be 
launched. It should assume importance in Hungarian politics.’ He asked 
Pulszky to secure the special delivery of foreign newspapers to himself 
(Batthyany received them a day before the postal service deliveries). 
Kossuth also asked his friend to find two correspondents who would regu¬ 
larly send newsletters from Vienna, including material on the work of the 
Hungarian ministry. 26 As it turned out, those two employees of the 
ministry whom Kossuth had actually suggested in the letter became his 
correspondents. 


24 KLOM, XII, pp. 398-99; pp. 636-38. 

25 KLOM , XII, pp. 150-53. The announcement was signed by Kossuth as the owner 
of the paper on 17 May. On 14 June an advertisement in the Pesti Hirlap stated that 
Kossuth Hirlapja would not be an official, government enterprise, but a ‘wholly 
private enterprise’. 

26 KLOM , XII, pp. 235-36. In the letter Kossuth also asked Pulszky to secure 
information on the working of the Austrian ministry and to find correspondents 
from France and Great Britain. Kossuth on the same day wrote to Denes Pazmandy 
in Frankfurt asking him to invite Laszlo Szalay, the government envoy, to send 
reports from there. 



22 


Lajos Kossuth in the Batthyany Cabinet 

Kossuth Hirlapja was launched on 1 July, four days before the opening 
of the National Assembly. Kossuth produced three unsigned pieces for the 
first issue. The ‘Introduction’ was about the tasks of the Assembly and the 
position of the government. He announced that for the ministers, 
including himself, ‘staying in office was not a question of personal 
interest ... I am not fighting for my office.’ He might, he wrote, resign 
even before losing the support of the majority. At any rate, ministers did 
not want to entertain the public by playing musical chairs. He wanted to 
use the first issue of his paper to list the shortcomings (fogyatkozasai) of 
his office. His major admission was that he had declined to accept the 
offer by the Austrian bank of a 12,500,000 forint interest-free loan in 
banknotes, in return for the recognition of its banknote monopoly. This 
was not widely known and Kossuth was, in fact, boasting with his confes¬ 
sion. 27 Another piece in the paper reviewed the Serbian insurrection in the 
South. Using his ‘inside knowledge’ of government business, Kossuth 
produced the text of the cease-fire concluded on 24 June. His comment 
was restrained but it gave the impression that Kossuth was not altogether 
pleased with the event. Indeed Peter Csemovics, the royal commissar who 
signed the cease-fire from the Hungarian side, was soon replaced by the 
government. The third article, suggesting that Kossuth’s paper would be 
the best informed on politics, reported that the palatine had returned from 
the court in Innsbruck on 29 June and that the king ‘would probably come 
to Buda in July,’ and commissioned the palatine to open the National 
Assembly. Even more important was the report of the cabinet meeting of 
the same day at which measures concerning the ‘Illyrian rebellion’ were 
discussed. As the capital was awash with rumours of Kossuth’s resigna¬ 
tion over the matter, he announced: 

We have been authorized to inform the public that the report that Kossuth has 
already resigned is not genuine, although his ill health will likely force him out 
of office. 28 

The articles informed the readers on government policy as well as on 
Kossuth’s position in the cabinet and they reached a wider public than 
Kossuth’s speeches in the National Assembly. 


27 Ibid., pp. 347-50. 

28 KLOM, XII, pp. 350-53. Szechenyi noted in his diary: ‘Gehe noch in Ministerrat 
bei Batthyany. Aufregung: Kossuth lemondott. — Deak behauptet, er ist perfide’. 
Grof Szechenyi Istvan doblingi irodalmi hagyateka, ed. Arpad Karolyi, Budapest, 
1922, (hereafter Grof Szechenyi), I, p. 342. 



Aladar Urban 


23 


In the 2 July issue, in an article on the ‘Illyrian rebellion’ (three weeks 
before Radetzky’s victory at Custozza!), Kossuth predicted Radetzky’s 
defeat, the loss of Lombardy and the beginning of the end of the Austrian 
Monarchy. The dynasty ‘should, with open heart, throw themselves into 
the arms of the Hungarians’ because Panslavism will not save it. 29 On 4 
July the paper once again published three pieces by Kossuth. On the front 
page the article ‘Our relations with Austria’ alluded to a political group in 
Vienna which Kossuth characterized as ‘the men of reaction’ who 
planned to ‘declare war in the name of the emperor of Austria on the king 
of Hungary.’ But such a course would threaten the position of the impe¬ 
rial house because in both the north and the south two Slav states would 
come into being and Vienna would be isolated. The only way out for the 
dynasty was for Buda to become the seat of the Austrian House: ‘Our 
King should accept this and his throne in Buda will be elevated to the 
imperial seat of a great empire.’ 30 Another piece referred vaguely to a 
note (which, however, the government had already received but had not 
yet made public) 31 that the Austrian government ‘plans to send to the 
Hungarian ministry’ a request that it should come to an agreement with 
the Croats ‘at any price’, otherwise the Austrian government could not 
stay neutral in the matter. But, Kossuth argued, 

the Austrian emperor and the Hungarian king are the same person and by virtue 
of this unity we are connected through the Pragmatic Sanction which in a word 
means: common friend, common enemy. 

The rider was, ‘if Austria renounces our alliance, when we really need 
allies, we shall have to look elsewhere — and in all probability we shall 
find some.’ 32 The third article informed its readers that members of the 
National Assembly had met in the lodgings of Kossuth, who had been 


29 KLOM, XII, pp. 355-57. Szechenyi noted in his diary: ‘Kossuth 2tes Blatt wie 
perfide!’, Karolyi, Grof Szechenyi, I, p. 343. Szechenyi referred to Kossuth’s 
journal as his second paper because another (radical) daily was also considered to 
follow his line. 

30 KLOM, XII, pp. 377-79. 

31 The text of the note by the Austrian government (29 June) about the possible 
ending of its neutrality in the Hungarian-Croatian conflict is given in Urban, 
Batthyany iratai, I, pp. 817-19. 

32 KLOM, XII, p. 381. This is an allusion to the planned alliance with Germany which 
Laszlo Szalay, the Hungarian envoy at Frankfurt, was to accomplish. See Eszter 
Waldapfel, A fuggetlen magyar kiilpolitika 1848-1849, Budapest, 1962, pp. 11—45; 
Gabor Erdody, A magyar kormdnyzat europai latokore 1848-ban, Budapest, 1988, 
pp. 42^18. 



24 


Lajos Kossuth in the Batthyany Cabinet 

asked by the Cabinet ‘to be in direct contact with the members.’ Kossuth 
informed them that the government wanted to meet all the demands of 
Croatia that ‘are not in conflict with the lawful historical connections’ 
between the two countries. But, in the event that Croatia persisted in 
rebellion, the nation had to defend the rights of the Hungarian crown. The 
ministry would request from the Assembly an increase of the regular 
army strength to 200,000 men of whom 40,000 should be recruited imme¬ 
diately. With the Croats it would be, ‘Either the olive branch of brotherly 
reconciliation or a fight to the death’. 33 

The most important article of these days appeared on 5 July, the day on 
which the National Assembly opened. Kossuth, exceptionally, signed his 
long leader on the tasks of the Assembly. Its first duty, he explained, was 
to grant money and provide soldiers for the country’s defence. Many 
repeated his dictum: 

If we are prepared, we shall not be attacked; if we are not, we shall be. The 
peace of the weak depends on grace; the peace of the strong carries its own 
security. 

The lack of defending forces encouraged Croat defiance and the Serbian 
insurrection, and it boosted Viennese attitudes that aimed to bring an end 
to Hungarian independence in finance and the army. As the last diet had 
not made provisions, the government had been obliged to resort to (volun¬ 
tary) recruitment. The nation’s representatives ought to recognize the 
country’s position and act appropriately; it was not the government alone 
which bore the responsibility. He was prepared for a fight in parliament 
— not for his office but for the well-being of the country. He did not want 
to wage war on anybody; he wanted an honest peace but not the peace of 
servitude: ‘Thus I have to cry a hundred times to the nation: prepare for a 
life and death struggle with all your might.’ He rounded off with a 
warning to the moderate majority of the Assembly: ‘I am with you if this 
be your policy; if not, I’ll be against you.’ 34 

After this sharp and definitive piece, Kossuth informed his readers day 
by day on aspects of government policy and his own attitudes, although 
now more coolly. On 6 July he asked whether Hungary could counter the 
growing influence of Russia in Wallachia. Yes, if the country had an 
embassy at the Sublime Porte. 35 On 7 July, under the odd title ‘Compas¬ 
sion and Equality’ Kossuth described the hatred towards Hungary in the 


33 KLOM, XII, pp. 353-55. 

34 Ibid., pp. 360-64. 

35 Ibid., pp. 392-95. 



Aladar Urban 


25 


Viennese press which demanded payments for debts that Hungary had not 
incurred and which threatened war: ‘The financial aristocracy in Vienna 
wants to restore its power by arousing the hatred of the people.’ In these 
troubled times Hungary needed liberty, order, money, soldiers but also 
honesty and discipline: ‘The people will rely on the strong and are afraid 
to join the weak’. 36 On 9 July, Kossuth wrote sympathetically about the 
revolution in Wallachia. Alas, he explained, this sympathy was not recip¬ 
rocated by the Romanian side. Hungary hoped that peace could be 
preserved and that the Romanians would not rise against us. But it was 
also Hungary’s task to help them, through diplomacy, and to save them 
from possible Russian intervention. 37 

On 11 July ‘Our position on the Austrian ministry’ reported the fall of 
the Pillersdorf ministry. What was previously only a threat, wrote 
Kossuth, namely the end of Austrian neutrality in the Croat conflict, had 
in fact now happened. ‘We know from reliable sources’ — wrote 
Kossuth, thus disclaiming provenance of the article — ‘that our ministry 
responded to this announcement as it was bound to do’. After reviewing 
the Austrian note, Kossuth disclosed that the Pillersdorf cabinet had sent 
100,000 forints to Jelacic and had demanded reimbursement from the 
Hungarian government. But the minister of finance firmly rejected the 
claim and would so report to parliament. While the note from the govern¬ 
ment of Austria was an attack on Hungarian independence, he hoped that 
there would be no problems with the Austrian nation. 38 On 12 July 
Kossuth explained why General Hrabovszky, Commander of Petervarad 
(Petrovaradin), appointed royal commissar by the palatine to introduce 
measures to check Jelacic, had been unsuccessful. 39 On 14 July his article 
‘The Proclamation of the Slavs’ first meeting to the peoples of Europe’ 
concerned the Congress in Prague. In reviewing the Proclamation 
Kossuth observed that ‘the incessant flirting with the Muscovite power’ 
would not help achieve liberty for the Slavs. 40 On 15 July, his article 
‘Possibilities’ was a curious mixture of realistic calculation and wholly 
abstract meanderings. We as a nation, Kossuth argued, do not represent a 
threat either to the Austrian Germans or to the Slavs, yet neither could we 
support them, because their hatred of us alienated us from them. Now that 


36 Ibid., pp. 385-89. 

37 Ibid., pp. 401-03. 

38 Ibid., pp. 418-24. The text of the Hungarian note in: Ibid., pp. 374-76. 

39 Ibid., pp. 395-97. Hrabovszky on 10 July asked to be relieved of his duties as 
commissar. 

40 Ibid., pp. 442-44. Kossuth indicated that his account was based on an article in the 
Prager Zeitung. 



26 


Lajos Kossuth in the Batthyany Cabinet 

Archduke John had been elected Governor of Germany, the National 
Assembly might move from Frankfurt to Vienna. Kossuth hoped that the 
‘leading lights’ in Austria would not inspire Germany to embark on a 
mission of conquest. Should this happen, however, and should they forget 
that the rights of the Hungarian Holy Crown did not belong to Austria 
and, thereby, to the German empire, ‘we would have to bear the weight of 
a mighty Germany which has until now been our friend.’ This was only a 
vague, unlikely possibility as the interest of the Germans was now the 
consolidation of unity. But the ‘rampant ambition’ of the reactionary 
forces in Austria might make unity illusory. The ministry in Austria might 
have fallen but the danger had not yet abated. A Hungary which was 
strong morally, materially, legally and in its defence would acquire allies; 
the weak would only generate conquerors. 41 

Kossuth’s articles in the paper must have created unease among his 
colleagues. Jozsef Bajza, the responsible editor, announced in the issue of 
15 July that although Lajos Kossuth was the owner of the paper he was 
not its editor; he was responsible only for the articles he actually signed: 
‘He will use the paper as his organ to address the public whenever he 
thinks it necessary’ which was likely to happen even more frequently in 
the future. ‘But’, Bajza wrote, ‘only articles that appear under his name 
should be attributed to him’. Otherwise he, Bajza, was solely responsible 
for the contents of the paper. 42 

The article, which appeared on 18 July and which discussed the new 
Wessenberg cabinet, was signed by Kossuth. He registered his lack of 
confidence in the new cabinet. Archduke John, appointed the emperor’s 
alter ego for the Austrian Hereditary Lands, would stay in Frankfurt; the 
court was in Innsbruck and thus ‘Vienna is without a head.’ Therefore, he 
went on, Ferdinand should come to Buda ‘from where Vienna can be 
governed — and neither Vienna nor Buda could be governed from 
anywhere else.’ The National Assembly would soon send a deputation to 
the Court to invite the king to Buda. Then, unexpectedly, perhaps echoing 
Bajza’s announcement, Kossuth strove to explain himself and took respon¬ 
sibility for his expressed views: ‘I was not bom a diplomat nor a minister 
if that requires the concealment of attitudes; I say what I think’. Appar¬ 
ently, Kossuth went on, the new Austrian prime minister was surprised 
that they in Pest were flabbergasted about the Austrian statement ‘ending 


41 Ibid., pp. 448-50. 

42 Kossuth Hirlapja, 1848, 15 July, p. 163. After this announcement Kossuth 
regularly signed his articles ‘Sz. F. ’ when he did not wish them to appear under his 
own name. 



Aladar Urban 


27 


their neutrality’. But shouldn’t words be followed by deeds? Shouldn’t it 
give pause that Vienna had sent cash to Jelacic, even though he had been 
suspended from office by the monarch? The thrust of the message was, 
thus, that the Hungarians were not to be intimidated by Jelacic who would 
never be able to take back to Vienna from Pest control of the army and 
finance. 43 In another (unsigned) piece Kossuth complained that the 
government bonds were not doing well because they were unfamiliar, 
although they were more advantageous to keep than banknotes since they 
paid interest. 44 

On 20 July, at the beginning of the debate over the ‘Reply to the Speech 
on the Throne’, there appeared Kossuth’s unsigned article on ‘Our Foreign 
Affairs’ which expressed decidedly personal views. ‘We should not deceive 
ourselves’, he began. ‘We have foreign affairs but do not possess our own 
minister of foreign affairs.’ Prince Paul Esterhazy, according to the law, dealt 
with appointments, ennoblements, the granting of titles (reserved to the king) 
and he exerted influence ( befoly ) over matters that were common between 
Hungary and the other Lands 45 Our envoys abroad did not have diplomatic 
status — a position that was ‘still to be achieved by the nation’. The law on 
foreign affairs was ‘flawed, vague and badly drafted’ and Hungary would 
soon have to work out policies towards its potential enemies and friends. The 
present situation could not endure, argued Kossuth. A law should be passed 
so that the envoys of the Hungarian foreign minister were attached to His 
Majesty’s ambassadors and would ‘exercise influence in all the relations of 
common interest’ between Hungary and the other Lands and ‘represent 
responsibly the country’s independent ministry’. This was how, Kossuth 
explained, Hungary should have an independent minister for foreign affairs 
and a diplomatic corps 46 There is no evidence that the plan was ever brought 

43 KLOM, XII, pp. 458-61. 

44 Ibid., pp. 464-66. 

45 Ibid., pp. 599-602. Paragraph 13 of Law III 1848 referred to the minister a latere, 
influencing the matters ‘in all the relations of common interest’ with the other 
Lands of the Monarchy. The palatine in his submission of the ministerial list to 
Ferdinand used ‘Relations with Austria’ (see note 11 above) and the king in the 
letter of appointment used ‘contacts with the other parts of my joint empire’ (see 
note 13 above). Yet after the appointment Esterhazy was designated in Hungarian, 
and also Austrian (!), government papers as minister of foreign affairs. 

46 Ibid., XII, pp. 599-602. Kossuth stated in his report to his electorate on 16 April 
that the April Laws did not contain all that the nation wanted but they ‘will provide 
the basis for future developments’, KLOM , XI, p. 742. It is not quite clear what he 
meant by the ‘future’ in April; nor is it clear whether or not he seriously thought in 
July that the monarch’s acceptance of a revision of the April Laws could be 
secured. 



28 


Lajos Kossuth in the Batthyany Cabinet 

to the council of ministers, although the surviving (incomplete) minutes 
reveal that a decision was made on 26 June that Hungarian consuls should be 
attached to the Monarchy’s ambassadors in the Balkans and that Esterhazy 
should contact his opposite number in Vienna over the matter. 47 Even though 
this initiative was followed up, the negotiations did not get very far. 48 

Apart from a vivid account of the defence of Versec (Vrsac) against 
Serb insurrectionists, 49 Kossuth’s articles did not appear in his paper for 
some days. When news came through that on the instructions of the 
Frankfurt parliament, the Austrian army would fly the black-gold and red 
imperial colours, Kossuth re-emerged on 30 July with a substantial, 
signed piece that partly repeated familiar points on Austro-Hungarian 
relations and partly made new ones. Because Hungary was legally inde¬ 
pendent of Austria, he began, the Hungarian army ‘should have stood on 
its national feet in the past, but even more so now, as the Austrian army is 
replaced by the German imperial army’. 50 Turning to the thorny question 
of whether military assistance should be given to the imperial army 
fighting in Italy, (a question which came up in the Address debate), 
Kossuth produced the cryptic claim that, as he had made clear in parlia¬ 
ment, he was prepared to support the declared policy of the government 
but ‘beyond that I would not go under any circumstances’ (more of this 
later). Kossuth then returned to the idea of establishing ‘separate 
Hungarian ambassadors’ abroad by changing the law. Finally, in connec¬ 
tion with the deputation which was about to leave for Innsbruck to ‘recon¬ 
firm our loyalty to His Majesty and ask him to come to Buda’, he argued 
that the monarch could not rule the country from Innsbruck: ‘Our lord and 
king can be sovereign only in Buda’. And as Ferdinand was not expected 
to visit the country to prorogue the summer session of parliament, 
Kossuth unexpectedly floated an idea: ‘His Majesty should grant us a 
junior king in the person of Franz Joseph’. 51 The suggestion was unreal¬ 
istic and it was not followed up. In making it, Kossuth was perhaps trying 
to mitigate the criticism he levelled at the antagonistic policies of the 
Austrian government. It was in response to these policies that the 
National Assembly declared on 3 August: 


47 Fabian-Kiss, Ministerratsprotokolle, pp. 57-58. 

48 Urban, Batthyany iratai, pp. 982, 1128. 

49 KLOM, XII, pp. 613-15. 

50 Ibid., p. 641. 

51 Ibid., pp. 640^44. The institution of junior rex was a short-lived experiment in the 
13 th century. 



Aladar Urban 


29 


If the Austrian government were to come into military conflict with Frankfurt, 
the centre of German power over the question of unification, it could not count 
on Hungary’s support against Frankfurt. 52 

This was a last minute amendment to the main motion proposed by the 
radical leader Pal Nyary after a long speech made by Kossuth. As the 
passage clashed head on with the Pragmatic Sanction, the ministerial 
council, disturbed by its implications, discussed on 6 August measures to 
limit the damage. His colleagues and the palatine held Kossuth, and 
particularly the influence of the Kossuth Hirlapja, responsible for the 
blunder. 

As on previous occasions, Kossuth offered his resignation which (as 
on other previous occasions) was not accepted. Then Kossuth promised 
to be ‘more discreet’ in the future. 53 This could have been understood as 
a promise not to disclose information which the cabinet wanted to keep 
from the public. Or it could have meant that on government policy he 
would refrain from expressing his own views. In fact, in the ten articles 
published up to the end of the month, he showed more restraint. The 
policy line of the journal towards the Austrian government and Jelacic 
did not change but there is no trace of the paper veering towards 
Kossuth’s more radical views in order to exert influence on government 
policy. 


Kossuth in the National Assembly 

Kossuth Hirlapja played an important role in the formation of public 
opinion in July and August but Kossuth’s predominance is even more in 
evidence in his role in the parliament convoked on 5 July. 

The cabinet asked Kossuth on 8 July to act as rapporteur in respect of 
its proposal on recruits and subsidies. 54 Three days later, an apparently 
sick Kossuth climbed the rostrum and first in a faint voice, then with 
accelerating velocity, unleashed a magnificent speech of three and a half 

52 Denes Pap, A magyar nemzetgyules Pesten 1848-ban, 2 vols., Pest, 1866,1, p. 314; 
Karolyi, Grof Szechenyi, I, pp. 365-66; KLI, VIII, pp. 83-84; Karolyi, Batthyany, 
I, pp. 364-68; Beer, Nepkepviseleti, pp. 177-78, the Upper House decision on 14 
August on the German alliance did not follow the other House’s declaration, see 
ibid., p. 686. 

53 Karolyi, Batthyany, I, pp. 367-68. Szechenyi’s diary referred to Kossuth’s promise 
made at the Ministerial Council on 6 August: ‘Sein Zeitung hat er versprochen mit 
Discretion zu Handhaben’. Karolyi, Szechenyi, I, p. 367. 

54 Fabian-Kiss, Ministerratsprotokolle, p. 61. 



30 


Lajos Kossuth in the Batthyany Cabinet 

hours to demand appropriation of 42,000,000 forints for 200,000 recruits. 
When he finished, the leader of the radicals, Pal Nyary broke the silence 
of the spellbound audience with a cry: ‘We grant it!’ Thereupon the entire 
chamber rose and applauded the orator. 55 

The most sensitive subject in the Address debate (the first business of 
every parliament in Hungary) was the question of ‘Italian aid’. In the 
spring Piedmont, in order to assist the insurrection in Lombardy against 
Austrian rule, had attacked Austria, which therefore waged a defensive 
war and, by virtue of the Pragmatic Sanctions, casus foederis obtained for 
Hungary. The government was put on the spot because public sympathy 
for Italian liberty was strong. Kossuth forcefully argued in the cabinet on 
5 July that the Speech from the Throne, to be delivered by the palatine, 
should contain only the statement that ‘the war in Lombardy-Venetia 
could not yet be concluded’. The cabinet, after heated arguments, set very 
stiff conditions for assisting the Monarchy’s Italian army. 56 

This was the background to the debate on the Address draft in the 
House on 20 July. Kossuth was the dominant player in the issue of Italian 
aid (which eventually sealed the fate of the April Laws). His formula 
came in the Speech from the Throne: he set the conditions of Italian aid, 
drew up himself the minutes of the Ministerial Council meeting, and 
presented in the House the decision of the cabinet (also his own draft). 
Before getting down to the issue of ‘Italian aid’ Kossuth reviewed recent 
developments in the Croatian conflict. Then he warned the House: it 
could either follow principles or take into account the political circum- 


55 English translation in General Klapka, Memoirs of the War of Independence in 
Hungary , London, 1850, II, pp. 246-73; and see Mihaly Horvath, Magyarorszag 
fuggetlensegi harczanak tortenete 1848 es 1849-ben, ed., Miklos Puky, Geneva, 
1865, I, pp. 311-316; Gyorgy Szabad, Kossuth irdnyadasa, Budapest, 2002, 
pp. 136-40. 

56 The decision on the Italian aid: ‘Indem das ungarische Ministerium aber fur den 
Fall der sicheren Wiederherstellung der Ordnung und des Friedens im Lande und 
der Garantie der selbstandigen materiellen und moralischen Unversehrtheit des 
Landes den Schutz des Monarchen gegen auBere Angriffe im Sinne der 
Pragamatischen Sanktion verspricht, wunscht es klar festzuhalten, dab es dagegen, 
daB dieses Versprechen als seine Absicht erklart wird, an der Unterdriickung der 
italienischen Nation in Lombardo-Venetian teilzunehmen, klar protestiert und in 
dieser Angelegenheit nur dazu im obigen Falle Hilfe zu bieten bereit ist, daB mit 
der lombardisch-venezianischen Nation der AbschluB eines Friedens und einer 
Vereinbarung erreicht wird, die einerseits der Wiirde des Konigs und andererseits 
den Rechten, der Freiheit und den angemessenen Wiinschen der italienischen 
Nation entsprechen.’, Fabian-Kiss, Ministerratsprotokolle, p. 60; KLOM, XII, 
pp. 382-84; Urban, Batthyany iratai, pp. 873-77. 



Aladar Urban 


31 


stances. As he explained, ‘Politics is the science of exigencies’. If 
Hungary disregarded everything else and only wanted to support the 
Italian revolt then it would have to support the Croat revolt as well. This 
was the conclusion that followed from the politics of principle. Personally 
he had great sympathy for the Italian nation but this was his own ‘private 
feeling’. As a minister he wanted to report the policy of the government. 
Then he read out the government’s decision (his own draft). One of the 
conditions of giving aid to the Austrian ministry was that it could be done 
only after the Serbian revolt had been put down and the threat from 
Croatia had ceased. Another condition was that Hungarian recruits could 
not be used to suppress the Italian nation. After making more sympathetic 
noises about the Italians, Kossuth diluted the cabinet decision even 
further. It was not the sending of soldiers to Italy that was important but 
rather the ‘moral pressure’ put on the Austrian government to make a 
peace which ‘satisfies the wishes of the Italian nation and the dignity of 
the throne’. The radicals in the House, knowing that Kossuth’s policy 
differed from that of the rest of the cabinet, demanded a written statement 
on government policy. 

Kossuth accepted the request and the following day he read out the 
formula with the following preface: T should report that what I said 
yesterday was my personal view and what I am reading out today has 
been agreed by the whole cabinet.’ 57 The text he submitted followed the 
minutes of the ministerial council of 5 July. Yet in one respect a new 
condition crept in: should it be impossible to establish peace ‘with free 
constitutional institutions’, the territories ‘beyond a strategic line’ might 
secede from the Monarchy. 58 After further adverse comments on the 
government’s policy by the radicals, the House accepted on 22 July the 
submitted text on ‘Italian aid’ (233 for, 36 against). Contemporaries all 
believed that it was only because of Kossuth’s forceful interventions that 
the cabinet set such stiff conditions for ‘Italian aid’. Minister president 
Batthyany was indignant with Kossuth especially for presenting first the 


57 Pap, Nemzetgyules, I, p. 180. 

58 For July 20 KLOM, XII, pp. 588-99; for July 21 pp. 602-12; Pap, Nemzetgyules, I, 
pp. 133-219; Karolyi, Batthyany , I, pp. 353-63. Istvan Deak writes: ‘Batthyany 
was furious and again threatened to resign, a gesture which Kossuth did not 
consider advantageous at that time. So on July 21 he recanted publicly, reverting to 
the government’s original motion, which of course had been his very own. Over the 
furious opposition of the radicals, and amidst great confusion — for in the torrent 
of his words, no one quite knew what Kossuth really wanted — the House passed 
the government’s initial motion, 233 to 36.’ Istvan Deak, The Lawful Revolution, 
New York, 1979, p. 146. 



32 


Lajos Kossuth in the Batthyany Cabinet 

government policy line and then dissociating himself from it. That was 
why the council of ministers, held on 20 July after the meeting of the 
House, obliged Kossuth to come clean. 59 On the other hand, the cabinet 
met Kossuth’s new condition that if no agreement was reached, the 
Monarchy should be prepared to give up some Italian territories. The story 
of the ‘Italian aid’ amply illustrates on Kossuth’s ability to use the 
National Assembly, notwithstanding the government’s solid moderate 
majority, to push through, with the help of the radicals, his own agenda. 60 

Kossuth’s stamina was legendary. His ministerial papers reveal the 
wide ranging measures he introduced in finance and defence. In addition, 
he carried on with extensive journalism, a part of which we have seen. He 
was also on his feet in parliament every day. He presented the budget; on 
26 July he submitted a bill on the use of crown property for settlers; on 24 
August the bill on the issuing of paper currency. Instead of listing his 
contributions, a single example will show Kossuth’s tactical skills in 
parliament. 

Lazar Meszaros, the minister of defence presented his bill on the crea¬ 
tion of the Hungarian army on 21 July. After it went through various 
committees, which came up with a large number of amendments, the 
central committee of the House drafted an alternative bill which was 
distributed on 31 July. The debate was, however, postponed by the 
government, until 6 August, when the Austrian regiments were scheduled 
to adopt the German imperial colours. It was thought that this would 
change the position of the Austrian army and attitudes in Vienna which 
would in turn affect attitudes in Pest. But the government did not want to 
admit that this was the reason for postponement and dispatched the 
minister of defence to inspect the camps in the south, set up to fight 
the Serbian insurrectionists. The debate could commence only after the 
minister’s return to Pest. 61 The minister’s bill used the regular army 
system for expansion. The regiments stationed in Hungary were to be 
complemented by new recruits. By contrast in the bill of the central 
committee, of the planned 40,000 recruits only 12,000 would have been 
recruited to complement the army regiments in esse. The rest (i.e. the 

59 Horvath, Fiiggetlensegi hare, I, pp. 324-25; Karolyi, Batthyany, I, pp. 360-63. 

60 Mihaly Horvath wrote: ‘It clearly emerged from tense debates over the Address 
that, although his policies were intransigent, Kossuth because of his oratorical 
powers was able to bend as he pleased the views of the majority of the House. For 
this reason whenever he was at loggerheads with his colleagues in the cabinet he 
could count on the support of the majority (in parliament). In this way his views 
tended to prevail even in the cabinet,’ Horvath, Fiiggetlensegi hare, I, p. 326. 

61 Urban, Batthyany, pp. 536-48. 



Aladar Urban 


33 


majority) were to form new battalions ‘whose language of service and 
command, flag, dress and insignia would be Hungarian.’ Even this 
proposal, backed by the majority of the House, did not satisfy the radicals. 
They hoped that Kossuth, instead of supporting the central committee’s 
compromise, would follow up his own article of 30 July, and insist on the 
creation of an entirely magyar labra allltott (Hungarian in character) 
army. After all, Kossuth had published these views in his paper in the full 
knowledge of the ministerial and the central committee’s bills. 

After the debate began on the bill in the House on 16 August, it irri¬ 
tated the radicals that Kossuth did not speak for three days. When at last 
he broke his silence on 19 August, he began with the principle that Law 
III of 1848 restored Hungary’s independent government, and that army 
organization should, therefore, reflect the country’s position. There were 
two ways to achieve this. Either the regular army should be reorganized 
magyar labra (i.e. a la hongroise) and then enlarged by new recruits; or a 
new army, organized magyar labra, should be created which, not having 
been instructed in the old ways, would not need to be transformed later. 
There was no difference of principle, Kossuth went on, between the 
minister’s and the House’s bill. The new army would not oppose the 
dynasty and would not be organized with the purpose of seceding from 
Austria. On the contrary — went on Kossuth, launching into loyalist rhet¬ 
oric — the army would be ‘the most secure mainstay of the House of 
Austria ... The Hungarian nation wants independence and even in the 
heart of the common monarch, a coordinate and not a subordinate posi¬ 
tion’ (thunderous acclaim in the House). 

The outburst of rhetoric was, however, followed by a climbdown. 
Instead of setting up new regiments for the new recruits, Kossuth in 
essence supported the plan of the Central Committee and sought a 
compromise with the ministerial draft of which, he said, he did not 
approve (perhaps because, he admitted modestly, he did not know enough 
about the subject). In other circumstances, he surmised, they might fight it 
out, but not now, as the army was already facing the enemy. The circum¬ 
stances required a compromise which he was, reluctantly, prepared to 
make, hoping that the minister would do the same. Kossuth, speaking for 
the government, made parliament accept the Central Committee’s 
compromise in army organization. His success was limited. On 22 
August, at the end of the debate, the radicals demanded a roll call which 
went 226 for and 117 against Kossuth’s proposal. 62 


62 KLOM, XII, pp. 755-61. 



34 


Lajos Kossuth in the Batthyany Cabinet 

Why did Kossuth abandon his radical army plan, jeopardizing his 
popularity? One of the reasons could be that the officers of the regular 
army, facing the enemy in the south, might have felt that the introduction 
of an army organized entirely magyar labra bypassed them and so under¬ 
mined their morale. This had to be avoided. Also, Kossuth probably 
thought that Vienna would not let even the compromise bill become law, 
and that this would induce the moderate majority to accept a more radical 
plan. In addition, Kossuth could count on the probability of restoring his 
popularity with the radicals (who had voted against the bill) as he had 
received permission from the minister of defence on 17 August to set up 
his own armed unit of volunteers. Organized at short notice and promoted 
in Kossuth Hirlapja, for a while the group even bore Kossuth’s name. 63 


Kossuth in the September Crisis 

Neither the moderate articles in his journal published in August nor the 
compromise on the army bill should be taken to suggest that Kossuth had 
in any sense moderated his views either on Croat-Hungarian or on 
Austro-Hungarian relations. It appears that Batthyany’s unsuccessful visit 
to Vienna at the end of July and his fruitless meeting with Jelacic finally 
convinced Kossuth that there was no chance of a peaceful outcome in the 
two conflicts. He now began to withdraw his support for the government 
which he thought was tame, wanting peace at any price. For the time 
being it is only in confidential correspondence that we can see the change 
in his position. Kossuth wrote to Laszlo Csany, royal commissar at the 
river Drava, ‘The ministry will have to change ... Either I resign or it has 
to become more energetic.’ Later, he wrote, ‘we have to shake off this 
enervating weight pressing on us — and raise ourselves, with full 
force.. .and not be despondent about the rightness of our cause’. 64 

Charged with an insuperable task by the council of ministers, 
Batthyany and Deak travelled to Vienna on 27 August to secure the royal 
sanction to the bill on the army recruits and the issuing of paper money. 
Neither the two ministers nor the rest of the cabinet expected success. 
Still, they had no choice but to try. Kossuth wrote in confidence to Csany 


63 Kossuth’s dispositions concerning the unit, KLOM, XII, pp. 733-35; Aladar Urban, 
‘Kossuth szabadcsapata 1848. oszen 5 . Hadtortenelmi Kozlemenyek , 1988/4, 
pp. 638-65 (German summary). 

64 KLOM, XII, pp. 722-24. In the letter Kossuth also gave advice to Csanyi on 
military tactics. 



Aladar Urban 


35 


on 31 August: ‘It is possible that the Croats will, temporarily, even 
occupy the capital.’ He made known to Csany that the cabinet had 
decided to offer secession to the Croats. 

I am willing to team up with the devil — although never with the ‘schwarz- 
gelb’ reactionary forces — even if I am tom to pieces. But that will not be my 
fate. I shall set the fatherland on its feet once the shilly-shallying ( diploma- 
tizalo ) policy comes to an end. 

And, in closing: ‘I am very ill, I lie in bed for hours, motionless. But the 
danger is hardening my shattered nerves. I do not despair. Hold on just a 
little longer. This nation will not perish’. 65 

The political conflict came to a head on 31 August when the king sent 
to Palatine Istvan the Denkschrift prepared by the Austrian government, 
in which it questioned the monarch’s right to devolve the powers of inde¬ 
pendent finance and defence on Hungary without the consent of the 
empire’s other provinces. Kossuth knew of the Denkschrift, which had 
not yet been published, when he made a stand in the National Assembly 
on 4 September. In a (by his standards) rather short speech an apparently 
sick Kossuth pointed out that the Croats rebelled in the name of the 
monarch, that royal orders to restrain Jelacic could not be enforced, and 
that the government was, he believed, ‘obstructed by the circles 
surrounding His Majesty.’ Unless this situation changed ‘the nation will 
be obliged to provide temporarily such executive power ... as will derive 
the source of its dispositions from the danger to the fatherland rather than 
from the law’. This threat was coupled with a proposal: a deputation of a 
hundred members should be sent to the king by parliament, asking him to 
set a date for his visit to Buda in order to strengthen the monarchy by 
giving him support ‘to retain his throne if he wished to retain it.’ 66 Parlia¬ 
ment agreed. 

The deputation travelled to the Schonbrunn on 5 September. Court 
protocol delayed the audience with Ferdinand. Only after the deputation 
removed from the submission passages that were objected to, did the 
audience take place, four days later. The royal reply was platitudinous. 67 

65 KLOM, XII, pp. 853-55. 

66 Ibid., pp. 881-86. In fact Kossuth put forward several proposals, see Beer, 
Nepkepviseleti, pp. 213-15. For the Denkschrift see Sammlung der fur Ungarn 
erlassenen Allerhochsten Manifeste und Proclamationen, dann der Kund- 
machungen der Oberbefehlshaber der kaiserlichen Armee in Ungarn, Ofen, 1850, 
Anhang, pp. 5-19. 

67 For the texts of the submission and the royal reply see Beer, Nepkepviseleti, 
pp. 216-18; for a summary of events see Urban, Batthyany, pp. 603-52. 



36 


Lajos Kossuth in the Batthyany Cabinet 

The deputation, accompanied by the equally unsuccessful Batthyany and 
Deak, returned to Pest on 10 September. The Batthyany ministry resigned 
on the following day. Parliament put Kossuth in charge of government. 
Resolute as ever, he immediately and successfully proposed a decision on 
the bills of the army recruits and the issuing of money that the monarch 
had failed to approve. 68 Palatine Istvan did not accept parliament’s deci¬ 
sion to entrust Kossuth with the formation of the government and instead 
charged Batthyany with this task on 12 September. Kossuth at once 
accepted the decision and gave his support to Batthyany. 69 Then the news 
arrived in Pest that the Croat regiments had begun to invade Hungary on 
the previous day. While Kossuth was still insisting on formalities, the 
court did its best to prolong the government crisis: the king failed to 
approve the palatine’s nomination of Batthyany and requested to see first 
the list of the proposed ministers. The manifest lack of confidence 
induced Batthyany to reconsider his position in parliament on 16 
September. The whole House, and especially the radicals, however, 
insisted (as Vienna wanted only to prolong the uncertainty) that 
Batthyany should make the sacrifice and stay, which he agreed to do. 70 
Although he was not the first to suggest that Batthyany should stay on, 
Kossuth went along with the House; and from about this time on the radi¬ 
cals regarded the former minister of finance as ‘one of them.’ 

Jelacic’s army attacked Hungary on 11 September without declaring 
war; the intervention seemed to have been timed to coincide with the 
government crisis in Pest. Brigadier-General Count Adam Teleki, the 
commander of the Hungarian forces at the river Drava, got cold feet on 
hearing the news of political turmoil in Pest. Csany, the royal commissar, 
reported that Teleki was not prepared to confront the Croats fighting under 
the imperial flag, as their commander had sworn the same oath as he had. 
Batthyany then asked parliament to commission the palatine, who in earlier 
times had also been captain-general of the Land, to take over the leadership 
of the retreating army. The palatine obliged. On Kossuth’s initiative parlia¬ 
ment then appointed three members to form the entourage of his royal 
highness. Towards the end of the late night sitting, on Kossuth’s proposal, 
the House also resolved to elect a committee to review the defence meas¬ 
ures taken by the acting premier, who was without ministers, to avoid the 
glare of publicity before the whole House. 71 President Denes Pazmandy 

68 KLOM, XII, pp. 907-19; for parliament’s measures see pp. 922-24. 

69 Ibid., pp. 931-32. 

70 KLOM , XII, pp. 968-71, Urban, Batthyany iratai, pp. 1367-73. 

71 KLOM, XII, pp. 956-62. 



Aladar Urban 


37 


proposed that each member nominate six persons. On 21 September the 
president announced the outcome: both Kossuth and Pal Nyary, the leading 
radical, were elected to the committee of six. This committee met 
Batthyany every evening between 22 and 27 September and formed the 
nucleus of the Committee of National Defence. On 27 September 
Batthyany left Pest for the army camp to meet Count Lamberg. 72 

The critical event in what Hungarian historians refer to as the 
‘September turning-point’, was the assassination of Lieutenant General 
Count Ferencz Lamberg, who had, without ministerial countersignature, 
been appointed royal commissar plenipotentiary and commander-in-chief 
of all the armed forces in Hungary and the invading Croat army, and 
charged with the restoration of peace. On 28 September the news spread 
in Pest that Lamberg had secretly arrived in Buda and would have Pest 
bombarded. The town was in turmoil because the invading Croat army 
was only two days’ march away. Lamberg was already in the news 
because parliament on the evening of 27 September had resolved that his 
appointment was unlawful and had forbidden all civil and military author¬ 
ities from cooperating with him. The resolution, initiated by Kossuth, was 
printed at night and reached the public in the morning. Lamberg arrived in 
Buda without a military escort in a hackney-carriage in civilian clothes to 
look for the minister, but Batthyany had already left for the army camp. 
Lamberg was recognized by a mob on the pontoon bridge between Pest 
and Buda and was viciously murdered. 73 

Batthyany had actually left for the camp where he hoped to find 
Lamberg in order to countersign his royal appointment. The radicals in 
parliament rejected this course; they did not believe that Lamberg would 
restrain the advancing Croats and restore order. 74 The leading radical, 
Laszlo Madarasz, went down by train to the Great Plain on 24 September 
to bring Kossuth back to Pest to lead the attack on Batthyany’s policy. 

72 KLOM, XII, pp. 657-62; Aladar Urban, ‘A Honvedelmi Bizottmany 
megvalasztasa, 1848. szeptember 16-21,’ Hadtortenelmi Kozlemenyek, 2001/2-3, 
pp. 361-85 (English summary). 

73 For the sitting on 27 September see KLOM , XIII, pp. 39^43. For the resolution of 
the House see Beer, Nepkepviseleti, pp. 254-55. For the murder, Aladar Urban 
‘Nepitelet Lamberg felett’, Szdzadok , 1996/5, pp. 1063-1115 (English summary). 

74 Hungarian historians regard Lamberg’s appointment as an unconstitutional and 
hostile move, see Gyorgy Spira ‘Polgari forradalom (1848-1849)’ in 
Magyarorszag tortenete 1848-1890 , ed. Laszlo Katus, Budapest, 1979, pp. 
257-58; ‘It was perhaps unconstitutional and counterrevolutionary^...] Why, then, 
the appointment of a new supreme commander with authority over both the 
Hungarian and Croatian armies, and with the specific task of enforcing immediate 
armistice?’ Deak, Lawful Revolution, p. 171. 



38 


Lajos Kossuth in the Batthyany Cabinet 

And, indeed, Kossuth initiated and acted as rapporteur for the House’s 
resolution against Lamberg. Again, Kossuth proposed on 29 September 
that in the absence of the acting prime minister the executive power 
should, as a temporary measure, be exercised by the six-member 
committee elected earlier to assist Batthyany, which was henceforth 
called the Committee of National Defence. The task of the committee, 
pending the return of Batthyany, was the organization of defence and the 
maintenance of order. 75 

On the same day Kossuth returned to the Great Plain to carry on with 
recruitment while Batthyany, on hearing of Lamberg’s assassination, 
went to Vienna to mitigate the damage at the court. As he was unsuc¬ 
cessful, he finally resigned on 2 October. The Committee of National 
Defence functioned without Kossuth until 7 October. Meanwhile, the 
king ordered the dissolution of parliament and appointed Jelacic royal 
plenipotentiary and commander-in-chief of all the armed forces. Kossuth 
arrived back in Pest on 7 September when the House discussed the royal 
manifestos. At Kossuth’s behest, the National Assembly resolved that the 
royal manifestos were unlawful, according to the April Laws, parliament 
could not be dissolved unless the budget had been passed for the 
following year — which it had not been). Next day, the House declared 
that ‘as long as the country does not have a lawfully recognized govern¬ 
ment’ the executive power was to be exercised by the Committee of 
National Defence whose chairman, Lajos Kossuth, was elected by general 
acclamation. 76 With this move Kossuth reached the peak of his power in 
1848. In the following year, after the success of the Spring Campaign and 
the Declaration of Independence, he became Governor-president of 
Hungary. 


*** 

The question is frequently raised whether Kossuth was a loyal subject of 
the Habsburg monarch, impelled to disobedience by the violation of the 
April Laws or, alternatively, whether his aim was from the start secession 
from the Monarchy in order to attain complete independence, and that this 

75 For the resolution of parliament on 28 September see Beer, Nepkepviseleti\ for 
Kossuth’s proposal on 29 September see KLOM, XIII, pp. 48-51; Gyorgy Spira, A 
pestiek Petofi es Haynau kozott, Budapest, 1998, pp. 334-37; Aladar Urban, 
‘Bizottmany a haza vedelmere, a rend es beke fenntartasara’, Szazadok, 136, 2002, 
pp. 741-87. 

76 For the resolution of the House on 8 October, see Beer, Nepkepviseleti, p. 273. 
Kossuth’s speech: KLOM , XIII, pp. 121-26. 



Aladar Urban 


39 


was disguised by declarations of loyalty. We should distinguish two 
periods. From March 1848 Kossuth was working to secure Hungaiy’s 
financial independence. In that he could count on the support of the rest of 
the cabinet which was loyal to the Habsburg king. Every minister, 
including even Szechenyi, agreed that the country could not take on the 
obligation to pay annually a 10,000,000 forint share of the state debt. The 
government was also united in rejecting Croat separatism, in demanding 
an at least formally independent army (which Batthyany secured at the 
beginning of May) and also in inviting Ferdinand (who had to flee 
Vienna) to stay in Buda. The last aspiration tied in with the plan, which 
looked feasible between May and July, that Austria would participate in 
German unification. Should Austria become a part of a united Germany, 
only Hungary and its associated Lands could ensure the dynasty’s inde¬ 
pendence. The prospect of German unification explains why the 
Batthyany ministry sent envoys to the Frankfurt parliament in May and 
took steps to enter into an alliance with Germany. 

From the beginning of July Kossuth’s policies diverged radically from 
those of the rest of the cabinet. Affected by the note sent on 29 July by the 
Austrian ministry that it could not stay neutral in the Hungarian-Croatian 
conflict, Kossuth’s anti-Viennese stance became quite apparent in his 
journal, launched on 1 July, as well as in his speeches in the National 
Assembly. In addition to being a spokesman for the government, Kossuth, 
now and again, expounded what were very clearly his own views — as in 
the Address debate, for instance. After the arrival of the Denkschrift in 
Pest, Kossuth determined to resolve the crisis one way or another, and 
carried the assembly with him in the proposal to send a deputation to 
Ferdinand with the request that he declare his view on whether or not the 
king wanted to retain his throne (on Hungarian terms). Kossuth expected 
the Batthyany ministry to fall and, when this happened, he immediately 
pushed through the assembly the two bills, as laws, (both vital for the 
country’s defence) which Ferdinand had not sanctioned. With that move 
Kossuth, enthusiastically supported by the National Assembly, broke 
away from the legal order of constitutional monarchy. Following the 
death of Lamberg, the Committee of National Defence on 28 September 
and, at Kossuth’s initiative, provisionally took over executive power. On 
his return from his recruitment drive, Kossuth took over as head of the 
committee, now fully empowered as a government. By then it was 
obvious that military conflict with Austria was on the cards. 

Alone among his former cabinet colleagues, Kossuth was determined 
to defend on the battlefield the country’s new constitutional order based 
on the April Laws. The key to his radicalized attitudes can be found in his 


40 


Lajos Kossuth in the Batthyany Cabinet 

speech in the House on 21 August. Why was he a member of the govern¬ 
ment — he asked — when under the pressure of circumstances its policy 
could not be as ‘uniform and energetic’ as he would wish. He himself was 
‘not afraid of moving forward.’ 77 This might have meant the hope, which 
he expressed in his letter to Laszlo Csany on 14 August, that the ministry 
would be ‘reorganized’. 78 Or he might have meant the formation of a new 
cabinet in which he would serve. Or it could have meant what actually 
happened: that he would be released from the ‘shackles of collective 
ministerial responsibility.’ 79 But the rider in his speech on 21 August was 
that ‘I shall always be in the front line’. 80 Kossuth’s frequently employed 
rhetorical flourishes, especially that he was ‘not afraid of moving ahead’, 
paved the way from March 1848 to the Declaration of Independence in 
1849. 


77 KLOM, XII, p. 772. 

78 Ibid., XII, p. 723. 

79 Announcement in Kossuth Hirlapja on 14 September, KLOM, XII, p 940 

80 Ibid., p. 772. 



Kossuth, Parliamentary Dictator 1 


Robert Hermann 

Returning to the Hungarian capital from his recruitment drive on the 
Great Hungarian Plain on 7 October 1848, Kossuth faced a situation that 
had changed radically. The causes of the change had both a political and a 
military dimension. On the political side there had been two significant 
developments. First, on 2 October Prime Minister Count Lajos Batthyany 
had finally handed in his resignation and had had it accepted by King 
Ferdinand V. Second, the monarch, who had been informed of the death 
on 28 September of Lieutenant-General Ferencz Lamberg (his appointee 
three days earlier as commander-in-chief of the armed forces in Hungary), 
exploited Batthyany’s resignation to dissolve the National Assembly and 
to appoint the Ban of Croatia, Josip Jelacic, royal commissar plenipoten¬ 
tiary and commander-in-chief of the country’s armed forces. 2 This 
marked the launch of the campaign against the Hungarian revolution. On 
4/5 October Field-Marshal Count Theodor Baillet de Latour, minister for 
military affairs, bombarded the commanders-in-chief and the 
commanders of Hungary’s fortresses, as well as those in command of 
forces stationed in the neighbouring provinces of the empire, with orders 
to take overt action against the Hungarian government. The appointment 
of Jelacic in itself amounted to a provocation and showed that of the 
various options mooted by Vienna, it was direct military intervention that 
had won the day. 

1 For a comprehensive account of Kossuth’s activities in 1848—49, see Istvan Deak, 
The Lawful Revolution: Louis Kossuth and the Hungarians, 1848-1849, New 
York, 1979 (hereafter Lawful Revolution). Revised and enlarged edition: Istvan 
Deak, Die rechtmassige Revolution. Lajos Kossuth und die Ungarn 1848-1849, 
Wien-Koln-Graz, 1989. 

2 Correspondence Relative to the Affairs of Hungary 1847-49: presented to Both 
Houses of National Assembly by Command of Her Majesty, 15 August 1850. 
London, 1851, (hereafter Correspondence), pp. 86-87, George Klapka, Memoirs of 
the War of Independence in Hungary, London, 1850. Vol. I. (hereafter Memoirs /- 
II) pp. 241-45. 


41 



42 


Kossuth, Parliamentary Dictator 


The other dimension was the sphere of the military. On 29 September 
1848, while Kossuth was on his second recruitment drive on the Great 
Hungarian Plain, the Transdanubian Hungarian army had clashed with the 
forces of Jelacic on the northern shores of Lake Velence, in the Pakozd- 
Sukoro area, and had in a defensive action succeeded in containing them. 
Jelacic was genuinely taken aback by the spirited resistance of the 
Hungarians (after all, it was a case of imperial royal troops firing at impe¬ 
rial royal troops, with both sides avowedly loyal to the monarch) and 
called a halt to the fighting, the two sides agreeing a three-day ceasefire. 
Experiencing problems with the provisioning of his troops, Jelacic did not 
see out the ceasefire and on 1 October took his men off in the direction of 
Gyor. Cautiously, the Hungarian army pursued the Croatian forces, which 
were numerically still superior. 

Latour wanted troops sent from Vienna to reinforce Jelacic, but one 
contingent refused to obey his commands on 6 October, the day a new 
revolt broke out in Vienna and claimed Latour himself as a victim. In the 
absence of any back-up, Jelacic promptly fled the country. The Transdan¬ 
ubian Hungarian army defeated one of Jelacic’s flank divisions in two 
sweeps, at Tac, county Fejer, on 5 October and at Ozora, county Tolna, 
taking 9,000 enemy soldiers prisoner. By mid-October the whole of 
Transdanubia was again in Hungarian hands, as were the most important 
fortresses of the western part of the country: Komarom, Lipotvar 
(Leopoldov) and Eszek (Osijek). News of the royal decree of 3 October, 
coinciding with the very moment of Jelacic’s escape, helped ensure that 
the majority of imperial officers were willing to continue their support of 
the Hungarians. The Viennese revolt could not have come at a better time: 
it paralysed for several weeks the nerve centre of the planned military 
counter-attack on the revolution. 3 


3 For the military manoeuvres, see Aladar Urban, ‘The Hungarian Valmy and 
Saratoga: the Battle of Pakozd, the Surrender of Ozora, and their Consequences 
in the Fall of 1848’, in Bela K. Kiraly (ed.), East European Society and War in 
the Era of Revolution, 1775-1856. War and Society in East Central Europe, Vol. 
IV, New York, 1984 (hereafter Era of Revolution), pp. 548-55; Robert Hermann, 
‘Military Events in Transdanubia and Northern Hungary: September-November 
1848’, (hereafter Military Events in Transdanubia) in Gabor Bona (ed.), The 
Hungarian Revolution and War of Independence, 1848-1849. A Military History. 
War and Society in East Central Europe , Vol. XXXV, New York, 1999, 
(hereafter, Military History), pp. 245-57. For the officers’ crisis of loyalty, see 
Istvan Deak, ‘Where Loyalty and Where Rebellion’ in Kiraly, Era of Revolution, 
pp. 406-07. 



Robert Hermann 


43 


Returning to the capital on 7 October, Kossuth made a major speech on 
the unlawful nature of the monarch’s manifesto, as a result of which the 
Hungarian National Assembly proceeded to declare the manifesto 
unlawful. The dissolution of parliament was indeed unlawful, since Law 
IV of 1848 made it clear that dissolution was possible only after approval 
of the previous year’s balance sheet and the following year’s budget; also, 
Law III of 1848 specified that dissolution was conditional upon the coun¬ 
tersignature of one of the Budapest-based ministers. In fact, the appoint¬ 
ment of Baron Adam Recsey in the decree of 3 October had been 
countersigned in Vienna — and by Recsey himself. 4 

News of the Viennese revolt reached Budapest only on the night of 7/8 
October. Upon hearing the news, Kossuth tried to ensure that the 
Hungarian army pursuing Jelacic urgently give armed assistance to 
Vienna, which was surrounded by the forces of Jelacic and the local 
forces expelled from it. This was another issue that had to be settled in the 
wake of Batthyany’s resignation, which had left the country without an 
executive. After Batthyany’s departure the matter had been resolved by 
the Orszagos Honvedelmi Bizottmany (OHB, Committee of National 
Defence) which immediately took over the powers of the executive and it 
seemed sensible for this body to continue to fulfil the role of a provisional 
administration. 

During the sitting of the House on 7 October Kossuth alluded only in 
passing to the necessity of making provision for the exercise of executive 
power. The main purpose of that sitting was to declare unlawful the 
October 3 royal decree dissolving the National Assembly, since it was 
this declaration that provided the legal basis for taking action on the 
future of the executive. News of the Viennese revolt of 6 October made it 
manifest that no forces would be available to enforce the October 3 
decree, so on 8 October Kossuth proposed that the National Assembly 
invest the OHB with the powers of the executive by appointing three 
OHB members to exercise these powers, leaving the duties of the 
remaining members to be defined by this triumvirate. The National 
Assembly approved this proposal by acclamation and Kossuth was 
elected president of the OHB, proposed by Istvan Zako, member for 
county Bacs. 

4 KLOM, XIII, pp. 107-19. Selections in German translation in Johann Janotyckh 
von Adlerstein Chronologisches Tagebuch der magyarischen Revolution und zwar 
bis zur ersten Wiederbesetzung Pesth-Ofens durch die k. k. Truppen , Wien, 1851, 
Vol. Ill, pp. 269-72, (hereafter, Chronologisches Tagebuch III). The decree is 
printed in Correspondence , pp. 213-16. 



44 


Kossuth, Parliamentary Dictator 


The issue now was: who would form the triumvirate? The speaker, 
Denes Pazmandy jr., proposed that the House should let Kossuth select 
the membership of the OHB. Kossuth proposed that Pal Nyary should be 
in the triumvirate, Nyary proposed Pazmandy, while Laszlo Madarasz 
proposed the former minister of the interior Bertalan Szemere, despite 
their well-known political differences. 

Pazmandy declared that, as speaker, he would not deem it right to unite 
both legislative and executive power in his own person (though it should 
be said that during Kossuth’s absences he was one of the most active 
members of the OHB), and suggested that Nyary and Baron Zsigmond 
Perenyi should be members of the triumvirate. Nyary proposed that the 
OHB retain its existing structure and that all that was necessary was to 
elect Kossuth its president. Pazmandy reiterated his previous proposal, 
which was less specific than Kossuth’s but increased the legal powers of 
the office of OHB president to almost the same extent. It was now up to 
Kossuth to allocate the various ministerial responsibilities among the 
members of the OHB. He appreciated that Nyary, whose name had been 
mentioned as a possible member, was not keen on the idea of a triumvi¬ 
rate and that the National Assembly might have difficulty choosing 
between the names put forward. Kossuth therefore accepted the frame¬ 
work proposed by Pazmandy and was thus elected president of a govern¬ 
ment in which responsibilities were not allocated to individual ministers. 
He was now leader of the country. 5 

This possibility had first arisen on 11/12 September but at that time 
there was no lawful way for Kossuth to become prime minister, since he 
could not have counted on the approval of the palatine or, especially, of 
the king. By 8 October it was no longer possible to operate within the 
framework of the April Laws, for the monarch’s decree of 3 October had 
made it clear that through the imposition of the military dictatorship of 
Jelacic he intended either to return to the situation prior to spring 1848 or 
to rule in some other, unconstitutional manner. There were thus three 
options available to the Hungarian National Assembly: 

1) accept the decree and dissolve itself, 

2) opt for revolution, or 

3) remain within the law by resisting unlawful acts and continuing to 
regard the April Laws as the legal basis for its activities, while at 


5 The minutes of the session are given in KLOM, XIII, pp. 121-26. Selections in 
German translation in Adlerstein, Chronologisches Tagebuch, III, pp. 273-75. 



Robert Hermann 


45 


the same time not insisting on the letter of the law but adapting it to 
the needs of national self-defence. 

Kossuth was temperamentally suited to taking the lead if either the 
second or the third option were chosen, but his training in civil law as 
well as his flexible political nous, which regarded laws as frameworks to 
be exploited rather than texts set in stone, meant that his preference was 
for the third option. But it remained to be seen whether a politician who 
had been unable to be a team player either in opposition or as a member of 
the Batthyany government, and who went his own way whenever he 
could, would be able to appreciate that he was the head of a new provi¬ 
sional government — but not its master. 

For by this time Kossuth had virtually no-one to challenge him. After 2 
October 1848 there was no politician anywhere in Hungary who had any 
hope of opposing him, whether in opting for a third solution or a solution 
of any other kind. Szechenyi had completed his first month in the asylum 
at Dobling, Jozsef Eotvos had left the country at the end of September, 
and Batthyany had resigned from the National Assembly. Ferencz Deak 
was troubled by so many doubts about Hungary’s hopes of successful 
resistance that he would not have adopted a half-revolutionary, half- 
lawful, self-defence policy even if his temperament had made this 
possible. Gabor Klauzal had also withdrawn from public life. Of the 
possible members of the OHB Bertalan Szemere could not muster enough 
support either within or without the National Assembly to mount a chal¬ 
lenge to Kossuth. Laszlo Madarasz had the support of only a small group 
of radicals in the National Assembly. The centre in the National 
Assembly had not yet forgiven Pal Nyary for his role in the Batthyany 
government. The others — Imre Sembery, Jozsef Patay, Janos Palffy, 
Baron Zsigmond Perenyi, Baron Miklos Josika, and Denes Pazmandy sr. 
— were fairly colourless figures in public life who would not have dreamt 
of mounting a challenge to Kossuth. The former minister of defence, 
Lazar Meszaros, was a newcomer to politics. 

The new government insisted on the fiction of legality: for example, in 
appointing officers and generals it expressed ‘the hope that His Majesty 
will subsequently approve’ the disposition. This made it possible to fill 
the many vacancies that had arisen through the reorganization of the army 
and at the same time signalled the readiness of the Hungarians to reach a 
compromise with officers unable to decide whether to act on their oath to 
the monarch or on the one they had taken to the Hungarian constitution. 

Hearing of a possible offer of French and British mediation, Kossuth 
encamped on 18 October and at the end of his third recruitment drive 


46 


Kossuth, Parliamentary Dictator 


reached the camp at the Leitha with some 10,000 men, mainly militia 
and honved battalions. The main Hungarian army halted at the Leitha 
and was slow, for both military and political reasons, to come to the aid 
of the imperial capital, now in turmoil. Twice it crossed the Leitha, 
returning to its right bank both times. The imperial forces encamped 
under the city walls were already superior in numbers even before the 
arrival of general Windisch-Gratz’s main army, and Kossuth needed all 
his powers of oratory to persuade the army command to cross the Leitha 
for a third time. In advance of this he sent a peace delegation to Wind- 
isch-Gratz. The latter rejected talks and on 30 October resoundingly 
rebuffed the Hungarian attack at Schwechat. The only positive outcome 
of the defeat was that Kossuth was at last able to appoint as commander 
of the Upper Danube army Artur Gorgei, whom he had had in mind for 
the post for some time. 6 Kossuth remained in camp for some ten days 
after the defeat at Schwechat and, despite having placed Gorgei in 
command, continued himself to deal personally with matters at the 
highest level. That relations between them were good or at least cordial 
at this time is shown by the letter Gorgei wrote to the OHB not long 
after Kossuth’s departure, in which (though not mentioning Kossuth by 
name) he clearly suggests that it would be desirable to grant Kossuth 
dictatorial powers. 7 

On his return to Pest Kossuth had daily to take decisions on dozens of 
matters relating to the deployment and replacement of troops, for the mili¬ 
tary developments in other theatres of war were by no means favourable. 
The Serbian uprising in September had not been stemmed, and Arad and 
Temesvar (Timisoara), the two most significant fortress towns in the 
Banat, were refusing to bow to the Hungarian authorities. Here, however, 
the locally-stationed Hungarian forces soon proved a match: by the end of 
the year the Serbian rebels were substantially contained and Arad, too, 
was under siege, albeit not in a vice-like grip. Towards the end of 
September Transylvania witnessed a Romanian uprising which initially 
had the support of the two Romanian border guard divisions and later of 
Baron Antal Puchner, the imperial commander-in-chief. By the end of 
November the Hungarian troops had been forced back to the north- 


6 For the manoeuvres, see Arthur Gorgei, My Life and Acts in Hungary in the Years 
1848 and 1849, New York, 1852, pp. 56-78, (hereafter Gorgei, My Life and Acts); 
Wolfgang Hausler, Das Gefecht bei Schwechat am 30 Oktober 1848, 
Militarhistorische Schriftenreihe, Heft 34, Wien, 1977; Hermann Military Events 
in Transdanubia, pp. 262-66. 

7 Extracts from Gorgei’s letter in Gorgei, My Life and Acts, pp. 88-89. 



Robert Hermann 


47 


western borders of Transylvania. The situation changed in mid-December 
when command of the north Transylvanian troops passed to the Polish 
general Jozef Bern. Bern launched an attack and by Christmas his troops 
were in Kolozsvar (Cluj), while the New Year saw the whole of northern 
Transylvania in Hungarian hands. 

Kossuth and the OHB continued to deploy the military organization 
originally formulated by Batthyany. They dispatched commissars to the 
local authorities to deal with recruitment and supplies, putting the 
economy at the service of the military. The OHB operated as a collegiate 
government: responsibilities were not permanently assigned to individ¬ 
uals. Though the OHB had been substantially enlarged since it was first 
established, the majority of its members did not play an active role in it. 
The most frequent signature on its documents is that of Kossuth, while 
those of Pal Nyary, Bertalan Szemere, Miklos Josika, and Laszlo 
Madarasz are also relatively common; but those of Imre Sembery, Zsig- 
mond Perenyi, or Mihaly Esterhazy are much less frequently found. 8 

Though the work of the OHB proceeded smoothly on the whole, 
certain administrative problems surfaced particularly when Kossuth was 
away. For example, reports from the southern territories and from Tran¬ 
sylvania had immediately to be acted upon and no-one could say 
whether the instructions issued were likely to tally with the views of 
Kossuth, then encamped by the Leitha. A reorganization of the OHB 
was also indicated after Schwechat, when it became clear that in the 
short term a peaceful solution — that is, the formation of a government 
having the approval of the king — was unlikely to be secured. The most 
obvious change needed was the allocation of the various portfolios 
among members of the OHB and perhaps others who joined the govern¬ 
ment. A more technical matter was that some members of the OHB 
were, because of the collegial nature of the government, regularly absent 
from the National Assembly. 

Talks on the transformation of the OHB into a government proper, by 
the allocation of portfolios, began on 19 November. Kossuth was ill at 
this time and therefore communicated with Szemere, the de facto no. 2, in 
writing. On the very first day, Szemere pointed to the dearth of suitable 


8 The OHB papers are in the Hungarian National Archives, H2. (Magyar Orszagos 
Leveltar. Miniszterelnokseg, Orszagos Honvedelmi Bizottmany es 
Kormanyzoelnokseg iratai.) Most of the printed materials relating to the 
September-December 1848 period are printed in KLOM, XIII. Substantial 
documentation in German may be found in Johann Janotyckh von Adlerstein, 
Archiv des ungarischen Ministeriums des Inneren und des Landesvertheidigungs- 
Ausschusses, Altenburg, 1851, Vol. Ill (hereafter Archiv). 



48 


Kossuth, Parliamentary Dictator 


candidates and noted the importance of ensuring that all recognized reli¬ 
gions be represented proportionately, and that aristocrats should be repre¬ 
sented as well as Transylvanians. In his view the most important issue to 
be addressed was ‘whether negotations with the dynasty were in prospect, 
or completely out of the question’. The issue, he continued, of the alloca¬ 
tion of the portfolios was a technical matter but one with far-reaching 
political consequences. Though he put forward some names himself, he 
made no suggestions as to who should have which portfolio. From 
Kossuth’s brief reply it is clear that he wished to retain for himself over¬ 
sight of finance and army affairs, and indeed of ‘general policy’. He 
planned to offer to Nyary the portfolio of army procurement, to Szemere 
that of justice, to Madarasz internal affairs, to Perenyi trade, to Laszlo 
Teleki foreign affairs and to government commissar Sebo Vukovics the 
transport portfolio. For minister of cultural affairs he had two nominees, 
Bishop Mihaly Horvath of Csanad and Foispan Karoly Szent-Ivanyi. He 
thought four regional captains of the national guard deserving of govern¬ 
ment office: Count Kazmer Batthyany, a foispan and government 
commissar, Foispan Gedeon Raday, Odon Beothy, also a foispan and 
government commissar, and Count Gyorgy Karolyi. 

To Szemere it seemed that since there was ‘never any difference of 
opinion’ between Kossuth and Madarasz, Kossuth’s proposals amounted to a 
de facto concentration of all power in his hands. Szemere therefore proposed 
that the ministry of finance be offered to Pulszky, and the ministry of internal 
affairs to Nyary rather than to Madarasz. He also drew attention to 
Pazmandy. Kossuth replied that Nyary would not accept internal affairs, and 
Pazmandy would not accept either post. In his revised proposal he wanted to 
keep Lazar Meszaros at defence, Perenyi (rather than Teleki) at external 
affairs, Beothy (rather than Vukovics) at transport, Pulszky at trade, and, at 
cultural affairs, Domokos Teleki alongside Mihaly Horvath. 

Szemere contacted Nyary about internal affairs, adding in his note to 
Kossuth that if in the new government he ‘let someone else have (sc. that 
post) ... I would be underwriting my own incompetence.’ (NB Szemere 
had been the minister for internal affairs in the Batthyany government.) 
He was prepared to do this for Nyary or Pazmandy, but not for Madarasz. 
In other respects he agreed with Kossuth’s proposal and would have 
allowed the police affairs portfolio to go to Madarasz, who could not, 
however, be allowed to have either internal affairs or justice. Kossuth 
insisted on Madarasz for internal affairs and, to divert attention from this, 
proposed new names for the transport and defence portfolios. Szemere 
responded by proposing new permutations involving (with the exception 
of Gabor Lonyay) names that had already been put forward in Kossuth’s 


Robert Hermann 


49 


various proposals. By 26 November Kossuth had a new proposal. In this 
Madarasz figured only as being in charge of police and postal affairs. 9 A 
fly in the ointment was Nyary, who refused all offers of a portfolio even 
though Szemere begged him to ‘talk to Kossuth. Don’t let your antipathy 
— worthy though it may be — get the better of you.’ 10 

These discussions ended in a compromise. Kossuth did not form a 
government: he allocated portfolios within the OHB, but those in 
charge of the portfolios were not — with the exception of Meszaros — 
called ‘minister’. Kossuth himself continued as president of the OHB 
and in charge of financial affairs and of ‘the political direction of mili¬ 
tary affairs’. Nyary was in charge of internal affairs (civil administra¬ 
tion) and military supplies. Szemere was in charge of justice, Pulszky 
of trade, Madarasz of police and postal affairs, while Meszaros 
remained in overall charge of army affairs, though he kept resigning 
from time to time. * 11 Kossuth offered transport to Beothy, who however 
even two weeks later had not responded; nor did Beothy accept either 
the religion and education portfolio, or the external affairs post. 12 The 
reason there were no de facto ministries in the government was 
probably that Nyary did not want to be a minister, while Kossuth 
wanted a government in which all the ministerial posts were filled by 
his appointees. 

The new OHB regime lasted only until the end of the month, however. 
From 13 December Szemere was national commissar plenipotentiary of 
Upper Hungary and from 19 December Beothy held the same post in 
Transylvania, while Pulszky left Hungary without notice. From the time 
of the move to Debrecen, the ministries were, in practice, once more 
headed by the secretaries of state. Only the posts of Kossuth and 
Madarasz proved to be enduring. In this system of government, partly 
because of the others’ passivity, leadership was exercised by Kossuth 
alone, with only a limited amount of influence from others. 

The enforced resignation on 2 December 1848 of Ferdinand V had 
important implications for the legal basis of a war such as this, waged by 
Hungary in self-defence. As it was Ferdinand who had sanctioned the 
April Laws, it was the existence of his person on the throne that had 
prevented open aggression against Hungary. On 2 December his place on 

9 This exchange of correspondence is in KLOM, XIII, pp. 503-11. See also Deak, 

Lawful Revolution , pp. 204-05. 

10 KLOM, XIII, pp. 510-11. 

11 Ibid., pp. 572-73. 

12 Ibid., pp. 593-94. 



50 


Kossuth, Parliamentary Dictator 


the throne was taken by Franz Joseph I. At Kossuth’s instigation, the 
Hungarian National Assembly argued, with incontrovertible logic, that it 
did not recognize the change of ruler: the Hungarian throne could be 
occupied only by a ruler chosen by the Hungarian parliament and one, 
moreover, who had taken an oath upon the laws of Hungary. 13 

The imperial forces launched their attack in the first half of December. 
Lieutenant-General Schlik invaded Upper Hungary and inflicted a 
number of defeats on hastily-assembled Hungarian troops, and advanced 
to the Tisza. In mid-December the main forces under Windisch-Gratz 
swept away the Upper Danube forces of Artur Gorgei. On 30 December at 
Kossuth’s request Major-General Mor Perczel’s troops fought a battle at 
Mor and suffered a serious defeat. 14 

Following this defeat, at its session on 31 December 1848 Kossuth 
proposed, and the OHB accepted, that the National Assembly remove 
to Debrecen. This session also saw the famous duel between Kossuth 
and the former prime minister, Lajos Batthyany. The latter had 
returned to Pest earlier in the month with the aim of trying to counter¬ 
balance the influence of Kossuth. He played no role in the proceedings, 
however, until the sessions on 30/31 December, when he failed in his 
efforts to keep the National Assembly in Budapest while allowing only 
the OHB to move its base to Debrecen. He proposed that a peace 
mission be sent to Windischgratz, but the prince’s reply ‘Unbedingte 
Unterwerfung’ (unconditional surrender) hardly augured well, nor did 
the fact that one member of the delegation, Batthyany, was detained 
after the imperial royal forces entered the capital. Batthyany was thus 
unable to follow the National Assembly to Debrecen. Though Ferencz 
Deak was also a member of the mission, he was not detained, but he 
would have been allowed to continue to Debrecen only on condition he 
tried to persuade Kossuth and his circle to surrender. This Deak was 
not prepared to do. 15 


13 Adlerstein, Archiv , III, pp. 451-54. 

14 For the military manoeuvres, see Gabor Bona, ‘Winter Campaign’, in Bona, 
Military History , pp. 288-94. 

15 Aladar Urban, ‘Batthyany Lajos a nepkepviseleti orszaggyulesen 1848. 
decembereben’, Szazadok , 1991, pp. 217-24. Minutes of the session are in KLOM, 
XIII, pp. 940-52. See also Daniel Iranyi-Charles-Louis Chassin, Histoire politique 
de la revolution de Hongrie 1847—1849 , II, Paris, 1860 (hereafter Iranyi-Chassin 
Revolution II), pp. 203-205; Bela K. Kiraly, Ferenc Deak , Boston, 1972, 
pp. 136-37; Deak, Lawful Revolution pp. 213-14. 



Robert Hermann 


51 


Even before the fall of the capital Kossuth had declared that ‘as long as 
we have an army, we have a homeland’. 16 Though genuinely unhappy 
about the loss of the capital, Kossuth did not despair over it. His main aim 
was to raise as large an army as possible, and as soon as possible, beyond 
the river Tisza and with a vigorous counter-attack restore the independ¬ 
ence of the country, won in April of the previous year. Nor did he harbour 
any illusions about the peace mission to Windischgratz. When the delega¬ 
tion’s report was received he argued in the closed sitting of the National 
Assembly on 12 January and the open session of 13 January that it 
appeared to be the case that the other side intended to bring the war to an 
end by totally subjugating Hungary, and this offered little scope for 
further negotiation. Kossuth could imagine, as a possibility, that if the war 
should end in victory, Hungary could even constitutionally move beyond 
the achievements of April 1848. 17 This did not go unnoticed by the 
nascent but as yet still leaderless opposition within the National 
Assembly, the so-called ‘peace party’. However, in another debate, on 12 
February 1849, Kossuth was still declaring that in his government’s view 
no avenue should be left unexplored in the search for a peaceful conclu¬ 
sion to the war. 18 

Following the attack and seizure of the capital, significant changes 
were made in the OHB. From mid-December Szemere became national 
commissar plenipotentiary of Upper Hungary. After the fall of the capital 
Sembery made no further appearances in Debrecen, while the speaker, 
Denes Pazmandy jr., who had played such an active role in the OHB in 
October 1848, remained in Kecskemet and subsequently returned to Pest. 
Nor did Denes Pazmandy sr. resume his seat in the upper house. Ferencz 
Pulszky, who had been co-opted on to the OHB in November rather than 
being elected by the National Assembly, went abroad for reasons that 

16 Kossuth’s letters to Gorgei, 29 and 30 December 1848, in KLOM, XIII, 
pp. 916-17, 923-24. 

17 For the closed session of 12 January, see Pal Hunfalvy, Naplo 1848-1849 , ed. 
Aladar Urban, Budapest, 1986 (hereafter, Naplo), pp. 149-52; Gusztav Beksics, 
Kemeny Zsigmond. A forradalom s a kiegyezes, Budapest, 1883 (hereafter 
Kemeny), pp. 68-70. For the open session of 13 January, see KLOM, XIV, 
pp. 109-20. Extracts from the minutes of these sessions in Denes Pap, A parlament 
Debrecenben 1849, Leipzig, 1870, Vol. I (hereafter Parlament I), pp. 11-34. See 
also Iranyi-Chassin, Revolution II, pp. 242^44. 

18 KLOM, XIV, pp. 405-409. Extracts from the minutes of the session in Pap, 
Parlament I, pp. 118-133. See also Iranyi-Chassin, Revolution II, p. 238; Beksics, 
Kemeny, pp. 82-83. See also Domokos Kosary, The Press during the Hungarian 
Revolution of 1848-1849, East European Monographs No. CXCVIII, New York, 
1986 (hereafter Hungarian Press), pp. 300-02. 



52 


Kossuth, Parliamentary Dictator 


remain unclear. Janos Palffy resigned while still in Debrecen. During 
Kossuth’s recruitment forays between February and April 1849, the day- 
to-day work of the OHB remained largely in the hands of Pal Nyary and 
Miklos Josika. Laszlo Madarasz was at the helm of the National Police 
Office, which under his directorate burgeoned into a virtual ministry. In 
addition, Count Mihaly Esterhazy was active in securing army equipment 
and provisions. Kossuth’s role in the OHB was thus greater than ever 
before. 

Indeed, this was the reason for his relatively rare appearances in the 
National Assembly. Here the left and the ‘peace party’ were about 
evenly balanced, so in debate much depended on which side could 
secure the support of the centre. The National Assembly proposed 
severe penalties for officers who had acted in a cowardly way, for trai¬ 
tors, and for absenteeism by members, but these were rarely applied 
with the full force of the law. In the open sessions between 13 January 
and 14 April 1849, Kossuth spoke altogether only seven times. 19 He also 
took no part in the debates on the assizes or on the accreditation of 
absentee members. His speeches focused chiefly on the military 
situation and the political consequences of the war. Though a convinced 
National Assembly supporter, Kossuth realized that the fate of the 
country would be decided on the battefield rather than in the National 
Assembly, and therefore he almost certainly regarded the maintaining of 
contact with his army generals in the field more important than 
parliamentary speech-making. 

Having taken Budapest, Windischgratz thought he had won the war. 
The imperial royal forces continued their triumphal march. At the same 
time, the Hungarians’ council of war, held before the evacuation of the 
capital on 2 January 1849, decided to concentrate on the Hungarian forces 
beyond the Tisza. The plan was to surrender the southern territories while 
the Upper Tisza battalions as well as Perczel’s troops made a stand along 
the Tisza. To ensure the success of this concentrated effort, Gorgei’s 
Upper Danube forces had to create a diversion towards the north-west to 
relieve besieged Lipotvar and then retreat in the direction of the Upper 
Tisza via the mining towns. The plan was successful, not least because it 
prevented Windischgratz from taking any action for several weeks after 
taking the capital. On 21—22 January Colonel Gyorgy Klapka’s forces 
along the River Bodrog stopped the Schlik Corps from the north, while on 

19 On 9 and 13 January, 12 February, 1, 9, and 25 March, and 14 April. KLOM, XIV, 

pp. 61-67, 109—18, 405—09, 559—62, 718—25, 873—87. He spoke in closed session 

at least as frequently. 



Robert Hermann 


53 


22-25 January Perczel defeated an imperial mounted division at Szolnok 
and Cegled. At the beginning of February, Gorgei reached the Eperjes and 
Kassa region (Presov and Kosice). Janos Damjanich, commander of a 
battalion summoned from the Southern territories, sent a division of rein¬ 
forcements to Bern from Arad. With this support Bern was able to stop 
Puchner’s forces at Piski. From there, with amazing speed, he reached 
northern Transylvania and expelled the enemy forces that had retaken it. 
Then, sweeping south, with a brilliant manoeuvre behind Puchner’s back, 
he captured Nagyszeben (Sibiu) from the Russian troops that had been 
supporting the imperial forces since early February. By the end of March 
he had, with the exception of the fortress of Gyulafehervar (Alba Iulia) 
and the Erzgebirge, cleared virtually the whole of Transylvania of 
Austrian and Russian forces. In mid-February the Hungarian troops 
summoned from the Southern territories also reached the Cibakhaza- 
Szolnok region. 20 

Time had now come for the counter-attack, but this was delayed. 
Kossuth had at first wanted to make Bern commander-in-chief of the 
united army, but Bern refused because of the situation in Transylvania. 
On the other hand, Kossuth was disinclined to propose Gorgei because of 
his retreat from Transdanubia and his 5 January statement in Vac, which 
was intended to reassure his monarchist officers but which could have 
been (and indeed was) misunderstood. 21 

Thus the Polish general newly arrived from France, Henryk 
Dembinski, could not have come at a better time. Kossuth put him in 
command of the four Hungarian armies forming the main army. 
Dembinski proved to be a disaster, however. From the outset his 
actions defied common sense: he allowed Schlik’s already isolated 
band to escape and fragmented the forces at his disposal. Thus, when at 
the end of February Windischgratz finally awoke from his winter 
torpor and, setting off for Debrecen, fought a battle at Kapolna on 26/ 
27 February, it was against only some 50 per cent of the main 
Hungarian army, and this was roundly defeated. As he retreated 
Dembinski gave further evidence of his unsuitability as military leader 


20 For the military manoeuvres, see Gabor Bona ‘Winter Campaign’ in Bona, Military 
History, pp. 294-315, 332-36. 

21 Gorgei, My Life and Acts, pp. 128-31; Klapka, Memoirs I, pp. 167-75. See also 
Deak, Lawful Revolution, pp. 233-35; Bona, ‘Winter Campaign’, in Bona, Military 
History, pp. 301-03. 



54 


Kossuth, Parliamentary Dictator 


and his unhappy officers, with the active intervention of Bertalan 
Szemere, removed him from office. 22 

Seeing the mood of the officers, Kossuth approved the decision on 5 
March. Szemere and subsequently Kossuth put Gorgei in temporary 
charge but, once in Debrecen, Kossuth took the post away from Gorgei 
and on $ March made Lieutenant-General Antal Vetter chief of the 
Hungarian forces. 23 Kossuth spent the next several weeks in camp and 
was thus fhere when the new leader launched an offensive in the 
Nagykoros area. This ended in a withdrawal for reasons of faulty 
reconnaissance. 

After the battle of Kapolna, Windischgratz sent an over-optimistic 
report to the imperial court, then residing in Olmiitz. This report misled 
the court into thinking that the time had come for a showdown between 
absolutism and constitutionality. On 4 March the ruler dismissed the 
Reichstag, which was meeting in Kremsier (Kromeriz), and himself 
promulgated a constitution for his peoples. This constitution abolished the 
distinctions between territories and also split Hungary into several parts. 
Though this constitution was never implemeted in Hungary (its introduc¬ 
tion was first postponed until the end of the war, while at the end of the 
war it was postponed sine die), it led to similarly flawed responses from 
the other side. 24 

News of the events in Olmiitz reached Kossuth in the middle of March. 
He felt it imperative to respond as quickly as possible to this assertion by 
the imperial court that Hungary’s laws and constitution did not exist. Two 
conditions needed to be fulfilled, however, before a riposte could be 
made. First, the Hungarian main army needed to strike a blow against the 

22 Gorgei, My Life and Acts, pp. 173-230; Geroge Klapka, Der Nationalkrieg in 
Ungarn und Siebenburgen in den Jahren 1848 und 1849, Leipzig, 1851, Vol. I 
(hereafter Nationalkrieg I), pp. 228-76; Johann Pragay, The Hungarian 
Revolution. Outlines of the Prominent Circumstances Attending the Hungarian 
Struggle for Freedom Together with Brief Biographical Sketches of the Leading 
Statesmen and Generals who Took Part in it, New York and London, 1850 
(hereafter Hungarian Revolution), pp. 27-36; Bartholomaus Szemere, Graf 
Ludwig Batthydny, Arthur Gorgei, Ludwig Kossuth. Politische Characterskizzen 
aus dem ungarischen Freiheitskriege, Hamburg, 1853 (hereafter Characterskizzen, 
I—III), Vol. I pp. 42-48; Deak, Lawful Revolution, 238—40, 252-54; Bona, ‘Winter 
Campaign’, in Bona, Military History, pp. 315-22. For the imperial report on the 
battle of Kapolna, see Correspondence, pp. 149-50. 

23 KLOM, XIV, pp. 591-92, 601-03; Klapka, Nationalkrieg, I, pp. 287-92. 

24 Correspondence, pp. 152-60. For other decrees concerning this constitution, see 
ibid., pp. 160-62. See also Deak, Lawful Revolution, pp. 249-52; Csorba, 
Revolution, pp. 15-16. 



Robert Hermann 


55 


Austrian forces, otherwise no counterblast could have any impact on 
foreign policy vis-a-vis Hungary’s future. The second precondition was 
that the reponse had to be in the name of the National Assembly, that is, it 
should come from parliament and with its authority. 

Returning to Debrecen, Kossuth therefore contacted Daniel Iranyi, one 
of the leaders of the left in the National Assembly. They agreed that at the 
next session Iranyi would propose that ‘the president of the OHB should 
be authorized to remove the National Assembly from Debrecen to another 
location’. Kossuth hoped that the soon-to-be-launched counter-attack 
would soon liberate the capital and that the counterblast of the Hungarian 
National Assembly could then be issued from there. 25 

At the same time Kossuth rebuffed offers from the other radical group, 
Laszlo Madarasz and his colleagues. The Madarasz group asked the pres¬ 
ident of the OHB to accept three of their proposals to counter an upsurge 
of activity by the peace party. These were: to bring Gorgei before a mili¬ 
tary tribunal, to suspend the sittings of the National Assembly until the 
end of hostilities, and that Kossuth himself assume executive powers as 
well as the right to form a government and to reconvene the National 
Assembly. The political intent of the proposals was, unambiguously, to 
stem the continuing losses of the Madarasz-led radicals by the only means 
that seemed possible: giving Kossuth dictatorial powers. 26 

In a lengthy speech to the National Assembly on 25 March Kossuth 
pointed out to members that on his return from camp he wanted to find the 
same National Assembly in Debrecen that he was now addressing. This 
took some members aback, while others complained that the representa¬ 
tive of executive power had dared pass judgment on the legislature from 
which his powers derived. When, however, Iranyi put forward their 
agreed proposal, representative Zsigmond Ivanka, who was close to the 
peace party, demanded a statement from Kossuth on the matter, where¬ 
upon Kossuth declared himself satisfied with the asssembly’s promise 
‘not to allow the House to dwindle to a rump’. 27 

Nor did Kossuth consider it important to back Laszlo Madarasz, who 
represented his policies in the National Assembly. The peace party, led by 
Gabor Kazinczy and Lajos Kovacs, regarded this as a considerable polit¬ 
ical coup. Skilfully exploiting Kossuth’s absences and his indifference on 

25 Iranyi-Chassin, Revolution , II, p. 350 

26 Jozsef Madarasz, Emlekirataim 1831-1881, Budapest, 1883, pp. 221-25. See also 
Kosary, Hungarian Press, pp. 318-19. 

27 KLOM, XIV, pp. 718-26. See also Hunfalvy, Naplo, pp. 231-38; Iranyi-Chassin, 
Revolution, II, pp. 348-51; Beksics, Kemeny, pp. 114-19. 



56 


Kossuth, Parliamentary Dictator 


his return, they used a press campaign and a National Assembly inquiry 
into the ‘affair of the diamonds’ to bring down the leader of the radicals, 
the widely-disliked Laszlo Madarasz. Madarasz had confiscated the assets 
of Odon Zichy (who had been executed on Gorgei’s orders on 30 
September 1848), some of which — including 19 gold buttons inlaid with 
diamonds — were found to be missing when a part of these were melted 
down on the orders of the OHB in March 1849. However, they all turned 
up once an inventory was made. Since Madarasz had had charge of the 
hoard, it was logical to assume that it was he who had removed and subse¬ 
quently replaced the diamonds. 28 

At the end of March came news of the liberation of Transylvania. 
The southern campaign of M6r Perczel also met with success, bringing 
the Bacska and the Banat under Hungarian rule. The military ball was 
now in the Hungarians’ court and when Gorgei replaced Vetter he 
exploited this advantage. At the beginning of April the Hungarian army 
lined up for an attack in the Eger-Gyongyos region. Though the forces 
of Windischgratz were superior in numbers, the Hungarian plan of 
campaign devised in Eger allowed for this, and in the first phase of the 
campaign the Hungarians came out on top in every encounter. 29 
Throughout this first phase of the campaign Kossuth remained with the 
troops and sent stirring accounts of the triumphant progress of Gorgei’s 
army to his regional commanders and to the OHB. At Godollo, on 7 
April, following the victory at Isaszeg the previous day, he told Gorgei 
and his generals what he planned to say in response to the Olmiitz 
declaration. As he encountered little dissent he was able to return to 
Debrecen secure in the knowledge that his officers were behind him on 
this issue. 30 

Back in Debrecen Kossuth convened a closed session of the National 
Assembly for 13 April, where he proposed that Hungary declare itself 
independent and remove the Habsburgs from the Hungarian throne. 
Contemporary accounts of the outcome of the debate differ widely. It 
seems Kossuth did not manage to convince every member of the 


28 Robert Hermann, A rendorminiszter es a Zichy-gyemantok , Szekesfehervar, 1994. 
See also Deak, Lawful Revolution , pp. 221-22, 258, 282; Kosary, Hungarian 
Press , pp. 323-24, 329-30. 

29 For the campaign, see Gorgei, My Life and Acts , pp. 247-73; Klapka 
Nationalkrieg, I, pp. 303-327; Pragay, Hungarian Revolution , pp. 39^13; Gabor 
Bona, ‘The Spring Campaign’, in Bona, Military History , pp. 336-350. 

30 Gorgei, My Life and Acts , pp. 274-79. Klapka, Nationalkrieg , p. 327; Deak, Lawful 
Revolution , p. 259. 



Robert Hermann 


57 


desirability of taking these steps. 31 The next day, 14 April, at a session 
that resembled more a public meeting than a session of the National 
Assembly, Kossuth put forward his proposal that Hungary declare itself 
independent and that the House of Habsburg-Lorraine be removed from 
its throne. The meeting was held not in the oratory of the Calvinist 
College but in the Great Church, which was packed to the rafters, and the 
presence of the crowds discouraged those who might have been inclined 
to oppose the proposal. Kossuth’s proposal was accepted by acclaim and 
without being put to the vote. The meeting also made him Governor-pres¬ 
ident, that is, provisional head of state. The declaration of independence 
which enshrined these decisions was largely the work of Kossuth himself, 
and was accepted by the National Assembly on 19 April. 32 

Kossuth’s aim was twofold. First, he wanted to disarm the peace party, 
which was gaining ground in the National Assembly. Secondly, he was 
counting on intervention by the Western powers on Hungary’s side, or at 
least their recognition of Hungary’s independence. His plans were not 
realized, however. The peace party was not especially powerful and 
certainly could not have put up against him a candidate who could have 
turned around the nation’s political stance and pushed it into some unprin¬ 
cipled agreement with the Habsburgs (something the peace party did not 
want in any case). And the Western great powers regarded Austria as vital 
to the European balance of power and had no intention of upsetting this 
for the sake of Hungary. 

It seemed that this somewhat precipitate step was justified by military 
successes. In the second phase of the spring campaign, a further three 
defeats were inflicted on the enemy and the fortress of Komarom, under 
siege since January, was also relieved. Feldzeugmeister Welden, Win- 
dischgratz’s successor, was obliged to evacuate the capital, leaving only 
an outpost in Buda Castle. The crowning glory of the campaign was 
Gorgei’s capture of Buda on 21 May 1849, after a siege lasting 17 days. 33 


31 Hunfalvy, Naplo, pp. 243-50; Beksics, Kemeny, pp. 123-27; Janos Varga, 
Kozepszinten a tortenelemben. Frideczky Lajos memoarja, Salgotaijan, 1988, 
pp. 46^47. 

32 KLOM, XIV, pp. 873-87, 894-912. Extracts from the declaration of independence 
are reprinted in Correspondence, pp. 256-64. See also ibid. pp. 191-92; Klapka, 
Memoirs, II, pp. 287-316. See also Deak, Lawful Revolution, pp. 260-64; Csorba, 
Revolution, pp. 17-18. 

33 For the military operations, see Gorgei, My Life and Acts, pp. 279-348; Klapka, 
Nationalkrieg, I, pp. 328-88; Pragay, Hungarian Revolution, pp. 46-61; Deak, 
Lawful Revolution, pp. 265-74; Bona, Spring Campaign, pp. 350-62. One of the 
imperial royal military dispatches is printed in Correspondence, pp. 186-87. 



58 


Kossuth, Parliamentary Dictator 


In the weeks following the Declaration of Independence, Kossuth was 
his usual bustling self On 19 April he published an order regulating some 
of the issues that remained unclear following the liberation of the serfs, 
establishing the general principle that in cases of doubt the onus was not 
on the serf but on the ex-landlord to prove that any land in peasant hands 
had been merely leased to the serf. 34 Presented on 22 April and approved 
two days later, his proposal to increase the standing army by 50,000 was 
intended to secure the defence of the newly independent state. 35 He 
sought to restore the territorial integrity of the state by reincorporating the 
Csajkas district part of the Miltary Border into county Bacs. This passed 
into law on 8 May. 36 

Following the proclamation of independence Kossuth set to work on 
the formation of a new government. Initially, he considered a presidential 
system on the American model, in which he would himself as Governor- 
president exercise the powers of both prime minister and head of state. To 
use a recent example: he wanted to be both Lajos Batthyany and the Pala¬ 
tine Istvan. Bertalan Szemere, to whom he had offered the post of 
minister of internal affairs, was minded otherwise. He took the classic 
view on the division of powers and wanted the posts of prime minister 
and head of state to be separate and distinct, and insisted that Kossuth 
name a prime minister as well. Szemere’s views had force and received 
powerful support in the National Assembly. When he said he was 
prepared to withdraw from the government, Kossuth agreed to a separate 
post of ‘president of the ministerial council’, which Szemere felt able to 
interpret as ‘prime minister’. 37 The government consisted of second-tier 
representatives of the reform opposition, with two exceptions: finance 
minister Ferencz Duschek and minister of defence Artur Gorgei (replaced 
by Lajos Aulich on 14 July 1849). It is worth noting that four of the 
ministers (prime minister and minister of internal affairs Szemere, trans¬ 
port and public works minister Laszlo Csany, justice minister Sebo Vuko- 
vics, and foreign affairs minister Kazmer Batthyany) had previously been 

34 KLOM , XV, pp. 43—46. See also Deak, Lawful Revolution, pp. 281-82. 

35 KLOM, XV, pp. 80-81. See also Deak, Lawful Revolution, p. 281. 

36 KLOM, XV, pp. 81-82. 

37 For the formation of the government see the correspondence between Kossuth and 
Szemere in KLOM, XV, pp. 15-17, 27, 65-68, 87, 116-17, 167, 174; Bertalan 
Szemere, Politikai jellemrajzok Okmanytar, Ed. Robert Hermann, Istvan Pelyach, 
Budapest, 1990 (hereafter Jellemrajzok ), pp. 468-69, 471-74. See also Deak, 
Lawful Revolution, pp. 274-80; Tamas Katona (ed.), Vukovics Sebo 
visszaemlekezesei 1849-re, Budapest, 1982 (hereafter Vukovics Sebo), pp. 67-69, 
87-91; Correspondence, pp. 198-99. 



Robert Hermann 


59 


national commissars. The portfolio of agriculture, industry and trade was 
for the time being held by Kazmer Batthyany. The difference of views 
between the Governor-president and the prime minister developed into a 
source of constant debate and friction on matters of public law. For 
Szemere, an improperly issued gubernatorial order was a just as substan¬ 
tial an issue to contest as Kossuth’s use of the palatine’s box at the 
National Theatre. 38 

On 2 May 1849, the National Assembly heard Kossuth’s statement that 
by the power invested in him he announced the new government. The 
document stated that a gubernatorial decree would be valid only with the 
countersignature of a minister. Apart from the right to nominate to posts 
in the upper echelons of the secular, spiritual and military hierarchy, the 
power of the governor was limited to the definition of the policies 
governing the state and the ‘establishment of administrative and regula¬ 
tory decrees’. In such matters, the ministers (the government) could not 
act without the approval of the governor. The right to remove and appoint 
ministers belonged to the governor. Declaration of war, suing for peace 
and the making of alliances might be carried out only with the approval of 
the National Assembly. The minister a latere that Law III of 1848 
appointed to assist the king would be replaced by the minister for foreign 
affairs. The approval of army appointments would however remain within 
the remit of this ministry. The right to commute death sentences would 
henceforth be exercised by a panel of four nominated by the Governor- 
president. 39 

In the spring of 1849 it seemed that in tandem with the military 
successes there was an opportunity to make peace with the nationalities 
within Hungary. The imposed constitution of Olmiitz of 4 March 1849 
brought about a fundamental change in the attitudes of the nationalities. It 
became clear that the leaders of the empire had no intention of satisfying 
the nationalities’ demands for territory and self-government: on the 
contrary, their avowed goal was centralization of the empire. The pros¬ 
pects of agreement were enhanced by the recall of the Serbian volunteers 
between March and May 1849 and by the positive influence of the 
Hungarian triumphs in the southern territories. In the course of the negoti¬ 
ations, however, the Serbian demand that the Vojvodina become autono¬ 
mous proved insuperable for the Hungarian side. And with the appearance 
of Jelacic in the southern territories the supporters of a military resolution 
once again gained the upper hand. In June 1849 Djordje Stratimirovic, 


38 KLOM , XV, pp. 473-74, 480-83. 

39 KLOM, XV, pp. 181-84 



60 


Kossuth, Parliamentary Dictator 


one of the leaders of the Serbian insurgents, said that in return for the rank 
of general he would take his men over to the Hungarian side. Prime 
Minister Szemere produced a detailed draft of the terms for this step, but 
nothing came of the proposal. 40 

The spring of 1849 also seemed to offer an opportunity to bring an end 
to Hungarian-Romanian hostilities. Ethnic Romanians in the national 
assembly concluded from the Hungarian successes that they had to make 
peace with the Hungarians otherwise their movement would be crushed. 
One of them, loan Drago$, contacted Avram Iancu, the guerrilla leader. 
The negotiations were going well until the leader of some Hungarian 
irregulars thoughtlessly attacked Abrudbanya (Abrud), where the talks 
were being held. In the renewed fighting that ensued hundreds of lives 
were lost. The campaign to put down the uprising failed, and the guer¬ 
rillas kept a significant proportion of the Hungarian forces in Transyl¬ 
vania pinned down on the very eve of the Russian intervention. 41 

The Hungarians were thus unable to find allies within their country 
prior to the next phase of the war. The army of Piedmont and the 
Sardinian Kingdom, which was virtually an overseas ally of the Hungar¬ 
ians, broke the August 1848 ceasefire agreement with Austria and 
launched an offensive, but was decisively defeated by the Austrian army 
under Radetzky at Novara on 23 March. The Hungarians’ overseas agents 
were able to establish only informal links with representatives of official 
bodies and although they managed to win over a section of the press and 
of those politicians not in power, this was not enough to reverse the pro- 
Austrian stance of European states. Austria, by contrast, was able to 
invoke the treaty of Munchengratz of 1833 to call upon the aid of the 
Tsar’s armies, as well as securing the consent of the western great powers 
to such an intervention. Talks paving the way for the Russian intervention 
began at the end of March and a preliminary agreement had been reached 
even before news of the Hungarian Declaration of Independence reached 
Vienna. Tsar Nicholas I felt constrained to intervene with a military pres¬ 
ence mighty enough to crush the revolution on its own. He therefore 
decided to despatch 200,000 soldiers, holding some 80,000 in reserve. 

40 Szemere, Jellemrajzok, pp. 512-17. 

41 Ambrus Miskolczy, ‘Roumanian-Hungarian Attempts at Reconciliation in the 
Spring of 1849 in Transylvania’, in Annales Universitatis Scientiarum 
Budapestiensis de Rolando Eotvos Nominatae. Sectio Historica , XXI, 1981; 
Gyorgy Spira, ‘A tulpartrol iizeno loan Drago$’, in Spira, Jottanyit se a 
negyvennyolcbol!, Budapest, 1989; Robert Hermann, Xz abrudbdnyai tragedia 
1849. Hatvani Imre szabadcsapatvezer es a magyar-roman megbekeles 
meghiusulasa, Budapest, 1999. 



Robert Hermann 


61 


Since the Austrian army numbered 170,000, the Hungarian force of 
170,000 had thus to face a total of 370,000 troops. 

At the news of the Russian intervention Kossuth and the Szemere 
government launched diplomatic protests but to little effect, and within 
the country, too, tried to prepare the populace for the unexpected blow 
with publicity that was more show than substance. 42 Even the formulation 
of military strategy was affected by internal power games. The friendly 
relations that Kossuth had cultivated with many of his generals had a 
downside, in that the independent commanders Bern, Dembinski, and 
Perczel received the government’s military orders more in the spirit of a 
friendly request than as a command. Kossuth too began to play a complex 
game. As the fact that Gorgei was both minister of defence and 
commander-in-chief worried him considerably, he constantly — and 
rightly — drew attention to the problems of his holding such a dual post. 
At the same time, towards the end of June in Nagyvarad (Oradea), he 
discussed with Bern the possibility of his taking over the post of 
commander-in-chief, and not only kept this secret but actually denied it to 
Gorgei’s face. 43 Relations between the commander-in-chief and the 
governing president were, in any case, tense. Gorgei did not forgive 
Kossuth for claiming that it was the wish of the army that independence 
should have been declared on 14 April and thought — mistakenly — that 
this was the step that had led to the Russian intervention. 

Gorgei was certain that his only hope of success lay in inflicting a 
defeat on the main Austrian army before the arrival of the bulk of the 
slow-moving Russian troops. Reinforcements from the southern territo¬ 
ries did not, however, materialize because of the defeat suffered by Mor 
Perczel at Katy (Kac) on 7 June. Thus the attempted counter-attack along 
the River Vah proved abortive. At Gorgei’s suggestion on 26 June the 
Hungarian government agreed that the main Hungarian forces should be 
concentrated at Komarom. However, two days later one of Gorgei’s corps 


42 Many of the documents relating to British and French diplomacy of the time are 
reproduced in Eugene Horvath, Origins of the Crimean War. Documents Relative 
to the Russian Intervention in Hungary and Transylvania 1848-1849 , Reprinted 
from the South Eastern Affairs, Budapest, 1937, pp. 120-280. See also ‘Hungarian 
Protest against Russian Intervention’ in Correspondence , pp. 344^46. Denes 
Janossy, Great Britain and Kossuth , Budapest, 1937, pp. 19-30, 113-16; Thomas 
Kabdebo, Diplomat in Exile: Francis Pulszky’s Political Activities in England, 
1849-1860, East European Monographs, No. LVI, New York, 1979, pp. 15-30; 
Deak, Lawful Revolution, pp. 291-300; Eva H. Haraszti, Kossuth as an English 
Journalist, Budapest, 1990, 38-40. 

43 Sebo Vukovics, pp. 121-22; KLOM, XV, 588-89. 



62 


Kossuth, Parliamentary Dictator 


suffered a defeat at Gyor and this led the council of ministers to abandon, 
on 29 June, the Komarom plan in favour of a concentration in the Tisza- 
Maros triangle. The decision was of dubious constitutionality, having 
been taken in the absence of the minister of defence and the commander- 
in-chief. Gorgei wrote to Kossuth on 30 June that despite the defeat at 
Gyor he still regarded the Komarom plan as the one to be preferred. This 
was followed by the delegation bringing the latest decision of the govern¬ 
ment. Though disgruntled, Gorgei sent word that he would give way. The 
two letters, however, reached Kossuth in reverse order and, not noticing 
the reference numbers, he took the text of the letter written first (which he 
read second) as a retraction of the later letter (which he read first). 
Angered by what he thought was the recalcitrance of Gorgei, Kossuth 
removed him from the post of commander-in-chief and replaced him with 
Lieutenant-General Lazar Meszaros. 44 

The decision was unfortunate, if only because a few days later, on 7 
July, Kossuth offered the government and the newly-appointed 
commander-in-chief a new plan for concentrating the armed forces. 45 
Kossuth thought that the best solution would be to have himself as 
commander-in-chief. As the government did not support this proposal, he 
sought to fulfil his own aspirations for the top post by naming Perczel 
once again as army commander. But as Perczel had begun to operate 
independently, on 9 July he again offered the post of commander-in-chief 
to Bern. 46 

Gorgei’s main army defeated the forces of Feldzeugmeister Julius 
Haynau at Komarom on 2 July, but he was forced to decamp for Szeged. 
At Vac his progress was blocked by the main Russian army under Field- 
Marshal Pashkevich, but Gorgei avoided them and reached the Tisza by a 
circuitous northern route. Outflanking them, he reached every point 
earlier than the Russians and pinned down with one-sixth of the 
Hungarian troops one-third of the intervening forces: four times the 
number of its own forces. On the other fronts the fortunes of the 


44 Gorgei, My Life and Acts, pp. 387-430, 446-47; Klapka, Memoirs, I, pp. 75-134; 
Deak, Lawful Revolution, pp. 307-08; Laszlo Pusztaszeri, ‘General Gorgey’s 
Military and Political Role. Civil-Military Relations during the Hungarian 
Revolution’ (hereafter Gorgei s Role), in Kiraly, Era of Revolution, pp. 481-93; lan 
W. Roberts, Nicholas I and the Russian Intervention in Hungary, London, 1991 
(hereafter Russian Intervention), pp. 148-51; Robert Hermann ‘The Summer 
Campaign’ (hereafter Summer Campaign), in Bona, Military History, pp. 385-90, 
393-98. 

45 KLOM, XV, pp. 683-86; Hermann, Summer Campaign, p. 402. 

46 KLOM, XV, pp. 694-95. 



Robert Hermann 


63 


Hungarians were mixed. In the southern territories the military situation 
was stabilized by the end of June and in the second half of July the 
Hungarian forces under Antal Vetter forced Jelacic back to the right bank 
of the Danube. By the beginning of August, Bern in Transylvania had 
prevented the Russian-Austrian forces from reaching the Great Plain. 
Though he lost the majority of the battles he fought, Bern always found a 
way of imposing his will on the enemy. 47 

At the beginning of July, therefore, the capital was once more in 
danger. The session of the National Assembly prorogued at the end of 
May was thus able to hold only two closed and one public session in Pest: 
then the members had once again to pack their bags. The ministries, too, 
were able to function in Pest for only three weeks. On 11 July the capital 
was occupied by Austrian and Russian troops. 

Parallel to the progress of the fighting, though rather late and more in 
principle than in practice, a solution was found to the conflict with the 
nationalities. This solution was brought about by outside forces. The 
leading politicians of the revolution in Wallachia, defeated in 1848, all 
considered the Russian and Austrian great powers a danger to the move¬ 
ment for Romanian unity and therefore offered to mediate between the 
Hungarians and the Romanians. It was their peace plan, developed 
together with the Hungarian government, that formed part of the decision 
accepted by the Hungarian National Assembly on 28 July 1849. Though 
this still refused to grant territorial autonomy to the various nationalities, 
it recognized their right to develop as free nations and, to this end, guaran¬ 
teed them extensive language rights in the community, in the church, and 
in the legal sphere. The proposal was accepted by the National Assembly 
in the absence of Kossuth, though its proposer Szemere naturally had 
Kossuth’s agreement. The proposal was later made public, bearing both 
their signatures. 48 

From early July there were increasing signs of tension between 
Kossuth and the Szemere government. In a memorandum to Kossuth 
dated 21 July Szemere offered, in the light of the unsatisfactory structure 

47 Klapka, Memoirs, I, pp. 135-51, 186-216; Deak, Lawful Revolution, pp. 309-10; 
Pusztaszeri Gorgei’s Role, pp. 493-508; Hermann, Summer Campaign, pp. 
399-412; Eligiusz Kozlowski, ‘The Embodiment of the East Central European 
Revolutionary Warrior: General Jozef Bern, 1794-1850’, in Kiraly, Era of 
Revolution, pp. 149-53. 

48 Deak, Lawful Revolution, pp. 313-15; Andras Gergely, ‘The Hungarian 
Nationalities Act of 1849’, in Ignac Romsics, Bela K. Kiraly (eds), Geopolitics in 
the Danube Region. Hungarian Reconciliation Efforts 1848-1998, Atlantic Studies 
on Society in Change, No. 97, Budapest, 1998, pp. 51-55. 



64 


Kossuth, Parliamentary Dictator 


of the political system, the resignation of his government. In Szemere’s 
view, the most striking contradiction of the system was the dual responsi¬ 
bility it entailed: substantive decisions could be taken by the Governor 
only with the countersignature of the ministers, while the actions of the 
ministers in matters of substance were valid only with the countersigna¬ 
ture of the Governor. ‘If you give us free rein, you are paralysed, if we 
yield, we are deprived of asserting our will ...’ To complicate matters 
further, Kossuth could not in effect be held responsible for the decisions 
he took, yet no-one but he had an overview of the entire terrain. Thus, the 
responsibility lay with the government, yet it could not de facto govern. 
Even dictatorship would be an improvement on this state of affairs: 

‘With leaders of whom half refuse to obey and are in their own sphere active 
virtually without restraint, it is not possible to come to the rescue of the home¬ 
land. These pocket dictators need a proper dictator above them.’ 

This dictator could -— Szemere had continued — have been either 
Kossuth or Gorgei. ‘You possess many more sterling qualities than 
Gorgei, but the latter has some that you do not possess which are yet 
essential: rigour, consistency, and indomitableness on a course once 
embarked upon.’ Szemere considered that Kossuth would not be afraid of 
exercising such power but would not like to be called a dictator. ‘Yet it is 
the name that is needed — there is power in the name. It would be a crime 
to exercise such power once the country has been saved, but equally 
wrong not to exercise it in order to secure its salvation.’ If Kossuth did not 
approve, Szemere asked that he take his own place, for he wished, so he 
explained, by resigning, to promote the salvation of his country. 49 

Szemere informed his fellow ministers of the contents of the memo¬ 
randum and gave it to Kossuth only at the ministerial council of 24 July. 
In his reply the following day Kossuth asked Szemere not to press the 
ideas in the memorandum: he was as ready to accept reponsibility for his 
own actions as the members of the government were for theirs. He 
rejected the notion that their actions were at cross purposes. Nor was he 
prepared to be a dictator. ‘I am not one to let myself be constrained to do 
anything,’ he insisted. ‘If I can be active in some other wise, I shall be 
glad to be so.’ 50 

Szemere replied to Kossuth’s letter the same day. As Kossuth had 
meanwhile left to visit Gorgei, he wrote to them both. ‘Let the two of you 

49 Szemere, Jellemrajzok, pp. 568-70. Extracts in German translation in Szemere, 
Characterskizzen, III, pp. 153-59. See also Deak, Lawful Revolution , p. 317. 

50 KLOM, XV, pp. 776-77. 



Robert Hermann 


65 


seize power — if you will, let Gorgei be dictator in the military sphere 
while you are one in the civil sphere,’ he wrote to Kossuth. The resigna¬ 
tion of the government, however, he considered vital: ‘I would say that 
we should walk along the path if I did not think it better for the homeland 
to say that you should walk on without us. But with Gorgei, not against 
him.’ The letter to Gorgei was not as unequivocal. He informed the 
general that he had handed in his resignation and then presented his views 
on the necessity for a dictatorship. But then he continued: ‘I am unable to 
decide whether power could be shared in such a way that you exercise it 
in the military sphere and he in the civil,’ which at that point in time could 
have meant: if Gorgei regarded Kossuth as dangerous or superfluous he 
should seize the opportunity to detain him in camp. 51 

Though he received the letter, Kossuth did not reply to it; at least, not 
in writing. From Gorgei there was no response at all. The meeting 
between the two was also deferred, because the Russian forces had 
crossed the Tisza. So Kossuth and Gorgei were unable to discuss the 
chances or means of implementing a dictatorship of the kind proposed by 
Szemere. The loss of Szeged soon afterwards also removed from the 
agenda any theoretical discussions on the nature of the government of the 
country. 

At the end of July the concentration of forces in the Tisza-Maros 
triangle was achieved. When Lieutenant-General Lazar Meszaros 
resigned as commander-in-chief, Kossuth and the ministerial council 
decided, on 30 July, that the command of the forces around Szeged should 
be given to the same Lieutenant-General Henryk Dembinski who had 
earlier proved himself a failure as leader. Though he was the eminence 
grise behind the Szeged concentration plan, he now considered the 
trenches there undefendable. He did not take on the numerically smaller 
forces of Haynau; he simply handed over Szeged and retreated towards 
Temesvar (Timisoara), then in Austrian hands. In vain did the goverment 
order him to Arad: Dembinski gave higher priority to the defence of the 
road to the Turkish border. Kossuth meanwhile appointed Bern 
commander-in-chief: Bern duly appeared at Temesvar on 9 August. He 
took on Haynau but was obliged to withdraw when his forces ran short of 
ammunition. Panic broke out during the retreat and only some 20,000 of 
the 50,000-strong army managed to re-group at Lugos (Lugoj). 52 

51 Szemere, Jellemrajzok, pp. 173-77. Extracts in German translation in Szemere, 

Characterskizzen, II, pp. 87-97. 

52 Deak, Lawful Revolution , pp. 318-20; Roberts, Russian Intervention , pp. 172-75; 

Hermann, Summer Campaign, pp. 412-15. 



66 


Kossuth, Parliamentary Dictator 


Gorgei, arriving at Arad on 9/10 August, was thus on his own. In the 
course of his campaign he had made contact with the leadership of the 
Russian main army. The Russians wanted to get this — in their view — 
most dangerous of Hungarian generals to lay down his arms as soon as 
possible. Gorgei hoped his discussions would help to drive a wedge 
between the Russian and Austrian allies. Though Kossuth disapproved of 
the general’s talking to the enemy’s military leadership without authoriza¬ 
tion from the government, he still considered that this was an opportunity 
not to be missed. On 10 August the Hungarian council of ministers 
decided to offer the Hungarian crown to a member of the Tsar’s family 
and at the same time declared that if the Russians were not prepared to 
discuss this nor to mediate between them and Franz Joseph, the 
Hungarian army was ready to lay down its arms before the Russians. It 
was after this meeting of the council of ministers that the last personal 
encounter between Kossuth and Gorgei took place. They spoke of the 
chances of continuing the fight, but both knew that that the battle of 
Temesvar the previous day had already sealed their fate. 53 

After news came of the defeat at Temesvar, the options narrowed 
down to those summarized in the final paragraph of the ministerial decree 
mentioned. The government first appointed Gorgei commander-in-chief, 
then when he demanded that the government resign, Kossuth and the 
majority of his ministers agreed to this. 54 None the less, the government 
did not formally disband and among the ministers who did not resign 
were the prime minister and minister for internal affairs Bertalan 
Szemere, minister for foreign affairs Kazmer Batthyany, and finance 
minister Ferencz Duschek, who at this time happened to be in Lugos. 

With the defeat at Temesvar Kossuth thought that all was lost, and 
after signing the order giving Gorgei dictatorial powers and the farewell 
decree of the government, he shaved off his beard, re-styled his hair and 
left Arad accompanied by his adjutant Lieutenant-Colonel Sandor 
Asboth. On 11 August he met Major-General Emo Poeltenberg and Lieu¬ 
tenant-Colonel Lajos Beniczky, who were returning from the Russian 
camp. He learnt from them that Gorgei had been mistaken in thinking that 
he would have been able to achieve anything with the Russians if he had 


53 Gorgei, My Life and Acts, pp. 554-72; Deak, Lawful Revolution, p. 320; 
Pusztaszeri, Gorgei s Role, pp. 508-511; Roberts, Russian Intervention, 
pp. 177-79; Hermann, Summer Campaign, pp. 415-16. 

54 KLOM, XV, pp. 839-46; Gorgei, My Life and Acts, pp. 572-86; Deak, Lawful 
revolution, pp. 320-21; Pusztaszeri, Gorgei’s Role, p. 511; Szemere, 
Charakterskizzen, pp. 114-19; Correspondence, p. 437. 



Robert Hermann 


67 


remained commander-in-chief. For the essence of the response of Russian 
cavalry general Theodor Rudiger was that the Russians had come to 
Hungary not to talk but to fight and the only discussions they were 
prepared to have would concern the timing of the Hungarians’ uncondi¬ 
tional surrender. They did, however, suggest that in the case of a 
Hungarian capitulation they would be able to protect the lives at least of 
those who surrendered. 55 The military council convoked by Gorgei 
decided on surrender to the Russians soon afterwards. This took place at 
Szolos (Seleu$) on 13 August. 

In the company of Poeltenberg and his friend, there was to be found 
Szemere and Kazmer Batthyany. Kossuth headed with them through 
Radna for Lugos. In Radna he met finance minister Ferencz Duschek who 
asked him what he was to do with the state treasury. Kossuth referred him 
to Gorgei. By this time he had heard that the remnants of the southern 
army were gathering at Lugos. Szemere and Batthyany planned to 
continue the fight with the help of the army at Lugos and they were joined 
by Kossuth, to whom they made clear that, despite his resignation, they 
continued to regard themselves as ministers. 

During these fateful days Kossuth’s mood continued to swing, with 
optimism and pessimism alternating in his statements. In Lugos he found 
an army more orderly than he had imagined. After the defeat at Temesvar, 
Bern and his chief of staff, the English-born Richard Guyon, did all they 
could to pull together from the shattered main army as substantial a force 
as possible. But the various divisions were in differing shape. Kossuth 
found Karoly Vecsey’s Fifth Army Corps in ‘good order’, but other 
generals, for example Arisztid Dessewffy and Gyorgy Kmety, declared 
that their troops would scatter to the winds at the the first sound of 
cannon. 56 So Kossuth thought that all was lost. On 12 August, he wrote to 
Gorgei from Lugos. He gave his reasons for resigning and declared that 
he would regard it as treason if ‘every possible attempt were not made to 
save the nation. I would regard it as treason if you were to enter into nego¬ 
tiations on behalf only of the army and not the nation.’ The purpose of the 
letter was, however, not to resume power but to shift the burden of 
responsibility. This is also suggested in the letter’s final sentence: ‘I owed 


55 Lajos Steier, Beniczky Lajos banyavideki kormanybiztos es honvedezredes 
visszaemlekezesei es jelentesei az 1848/49-iki szabadsagharcrol es tot 
mozgalomrol, Budapest, 1924, pp. 345-54, 686-88. Rudiger’s letter is in Gorgei, 
My Life and Acts, p. 587. 

56 KLOM , XV, pp. 851-53; Correspondence, pp. 367-68; Klapka, Memoirs, II, p. 28. 



68 


Kossuth, Parliamentary Dictator 


this statement to myself and to the nation, and I wish to have it recorded 
in the official Gazette.’ 57 

At Lugos Kossuth was joined by Colonel Wladyslaw Zamoyski and 
the Polish and Italian legions, and under their protection Kossuth 
continued to Orsova. On the way he learnt that the local guard at Orsova, 
which was meant to protect the escape route, had on Bern’s orders left its 
post and decamped northwards. Kossuth ordered these forces back. In 
Teregova he received Bern’s letter trying to persuade him to resume the 
reins of power. Kossuth however thought that he had no role to play in 
what remained of the fight and in his reply made his resumption of power 
dependent on conditions he knew could not be fulfilled: first, he wanted it 
to be Gorgei’s army that called upon him to take over; second, Bern 
would have to score some military successes; and third, the mint would 
have to resume operation and start printing banknotes again. In his reply 
he stressed that he was ‘just a simple citizen, nothing more’. 58 Having 
written the letter, he continued towards the Danube crossing at Orsova. In 
Serbia, on the other side of the river, Kossuth could have counted on 
anything but a friendly reception. It is not surprising therefore that he and 
his entourage did not cross the Danube but, after the news of the surrender 
at Szolos on 17 August, crossed a bridge over a brook marking the Walla- 
chian border and entered Ottoman territory. From here he was accompa¬ 
nied to the border crossing point at Tumu Severin, whence he continued 
to Vidin, in Turkey. 59 

Just over ten months after his appointment as president of the OHB 
Kossuth had lost his position at the helm of power. This also meant the 
end of an independent Hungary. However, soon after he heard of Gorgei’s 
surrender of 13 August, Kossuth decided to resume power. He argued that 
in bestowing the most powerful position in the land upon Gorgei his 
intention had been to save the homeland and not to surrender it and, since 
by his surrender Gorgei had become ‘the craven executioner of his home¬ 
land’, 60 the highest authority now reverted to himself, Kossuth. 

Such legalistic sophistry did not, however, spring from the delusions 
of grandeur common among leading emigre politicians. Kossuth was right 

57 KLOM, XV, pp. 849-50. See also Deak, Lawful Revolution, pp. 321-22. 

58 KLOM, XV, pp. 851-53. Extracts in Correspondence, pp. 367-68; Klapka, 
Memoirs, II, pp. 27-30. 

59 Roberts, Russian Intervention, pp. 192-93. 

60 The quotation comes from a letter dated 12 September 1849 and addressed to 
Hungarian diplomatic agents abroad. Tamas Katona (ed.) Lajos Kossuth, irdsok es 
beszedek 1848-1849-bol, Budapest, 1987, 1994, p. 508. See also Deak, Lawful 
Revolution, pp. 339^40. 



Robert Hermann 


69 


in thinking that, if ever the moment came for the restoration of an inde¬ 
pendent Hungary, it was unlikely that any leader other than himself would 
enjoy the confidence of the country as a whole. And he would be able to 
exploit this confidence only if he were not just one of the many exiles but 
acknowledged as their leader. 

In the course of the decade that followed, Kossuth tried repeatedly to 
extend his leadership over the entire emigre community, but these 
attempts failed again and again. Kossuth thought that the liberation 
struggle had been lost because he did not wield enough power to impose 
his will on the army. The exiles who resisted his efforts considered, on the 
contrary, that Kossuth had failed to use effectively such power as he 
already had. 61 

For Kossuth it was the Crimean War that brought the realization that 
the independence of Hungary could not be achieved without the aid of the 
great powers. He was sure that to achieve this he had to create unity, but 
only in 1859 did he realize that this unity could be achieved by means 
other than dictatorial. This recognition was reflected in the establishment 
by Kossuth, Laszlo Teleki and Gyorgy Klapka of the Magyar Nemzeti 
Igazgatosag (Hungarian National Directorate) in 1859. It is quite another 
matter that the unification of the exile community was a necessary but not 
a sufficient condition for the relaunch of the Hungarian struggle for inde¬ 
pendence. For the latter, the support of a European great power would 
have been necessary. Such support was not forthcoming either in 1849 or 
subsequently. This led Kossuth to regard all his activity between 1849 
and 1867 as having been completely wasted. Yet even if it was not his 
intention, as the result of his labours the exiles that he led helped Hungary 
regain a measure of its sovereignty through the Ausgleich of 1867. 


61 See the articles by Bertalan Szemere and Kazmer Batthyany in The Times, The 
Morning Courier and New York Enquirer, and the Examiner, reprinted in Denes 
Janossy, A Kossuth-emigracio Angliaban es Amerikdban 1851-1852, Vol. II/2, 
Budapest, 1948, pp. 158-71, 290-94, 463-76. 



























































































Kossuth and the Emancipation of the Serfs 

Gabor Pajkossy 

The emancipation of the serfs in Hungary was proclaimed by the laws of 
April 1848. The laws declared that all urbarial services and obligations 
should cease forthwith and that landlords be compensated by the state. 
Patrimonial courts were abolished and the Catholic clergy renounced 
tithes without compensation. While leaving many problems unresolved 
and, indeed, creating new ones, the April Laws led without doubt to 
fundamental changes. 

Serfs in Hungary had been allowed in 1840 to redeem themselves by an 
outright payment to their lords. Most peasants were, however, unable to 
afford the costs involved, particularly as they themselves were expected to 
negotiate the cost of redemption and pay it entirely themselves. As a result, 
only one per cent of serfs became free peasants and less than two per cent 
of arable lands and meadows cultivated by serfs were transformed into 
peasant property. By contrast, the April Laws freed all serfs and cotters 
(zsellerek) from feudal subordination. The laws related only to urbarial 
lands and contained no provisions regarding demesne or ‘allodial’ lands. 
Notwithstanding these limitations, the April Laws transferred to the peas¬ 
ants 74 per cent of the land which they had hitherto cultivated in exchange 
for feudal services. This amounted to 55 per cent of all arable land and 
meadows. Moreover, the compensation due to landlords was assumed by 
the state. The provisions of the new legislation also applied to Croatia and 
Slavonia. In Transylvania, the emancipation of the serfs was enacted, albeit 
under somewhat different terms, in June 1848. 

The emancipation of the serfs in the Habsburg Monarchy first took 
place in Hungary, but 1848 saw it proclaimed in every other crownland 
under Habsburg rule except for Lombardy and Venice (where in any case 
no serfdom existed by this time). In Galicia, as in the lands of the 
Hungarian crown, the state assumed the burden of compensating land¬ 
lords. In the rest of Cisleithania, however, the state underwrote only one 
third of the cost of redemption. Unlike in Hungary, however, the law on 
Grundentlastung passed by the Reichstag in September 1848 also allowed 


71 


72 


Kossuth and the Emancipation of the Serfs 

peasants to redeem lands that they cultivated but which properly belonged 
to the lord’s demesne. Five years later, the imperial Urbarial Patent of 
March 1853 reconsidered the matter in respect of arrangements in 
Hungary. In doing so it disregarded all measures taken by the Hungarian 
legislation and the Hungarian government between September 1848 and 
April 1849. The Patent upheld the provisions of the April Laws relating to 
urbarial lands sensu stricto, and thus maintained their earlier transforma¬ 
tion into the private property of peasant proprietors. Regarding the 
remaining urbarial lands and other lands cultivated by former serfs, it 
declared that they had to be redeemed by the peasants themselves or 
passed to the landlords. It should be noted that the Patent ordered the 
mandatory division of pastures among landlords and peasants. In this 
way, peasants acquired lands the quantity of which came close to or even 
exceeded that of the lands they lost. Such were the intricacies of arrange¬ 
ments of tenure and landholding that it took a further 48 years to complete 
the work of emancipation. Indeed, it was not until two years after 
Kossuth’s death that the law (Article XXV of 1896) regulating the 
redemption of certain types of demesne land cultivated by cotters was 
finally passed. Nevertheless, the foundation of all this was laid by the 
April Laws and the Urbarial Patent. 1 

The emancipation of the serfs in Hungary and the person of Lajos 
Kossuth are indissolubly linked. The inhabitants of the peasant towns on 
the Great Hungarian Plain which Kossuth visited during his recruiting 
drive in September 1848 attributed their freedom to Kossuth’s policy. 
Nevertheless, Kossuth was celebrated as the ‘liberator’ of the ‘overbur¬ 
dened peasant folk’ well before March 1848. True, this epithet was coined 
by noble reformers and not by the peasants themselves, but it was not 
undeserved. 

Kossuth entered national politics in 1832 and rose steadily; by 1847 he 
was a leading figure in the Opposition party. After March 1848, he 
enjoyed political influence which was unparalleled in Hungarian history. 
From 1849 up the mid-1860s, as the outstanding Hungarian statesman in 

1 Janos Varga, A jobbagyfelszabaditas kivivasa 1848-ban , Budapest, 1971 (hereafter, 
Jobbagyfelszabaditas ), pp. 343-55. See also Janos Varga, Typen und Probleme des 
bauerlichen Grundbesitzes in Ungarn, 1767-1849, Budapest, 1965, pp. 128-36. 
Istvan Orosz, ‘A jobbagyfelszabaditas es vegrehajtasa, in Peter Gunst (ed.), A 
magyar agrartarsadalom a jobbagysag felszabaditasdtol napjainkig , Budapest, 
1998, pp, 55-136 (hereafter, Orosz, ‘Jobbagyfelszabaditas’); Helmut Rumpler, 
Eine Chance fur Mitteleuropa. Burgerliche Emanzipation und Staatsverfall in der 
Habsburgermonarchie , Vienna, 1997, p. 284. All figures derived from Varga and 
Orosz are given in round numbers. 



Gabor Pajkossy 


73 


exile, he continued to play an important role in politics, but, of course, his 
plans could no longer be put into practice. The emancipation of the serfs 
was one of the key elements of his political strategy from the very begin¬ 
ning of his career. He was the first (or among the first) to articulate 
concepts such as mandatory redemption, general emancipation of the 
serfs, and compensation of landlords by the state, which later became the 
basic elements of the April Laws, and during March 1848 his political 
skill and acumen were vital in achieving these goals. 2 

According to supporters of the Old Regime, the emancipation of the 
serfs went completely against the fundamental laws of Hungary. 
According to the Tripartitum published by Stephen Werboczy in 1517 
(Part 3, title 30), all land and all rights to property in land belonged to the 
landlord ( totius terrae proprietas ad dominum terrestrem spectat et 
pertinet). The Supreme Court of Hungary, in a judgment delivered in 
1739, declared that non-nobles were incapable of acquiring landed estate. 
Werboczy’s association of the right to land with noble status was 
accepted not only by conservatives, but also by liberals like Count Istvan 
Szechenyi and Baron Miklos Wesselenyi. The government, some promi¬ 
nent professors of law and Ferenc Deak, a leading liberal politician and 
legal authority in his time, however, saw things differently. By reference 
to the extensive legislation on relations between landlords and serfs, 
including the Urbarium of Queen Maria Theresa, they were able to claim 
that the power of landlords to dispose of urbarial holdings had long been 
restricted and thus, by implication, that their rights of ownership were 
circumscribed and incomplete. 3 Kossuth, however, held an altogether 
contrary view. Throughout his career, he maintained that landlords were 
not the real owners of urbarial plots; instead, what they owned was only 
the feudal services and dues attached to the plots. 4 This radical interpreta¬ 
tion allowed Kossuth to develop new and far-reaching ideas relating to 
the problem of peasant property. 

The diet of 1832-36, also called the ‘First Reform Diet’, discussed 
giving property rights to serfs and removing the exclusive right of the 

2 Istvan Szabo, ‘Kossuth es a jobbagyfelszabaditas’, in Szabo, Jobbagyok — 
parasztok. Ertekezesek a magyar parasztsag tortenetebol, Budapest, 1976, 
pp. 253-332 (hereafter, Szabo, ‘Kossuth’). Szabo’s study was first published in 
Szazadok, 86, 1952, pp. 509-92. 

3 Istvan Orosz, ‘Az urberes fold tulajdonjogi helyzete Kossuth nezeteiben’, in (eds) 
Istvan Orosz and Ferenc Poloskei, Nemzeti es polgari atalakulas a XIX. szazadban 
Magyarorszagon. Tanulmanyok Szabad Gyorgy 70. sziiletesnapjdra , Budapest, 
1994, pp. 215-24 (hereafter, Orosz, ‘Az urberes fold’). 

4 Orosz, ‘Az urberes fold’, pp. 218-21. 



74 Kossuth and the Emancipation of the Serfs 

nobility to the ownership of landed estate, but in April 1833 both motions 
were rejected by the conservatives. The idea of voluntary redemption 
emerged upon the failure of these proposals. Voluntary redemption was, 
however, not a radical innovation, as some serf communities had by that 
time already redeemed themselves. 5 Both conservatives and the govern¬ 
ment in Vienna considered the motion for voluntary redemption to be 
anti-constitutional and revolutionary, and in December 1834 they engi¬ 
neered its failure. 6 From this time on, the issues of redemption and 
compensation were to remain at the heart of all discussions on the eman¬ 
cipation of the serfs. 

Both liberals and conservatives agreed that serfs, by means of redemp¬ 
tion, could become free peasants. Among these groups debate ranged 
instead around whether redemption should be voluntary or mandatory 
and, if mandatory, whether redemption should be paid partially or gradu¬ 
ally, and whether it should be implemented simultaneously across the 
whole country. Count Szechenyi, a liberal reformer (who never, however, 
belonged to the liberal opposition), based his reform programme on 
different principles. In his famous book, Stadium , written in 1831-32 and 
published in 1833, he proposed that serfs should be given rights to prop¬ 
erty. Szechenyi’s proposal was not contrary to the principle of redemption 
which, for tactical reasons, Szechenyi alternately supported and opposed. 7 
Kossuth again had other ideas. In a book written in 1833 and intended for 
publication, he argued that landlords might by legislative fiat be obliged 
to accede to the demands of their peasants and to permit their redemption, 
quite irrespective of their own wishes as landlords. By bringing the state 
into the equation, Kossuth challenged the prevailing concept which 
regarded redemption as a private matter involving only the parties 
concerned. Kossuth’s work was, however, only published 130 years later 
and there is no evidence that it circulated in manuscript form. 8 

Voluntary redemption, as enacted by Law IX of 1840, was considered 
by defenders of the Old Regime as the maximum they could agree to. The 

5 Istvan Barta, ‘Korai orokvaltsag-szerzodesek’, Agrartorteneti Szemle , 3, 1961, 
pp. 94-115. 

6 Kossuth, in his handwritten reports, minuted all proceedings of the diet. See Lajos 
Kossuth, Orszaggyulesi Tudositasok, ed. Istvan Barta, 5 vols, Budapest, 1948-61 
(Kossuth Lajos osszes munkai, hereafter KLOM, vols i-v). 

7 Istvan Orosz, ‘Szechenyi Istvan a jobbagyrendszer megszunteteserdl’, in Orosz, 
Szechenyi es kortarsai. Valogatott tanulmanyok a reformkorrol, Debrecen, 2000 
(hereafter, Szechenyi es kortarsai ), pp. 79-88. First published in 1991. 

8 KLOM , VI, pp. 368-87; see also Istvan Barta, A fatal Kossuth , Budapest, 1966, 
pp. 200-36. 



Gabor Pajkossy 


75 


law proved, however, a failure. Out of more than 10,000 serf communi¬ 
ties, fewer than 100 grasped the opportunity. The basic reason for failure 
was the peasants’ own lack of funds. 9 Kossuth challenged the law even 
though at this time many liberals still entertained false hopes with regard 
to its potential effects. In February 1841, in one of the earliest numbers of 
Pesti Hirlap , Kossuth called for ‘free land’ (szabad fold). Kossuth had 
mainly the urbarial lands of the serfs in mind, to which end he urged a 
general redemption of their burdens. His programme also implied, 
however, abolition of the law of entail ( aviticitas ), which prevented land¬ 
lords from selling their land. In the following months, Pesti Hirlap 
published a number of articles discussing the financial aspects of redemp¬ 
tion, but they all proved to be wholly unrealistic. Thus, in August 1841, 
Kossuth proposed that serfs be individually given the right to purchase the 
land which they farmed, which was an idea that he had first embraced 
eight years earlier. At the same time, he suggested that serfs should be 
allowed to redeem themselves by ceding a portion of their plots to their 
lords. 10 After encountering sharp criticism, Kossuth dropped this idea 
(although, curiously, he took it up again in the autumn of 1847). * 11 Eventu¬ 
ally, Kossuth came to the conclusion that the general redemption of the 
serfs could not be carried through unless the landlords were compensated, 
at least partially, by the state. He also saw, however, that the nobles’ tax 
exemption made this proposal unworkable. During the course of 1841, 
Kossuth did his best to spark a public debate on redemption and the eman¬ 
cipation of the serfs, but neither he nor anyone else could come up with a 
comprehensive and viable alternative to Law IX of 1840. So great was his 
disillusionment that, for a time, Kossuth stopped publishing editorials on 
this topic altogether. 

As editor of the newspaper with the largest readership, Kossuth was 
able to influence the topics and tone of public debate, but he also had to 
keep in mind that the majority of liberals were political moderates. He 
himself had long been convinced that political transformation had to be 
carried out under the guidance of the nobility. By the middle of 1843, 

9 Istvan Orosz, ‘Az orokvaltsag elmelete es gyakorlata, in Orosz, Szechenyi es 
kortarsai , pp. 151-62 (first published in 1976); Janos Varga, ‘Az engedoleges 
orokvaltsag merlege’, Acta Academiae Paedagogicae Nyiregyhazensis. 
Tortenettudomany , 10/B, 1985, pp. 21-28. 

10 Pesti Hirlap, 1841, 13, and 69-71; Szabo, ‘Kossuth’, pp. 262-68. 

11 Domokos Kosary, ‘Kossuth Lajos harca a feudalis es gyarmati elnyomas ellen’, in 
Emlekkonyv Kossuth Lajos sziiletesenek 150. evfordulojara, ed. Z.L Toth, 2 vols, 
Budapest, 1952, i, pp. 1-86 (p. 67); Szabo, ‘Kossuth’, p. 294; Pesti Hirlap, 1847, 
947 (September 10, 1847). 



76 


Kossuth and the Emancipation of the Serfs 

however, he had come to the conclusion that ‘the nobility alone is unable 
to regenerate our country’. He accordingly adopted a more radical tone, 
addressing himself to non-noble and urban readers and articulating what 
he called ‘the whole truth’. 12 This radical turn cost him his editorialship of 
Pesti Hirlap. 

In March 1846, following the peasant rising in Galicia, Kossuth once 
again took up the subject of emancipation. Kossuth was alarmed both by 
the bloodshed and by the news of the changing attitude of the imperial 
government to social reform. If Vienna re-adopted its earlier policy 
towards the peasantry and initiated a general redemption, Kossuth 
concluded, the nobility and reformers would be fired on from all sides and 
threatened by a jacquerie. Raising the alarm, he wrote, ‘We are on the 
brink of disaster, even the best kind of partial redemption comes too late; 
delaying the treatment will lead inevitably to death’. Five years earlier, 
Kossuth had considered the nobility’s tax exemption to be the main 
obstacle to a general redemption. Now, in 1846, he advocated general 
taxation as the way of promoting what he termed ‘the dissolution of 
urbarial relations’. Like other noble reformers, Kossuth had argued that 
the nobility should pay county taxes, but he had opposed their payment of 
military and other state taxes. His logic was simple, since, while the 
former was under the control of the noble estates, the diet had no say in 
the state budget. In a letter written to Baron Wesselenyi in May 1846, 
Kossuth advocated a general redemption combined with full compensa¬ 
tion of landlords, to be paid by serfs and the state on an equal basis. At the 
same time, he suggested that the nobility should pay its share of the mili¬ 
tary tax, and the revenues from this be used to compensate landlords. 
Both this plan and a later modified version were, from the very first, 
vaguely formulated and economically unworkable. Nevertheless, this was 
a bold and radical idea which alarmed Wesselenyi and other members of 
the opposition. 13 Three newspaper articles written by Kossuth on the 
subject were banned by the censors. This obliged Kossuth to put forward 
his views more circumspectly which, in turn, led to increased vagueness 
on his part. Subsequently, Kossuth maintained that a general redemption 
and general taxation should both be realized, but he gradually switched 
from ‘compensation by the state’ to what he called ‘financial operation of 
the state’ or ‘intervention by the state’ and ‘participation by the state’. As 

12 Quotations from ‘A kerdesek legkenyesbike’ and ‘Kiabrandulas’, Pesti Hirlap, 

1843, 266 and 306. 

13 Zoltan Ferenczi, ‘Kossuth es Wesselenyi s az urber ugye’, Szdzadok, 36, 1902, 

pp. 47-68, 139-62. 



Gabor Pajkossy 


77 


Istvan Szabo noted, Kossuth evidently wanted to appeal to the nobility. 
He realized, however, that he could not simultaneously advocate that the 
serfs be freed and that the nobles meet through general taxation much of 
the costs incurred by the state in paying out compensation. 14 

The ‘conservative party’ founded in 1846 advocated ‘peaceful recon¬ 
ciliation of urbarial relations’ (that is, voluntary redemption). Liberals 
demanded a mandatory and general redemption combined with ‘interven¬ 
tion by the state’, a phrase coined by Kossuth. Both the Opposition Mani¬ 
festo and the instructions for the deputies of Pest county were worked out 
with Kossuth’s participation. These important documents are taken by 
historians as the starting-point of the reforms undertaken in 1848. For 
tactical reasons, however, the passages concerning the emancipation of 
the serfs, one of the crucial points of the reform programme, were left 
deliberately vague. 15 

The Lower House, which convened in November 1847, adopted in 
March 1848 the principle of mandatory redemption. The bill was drafted 
by Moric Szentkiralyi, Kossuth’s fellow-deputy for Pest county. Kossuth 
also drafted his own bill. Both proposed that negotiations on redemption 
should begin if the majority of landed serfs in a village decided for it. 
Both also proposed that the serfs should pay compensation, but neither 
fixed any schedule for implementation. Both bills were drafted after the 
revolution in Paris and Kossuth’s famous address on 3 March. The bill 
drafted by Szentkiralyi was put on the agenda on 14 March, after news of 
the revolution in Vienna and of Mettemich’s fall had reached Pressburg. 
At this point, as Istvan Orosz has pointed out, ‘the leaders of the opposi¬ 
tion seemed to have given up the idea that the emancipation of the serfs 
could be achieved by the diet’. 16 

On 15 March, however, the Lower House unanimously passed a reso¬ 
lution which was entirely at odds with its position of the day before. For a 
long time historians did not notice that the crucial moment of the emanci¬ 
pation of the serfs was, as Istvan Szabo put it, ‘wrapped in mystery’. 17 
The motives behind this sudden about-turn were uncovered by Janos 
Varga, whose book on the emancipation of the serfs in 1848 is amongst 

14 Szabo, ‘Kossuth’, pp. 283-90; Grof Szechenyi Istvan iroi es hirlapi vitaja Kossuth 
Lajossal , 2 vols, ed. Gyula Viszota, Budapest, 1927-30, ii, pp. 989-1010. 

15 A nagybirtokos arisztokracia ellenforradalmi szerepe 1848-49-ben , ed. Erzsebet 
Andies, 3 vols, Budapest, 1952-81, i, pp. 206-16,274-77; KLOM , XI, pp. 141-57, 
168-96; Szabo, ‘Kossuth’, pp. 288-94. 

16 KLOM, XI, pp. 641^44; Varga, Jobbagyfelszabaditas, pp. 60-64; Orosz, 
‘Jobbagyfelszabaditas’, p. 76. 

17 Szabo, ‘Kossuth’, p. 305. 



78 Kossuth and the Emancipation of the Serfs 

the best on this subject. 18 Varga discovered that on the previous day news 
had reached Pressburg that radical nobles in Bihar county in eastern 
Hungary were organizing a peasant army which would march to Press¬ 
burg and force the diet to enact legislation emancipating the serfs. After 
1849, Kossuth repeatedly claimed that the nobility had acted of its own 
free will, and had voluntarily renounced its privileges, rights and exemp¬ 
tions. He attributed emancipation to economic and legal factors, and to 
‘respect for truth and politics’. 19 The notion of a generous nobility was 
maintained by late nineteenth century Hungarian liberal historians whose 
outlook was deeply rooted in the political and cultural traditions of the 
nobility. It remained intact until the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian 
empire. 20 In fact, it was fear of a jacquerie that motivated the diet’s 
hurried decision to grant full emancipation. The news, which soon proved 
to be a false alarm, prompted the diet to amend its resolution and on the 
night of 14-15 March the deputies worked out completely new principles. 
The new bill abolished urbarial relations and gave full compensation to 
landowners to be paid for by the state. 

We do not know who first proposed the motion which resulted in the 
resolution, but, whoever it was, he must have had Kossuth’s support, for 
Kossuth’s influence in those days was unquestionable. The news from 
Vienna also served to shape events. As long as absolutism prevailed, the 
Hungarian opposition had no hope of coming to power. Their policy of 
putting constraints on government and making it ‘responsible’ was inim¬ 
ical to the interests of the court. But, as the opposition had a majority in 
the Lower House, Mettemich’s fall made possible for the first time the 
formation of a ministry under the liberal leader, Count Lajos Batthyany. 
The demand for an independent Hungarian government whose authority 
should include finance and military affairs was formulated in the hours 
that followed news of Mettemich’s fall, and within three weeks it had 
become reality. Throughout the Reform era and in the early months of 
1848, all liberals (including Kossuth) agreed that the emancipation of the 

18 Varga, Jobbagyfelszabaditas, pp. 69-76. 

19 Kossuth, ‘Ertekezes MagyarorszagroP, in Kossuth, Irataim az emigracziobol , 3 
vols, Budapest, 1880-82, ii, pp. 133-254 (pp. 143, 166, 168-69). ‘Ertekezes’ is an 
edited Hungarian version of six lectures given by Kossuth in November 1858 in 
Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool and Plymouth. In sharp contrast to his works 
before 1848, Kossuth simply refers to the serfs as the tenantry, 

20 The thesis was first challenged by Ervin Szabo in his Tarsadalmi es partharcok a 
48-49-es magyar forradalomban which was written in 1918 and published in 
1921. See also Elemer Malyusz’s review of Szabo in Szazadok, 55-56, 1921-22, 
p. 411. 



Gabor Pajkossy 79 

serfs and the compensation of landlords were issues that were intertwined. 
Now, the prospect of a jacquerie or, what was considered even worse, a 
peasant insurrection under skilful political leaders, pushed the deputies 
into proclaiming immediate emancipation. The attendant formation of a 
liberal government, however, helped to ease fears that landlords would 
not get fair compensation for, when combined with general taxation, it 
was now possible to conceive of this compensation being assumed by the 
state. Although it meant that landlords would in effect have to pay 
through taxation for the compensation which they received, this was 
considered a lesser evil than a jacquerie. 

Most historians agree that the significance of the April Laws cannot be 
over-estimated. About nine million serfs, amounting to some 80 per cent 
or more of the population, became free citizens, and were liberated from 
forced labour and feudal subjection. On account, moreover, of Article V, 
several hundred thousand former serfs were given the franchise. As a 
consequence of the April Laws, the electorate swelled to about six per 
cent of the population with most of these belonging to the former ranks of 
the unprivileged. Several hundred thousand peasants were additionally 
eligible to join the National Guard. 21 The diet, however, left several ques¬ 
tions unanswered, for it only took measures relating to urbarial land. This 
meant that no decision was made concerning remanentia ( maradvany - 
foldek , unregistered urbarial lands) which made up about 14 per cent of 
all land cultivated by serfs, and a further 10 per cent of serf land (basically 
clearings and vineyards) was declared to belong to the landlords, in 
respect of which former serfs were obliged to continue paying rent of a 
feudal nature. In the spring of 1848 serious conflicts arose between serfs, 
landlords and the authorities over rights to forests and pastures. Vine- 
growers, whose vineyards lay on manorial land, demanded that the tenth 
tax which they had to pay to landlords also be abolished. Other peasants 
protested that minor benefits (minora regalia beneficial the right to 
operate a mill, run a butcher’s etc) continued to belong to landlords. 
Members of the Lower House convened in July 1848 proposed several 
motions on these issues. On 15 September, after the outbreak of armed 
conflict between Hungary and Croatia, the House abolished the tenth 
levied on vineyards. In order to increase support for the Hungarian cause 
among both peasants and landlords, the government put forward two 
further bills. One eventually signed by Kossuth as minister of finance 

21 Varga, Jobbagyfelszabaditas, pp. 338-40; Orosz, ‘Jobbagyfelszabaditas’, p. 84; 
Andor Csizmadia, A magyar valasztasi rendszer 1848-1849-ben. Az elso 
nepkepviseleti valasztasok, Budapest, 1963, pp. 326-29. 



80 


Kossuth and the Emancipation of the Serfs 

empowered the government to sell state lands to compensate landlords. 
By selling this land in small parcels, Kossuth also pursued social goals 
with the aim of strengthening the class of smallholders. The bill signed by 
Deak as minister of justice on ‘necessary measures in consequence of 
Article IX’ focused on problems which the April Laws had not addressed. 
On account of military and political developments, however, both bills 
were shelved. 22 Kossuth, elected to the chairmanship of the National 
Committee of Defence, worked for what he called the defence of the 
fatherland and of Hungarian liberty. To mobilize the peasantry he used 
the argument in his manifestos that Vienna, having already broken the 
April Laws with regard to the sy stem of parliamentary government, might 
also restore forced labour services and tithes as well. 23 After being elected 
Governor-president, however, he again focused on outstanding issues of 
emancipation. On 19 April 1849, on the day the Declaration of Independ¬ 
ence was passed by parliament, he published a decree concerning lands 
which were currently farmed by serfs but claimed by the former landlords 
as allegedly belonging to the demesne. The decree considered the peas¬ 
ants as being in actual legal possession and, as a consequence, handed 
over land to hundreds of thousands of peasants while offering landlords 
compensation by the state. 24 As it turned out, however, the Hungarian 
government did not have time to implement this decree. 

In the Reform era, Kossuth played a leading and decisive role in the 
political debates on the emancipation of the serfs. In 1848, he had the 
main role in making this actually happen. Nevertheless, he was not satis¬ 
fied with the simple pronouncements of the April Laws, but sought 
instead to make their spirit manifest. After 1849 he regarded Hungary’s 
independence as the fundamental issue. Out of political considerations, he 
worked out ideas on how to improve some articles of the April Laws 
relating to social change. Planning a war of liberation, he promised state 
lands to veterans, landless cotters and to peasants living in the Military 
Frontier. On the whole, however, he considered the demands of the peas¬ 
ants as having been basically fulfilled by the April Laws, and made the 
regaining of independence his primary objective. 


22 Az 1848/49. evi nepkepviseleti orszaggyules, eds Janos Beer and Andor Csizmadia, 
Budapest, 1954,. pp. 644-47, 621-32. 

23 KLOM , XIII, p. 842. 

24 KLOM , XV, pp. 46-49; Orosz, ‘Jobbagyfelszabaditas’, pp. 107-09. 



Lajos Kossuth and the Conversion of the 

Constitution 


Laszlo Peter 

The proposition that the world changed in 1848 may be questioned else¬ 
where — but not in Hungary. Quite rightly so. The creation of the first 
Hungarian responsible ministry, the passing of the April Laws, the 
National Assembly and, above all, the War of Independence were the 
formative events in the birth of modem Hungary. 1848 has become 
emblematic of national identity. The revolution (always in the singular 
rather than the plural) is credited with the creation of Hungarian civil 
society out of social groups that were both legally and culturally diverse. 
Furthermore, the revolution became a focus of national aspirations to 
attain independence. The revolution also generated conflicts and civil war 
within the kingdom between the Hungarian and the rival Slav and Roma¬ 
nian movements and these conflicts, too, became a legacy of 1848. 

The Hungarian constitution, in the widest sense of the term, was 
undoubtedly transformed in 1848. The change can be looked at from a 
variety of perspectives. The ancient constitution offers one vantage point 
and so does Marxist social theory or ‘modernization’. Yet what I dare call 
the conversion of the constitution offers a more adequate perspective on 
the subject than any alternative. Why do I believe that? 

The ancient constitution consisted of the mutually recognized rights 
and obligations of two actors: the crown and the nobility organized in the 
counties, and the diet of the orszag. Their constitution went through 
conflicts and accommodations by tractatus , agreements, in 1608, 1681, 
1711, 1790 and 1848, leading to the Settlement of 1867. 1 A historical 

1 There is more than a grain of truth in C. A. Macartney’s assessment of the 1867 
Settlement: ‘there was nothing essentially new in the Dualist System. It simply 
adapted to parliamentary conditions relationships which went back far in the 
history of the Habsburg Monarchy. It was not in 1867 that Hungary first achieved 
legal recognition of her independence of the Habsburgs’ other territories, except in 
respect of defence and foreign affairs. This had been assured her by many solemn 


81 



82 


Lajos Kossuth and the Conversion of the Constitution 

analysis based on the vocabulary of the customary constitution like privi¬ 
lege, gravamina , postulata, dietalis tractatus, reserved rights, funda¬ 
mental laws and so on, sheds much light on the process. But explanations 
based largely on such terms would get bogged down in continuities 
whereas it was the discontinuities that lent character to 1848. 

Marxism provides a vantage point that places all the emphasis on discon¬ 
tinuities: the revolution replaced ‘feudalism’ with ‘capitalism’, abolishing 
serfdom and introducing ‘bourgeois parliamentarism’ in place of ‘feudal 
absolutism’. For me these are large claims. The vocabulary of Marxist meta¬ 
physics does not penetrate the subject of the constitution and it is not much 
use even for understanding social change. How can it be, for instance, that in 
the new 414-member House fewer than ten non-nobles faced the landed 
gentry and the aristocrats who together made up a robust 74 per cent of the 
membership? What is commonly regarded by historians as a polgari 
forradalom, ‘bourgeois revolution’, created a one-class parliament domi¬ 
nated by the landed gentry, the bene possessionati. In 1861, the preponder¬ 
ance of the aristocracy and the landed gentry in the House rose to 77.3 per 
cent with the nobility as a whole securing 80 per cent of the seats. In the 
House that passed the 1867 Settlement the proportion of the land-owning 
nobility rose to almost 79 per cent. That is to say their proportion in the 
House from 1848 to 1867 actually rose. * 2 Where was the bourgeoisie? 

Modernization theories (Marxist metaphysics in sheepish form) are 
even less helpful in the understanding of social or constitutional change. 
Ministerial responsibility, the concentration camp and the doctrine of 
mutually assured destruction are all ‘modem’. What do they have in 
common? And what on earth do the very different societies that are 
lumped together as ‘traditional’ have in common beyond the trivial point 
that we would not find Esso gas stations in any of them? 


promises, including those made by Charles VI or III in connection with the 
Pragmatic Sanction and Leopold II’s laws of 1790-91. It was also a fact that when 
the Hungarian constitution had been annulled, as by Leopold I, or ignored, as by 
Joseph II, Hungary had fought back and had recovered it. Her ‘April Laws’ of 
1848, which formed the Hungarians’ point de depart in the later negotiations, had 
been questionable in their treatment of the ‘common subjects’, but not in asserting 
her complete internal independence nor, indeed, were they so questioned in Vienna 
itself, when first enacted’. ‘The Compromise of 1867’, in Studies in Diplomatic 
History , eds. R. Hatton and M. S. Anderson, 1970, London, p. 299. 

2 See Emo Lakatos, A magyar politikai vezetoreteg 1848-1918, Budapest, 1942, pp. 
29-34, 49-50, Laszlo Peter, ‘Die Verfassungsentwicklung in Ungam’, in Die 
Habsburgermonarchie 1848-1918, eds. Helmut Rumpler and Peter Urbanitsch, 
Vienna, 2000, VII. p. 344 (hereafter ‘Verfassungsentw.’). 



Laszlo Peter 


83 


The term ‘conversion of the constitution’ covers a cluster of interre¬ 
lated theses and seems to me a more adequate analytical tool to unpack 
and elaborate the constitutional transformation of 1848 and after than any 
offered by other schemes because it penetrates the core of the subject. 
After 1830 liberal nationalism became the driving force of Hungarian 
politics. The reformers, Szechenyi, Wesselenyi, Kolcsey, Deak, Kossuth, 
Eotvos wanted to create a Hungarian civil society through legislation. 
Indeed, the liberal nationalists understood by ‘civil society’ ( polgari 
tarsadalom ) a community based on statute laws which applied equally to 
everybody rather than, as Marxists would have us believe, the capitalist 
system. What I refer to as conversion here is the contemporary alkot- 
manyos kifejles or kifejtes , Entwicklung, and for the liberal nationalists 
primarily meant the replacement of the constitution, based on rights, by 
another system based on statute laws. Or to put it less formally, the 
system of privileges was to be replaced by a social order based on legal 
equality. Also, some of the monarch’s reserved rights were to be shared 
with the nation so that representative government could be introduced 
without the nobility losing its ascendancy in Hungarian society. The 
central aim of liberal nationalist nobles was, in close connection with the 
creation of a Hungarian civil society, the establishment of an autonomous 
Hungarian state within the Habsburg Monarchy. Looking at it from this 
perspective, conversion meant the transition from the customary constitu¬ 
tion based on the bipolarity of the orszag and the crown to the all- 
embracing legal system, called the State, created by statute law. Also, 
conversion had a territorial aspect: the medieval precept of the inaliena¬ 
bility of the crown was converted into the integrity of the orszag (a point 
to which I return below). Finally, the conversion affected the distribution 
of social power: it inaugurated a shift within the country’s landowning 
elite. Hitherto the aristocracy was in a dominant position; from 1848 
onwards the gentry was in the saddle. 3 All in all, and with the benefit of 
hindsight, the conversion from the system of rights to that of statute laws 
was a change not fully carried through in nineteenth century Hungary. 

The reformers, in general, were committed to the West European idea 
of civil society, polgari tarsasag, in which every individual possessed the 
same rights and duties. Civil society was a political order founded on a 
unified legal system in which statute laws, which applied equally to the 
nobles, the clergy, the bourgeois and the serfs, replaced the segmentary, 

3 Laszlo Peter, ‘The Aristocracy, the Gentry and Their Parliamentary Tradition in 
Nineteenth-Century Hungary’, The Slavonic and East European Review, 70, 
January 1992, pp. 77-110. 



84 


Lajos Kossuth and the Conversion of the Constitution 

‘barbaric’, ‘feudal’ society based on serfdom, the hierarchy of privileges, 
legal inequalities, local and provincial customary rights. Equality under 
the law, personal security, freedom and the right to own property became 
the new social ideal. The methods used to achieve this were the policies 
of erdekegyesites , interest-amalgamation, and of jogkiterjesztes, the 
extension of rights (the latter turned out to be a confused hybrid). 

All this sounds like a liberal social reform package — which it was not. 
The reform served an end: civil society was to be national. As elsewhere in 
Central Europe and beyond, liberalism and nationalism, although philosoph¬ 
ically incompatible, appeared politically combined: both served the goal of 
social integration. Through legislation the reformers planned to create a 
single Hungarian community of citizens out of legally and culturally diverse 
social groups. The orszag transformed and converted into the Hungarian 
nation, demanded an autonomous position in the Empire. This programme of 
nation building was successful before 1848. In early nineteenth century 
Hungary, less than forty per cent of the population was Hungarian speaking. 
However, the national-liberal program had a wide appeal in the German¬ 
speaking towns and particularly among smaller ethnic groups like the Jews, 
Armenians, Zipser-Saxons, Bunjevici and others. But in spite of rapid volun¬ 
tary magyarization, the national-liberal program was also fraught with 
conflict. It put Hungarian politics on a collision course with Vienna. Magyar¬ 
ization left unaffected the large blocks of Slavonic groups on the periphery 
which had their own national movements. The diet, overriding strong Croat 
objections, put through language laws which replaced Latin with Hungarian 
as the official language of the counties, the dicasteria, the diet and the courts. 
In 1836 Hungarian became the official language of statute law. From that 
year, the laws also provided for the extension of the use of the Hungarian 
language among the non-Hungarian population, enactments that were as 
ineffective and unenforceable as they were capable of generating conflicts 
with the non-Hungarian intelligentsia, which they undoubtedly did. But 
national conflict was probably unavoidable in multilingual Hungary. What 
makes the nineteenth century transformation of the country’s constitution so 
peculiar is that an ever-growing proportion of a hidebound provincial gentry 
was inclined to accept the abolition of serfdom and the nobility’s preroga¬ 
tives, including the tax privilege, the principle of equality before the law and 
even the introduction of political franchise. The county gentry accepted the 
social reforms to the extent that they were subordinated to the national 
program whose implementation would meet their social aspirations. 4 


4 Peter, ‘Verfassungsentw.’, pp. 262-65. 



Laszlo Peter 


85 


The objective of the national movement was no less than the 
building of a unitary Hungarian state, under gentry leadership, with 
representative institutions covering the whole territory of the kingdom 
and even beyond. Croatia-Slavonia, the Militdrgrenze , Transylvania 
with the Partium and also Dalmatia and Galicia were to be merged with 
Hungary proper, the orszag. The programme to absorb into Hungary 
both Transylvania and Croatia — two separate regna for centuries — 
was based on a claim to pre-existing state-right. From the king’s obli¬ 
gation, enshrined in the coronation diploma, to reconquer and reincor¬ 
porate all lost territories in the kingdom and its adjoined parts, a single 
regnum , Hungary, derived the claim to ‘repossess’ the other regna. 
Upon conversion, the inalienability of the crown, appeared as the 
‘integrity’ of the orszag, and the merger of Transylvania with Hungary 
as ‘reunion’. 5 The last objective appeared politically viable. Transyl¬ 
vania’s Romanians objected to Union, but they lacked political rights. 
Two out of Transylvania’s ‘Three Nations’ (estates), the county 
nobility and the Szekels, both Hungarian-speaking, were potential 
supporters of Union. Only the third ‘nation’, the Saxon universitas, 
opposed it. 

By contrast, in Croatia only segments of the nobility, the magnates, 
the yeomanry of Turopolje and, for a while, County Zagreb were 
‘magyarones’. The bulk of the educated nobility and honoratiores 
supported the Croat national (Illyrian) party under the spirited leader¬ 
ship of the radical Croat intellectual Ljudevit Gaj. The Sabor rejected 
the Hungarian claims: Croatia, for eight hundred years a separate 
regnum under the Hungrian crown, had never been a part of the orszag. 
The Croat nationalists argued that the terms found in the decreta, 
partes subiectae and adnexae, in fact meant socia regna. As Hungary 
and Croatia were ‘associated Lands’, the Hungarian diet did not have 
the right to legislate for Croatia except on the basis of mutual consent 
and interest. Indeed, in the past, and even in 1790, the diet had not 
enforced the majority principle. That was why the Croat Sabor (not the 
three Croat counties directly) sent deputies to the diet without putting 
Croatia’s separate position in jeopardy. By the 1840s, however, the 
Hungarian county deputies at the diet were quite prepared to ‘majorize’ 


5 See the usage of ‘crown’ and orszag in Ferenc Eckhart, A szentkorona-eszme 
tortenete , Budapest, 1941, pp. 268-96. 



86 


Lajos Kossuth and the Conversion of the Constitution 

minorities, particularly on language issues. 6 But the crucial question 
underlying the language issue was the status of Croatia itself. 7 

Lajos Kossuth came from a rather humble background in the landless 
nobility; his father was a solicitor. He started as a brilliant journalist in the 
1830s, before playing a major role in the conversion of the constitution. 
He had a rapid rise in Hungarian politics. The journalist became leader of 
the Opposition between 1841 and 1847. The key to his success was the 
ability to be ahead of others on both fronts: social reform as well as 
national aspirations. 8 A strong case could be made that the conversion of 
the constitution carried out in 1848 was to a large extent based on 
Kossuth’s policies. 

Take serf-lord relations first. The Laws of 1840 introduced ‘optional 
emancipation’, i.e. permissive arrangements through which the peasant 
could redeem all servitudes against a one-off payment to the landlord. 
Kossuth argued in his Pesti Hirlap that the Law should be implemented 
whenever the peasant wanted it and could afford it. On taxation he argued 
that the nobility should start paying tax in the form of the local rates, to 
the cassa domestica acting as a bank to finance peasant emancipation. On 
economic policy Kossuth sought to introduce a protective tariff system 
against Austrian produce (Kossuth swallowed Friedrich List’s nationalist 
political economy) in order to develop industry in Hungary. He argued 
that the towns should have proper representation at the diet on the under¬ 
standing that they magyarize. As regards magyarization he distinguished 
the ‘public sphere’ from the ‘private sphere’. Only the former should be 
Hungarian but there was a rider: the definition of ‘public’ was too wide 


6 Mihaly Horvath described the diet’s behaviour as ‘idiotic’ ( eszelytelen ), Huszondt 
ev Magyarorszag tortenetebol 1823-1848, 3 vols., Budapest, 1868 (hereafter 
Huszondt ev) II, pp. 396-98, 406-23, esp. 406 (the enforcement of the ‘resolution’ 
by one chamber of the diet was, as the Personalis pointed out, in conflict with 
lawful custom). 

7 The largely defensive Croat constitutional position was contractualist and, like the 
Hungarian claims, based on historical rights: Coloman, king of Hungary, was 
elected to the throne by the Croat nobles on the basis of pacta conventa in 1102 AD 
(an obvious anachronism). The Croat territorial claim extended to Slavonia and 
Dalmatia, with which it constituted the ‘Triune Kingdom’. On the Croat diet, see 
Miijana Gross ‘Der kroatische Sabor (Landtag)’ in Die Habsburgermonarchie 
1848-1918 , eds Helmut Rumpler and Peter Urbanitsch, Vienna, 2000, VII/2, 
pp. 2283f; Gyula Miskolczy, A horvat kerdes tortenete es iromanyai, 2 vols. 
1927-28, Budapest, I, pp. 44, 61, 67, etc. (with heavy Hungarian gloss). 

8 On the rise of Kossuth in Hungarian politics see Domokos Kosary, Kossuth Lajos 
a reformkorban, 1946, Budapest, esp. pp. 326f; Istvan Deak, The Lawful 
Revolution, New York, 1973 (hereafter Lawful Revolution), pp. 52f. 



Laszlo Peter 


87 


(e.g. it included the ‘new’ economy, railways, banking and so on). 9 
Kossuth wanted to maintain the county system (against central govern¬ 
ment — even against responsible government) but the county had be 
democratized even though gentry leadership in it was to be preserved. 
Over the introduction of representative government Kossuth came into 
conflict with Eotvos and the Centralists whom Kossuth initially opposed. 
He subsequently changed his mind and the conflict was patched up in 
1847. The independent and responsible ministry became a desirable aim 
though not yet a specific programme in the oppositional declaration 
drafted by Kossuth and Deak. 

Kossuth’s rhetoric in setting up a Hungarian State constructed from the 
three regna of the Hungarian crown was more sweeping than the rhetoric 
of other politicians. From December 1847 onwards, Kossuth, by then as 
leader of the Opposition in the diet, repeatedly questioned the very exist¬ 
ence of Croatia as a Land. 10 He insisted that under the Hungarian Holy 
Crown a single nation existed: the Hungarian, and there had to be there¬ 
fore a single legislature. His speeches, made shortly before the revolution, 
created an atmosphere which later made any cooperation between Croat 
and Hungarian politicians improbable. 

In the run-up to the revolution Kossuth was not at all radical on the 
imperial connection. Instead of any shift to demanding ‘personal union’ 
with the rest of the Empire (which in the summer of 1848 was to become 
his chief concern), it was ‘common interests’ and ‘common relations’ 
between Hungary and the other Lands of the Monarchy that became part 
of his political rhetoric. This was because Kossuth, and indeed the other 
Hungarian liberals, now assumed that constitutionalism would be (sooner 
or later) introduced in all parts of the Monarchy and when that happened 
tractatus with the monarch would have to be complemented by contacts 
with the other Lands. The oppositional declaration had already alluded to 
this point which then Kossuth made in his speech at the Circular Session 


9 See Domokos Kosary, ‘A Pesti Hirlap nacionalizmusa 1841-1844’, Szazadok, 77, 
1943, esp. p. 382. 

10 Kossuth flatly denied that Croatia existed. He argued on 11 December 1847, and 
also on 7 and 8 January 1848, that the three ‘Croat’ counties in fact constituted 
Slavonia while Croatia was partly still under Turkish rule and partly governed as 
Militargrenze, Kossuth Lajos osszes munkai, Budapest, 1951 (hereafter KLOM), 
XI, pp. 382-83, 434-35, 438—40. In late March 1848, that is after Croatia had 
refused to have any contact with the Batthyany government, Kossuth shifted his 
position without any explanation and once more recognized Croat nationality and 
a Croat constitution: speech on 28 March 1848, ibid, pp. 696-97. As Mihaly 
Horvath observed, by then it was too late; Huszondt ev, III, pp. 301-03. 



88 


Lajos Kossuth and the Conversion of the Constitution 

on 22 November 1847 and in his draft Address. The Lower House now 
declared that ‘the fullest expansion of the Hungarian constitution’ and 
‘common status relationships’ could, if Law X of 1790 was respected, 
coexist and the seemingly divergent interests could be settled ‘in the 
management of the common imperial state connections’ on the basis of 
parity. 11 We may note that these were the terms and concepts that 
reemerged in the 1860s — facts ignored by historians who censure Deak 
for abandoning Hungary’s rights in 1867. Notably, however, while 
Kossuth in 1847 envisaged tractatus on the ‘common relations’ with the 
Austrian liberals as well as the Court, Deak in the 1860s entered into trac¬ 
tatus solely with the monarch. 

Even after the collapse of the July Monarchy in Paris in February, the 
Kossuth-led diet remained moderate in demanding the expansion of the 
constitution through the introduction of ‘national government’ but also 
calling for a settlement ( kiegyenliteni ) of the common interests with the 
other Lands as well as recognizing ‘our legal relations with the empire as 
a whole’. 12 The Hungarian position became more radical after the 
collapse of the Mettemich system. Now the liberal leaders wanted to 
secure greater autonomy for Hungary than had been envisaged by 
Kossuth and others even a few weeks earlier. 

However, well before the collapse of the Mettemich system, Kossuth, 
with an eye to the main chance, had on 3 March dragged the diet away 
from the politics of small measures. His Address speech had a single 
theme: the constitution’s kifejtes ( Entwicklung ), the establishment of 
national government, a system where the executive power would be 
responsible to a parliament elected by the nation. 13 The draft Address 
clearly stated that ‘we regard the conversion of the dicasterial 
(‘ collegialis') governmental system to a Hungarian responsible ministry 
the essential requirement and guarantee of all the other reforms’. The 
draft then asked the king to send to the diet members of the Gubemium 
who enjoyed his confidence and who would be responsible (to the diet) 
for the implementation of the reforms. The Lower House passed the 
Address on the same day, the Upper House only on 14 March, the day 
after Mettemich fell. By then the situation had changed. The Lower 


11 KLOM, XI., pp. 316f and 327. 

12 ‘az osszes birodalom iranti torvenyes viszonyaink’, KLOM, XI, p. 625n c. 

13 KLOM, XI, pp. 619-28 esp. 626. Kossuth’s speech was not about ‘the tasks of the 
diet’, as generally claimed; its sole subject was the transformation of the system of 
government. Even the Address was largely about reform of the system of 
government. 



Laszlo Peter 


89 


House, under Kossuth’s spell, reported to the counties that it expected 
‘the strengthening, the expansion and the transformation of the constitu¬ 
tion’. 14 Indeed, the first attempt to transform the monarch and the 
orszag’s rights into a liberal legal order, the April Laws, or rather what 
was read into them in Pest after their enactment, was a more sweeping 
conversion of the constitution than subsequent attempts and, although it 
failed conspicuously, it set a benchmark for Hungarian politics that 
outlasted even the Monarchy. The events in Europe, Kossuth reported to 
County Pest, ‘had shaken to its foundations the edifice of the ancient 
constitution’, which had proven to be too constricting. ‘Only two pillars 
remained standing intact and strong enough to bear a (new) capacious 
structure, the king and the free legislature’ 15 (a dangerously unstable situ¬ 
ation, one would have thought). By free legislature Kossuth meant the 
Lower House, which was about to become a House of Representatives, 
rather than the diet as a whole. For the collapse of the Mettemich system 
crushed the authority of the Upper House and deflated even that of the 
counties. Neither institution ever recovered its former place in the consti¬ 
tution. On 14 March the Lower House declared that even before its recon¬ 
struction it could perform its duties only as ‘the representative of the 
whole nation rather than that of a separate class’. 16 The claim of the 
Lower House to act as a constituent assembly, a declaration of gentry 
ascendancy over the aristocracy, was realized in the 31 laws of the 1848 
decretum. 

The April Laws broke the back of the old social order based on heredi¬ 
tary right and laid the foundation of the new Hungary. Orszag rights were 
converted into the rights of the Hungarian nation, to which at least those 
who were given the franchise could claim to belong. In the process the 
rules of dietalis tractatus were repeatedly broken. The foundations, 
improvised, incomplete, and in part temporary, also contained durable 
rules, notwithstanding the speed with which the whole corpus was pushed 
through. In the preamble of the April Laws the estates, defining the aims 
of the decretum listed in the first place the intention to ‘unite the interests, 
under the Law, of the whole Hungarian people’. 17 Yet the Law did not 
declare the principle of legal equality. Nor was nobility annulled as a 
legal status. All in all, legal equality, the principle that all individuals 
possess the same rights and duties, and personal freedom inspired the 

14 15 March, ibid., p. 659. 

15 Morie Szentkiralyi and Lajos Kossuth’s report, 16 April 1848, KLOM, XI, p. 740. 

16 Ibid., p. 659. 

17 1836-1868. evi torvenycikkek (Markus edn.) Budapest, 1896, p. 217. 



90 Lajos Kossuth and the Conversion of the Constitution 

legislator in 1848; they were elements of the reform program rather than 
rights established by statute law. 

The emancipation of over nine million peasants in Hungary and in 
Croatia from their servile condition was the most significant, albeit 
incomplete, step towards civil society taken in 1848. 18 Law XI abolished 
the patrimonial authority of the landlord over the serf. Laws IX and XIII 
rendered void urbarial obligations and the tithe. The private landlord was 
to be paid compensation out of public funds to be determined by the new 
parliament; the tithe went without compensation. 

Law III established ‘independent and responsible’ government. While 
the authority of the Hungarian ministry may not have been properly 
defined, the April Laws nevertheless created a coherent system of govern¬ 
ment in so far as this was politically feasible in the spring of 1848. The 
chief reason why the April Laws did not last lay not the Law itself, 
incomplete and in places ambiguous though it might have been, but in the 
fact that the partners, after its enactment, embarked on policies governed 
by irreconcilable aims. Kossuth and Prime Minister Batthyany read 
‘personal union’ into the April Laws. The so-called ‘personal union’, as 
understood by Kossuth, was a figleaf for the claim to a separate 
Hungarian State. The Austrian response was the claim to the existence of 
a Gesamtstaat, read into the Pragmatic Sanction, which then justified the 
demand for the revision of the April Laws. 19 The new rival conceptions of 
the State destroyed the constitutional settlement. No constitutional reform 
should be expected to solve intractable political conflicts. 

After Radetzky’s victory in Italy the Austrian Government and the 
Court felt secure enough to embark on a policy of ‘restoring the supreme 
government’ in the Monarchy and, as far as Hungary was concerned, they 
were prepared to assert their constitutional claims by armed force. In the 
crisis in September the Batthyany government disintegrated; Kossuth 
became a parliamentary dictator. It was the rival conceptions of state that 
destroyed the monarchic union of Lands on which the Habsburg dynasty 

18 Over half of the serfs possessed urbarial land, but most of them had at least a 
household plot. The Law lifted obligations only on urbarial land. Janos Varga, A 
jobbdgyfelszabaditas kivivasa 1848-ban Budapest, 1971, pp. 167, 339-40. The 
Transylvanian diet likewise abolished urbarial obligations and the state was to 
compensate the landlord; Laws IV, V and VI 1848 of Transylvania. 

19 The Denkschrift prepared by Staatsrat Pipitz for Ferdinand on 27 August read 
‘Einheit in der obersten Staatsleitung’ into the Pragmatic Sanction, see Laszlo 
Peter, ‘Old Hats and Closet Revisionists: Reflections on Domokos Kosary’s Latest 
Work on the 1848 Hungarian Revolution.’ The Slavonic and East European 
Review, 80, 2002, pp. 296-319, (309, n 48). 



Laszlo Peter 


91 


had founded its empire. The intractable constitutional conflict turned into 
war. After fighting began between the Imperial and the Hungarian revolu¬ 
tionary armies, Ferdinand abdicated on 2 December. His successor Franz 
Joseph soon cleared away the constitutional rubble left over from 1848 as 
well as the precepts of Hungary’s ancient constitution. 

Franz Joseph’s Manifesto and the announcement of the Imperial Consti¬ 
tution by octroi 20 of 7 March 1849, rather than after tractatus of any sort, 
opened a new chapter in Hungary’s relationship with the empire. The new 
monarch, by alluding to his 2 December Manifesto, declared that the guar¬ 
antee of the future lay ‘in der Wiedergeburt eines einheitlichen Osterreich’ 
— a program based on the presumptive claim that the Habsburg Monarchy 
constituted a single State. 21 In contrast to the Pillersdorf Constitution the new 
constitution applied to all Kronlander of the Austrian empire, including Italy 
and Hungary. Centralization was the cornerstone of the constitution. There 
was to be common citizenship, a single legal system and central parliament 
(in addition to a local diet for each crown Land). The constitution broke up 
the kingdom of Hungary. It severed the connections between Croatia- 
Slavonia, Transylvania and Hungary proper and it carved out the Serbian 
Vojvodina as a separate territory. Each became, like Hungary, a separate 
Kronland. Paragraph 71 emasculated the April Laws, without formally 
rescinding them, and ended Hungary’s special position in the empire. 

Die Verfassung des Konigreiches Ungam wird insoweit aufrecht erhalten, dass 

die Bestimmungen, welche mit dieser Reichsverfassung nicht im Einklange 

stehen, ausser Wirksamkeit treten. 22 

Although this constitution was not fully implemented anywhere in the 
empire before its cancellation in 1851 (and for Hungary it largely 
remained a blueprint), its announcement affected the course of Hungarian 
politics. It enabled Kossuth and the national radicals on 14 April 1849 to 
put through the rump parliament at Debrecen, where it had moved 
because of the advancing imperial army, a resolution that Hungary was an 
independent European State. 23 This move was a direct response to the 


20 ‘aus freier Bewegung und eigener kaiserlicher Macht’: Edmund Bematzik, Die 
osterreichischen Verfassungsgesetze, Vienna, 1911, p. 148. 

21 Ibid. The term ‘Gesammt-Monarchic’ had already appeared on 2 December when 
the monarch hoped that his policy would lead to the ‘Verjiingung der Gesammt- 
Monarchie’. The context in all these cases is prescriptive. 

22 Paragraphs 1, 72-74, ibid., pp. 150, 159-60. Paragraph 75 restored the position of 
the Grenze. 

23 KLOM, XIV, pp. 873-87. 



92 


Lajos Kossuth and the Conversion of the Constitution 

imperial announcement of 7 March. 24 Undoubtedly there were other 
factors. Gorgei and the other generals’ brilliant spring campaign leading 
to the recapture of the capital boosted morale. Also, Kossuth, quite unre¬ 
alistically, hoped that an ‘independent’ Hungary would attract foreign 
support. Further, by forcing parliament to bum its boats, Kossuth success¬ 
fully wiped the floor with the ‘peace party’. 25 Based on the House’s reso¬ 
lution of 14 April, ‘The Hungarian Nation’s Declaration of Independence’ 
was enacted on 19 April. 26 It began with a general statement: 

We, the National Assembly legally representing the Hungarian State, 27 in this 
solemn declaration — whereby we restore Hungary to its inalienable natural 
rights together with all the parts and territories belonging thereto, installing it 
amongst the ranks of the autonomous, independent states of Europe and 
declaring the perfidious House of Habsburg-Lorraine dethroned before God and 
the world — recognize it as our moral duty to announce in public the reasons 
for this our decision, so that it may be known throughout the civilized world ... 

The declaration went into history, listed the nation’s grievances and the 
violations of Hungary’s independence enshrined in Article X of 1790. It 
gave a blow by blow account of the House’s ‘perfidious acts’ in 1848 (not 
sparing even Palatine Istvan), ending with the announcements of 7 March 
1849. The four enacting clauses at the end of the document declared 
Hungary to be an independent European state whose territorial integrity 
was inviolable; ‘deposed, debarred and banished’ the Habsburg House in 
the name of the nation; declared peace with all neighbours; and left the 
determination of the form of the State to the following parliament and 
appointed ‘by unanimous acclamation’ Lajos Kossuth as Governor-presi¬ 
dent. 28 

The constitutional import of the Independence Declaration went 
beyond the deposition of the dynasty. For the first time the claim to state¬ 
hood, based on historic right, was unambiguously expressed in an author¬ 
itative document. Hungary, not just a Land, possessed all the attributes, 
external as well as internal, of an independent European state. The new 
term alladalom , soon to be shortened to allam in political discourse, 


24 The Declaration itself refers to the Manifesto of 4 March, ibid., p. 908. 

25 Zsigmond Kemeny and others doubted if the majority of the rump parliament 
would have passed the resolution after any debate (which they did not have), 
Gusztav Beksics, Kemeny Zsigmond, a forradalom s a kiegyezes, Budapest, 1883, 
pp. 114-21. 

26 KLOM, XIV, pp. 894-912. 

27 ‘magyar alladalom’, the new term, occurs three times in the text. 

28 ‘Kormanyzo elnok’: ibid., p. 911. 



Laszlo Peter 


93 


expressed the claim to Hungary’s new constitutional status. 29 Kossuth 
was closely identified with the new view, 30 and his influence on the 
modem Hungarian national outlook has been more enduring than that of 
any other politician. 

The Gesamt-Monarchie and the magyar alladalom were political 
programmes based on rival claims to statehood. Both trampled on centu¬ 
ries-old traditions although they were dressed up in historic guise. The 
state in the eighteenth century meant the institutions based on monarchic 
rights; the orszag- rights existed separately. Neither the court nor the 
orszag claimed to possess a unitary, legally unrestricted, all-embracing 
system of public law. Nonetheless, this was the claim that the court and 
Hungary both clearly asserted during the revolutions. Neither had any 
chance of being realized. 31 In relation to the Gesammt-Monarchie it took 
a decade to find this out. The same truth about the magyar alladalom 
became obvious by 1849 when Hungary’s leaders tried to attain the 
impossible. All the facts were against them, yet facts hardly ever shape 
history — ideas do. It is ideas not facts, that mould men’s behaviour. 

Kossuth, a nagy szamuzott, the ‘great exile’ in Turin after 1867, 
mourned the eclipse of the ‘Hungarian State’ which he, its last representa¬ 
tive, tried to ‘restore’ in 1848. Was he truly its last representative, rather 
than its creator? Did the engineer of the constitutional conversion from 
the orszag to the state really believe this? Leaders sometimes harbour 
misconceptions about their own contribution. 


29 On the etymology of ‘status’, ‘alladalom’ and ‘allam’, see Ferencz Schedel 
[Toldy], Torvenytudomanyi muszotar, Pest, 1847, 2nd ed., p. 433; Lorand Benko 
(chief ed.) A magyar nyelv torteneti-etimologiai szotara, Budapest, 1967,1, p. 137. 

30 Notably, not the liberal Centralists, who mostly went to ground after the September 
crisis, but the national radical Kossuth, who had earlier sneered at ‘State theories’ 
when they threatened county autonomy, became most closely identified with the 
concept of the Hungarian State. 

31 Zsigmond Kemeny clearly understood this in 1851. In his Meg egy szo a 
forradalom utan he denounced the two state theories as pedantic, arrogant and 
impractical: Baron Zsigmond Kemeny, Forradalom utan, Budapest, 1908, p. 397. 
























■ 

























































, 









Kossuth’s Nationality Policy, 1847-1853 

Andras Gergely 


1. Before the Revolution 

During the Reform era, Kossuth made few comments on the nationality 
question in Hungary. Like many other liberal representatives of the 
Hungarian nobility, Kossuth considered the question to be of only 
secondary importance. Liberal opinion of the time, although it realized 
that a problem existed, believed that by extending civil rights and by abol¬ 
ishing the privileges of the nobility, tensions between the national groups 
would abate. It is generally recognized that the national question did not 
receive much attention from Kossuth before 1848. As he himself later 
wrote in his memoirs, the freedom of the press had stood at the centre of 
his political efforts in the 1830s, and the abolition of serfdom in the 
1840s. Neither of these priorities conflicted, however, with the interests of 
the nationalities; on the contrary, they harmonized with them. 

Kossuth’s views on the national question during the Reform era coin¬ 
cided with those of most liberals of the period and were predicated on the 
need to create a nation of citizens based on equality of rights. The exten¬ 
sion of rights and the abolition of serfdom applied to every member of 
society irrespective of nationality. According to Kossuth, a civil society 
based on the principle of freedom would be created and this, in turn, 
would serve to diminish national conflicts. In the ‘new’ Hungary, every 
citizen would enjoy a fuller and freer life and this would make them more 
loyal to their country than to their linguistic relatives living across the 
border. As far as the national minorities were concerned, however, the 
introduction in 1844 of Hungarian as the official language in place of 
Latin hardly represented an improvement: instead of a ‘dead’ language 
they were now expected to learn a living language but one which was still 
not their own. Nevertheless, a multi-lingual administration and parliament 
was inconceivable at this time, even in a multi-lingual country. (In 


95 


96 


Kossuth’s Nationality Policy, 1847-1853 


contemporary Belgium, also a multi-lingual country, the language of 
public administration and of the law was French, while the Swiss consti¬ 
tution ceding the official use of three languages was enacted only in 
1847.) In accordance with the Hungarians’ own history, cultural tradi¬ 
tions, social and demographic weight, the Hungarian language assumed 
the status of primus inter pares with respect to the languages of the other 
nationalities. 

Contemporary Hungarians were also convinced that members of the 
national minorities would, in gratitude for the freedoms granted them, 
voluntarily and over time become Hungarians. And, if this was histori¬ 
cally inevitable, the process could be accelerated and enhanced by 
schooling, the enforcement of bilingualism, and by specialist institutions 
(ranging from kindergartens to university bursaries). By this measure, the 
Hungarian language would be no longer primus inter pares but instead 
primus et solus. 1 

Not all politicians accepted, however, that the nationalities should be 
forced to assimilate or to undergo ‘magyarization’. Szechenyi himself, 
while accepting the inevitability of assimilation, repudiated its forceful 
implementation and the imposition of a ‘dictatorship of language’ ( nyelvi 
diktatura). Arguments for and against forcible assimilation were, 
however, often rooted in considerations of foreign policy. Politicians 
were afraid that the national minorities — and especially those of the 
Orthodox confession — would fall prey to and become instruments of 
pan-Slav agitation. They considered, moreover, that the demands made by 
the minorities were the consequence of the machinations of ‘pan-Slav 
agitators’, and that they were evidence of the political connection between 
the minorities and St Petersburg. Those, however, with a more sophisti¬ 
cated understanding of international politics, like Szechenyi himself, did 
not advocate rapid assimilation on account of its corrosive effect on rela¬ 
tions with the neighbouring powers. Over the succeeding decades consid¬ 
erations of foreign policy, as well as of the internal development of 
Hungary, influenced nationality politics, and therefore the views of 
Kossuth himself. 

The defining element in all this was the principle of national unifica¬ 
tion based on the extension of rights or, in the words of the time, the 
‘joining of interests’ ( erdekegyesltes ), which would yield a common but 
also multi-lingual homeland. According to Kossuth’s statement of 1847, 
‘We offer you [i.e. the nationalities] freedom of thought, jurisdiction, 

1 Janos Varga, Helyet kereso Magyarorszdg. Politikai eszmek es koncepciok az 1840- 

es evek elejen, Budapest, 1982. 



Andrds Gergely 


97 


legislation, together with the right to own land. We offer you citizenship 
under the law, the right to belong politically to a nationality, and indeed 
all those rights that this land provides for its citizens. And we wish for 
nothing more in return than mutual love and protection for this land, 
which hereby ceremoniously receives you as its children, and for the 
nationality [i.e. the Hungarian] which presents you with your coming of 
age.’ 2 In accordance with this, Kossuth formulated an instruction to the 
deputies of Pest county in 1847 that in respect of the nationalities every¬ 
thing should be done which was possible ‘legally and in an indirect 
manner’, and ‘nothing that might irritate the minority-speaking nationali¬ 
ties or could be regarded as an infringement of their private lives’. 3 

The nationality conflicts before 1848 (except for Croatia which had its 
own special status) were related to three issues: the centralization of the 
administration; the introduction of Hungarian as the official language; 
and Hungarian-language education in schools. What were Kossuth’s atti¬ 
tudes in respect of these three issues? 

• Kossuth believed profoundly in centralization (at least, until 1848/ 
49), and that Croatia, Transylvania and, of course, the southern Mili¬ 
tary Frontier should be governed from Buda. It should be noted, 
however, that when as early as 1842 he saw the debate with Croatia 
hardening, he recommended full sovereignty and had this voted for 
by the Pest county assembly. 4 

• The struggle to make Hungarian the official language was essentially 
decided without Kossuth and he had little part in the official introduc¬ 
tion of Hungarian in 1844. Kossuth explained, ‘We want neither the 
tyranny of a dead language nor a polyglot confusion of Babel in our 
public life’. 5 

• Kossuth was a restrained politician. During the course of 1847, when 
the issue of the language of education came to the forefront of debate 
in the diet, Kossuth spoke against the motion supported by the 
majority which proposed all instruction should be in the Hungarian 
language. Accordingly, the diet left it to the ‘appropriate authorities’ 

2 KLOM, XI, p. 128. 

3 KLOM, XI, p. 188. 

4 Gyorgy Szabad, ‘Hungary’s recognition of Croatia’s self-determination in 1848 
and its immediate antecedents’, in (ed.) Bela Kiraly, East Central European 
Society and War in the Era of Revolutions 1775-1856, New York, 1984, 
pp. 591-609. 

5 Gyorgy Szabad, Kossuth Lajos ismert es ismeretlen megnyilatkozasai tukreben, 
Budapest, 1977 (hereafter, Kossuth Lajos), p. 80. 



98 


Kossuth’s Nationality Policy, 1847-1853 

(i.e. the municipalities and churches) to decide on the matter, since in 
many places neither teachers nor pupils spoke Hungarian. By this 
measure, Hungarian was understood not as the language of education 
but rather as a subject to be taught. 6 

In summary, therefore, we may conclude that before 1848 Kossuth was 
committed to ‘spontaneous’ assimilation. He supported policies which 
enhanced and accelerated this process, but his political pragmatism, moral 
principles and his conviction that assimilation was inevitable, dissuaded 
him from advocating extreme solutions. There is no evidence in any of his 
writings of prejudice or hostility towards the nationalities. 


2. 1848-49 

The spring of 1848 witnessed both the abolition of serfdom and the conver¬ 
sion of Hungarian society from a society of estates, resting on privilege, to 
a society based on citizenship. Equal legal rights and the franchise were 
granted without any discrimination in respect of nationality. It is important 
to underline this, because in a number of publications it is quite wrongly 
claimed that only Hungarian-speaking serfs were freed or that only 
Hungarian-speaking citizens received the right to vote, and so on. 

No special law was passed in 1848 regarding the nationalities. In all 
the laws passed that year there were only two paragraphs that might have 
been thought to relate to the nationalities and to have given grounds for 
offence. One stated that deputies to the diet should have a knowledge of 
Hungarian (but here, at Kossuth’s prompting, the text of the law was 
adjusted to ‘insofar as he is capable of it, [the deputy’s] language in the 
matter of law-making shall be Hungarian’. 7 Strictly speaking, this might 
be considered an infringement of the right of equal treatment, but — espe¬ 
cially when viewed in the context of the Austrian Reichstag — it consti¬ 
tuted a practical remedy for a difficult situation. It is indicative of the 
linguistic problems besetting the Reichstag that the only petition which 
sought to place relations between the nationalities on an equal footing 
came from the Slovaks and demanded that ‘every deputy is obliged to 
know every language represented in the house’. 8 One could scarcely find 

6 KLOM, XI, pp. 433, 438, 487. 

7 ‘aki annak megfelelni kepes, hogy a torvenyhozas nyelve a magyar’: Law V of 
1848, para. 3. 

8 Gyorgy Spira, A nemzetisegi kerdes a negyvennyolcas forradalom 
Magyarorszagan, Budapest, 1980 (hereafter, Spira, A nemzetisegi kerdes ), p. 163. 



Andrds Gergely 99 

40 people in the whole empire who spoke all six languages, let alone 400! 
By contrast, in Hungary all politicians belonging to the nationalities 
spoke Hungarian. In this respect, the insistence on the Hungarian 
language as the vehicle of communication in the diet was not so much an 
‘insult’ as a practical solution to a problem which was commonplace in 
Central Europe at this time. The second enactment affecting the nationali¬ 
ties was the requirement that the government of the counties be conducted 
in Hungarian. 9 The counties, however, had long been using Hungarian in 
their administration and the act, therefore, simply confirmed the status 
quo. 

With the benefit of hindsight it is possible to understand why the 
nationalities were not content with all that had been offered them. At the 
time, however, Hungarian politicians were astonished by the intransi¬ 
gence of the nationalities and by their rejection of the ‘coming of age’ 
which they had been offered. After all, had not the nationalities been 
granted rights in respect to freedom of speech, participation in elections, 
and so on? The truth was that the nationalities existed on a far lower 
cultural level than the Hungarians. In all of Transylvania there were, for 
example, no more than 5,000 literate Romanians. Legally the nationalities 
had the right to political participation, but in practice they were unable to 
do so on account of their social, economic and historical disadvantages. 
As a consequence, the nationalities repudiated the route of citizenship and 
sought, instead, the realization of demands which led in a quite different 
direction. 

The two basic demands of the nationalities in 1848 were acknowledge¬ 
ment of their separate nationhood and the establishment of their own 
autonomous provinces. The first of these desiderata proved to be incom¬ 
prehensible to the average Hungarian who believed that the concept of the 
‘political nation’ transcended differences of language. How, moreover, 
could the nationalities constitute a nation and subject of the right to self- 
determination when the majority of Serbs and Romanians lived beyond 
the existing borders? In respect of the second demand, the notion of 
autonomous provinces was for Hungarian liberals an understandable but 
none the less unacceptable demand. As Kossuth repeatedly stated, the 
country was not simply multi-national but consisted of national groups 
which were dispersed across its entire territory. Internal national bounda¬ 
ries could not, therfore, be established and, if they were, they would yield 
only new minorities within their confines. Furthermore, the new national 
units so created might act as a ‘Trojan Horse’ and admit tsarist intrigues 


9 Law XVI of 1848, para. 2. 



100 


Kossuth’s Nationality Policy, 1847-1853 

aimed at the expansion of Russian influence. Foreign policy concerns 
blocked further consideration of the problem. The hopes of the spring of 
1848 thus gave way to the exacerbation of the nationality conflict and led, 
within the space of a few months, to civil war. 

Kossuth responded with a certain rigidity to the growing intensity of 
the situation and he openly expressed his disappointment over the nation¬ 
alities’ opposition to the policies emanating from Pest. He frequently 
asserted that their demands were fomented by pan-Slav agitators or the 
Viennese camarilla. Kossuth rejected claims to provincial autonomy and, 
responding to demands for equal political rights, pointed out that 
members of the nationalities already had these rights qua citizens. He 
agreed that the agitators should be arrested and, when open warfare broke 
out, he was not averse to issuing threats or advocating resettlement and 
the establishment of homogeneous national territories. In respect of 
concessions, he first proposed an amnesty for all those who laid down 
their arms. Later, he promised to consider, and indeed fulfilled, several 
demands relating to schooling and religion. 

The change in Kossuth’s views in respect of the nationalities and his 
embrace of a more conciliatory strategy has been analysed in a number of 
historical works, although no firm conclusions have yet been reached. 10 
Everybody agrees, however, that Kossuth, who found himself in a victo¬ 
rious position in the spring of 1848, was forced by events to make conces¬ 
sions. This was largely the consequence of the invasion of Hungary by 
Austrian forces and the Russian intervention in the summer of 1849 
which brought about the prospect of final defeat. 

No matter how correct Kossuth thought his position to be in respect of 
general principles — namely, that the official language should be 
Hungarian but that in his private life the citizen should be able to conduct 
his affairs in whatever language he chose — he was still obliged to make 
concrete decisions with regard to specific issues touching upon schooling, 
municipalities, the armed forces, the courts, and so on. As head of the 
apparatus of government, Kossuth had to confront the nitty-gritty of 

10 I. Zoltan Toth, ‘Kossuth es a nemzetisegi kerdes 1848^9-ben’, in Emlekkonyv 
Kossuth Lajos sziiletesenek 150. evfordulojara, vol 2, ed. I.Z. Toth, Budapest, 
1952; I. Zoltan Toth, ‘The nationality problem in Hungary in 1848-1849’, Acta 
Historica Academiae Scientiarum Hungariae, 4, 1955, pp. 235-77; Ambrus 
Miskolczy, ‘Roumanian-Hungarian attempts at reconciliation in the Spring of 1849 
in Transylvania’, Acta Universitatis Budapestiensis. Sectio Historica, 21, 1981, 
pp. 61-81; Istvan Deak, ‘Istvan Szechenyi, Miklos Wesselenyi, Lajos Kossuth and 
the problem of Romanian nationalism’, Austrian History Yearbook, 12-13, 
1976-77, pp. 69-77. 



Andrds Gergely 


101 


relations with the nationalities. In this capacity, he gradually made 
concessions and these were often controversial. In respect of the 
Orthodox communities, he suggested that national assemblies be held in 
their languages. Furthermore, he did not envision just individual schools 
for members of the nationalities but the establishment of a whole structure 
of minority-language education. Members of national minorities were 
already eligible for posts in the civil service, but Kossuth went further and 
converted this custom to a right, expressis verbis . He also put forward the 
idea that parties in a dispute should be allowed to choose the language of 
the proceedings in court. 11 

In May 1849 Kossuth even abandoned his views on assimilation. He 
argued that in the interests of civilization, a member of a minority- 
language community should receive help from the state to foster his own 
language. In other words, the state should not only tolerate but support 
the development and use of minority languages. 12 In respect of ‘collec¬ 
tive’ minority rights, however, the real Rubicon was crossed by Kossuth 
in July 1849. It is, in this respect, worth noting that in May 1848 Kossuth 
had rejected the idea completely. He had asserted then that collective 
rights were akin to having a lodging house in Pest where the residents 
were on the basis of their nationality subject to different authorities — a 
situation which he had described on this occasion as unthinkable. 13 For all 
this, though, the Projet de Pacification , signed with the Romanian politi¬ 
cian Balcescu in July 1849, together with the subsequent Nationality Act, 
introduced the notion of collective minority rights. These enactments 
stated that the Hungarian language would only be used to the extent 
required to maintain Hungarian state rule. The act not only affirmed that 
the nationalities might use their own languages in schools, municipalities 
and churches but extended this right to include the county administration. 
Moreover, and most importantly, the act included a vital principle: that 
the application of the law should seek to foster ‘the free development of 
the nationality of all peoples dwelling within Hungary’. 14 In this way, the 
law acknowledged the existence of collective rights, although, as it turned 
out, only on paper — for Hungary was defeated before its implementation 
was possible. 


11 KLdM, XII, pp. 137, 370, 66. 

12 KLOM, XII, p. 662. 

13 KLdM, XII, p. 370. 

14 For the texts of the Projet de Pacification and the Nationalities Act, see Spira, A 
nemzetisegi kerde s, pp. 225-28. 



102 Kossuth’s Nationality Policy, 1847-1853 

How did this dramatic change come about and what was Kossuth’s 
role in all this? 

Kossuth was the child of his century and so a nationalist, but above all 
he was a politician. As far as Kossuth was concerned, the nation was not 
‘above everything’. Today we might say that he did not regard the nation¬ 
alities conflict as a ‘zero-sum’ game. Instead, he understood the nation¬ 
ality question essentially in terms of practical politics and it was this that 
drove him on. The armed might of the nationalities (and especially of the 
Serbs), which was also bolstered by outside help, together with the social 
tensions which their insurrection aroused, not only made Kossuth feel 
threatened but also propelled him intellectually towards the Projet and the 
Nationality Act. In short, Kossuth reacted not as an ideologue but as a 
politician. It is certainly possible that he was familiar with the relevant 
section on nationalities included in the constitution of the German 
National Assembly, as amended in March 1849: alien Volksstammen ist 
die Unverletzbarkeit ihrer Nationalitat und Sprache gewahrleistet. 15 In 
other words, complete cultural autonomy was guaranteed for all the non- 
German nationalities of the new Germany. Nor should we exclude the 
influence on Kossuth’s thinking of Bertalan Szemere and Laszlo Teleki. 
Nevertheless, even admitting these influences, we must ask why Kossuth 
should have been so susceptible to them. The truth is that he was impelled 
by political considerations and that he was, therefore, prepared to trim and 
to borrow in order to achieve the larger goal of Hungarian independence. 


3. In Exile 

Kossuth continued his labours after 1849, but he realized that a settlement 
with the nationalities was the precondition of any successful struggle to 
restore an independent Hungary. 

In June 1850, Kossuth wrote to Laszlo Teleki who, as Kossuth’s polit¬ 
ical envoy in Paris, retained considerable influence. Kossuth sketched out 
some basic laws that might, given better days, be presented to a constit¬ 
uent assembly in Hungary. The principles underpinning these laws had, 
nevertheless, been adumbrated before his exile. In his proposal, Kossuth 
brought together aspects of foreign and domestic policy. He argued that 
the grant of rights to the nationalities represented a sine qua non both of a 

15 Andras Gergely, ‘The Hungarian Nationalities Act of 1849’, in (eds) Ignac 
Romsics and Bela K. Kiraly, Geopolitics in the Danube Region: Hungarian 
Reconciliation Efforts 1848-1998, Budapest, 1998, pp. 41-58. 



Andras Gergely 103 

successful foreign policy and of a federation (later confederation) with the 
neighbouring states. He saw that the Serbs and Romanians could only be 
partners internationally if their rights as nationalities were guaranteed 
within Hungary. After 1850, the cornerstone of Kossuth’s vision was a 
federal state, later to be described as a ‘Danubian confederation’. We 
should note, however, that Kossuth allowed within this scheme that 
borders should be changed to permit the construction of nationally homo¬ 
geneous blocks within an essentially federalist framework. 16 

Less than a year later, while in exile in the Turkish city of Kiitahya, 
Kossuth came up with a new plan called ‘Proposal for the Future Political 
Organization of Hungary with regard to the Solution of the Nationality 
Question’. Much of its content was familiar from 1849, in particular the 
use of minority-languages in schools, churches and the county administra¬ 
tion. Nevertheless, in one critical respect, Kossuth took matters a step 
further. In 1848, Kossuth had accepted the collective identity and rights of 
the nationalities, but at this point he had not yet considered the socio¬ 
political aspects of this scheme. Two years later, in 1851, he hit on a solu¬ 
tion which rested upon an analogy with religious identity. A church in a 
multi-religious land exercises its influence throughout the country as a 
whole and yet has no fixed territory of its own. In much the same fashion, 
citizens belonging to a national minority might establish their own 
national organizations, based on a voluntary principle, which would 
coalesce institutionally on the level of the counties, regions and ultimately 
as state-wide bodies. The national body would elect its own chairman, 
have its own coat-of-arms, be responsible for its own statutes, and super¬ 
vise its own schools, but, like a church, would have no specific territory 
of its own. Hence, ‘with the freedom of collegial self-government, those 
moral and social interests which are collectively called a “nation’s” will 
be promoted’. In Kossuth’s view, these organizations would have nothing 
to do with the state, and the state nothing to do with them. 17 The national 
communities would thus themselves replicate the civil society which 
permitted their development rather than seek, as before, to acquire for 
themselves the trappings of statehood. This idea, later known as the 
‘personality principle’, would subsequently surface around the turn of the 


16 Szabad, Kossuth Lajos, pp. 173-74; Gyorgy Spira, Kossuth es alkotmanyterve, 
Debrecen, 1989. 

17 ‘szoval tarsas onkormanyzati teljes szabadsaggal gondoskodandnak mindazon 
erkolcsi s tarsas erdekek elomozditasarol, miknek oszveget “nemzetisegnek” 
[nemzetnek] nevezziik. Ezen egyesuletnek nines semmi koze az allammal, s az 
allamnak sines semmi koze ovele’: Szabad, Kossuth Lajos, p. 175. 



104 


Kossuth’s Nationality Policy, 1847-1853 


century in the writings of the Austro-Marxists and, to a certain degree 
also, in the 1993 Hungarian Law on Minorities. One should also note that 
according to the terms of the 1851 constitutional proposal, the citizen was 
entitled to speak in any of the languages of the country and the laws were 
to be published in all its languages. 

Issues touching upon the territorial integrity of the country — not least 
the prospect of Croatia’s secession — were taboo subjects for Kossuth. 
Already, however, in 1853 Kossuth agreed with a Romanian politician 
that, should Hungary win its independence, a plebiscite would be held to 
determine the status of Transylvania to establish whether it would form a 
union with Hungary based on the decision of 1848, or recover its former 
autonomy. 18 In the following years, Kossuth refined and adjusted his 
ideas in line with the pace of international developments. In one of his 
unpublished proposals, Kossuth even suggested that, beside the plebiscite 
in Transylvania, a Serbian Vojvodina might be established in the southern 
counties inhabited by Serbs. (At this time, in 1851, a Serbian Vojvodina 
already existed by the grace of the Emperor of Austria, but the majority of 
its population was not Serbian and the territory did not enjoy self- 
government.) 

It was Kossuth’s position all along that so-called historic Hungary be 
preserved (although his proposal of 1862 for a ‘Danubian confederation’ 
can be seen as superseding this position, since he posited an independent 
Croatia and Transylvania, bound to Hungary through a common ruler). 
Kossuth tried to solve the nationality problem within the context of 
historic Hungary and he did not consider partition or dissolution a viable 
alternative. The ideas which he had held with regard to the nationalities in 
the Reform era underwent a dramatic change between 1847 and 1853. He 
remained, however, faithful to these for the next forty years and out of 
them developed new plans that were based on the principles of democ¬ 
racy, federalism and self-government. Even today, two centuries after his 
birth, he would have no need to be ashamed either of his ideas or of his 
determination in putting them forward. 


18 Spira, Kossuth es alkotmanyterve. 



Lajos Kossuth, Domokos Kosary and Hungarian 
Foreign Policy, 1848-49 


Martyn Rady 

Hungarian foreign policy is generally considered to have failed in 
1848-49. Hungary did not receive international recognition as an inde¬ 
pendent state. Its overtures for diplomatic and military support were 
rejected by the Great Powers, and its envoys were snubbed. Although 
there was widespread public interest abroad in Hungary’s struggle and 
fate, this concern was not translated into actual intervention on 
Hungary’s behalf. While France gestured, Britain held firm to the 
conviction that the Habsburg Empire constituted, ‘the most important 
element in the balance of European power’, and that an independent 
Hungary represented a threat to Europe’s ‘liberties’. 1 Unrecognized and 
isolated, Hungary fought alone against the overwhelming might of 
Austria and Russia. 2 

There are two conventional explanations for the foreign-policy failure. 
The first, exemplified by Aladar Mod’s Four Hundred Years’ Struggle 
for Independent Hungary (1943, and many subsequent editions), depicts 
Hungary as the permanent victim of international power-politics. By this 
measure, an independent Hungary, because it variously threatened the 
European order, the forces of reaction, or even the worth of Austrian 
state-bonds, was bound not to receive international support. 3 The second 
explanation points, by contrast, the finger of blame not at the Great 
Powers but at Lajos Kossuth himself. Within a few years of the defeat of 

1 M. E. Chamberlain, British Foreign Policy in the Age of Palmerston , London, 
1980, p. 125. 

2 Independent Hungary was recognized only by Piedmont-Sardinia, Venice, 
Switzerland and the United States. 

3 See thus also, Anonymous, ‘Rakosi Matyas es a magyar tortenettudomany’, 
Szazadok, 86, 1952, pp. 1-23 (p. 10). The essay, which was also published as a 
separatum under the collective authorship of the Magyar Tortenelmi Tarsulat, 
was mainly composed by Erik Molnar. Molnar did a fine job in extracting all he 
could from Rakosi’s ‘A 48-as orokseg’ (published in Epltjuk a nep orszagat, 


105 



106 


Kossuth, Kosary and Hungarian Foreign Policy, 1848-49 


independent Hungary, the conviction arose that its government had been 
tardy in promoting the Hungarian cause abroad and that this accounted for 
the Great Powers’ subsequent lack of interest in the Hungarian cause. The 
earliest explanation of this type was put forward in the joint-work of the 
radical Hungarian deputy, Daniel Iranyi, and the French left-wing 
journalist, Charles-Louis Chassin, Histoire politique de la revolution de 
Hongrie (2 vols, Paris, 1859-60; see especially, vol 2, pp. 484-85). A few 
years later, the former bishop of Csanad and minister of public education 
in the Szemere government, Mihaly Horvath, laid the blame for the 
failure of Hungarian foreign policy not on the ‘government’ but instead 
on Kossuth. According to Bishop Horvath, Kossuth never understood the 
merits of diplomacy and set too much store by military methods. As 
Kossuth himself observed, ‘the best diplomacy is to smash the enemy’. 
Kossuth failed, according to Horvath, to take advice and insisted that 
France and Britain would soon intervene to halt Russia, even to the extent 
of sending a fleet to Sevastopol. Bishop Horvath’s final verdict was 
damning: Kossuth’s imagination in respect of the realities of international 
politics, ‘mystified himself and others too’. * * * 4 

Horvath’s criticism of Kossuth was generally accepted by historians. 
Kossuth’s understanding of foreign relations was thus variously described 
as ‘self-deluding’, and as ‘swaggering, unrealistic and inconsequential’. 5 
In similar fashion, the most important English-language work published 
on Kossuth describes the overtures he made to the European powers in the 
summer of 1849, as a ‘monument to his declining realism and perspi¬ 
cacity... Undoubtedly Kossuth, a provincial who had never been in a 
foreign country, knew little of European diplomacy; and what he knew 
was marred by his national pride and optimism’. Although the author 


Budapest, 1949, pp. 105-14). For the Hungarian War of Independence as being 

internationally an ‘issue of the wallet’ ( zsebbe vago kerdes ), see Sandor Marki and 

Gusztav Beksics, A modem Magyarorszag (1848-1896), (A magyar nemzet 
tortenete, ed S. Szilagyi, 10), Budapest, 1898, p. 132. 

4 Bishop Mihaly Horvath, Magyarorszag fuggetlensegi harczanak tortenete 1848 es 
1849-ben, 3 vols, Geneva, 1865, iii, pp. 80-82. See also Szechenyi’s diary entry for 
31 August, 1848: ‘Kossuth will Kanonir-Boote — er hallucinirt fort’: given in (ed) 
F. Erzsebet Kiss, Az 1848-1849. evi minisztertanacsi jegyzokdnyvek, Budapest, 
1989, p. 132. 

5 Revai Nagylexikona, 12, Budapest, 1915, p. 77. The account given by the 
anonymous contributor (Sandor Petho?) also criticizes the timing of the 
Independence Declaration and Kossuth’s treatment of Gorgei. The second 
quotation summarizes the outlook of ‘bourgeois historiography’ and is taken from 
Eszter Waldapfel, A Juggetlen magyar kiilpolitika, Budapest, 1962, p. 337. 



Martyn Rady 


107 


acknowledges that a ‘more cosmopolitan statesman might not have 
achieved more’, his estimation of Kossuth puts him squarely in the 
Horvath tradition. 6 

The first determined attempt to rescue Kossuth’s reputation was made 
by Eszter Waldapfel in the early 1960s. Waldapfel’s exhaustive 
researches in Hungarian and foreign archives (most notably the Czarto- 
ryski Museum in Cracow) revealed a far greater, and earlier, activity on 
Kossuth’s part in respect of international relations than had previously 
been presumed. Waldapfel discussed at length Hungary’s diplomatic 
overtures to the Frankfurt parliament and the activities of Laszlo Teleki, 
the Hungarian envoy, in Paris. Additionally, she drew attention to the 
close links between foreign policy and the nationalities conflict within 
Hungary itself and the interrelationship of the two. Waldapfel’s downfall 
was, however, her attempt to demonstrate that Kossuth’s policy was 
consistent in that Kossuth always sought to align the Hungarian struggle 
with the most ‘progressive forces’ in Europe. 7 Given that these forces 
were by the autumn of 1848 in full-scale retreat, Waldapfel’s account 
only added weight to those who argued that Kossuth’s foreign policy was 
both misguided and unrealistic. 

It is easy to scoff, as historians often do, at Waldapfel’s work. Her 
account is, however (and as Aladar Urban’s otherwise harsh review 
acknowledged), based on a thorough and easy familiarity with the sources 
and is supported by an extensive critical apparatus. 8 What is also striking 
about Waldapfel’s contribution is that much of its periodization and many 
of its emphases should be followed in what is now the leading work on 
Hungarian foreign policy in 1848—49 .' 9 As we might expect, Domokos 
Kosary’s Hungary and International Politics in 1848-49 is cleverer and 
more nuanced. Kosary is, after all, the doyen of Hungarian historians who 
has (among much else) spent a lifetime with the nineteenth century and 
has behind him a string of works which are both seminal and provocative. 
In a number of respects, Kosary broadly adheres to Waldapfel’s account, 
but he makes some necessary and important modifications. Just as 
Waldapfel sought to put Kossuth at the centre of the making of foreign 
policy in the spring and summer of 1848 (here, Waldapfel was reacting 

6 Istvan Deak, The Lawful Revolution: Louis Kossuth and the Hungarians , New 
York, 1979, pp. 293, 300. 

7 Waldapfel, A fuggetlen magyar kiilpolitika, pp. 337-38. 

8 Szazadok, 99, 1965, pp. 1296-1301. 

9 Domokos Kosary, Magyarorszag es a nemzetkdzi politika 1848-1849-ben, 
Budapest, 1999. An English-language edition, translated by Tim Wilkinson, is 
currently underway. 



108 


Kossuth, Kosary and Hungarian Foreign Policy, 1848-49 

against the earlier, ‘collective ministry’ approach favoured by Istvan 
Hajnal), 10 so Kosary indicates Kossuth’s critical role in influencing policy 
towards the German confederation and Piedmont-Sardinia. Kosary sees 
the events of the summer of 1848 as accomplishing a shift in the pace of 
Hungarian diplomacy, but here he modifies Waldapfel who, while recog¬ 
nizing the change of tempo, located its cause exclusively in the 
‘September crisis’. Again, Kosary acknowledges the role of Teleki and 
the importance of his links with Czartoryski but, whereas Waldapfel was 
generally ambivalent in respect of Teleki’s achievements, Kosary indi¬ 
cates his undoubted successes in promoting the Hungarian cause abroad. 
Nevertheless, the very fact that Kosary devotes so much space to Teleki 
in France and to Pulszky’s activities in England is itself a comment on his 
debt to Waldapfel’s own painstaking research. By contrast, in the most 
important book on Hungarian foreign policy published between 
Waldapfel and Kosary, the diplomacy of Teleki and Pulszky is accorded 
only summary treatment. * 11 Similarly, Kosary follows Waldapfel (and 
Hajnal) in establishing the close link between Hungarian foreign policy 
and the nationalities conflict within Hungary. 

Kosary comes closest to Waldapfel in the earliest chapters of his 
account. Like Waldapfel (and other Marxist historians) he seeks to place 
the Hungarian Revolution of 1848 in the context of the overthrow by the 
bourgeoisie of the feudal and absolutist order — a development which 
Kosary sees as chronologically spreading outwards from seventeenth- 
century England, eventually reaching the European ‘periphery’ two 
centuries later. 12 More satisfactorily, Kosary agrees with Waldapfel and 
most other Hungarian historians in indicating the range of possibilities 
which offered themselves in the spring and early summer of 1848 and 
which mostly pointed to a successful outcome of the revolutionary 
struggle. Not only was the court in Vienna, later removed to Innsbruck, 
ready to make concessions but the entire future of the Monarchy, and of 
Hungary’s place within it, was also uncertain. The strong possibility that 
the German provinces of the Monarchy would enter a renewed German 
confederation made it seem likely that Habsburg relations with Hungary 
could be transformed. It might thus be that the Habsburg emperor 
assumed responsibility as a constitutional ruler within the German Bund, 
a situation which would oblige him to remodel his relations with Hungary 

10 Istvan Hajnal, A Batthyany-kormany kiilpoiitikdja , Budapest, 1957, p. 28. 

11 Geza Herczegh, Magyarorszag kiilpoiitikdja 1896-1919, Budapest, 1987. 

12 Kosary, Magyarorszag es a nemzetkdzi politika , pp. 7-8; Eszter Waldapfel, A 
forradalom es szabadsagharc levelestdra, i, Budapest, 1950, (Bevezetes), p. iii. 



Martyn Rady 


109 


on an equal, constitutional footing. By going in with Germany, moreover, 
the emperor would upset the Slavs within the Monarchy, as well as 
Russia, and so be forced to rely increasingly on Hungarian support. Alter¬ 
natively, the monarch might choose to abandon Vienna altogether and to 
reside permanently in Buda, which would free him from the influence of 
the camarilla and permit increased Hungarian influence on imperial 
policy. Whatever the outcome, therefore, Hungary looked destined to 
become the linchpin in a new Habsburg and, thus, European order. 
Inspired by this prospect, Batthyany began to envisage a Hungaro-centric 
Habsburg Monarchy in which a remodelled ‘Big Hungary’ finally got its 
hands on Dalmatia and Galicia. There followed several visits and appeals, 
including Kossuth’s own, aimed at enticing Emperor Ferdinand from 
Vienna and Innsbruck to Buda. 13 

It is certainly possible to conceive of the history of Hungary’s relations 
with the Habsburgs in terms of the contradiction both between the rights 
variously claimed by the orszag and the Reich and, more specifically, 
between the respective terms of the Pragmatic Sanction of 1723 and Law X 
of 1790. The former stressed the ‘indivisible and inseparable’ nature of the 
Monarchy and of Hungary’s permanent place within it; the second that 
Hungary was ‘an independent kingdom’, subject to none other, having its 
own consistentiam et constitutionem. ]4 After March 1848, however, it 
seemed that it was the court itself which was in the process of abandoning 
the Pragmatic Sanction and of forging a new relationship with Germany, 
even to the extent of abandoning its commitments under the Pragmatic Sanc¬ 
tion. Palacky understood this immediately — hence his intemperate letter to 


13 Herczegh, Magyarorszag kiilpolitikaja, pp. 242-48. Herczegh also introduces here 
the canard of relations between Hungary and the ruler being reconstructed on the 
basis of ‘personal union’. See Laszlo Peter, ‘Old Hats and Closet Revisionists: 
Reflections on Domokos Kosary’s Latest Work on the 1848 Hungarian 
Revolution’, The Slavonic and East European Review , 80, 2002, pp. 296-319 
(pp. 305-07). 

14 Antal Szecsen brilliantly summed up the constitutional background to 1848 in an 
anonymous letter to The Times , 10 July, 1849: ‘...the reciprocal position of the two 
countries [Austria and Hungary] was, especially subsequent to the Pragmatic 
Sanction, that of an indissoluble union under the same reigning family, modified, as 
regarded Hungary, by the formal recognition of its constitutional rights, and its 
national and administrative independence ... The want of positive laws, 
contradictory customs, the encroachments of the Government, as well as its 
concessions, had confused and complicated [matters] to an extreme, and opened a 
vast field to the most contradictory interpretations.’ The provisions of 1723 and 
1790, however, became contradictory only when the vocabulary of the ‘state’ was 
brought into the equation: see Peter, ‘Old Hats and Closet Revisionists’, pp. 305-06. 



110 Kossuth, Kosary and Hungarian Foreign Policy, 1848-49 

Frankfurt in early April, of which historians usually recall only the first 
line. 15 In much the same way, the Batthyany ministry stretched its interpreta¬ 
tion of the powers given it under the April Laws to pursue what may be 
perceived as an ‘independent foreign policy’. 

It is in this respect that Kosary departs most radically from 
Waldapfel’s account. Waldapfel saw Hungary as pursuing an independent 
policy only after the September crisis, although she allowed that the basis 
for this policy had been laid in the preceding months and especially in the 
course of Hungary’s diplomacy at Frankfurt. 16 Kosary, by contrast, sees 
the Batthyany ministry as pursuing an independent line from the first. 
How may these contradictory positions be explained? The problem is, 
surely, that Waldapfel confuses an independent policy with one which 
was aimed expressly against the court. In fact, it was perfectly possible, 
and indeed logical, for Hungarian and imperial policy to converge in the 
spring of 1848: after all, both had much to gain from pressing the Gross- 
deutsch solution. To this extent cooperation rather than confrontation 
marked their relations. The Austrian government was thus perfectly 
willing to concede Prince Pal Esterhazy, the Hungarian minister a latere 
in Vienna, the title of foreign minister, even to the extent of addressing 
correspondence to Esterhazy an das konigliche ungarische Ministerium 
des Aussern} 1 Likewise, the court was prepared to cede Hungary a flag of 
marque to protect Hungarian vessels in the Adriatic from attack by the 
Piedmontese fleet, even though the request, which originated with 
Kossuth, flew in the face of the Pragmatic Sanction. 18 Moreover, through 
the court’s investiture of the palatine with plenipotentiary powers, a 
mechanism was provided by which diplomats, most notably Laszlo 
Szalay, could receive some form of official accreditation abroad. 19 

15 ‘Ich bin ein Bohme slawischen Stammen ... Sie nothwendiger Weise darauf 
ausgesehen willen und werden, Osterreich als selbstandigen Kaiserstaat unheilbar 
zu schwachen, ja ihn unmoglich zu machen, — einen Staat dessen Erhaltung, 
Integritat und Kraftigung eine hohe und wichtige Angelegenheit nicht meines 
Voikes allein, sondem ganz Europas, ja der Humanitat und Civilisation selbst ihn 
und sein muss.’ Georg J. Morava, Franz Palacky. Eine friihe Vision von 
Mitteleuropa , Vienna, 1990, p. 135. 

16 This criticism of Waldapfel is also made in Urban’s review in Szazadok, 
pp. 1297-8. 

17 Hajnal, A Batthyany-kormany kiilpolitikaja , p. 22. 

18 ibid., p. 88. This did not, however, stop the Hungarian frigate ‘HMS Implacabile’ 
being seized by the British government when it docked in London for repairs. 

19 The imperial court continued, however, to consider Szalay as emissary of the 
Hungarian diet to Frankfurt: see Maria Ormos and Istvan Majoros, Europa a 
nemzetkdzi kiizdoteren. Felemelkedes es hany atlas, 1814-1945, Budapest, 1998, p. 99. 



Martyn Rady 


111 


The ministry in Pest was, for its part, equally conciliatory. Indeed, 
what is most striking is how firmly the Hungarian ministry stuck by the 
principles of the Pragmatic Sanction. Certainly, the ministry’s interest in 
sticking by the Pragmatic Sanction had much to do with its hope that the 
court would assist it in the developing conflict with the Croats and 
Serbs. 20 While stretching the powers conceded under the April laws, the 
ministry did not, therefore, rush to embrace policies that flew in the face 
of the principle of ‘indivisible and inseparable’. Thus, although sympa¬ 
thizing with the Italian struggle, Batthyany did not offer support and kept 
generally aloof from making provocative statements. Hungarian troops 
continued to join in the fight against Charles Albert and the Italian insur¬ 
gents. Only in July did Kossuth seek to attach conditions to continued 
Hungarian support for the war. 21 Even as late as the next month, by which 
time the court’s duplicity was clear, the Lower House’s acceptance of Pal 
Nyary’s motion that Hungary would not support Austria in a war aimed 
against German unity provoked much heart-searching within the govern¬ 
ment on account of its evident breach of the Pragmatic Sanction. 22 

By this time, however, the stakes had changed. Although few appreci¬ 
ated it at the time, Radetzky’s victory over Charles Albert at Custozza on 
25 July returned the initiative to the court. Troops could now be diverted 
from the Italian front to prosecute a war in Hungary. Moreover, the Serb 
revolt was already in full swing and there was increasing evidence that the 
insurgents were being directed by Austrian officers. Increasingly confi¬ 
dent, the court during August calculatedly wrecked Szalay’s mission in 
Frankfurt and impertinently demanded that Hungary now conform in its 
military and diplomatic affairs to its own interpretation of the Pragmatic 
Sanction (i.e. that ‘the existence of a Kingdom of Hungary separate from 
the Austrian Empire must be described as politically impossible’), even to 
the extent of renegotiating the April Laws. 23 Meanwhile, Jelacic, whose 
complicity with the Serbs was by now evident, openly challenged the 
authority of the ministry in Pest and was increasingly the recipient of 
military shipments from Vienna. On 11 September, Jelacic crossed the 
Drava, the Batthyany ministry collapsed, and with the approval of the diet 


20 Kiss, Az 1848-1849. evi minisztertanacsi jegyzokdnyvek , pp. 21, 60-61, 65. 

21 Kosary, Magyarorszag es a nemzetkdzi politika 1848-1849-ben, pp. 26-27. 

22 ibid., p. 28; Deak Ferencz beszedei, vol 2, ed. Mano Konyi, Budapest, 1903, 
pp. 288-89. 

23 C. A. Macartney, The Habsburg Empire 1790-1918 , 2 nd edition, London, 1971, 
p. 394. 



112 Kossuth, Kosary and Hungarian Foreign Policy, 1848-49 

Kossuth assumed power as president of the Committee of National 
Defence. 

The ‘September crisis’ did not, however (and pace Waldapfel), 
suddenly galvanize Hungarian diplomacy. As Kosary suggests, 
Hungarian diplomacy had long been active, but it had not hitherto thought 
it necessary openly to oppose the court. Behind the scenes, however, the 
ministry had forged unofficial links with Britain and, more circumspectly, 
with France. There was even discussion of setting up consulates in Serbia 
and the Romanian principalities. Nor, indeed, was the government in Pest 
unaware that the propitious international circumstances of the spring 
could all too easily be upset. During the spring and summer, Kossuth 
repeatedly warned of the danger of Russian intervention and of a potential 
collision between Russia and the ‘free nations’ of Europe. He saw, more¬ 
over, the possibility that, if the Grossdeutsch solution should fail, the 
future of the Monarchy would rest on the Slavs, and Habsburg policy 
become increasingly aligned with Russia. For this reason, he urged closer 
links with Frankfurt. In a letter written to Denes Pazmandy, who was with 
Szalay in Frankfurt, Kossuth encouraged the envoy to closer relations 
with Germany, even to the extent of constructing a treaty of mutual assur¬ 
ance by which Germany would guarantee Hungary’s territorial integrity 
in return for Hungary supporting the Bund against Czech secession. 24 
Kossuth continued to urge, moreover, that the king move the court to 
Buda or, as an alternative, that the young Franz Joseph be crowned in 
Hungary as junior rex? 5 

It was, however, not at Kossuth’s behest but on Batthyany’s own initia¬ 
tive that Count Laszlo Teleki was sent at the end of August to Paris as 
Hungary’s special envoy. 26 Earlier correspondence with Paris had 
suggested that Teleki would be formally recognized there as the representa¬ 
tive of the Hungarian government, but, as it turned out, no such recognition 
was forthcoming. Teleki’s mission was not, however, a failure. As Kosary 
argues, the French government was by no means unaware of Hungary’s 
plight and certainly not unsympathetic. If France, however, could not help 
the Poles and Romanians, on whose behalf it had long been diplomatically 
active, it was unlikely to do much for Hungary. 27 As Lamartine had earlier 


24 Kosary, Magyarorszag es a nemzetkdzipolitika 1848-1849-ben , p. 17. 

25 ibid., p. 27. The title of ‘junior king’ had been employed in Hungary during the 
Middle Ages. 

26 ibid., p. 32. Here Kosary corrects Waldapfel’s account which places too much 
emphasis on Kossuth’s role in arranging the mission. 

27 Kosary, Magyarorszag es a nemzetkdzi politika 1848-1849-ben , p. 46-47. 



Martyn Rady 


113 


put it, ‘We love Poland, we love Italy, we love all the oppressed nations, 
but most of all we love France’. 28 As Kosary indicates, the real achieve¬ 
ment of Teleki lay his influence on French public opinion which at the start 
of his mission had largely conceived of the Hungarians as a ‘catholicized, 
Slavonic people’ who practised tyrannical rule against their own minori¬ 
ties. Teleki was both prolific and salonfahig , planting stories in the press, 
cultivating ministers and journalists, both on the left and on the right, and 
turning individual papers, most notably Victor Hugo’s Evenement , round 
from their originally anti-Hungarian stance. Teleki’s La Hongrie awe 
peuples civilises , published in December 1848 and subsequently translated 
into German, English and Italian editions, proved vital in mobilizing both 
French and international opinion. 

Teleki was, however, not just a propagandist but also acted as a sort of 
de facto Hungarian foreign minister abroad. 29 He opened up contacts with 
Charles Albert and Venice with the aim of coordinating diplomacy and 
military policy against the Habsburgs, and, importantly, also developed 
close ties with the Polish emigration in Paris. Teleki’s mission was 
warmly embraced by Prince Czartoryski who saw Hungary as a potential 
cornerstone in the struggle against the Habsburgs and thus in the libera¬ 
tion of Poland. Czartoryski was convinced that a common Slav and 
Hungarian front was within reach. To this end, he sent — vainly as it 
turned out — his own emissary, Count Ludwik Bystrzonowski, to 
Karlowitz (Karloca, Sremski Karlovci) to negotiate with Patriarch Rajacic 
with a view to putting an end to Serb-Hungarian hostilities. 30 At the same 
time, Teleki was fully aware that the nationalities conflict within Hungary 
was not only ‘bad publicity’ for the Hungarian cause abroad, but also 
hemmed in the range of diplomatic options available. Repeatedly, thus, he 
called on Kossuth to strike a deal with the Serbs, Croats and Romanians 
and, embracing one of Czartoryski’s own preferred solutions, to reconsti¬ 
tute Hungary along federal lines. As he wrote to Kossuth in the spring of 
1849, he should at least address to the nationalities ‘a fine-sounding proc¬ 
lamation ... for God’s sake, give them whatever is possible ... If Austria 
cannot be defeated and brought down in any other way, then let us recon¬ 
struct our Hungarian homeland on the basis of confederation ...’. 31 

28 A. J. P. Taylor, The Struggle for Mastery in Europe 1848-1918, Oxford and New 
York, 1954, p. 10. 

29 Pal Esterhazy resigned as minister a latere in September 1848 in protest at the 
court’s demand that the April Laws be renegotiated; Count Kazmer Batthyany was 
appointed foreign minister in May 1849. 

30 Kosary, Magyarorszag es a nemzetkdzi politika 1848-1849-ben , p. 137. 

31 ibid., p. 56. 



114 Kossuth, Kosary and Hungarian Foreign Policy, 1848-49 

Teleki did not ‘speak’ for the government. 32 Indeed, his advice with 
respect to the nationalities was criticized by the recently-appointed 
foreign minister, Kazmer Batthyany. 33 Despite this rebuff, Teleki 
continued to promote the Hungarian cause. Following the defeat of the 
French radicals in the early summer of 1849 and the decisive shift to the 
right of the government of Louis Napoleon, Teleki turned to Great Britain 
for support. The Hungarian cause already had a number of supporters in 
Britain, including the Scot Joseph Andrew Blackwell, who had done 
much in the preceding years to advertise Hungarian politics. 34 By 
promoting the cause of independent Hungary, the impecunious Blackwell 
hoped to land for himself the post of consul in Pressburg or Pest. From 
February 1849, Ferenc Pulszky was also active as Teleki’s special repre¬ 
sentative in Britain. Despite his many personal failings (not least his 
propensity for self-aggrandizement), Pulszky repeated many of Teleki’s 
successes in Paris, winning over sections of the press (The Globe 
published articles on Hungary on an almost daily basis), responding to 
criticisms of Hungarian policy, and forging links with Richard Cobden 
and several of the Chartist leaders. 35 Pulszky and Teleki well understood 
that in Britain in particular appeals of a demagogic character were 
unlikely to make their mark. Both stressed, therefore, the strict legality of 
Hungary’s case. 36 In respect of the Independence Declaration of April 
1849, its contents were considered by Teleki so potentially upsetting to 
the Hungarian cause abroad that he first sought to suppress its publication 
and then to release it in a highly doctored form. 37 (The Independence 
Declaration is conventionally seen, even by Kosary, as a diplomatic 
disaster and the product of a government which, on account of its isola¬ 
tion, was no longer alert to the realities of international affairs. 38 Since at 
the time of its publication, Kossuth hoped to influence the international 
conference scheduled to meet at Verona, and since participation at this 
event depended upon independent statehood, the Declaration might also 
be seen as both timely and expedient). Although Pulszky and Teleki were 
received privately by Palmerston, their conversation did not lead to any 
appreciable change in British policy. This rested, as it always had done, 


32 ibid., p. 181. 

33 Deak, The Lawful Revolution, pp. 296-97. 

34 Kosary, Magyarorszag es a nemzetkdzi politika 1848-1849-ben, p. 225. 

35 Ormos and Majoros, Europa a nemzetkdzi kiizdoteren, p. 101. 

36 Kosary, Magyarorszag es a nemzetkdzi politika 1848-1849-ben, p. 258. 

37 For the various versions of the Independence Declaration distributed by Teleki, see 
Waldapfel, A fuggetlen magyar kiilpolitika, pp. 208-10. 

38 Kosary, Magyarorszag es a nemzetkdzi politika 1848-1849-ben, pp. 67-71. 



Martyn Rady 


115 


on the notion of the balance of power, defence of the settlement of 1815, 
and the necessity of a strong Austria. The most that was to be gained from 
Britain in 1849 was Palmerston’s advice to the Russian minister, 
‘Finissez en vite!’ 39 

As we have already indicated, Teleki considered the nationalities 
conflict to be the Achilles heel of Hungarian independence. For Kosary, 
however, the nationalities struggle was the inevitable consequence of the 
rise of nationalism and was as such unavoidable. 40 Although Kosary indi¬ 
cates that at fleeting moments deals might have been struck between the 
Hungarian government and the nationalities, he repudiates Waldapfel’s 
contention that a united front against Austria was always on the cards. 41 
From the very start, the demands put forward by the nationalities proved 
unmeetable. It was probably with the Romanians that the Hungarian 
government had the best chance of success, but it had no obvious reasons 
to make concessions during 1848. By the next year, the gulf of distrust 
proved impossible to bridge and, in the mean time, the court had success¬ 
fully brought the nationalities into its fold. Even the publication of the 
octroyed constitution in March 1849, which dealt a death-blow to all the 
nationalities’ hopes for territorial autonomy, did little to change the situa¬ 
tion. As late as June 1849, by which time peace-negotiations between 
Hungarians and Romanians were relatively advanced, the leader of the 
Romanians of the Banat, Eftimie Murgu, was able to observe. ‘I do not 
believe that there is way of settling relations between the two nations [i.e. 
Romanians and Hungarians] peacefully. It is impossible to get them to 
agree on account of their vengeful blindness, national pride and embit¬ 
teredness’. 42 By the time a deal was struck, it was all too late. Negotia¬ 
tions on a confederation capable of accommodating both Romanians and 
Hungarians were completed only in exile. 43 

To what extent was an outcome other than total defeat possible? 
Kosary makes several important points in this regard. First, Hungarian 
policy remained active and, more importantly, realistic almost right up to 
the end. Kossuth did not cease, therefore, trying to negotiate with Austria, 
both in the form of the court and of the Reichstag, only to have his 

39 ibid., p. 255; Herczegh, Magyarorszag kiilpolitikaja, p. 272. 

40 Kosary, Magyarorszag es a nemzetkdzi politika 1848-1849-ben, p. 103. 

41 ‘Was there not then the possibility of forging a united front against the oppressive 
power of the Habsburgs? Yes, there was!’: Waldapfel, A fiiggetlen magyar 
kiilpolitika, p. 101. See also Herczegh, Magyarorszag kiilpolitikaja , pp. 273-74; 
Kosary, Magyarorszag es a nemzetkdzi politika 1848-1849-ben, pp. 103, 181. 

42 Kosary, Magyarorszag es a nemzetkdzi politika 1848-1849-ben, p. 207. 

43 ibid., p. 219. 



116 


Kossuth, Kosary and Hungarian Foreign Policy, 1848-49 

overtures famously rebuffed by Windischgratz. Moreover, and notwith¬ 
standing his endless denunciation of the Russian menace, Kossuth 
continued to press Hungary’s case with St Petersburg. During the spring 
of 1849, he sought to open links through the Russian military command 
by which he might not only explain the legitimacy of his actions to Tsar 
Nicholas but even hint that the crown of Hungary be offered to a scion of 
the Romanov dynasty. In order to avoid antagonizing the tsar, Kossuth 
additionally restrained Bern from invading Galicia and proclaiming a 
revolt in Poland. As Kossuth put it in April 1849, ‘I will not risk the fate 
of Hungary for the sake of the Poles’. 44 As against Geza Herczegh’s view 
that Kossuth sought through the Independence Declaration to convert 
Hungary’s struggle into a war of peoples — a view which comports with 
the notion that Kossuth’s perception of the world was becoming increas¬ 
ingly clouded by the Debrecen dust — Kosary shows that Kossuth still 
understood where real power lay. Kossuth did not, therefore, address his 
declaration to the peoples of Europe but instead to their governments, and 
he waited upon these to respond to his appeal and, as he foresaw, to learn 
from Hungary’s fate the true nature of Russian ambitions. 45 

Secondly, Kosary argues that there was room for manoeuvre, even in 
the last phases of the war. In explaining the campaigns of 1849, Kosary 
vindicates General Gorgey one more time. 46 As Kosary argues, had 
Gorgei been permitted to remain in the west and to take on Haynau, and 
had he won, then a peace on more advantageous terms might have been 
secured. Instead, however, Dembinski urged that the Hungarian army 
concentrate on Szeged, for no other reason than, so it would appear, to be 
ready to flee into Turkey. Likewise, if negotiations between the Hungar¬ 
ians and the Russian generals had bom fruit, then different outcomes 
might have arisen — not least the amnesty which Schwarzenberg was 
drafting even at the moment Gorgei surrendered at Vilagos. In short, 
Kosary repudiates the notion of the kenyszerpalya : the inescapable path 
which would take Hungary to the ultimate catastrophe. In this respect, he 
explicitly concurs with Hajnal that, in assessing the options thrown up at 
the time of the revolution, it is wrong simply to work backwards from the 
final result. 47 


44 ibid., p. 61. 

45 ibid., p. 60; Herczegh, Magyarorszag kiilpolitikaja, p. 266. 

46 See thus Domokos Kosary, A Gorgey-kerdes tortenete , 2 vols, Budapest, 1994; 
discussed by Laszlo Peter, ‘The “Gorgey Question” Revisited: Reflections on 
Academician Domokos Kosary’s Work’, The Slavonic and East European Review , 
76, 1998, pp. 85-100. 

47 Kosary, Magyarorszag es a nemzetkdzi politika 1848-1849-ben, p. 287. 



Martyn Rady 


117 


Finally, in respect to the prevailing opinion that Hungarian foreign 
policy ‘failed’ in 1848-49, Kosary makes the following observations. 
Batthyany, Teleki and Kossuth did try to use the opportunities given them 
and their failure was only partial. The propaganda of Teleki and the story 
of the military struggle waged by Kossuth ensured that Hungary ‘carried a 
greater international reputation and political weight after defeat than she 
had before’. Moreover, ‘[The War of Independence] also had the conse¬ 
quence that when Austria, having been sobered up by military defeats in 
the Italian and German wars, was compelled to reorganize her empire, she 
chose in the end out of all sorts of possible outcomes to reach agreement 
with the proven strength of Hungary’. 48 

Ultimately, our view of Hungarian foreign policy in 1848-49 depends 
upon our view of Hungarian history as a whole. If we subscribe to the 
kenyszerpalya , then we may well, in Mod-ish fashion, see the Hungarian 
Revolution and War of Independence as being destined from the first for 
defeat; the forces of international power-politics, the legacy of 1815 and, 
perhaps, even the value attached to Austrian state-bonds simply proved 
too much. The same applies to those other turning-points in Hungarian 
history: Mohacs, the Rakoczi revolt, 1944, 1956 and, even, 1989. If we 
believe, however, that individuals can make a difference, then proper 
attention should also be paid to the choices for which they were respon¬ 
sible and which shaped the subsequent pattern of events. We may in the 
context of Hungary’s diplomacy in the revolutionary years fasten on the 
accomplishments of Batthyany and Teleki. We should also, however, 
recall Ferenc Deak’s observation on the Settlement of 1867, which 
Kosary quotes: ‘History will link this transformation to the name of the 
man who set it in motion and carried it through with tireless energy in ’48. 
Despite the unfortunate events which ensued, this part of his achievement 
has endured and will continue to do so’. 49 


48 ibid., p. 293. 

49 ibid., p. 292. 

























































V 

Kossuth and Stur: Two National Heroes 


Robert Evans 

Every great man possesses, we may suppose, a distinctive set of qualities 
and experiences. Let me begin by setting out the characteristic traits of the 
national hero who is indelibly linked with the stirring events of 1848-49 
in Hungary. At the risk of appearing over-schematic, I offer the following 
ten bullet-points as a summary. 

• He stood out for his handsome, bearded but clean-cut, romantic 
features and his innate powers of leadership. 

• He was bom into the higher echelons of his society, but enjoyed little 
inherited wealth and felt from the first a burning commitment to the 
welfare of his people as a whole. 

• He was a member of the Lutheran minority and rather anticlerical, 
though strikingly conciliatory towards lay Catholics who would join 
in with his reform programme. 

• He was a man of outstanding eloquence, in Magyar and in other 
languages. 

• He threw himself into politics from a young age, an involvement 
which was viewed with misgivings by the establishment through his 
association with a strongly national programme. 

• He espoused liberal views, though at times he looked rather conserv¬ 
ative to others and he could be outflanked by radical opinion. 

• His career breakthrough came in the 1840s with official permission 
to edit a newspaper, which immediately became the focus of national 
attention. 

• He was first elected as a deputy at the last of the old-style Hungarian 
diets, which sat for six months from November 1847. 

• The next year he became civilian leader of the national uprising, with 
a strong inclination to intervene also in military affairs. 

• With the failure of the cause in 1849, he withdrew for good from the 
domestic political scene and gave himself over to visionary plans for 


119 


120 


Kossuth and Stur: Two National Heroes 


the future which made many of his former supporters rather uncom¬ 
fortable. 

The reader will, I trust, recognize this as a portrayal of Lajos Kossuth, 
on the occasion of his two hundredth anniversary. But I am actually 
thinking equally of another Louis, his Slovak contemporary, Ludovit Stur, 
bom thirteen years later. For the ‘identikit’ picture fits both of them. Stur 
too had an alluring and commanding presence. He enjoyed certain advan¬ 
tages of birth, but felt himself a man of the people. He was a Protestant, 
who co-operated with many representatives of the Slovak Catholic 
majority. He was a powerful orator, not least in Magyar, the main 
language of Hungary’s public life. Stur too immersed himself in politics, 
albeit student and cultural politics, from his youth, and attracted disap¬ 
proval from superiors who favoured less aggressive forms of national 
engagement. He was liberal in many of his aspirations, though with a 
romantic fervour which could be retrogressive and without the democratic 
priorities of some of his colleagues. He assumed a clear leadership role 
within the national movement when he gained approval for a journal, the 
Slovenske Narodne Noviny, which he ran for roughly the same length of 
time that Kossuth edited the Pesti Hirlap. Then he made a belated entry 
into parliamentary politics, simultaneously with Kossuth, at the historic 
diet of 1847-48, where he represented an Upper Hungarian municipality. 
Stur too played the most prominent part in mobilizing his people for the 
civil war which began in the autumn of 1848. When the Slovak national 
campaign, despite having espoused the winning Habsburg side against the 
Magyars, failed to achieve its goals in 1849, he was forced into a kind of 
internal exile, and reconsidered his priorities as fundamentally as did 
Kossuth. He gave himself over to strange and impractical schemes which 
were cut off by his untimely death in 1856. 

Moreover, we shall find important overlaps in personal terms too 
between Kossuth and Stur, just as the societies from which they emerged 
and the movements which they headed were inextricably intertwined both 
before and after the heady days of revolution. They are alike also, and by 
the same token different from all the rest of the 1848-49 political leaders 
in Hungary, in that Kossuth and Stur have remained broad-based popular 
heroes among posterity, central figures in the shaping of national identity: 
contrast the more limited and questionable status of, e.g. Batthyany or 
Bern, Hurban or Hodza, Jelacic or Stratimirovic, Bamufiu or Jancu, and, 
for that matter, those in the Austro-Bohemian realms too, with the 
possible exception of Palacky. At the same time, however, we should note 
contrasts and antitheses between the two, with the reputation of the one 


Robert Evans 


121 


resting significantly on a repudiation of the other. That is my theme in 
what follows: a tight focus for a brief exposition, which nevertheless 
carries, I hope, some wider implications. As befits this collection, it is 
conceived as a contribution to understanding Kossuth; but says more 
about Stur, for the obvious reason of the latter’s unfamiliarity in the 
Hungarian national consciousness — which itself results from the very 
divergent ways in which the revolutionary events came to be remem¬ 
bered. 1 


*** 

Stur’s career (detailed for convenience in an Appendix below) soon 
placed him squarely at the centre of the developing nationality quarrels 
in Upper Hungary. He was the son of a Lutheran schoolteacher very 
consciously committed to the ‘Czechoslovak’ heritage, i.e. the use in 
Slovak Protestant communities of a more-or-less Czech form of the 
language and maintenance of its accompanying culture. For a time the 
elder Stur even acted as mentor to the young Palacky, who then took 
this tradition with him to Prague and lent it prominence in Bohemia. 2 

V 

Yet the Stur family also enjoyed status as proteges of the local land- 
owner, Count Imre Zay, who sustained a paternalistic regime in his 
little pocket borough of Zay-Ugroc (Uhrovec) with little regard to 
ethnic allegiance. Eudovit studied at the Lutheran gymnasium in Press- 
burg, and stayed on for years afterwards — punctuated by a spell at the 
university of Halle — as amanuensis to his former Czechoslovak 
teacher there, Juraj Palkovic, and chief organizer of Slavonic courses 
and cultural activities at the school. He collected around him a group of 
intense, ascetic, austere, evangelical youths, the Sturites (Sturovci), as 
they soon came to be known, who committed themselves to a public 
and. emotional advocacy of the Slav cause, especially in its local mani¬ 
festations. Thus they went on pilgrimage to the proto-Slav shrine of 
nearby Devin (Deveny) castle, and decked this out in romantic 
symbolism. They were also the first to use the neo-Slavonic term 


1 References are restricted to those strictly relevant for the present comparison, and 
largely come from the Slovak side, partly because the Kossuth presented here is too 
familiar to require much annotation, but equally because Hungarian writing on him 
has almost entirely ignored the Slovak dimension. 

2 Jin Koralka, Frantisek Palacky, 1798-1876: zivotopis, Prague, 1999, p. 24 and 
passim. 



122 


Kossuth and Stur: Two National Heroes 


Bratislava, or rather Bretislava, to describe the city which ordinary 
Slovaks called (and would long continue to call) Presporok. 3 

Such gestures were already in good measure a response to perceived 
Magyar pressure on Stur’s own nationality. They generated further ethnic 
friction in their turn, particularly at the student level, both in Pressburg 
and beyond, and were accompanied by a regular war of pamphlets which 
had set in at the beginning of the 1830s and to which Stur himself would 
contribute a decade later. 4 These circumstances soon precipitated the first 
clash between Stur and Kossuth. Its background lay in the campaign of 
the younger Zay, Karoly, son of Imre, for a Protestant union in Hungary, 
ostensibly modelled on recent developments in Prussia, but really 
designed mainly to promote the interests of the Magyar liberal opposition, 
which predominated in the larger and more influential Calvinist branch of 
the church. The Slovak Lutherans replied with a petition to the emperor in 
Vienna (Prestolny prosbopis ), which expostulated against this and raised 
a range of other grievances about the advancing tide of ‘magyarization’, 
as they perceived it. 5 

Stur was in the thick of this confrontation, constantly urging on his 
more faint-hearted brethren. Where Imre Zay had shown marked favour 
to his family, not least to the evidently talented Ludovit, Karoly now told 
him plainly that there was no place for Slav culture in Hungary, or for 


3 Flora Kleinschnitzova, Andrej Sladkovic a jeho doba, Prague, 1928, pp. 30ff; T. J. 
G Locher, Die nationale Differenzierung und Integrierung der Slowaken und 
Tschechen in ihrem geschichtlichen Verlaufbis 1848, Haarlem, 1931, pp. 139ff. Jan 
Francisci, Vlastny zivotopis. Crty z doby Moysesovskej, ed. F. Bokes, Bratislava, 
1956, esp. 98ff.; Jozef Hurban, Ludovit Stur. Rozpomienky, ed. A. Mraz, Bratislava, 
1959, esp. pp. 88-100; Jozef Butvin, Slovenske narodnozjednocovacie hnutie, 
1780-1848: k otazke formovania novodobeho slovenskeho burzoazneho naroda, 
Bratislava, 1965, pp. 242ff; Ludwig von [Lajos] Gogolak, Beitrdge zur Geschichte 
des slowakischen Volkes, 3 vols., Munich, 1963-72, ii. pp. 119ff. Convenient 
summary in Peter Brock, The Slovak National Awakening: An Essay in the 
Intellectual History of East Central Europe, Toronto, 1976, pp. 38ff. Stur’s circle 
of friends appears also from his correspondence: Listy Eudovita Stura, ed. Jozef 
Ambrus, 3 vols., Bratislava, 1954-60. 

4 Most of the significant pamphlets are reprinted in Slovak translation in Jan V. 
Ormis (ed.), O rec a narod: slovenske narodne obrany z rokov 1832-48, Bratislava, 
1973. Stur’s contributions were, besides the ‘Stary a novy vek Slovaku’, 1841, 
which circulated only in MS: Die Beschwerden und Klagen der Slaven in Ungarn 
iiber die gesetzwidrigen Ubergriffe der Magyaren, Leipzig, 1843, and its sequel, 
Das 19. Jahrhundert und der Magyarismus, Vienna, 1845, both in Ormis, 
pp. 123-9 and 517-93, 146-52 and 699-721. 

5 Very full account in Daniel Rapant, Slovensky prestolny prosbopis z roku 1842, 2 
vols., L Sv. Mikulas, 1943, which prints the Petition at ii, pp. 337-52. 



Robert Evans 


123 


those who advocated it. Kossuth, as a card-carrying Lutheran himself, 
backed Zay to the hilt (even rewriting the minutes when local synods 
seemed to him too limp), and fulminated about the lack, even the impossi¬ 
bility, of any Slovak ‘nation’: ‘Wherever we look in Hungary, nowhere 
do we see the substance of any tot nationality. And all those qualities, 
which constitute the requirements for a nationality, are possessed in our 
homeland only by the magyar race.’ 6 Kossuth also stood close to the drive 
led by his friend Pulszky for Stur’s dismissal from his post in Pressburg as 
a ‘pan-Slav’ agitator, which was successful by the end of 1843. 7 

By that time the basic issue was clear. All the Magyar reformist 
leaders, with Kossuth as their most eloquent spokesman, saw nationality, 
nemzetiseg, as an integral part of the modem state and public law which 
they proposed to create; hence the impossibility of accommodating non- 
Magyars (apart from the Croats, with their special constitutional position) 
except in private and as individuals. 8 Slovaks — more than any others, 
given their lack of institutional backbone — developed, because they had 
to develop, an organic, cultural, communitarian ideology of nationality, 
narodnost’, which the Magyars in their turn could neither understand nor 
value. The latter accused Slovak patriots of being ‘pan-Slavs’ (which in 
cultural terms had some truth) and found readiest proof of this in those 
‘Czechoslovak’ links which were particularly important to the Lutheran 
tradition. Ludovit Stur, now persecuted for his convictions as Kossuth had 
been a few years earlier, seemed to personify that Slovak response. 

In fact, however, Stur proceeded to play a shrewd gambit. He took up 
the cause of a separate Slovak literary language, of which he indeed 


6 ‘... barmerre tekintiink is Magyarorszagon, sehol nem latunk anyagot ily tot 
nemzetisegre. Es mindama tulajdonokkal, miket a nemzetiseg kellekei koze 
sorozank, hazankban csak egy, csak az egyetlen magyar faj bir’: Rapant, 
Prosbopis, i. pp. 125ff., 156f., 185ff.; ii, nos 66, 86, 88, 94, 96, 98 (qu.), 100, 101. 
Cf. ‘There was never a Slovak nation, even in a dream’: quoted in Josef Macurek, 
Dejiny mad’aru a uherskeho statu, Prague, 1934, p. 236. For the quarrel with Zay, 
see also Hurban, Ludovit Stur, pp. 198ff; Gogolak, Beitrage , ii, pp. 186ff. 

7 Rapant, Prosbopis , i, pp. 33-42, 215-22; ii., nos 27, 50, 67, 138, 140, 142. Cf. 
Hurban, Ludovit Stur , pp. 335ff.; Karol Golan, Sturovske pokolenie: vyber z diela, 
Bratislava, 1964, pp. 121-53. 

8 For Kossuth in this Hungarian context, see Mihaly Horvath, Huszonot ev 
Magyarorszag tortenelmebol 1823-tol 1848-ig, 2 vols., Geneva, 1864, ii. pp. 9Iff.; 
Domokos Kosary in Emlekkonyv Kossuth Lajos sziiletesenek 150. evfordulojara, 
ed. Istvan Z. Toth, 2 vols., Budapest, 1952, i, pp. 37ff.; Gyorgy Szabad, Kossuth 
politikai pdlydja, ismert es ismeretlen megnyilatkozasai tiikreben, Budapest, 1977, 
pp. 68ff.; Janos Varga, Helyet kereso Magyarorszag: politikai eszmek es 
koncepciok az 1840-es evek elejen, Budapest, 1982, pp. 54ff. 



124 


Kossuth and Stur: Two National Heroes 


became the prime creator. By means of it he propagated from 1845 a 
moderate but demotic reform message to a wider national public, mainly 
through the columns of his newspaper, the Slovenske Narodne Noviny. 9 
In due course this organ carried the speeches which Stur made at the diet 
on the eve of the revolution of 1848, as deputy for the town of Zvolen/ 
Zolyom. It is often supposed that he was the first nationally-conscious 
Slovak ever elected to the Hungarian Orszaggyules. That is not quite 
true: Stur’s mentor Palkovic had represented a similar constituency, 
Krupina/Korpona, for years before him — earning his humble mention 
in the young Kossuth’s diet journal. 10 Nor is it true that Stur, any more 
than his circumspect predecessor, took a leading or radical part in this 
assembly (housed in what is now the Bratislava University Library, with 
its commemorative plaque). Yet he did manage to publicize further the 
needs of the mass of the Slovak peasantry, and in the course of his advo¬ 
cacy experienced a second clash with Kossuth, which we shall consider 
later. 

In March-April 1848 Stur welcomed Hungary’s social and political 
transformation, so far as it went — which for the bulk of the Slovak popu¬ 
lation was not very far. But he rejected categorically the national implica¬ 
tions of the new Magyar regime, embodying as it did the Kossuth-Zay- 
Pulszky mentality already so familiar to him. He was active in the two 
Liptovsky Svaty Mikulas/Liptoszentmiklos meetings at which a Slovak 

V 

programme was devised, and the resultant demands (‘Ziadosti sloven- 
skeho naroda’) largely rested on Stur’s formulations. 11 These were 
brusquely rejected by the Hungarian ministry, where Kossuth, with 
Batthyany, by now called the tune. Stur was forced into an adventurous 
flight from the country, in order to avoid arrest. This led him straight on to 
his prominent role at the Slav Congress in Prague, of which he had in fact 
been the chief begetter. Fired up to a more Austro-Slav militancy by these 
events, Stur, with his revolutionary associates Jozef Hurban and Michal 
Hodza, returned to Hungary in the winter months, under Habsburg aegis, 
with a motley collection of Slovak and other Slav volunteers, to 

9 The title in its original spelling was Slovenskje Ndrodhje Novini. See Maria 
Vyvijalova, Slovenskje narodnje novini: boje o ich povolenie , Martin, 1972. The 
crucial language text is Stur’s Narecja slovens kuo alebo potreba pisahja v tom to 
nareci (again in the original spelling), first published at Pressburg in 1846. 

10 Maria Vyvijalova, Juraj Palkovic, 1769-1850. Kapitoly k ideovemu formovaniu 
osobnosti a posobeniu v narodnom hnuti, Bratislava, 1968, pp. 321-55; Kossuth 
Lajos osszes munkai [KLOM ], Budapest, 1948- , iii, pp. 55, 622; ibid., iv, p. 52. 

11 Daniel Rapant, Slovenske povstanie roku 1848-49: dejiny a dokumenty, 13 vols, 
T.Sv. Martin/Bratislava, 1937-67, i-ii. The ‘Ziadosti’ are printed ibid, ii, no. 66. 



Robert Evans 


125 


spearhead an ill-organized and scrappy counter-insurrection. 12 It was 
mastered with ease by Kossuth’s government of national defence, whose 
troops and officials henceforth for months gave at least as good as they 
received from the Austrians, till forced into capitulation by the massive 
disciplined ranks of the one Slavonic great power. 

*** 

Clearly Kossuth won the first round of the fame stakes. Moreover, he did 
so in some measure at the expense of Stur and his kind. Kossuth was able 
to brand the Sturites as crypto-conservatives, pulling Habsburg chestnuts 
out of the fire — or alternatively, and however incompatibly, as 
dangerous ‘communists’ or anarchists, threatening the destruction of 
every accepted value. All this confirmed Kossuth’s reputation both as a 
radical liberal politician and as a great national leader, not just among his 
own people. On the one hand he became an icon across the continent; on 
the other he exerted a wider impact within east-central Europe. Even most 
Slovak opinion, so far as it was engaged at all, proved Magyarone in 
1848-49. That is evident from the very patchy response in Upper 
Hungary to the overtures from Stur and his fellow rebels, who were repu¬ 
diated, for example, in little towns like Krupina and Zvolen which, as 
modest citadels of Slovak culture, had previously entrusted Palkovic and 
Stur with their dietal mandate. 13 Years later one of the most diehard and 
anti-Magyar Slovak leaders, Hurban, actually admitted Kossuth’s allure, 
writing of his ‘unprecedented and unheard-of attraction. Kossuth was a 
phenomenon; every trait and feature in him was manly beauty.’ 14 (I have 
not quite cited the whole of that verdict yet: the remainder will follow at 
the end of this essay.) 

Then came Vilagos and the Bach hussars. But precisely the success, 
until they were quashed by military force majeure, of the civic and liberal 
aspects of the 1848 programme, the ones most incarnated in Kossuth, 
encouraged a reassertion of those policies when the Hungarian opposition 
later regained its initiative in the Habsburg Monarchy. The 1867 settle¬ 
ment was widely seen as a vindication of his best ideas, even if Kossuth 
condemned it in dudgeon from his exile. By contrast the Slovak 

12 Described in exhaustive detail, and with rival interpretations, in Rapant, Slovenske 

povstanie, and Lajos Steier, A tot nemzetisegi kerdes 1848-49-ben , 2 vols, 

Budapest, 1937. 

13 Steier, Nemzetisegi kerdes, esp. ii, nos 5-18. 

14 Hurban, Ludovit Stur, p. 284; cf. pp. 538f. 



126 


Kossuth and Stur: Two National Heroes 


movement lost its impetus for a full half-century. Stur, soon disillusioned 
with the post-war regime, retired into the shadows and wrote — in 
German — a strange defence of Russian pan-Slavism which hardly 
became known until much later, and certainly could not contribute further 
to his progressive reputation, before his tragic early death in a hunting 
accident. 15 Stur’s earlier political ideas indeed re-emerged in the Slovak 
Memorandum of 1861, then in the cultural association called Matica 
Slovenska. But so ,pari passu , did the ideas of Kossuth’s former ally Zay, 
which were now taken up by another Magyarizing zealot in Upper 
Hungary, Bela Griinwald, who was instrumental in dissolving the Matica 
and reducing the Slovak cause to impotence and to an apparent total 
marginality. Even Kossuth, who in emigration famously became a 
convert to confederal notions and national reconciliation, never seriously 
rethought his position vis-a-vis the Slovaks. 16 

When Kossuth died in 1894, his popular reputation stood secure, even 
if official attitudes remained more equivocal because of his entrenched 
stance against the Austrian connection and — so far as this was still 
remembered — his unwelcome option for co-operation with some of the 
Magyars’ neighbours. From then on the cult set in, with a proliferation of 
Kossuth streets (beginning with the one down which his hearse had 
passed in Pest), statues, and the rest. Meanwhile Stur’s posthumous celeb¬ 
rity was just beginning to germinate, with the gradual Slovak reaction to 
those aggravated Magyarization policies by the turn of the century. It 
surely proved important for him — and an intriguing contrast with the 
splendid isolation in which Kossuth has always been depicted — that Stur 
found a Boswell in Hurban, whose biography of his friend, dripping in 
pathos but a powerful and intimate portrait with excellent command of 
detail, first appeared in the 1880s. 17 Stur’s prestige was enhanced, ironi¬ 
cally, when a younger generation of Slovaks returned to the pro-Czech 


15 Das Slawenthum und die Welt der Zukunft, critical edn. by Josef Jirasek, 
Bratislava, 1931. There had already been certain hints of conservatism, in terms of 
both German cultural influence and Holy Alliance proclivities, in Stur’s earlier 
years, particularly in his pamphlet Das 19. Jahrhundert und der Magyarismus. 

16 For Griinwald: Mihaly Lacko, Haldl Parizsban: Griinwald Bela tortenesz muvei es 
betegsegei, Budapest, 1986; cf. in general Laszlo Szarka, Szlovak nemzeti fejlodes, 
magyar nemzetisegi politika, 1867-1918, Bratislava, 1995. Endre Kovacs, A 
Kossuth-emigracio es az europai szabadsagmozgalmak, Budapest, 1967. 

17 Hurban, Ludovit Stur , first appeared in instalments in the periodical Slovenske 
Pohl’ady. Stur, however, fared less well abroad. The first major study of him in a 
world language appeared only in 1913 with Helene Tourtzer [Turcerova]’s Louis 
Stur et Videe de I’independance slovaque, Cahors/Alen^on, 1913, and this work, a 
Paris thesis, though a work of real quality, was little noticed. 



Robert Evans 


127 


orientation from which he had, to a degree, distanced himself; but 
combined this with the broader public appeal and the practical cultivation 
of nationality through material betterment and associational activities 
which had been hallmarks of the Sturites. Whereas the cult of Stur was at 
first restricted to small groups of patriots, and above all Lutheran ones, it 
spread as the Slovak peasantry came to be mobilized more effectively in 
the early twentieth century. With the caesura of 1918 and the full-scale 
quest for antecedents of the modem Slovak cause, he took his place as the 
revered creator of a unified national movement in its first and formative 
phase. 


*** 

Stur’s fame was now helped by a curious episode involving Kossuth at 
that diet which they had jointly attended. On 17 November 1847 Stur had 
given his maiden speech, calling for municipal rights — as befitted a 
representative of the towns — but also lamenting the hardships of the 
common man. At this, it appears, Kossuth himself riposted: ‘... [it is] fate 
that he who stands lower in society must be abased and bear burdens, 
whereas he who rises in civic life gains rights and respect...’. His obser¬ 
vation, so it seems, was stored up by Stur, who delivered a spirited 
rebuttal of it when he next spoke, at greater length, on 21 December. 18 
The exchange looks a very odd one. Can Kossuth have made such unchar¬ 
acteristic remarks at all? The record in his complete works only hints at 
such a passage, and with a more or less opposite meaning. 19 Yet neither is 
there any suggestion that Stur, who definitely quoted Kossuth’s words 
before the assembled deputies, had made them up — in which case he 
would surely have been brought to account by the insulted party himself. 
Not that the authorized versions of Stur’s are always beyond reproach — 

18 Stur’s speech of 21 Dec. 1847, printed from Slovenske Narodne Noviny , in E. Stur, 
Kde lezi nase bieda?, T. Sv. Martin, 1948, pp. 141-53. Cf. Jan Hucko, livot a dielo 
Ludovita Stura, Martin, 1984, pp. 148-52. 

19 Kossuth Lajos az utolso rendi orszaggyulesen, 1847-8 [= KLOM , xi], ed. Istvan 
Barta, Budapest, 1951, no. 65, pp. 304f.: ‘... Valodi fatumnak tekintem, hogy 
nalunk mindenki kivaltsagra torekszik ... Ha ki a koznep sorabol kiemelkedett, 
azonnal felmentetik a kozterhektol, mint honoratior; senki sem akar nep lenni. Ez 
bun, ez szerencsetlenseg a nemzetre nezve, s kik reformra vagyunk hivatva, tobbe 
nem tiirhetunk illy anomaliakat; ki kell ezeket egyenliteni az ujabb kor 
sziiksegeivel ...’ This was part of Kossuth’s basically hostile reply to (unspecified) 
town representatives on that day. There is no other suggestion of a reply to Stur. 
Kossuth made appeals for compulsory peasant emancipation on 3 Dec. 1847 and 6 
Mar. 1848: ibid., pp. 369ff., 634fif. 



128 Kossuth and Stur: Two National Heroes 

as in what they choose to retail from his comments on the Jewish 
problem. 20 

At all events the incident was seized on when Slovak history came to be 
popularized. And what better scapegoat could be found than Kossuth, 
branded as an arch-traitor anyway to the nationality of his forebears? The 
diet clash became part of the whole rhetoric of the former underdogs, 
alleged already by the Sturites, that Slovaks, as part of their great contribu¬ 
tion to Hungarian civilization, had always promoted enlightenment and 
emancipation, whereas the benighted Magyars had brought and sustained 
only feudalism. 21 Let us consider just two significant examples of the use of 
this episode. The first is by Milan Hodza, a leading ‘young Slovak’ 
campaigner from the turn of the century onwards — who much later was to 
serve as the last Czechoslovak premier before the onset of the Munich 
crisis. Hodza, although a nephew of one of Stur’s closest associates, oper¬ 
ated in the spirit of T. G. Masaryk’s revived Czechoslovak ideals and was 
therefore uneasy about the Sturites’ language reform. But he picked up in 
his speeches on the Kossuth-Stur exchange, and employed it as a stick with 
which to beat the effete and gentrified political life, as he saw it, of Dualist 
Hungary. Hence, for instance, when R. W. Seton-Watson gave a lecture in 
Vienna on the Hungarian question early in 1909, Hodza seized the opportu¬ 
nity in subsequent discussion to attack Kossuth, citing the slogan The 
people are destined to suffer’[‘Fatum ludu je trpet”] as if it encapsulated 
the essence of his philosophy. Besides probably nonplussing the guest 
speaker, Hodza’s intervention elicited a reproof from the liberal Austrian 
historian, Heinrich Friedjung, who was certainly no Magyarophile. 22 

The second case is that of Vladimir (Vlado) dementis, another 
seminal figure in modem Slovak identity-creation, dementis was a left- 
wing patriot, active in the Second World War emigration, and subse¬ 
quently foreign minister, who then fell foul of Stalinism and became the 
prime Slovak victim of the Slansky trial. From his schooldays at Skalica/ 
Szakolca in the last years of Austria-Hungary, he had been a foe to the 

20 Golan, Sturovske pokolenie, p. 157, cites a diet speech of 21 January 1848, 
defending the exclusion of Jews from the Upper Hungarian mining towns, which 
seems to have disappeared from the record, e.g. from Stur, Kde lezl nase bieda?, or 
his Reci a state , Bratislava, 1953, or his Dielo. Vol.I: Politicke state a prejavy , 
Bratislava, 1954. 

21 Forceful and — within the Slovak tradition — persuasive presentations of these 
claims by Stur himself (titles above, n.4) and above all in M. M. Hodza, Der 
Slowak: Beitrage zur Beleuchtung der slawischen Frage in Ungarn, Prague, 1848, 
a highly-charged product of the revolutionary year. 

22 Milan Hodza, Clanky, reci, studie, 5 vols, Prague, 1930-33, iii, pp. 24-26, 158f. 



Robert Evans 


129 


Magyar gentry. As a Czechoslovak publicist in London, dementis picked 
up on the Kossuth-Stur episode in a lecture of 1943 which formed the 
basis for an influential pamphlet on his people’s historical relationship 
with the Magyars, both in Slovak and in English translation. 23 The 
exchange lives on in modem texts for a wider audience, as in Hucko’s 
standard illustrated life of Stur — and the most dilettante enquirer now 
has immediate access to the whole of his diet speeches on a sophisticated 
Ludovit Stur website. 24 

The broader thesis about 1848 advanced by dementis, and already 

V 

adumbrated by Hodza, held that the Sturites were — as they themselves 
had affirmed — the only true progressives, whereas the Magyars under 
Kossuth were solely responsible for the failure of the revolution. Profes¬ 
sional historians had already begun to fight out this claim during the 
1920s and 1930s, notably in the confrontation between Daniel Rapant and 
Lajos Steier, a battle of giants, since both possessed an intimate knowl¬ 
edge of the period and impressive critical acumen. Rapant’s many- 
volumed exoneration of the Sturites was backed up by the Czech expert in 
the field, Josef Macurek, who accused Kossuth of seeking liberalism only 
for the nobles and hesitating to extend civil and political rights to the rest 
of the populace, especially if they were ignorant of Magyar, then of 
becoming a radical chauvinist during 1848-49, and finally of making no 
concessions to the Slovaks even in emigration. 25 

The reverberations of the issues persisted after 1945. At this juncture 
Hungarian-Slovak relations reached their nadir, with the attempt at forced 
transfer of the respective minority populations. The Marxist historians 
who now came to the fore were committed to some sort of rapprochement 
under the new Soviet aegis. Yet they showed themselves better at 
pointing in a vague way to common progressive traditions and jointly 
condemning their ‘bourgeois’ predecessors than at severally overcoming 
the latter’s prejudices in relation to 1848-49. 26 Each side continued to 
assert its own revolutionary bona fides, and castigated the other for 
remaining feudal, in the Magyar case, or for pacting with feudalists across 
the border, in the Slovak. The Hungarian historian Endre Arato did most 

23 Vladimir dementis, Medzi nami a mad’armi, London, 1943; trans., by R. Auty, as 
The Czechoslovak-Magyar Relationship, London, 1943, pp. 33-51, esp. 43. 

24 Hucko, jLivot ... Stura, pp. 148-56; http://www.stur.host.sk. 

25 Rapant, esp. Slovenskepovstanie\ Steier, esp. Nemzetisegi kerdes ; Macurek, Dejiny 
mad’aru a uherskeho statu, pp. 238f., 246ff., 251-53. 

26 Endre Kovacs and Jan Novotny, Magyar-cseh tortenelmi kapcsolatok, Budapest, 
1952, revised as Mad’ari a my: z dejin mad’arsko-ceskoslovenskych vztahu, Prague, 
1959. 



130 


Kossuth and Stur: Two National Heroes 


to achieve a synthesis. Bom in working-class Komamo/Komarom in 1921 
and well familiar with both sides of the picture (his first article treated the 
origins of the Slovak national movement), Arato was both a good 
communist and a genuine supranationalist. His attempt to argue for an 
inter-ethnic democratic solidarity in Hungary in 1848-49 bore too clearly 
the marks of the ruling ideology of his day, but it did establish a healthy 
critical distance from both Kossuth and Stur. 27 

For all the bridge-building of Arato and his like, the legacy of 1848-49 
in Upper Hungary has remained a troubling one for both parties. That is 
evidence of the lasting significance of the revolution and its heroes for 
Hungarian and Slovak national self-esteem. And meanwhile scholars such 
as Arato found a happy ending for the Kossuth-Stur story. According to 
one Czech contemporary, Kossuth took Stur aside after his fiery speech in 
favour of the oppressed people, congratulated his critic, shook him by the 
hand, and urged him to join the common cause of breaking the power of 
the selfish ‘magnates’ and instituting social reform. The witness is a not 
unproblematical one; but he knew Stur well, and there seems no reason to 
doubt that at this point there may have been reconciliation, whatever the 

V 

animosities which had earlier driven Kossuth to victimize Stur in his 

J V 

Bratislava lair and which later drove Stur to take up arms against 
Kossuth. 28 




27 Arato, Egykoru demokratikus nezetek az 1848-9 evi magyarorszagi forradalomrol 
es ellenforradalomrol, Budapest, 1971. See id., A nemzetisegi kerdes tortenete 
Magyarorszagon, 1790-1848, 2 vols, Budapest, 1960, i, pp. 229-55, ii, pp. 
113-62, for a balanced left-wing appraisal of the Slovak movement; Arato’s 
discursive bibliographies here (i, pp. 297—401, ii, pp. 223-96, passim) are rich 
sources for the whole historiography of the subject. Much the same material is 
recycled in the op.posth. by Arato, A magyarorszagi nemzetisegek nemzeti 
ideologiaja, Budapest, 1983, pp. 44-54, 71-84, 138ff. passim ; cf. ibid., pp. 
286-92, for a tribute to him by Emil Niederhauser. Contrast the much more 
jaundiced view of the Sturovci presented in his Beitrage by the emigre Lajos 
Gogolak, likewise a Hungarian from Slovakia but of gentry origin. 

28 Josef Vaclav Fric, Pameti, ed. K. Cvejn, 2 vols, Prague, 1957-60, i, p. 430. 
Kossuth’s words are rendered as: ‘Nedejte se odstrasit, naopak, pomahejte mi v 
mych zamerech zlomit odpor sobecke magnaterie a presvedcite se, ze mam rovnez 
vrele srdce pro utrpeni sveho i vaseho lidu, jemuz jen ruku v ruce jdouce muzeme 
ulevit.’ The passage (first published in the 1880s) is incorporated by Arato, 
Nemzetisegi kerdes , ii, p. 146; Magyarorszagi nemzetisegek , p. 167; Hucko, Zivot 
... Stura, p. 152; and most recently in the standard work Dejiny Slovenska. Vol. II: 
1526-1848, ed. S. Cambel, Bratislava, 1987, pp. 753f. 



Robert Evans 


131 


On a broader scale this vignette of our two parallel but incompatible 
protagonists illustrates the vagaries of popular history and the distortions 
introduced by national feeling into our record of the past. Besides the 
need for a hero, there is also the need for a villain to confirm the status of 
one’s own champion. The juxtaposition of Kossuth and Stur throws up 
more particular lessons, given the close interplay of the Magyar with the 
Slovak case — closer than with any other of Hungary’s nineteenth- 
century national movements (and even allowing for the obvious disparity, 
in that Magyar affairs were always central to Slovak patriots, while the 
latter were usually peripheral to most Magyars). 29 At one level mutual 
confusion has always operated. Thus Slovaks are inclined to spell their 
bugbear’s name ‘Kosut’, whether out of ignorance or in order by this 
gesture to identify him as an aberrant son of their nation; while Hungar¬ 
ians can rarely spell Eudovit Stur’s name correctly at all. 30 Misunder¬ 
standing, however, was compounded by a false sense of familiarity. Thus 
Slovaks have been apt to view Kossuth as a recognizably indigenous 
breed of conservative, and Hungarians have responded in kind in their 
judgment of the Sturites. 

Some real basis did exist for these preconceptions. Kossuth was 
nothing if he was not a liberator; yet in the two matters which most 
concerned the Slovak constituency he proved least liberal: over language 
and over peasant emancipation (given that only 20 per cent of land in 
Slovak areas was urbarial, and therefore redeemable in 1848). 31 Stur was 
likewise a liberator; yet he really did lapse later in his life into authentic 
reaction — even if that aspect, as opposed to his enforced flirtations with 
a two-faced Vienna, is hardly ever noticed by Hungarian commentators. 
And the context of Kossuth versus Stur serves also to indicate overlaps 
between the two national affiliations which they represented, in the still 
fluid situation before and during the revolution. Thus the two Zays, father 
and son, illustrate the transition from territorial allegiance towards 
Hungary to Magyar loyalty of an ethnic kind. Some of Stur’s colleagues 
later became prominent Magyarones. And if Lajos was no apostate, since 
he had never either spoken or felt himself Slovak, it is true that a cousin of 

V V 

his, Dord (Durko) Kossuth, collected over 600 signatures among the 
gentry of Turiec/Turoc county to press the demand for Stur’s 

29 A point well made by Arato, Magyarorszagi nemzetisegek, pp. 138ff. 

30 They are not helped by the change in spelling of the forename from the earlier 

‘Ludevit’. 

31 Julius Mesaros, ‘K problemom zrusenia poddanstva na Slovensku. Urbarialny 

patent z 2. marca 1853’, Historicky Casopis, i (1953), pp. 595-633. 



132 


Kossuth and four: Two National Heroes 


newspaper. 32 I leave the last word on this complex love-hate relationship 
to Jozef Hurban, whose appreciation, already cited, of Kossuth’s ‘unprec¬ 
edented and unheard-of attraction’, depended on the ‘Slovak nature 
emanating from his whole person.’ 33 


Appendix: Star’s Career 

1815: 29 Oct. bom at Uhrovec/Zay-Ugroc, near Trencin/Trencsen, son of a 
schoolteacher 

1827: study in Gy or 

1829: study at Bratislava/Pozsony Lutheran gymnasium 

1835: Slavonic teacher there and secretary of Spolocnost’ ceskoslovenska (Czecho¬ 
slovak Society) 

1836: 24 Apr. patriots visit Devin/Deveny 

1837: Spolocnost’ ceskoslovenska banned; founds Ustav reci a literatury cesko- 
slovenskej (Institute for Czechoslovak Language and Literature) 

1838: study at Halle 

1840: returns to Bratislava gymnasium as acting professor of Slavonic languages 
and history 

1841- 43: edits literary journals and writes polemics, esp. St ary a novy vek 
Slovaku, Beschwerden und Klagen der Slaven in Ungarn, Das 19. Jahrhundert 
und der Magyarismus 

1842- 44: co-initiator of Slovak petition to emperor (Prestolny prosbopis) 

1843- 46: plans for language reform based on a new variety of (mainly central) 
Slovak, expounded in a text, Narecie slovenske alebo potreba pisania v tomto 
nareci, and a grammar, Nauka reci slovenskej 

1843: accused of‘betrayal of homeland’ and dismissed from Bratislava gymna¬ 
sium 

1845: Aug-1848 edits Slovenske narodne noviny, first Slovak newspaper 

1847: Oct. diet deputy for Zvolen/Zolyom 

1848: Apr.-May in Vienna and Prague: conceives and orchestrates plans for 
Slav Congress; foundation of patriotic society Slovanska lipa (Slavonic 
Linden) 

May: co-author of Slovak political programme, Ziadosti slovenskeho naroda, 
proclaimed at Liptovsky Svaty Mikulas/Liptoszentmiklos; flight to Prague 


32 Magyarones: Many examples in Gogolak, Beitrage, passim; cf. Steier, Nemzetisegi 
kerdes , i. pp. 17ff., and id., Beniczky Lajos ... visszaemlekezesei es jelentesei , 
Budapest, 1927. fiord Kossuth: Vyvljalova, Slovenskje narodhje novini, pp. 83f., 
86, 103f., 120, 172f., 247f. 

33 ‘... priroda slovenska ziariaca z celej osobnosti kossuthovej mala nebyvalu, 
neslychanu prit’azlivost’. Kossuth byl fenomenalny zjav, kazda ciarka a crta na 
nom bola muzska krasa’: Hurban, Ludovit four, p. 284; emphasis mine. 



Robert Evans 


133 


June: Slav Congress in Prague; flight to Zagreb 

Sept: founds Slovak National Council (Slovenska narodna rada) in Vienna 
Sept.-July 1849: joint leader of three armed incursions into Upper Hungary 
1849: petitions to Vienna in Slovak cause 

Nov. volunteers dissolved; returns to Uhrovec, then Modra/Modor (near Bratis¬ 
lava) under police surveillance 

1851- 3: deaths of brother, father, mother, beloved 

1852- 3: writes (in Czech) on Slav folklore, O narodmch pisnich a povestech 
piemen slovanskych 

1854: writes T)as Slawenthum und die Welt der Zukunff (first published in 
Russia, 1867) 

1855: Dec. injured in hunting accident at Modra 
1856: 12 Jan. dies at Modra 





































































































































Mirror Images: Kossuth and Jelacic in 1848—49 


Alan Sked 

1848 was the year in which Heaven seemed to come to earth. It brought 
about the ‘springtime of the peoples’, the overthrow of Prince Mettemich 
and his system, the restoration of the republic in France, and opened up new 
vistas of domestic reform and international reorganization and cooperation. 

Europe appeared to have become a tabula rasa in terms of interna¬ 
tional relations and all sorts of schemes were debated about its imminent 
transformation. Prince Czartoryski believed that Poland, for example, 
could be restored through the co-operation of France and Prussia (to be 
absorbed in a new German Union) in alliance with a new confederation of 
Hungary, the Danubian Principalities, and the South Slav states, backed 
by a united Italy. 1 In Germany there were hopes that the unification of 
Germany (including Bohemia) would enable the Germans to dominate 
Europe, 2 while the Hungarians believed that the Habsburgs, shorn of their 
German and Italian provinces, would come to Buda and make their 
Monarchy essentially a Hungarian one. 3 In the meantime, the more reac¬ 
tionary elements in the Habsburg army and court worked towards the 
restoration of the old regime in alliance with Russia, 4 while others hoped 
that the Monarchy might transform itself into a federation of free peoples 

1 His views, of course, developed as events changed. See inter alia M. Kukiel, 
Czartoryski and European Unity, 1770-1861, Princeton, 1955. 

2 See especially the work of Gunther Wollstein, including Das ’Grossdeutschand ’. 
Nazionale Ziele in der biirgerlichen Revolution 1848/49. Diisseldorf, 1977. See 
also Hans Feske, ‘Imperialistische Tendenzen in Deutschland vor 1866. 
Auswanderungen, iiberseeische Bestrebungen, Weltmachttraume’ in Historisches 
Jahrbuch, 97/98, 1978, pp. 336-83. 

3 See Istvan Hajnal, A Batthyany-kormany kiilpolitikaja, Budapest, 1957. 

4 For a discussion of the role of the so-called ‘court camarilla’, see Alan Sked, The 
Decline and Fall of the Habsburg Empire, 1815-1918, second, expanded edition, 
London and New York, 2001, pp. 121-36. Also E. Andies, A Habsburgok es 
Romanovok szovetsege, Budapest, 1961; E. Andies, Das Biindnis Habsburg- 
Romanow, Budapest, 1963; and Ian W. Roberts, Nicolas I and the Russian 
Intervention in Hungary, London, 1991. 


135 



136 


Mirror Images: Kossuth and Jelacic in 1848-49 

with equal rights in which the Slavs would have a majority. 5 For many 
months, anything seemed possible. 

In this atmosphere many remarkable careers were forged. One thinks 
particularly of that of Louis Napoleon Bonaparte in France. However, within 
the Habsburg Monarchy, one imperial hero, Field Marshal Radetzky was to 
emerge from the debacle of 1848-49, along with two national ones, namely 
Kossuth and Jelacic. I have attempted to explain the role and significance of 
Radetzky elsewhere 6 and would now like to further my revision of the role of 
Jelacic, 7 by comparing his career in 1848 with that of Kossuth. Both, as has 
been said, emerged as national heroes, although both at the time were deadly 
enemies and seen to be such. One, Kossuth, became the darling of the inter¬ 
national liberal world (especially after visits in 1851 and 1852 to England 
and the United States, where his powerful oratory in fluent, magnificent 
English, learned in prison in Buda, endeared him to all progressive and 
freedom-loving citizens), whereas Jelacic, the man who had helped suppress 
the Viennese and Hungarian revolutions as a general in the Habsburg army, 
was seen as a leading ‘reactionary’, the darling of the aristocratic world that 
celebrated the success of the counter-revolution. 8 And yet... If one looks at 
both men dispassionately and objectively, both turn out to be glorious, 

5 See Andreas Moritsch (ed.), Der Austroslavismus. Ein verfriihtes Konzept zur 
politischen Neugestaltung Mitteleuropas. Vienna, Cologne and Wiemar, 1996. 

6 See Alan Sked, The Survival of the Habsburg Empire. Radetzky, the Imperial Army 
and the Class War, 1848, London and New York, 1979. 

7 See Alan Sked, ‘Jelacic in the Summer of 1848’, Siidost-Forschungen, 57, 1998, 
pp. 129-64. 

8 Hungarian historians cannot shake off this view. Gy. Spira for example refers to him 
as ‘the savagely reactionary Josip Jelacic ... bound to the Hungarian crown in feudal 
allegiance ...’ See Gy. Spira, A Hungarian Count in the Revolution of1848, Budapest, 
1974, p. 66. More recently Erzsebet Fabian-Kiss has written: ‘Jelacic was an obedient 
tool of the court; he exploited the Croat nationalist movement ...’ See E. Fabian-Kiss 
(ed.) Die Ungarischen Ministerratsprotokolle aus den Jahren 1848-1849, Budapest, 
1998, p. 93, ft. 13. (Henceforth referred to as ‘ Hungarian cabinet minutes.') 
Astonishingly, Hungarian historians continue to make such charges, despite the ban’s 
abolition of feudalism and his dismissal for disobedience; despite the fact, too, that 
Jelacic could tell his troops in September 1848: ‘Since my appointment as ban I have 
received twenty-one letters from the Kaiser which it grieved me not to be able to obey. 
His Majesty has approved my work at last; but, if he sends me twenty-one more 
commands to turn my course, I cannot do it. I must work for His Majesty even against 
his will.’ (Quoted in Sked, Jelacic in the Summer of 1848, p. 129.) Indeed, Pulszky 
argues in his memoirs that the court put Lamberg in charge of Hungary at the end of 
September 1848 precisely because if Jelacic had conquered Buda, he would have 
become a political problem for it: ‘... he had got used to disregarding royal orders. ’ 
Franz Pulszky, Meine Zeit, Mein Leben, 4 vols, Pressburg and Leipzig, 1881, vol. 2, 
Wahrend der Revolution, pp. 204-05. (Henceforth ‘ Pulszky Memoirs'.) 



Alan Shed 


137 


charismatic failures, frustrated national leaders who were defeated by 
Habsburg intrigue and duplicity. They had much more in common even than 
that. If the Archduke Joseph, Palatine of Hungaiy, could warn his brother, 
the Archduke Ludwig, on 1 December 1842 that the Illyrian eader, Gaj, was 
‘the Croatian Kossuth', 9 he would have been nearer the truth had he made 
that remark about Jelacic. Yet his letter succeeded in reaching the heart of the 
matter: 10 

A career of 47 [!] years in public life, particularly in a country, which is ruled 
constitutionally and in which all matters are discussed publicly, gives me the 
right to assume that I have enough experience in such things to know that in 
troubled times most people pursue the same aims in the same way with the 
same means. From this I draw the conclusion that the Illyrian Tendency, 
Illyrism, is closely related to Ultra-Magyarism, that Gaj can justifiably be called 
the Croatian Kossuth , that they are travelling the same route, aiming to promote 
their cause by the same means ... and I would not be surprised if, in the middle 
of the confusion arising in Croatia, that at the next diet, Kossuth and Gaj did not 
attach themselves to another tendency, namely promoting ultra-liberalism. This 
is my view, in this, to my mind, very important matter ... 

The Archduke was absolutely right about one thing. Illyrism and Ultra- 
Magyarism by 1848 would be led by two liberals. He was wrong, 
however, in thinking that these leaders would be allies. 

For the sake of clarity, let us list the qualities shared by both men, 
before discussing them in detail. * 11 Both were highly talented, multi¬ 
lingual, charismatic national leaders of about the same age. 12 Both were 
idealists. Both were liberals. Both were monarchists. Both were willing, 
however, to ignore and defy the court when necessary; both were accused 
of extremism by their political enemies as a result. Both had to build up 
armies for their national defence, since each expected to be attacked by 
the other. Both were, therefore, desperate for money. Both were to a 
certain extent prisoners of their local national public opinion, which 
adored them, but which both had to defy or mollify over the issue of 
sending troops to Italy to reinforce Field Marshal Radetzky’s army there. 
Both faced the problem of emancipating the serfs and both had to formu¬ 
late a ‘nationality’ policy. One had to bring about (or rather, restore) the 

9 For key documents on the Croat Question with a long historical introduction see 

Gyula Miskolczy (ed.) A horvat kerdes tortenete es iromanyai a rendi dllam 

kordban , 2 vols, Budapest, 1927-28. For the above quote see vol. 2., p. 22. 

Archduke Joseph to Archduke Ludwig, Buda, 1 December 1842. 

10 Ibid. 

11 Evidence for the assertions in this paragraph will be adduced below. 

12 Jelacic was bom on 16 October 1801; Kossuth on 19 September 1802. 



138 


Mirror Images: Kossuth and Jelacic in 1848-49 


union of Transylvania and Hungary, while the other had to bring about (or 
rather, restore) the union of Croatia-Slavonia and Dalmatia. In some 
respects, they adopted the same nationality policy. Both had military 
rivals to deal with, although both would have preferred to settle their 
problems by peaceful means rather than through war. Both had been 
appointed (and reappointed) to office in extraordinary circumstances. 
Both, as a result, felt it necessary to be careful not to be seen to break the 
law at key periods, although both — significantly — were willing as a last 
resort to gamble on military success. Both probably saved the Habsburg 
dynasty at least once, although both were double-crossed by the 
Habsburgs at least twice. In the end the dynasty succeeded in defeating 
the ideals of both men. Kossuth died a frustrated exile; Jelacic, ignored 
under the Bach system, died frustrated at home in 1859, ten years after the 
success of the counter-revolution. In so many ways, therefore, Kossuth 
and Jelacic led parallel lives, despite being deadly enemies. 


Parallel Processes 

In his chapter in this book 13 and in his magisterial account of the role of 
Hungary in the nineteenth century Habsburg Monarchy in the relevant 
volume of the prestigious series devoted to the Monarchy by the Austrian 
Academy of Sciences, 14 Laszlo Peter has rightly emphasized what he 
refers to as the conversion of the Hungarian constitution in 1848 from one 
based on the ancient dualism between crown and country ( orszag ) to one 
based on constitutional principles of representative and accountable 
government, a civil society and equality of rights. Eventually the old 
concept of a Hungarian kingdom in which the diet and the county assem¬ 
blies battled on behalf of the nobles and their historic rights against the 
king and compromised through agreements reached at the diets and 
through statements of principle incorporated in coronation oaths and royal 
inaugural diplomas, gave way to the idea of a Hungarian state in which all 
citizens were equal before the laws made in the National Assembly by the 
nation’s elected representatives. In Peter’s words: ‘The first attempt to 
transform the rights of monarch and orszag into a liberal system of laws, 


13 See Chapter IV, above. 

14 Laszlo Peter, ‘Die Verfassungsentwicklung in Ungam’ in Helmut Rumpler and 
Peter Urbanitsch (eds) Die Habsburgermonarchie, 1848-1918, Band VII/I, 
Verfassungsrechte, Verfassungswirklichkeit, Zentrale Rapresentativkorperschaften, 
Vienna, 2000, pp. 239-540. 



Alan Sked 


139 


namely, the April Laws, represented an essentially more far-reaching 
conversion of the constitution than all following attempts’ 15 — indeed, a 
standard for all future Hungarian politics to the end of the Monarchy and 
beyond. This is not to say that he is unaware of the overwhelming domi¬ 
nance of the Hungarian nobility both in 1848 and after 1867 — he fully 
records the lack of non-noble deputies (fewer than ten) in 1848 16 and 
knows that the nobles’ stranglehold became even tighter after the 
Compromise of 1867 — but he insists — I think correctly — that in 1848, 
there was radical change. The nobles surrendered their privileges over 
their serfs, for example, in the most important advance taken towards a 
civil society in Hungary till then; the government became independent 
and responsible, with ministers made liable to impeachment; the franchise 
was extended to about a quarter of the adult male population or about six 
per cent of the population as a whole; all laws had to be made and coun¬ 
tersigned by Hungarian ministers; and all the functions of the previous 
royal institutions and offices (the dicasteria ) were now to be taken over 
by the responsible government. All these changes were incorporated in 
the April Laws 17 of 1848 and as a result, the very discourse of Hungarian 
politics changed. 1848 brought in new concepts such as ‘constitution’, 
‘responsible government’, ‘civil society’ and ‘legal sovereignty’. 18 By 19 
April 1849, the Hungarian Declaration of Independence was employing 
the word ‘state’ three times, meaning a sovereign entity governed by a 
responsible ministry accountable to a legislature elected by the people. It 
also claimed for it the same ‘natural rights’ as all the other states of 
Europe and the civilized world. In the eighteenth century, on the other 
hand, the ‘state’ had simply meant a number of royal institutions with 
historic rights — in fact, the crown — and was seen to be separate from 
the orszag, which had its own rights. 19 


15 Peter, op. cit., p. 277. 

16 ‘The contrast with the social composition of the Reichstag in Vienna in 1848 is 
astonishing:’ Peter, op. cit, p. 280, ft. 177. On pp. 240-41 he also explains that after 
1867 Hungarian political life became merely a continuation of the old system 
whereby the nobles — now as a parliamentary oligarchy — continued the ancient 
struggle between the orszag and crown. The point is that there are continuities and 
discontinuities in Hungarian constitutional history in the nineteenth century, with 
1848 representing the greatest discontinuity. 

17 For an English version of these, see Appendices 16 and 27 of Vol. II of William H. 
Stiles, Austria in 1848-49 , 2 vols, New York, 1852. Stiles was the US charge 
d’affaires in Vienna during the revolutions. 

18 Peter, op. cit , p. 240. 

19 Peter, op. cit , pp. 292-94. 



140 


Mirror Images: Kossuth and Jelacic in 1848-49 


It is in his discussion of these April Laws, however, that Peter becomes 
curiously defensive. He writes: ‘The process of drawing up the April Laws 
undoubtedly demonstrates too hasty a procedure. Yet ... the criticism, that 
they had their role in the conflict, also partly fails ... the April Laws — so far 
as this was possible in 1848 — created a coherent system of government.’ To 
be frank, Peter is extremely protective about the Hungarian record in 1848 
— ‘ 1848 remains holy ground; the attitude taken towards the April Laws by 
academics has been correspondingly respectful’ 20 — leading him to state 
opinions like the following: 21 ‘It also cannot be forgotten that the Batthyany 
government maintained political stability in Pest for almost half a year. How 
many other governments that came to power through the revolutionary 
movement in the spring of 1848 could endure for so long elsewhere?’ 

Peter attributes the endurance of the government to the political expe¬ 
rience and cooperation of Hungarian cabinet members, who overcame 
their political differences, 22 although a truer explanation might focus on 
the Habsburg desire to keep Hungarian affairs on the backbumer until the 
Italian war was won. In any case, he fails to realize that the answer to his 
rhetorical question is simply ‘Croatia’. 

Peter’s account of Croatia’s place in events in 1848 is less than 
generous. He quotes the alispan of Bihar county’s (Janos Beothy’s) state¬ 
ment of 14 July 1784 referring to Hungary, Croatia-Slavonia and Transyl¬ 
vania, that ‘these three countries possess the same freedoms under a 
single crown’ as well as Croatia’s 1791 version of Hungary’s Law X of 
1790, claiming independence (‘ propriam habuerint consistentiam ’) but 
adds: ‘In fact, it (Croatia) had (centuries before) united with Hungary on 
condition that this status must be maintained. ( erhalten bleiben musse.y 22, 

20 Peter, op. cit., p. 277. Those who attended the Kossuth conference will remember 
that I had to gently chide him for ‘greater Magyar chauvinism’. 

21 Peter, op. cit., p. 286. 

22 Ibid, footnote 197. 

23 Peter, op. cit., p. 261. Hungary’s famous Law X of 1790 on which all was staked 
in 1848 read: ‘... Hungary remains with her neighbouring territories, however, 
with regard to her entire lawful form of government, including her dicasteria , a 
free and independent kingdom, subject to no other kingdom or people, but 
possessing her own status and own constitution and shall therefore be ruled and 
governed by her lawfully crowned hereditary king ... in agreement with her own 
laws and traditional rights and not according to the norms of other lands.’ The 
Croat diet or Sabor in 1791 made the same claim for Croatia and the 
Transylvanian diet did the same for Transylvania. (See Peter, op. cit, pp. 260-61.) 
He is even less generous about the Serbs of the Vojvodina, whose claims to 
autonomy he dismisses on the grounds (p. 285, ft. 194) that ‘scarcely a third of the 
population spoke Serbian [sic].’ On the other hand, he admits (p. 263) that fewer 



Alan Shed 


141 


Peter admits, however, that the Hungarian diet sought to ‘majoritize’ the 
Croat ‘minority’ in the 1840s over the language issue and ‘the central 
question over the language issue was the position of Croatia as such. In 
December 1847 the then opposition leader, Kossuth, called the existence 
of Croatia into question.’ 24 

Certainly the April Laws of 1848 were designed to apply to Croatia- 
Slavonia as part of a single, liberal state. Deputies were to be elected to the 
new Hungarian parliament even from the Croatian Military Frontier. Since 
the granting of civil rights to all Croatians under the April Laws was meant 
to make them equal citizens with Hungarians, there was no need for them to 
have a separate government or parliament. Transylvania, likewise, would be 
incorporated into the new, liberal, united Hungary. The issue of Croatia (or 
Transylvania) being a separate country was ignored. 25 The new press law 
(article 18) made ‘agitation’ against ‘the inviolable unity of the state in the 
territory of the holy Hungarian crown’ (‘tokeletes alladalmi egyseg ’) a 
punishable offence. 26 Jelacic’s reply to such claims was simply a blank 
refusal to have anything to do with the April Laws or the new government 
that had been created by them. 27 Indeed, as early as 1 April 1848 — even 
before the April Laws had been agreed by the monarch — Vienna was 


than 40% of the population of Hungary spoke Hungarian! The Croat historian, 
Niksa Stancic, in his article, ‘Das Jahr 1848 in Kroatien: unvollendete Revolution 
und nationale Integration’, Siidost-Forschungen, 58, (1998), pp. 103-28, p. 124, 
states that the Serbs were a majority in the Vojvodina. 

24 Peter, op. cit., p. 265. 

25 Technically a ‘provincial assembly’ would have been granted to a reduced Civil 
Croatia, shorn of Rijeka, Osijek, the Military Border, and the three Slavonian counties. 
It would have been controlled however by a pro-Magyar majority — the 1845 court 
decree banning personal votes for the Turopolje nobles was overturned — and a pro- 
Magyar Ban was expected to be appointed. See Stancic, op. cit., p. 115. 

26 Peter, op. cit., p. 284. 

27 ‘[The April Laws] had completely abolished traditional Croatian autonomy. Thus 
Jelacic regarded the constitutional link with Hungary as de facto at an end.’ See 
Miijana Gross, ‘Die Landtage der Ungarische Krone. A. Der kroatische Sabor 
(Landtag)’, in Rumpler and Urbanitsch (eds), op. cit., VI1/2, pp. 2283-2316, p. 2286. 
Jelacic decared the union with Hungary dissolved by proclamation on 19 April 1848, 
a decision that was confirmed by the Sabor on 5 June. See Iskra Iveljic, ‘Stiefkinder 
Osterreichs’: Die Kroaten und der Austroslavismus’, in Moritsch (ed.), op. cit., pp. 
125-37, p. 126. All officials were told to have nothing to do with the Hungarian 
government or its supporters on pain of court martial. (See Hungarian cabinet 
minutes, 1 May 1848.) It is slightly unclear whether the Hungarians recognized Jelacic 
as Ban at first. Certainly their cabinet minutes refer to him as such but at their first 
cabinet meeting it was reported that ‘so long as his authority and official duties were 
not recognized’, the Ban would not consent to meet the Palatine. The main concern of 



142 


Mirror Images: Kossuth and Jelacic in 1848-49 


receiving reports of ‘an uncommon reaction in Croatia among Illyrians, 
Croats and Slavonians against the Hungarian nation ...’ 28 The commanding 
general of the Slavonian General Command, as early as 7 May, wrote to the 
War Minister of ‘the mling bitterness among the Slav people here against the 
Hungarians ... and their loud and openly repeated intention under no circum¬ 
stances to be subordinated to the royal Hungarian ministry,’ 29 while Jelacic 
was equally blunt in his reports. On one occasion he wrote: ‘The Land of 
Croatia and the whole Military Border will never submit to the Hungarian 
Ministry under any conditions’; 30 and on another: 31 ‘It is an undeniable fact 
that these border regiments will not recognize the Hungarian ministry under 
any circumstances and that I — even if I wanted to — could not subordinate 
myself to this ministry.’ Clearly, therefore, Croats wanted to make their own 
laws. 

Peter seems to be oblivious of the fact that Croatian and other histo¬ 
rians 32 have recorded the ‘conversion’ of the Croat constitution in 


the cabinet at this point seems to have been to ensure that the Croat Sabor was not 
convened. (See Hungarian cabinet minutes, 12 April 1848.) Curiously, though, 
when the cabinet agreed to request the Ban ‘in an appropriate manner’ to meet 
with it in Pest, it wrote to him in Latin, no longer the official language of Croatia. 
(Hungarian cabinet minutes, 19 April 1848.) On the other hand, it agreed on 20 
April that the language of education in Croatia should be Croat, since ‘at the 
Zagreb Academy one professor had already begun to teach in Croat.’ (Hungarian 
cabinet minutes, 20 April 1848.) Then on 1 May it was decided by the cabinet that 
‘correspondence with the Croatian authorities will be in Latin, that laws will be 
sent in Hungarian and Latin with an enclosed Croat translation, and that 
correspondence with the so-called Slavonian counties will be conducted in 
Hungarian.’ (Hungarian cabinet minutes, 1 May 1848). 

28 Vienna, Kriegsarchiv, MK (1848) 54. Report from the Gradiskaner regiment to the 
War Minister. 

29 Vienna, Kriegsarchiv, MK (1848) 2277, FML Hrabrovszky to War Minister Latour, 
7 May 1848. 

30 Vienna, Kriegsarchiv, MK (1848) 4526, Jelacic to Latour, 21 August, 1848. 

31 Vienna, Kriegsarchiv, MK (1848) 4123, Jelacic to Latour, 8 August, 1848. 

32 See for example, the works of Gross, Iveljic and Stancic above; also Wolfgang 
Kessler, Kultur und Gesellschaft in Kroatien und Slavonien in der ersten Halfte des 
19. Jahrhunderts, Munich 1981; Wolf-Dieter Behschnitt, Nationalismus bei Serben 
und Kroaten, 1830-1914. Analyse und Typologie der nationalen Ideologie, Munich, 
1980; Elinor Murray Despalatovic, ‘Ljudevit Gaj and the Illyrian Movement’, East 
European Monographs, XII, New York and London, 1975; and Wayne S. Vucinich, 
‘Croatian Illyrism: Its Background and Genesis’, in Stanley B. Winters and Joseph 
Held (eds.), Intellectual and Social Developments in the Habsburg Empire from 
Maria Theresa to World War I. Essays Dedicated to Robert A. Kann. East European 
Monographs XI, New York and London, 1975, pp. 55-113. 



Alan Sked 


143 


1848, just as he has recorded the ‘conversion’ of the Hungarian one. 
There were indeed more obstacles to this process in Croatia — a 
unicameral diet, greater aristocratic interest in the Hungarian Upper 
House, the subordination of the Croatian royal council to the 
Hungarian Palatine’s council in 1779, the surrender to the Hungarian 
diet of the Croatian diet’s right to approve taxation — yet, due largely 
to the reaction against Hungarian attempts to impose Magyar on the 
country as its official language, the Croats, arguing that historically 
theirs was not a conquered kingdom but one that had reached a mutual 
agreement with the Hungarian crown, succeeded in resisting the impo¬ 
sition of Magyar until in 1847 the diet voted unanimously to replace 
Latin by Croatian as the official tongue. In the course of this political 
struggle, the nobles also agreed that the country needed to be modern¬ 
ized and became willing to abolish feudal dues, albeit not in the way 
the Hungarian reformers were demanding. This resistance on the part 
of the Croats was supported by the court in Vienna, which in 1845 
issued a decree banning the Turopolje peasant nobles, who were pro- 
Magyar, from exercising a personal vote in the Sabor. Then 33 ‘... the 
group that supported social change on the basis of a moderate liberal 
programme achieved the upper hand in both the Croat national move¬ 
ment and the diet of 1848, something which had not happened during 
the pre-March period.’ A national assembly met on 25 March at Zagreb 
and drew up a petition of 30 points which represented ‘the demands of 
the nation’ and which included: freedom of the press, conscience, 
speech and learning; freedom to associate, assemble and petition; the 
representation of the people on the basis of equality without reference 
to rank in the forthcoming elections to the diet; equality of all before 
the law; freedom from feudal services etc. etc., And all these demands 
were met in 1848 either spontaneously, or through the acts of the ban 
or the diet. 

Jelacic summoned the diet which met on 5 June. The counties, the free 
cities, the border regiments, some market towns, the cathedral chapters 
and consistories (Catholic and Orthodox) elected deputies directly, 
whereas in the countryside they were elected indirectly through electors 
chosen by the oldest male members of households. The franchise was 
restricted by property, tax, and educational qualifications, so that the vote 
— which was cast publicly — was restricted to about 2.5 per cent of the 
population. Former dignitaries ( Virilisten ) continued to attend at the 
personal invitation of the ban, although most of Croatia’s high aristocrats, 


33 Stancic, op.cit., p. 107. 



144 


Mirror Images: Kossuth and Jelacic in 1848-49 


who were pro-Magyar, had fled to Hungary. 34 In any case, the diet which 
now termed itself a parliament or Reichstag ( derzavni sabor ) remained a 
unicameral assembly. 

What took place in Croatia in 1848 was undoubtedly ‘the conversion 
of the constitution’. In the words of Iveljic: 35 ‘It has to be stressed that in 
1848 the old feudal concept of Croatian constitutional law slowly disinte¬ 
grated and took on a new meaning: the struggle to be a modem, national 
state of its own.’ Croatian Liberals, in keeping with their desire to re¬ 
order the Monarchy, formulated a modernization programme for all 
aspects of society and the task of implementing this was given to the 
Ban's Council, a provisional Croat ministry, not approved by the ruler, 
that was active between May 1848 and June 1850 — much longer, there¬ 
fore, than Batthyany’s government. Its structure — departments of home 
affairs, culture and education, war, finance, the economy, justice etc — 
also demonstrated the division of autonomous and common affairs. 36 Its 
programme included the establishment of the principle of equality of all 
citizens (abolition of tax privileges for the nobility and clergy); the crea¬ 
tion of a modem administrative apparatus (the abolition of the traditional 
autonomy of the counties); the modernization of education; the establish¬ 
ment of a modem Croatian Landwehr ; the stimulation of the economy 
through the building of commercial roads, the regulation of waterways, 
the abolition of custom barriers, and the creation of a new tax system. It 
proved difficult to implement it in full, given splits in the ban’s council, 
opposition from Budapest and Vienna, the war in Italy and then with 
Hungary, and resistance from the old order, yet much was achieved. 37 
Feudal dues were certainly abolished with the state undertaking to 
compensate landlords, while in some respects the Croatian diet went 
further than the Hungarian one. 38 Croatian peasants were given the tradi¬ 
tional jura regalia minora , namely the rights to hunt, shoot, fish and 
butcher meat and to run taverns in the summer; they were also given the 
right to own or use mills of any kind. Disputes about vineyards and 
common pastures, however, remained. 39 

As in Hungary a new vocabulary emerged from all this political activity 
and change. Liberals talked of ‘freedom’, ‘equality’, ‘the nation’, ‘reforms’, 

34 On this topic the classic article is Vladimir Koscak, ‘Madzaronska emigracija 
1848’, Historijski Zbornik, 3, (1950), pp. 39-124. 

35 Op. cit., p. 128. 

36 Ibid. 

37 Iveljic, op. cit., pp. 128-29. 

38 Stancic, op. cit., p. 110. 

39 Ibid. 



Alan Shed 


145 


‘self-consciousness’, ‘a new era’, ‘the spirit of the people’ and condemned 
the ‘chains’ of‘privilege’ and the ‘lethargic sleep’ of‘absolutism’. The ‘final 
act’ of the old diet proclaimed to the world — before Hungary’s Declaration 
of Independence — that Croatia had historic and natural rights to unity and 
independence. 40 In 1848, therefore, parallel processes of constitutional 
conversion produced two leaders whose careers would be extremely similar. 


Similar Types? 

Kossuth 41 and Jelacic 42 were bom less than a year apart 43 into noble but 
not wealthy families. Both were highly intelligent, artistically inclined, 
and musical; Kossuth played the flute, Jelacic the piano. Kossuth wrote 
plays, one of which was performed in Pest — and attempted to write 
history — while Jelacic published poetry. Both were to develop an 
interest in politics. Kossuth would be imprisoned for publishing the 
records of the Hungarian county assemblies, while Jelacic was kept under 
observation by the secret police for his contacts with the Illyrian move¬ 
ment, including the formation of an officers’ branch within Count Drask¬ 
ovic’s ‘Croatian-Slavonian Economic League’. The result was that the 
commanding general in Croatia was ordered by the Court War Council ‘to 
put an end immediately to the political agitation of lieutenant-colonel 
Jelacic’. 44 Both had a reputation as handsome young men for enjoying life 
— partying, gambling, drinking — and both were said to enjoy the atten¬ 
tions of the opposite sex. However, while this may not have been true of 
Kossuth — according to one most distinguished historian, 45 ‘he had little 


40 Stancic, op. cit., p. 120. 

41 For Kossuth’s personal background see, Istvan Deak, The Lawful Revolution. Louis 
Kossuth and the Hungarians, New York, 1979, pp. 9-24. 

42 For Jelacic, see M. Hartley, The Man Who Saved Austria. Baron Jellacic, London, 
1912; Ernest Bauer, Josef Graf Jellachich de Buzim, Banus von Croatien, Schicksal 
und Legende des kroatischen Helden von 1848, Vienna and Munich, 1975; and 
Walter Gorlitz, Jelacic, Symbol fur Kroatien, Die Biographie, Vienna and Munich, 
1992. 

43 See footnote 11 above. 

44 Bauer, op. cit., pp. 40-41. 

45 Deak, op. cit., p. 24. He writes: ‘Nor does it seem that Kossuth ever spent time on 
women. The rumor linking him with the beautiful countess in Zemplen was 
probably only a rumor. Kossuth was later to marry a penniless, hard-working and 
passionately dedicated woman. No one knew anything concrete about Kossuth’s 
intimate life in 1832 or later. The only reasonable explanation for this is that 
Kossuth had little intimate life. He was wrapped up in politics.’ 



146 


Mirror Images: Kossuth and Jelacic in 1848-49 


intimate life’, being ‘wrapped up in politics’ instead — Jelacic remained 
an object of attraction to the ladies right up to, and especially during, 
1848. The description of him in the memoirs of the Serb military leader, 
Stratimirovic demonstrates this: 46 ‘Once he had restored law and order in 
Vienna along with Prince Alfred Windischgraetz, he was enveloped by 
the ladies of the court aristocracy in the fullest sense of the word ... 
Although already 48 years old, Jelacic was still a handsome man, so that a 
few of the many countesses got it into their heads to take him to the altar. 
A most obliging character, Jelacic could not resist the wave of sympathy 
and married the eighteen-year-old Countess Sophie Stockau.’ Others, 
however, argue that before 1848, Jelacic was too interested in his regi¬ 
ment to have anything to do with women, and was therefore like just like 
Kossuth — ‘wrapped up’ in his professional affairs. 47 In one other 
respect, however, they were certainly very alike. Both were brilliant 
linguists. Kossuth learned Greek, Latin (in which he could make 
speeches) and French at school. At home he was bilingual in Hungarian 
and German (his mother was of German stock) and also spoke Slovak. In 
jail he famously taught himself to speak ‘perfect’ English. Jelacic, for his 
part, was also excellent at languages. His regimental commander, the very 
difficult Colonel Kempen, later Franz Joseph’s Police Minister, reported 
of him in 1847: 48 ‘Colonel Joseph Baron Jellachich speaks and writes 
good German, Croat, French and Hungarian, relatively good Italian and 
Latin.’ Everyone else thought his Italian was fluent. Both men therefore 
were extremely alike in age and character. Sadly, however, in one way the 
ban was different from Kossuth. The latter enjoyed robust health and 
lived into his nineties. Jelacic, on the other hand, suffered all his life from 
a chronic disease of the respiratory system, which was variously 
described as ‘spasm of the stomach’, ‘epilepsy’, ‘a nervous condition’ or 
‘phthisis’, the symptoms of which included inability to sleep, nervous 
exhaustion, and severe hiccups. It especially affected his throat and lungs 


46 General Georg von Stratimirovic, Was Ich Erlebte. Erinnerungen von ihm selbst 
aufgezeichnet u. hrsg. von seiner Tochter Ljuba von Stratimirovic, Vienna and 
Leipzig, 1911, p. 62. Hartley, op. cit., p. 33, writes on the other hand: ‘Like most 
men whose physical energy is tremendous and who love the open air and then work 
they have to do, Jellacic found little time for the boudoir side of life. He did not 
shun women; indeed, he liked their society and was never at a loss for words in 
their company. But simply, where was the time for love affairs while the regiment 
filled his heart and head? He could make compliments and turn a verse to a pretty 
girl with the best, but no passion stirred him during these early years ...’ 

47 See the quote from Hartley in footnote 46 

48 Bauer, op. cit., pp. 44^15. 



Alan Sked 


147 


and took him out of active military service for two years during the mid- 
1820s when it was thought he would die; 49 later on he developed a brain 
disease that killed him at the age of only fifty-eight. 

Both men were clearly ambitious and charismatic. Kossuth’s ambition 
of course drove a political career that was sustained by his superb oratory 
and he may well have been the greatest political speaker of the nineteenth 
century. 50 In Hungary the Batthyany government employed him in its 
defence in Parliament at its most critical moments (especially over the 
Italian war), while in England and the USA political audiences were 
amazed at the power of his rhetoric and his flawless English. 51 According 
to one English devotee of the political platform: 52 ‘Neither Bright nor 
Gladstone had then attained like ascendancy on the platform ... ’ Another 
writer who was present at a speech delivered by Kossuth in Birmingham 
wrote: 53 ‘... we have listened also to most of the great orators of the last 
thirty years; and nothing which we ever heard or read — the most fervent 
from Dr. Chalmers, the most elaborate from Lord Brougham, the most 
neat and finished from Lord Lyndurst, the most pointed and poetical from 
Canning, the most rounded and impressive from the late Lord Grey, the 
most terse from Cobden, the most sparkling from W.(s/c)J. Fox — ever 
approached so effectually impressive as the oratory of Kossuth.’ An 
American described his charisma before an audience as encompassing a 
‘highly prepossessing’ personal appearance, twinkling blue eyes, great 
dignity and an apparent insight into the future. He continued: 54 

He uses no rhetorical flourishes to arrest attention — he never appeals to the 

prejudices of classes in society. He offers no golden Utopia to the suffering 

poor, and makes no assaults on the rich. He is simple grave and deliberate ... 


49 Hartley, op. cit., p. 34, quotes a fellow officer: ‘We who saw him lying there, calm 
and cheerful, with death by suffication before him at any moment, knew that he 
was no ordinary man.’ This stoicism in the face of a probably early death, added to 
his legend in the Military Border. 

50 Edward Crankshaw’s description of him as an ‘unprincipled demagogue’ hardly 
does him justice. See E. Crankshaw, The Fall of the House of Habsburg, London, 
1964, p. 31. 

51 See Tibor Frank’s chapter in this book. 

52 G J. Holyoake, 60 Years of an Agitator’s Life , London, 1893, vol. 2, p. 258. For a 
good survey of Kossuth’s speeches and writings in Britain see, E. H. Haraszti, 
Kossuth, Hungarian Patriot in Britain, Budapest and London, 1994. 

53 P. C. Headley, The Life of Louis Kossuth, Governor of Hungary, Including Notices 
of the Men and Scenes of the Hungarian Revolution to which is added an Appendix 
containing His Principal Speeches etc with an Introduction by Horace Greeley, 
New York, 1852, pp. 306-07. 

54 Headley, op.cit., pp. 301-02. 




148 Mirror Images: Kossuth and Jelacic in 1848-49 

He stands calmly, and with the sublime dignity of true greatness, and utters 

truth. 

Perhaps his secret was to tell his listeners what they wanted to hear of the 
triumph of tyranny and the misdeeds of Austria and Russia. Certainly, he 
knew how to play his audiences and in Edinburgh, on one occasion, 55 he 
quoted Robert the Bruce to the Scots, on another, Rabbie Bums. 56 In one of 
his brilliant, moving speeches in America, he recollected the debate in the 
Hungarian parliament when he had called for the recruitment of 200,000 
men to defend Hungarian independence and told his audience how his 
request had been granted with cries of ‘liberty or death’, a response which 
had reduced him to silence: 57 ‘A burning tear fell from my eyes, a sigh of 
adoration to the Almighty Lord fluttered on my lips; and bowing low before 
the majesty of my people, as I bow before you gentlemen, I left the tribunal, 
silently, speechless, mute.’ At this very point Kossuth paused for a few 
moments, mute once again, before continuing as follows: ‘Pardon me my 
emotion — the shadows of our martyrs passed before my eyes; I heard the 
millions of my native land once more shouting ‘liberty or death.’ If it was no 
accident that many regarded him as the greatest orator in Britain, others also 
held him to be the greatest orator in the United States. Indeed, in a speech to 
the State Legislature of Ohio, in Columbus on 6 February 1852, he declared: 
‘The spirit of our age is democracy — All for the people, and all by the 
people. Nothing about the people, without the people — that is democracy.’ 
Since Abraham Lincoln was one of Kossuth’s greatest American supporters 
at this time, it has been argued, with some plausibility, that Kossuth in fact 
had invented the famous definition of, and plea for, democracy in the Gettys¬ 
burg Address — ‘that government of the people, by the people, for the 
people shall not perish from the earth.’ 58 

Jelacic’s charisma, on the other hand, revolved much less around his 
speaking ability, although Stratimirovic recorded 59 that ‘he was an 


55 ‘As Robert the Bruce once said, ‘In man’s most high necessity oft succour dawns 
from Heaven.” Kossuth’s lecture to the working classes of Edinburgh, The Times , 
2 December, 1856. 

56 ‘The rank is but the guinea’s stamp/The man’s the gowd for a’ that.’ Kossuth on the 
Characteristics of European Nations, The Times , 22 November, 1858. 

57 Headley, op. cit., pp. 305-06. 

58 See Gy. Szabad, ‘Kossuth on the Political System of the United States of America’, 
in Etudes Historiques, I, Budapest, 1975, pp. 502-28, pp. 513-14. Szabad also 
argues that Kossuth’s ideas may have been responsible for Seward’s famous 
description of the US Civil War as an ‘irrepressible conflict’, although he admits 
that this is ‘a very moot question’. See pp. 523-24. 

59 Stratimirovic, op. cit., p. 62. 



Alan Sked 


149 


outstanding speaker at all ministerial conferences to which he was invited 
and well represented the interests of Croatia and partly also our Serbian 
ones.’ His speeches and proclamations in 1848 certainly displayed great 
eloquence and without doubt inspired the Croats, while his speech in front 
of the imperial family at Innsbruck on 19 June 1848 60 — ‘preached with 
the fervour of an apostle and the imagination of a poet’ — reduced not 
merely the Archduchess Sophie and the Empress, but even grown men to 
tears by its eloquence. From its beginning — ‘Sire, I ask your Majesty’s 
pardon, but I wish to save the Empire — to its peroration — ‘These 
gentlemen may live if they wish, when the Empire has fallen, but I — I 
cannot’, it was sheer triumph. So the ban, too, was capable of using the 
power of words to advance his cause. 

However, it was a mixture of that, his personality and military skills 
that won Jelacic his following and reputation. Kempen in his 1847 report 
had added after his assessment of Jelacic’s linguistic abilities: 61 ‘He is 
activated by a sense of honour and combines in himself nobility and 
goodness. His quick wit makes him rather charming, yet his bearing is 
noble, his manner perfect. His life-style is simple and modest; he displays 
cheerfulness in conversation with people and is more indulgent than strict 
with his subordinates.’ It was apparently ‘the highest commendation that 
anyone had ever received’ from Kempen. 62 The opinion of his divisional 
commander, Field-Marshal Dehlen, was equally high: 63 ‘It is a case of an 
excellent colonel, who displays a truly paternal feeling for the welfare of 
the population entrusted to him.’ Yet one of his officers, Georges de 
Pimodan, recorded: 64 ‘It is on the battlefield that one should see him, 
when he flings himself at the head of his battalions, and his voice is heard 
above the cannon thunder and cheers his men on.’ 

The Jelacics had once been rich but according to family legend had 
lost their wealth ransoming a relative from the Turks. 65 Thereafter, the 


60 Hartley, op. cit., pp. 178-80. 

61 See footnote 47. 

62 Hartley, op. cit., p. 89. 

63 Bauer, op. cit., p. 45. General Auersperg, commander of all forces in Croatia, 
thought Jelacic deserved a higher rank and greater responsibilities. Ironically, he 
was given Auersperg’s own job once he had been created ban! 

64 Hartley, op. cit., pp. 180-81. 

65 While researching the Haus, Hof, und Staatsarchiv in Vienna to discover whether 
the Habsburgs had given any personal financial aid to Jelacic during 1848, the only 
transaction 1 came across in either the ‘secret cabinet fund’ or the ‘Habsburg- 
Lorraine family fund’ was one entry in the latter relating to the fact that 1,700 
gulden had been given to his father to equip him as a lieutenant. His mother, 
apparently, had been responsible for this request. The family needed the money. 



150 


Mirror Images: Kossuth and Jelacic in 1848-49 


family’s reputation had been sustained by its record of military service to 
the Empire. The ban’s grandfather, for example, received a large gold war 
medal for personal bravery from the hands of Maria Theresa herself. His 
father enjoyed an even more illustrious career as a general of the Napo¬ 
leonic era, winning the knight’s cross of the Maria Theresa Order, and in 
the process becoming a baron — a title bestowed on him by Francis I. He 
thereby also became a magnate of the kingdom of Hungary, allowing his 
son, as a result, to be eligible to be ban. All three of his sons entered the 
imperial army; all three ended up as Lieutenant Field-Marshals — or brig¬ 
adier-generals. 66 

The second baron — the ban — was praised for his military talents 
wherever he went. Radetzky said of him: 67 ‘I expect the best of him, for 
never yet have I had a more excellent officer.’ Others said much the same 
and, according to one friend, Baron Neustadter, 68 Jelacic, as a result, 
began to harbour the ambition to become ban. Since his family’s name 
was well known and the record of its loyalty and service to the dynasty 
unsurpassed in the Military Border, this was not perhaps surprising. In 
any case, he himself became the subject of legend after 1845 when in an 
action in reprisal against a Turkish raid from Bosnia, he attacked the 
Bosnian town of Pozvizd. His success was taken as proof among the 
borderers that Jelacic would one day liberate Bosnia-Herzegovina from 
the Turks and would indeed become ban. One song sung in his honour 
ran: 69 

A marvel, O my people see — 

The Turk is gone, his power is past! 

And Jellachich, our Jellachich, 

Has shown the strength of Croat might 
When in accord and deep affection, 

Brothers join to guard the right. 

By 1848, therefore, Jelacic was the unanimous choice of the Croat general 
assembly in Zagreb to be ban. Kossuth, in Hungary, meantime, was unan¬ 
imously recognised as the tribune of the people there: 70 ‘... the nation 
greeted him as its Messiah ... ’ 


66 For this background see the biographies of Jelacic listed in footnote 41. 

67 Hartley, op.cit ., p. 68. 

68 Gorlitz, op. cit., pp. 60-61. 

69 Hartley, op. cit., p. 96. 

70 Pulszky, Memoirs, vol. 2, p. 7. 



Alan Shed 


151 


Similar Politics 

It may seem heretical to point this out, but Kossuth and Jelacic were both 
liberals, both royalists and both wanted to reshape the structure of the 
Habsburg Monarchy — with or without the consent of the Emperor. 

The most evident proof of Jelacic’s liberalism is simply the fact that he 
could preside over the ‘conversion’ of the Croat constitution. However, 
the diaries of both Kempen 71 and Count Egger 72 confirm it. Kempen, who 
had been Jelacic’s regimental colonel before 1848 was an out-and-out 
reactionary who was suspicious, if not jealous, of the ban after his 
appointment to that office and who as police minister attempted to deny 
him any political influence. Egger, on the other hand, was a close 
personal friend of the ban and the Archduke John. He had an almost 
father-son relationship with Juro Jelacic, one of the ban’s two younger 
brothers, who had married the daughter of Countess Hermine Christal- 
nigg, a close friend. Egger was a progressive who, unlike Kempen, was a 
great admirer of the ban’s liberalism. On 7 September 1848 he wrote: 73 
‘That Pepi’s (i.e. Jelacic’s — it was the pet name for the ban among his 
family and friends) outlook ( Gesinnung ) is liberal we know, indeed, many 
people know, but his name is taken by a certain party as a codeword for 
the military' leader of the counter-revolution ...’. Egger also knew, 
however, that it was not merely the Magyar charges of reaction that were 
being employed against Jelacic. On 16 May he had written: 74 ‘The Slavs 
of course want to unite together, but are not the Russians also Slavs? This 
unfortunate circumstance allows the enemies of Illyrism the excuse to use 
the worst calumnies and complaints.’ On 23 September he was 
protesting: 75 ‘Were there not [among the Germans — author] a fear of 
Czechs and Russia in the background, the newspapers would not be so 
silent about the way the ban has been used and to a certain extent sacri¬ 
ficed.’ But it never ever struck Egger that the ban was other than a loyal 
liberal who was faithful to the Monarchy. 


71 Josef Karl Mayr, (ed.), Das Tagebuch des Polizeiministers Kempen von 1848 bis 
1859, Vienna and Leipzig, 1931. Henceforth referred to as ‘Kempen’s diary’. 

72 Ferdinand Hauptmann (ed.), Gedanken iiber Staat und Revolution. Das Tagebuch 
des Grafen Ferdinand Egger aus dem Jahre 1848 , Zur Kunde Siidosteuropas II/6, 
Graz, 1976. It reads like a diary, but in fact is really Egger’s almost daily 
correspondence with Juro Jelacic. Henceforth referred to as ‘Egger’s diary’. 

73 Egger’s diary, 7 September, 1848. 

74 Egger’s diary, 16 May, 1848. 

75 Egger’s diary, 23 September, 1848 



152 


Mirror Images: Kossuth and Jelacic in 1848-49 


Kempen had the same view but from a different perspective. On 9 
January 1850 he recorded in his diary a question addressed to him by the 
new war minister: 76 ‘Count Gyulai wanted to know from me how it had 
actually come about that Jelacic had been demanded by the nation as ban 
in the days of March 1848.’ He answered: 77 ‘To my knowledge only one 
party demanded him, the ultraliberal one, without any mandate from the 
nation.’ On 19 March 1848 Kempen had already been recording his fears 
for the future: 78 ‘I ... see everything that is holy threatened — throne, 
altar, property — and hope that the sinfulness of humanity will be rescued 
by God’s help and protection.’ Yet on the very same day Jelacic had 
appeared to be ‘in the highest spirits.’ 79 Kempen was quite thunderstruck 
at his appointment as ban when the news arrived on 28 March: 80 ‘I foresee 
frightful things — anarchy, civil war, perhaps the fall of the entire impe¬ 
rial house. The selection of a ban without reference to the palatine seems 
to be a coup d’etat in favour of the Slavs ... God preserve us!’ The ban’s 
subsequent style — open, democratic, liberal — inevitably infuriated 
Kempen. On 20 May he recorded: 81 ‘He handles almost everything 
publicly, which cannot be totally approved. Letters from Vienna he reads 
out aloud. He receives and converses with members of delegations who 
have returned from Vienna.’ On 9 August he was thunderstruck again. 
When he protested at being kept in Croatia instead of being transferred to 
Italy, Jelacic told him he was needed in Croatia and that he would be kept 
there. 82 He then explained that as ban ‘in practice he [Jelacic] could do 
what he liked.’ 83 After the success of the counter-revolution, Kempen 
clashed with the ban once more over the issue of allowing the military 
police to enter Croatia. On 9 May 1850, Jelacic had told him that 84 ‘he 
would never tolerate this and would rather return his decorations.’ The 
ban’s liberalism was still extant and on 3 October 1851 Kempen was still 

76 Kempen’s diary, 9 January 1850. 

77 Ibid. Cf. the Marxist Gy. Spira, who — see footnote 8 — regards Jelacic as a feudal 
reactionary: ‘Nevertheless it remains a fact that the Croat liberals sanctioned the 
petition of March 25 and, in it, the point which pressed for Jellacic’s appointment.’ 
Spira, The Nationality Issue in the Hungary of 1848-49, Budapest, 1992, p. 34. 

78 Kempen’s diary, 19 March, 1848. 

79 Ibid. 

80 Kempen’s diary, 28 March, 1848. 

81 Kempen’s diary, 20 May 1848. Cf. Ferdinand Hauptmann, Jelacic’s Kriegzug nach 
Ungarn 1848, 2 vols, Graz, 1975 (Zur Kunde Siidosteuropas, II/5), vol. 1, p. 7: 
‘Jelacic by nature was used to speaking openly and not concealing his thoughts.’ 

82 Kempen’s diary, 9 August 1848. 

83 Ibid. 

84 Kempen’s diary, 9 May, 1850. 



Alan Shed 


153 


complaining: 85 ‘On a visit to minister Bach we came to discuss the impos¬ 
sible — allowing Croatia and Slavonia to be governed by the ban. He said 
to ease the task would be difficult; Jelacic was still ban. But I answered 
that he must be taught to obey.’ Both Kempen and Egger, knew the ban 
extremely well and agreed on all his qualities — he was a cheerful, open, 
honest, straightforward, politically liberal and politically disobedient 
Slav. 

About the ban’s loyalty to the Monarchy, however, there was never 
any doubt. He told his colleagues: 86 ‘My aim is to uphold a united, strong 
Austria, to establish the emperor on his throne, and that we should live in 
equal freedom.’ In a confidential memorandum which he wrote after 
becoming ban, he declared: 87 ‘The die is cast! I follow the straight road 
and play the open game; if I come to an end thereby, I fall as a soldier, a 
patriot and a true servant of my master the emperor.’ Kossuth’s position, 
on the other hand, was less straightforward. He was the man who ejected 
the Habsburgs from the throne of Hungary and who in the USA in 1852 
seemed to declare himself a republican. But was he really? Certainly 
when he was in exile he stated that 88 ‘our native Hungary can find peace 
only in a republican form of government, but in a republican structure 
similar to that of the United States.’ In a slightly fuller form, he said: 89 

Hungary wills and wishes to be a free and independent republic founded on the 
rule of law, securing social order, securing person and property and the moral 
development as well as the material welfare of the people — in a word, a 
republic like that of the United States, founded on institutions inherited from 
England itself. 

Yet these statements were made just before Kossuth’s visit to the USA. 
When he had arrived in England, on the other hand, he had praised British 
institutions, telling the crowd at Southampton of ‘what I take to be a most 
glorious sight to see — your gracious Queen representing on the throne 
the principle of liberty’. 90 Apparently he saw in free ‘municipal institu¬ 
tions’ (local government in England, federalism in the USA) the key to 
political freedom 91 — an echo, no doubt of his defence of the county 
assemblies in Hungary in the 1840s. Consistent with this belief in 

85 Kempen’s diary, 3 October 1851. 

86 Hartley, op. cit ., p. 224. 

87 Hartley, op. cit., p. 137. 

88 Szabad, op. cit., p. 521. 

89 Ibid. ft. 103. 

90 Headley, op. cit., p. 240. 

91 Headley, op. cit., p. 237. 



154 


Mirror Images: Kossuth and Jelacic in 1848-49 


decentralized government, he denounced the republican form of govern¬ 
ment in France. 92 

When in Hungary, of course, he had been a consistent monarchist. In 
his famous speech of 3 March 1848, demanding a constitution for all parts 
of the Empire, he had referred to ‘our beloved dynasty’, saying that all the 
peoples of the Monarchy would offer their blood and lives for it (if not for 
the politicians of Vienna); indeed, he had lavished praise on the young 
Franz Joseph as the dynasty’s hope for the future. 93 And one of his radical 
opponents wrote: 94 

I know that Kossuth even in February 1848 was occupied with plans ( Berat- 
hunger ) which prove decisively, that he at that time still wished for no revolu¬ 
tion, or at least did not believe in one. I always found him to be in favour of 
monarchy, indeed of the dynasty. 

Even the Declaration of Independence that dethroned the Habsburgs did 
not create a republic. In fact, it describes their dethronement as ‘an act of 
the last necessity’ not something undertaken ‘out of revolutionary excite¬ 
ment.’ 95 Again, in Istvan Deak’s words, in the months following the 
Declaration, ‘both Kossuth and prime minister Szemere attempted repeat¬ 
edly to offer the crown to a foreign prince.’ 96 Previously, Kossuth and 
Batthyany had begged the king to come to Buda from Innsbruck, where 
he had fled — the most fervent wish of all loyal Hungarians, as the Decla¬ 
ration of Independence admitted. 97 


92 Szabad, op. cit., p. 517. 

93 Hans Schlitter, Aus Osterreichs Vormdrz , vol. 3, Ungarn , Zurich, Leipzig and 
Vienna, 1920, p. 68. 

94 P. Somssich, Das Legitime Recht Ungarns und seines Konigs, Vienna, 1850, p. 18. 

95 The Declaration is translated and included as Appendix 31 by Stiles, op. cit., vol 
2, pp. 409-19. For the quotations above, see p. 409. 

96 Deak, op. cit., p. 262. 

97 See footnote 73. Cf. Peter, op. cit., p. 289: ‘The Batthyany government would have 
liked to have seen the king come to Buda (instead of Innsbruck) and Kossuth above 
all clamoured vehemently for this from May. He and the radicals also played with 
the thought of offering the Hungarian crown to the Archduke Stephen.’ Indeed, the 
Hungarian cabinet on 20 May, after the King’s flight to Innsbruck on 15 May, 
‘expressed its conviction that the dangers facing the country could be best avoided, 
if the king would take residence in this his homeland for at least a period of time 
and that the policy of the Monarchy as a whole were conducted according to more 
energetic principles.’ {Hungarian cabinet minutes, 20 May 1848.) The palatine 
promised to talk to the king about this and extracted a promise from him to come 
to Pest to open the parliament. This did not happen, since the king was too ill to 
travel and parliament had to be opened by the palatine. {Hungarian cabinet 



Alan Shed 


155 


It was in one of his very first speeches in England, however, that 
Kossuth outlined the real nature of his politics. 98 He said: ‘You see then, 
that we in Hungary were not planning revolution. Hungary was not the 
soul of secret conspiracy ... No just man can charge ... that I was plan¬ 
ning a revolution. No one will say I was a Red Republican.’ The most 
dramatic part of his speech however was the passage that follows: 
‘Myself, an humble, unpretending son of modest Hungary, was in the 
condition that I had the existence of the house of Hapsburg and all its 
crowns here in my hand. (M. Kossuth here stretched out his arm with 
clenched fist across the table. Tremendous cheering.) I told them “Be just 
to my fatherland, and I will give you peace and tranquillity in Vienna.” 
They promised to be just, and I gave them peace and tranquillity in 
Vienna in 24 hours; and before the Eternal God who will make respon¬ 
sible to Him my soul, before history, the independent judge of men and 
events, I have a right to say the House of Hapsburg has to thank its exist¬ 
ence to me.’ Thus in March 1848, Kossuth saved the Habsburgs. 

The truth about March 1848 will be investigated presently. Here, one 
final point remains to be made, namely that Kossuth was certainly no 
socialist. Szabad, in a discussion of his views as expressed in the USA, 
commented in a footnote 99 on the ‘characteristically liberal stance of 
Kossuth, who became the leader of the Hungarian fight against feudalism, 
but repeatedly dissociated himself from all socialist aims.’ This is 
certainly true. For example, in Manchester in 1851 Kossuth explained: 100 
‘... the only sense which I can see in Socialism is inconsistent with social 
order and the security of property ... believing that ... I may be able 
somewhat to influence the course of the next European revolution, I think 
it right plainly to declare beforehand my allegiance to the great principle 
of security for personal property...’. Both Kossuth and Jelacic, therefore, 
may be taken to have been liberal monarchists. Their politics were based 


minutes, 20 June 1848.) The Hungarian cabinet minutes of 20 May recorded a 
report in the newspaper Marczius 15-ke that the cabinet was to make the palatine 
provisional king. To ensure that this false report did not spread, this issue of the 
paper was banned. According to the memoirs of Wirkner, the Austrian government’s 
main agent in Pressburg in 1848, Archduke Louis, the head of the Staatskonferenz 
had told him on 14 March 1848, that in case of necessity, the court would take refuge 
in Hungary. See C. M. Knatchbull-Hugessen, The Political Evolution of the 
Hungarian Nation, 2 vols, London 1908, vol. 2, p. 11, ft. 4. 

98 The Times, Kossuth at Winchester, 27 October, 1851. 

99 Szabad, op. cit., p. 521, ft. 101. 

100 E. O. S., Hungary and Its Revolutions from the Earliest Period to the Nineteenth 
Century with a Memoir of Louis Kossuth, London, 1854, pp. 516-17. 



156 


Mirror Images: Kossuth and Jelacic in 1848-49 


on the same sort of principles and the manner in which they oversaw the 
conversion of their respective constitutions was remarkably consistent. 

They both wished, moreover, to reshape the Habsburg Monarchy as a 
whole, but here they differed in the manner in which they wanted to 
‘convert’ the imperial constitution. Kossuth wanted to reduce the link 
between Hungary and Cisleithania to a mere personal union with the 
emperor of Austria: 101 ‘Hungary should be governed independently and 
be free from all foreign interference.’ For Kossuth constitutional matters 
were the main priority. He wanted the link with (a preferably constitu¬ 
tional) Austria made as weak as possible leaving Hungary to enjoy the 
fullest independence compatible with a personal union with the Austrian 
emperor as king of Hungary. 102 It was this belief that made him an 
uncomfortable leader even for Hungarian Liberals: 103 ‘... they knew not 
whether he would lead them — indeed, he himself did not know his final 
destination; he only knew that he would lead his fatherland in the interests 
of its independence to the borders of the possible, although these borders, 
he felt, would depend on circumstances and their exploitation.’ By 
October 1848, therefore, he was willing to invade Austria. 

Jelacic took a different stance. As Iveljic has written, 104 

Croat policy in 1848 rested on the principles of Austroslavism, that is the 
conviction that the existence of the Monarchy was in the interests of Croatia — 
albeit on the condition that the Monarchy should be transformed into a federa¬ 
tion of individual territories with secured historical rights on the basis of 
language and ethnicity. 

From this point of view the alliance between Hungarian and German 
liberals was nothing more than a plot against all Slavs. The October revo¬ 
lution in Vienna especially was seen as unlawful and was considered the 
work of the ‘pseudo-liberal Magyar-German party.’ 105 The reasoning 
behind all this was outlined in a pamphlet published in Vienna in 1848 by 
the Croat Imbro Tkalac 106 which condemned the ‘racial despotism’ of the 


101 See F. Riedl, A History of Hungarian Literature, London, 1906, pp. 159-62. He is 
quoting from one of Kossuth’s speeches in England. 

102 Cf. Horst Haselsteiner, ‘ Ungarische Nationalkonzepte, die Slaven unter 
“Austroslavismus , in Moritsch (ed.), op. cit., pp. 86-101, pp. 98-99. 

103 Pulszky, Memoirs, vol. 2, pp. 9-10. 

104 Iveljic, op. cit., p. 127. 

105 Ibid. 

106 Croaten, Serben und Magyaren, ihre Verhaltnisse zu einander und zu 
Deutschland, Vienna, 1848, published under the pseudonym E. I. Ignajtijewitsch. 
See Iveljic, op. cit., p. 127 and 127, ft. 8. 



Alan Shed 


157 


Magyars who, under the mask of liberalism, wanted to place the other 
peoples of Hungary under a ‘Magyar yoke’; their liberalism towards the 
Serbs, for example, had been demonstrated ‘by fire and sword’. Croat 
liberals, therefore saw Jelacic as ‘a liberal statesman of the new school’, 
‘the darling of the people’. 107 Like them 108 ‘the ban was also a proponent 
of Austroslavism. On Jelacic’s invitation two Czech delegates came to the 
Croatian diet and Josef Miloslav Hurban made a speech on the difficult 
position of the Slovaks.’ After the suppression of the Slav Congress in 
Prague in June, Zagreb became the centre of Austroslavism. 

The thirty national demands of the Croats, however, had made no 
mention of re-shaping the Monarchy. Yet Article XI of the Croatian diet 
at the beginning of June 1848 with its ‘Manifesto of the Croatian-Slavo- 
nian Nation’ plus the pamphlet of the ‘Croatian-Slavonian deputies’ — 
who had been refused permission to enter the Austrian Reichstag — enti¬ 
tled ‘The Croats and Slavonians to the Peoples of Austria’ brought the 
case for federalizing the Monarchy into the open; it was adopted by all 
shades of opinion in the diet. 109 The plan was to allow for a common 
(federal) government to oversee common matters such as war, finance 
and trade. Otherwise local parliaments should be in charge. The 
Monarchy was to be divided into national units based on historic and 
natural rights and the equality of all nationalities. The South Slav peoples 
were to be united in a Triune Kingdom of Croatia-Slavonia-Dalmatia with 
links to both a Serb Vojvodina and the Slovenes. Naturally, the link with 
the German Confederation was to be broken. 

Jelacic supported all this: 110 ‘[His] negotiations with the (Hungarian 
government broke down over the demand for the aforementioned 
common ministries and over autonomy for the Vojvodina. War was the 
result.’ His desire had been, and still remained ‘to effect an even closer 
federation with a constitutional empire on the basis of full equality of 
rights for all nationalities.’ * * 111 


107 Iveljic, op. cit., p. 127. 

108 Iveljic, op. cit., p. 128. 

109 Gross, op. cit., p. 2287. 

110 Ibid. 

111 Ferdinand Hauptmann, Das Programm des Banus Jelacic zum Umbau Osterreichs 
im Jahre 1848, Bericht uber den vierten osterreichischen Historikertag in 
Klagenfurt, 1956, p. 65. 



158 


Mirror Images: Kossuth and Jelacic in 1848-49 

r 

Royal Appointments and Coups d Etat 


Kempen’s description of Jelacic’s nomination as ban as a ‘coup d’etat in 
favour of the Slavs’ 112 because it was made without reference to the pala¬ 
tine of Hungary, has something in it — but not much. Certainly, it had 
come about in order to counterbalance the enthusiasm of the Hungarians, 
yet it had come about quite legally. The Archduke Ludwig had made up 
his mind in favour of Jelacic in principle as early as 16 March, having 
been lobbied both by Baron Josika, the head of the Transylvanian Court 
Chancery 113 and Baron Kulmer, a Croat deputy to the Hungarian Upper 
House, a fervent Illyrian and a close friend of Jelacic (he was in fact five 
years younger than the future ban, but addressed him with the familiar 
du). UA Josika, according to the memoirs of his deputy, believed that 115 
‘we require a suitable and determined leader of their (i.e. the Croats’) own 
race, who is capable of exploiting their devotion, their military organiza¬ 
tion, and their injured racial feelings, in the interests of the Throne.’ 
However, it was the determined intervention of the Archduke John, who, 
having been lobbied by Gaj, ensured that a final decision was taken and 
that the Staatskonferenz approved the nomination on a motion from 
Kolowrat on 21 March, before the Hungarians — who were proving much 
more difficult than foreseen — could prevent this. 116 In any case, the pala¬ 
tine himself approved it reluctantly and his later — retrospective — 
complaint, that Batthyany had not been consulted, ‘came too late and was 
deliberately ignored’. 117 


112 See footnote 77. 

113 Who apparently had been prompted by Wirkner — see footnote 94. 

114 See for example his letter of 30 March 1848 quoted by Hauptmann, Erzherzog 
Johann ais Vermittler zwischen Kroatien und Ungarn im Sommer 1848, Zur 
Kunde Siidosteuropas, II/I, Graz, 1972, p. 12, which congratulates Jelacic on his 
appointment as ban. The same letter, by the way, significantly adds to the evidence 
of the force of the Archduke John’s intervention by stating ‘your nomination went 
through in three days, despite the fact that earlier on nobody in the highest circles 
had thought of you.’ 

115 Quoted from the memoirs of L. Szogyeny-Marich by Knatchbull-Hugessen, op. 
cit., vol. 2., p. 56. 

116 The best account of the nomination is Hauptmann, Erzherzog Johann als 
Vermittler etc., pp. 8-12. The archduke arrived in Vienna on 19 March, Gaj was 
received at court on 20 March, instructions went from the king to the Court War 
Council the same day to promote Jelacic to ban, the Staatskonferenz approved the 
decision formally on 21 March, the palatine approved it on 22 March and the king 
signed the appointment on 23 March. 

117 Hauptmann, Erzherzog Johann etc., p. 12. 



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Count Egger received news of the appointment on 23 March and 
recorded: 118 ‘And how he [the Archduke John] spoke of Pepi [i.e. Jelacic] 

— he said that he knew no braver, more excellent man, who combined so 
much heart and spirit. A deputation from Agram (Zagreb) was in Graz to 
see him. Gaj, at its head, it seems demanded Pepi. When the Archduke 
came here [Vienna], he proposed it to the Konferenz immediately and 
everyone was unanimous.’ The next day Egger noted: 119 ‘I can hardly tell 
you with what profound conviction and enthusiasm the Archduke spoke 
of him.’ 

Kolowrat, for his part, made his own motives quite clear. Afraid lest 
the Hungarians should ‘entice the Croat-Slavonian lands by agreeing to 
recognize their local rights, language etc.’ he feared that ‘the Austrian, 
unfortunately heterogeneous state, would face a compact mass that might 
be ready to attack the dynasty.’ 120 In fact, Kolowrat was wrong to suspect 
that the Hungarians would be able to succeed in any such manoeuvre, but 
the nomination was without doubt legal, as was the appointment, 
confirmed on 23 March in a rescript signed by the king (who obviously 
took precedence over the palatine) and an official of the Hungarian Court 
Chancery (Szogyeny-Marich, the deputy chancellor). 

In any case, the new Hungarian ministry was not approved until 7 
April and the April Laws not until 11 April. Batthyany, it is true, had been 
nominated premier by the palatine on 17 March, but the Staatskonferenz 
at the time viewed this as illegal. 121 The relevant protocol of 18 March 122 

— the day after his nomination by the palatine — declares ‘that the pala¬ 
tine has exceeded the authority given to him with the nomination of 
Batthyany ; 123 but on account of diverse factors, 124 it none the less recom¬ 
mends the confirmation of the nomination of Batthyany as provisional 125 
prime minister, and that the palatine, in accordance with the powers at his 

118 Egger’s diary, 23 March, 1848. 

119 Egger’s diary, 24 March, 1848. 

120 Quoted in Zoltan I. Toth, ‘The Nationality Problem in Hungary in 1848-49’, Acta 
Historica , 1954, pp. 235-37, 243. 

121 Peter, op. cit ., p. 278. 

122 The key documents concerning the establishment of the responsible Hungarian 
ministry in 1848 can be found in Arpad Karolyi, (ed.), Nemetujvari grof Batthyany 
Lajos elso magyar miniszterelnok fobenjaro pore, Budapest, 1932, 2, pp. 603-09. 
For the quote above see, p. 608, Staatskonferenzprotokol, 18 March, Vienna. 

123 Author’s emphasis 

124 The most important of which was almost certainly fear of revolution, if the 
nomination were reversed. News of it had been made public and it was being 
celebrated in Vienna. Cf. Kossuth’s boast above; for more, see below. 

125 Author’s emphasis 



160 


Mirror Images: Kossuth and Jelacic in 1848-49 


disposal, but under certain conditions and without infringing the highest 
authority, should entrust Batthyany with the maintenance of order and 
tranquillity.’ On the same day, the king informed the palatine by letter 126 
that this was to be the case and that the new — provisional — premier 
should strive to maintain order and tranquillity by working ‘alongside’ 
both the Hungarian Chancery in Vienna and the Statthalterei (the pala¬ 
tine’s council in Buda) whose ‘authority remains completely unaffected \ 
(ungeschmalert aufrecht erhalten werden miisse) ni The old order — as 
yet — had by no means accepted its passing. It still had every right there¬ 
fore to appoint Jelacic as ban, a right which the Batthyany government 
apparently accepted. The real coup , meanwhile, was being executed by 
the Hungarians. 

The news of the revolution in Paris caused Kossuth to make his great 
speech of 3 March 1848 demanding responsible government not merely 
for Hungary but for the Empire as a whole. This demand was incorpo¬ 
rated into an address to the throne, which was passed unanimously by 
both houses of the Hungarian parliament and a delegation of parliamen¬ 
tarians, including Kossuth, Batthyany, and Szechenyi, was chosen to take 
the address from Pressburg to Vienna to present it to the king. By this 
time Szechenyi, Hungary’s greatest conservative statesman, who had 
previously been Kossuth’s opponent and rival, had come round to his 
support. The reaction of the palatine to the revolution in Vienna had 
demonstrated such weakness on the part of this Habsburg that Szechenyi 
believed that a separate, responsible Hungarian ministry could now be 
extracted from the dynasty. The choice was between ‘reform’ and 
‘anarchy’ and the Hungarian nobles should lead the cause of reform. 128 
On the voyage to Vienna, the problem was discussed how best to get the 
emperor to agree to make concessions and Szechenyi, famously, came up 
with the bright idea of transferring his powers to the palatine. As he noted 
in his diary, he composed a ‘quite simple’ draft reply to the address on 
behalf of the king: 129 ‘Stephen is my alter ego.' After the arrival of the 
delegation in Vienna, Szechenyi agreed with Kossuth and Batthyany that 
the reply should also agree to the formation of a responsible ministry and 

126 Karolyi (ed.), Nemetujvari grof Batthyany Lajos, p. 609, king to palatine, 
handwritten letter, 18 March, Vienna. 

127 Author’s emphasis. 

128 For Szechenyi’s role during the revolution, see Gy. Spira, op. cit. For the above 
see, p. 43 and p. 45. On 15 March Szechenyi had written in his diary: ‘I must 
support Louis Batthyany and Kossuth! — All feelings of hatred and antipathy — 
and even ambition, must be silenced.’ Spira, op. cit., p. 18. 

129 Spira, op. cit., p. 22; Peter, op. cit., p .278, ft. 167. 



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that it should designate Batthyany as premier. The revolutionary and pro- 
Magyar atmosphere of the imperial capital had clearly emboldened their 
spirits. Moreover, the palatine, whose weakness in face of the revolution 
on 14 March, had first encouraged Szechenyi to make common cause 
with Kossuth, now agreed to stake his honour and office on securing the 
king’s acceptance of the draft reply. 130 To ensure his success, he sent a 
letter to the king designed to secure his compliance by frightening him out 
of his wits. According to the letter, 131 it was ‘essential’ for him to agree if 
‘anarchy’ or a ‘republic’ were to be ‘avoided’. Hungary was on the verge 
of revolution and the authorities lacked the means to prevent this. The 
choice remained one between ‘a favourable decision and the loss of the 
province’. He added: ‘That the decision is a difficult one — the conse¬ 
quences not easy to avoid — I understand, but it is the only means — to 
overcome the dangers with which otherwise we will now inevitably be 
confronted. ’ He then stated, that if there were no favourable decision, he 
personally could not return to Pressburg. But he ended by ensuring the 
king — and ‘expressing this quite clearly’ — that if he did agree, then 
‘the state’s link ( Staatenverband) with Austria and its monarch would in 
no way be endangered.’ The deputy head of the Hungarian Chancery, 
Szogyeny-Marich, meanwhile, had drawn up a document 132 composed in 
much the same spirit, justifying the Hungarian claims. This too stressed 
the dangers of the moment, since otherwise it admitted that the changes 
demanded by the diet were ‘unnecessary’: ‘the present disturbances in 
Hungary will be seen as merely trifling ( gering ) compared with what will 
probably ensue if the means are not adopted in time to counter this agita¬ 
tion.’ The result was that when the king met the delegation from the 
Hungarian diet the following afternoon (17 March), a ‘painful scene’ 
occurred, to use Szechenyi’s description of it, during which the feeble¬ 
minded Ferdinand broke down and ‘with his pleading hands placed 
together’ begged the palatine ‘in childish simple-mindedness’ in the 
Viennese dialect T pitt’ di, nimm mir meinem Thron nit!’ (‘I beg you, 
please don’t take my throne away.’) 133 

The previous evening Kossuth had understood something of the fears 
of the dynasty when, in an interview with the Archduke Franz Karl, the 


130 Spira, op. cit., p. 26. 

131 Karolyi, op. cit., pp. 206-07 Document 2, Palatine to King, Vienna, 16 March, 1848. 

132 Arpad Karolyi, Az 1848 — dikipozsonyi torvenycikkek az udvar elott (hereafter Az 
1848 tvcikkek ), Budapest, 1936, pp. 203-05, Document 1, Report of the Dietal 
Committee of the Hungarian Chancery on the diet’s Address. 16 March, 1848. 

133 Spira, op. cit., p. 98. 



162 


Mirror Images: Kossuth and Jelacic in 1848-49 


king’s brother and father of Franz Joseph, he had been told the king 
wished to satisfy the Hungarians but did not wish to be seen to act under 
duress. Kossuth replied: 134 ‘If your Imperial Highness will give me your 
word of honour that you will do what equity and justice oblige you to do 
for my country, I will bring tranquillity to Vienna for the House of 
Austria.’ The Archduke thereupon gave Kossuth his word, saying that the 
Habsburgs would be ‘forever grateful’ to him. Kossuth’s boast in his 
Winchester speech of 1851, therefore, was not a hollow one. Everyone 
seemed to believe, that if Kossuth had called for a revolution in Vienna at 
this time, the Habsburgs could have been overthrown. 

That was not to say, however, that there would be no rearguard action 
over the diet’s proposals. Windischgraetz told Szechenyi, for example, 
that agreeing to the Hungarian proposals would ‘entail the complete 
upsetting of the constitution and the Monarchy.’ 135 Moreover, the Staats- 
konferenz only agreed to them conditionally under the threat of the pala¬ 
tine’s resignation and the fear of revolution. Its advice to the monarch was 
to play for time. 136 By all means he could assent to full powers for the 
palatine and the establishment of a responsible ‘administration’ 
(‘ministry’ was only to be used if it were made ‘dependent on the existing 
laws of the country’) but since it had yet to be established to what extent 
such an administration would be responsible for matters such as defence 
and finance, the decisions taken should have an ‘introductory, prepara¬ 
tory, not definitive character’ and a ‘final decision’ should be left for a 
‘more suitable, later point in time.’ The palatine should also be told to 
work within the constraints of the Pragmatic Sanction and confer with 
Vienna over appointments. The king accepted this advice and on 17 
March the palatine 137 was ‘invested, as my viceroy with full powers 
within the meaning of the law to govern in my absence the kingdom of 
Hungary, and the parts thereto annexed, in the path of the law and the 
constitution, maintaining the unity of the crown and the connexion with 
the empire in its integrity.’ [He continued:] ‘I am disposed to accede to 
the desire of my faithful Estates and Orders for the appointment in 
accordance with the laws of the country of an independent and respon¬ 
sible ministry, and give you at the same time authority to propose for 

134 L. Kossuth, Meine Schriften aus der Emigration, 3 vols, Pressburg-Leipzig, 1881, 
vol. 2, p. 207. 

135 Spira, op. cit., p. 27. 

136 Karolyi, Az 1848 t\>cikkek, pp. 211-14 Document 5, The advisory report of the 
Staatskonferenz on the Palatine’s request to the King to establish an independent 
Hungarian ministry, Vienna, 16-18 March. 

137 Printed in Knatchbull-Hugessen, op. cit., vol. 2, pp. 16-17. 



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appointment 138 suitable persons from among those whom you have 
mentioned to me, also to take steps in order that suitable legislative 
proposals may be made by the Estates and Orders with a view to defining 
in an expedient manner the sphere of influence of such individuals, 
having regard to the close connexion, rightly to be considered of such 
importance, existing by virtue of the Pragmatic Sanction, between the 
kingdom of Hungary and my hereditary dominions, which are equally 
entitled to my paternal care. Such proposals, together with the other 
suggested laws referred to in the Address, should be laid before me by the 
Estates and Orders without delay.’ 

Having secured Kossuth’s agreement to keep the peace in Vienna, the 
Habsburgs regained their nerve and were determined to limit the conces¬ 
sions to the Hungarians. It would take too long to detail the political battle 
over the April Laws, but two or three points should be made. The Staat- 
skonferenz on 26 March 139 did warn the king, despite a favourable review 
of the laws by the Hungarian Chancery’s own Committee on the diet, 140 
that they amounted to ‘a new constitution for Hungary’ and to accept 
them would ‘amount to an abdication by Your Majesty’. It added, that if 
circumstances did not permit their complete retraction, the task then 
became one of ‘saving for the crown what it is still possible to save.’ The 
main concerns of the Staatskonferenz were the powers of the palatine, and 
those of the new ministries of defence and finance. The result was that a 
new royal rescript was sent to the palatine, dated 28 March, which stated 
that the Hungarian Chancery be preserved with supervisory powers over 
the government; that the plenipotentiary powers of the palatine were 
restricted to the present occupier of that office only (it is impossible to tell 
which member of the Staatskonferenz proposed this, but certainly the 
question was raised of a rebellious palatine in command of Hungary’s 
armed forces being unable to be brought to account by the king); 141 that 
all revenues should be paid into the central treasury first; that the diet 
should be restricted to discussing matters of direct taxation; that questions 
concerning trade and the customs tariff should be negotiated with Vienna; 
that the king should continue to appoint officers and deploy troops even 

138 i.e. not to appoint by himself — hence the view by taken by the Staatskonferenz 
over his appointment of Batthyany, that he had overstepped his authority. See pp. 
39-40. 

139 Karolyi, Az 1848 tvcikkek, pp. 231-37, Document 12B, Memorandum of 
Staatskonferenz, 26 March, 1848. 

140 Ibid., pp. 226-31, Document 12A, Memorandum of the Committee of the 
Hungarian State Chancery, 25 March, 1848. 

141 Ibid., op. cit., pp. 71-72. 



164 


Mirror Images: Kossuth and Jelacic in 1848-49 


when absent from Hungary (His Majesty ‘clings to the principle of inti¬ 
mate connexion which derives from the Pragmatic Sanction and to his 
rights with respect to the employment of the armed forces in accordance 
with the law and to the nomination of officers.’); 142 and that the Hungar¬ 
ians should pay part of the state debt. The clear implication was that 
Hungary did not require separate ministries of war and finance and that 
the palatine might not be trusted. Implied, too, was the view that the new 
ministry was merely a more accountable version of the old palatine’s 
council. 

When the palatine read the new rescript to the diet on 29 March, there 
was uproar. Revolution again seemed to be on the cards and once again, 
the palatine staked his office on gaining a truly independent ministry for 
Hungary. Once again (on 24 March) he wrote an intimidating letter to the 
king: 143 ‘Your Majesty, The state of Hungary is at this moment so critical 
that the most violent outbreak is expected daily.’ And once more, he 
advised compromise and reconciliation — ‘With the arrival of a more 
favourable time, much can be arranged otherwise ...’ The result was a 
climb-down by the Staatskonferenz, although the king maintained his 
claims on the army through the Pragmatic Sanction: 144 

While I recognize the fact that the organization of home defence and the votes 
for military requirements belong to the sphere of action of the legislature ... the 
question of the employment of the Hungarian army beyond the limits of the 
kingdom, as well as that of the appointment to military offices, can depend only 
on my royal decision, and that the counter-signature in such matters must be 
entrusted to the minister in attendance on my person. 

Nor would the question of the state debt go away. On 5 April 1848 the 
new Austrian ministry complained that the Hungarians had so far 
remained silent on the question of their share of the state debt, a silence 
that was 145 ‘very serious and most dangerous for the credit of the 
Monarchy.’ The emperor as king, therefore, should instruct the diet and 
the palatine that one-quarter of the debt — 200,000,000 gulden — was to 
be paid by Hungary. A letter to this effect composed by Ficquelmont and 
approved by the Archduke Franz Karl was then sent to the palatine, 
having been signed by the king. It asked for the quarter of the debt and an 


142 Knatchbull-Hugessen, op. cit., vol. 2, p. 21. 

143 Printed as Appendix 22, Stiles, op. cit., vol. 2, pp. 396-97. 

144 Knatchbull-Hugessen, op. cit., vol. 2, p. 22. 

145 Karolyi, Az 1848 tvcikkek, pp. 290-91, Document 23a, Protocol of the Austrian 
Council of Ministers, 5 April, 1848. 




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annual payment in future of 10,000,000 Gulden. However, the request 
was once again framed with reference to the Pragmatic Sanction: 146 

Since nothing will be changed by these decrees or is intended to be changed in 
the fundamental relations between my kingdom of Hungary and my other states 
as established by the Pragmatic Sanction ... I urgently request you to make 
known to the Hungarian diet in the appropriate manner, the need to make a 
declaration on their part to uphold the pubic credit of my Monarchy, whereby 
all concern about the sharing of the Hungarian Lands in the common state debt 
will be comfortably removed. 

Quite clearly, therefore, the Habsburgs in March to April 1848 made 
concessions to the Hungarians only under duress. Their main body for 
formulating policy, the Staatskonferenz, believed that the Hungarians 
were demanding a new constitution which reduced the king to a cipher 
both by transferring his effective powers to the palatine, in whom the 
ruling family had lost trust, 147 and by allowing affairs previously held to 
be the immediate concern of Vienna — finance, defence, trade — to be 
devolved to Hungary. In future, no Staatskonferenz would be able to 
guide the fortunes of the Monarchy as a whole or supervise those of 
Hungary through the Hungarian Chancery. In short, under the threat of 
force, the Habsurgs had submitted to a coup d’etat . Not everything had 
been lost, however. An attempt had been made to claw back the conces¬ 
sions and when that failed, the Pragmatic Sanction was used to keep the 
imperial claim alive. In any case, paragraph six of Article III of the April 
Laws, seemed to limit the executive competence of the new Hungarian 
Ministry. It ran: 148 

Whatever has been or ought to have been up to the present time, under the juris¬ 
diction of the Hungarian Chancery or the Council of Lieutenancy, the Aulic 
Chamber (including the mines), and all affairs civil, military, and ecclesiastic, 


146 Karolyi, ibid, pp. 292-93, Document 23b, king’s letter to the palatine, Vienna, 7 
April, 1848. 

147 The Archduke Ludwig told the palatine: ‘You will be to blame if we lose 
Hungary.’ For this quotation and a discussion of the views of other members of 
the imperial family, see Karolyi, Az 1848 tvcikkek, pp. 25-26. 

148 Stiles, op. cit., vol. 2, Appendix 27, Article III of the Hungarian diet of 1847-8, 
pp. 399-402, p. 400. Peter, op. cit., p. 287, seems to agree: ‘The dicasteria had 
never administered imperial affairs, neither foreign policy nor finances, and with 
regard to the army they had been limited to quartering, provisioning and raising 
recruits in Hungary. The paragraph, therefore, had no implications for the imperial 
authorities.’ BUT, ‘Hungarian politicians never accepted the “strict” interpretation 
of paragraph 6 of Law III of 1848 as viewed by the Staatskonferenz.’ (Ibid) 



166 


Mirror Images: Kossuth and Jelacic in 1848-49 


as well as everything that concerns the finances and defence of the country, 
shall for the future be regulated and directed by the Hungarian ministry ... 

And Kossuth himself said: 149 


The king must not believe that his might is in any way impaired by the changes 
in the system or the concessions which he has made. ... Let His Majesty come 
as soon as possible into the midst of his faithful Magyars and convince himself 
that our fidelity is no empty word ... 

Vienna could comfort itself — if only briefly — therefore, that there 
might be no radical change regarding financial, military and commercial 
matters. The king’s throne might not be taken away from him after all. 


Royal Dismissals and Coups d’Etat 

Such complacency was not to last. On the issue of the debt, for example, 
the palatine replied that only the future Hungarian parliament could give a 
decision. 150 Meanwhile, all leading Hungarian politicians rejected the 
demand, Szechenyi predicting that the Austrians would be bankrupt 
within a few months and that ‘we shall probably see our worthy king 


149 Quoted in Edsel Walter Stroup, Hungary in early 1848: The Constitutional 
Struggle against Absolutism in Contemporary Eyes, Buffalo and Atlanta, 1977, 
p. 182. (Author’s emphasis). Kossuth’s statement raises the question whether the 
Hungarians had been honest in their dealings with the Court. In the view of 
Domokos Kosary, the grand old man of contemporary Hungarian historiography, 
both sides were dishonest, or rather, planned to impose their own interpretation of 
the April Laws as soon as circumstances permitted. See Kosary, Mag)>arorszag es 
a nemzetkozi politika 1848-1849-ben , Budapest, 1999, p. 11. Peter, in a 
provocative review article, challenges this: ‘... no evidence has come to light so 
far that the two sides agreed to a settlement in April which they had no intention 
of keeping.’ See Laszlo Peter, ‘Old Hats and Closet Revisionists: Reflections on 
Domokos Kosary’s Latest Work on the 1848 Hungarian Revolution’, in The 
Slavonic and East European Review , vol. 80, 2002, pp. 296-319, (p. 314). As will 
be seen, however, the Hungarian cabinet stretched its interpretation of the April 
Laws to the very limit from day one. Peter’s assertion that ‘the April settlement 
turned out to be a flop afterwards because the antagonistic policies pursued by 
both sides, mesmerised by the colliding conceptions of State, undermined the 
political will to cooperate, which, however, was also present on both sides’ (Peter, 
Old Hats etc., p. 314) does not quite fit the facts. Rather than a slow breakdown 
of cooperation taking place, it would seem that from the very start the Hungarian 
government demonstrated precious little effort to co-operate. See below. 

150 Spira, op. cit., p. 98. 



Alan Sked 


167 


quietly installed in the royal palace at Buda.’ 151 Kossuth, as finance 
minister, had in any case on 4 April — the day before the Austrian 
cabinet’s complaint —judicially seized 400,000 florins which were due 
to be transferred from Buda to Vienna. 152 It was clear, therefore, that he 
had no intention of transferring any funds to the Austrian government and 
certainly none to Jelacic. In his speech to the Hungarian parliament on 11 
July 1848, he said: 153 ‘...I have of course suspended the remittance of 
money to the commander-general at Agram (Zagreb). I should not be 
worthy to breathe the free air of heaven — nay, the nation ought to spit 
me in the face — had I given money to our enemy. But the gentlemen of 
Vienna hold a different opinion; they considered my refusal as a 
disgusting desire to undermine the Monarchy.’ In fact, he had been 
‘undermining the Monarchy’ from the very start, as his actions on 4 April 
demonstrated. Again, one of the decisions taken at the very first 
Hungarian cabinet meeting — on a motion by Kossuth — was to instruct 
ships leaving Adriatic ports to fly Hungarian not Austrian flags and to 
have the Hungarian flag recognized in all foreign ports. 154 By the time of 
the second Hungarian cabinet meeting, the minutes were referring to 
Esterhazy, minister at court, as Hungarian foreign minister 155 and, by the 
third cabinet meeting, the Hungarian government had already ‘informed 
all general commands in Hungary and its united parts, under the afore¬ 
mentioned (April) Laws, to take orders exclusively from this ministry and 
that any disobedience will be treated as insubordination and against the 
law.’ 156 The same general commands were also immediately to provide 
Budapest with a list of all weapons depots and military stores in their 
areas. Astonishingly, the cabinet also instructed ‘the foreign minister’ to 
make clear to Vienna that, ‘despite its best will, public opinion would be 
incensed if the return of the army [not just the Hungarian regiments — 
author] from Italy were delayed much longer, and that he should press for 
compromise in Italy.’ 157 On 24 April, Esterhazy was again told to remind 
the king that Hungarian regiments could only be kept outside Hungary 
with the permission of the Hungarian government — a view the king 

151 Ibid. 

152 Die Protokolle des osterreichischen Ministerrates, 1848-1867, Abteilung I. Die 
Ministerien des Revolutions]ahres 1848yicnm., 1996, Cabinet meeting of 4 April 
1848. Henceforth referred to as ‘ Austrian cabinet minutes'. 

153 Printed in Stiles, op. cit., vol. 2, pp. 384-94 as Appendix, 19. See p. 391. 

154 Hungarian cabinet minutes, 12 April 1848. 

155 Hungarian cabinet minutes, 15 April 1848. 

156 Hungarian cabinet minutes, 16 April 1848. 

157 Ibid. 



168 


Mirror Images: Kossuth and Jelacic in 1848-49 


rejected given his own interpretation of paragraph 6, Law III of the April 
Laws. 158 Then on 21 May, Batthyany demanded that all troops in 
Hungary take an oath to the Hungarian constitution immediately. This 
eventually happened on 1 June, but at the time, the cabinet recorded its 
fear of ‘scandal’, should non-Hungarian troops refuse to take the oath. 159 
On 30 May the order from Vienna to call up the fourth battalions of 
border regiments was ‘cancelled forthwith’ as ‘dangerous under present 
circumstances.’ The Hungarian ‘foreign minister’ was told to express to 
the king the ‘astonishment’ of the Hungarian cabinet that ‘Vienna war 
ministry still will not cease interfering in Hungarian military affairs.’ 160 It 
would seem to this author at least that the Hungarian government ignored 
the Pragmatic Sanction from the very start. Whether it had been deliber¬ 
ately dishonest about this in the negotiations over the April Laws can be 
left to individual readers to decide. 

Both Jelacic and Kossuth presented considerable problems for the 
Austrian cabinet. The former would not — could not — recognize the 
Hungarian ministry. He refused to go to Buda to meet the palatine, 
telling the Archduke Franz Karl that if he did so, he would not be 
allowed to return to Croatia, ‘so decisive is the spirit in this country 
against the Hungarian ministry.’ 161 After the palatine demanded that the 
king should countermand all his orders, the ban sent a new letter to the 
archduke on 13 May 162 saying he was ‘sick to death’ of Hungarian 
behaviour. Employing his usual blunt style, he complained that he had 
become ‘the object of persecution and deadly hatred of the Magyars’, 
who were trying to force him to resign. However, although he would 
‘gladly resign, if my resignation were possible’, ‘the nation will not 
have this.’ Fate, through him, had linked the future of ‘this gallant 
nation’ and the ‘welfare of the imperial house.’ If he resigned, the future 
of both would be at risk. He would sacrifice his life for the emperor, ‘but 


158 See n. 145 above. Also Hungarian cabinet minutes , 24 April 1848. Kiss on p. 110 
of the latter, in an explanation of footnote 5, quotes a letter from the palatine to the 
king of 24 April in which he reports ‘that the spirit which animates the Hungarian 
ministry (or at least the greatest part of it) can in no way be called good. The few 
sessions which His Imperial Highness has attended give sufficient proof of this.’ 
The king’s reply confirmed the ‘narrow’ interpretation of paragraph 6 of Law III. 

(p. 111). 

159 Hungarian cabinet minutes , 21 May 1848. (Kiss on p. 118, footnote 1, says that 
the Italian troops had indicated they would refuse to take the oath.) 

160 Hungarian cabinet minutes, 30 May 1848. 

161 See Hauptmann, Erzherzog Johann etc., pp. 15-16. 

162 Hauptmann, Erzherzog Johann etc., pp. 16-17. 



Alan Sked 


169 


to act against my holy conviction, against every right to exist given by 
God and Nature to every people, to every human being, that I cannot.’ If 
the emperor would not protect his Croats, then the 30,000 of them 
fighting in Italy would return home to do so. His mood was equally clear 
in a letter to his brother Juro of 1 May: 163 ‘My position, my work — 
brother — which stands totally at risk, is world historical. I can invite 
the blessing or curse of Posterity. My head, quoad materiala , is at risk 164 
— so things stand at present. That I will not abandon my innermost 
conviction, however, — whatever my end will be — that I will stand 
purely by my conscience — of that you may be certain.’ Yet the dynasty 
kept making concessions to the Hungarians, allowing them to take 
charge of the Military Frontier, instructing the general commands there 
to take orders from Buda, 165 and allowing the Hungarians to magyarize 
the regiments inside Hungary 166 either by transferring Hungarian and 
non-Hungarian officers or by granting requests that more and more 
Hungarian regiments should return to Hungary. 


163 Hauptmann, Erzherzog Johann etc., p. 19. 

164 Austrian cabinet minutes, 9 May 1848. The Austrian war minister, Count Latour 
reported a confidential letter from the Ban in which he wrote that 30 Magyars had 
sworn to draw lots to choose which of them should kill him. 

165 Vienna, Kriegsarchiv , MK (1848) 882, Esterhazy to Zanini, 24 April, MK (1848) 
907, Batthyany to Lederer, 25 April, MK(1848) 908, Lederer to War Ministry, 29 
April, MK (1848) Palatine to Zanini, 26 April, Batthyany to general commands in 
Hungary, 28 April, Zanini to Emperor, 2 May, MK (1848) 939, Zanini to Emperor, 
27 May 1848. 

166 E.g. Austrian cabinet minutes, 19 April 1848 and 10 May 1848 — discussions of 
Hungarian requests to send more Hungarian troops to Hungary. On the latter 
occasion, Latour protested that the Hungarians already had 32,000 troops there, 
but agreed to send more since the Hungarians were threatening to refuse to call up 
60-80,000 more recruits that the Empire needed. The magyarization process 
continued throughout the summer. The Austrian cabinet minutes for 16 August 
approve the transfer of Austrian-German officers in Hungarian regiments to 
Austrian-German ones as well as a circular to all Hungarian officers in non- 
Hungarian regiments asking if they wish to transfer. The Austrian cabinet minutes 
for 22 August note the transfer of 500 Italian troops by Hungary from Szegedin to 
Vienna. On the other hand, according to the Austrian cabinet minutes for 26 
August the Palatine informed Latour that the Hungarian opposition had failed in a 
parliamentary debate of 21 August to secure the ‘magyarization of all regiments’ 
by filling the third battalions of all line regiments with Hungarians. The 
Hungarians tackled the subject of returning Hungarian regiments to Hungary from 
the very first cabinet meeting and by 20 April had ordered Esterhazy to ensure that 
‘all Hungarian military quartered in Galicia and Moravia should return home 
immediately.’ See Hungarian cabinet minutes , 12 and 20 April 1848. 



170 


Mirror Images: Kossuth and Jelacic in 1848-49 


The Austrian cabinet regularly discussed its problems concerning 
Hungary. 167 On 11 April it complained of ‘the latest attempts by Hungary to 
take over the Military Frontier’; on 12 April it received news of calls to bring 
back all Hungarian troops from Italy and Galicia; on 14 April it agreed to 
leak the king’s letter to the palatine over Hungary’s share of the national debt 
to the press (‘Officially the outcome of this step is not known to the 
cabinet’); on 19 April it hoped for ‘more prudent behaviour from the 
Hungarians in their excessive demands to control military affairs’; on 30 
April it refused to allow military borderers to elect deputies to the Hungarian 
parliament; on 4 May it complained of Hungarians taking over stores, guns, 
stud-farms, munitions, not to mention the Military Border; although on 24 
May it simply refused to advise Hrabovszky, the commander in Slavonia, as 
to whether he should publicize the Hungarian take-over there. 

On 10 May the Austrian interior minister, Baron Pillersdorf suggested 
that the cabinet contact the Hungarian ministry to settle outstanding differ¬ 
ences. 168 Both countries were constitutional states and ‘should mutually 
support each other to maintain Austria as a great power. ’ Thus they should 
work together on matters such as the imperial civil list, foreign policy and 
foreign trade, finance, defence, trade and tariffs between Austria and 
Hungary, perhaps negotiating a treaty to cover arrangements to settle these 
matters. On 24 May, as a result, the cabinet welcomed a suggestion by the 
Hungarian government to establish a commission — headed by Pulszky on 
their side — to deal with just such common problems. 169 Indeed, war 
minister Latour indicated he had already reached preliminary agreement 
with his opposite number in Hungary on military affairs. Yet nothing came 
of these developments. Regular payments meanwhile had to be made to 
Jelacic to pay his troops, 170 although when the vice-ban of Croatia, von 
Lentulay, asked Vienna to help cover Croatia’s civil deficit, the cabinet 
declared itself incompetent to act on the grounds that financial affairs in 
Hungary were now covered by the April Laws. 171 

It was the hurried union of Transylvania and Hungary — the Transyl¬ 
vanian diet was summoned on 29 May and voted unanimously for union 
with Hungary on 30 May, increasing the Hungarian population by two 

167 Austrian cabinet minutes for 11, 12, 14, 19 and 30 April and for 4 and 24 May 
respectively. 

168 Austrian cabinet minutes , 10 May 1848. 

169 Austrian cabinet minutes, 24 May 1848. 

170 Austrian cabinet minutes, 15 May 1848, also Vienna, Kriegsarchiv, MK (1848) 
236 and 334, Krauss to Latour, 8 April 1848, MK (1848) 806 and 1062, Krauss to 
Zanini, 8 April 1848, MK (1848) 3421 and 3547, Jelacic to Latour, 8 July 1848. 

171 Austrian cabinet minutes, 25 June 1848. 



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171 


million — that forced the Austrian cabinet to review its position: 172 ‘The 
cabinet has already deeply felt the disadvantageous results of those deci¬ 
sions which gave Hungary its own responsible ministry’ — insufficient 
concern for the monarchy as a whole, problems over the army and the 
Military Frontier, financial ruin, debt problems and the growing influence 
of the Hungarian war ministry. Austria now demanded therefore that the 
Union between Transylvania and Hungary should respect the following 
conditions: all imperial funds there should remain under imperial control; 
Hungary should pay its appropriate share of the national debt; the general 
command of the Transylvanian Military Frontier should remain under the 
control of Vienna; Transylvania should remain faithful to its obligation to 
raise recruits for the imperial army; that it should contribute to the 
expenses of the Austrian diplomatic corps; and that it should pay for the 
pensions of those staff of the Transylvanian chancery and court treasury 
in Vienna who had previously been employed on Transylvanian affairs. 
This reaction clearly demonstrated Austria’s frustration with Hungary, 
although it was clear that the Austrian government had no means at its 
disposal to enforce its demands. Needless to say, its ‘wishlist’ was simply 
ignored by the Hungarians. The Austrian cabinet was attempting to shut 
the stable door long after the Hungarian horse had bolted. 

In any case, the Hungarians had by now decided to settle the main 
outstanding difference between Budapest and Vienna by forcing the king 
to get rid of Jelacic. 173 By 21 May the Hungarian government had decided 
to ask the king to suspend the ban from office. In Innsbruck on 28-29 
May the palatine secured the agreement of Franz Karl to the suspension 
and to preventing the Croatian Sabor from assembling on 5 June. 
However, Jelacic was given twenty-four hours to appear at Innsbruck to 
defend himself. Batthyany was to be there to hear him. But the ban 
refused to come and insisted on summoning the Sabor. He rebuked the 
king with the words: 174 ‘Can Your Majesty approve that a loyal, honour¬ 
able people such as the Croats and Slavonians should be the only one at 
present to be deprived of their right to exist?’ The result was the imperial 
manifesto of 10 June, written by Kossuth 175 in a propagandistic style that 
set out the Hungarian case, which suspended the ban, made the sabor 
illegal and appointed Field-Marshall Hrabovszky as royal commissar with 

172 Austrian cabinet minutes, 5 June 1848 

173 See Hungarian cabinet minutes of 10 and 20 May concerning Hrabovszky’s 
commission to take command of the Military Frontier. 

174 Quoted by Hauptmann, Erzherzog Johann etc., p. 20. 

175 Deak, op. cit., p. 137. 



172 


Mirror Images: Kossuth and Jelacic in 1848-49 


the task of investigating what had been happening in Croatia and indicting 
Jelacic ‘and his accomplices’. 176 In the words of Istvan Deak: 177 
‘Although unenforceable and legally invalid (the suddenly recalcitrant 
Esterhazy had refused his countersignature) Jelacic’s dismissal was a 
major victory for Hungary, one of the greatest in a long series of diplo¬ 
matic triumphs that had begun in March.’ 

Yet, fate intervened on the part of the ban. For on 10 June, the 
Hungarian government also asked the Archduke John to mediate between 
Croatia and Hungary, without realizing that this gave him the perfect 
excuse to keep the ban in office. The Hungarians, on the other hand, 
published the manifesto dismissing Jelacic on 18 June. Meanwhile, totally 
unaware of any of this, the ban turned up belatedly at Innsbruck on 16 
June at the head of a delegation from the Croat Sabor. There the Arch¬ 
duke John — who, apparently, was also unaware of the 10 June manifesto 

— arranged for him to address the court and diplomatic corps with great 
success. Neither Franz Karl nor the king mentioned the manifesto. 

In fact, the hope was now that the Archduke John might save the day 
through mediation, for on 19 June he was appointed by the king as official 
mediator between the two sides, with instructions to reach a ‘mutual 
understanding’. 178 Equally significantly, on 16 June the Archduke had 
been appointed the Emperor’s plenipotentiary in Vienna. 179 

The court in fact had a lot of sympathy for Jelacic, despite its need to 
conciliate the Hungarians. Through an intermediary — Louis Bedekovic 

— Franz Karl had on 9 May had informed him of his ‘sympathies’ for the 
Croats and had advised him to remain at his post. However, he had made 
clear that ‘that is it’. 180 In short, nothing could be expected of him 
publicly. The imperial family, as a result, felt very guilty when the ban, on 
20 June, read a copy of the manifesto dismissing him on his way home. 
‘God and posterity will judge,’ was his reaction. He then saw the 
Archduke John, who swore he knew nothing about the manifesto. 181 The 
Empress Mother, Caroline Augusta, expressed her outrage to Count 

176 The manifesto is published as Appendix 18, in Stiles, op. cit., vol. 2, pp. 381-84. 

177 Deak, op. cit., p. 137. 

178 See Hauptmann, Erzherzog Johann etc., pp. 20-32 for the best account of events 
at Innsbruck. 

179 Austrian cabinet minutes , 19 June 1848. 

180 Hauptmann, Erzherzog Johann, etc., p. 18. 

181 Hauptmann, Erzherzog Johann, etc., p. 31: ‘Only the Archduke John appears to 
have known nothing.’ Juro Jelacic’s mother-in-law reported that he formally swore 
that he knew nothing and promised to reverse the manifesto. (Which he later 
refused to do — Author.) See Egger’s diary’, 25 June 1848. 



Alan Sked 


173 


Egger — ‘My God! My God! What will he think of us? Tell me, does he 
consider us false?’ — and defended the Archduchess Sophie in partic¬ 
ular 182 — but in the end it did not matter. Archduke John invited Jelacic to 
talks with Batthyany in Vienna, addressing him in the official invitation 
as ‘My ban of Croatia’. 183 However, despite repeated requests, he would 
not officially withdraw the manifesto itself. 184 This was partly on account 
of his need to mollify the Hungarians, who believed that their offer of 
mediation made on 10 June had been deliberately misinterpreted. 185 (They 
wanted the manifesto implemented before the mediation was undertaken.) 
The Archduke John, for his part, told them that ‘if"he (the ban) were to be 
removed, there would be no peace to be reckoned with in Croatia.’ He 
was also ‘convinced that, should a peaceful compromise be reached, 
Jelacic would honestly and successfully see it through.’ 186 But the arch¬ 
duke was also worried lest a Slav preponderance in the Monarchy should 
endanger ‘the German interest.’ 187 


182 Egger s diary , 11 September 1848. Egger’s own reaction had been to denounce the 
Habsburgs as ‘this faint-hearted, faithless tribe,’ adding ‘Not for the first time 
have they sacrificed their most faithful servant and supporter.’ See Egger’s diaiy , 
22 June 1848. 

183 Bauer, op. cit p. 138. 

184 The request came in letters of 1,4, 6 and 9 July. See Hauptmann, Erzherzog 
Johann etc., p. 79 fh. 56. Cf Austrian cabinet minutes for 11 July 1848, which 
record a report from Jelacic asking for the manifesto to be revoked. 

185 Still, the Hungarian cabinet on 18 June wished the Archduke success in calming 
things down in Croatia and in restoring order there. It also promised that the 
Hungarian parliament which was soon to meet would consider measures to 
reconcile differences between Hungarians and Croats. Hungarian cabinet 
minutes , 18 June 1848. Its true position, however, was recorded on 21 June: ‘The 
Hungarian ministry did not wish the Archduke John to reach a compromise with 
the Croats by means of even-handed negotiations’ (but to go to the Military 
Border as someone with great influence there and refute the lie that the April laws 
had been conceded under duress). ‘Such negotiations with the Ban of Croatia, as 
they — apparently — consist at the demand of the Archduke John, were not the 
intention of the Hungarian ministry; such negotiations should not even have been 
in his power.’ Hungarian cabinet minutes, 21 June 1848. 

186 Vienna, Haus, Hof, und Staatsarchiv, Kabinettsarchiv, Geheimakten, 
Schwarzenberg Nachlass, Karton 13, Fasc. VIII, State Counsellor Eduard 
Zsedenyi to Batthyany and Kossuth, Vienna, 19 July 1848. 

187 The term was used by the Archduke’s chief adviser on the issue, Court Counsellor 
Kleyle, who also noted: ‘it does not seem desirable to bring the kingdoms of 
Croatia and Slavonia into a close constitutional relationship with the Austrian 
hereditary lands’ — they should get the widest possible autonomy within some 
form of Hungary. Austroslavism was to be ruled out as a governing principle for 
the empire. Hauptmann, Erzherzog Johnann etc., p. 44. 



174 


Mirror Images: Kossuth and Jelacic in 1848-49 


Ln the end, the manifesto meant nothing, although the Croats reacted to it 
with fury, voting at a special assembly of the Sabor in reaction to it to with¬ 
draw all troops from Italy, to dethrone the Habsburgs, to ally with Sardinia 
against them, and called on all Slavs to defend their right of nationality. 188 
The ban, for his part, had already from Innsbruck sent a proclamation to 
Italy telling the Croat troops to stay there and now continued to defend the 
dynasty. 189 In Hauptmann’s view, 190 had he acted in a manner similar to the 
Sabor’s, ‘catastrophe for the whole state would not have been avoided. Yet 
he sought on the contrary once again to work for Austria, for the Monarchy, 
even against the will of the emperor, since he intended to prevent everything 
from descending into the chaos of civil and racial war. Even though the 
wearer of the crown had dismissed him under, to him, inexplicable circum¬ 
stances, he felt himself bound even more to it as the symbol of a suprana¬ 
tional empire.’ So now Jelacic had saved the dynasty'. 

All hopes for peace were now invested in the talks arranged in Vienna 
by the Archduke John for 29 July. Before they took place both sides 
furnished the Archduke with a statement of their positions. These are 
summarized at some length in the Austrian cabinet minutes. 191 In the end 
the Archduke did not attend the talks, leaving on 30 July for Frankfurt 
where he had been elected Reichsvet'weser. However, ‘a comparison of 
the Hungarian and Croat conditions shows that they were in principle 
almost mutually exclusive.’ 192 Batthyany would not consider transferring 
the portfolios of war, defence and trade to Vienna or grant autonomy for 

188 Austrian cabinet minutes, 25 June 1848. Kulmer was invited to speak on the 
situation in Croatia. Latour reported on the ‘eccentric’ resolutions of the Sabor. 

189 See Sked, ‘Jelacic in the Summer of 1848’, pp. 141-43. 

190 Hauptmann, Erzherzog Johann etc., p. 30. 

191 Austrian cabinet minutes, 8 July 1848. The Hungarian government, however, 
drew Batthyany’s attention to the fact that it expected ‘the Austrian government to 
make the unfriendly policy it appears to be pursuing towards us, not merely fully 
friendly, but to cooperate successfully with the imperial authority as well as all 
members of the dynasty to restore loyal obedience to our laws with regard to order 
and peace in the territory of the Hungarian crown as soon as possible; and to 
restore, too, the legal independence and freedom of our fatherland in all respects, 
including the free pursuit of financial and military affairs, free from all foreign 
intervention, as matters which should be clearly, openly and honestly 
acknowledged and protected. This, all the more so, as the Hungarian ministry, in 
agreement with the whole nation, has decided, at any price, not to depart even by 
a hair’s breadth from the independence, laws and freedoms of the Hungarian 
nation sanctioned by the king; it will respond to friendship with a similar 
friendship but to hostility with appropriate retaliation.’ Hungarian cabinet 
minutes, 5 July 1848. 

192 Hauptmann, Erzherzog Johann etc., p. 43. 



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175 


the Serb Vojvodina. There could be no compromise in other words 
between a federally reorganized monarchy — the Austroslavist 
programme of the Croats — and one in which Hungary existed as an inde¬ 
pendent state, the aim of Kossuth, Batthyany and the whole Hungarian 
government. The Austrian cabinet, which had invested great hopes in the 
work of the Archduke John, was genuinely disappointed. 193 It wanted a 
peaceful resolution of the differences between Hungary and Croatia, lest 
the empire’s Slavs be drawn into a wider conflict that would totally desta¬ 
bilize the Monarchy. 194 

Kossuth’s ‘dismissal’ came with the resignation of the Hungarian 
government after the Austrian government demanded a renegotiation of 
the terms of Hungary’s independence at the end of August, a development 
soon followed by Jelacic’s official restoration to office on 4 September 
and his invasion of Hungary a week later. It would be tedious to go 
through all the evidence, but the work of Hajnal 195 on foreign policy and 
Urban 196 on defence policy make it crystal clear that the Hungarian 
government almost from the start had decided to ignore the Pragmatic 
Sanction and turn Hungary into a separate, independent kingdom, linked 
to Austria only by the monarchical personal union. 197 No money was 
given to Austria for common affairs or as part of the national debt; 


193 Austrian cabinet minutes, 25 June 1848. The cabinet endorsed Jelacic’s plea that 
the Archduke John should put his mediation mandate into practice. Indeed, ‘it was 
unanimously agreed by the cabinet, that it would bear a heavy responsibility if, 
during an affair of such importance for the welfare of the entire Monarchy, it did 
not use all appropriate means at its disposal to do everything to prevent a civil war 
breaking out, in which Austrian troops would face each other in two hostile 
camps, a civil war, which at the present moment, when national sympathies and 
antipathies have reached a peak, could easily provide a torch for all branches of 
the Slavs.’ It is notable that once again, the Austrians were as worried by the Slavs 
as they were by the Hungarians. In this context it should be noticed that, according 
to the Austrian cabinet minutes of 23 September — well after the ban’s invasion 
of Hungary — the Austrian cabinet agreed to a request by Pulszky from the 
Hungarians that the authorities in Moravia should be alerted to stop the passage of 
armed Slav volunteers making their way to fight in Hungary. 

194 See footnotes 175 and 181 above. 

195 Istvan Hajnal, A Batthyany-kormany kiilpolitikaja, Budapest, 1957. But see also 
Kosary, op. cit. 

196 Aladar Urban, A nemzetorseg es honvedseg szervezese 1848 nyaran , Budapest, 
1973. 

197 In the words of Peter, op. cit., p. 289: ‘... after the inauguration of the April Laws 
on the side not merely of the Hungarian radicals but of the ministry itself, the wish 
became evident that relations between Austria and Hungary should so far as 
possible be restricted to the person of the monarch.’ 



176 


Mirror Images: Kossuth and Jelacic in 1848-49 


Hungarian emissaries attempted to set up embassies in foreign countries; 
a separate defence force was established; and Hungary failed to give posi¬ 
tive support to Austria in Italy. In all of this Kossuth played the major 
role, although he was perfectly aware of the obligations imposed on 
Hungary by the Pragmatic Sanction. 198 In fact, he tried to evade 
answering questions on the subject, telling parliament on 20 July 1848 in 
reply to an enquiry on the nature of the obligations it imposed on the 
country, ‘nobody in Hungary would be pleased with the answer.’ 199 In the 
end Kossuth manoeuvred the government on Italy, for example, into 
accepting a policy of only agreeing to send reinforcements to Italy if the 
Italians refused to accept an honourable peace — meaning the Austrian 
surrender of Lombardy. 200 (Jelacic of course sent reinforcements and pro- 
Habsburg proclamations). 201 The cornerstone of Hungarian policy was 
that the Habsburgs would lose both their German and Italian territories 
and would be forced to retreat to Buda. (Indeed, the Frankfurt Parliament 
was to lay down that Austria could only be part of Germany if it estab¬ 
lished a personal union with its non-German territories.) Meanwhile as 
finance minister he made sure that no money left Hungary for Austria, no 
contribution was made to the national debt, duties were imposed on 
Austrian imports, and Hungary eventually printed its own banknotes (‘the 
Kossuth notes’). 202 And, of course, no money was sent to Croatia under 


198 Blackwell Papers , National Academy of Sciences, Budapest, Copies of, and 
Extracts from Despatches addressed to Viscount Ponsonby, Her Majesty’s 
Ambassador at the Court of Vienna by J.A. Blackwell during his Third (official) 
Mission to Hungary, 1847—48, Despatch number 15, Pressburg, 3 (5?) April 1848. 
He recorded a conversation with Esterhazy who told him that ‘Kossuth admitted 
that Hungary was bound by the Pragmatic Sanction to defend the United Monarchy 
against a foreign enemy.’ However, the whole government agreed that under then 
prevailing circumstances such a proposition was ‘entirely out of the question.’ 

199 Peter, op. cit., p. 287, fn. 205. 

200 On Kossuth and Italy see Hajnal, op. cit., chapter 7. On 5 July the Hungarian 
government laid down its position on Italy. It acknowledged its obligation under 
the Pragmatic Sanction to defend the king if he were attacked, but ‘it clearly 
protests at participating in the suppression of the Italian nation in Lombardy- 
Venetia and is only ready to provide aid in this matter, on the conclusion of a 
peace and an agreement with the Lombardo-Venetian nation, which on the one 
hand, corresponds with the dignity of the King and, on the other, the rights, 
freedom and appropriate wishes of the Italian nation.’ Hungarian cabinet minutes , 
23 July 1848. 

201 See footnote 177. 

202 On Kossuth as finance minister, see Istvan Sinkovics, ‘Kossuth, az onallo 
penziigyek megteremtoje’, in Emlekkonyv Kossuth Lajos sziiletesenek 150. 
evfordulojara, 2 vols, Budapest, 1952, vol. 1, pp. 87-173. 



Alan Sked 


177 


the ban. The Austrian finance minister complained: 203 ‘The Hungarians 
have not paid a farthing into the central treasury since April, although 
they should have transferred more than three million florins. They even 
dispute the right of the treasury to demand arrears from previous years, 
which also amount to several millions.’ Despite numerous attempts by 
Vienna to solve the common financial problem, the Hungarians stalled 
continuously so that nothing had been settled before September 1848. 204 

Given the growing crisis in Croatia and the end of the Italian war, the 
Austrian government’s patience ran out and eventually it got the king to 
agree to send the palatine a memorandum drawn up by state counsellor 
von Pipitz which outlined Austrian grievances and called on Hungary to 
negotiate a new relationship with Vienna based on the Pragmatic Sanc¬ 
tion. 205 The Hungarian government was also sent a copy on 31 August 
and was asked to formulate its reply within two weeks. On 18 September 
the palatine was asked to remind the Hungarians that they had failed to 
reply. However, on 31 August the Hungarian government had again told 
Vienna that it would send no money to Jeiacic. 206 On 11 September, the 
day the ban invaded, the government resigned. It had still not proved 
willing to negotiate on the basis of the Pragmatic Sanction. 

The Pipitz memorandum was extremely well written and praised the 
past common efforts of Austria and Hungary. It stated that the powers 
granted to the palatine and the policies of the Hungarian government 
since April 1848, which it listed in detail, contradicted the Pragmatic 
Sanction, which was the Monarchy’s ‘fundamental law’ or constitution. It 
ended by stating that the Austrian and Hungarian governments together 
should work to restore the unity of the highest leadership of the state. The 
relevant Austrian cabinet minutes 207 envisaged that this could be done 
either by the Hungarians sending under-secretaries of state to join the 
ministries of war, finance and trade in Vienna, or by Prince Esterhazy, as 


203 Austrian cabinet minutes , 3 July 1848. 

204 For the relevant correspondence, see the documents published in Rudolf Sieghart, 
Zolltrennung und Zolleinheit, Vienna, 1915, pp. 298-315. 

205 See Austrian cabinet minutes , 27 and 29 August, 17 and 18 September. For full 
text of the Pipitz memorandum see either Sammlung der fur JJngarn erlassenen 
Allerhochsten Manifeste und Proklamationen, dann der Kundmachungen der 
Oberbefehlshaber der kaiserlichen Armee in Ungarn, Buda, 1850, Anhang 1848, 
II, pp. 5-19 or Adelstein’s Archiv des ungarischen Ministeriums und 
Landesverteidigungsausschusses, 3 vols, Altenburg, 1851, vol. 2, Document, 651, 
pp. 317-329. 

206 Vienna, Kriegsarchiv, MK (1848) 4823. 

207 Austrian cabinet minutes, 27 August 1848. 



178 


Mirror Images: Kossuth and Jelacic in 1848-49 


Hungarian minister at court, joining the Austrian cabinet on all occasions 
when Hungarian interests had to be represented, or by a continuous corre¬ 
spondence with him. It also envisaged, in terms of a legislative body, the 
establishment of a Reichsrat to which ministers of both countries might be 
responsible. There was certainly no plan to abolish the Hungarian govern¬ 
ment. The Austrian cabinet desperately wanted peace, compromise and 
imperial administrative unity — not the destruction of Hungarian home- 
rule. 


Gambling on Illegality 

That war was the outcome was not the responsibility of the Austrian cabinet 
but of Jelacic and Kossuth. Neither, in fact, desired an armed struggle, but 
both gambled that they could risk one in order to win peace on their terms. In 
the case of the former, the evidence suggests that only after the breakdown of 
the talks in Vienna on 29 July did he decide that war would have to be 
resorted to. Batthyany, after all, had told him that ‘the sword will decide 
between you and us’. 208 Yet he still needed money and right up till 
September had to be subsidized by Vienna just to pay his troops. 209 More¬ 
over, he would have to build up an army from scratch using whatever men 
remained — officers were almost non-existent — on the Military Frontier 
who had some military training. (The result was an undisciplined rabble of 
50,000, with pikes and muskets.) 210 Latour might arrange for the ban’s 
regular troops plus widows and orphans to be paid, but otherwise offered 
only moral support. A personal letter of 23 June ran: 211 ‘It is time to take the 
offensive — if you want to save yourself and your fatherland. If you lack 
sufficient force, everything is lost.’ Yet Latour, officially, as War Minister, 
had informed him: 212 ‘I ... must subordinate my administrative authority to 
that of the Hungarian war ministry.’ When Kempen visited Latour in Vienna 
on 18 August, he found that people at the war ministry (including Latour) 
‘believe that they have done enough by offering him sympathy ... Thus I 
saw no consolation from this side, far less help.’ 213 Yet Kempen and Jelacic 


208 Hartley, op. cit., p. 198. 

209 Austrian cabinet minutes, 11 July, 1 September, (481,000 fl. to cover deficits for 
June, July and August, and extra 170,000 requested for September, but only 
100,000 sent to him immediately). 

210 Sked, ‘Jelacic in the Summer of 1848’, pp. 154-55. 

211 Hauptmann, Erzherzog Johann etc., p. 55, ft. 73. 

212 Vienna, Kriegsarchiv, MK (1848) 4123, 14 August. 

213 Kempen s diary, 18 August. 



Alan Sked 


179 


were led to believe from reports from within Hungary, that if he invaded that 
country, the regular troops there would come over to him peacefully. 214 The 
Hungarian government certainly feared the same after its commissar in 
Southern Hungary, Csany, resigned. He had reported that the local 
commander there, Major-General Ottinger, had ordered his troops not to 
resist Jelacic and his Croats should they invade. 215 Hence the ban’s expecta¬ 
tion of being met peacefully when he crossed the Drava on 11 September 
was by no means simply a delusion. Yet, when military regulars asked to see 
his orders once he had crossed the Drava, he, of course, had none to show 
them — since neither the court nor the Austrian ministry had furnished him 
with any. Both also expected him to be welcomed by the army inside 
Hungary, although, politically, they double-crossed him by appointing an 
Hungarian, Count Lamberg, to take charge of Hungary politically and mili¬ 
tarily. Only after Lamberg’s murder was Jelacic put in charge. 

At frrst everything seemed fine. Hrabovsky, now commander in Buda¬ 
pest, wrote to Latour on 25 September that he expected to receive Jelacic 
‘peacefully’ there, 216 although on 29 September the ban was forced to 
fight the Hungarians at Pakozd, where he was halted. Thereafter, he could 
expect no Hungarian troops to come over to him. Yet it was only on 3 
October that the king appointed him commander-in-chief in Hungary, 
leading the ban to exclaim: 217 ‘Everything too late, everything as always. 
Two weeks ago, all Hungarian troops would have joined us in a moment, 
now they are our most bitter enemies.’ He saved the Habsburgs once 

214 Kempen’s diary, 21 August, for example, reports the inability of the Hungarians to 
force the removal of all officers stationed on the Drava who refuse to fight the 
Croats. 

215 Hungarian cabinet minutes, 12 August 1848. Csany was told to remain at his post 
and Ottinger was replaced. On 14 August it was decided to prepare a law 
‘ordering home all Hungarian troops not stationed in Italy but in the other 
Austrian provinces’ and ‘allowing all Austrian soldiers in the country to leave, if 
they hesitate to fight against our enemies and the insurgents.’ All regiments 
returning to Hungary were to face a commissariat which would administer oaths 
to all officers asking them whether they were willing to fight all enemies of 
Hungary. If they were unwilling then they would have to resign their 
commissions. The same oath was to be administered to all officers camped on the 
Drava. If they refused they were to be immediately replaced. The ban was to be 
asked in the meanwhile to state his intentions regarding the troops he was 
concentrating around Warasdin (Varazdin). See Hungarian cabinet minutes, 14 
August 1848. Clearly, therefore, there was general confusion as to whether 
Hungarian troops (particularly officers) would resist Jelacic or not. 

216 Vienna, Kriegsarchiv, MK (1848) 5541. 

217 Ferdinand Hauptmann, Jelacic’s Kriegzug nach Ungarn 1848, 2 vols, Graz, 1975 
(Zur Kunde Siidosteuropas, 11/5) vol.l, p. 105. 



180 


Mirror Images: Kossuth and Jelacic in 1848-49 


again by defeating the Hungarians outside Vienna at Schwechat, but the 
Habsburgs once again double-crossed him by subordinating his army to 
that of Prince Windischgraetz; subsequently they deprived him of all 
political influence. 

If Jelacic’s gamble on illegally entering Hungary, to link up peacefully 
with the supposedly loyal regular troops there, had failed, Kossuth now 
gambled in a similar fashion by illegally entering Austria with the 
Hungarian army in the hope of linking up with a now revolutionary 
Vienna and being able to force peace on the court. His idea was to avoid a 
major war by winning a single battle at Vienna and dictating a political 
settlement. This was a more radical plan than the ban’s had been, but it 
was the invasion of Hungary by the latter and his march to Vienna which 
had forced Kossuth to consider such a strategy at all. Unfortunately, just 
like the ban, he was forced to rely on imaginary allies. 

That this was likely to be the case was known to him. Pulszky had been 
to Vienna to consult with the leaders of the revolution there. His mission 
had been to secure a request for Hungarian intervention. However, none 
was forthcoming. The Viennese wanted Hungarian support but would not 
ask for it in case they were regarded as rebels. Pulszky became angry: 218 

we did not intend to cross the Leitha without being asked to by our neighbours; 
they did not dare call on us, in case they were held to be rebels. They considered 
themselves loyal subjects, though they had killed a minister and thrown out the 
military. 

The commander of the Viennese National Guard, Messenhauser, took the 
same position: 219 ‘he was no rebel, but a loyal subject; he also did not 
want to identify the fate of Vienna with Hungary’s rebellion.’ He would 
not even issue a publication denouncing the Croats as enemies. Yet 
Pulszky wrote a confidential letter to Kossuth saying that ‘success is still 
certain’, 220 and that the Hungarians should march on Vienna before the 
arrival of Windischgraetz’s troops and dictate peace to the court. Once 
back in Pressburg he adopted the same position: 221 ‘It is our moral and 
political duty to help those who are in danger on our account and to show 
that we are ready to help our friends.’ Meanwhile the Hungarian army 
commander pointed out that his troops were inexperienced, that Windis¬ 
chgraetz had superior forces, that the National Guard from Komarom was 

218 Pulszky, Memoirs, vol. 2, p. 230. 

219 Pulszky, Memoirs, vol. 2, p. 233. 

220 Pulszky, Memoirs, vol. 2, p. 234. 

221 Pulszky, Memoirs, vol. 2, p. 247. 



Alan Shed 


181 


a hindrance, and that many officers were refusing to fight imperial troops 
on imperial soil. 222 Indeed, he himself had received instructions from 
Windischgraetz to send all non-Hungarian officers to the imperial camp 
immediately, if they were not to be treated as rebels. 223 Astonishingly, 
Kossuth took the gamble on invasion. He and some colleagues composed 
a memorandum for Windischgraetz explaining they were only attacking 
Jelacic on ‘neutral ground’, 224 while the Hungarian army was won over by 
some eloquent speeches and an assurance from Gorgei that, should they 
lose, their retreat was secure. Kossuth, as a result, invaded Austria with no 
firmer assurance of the support he required than Jelacic had had when he 
had invaded Hungary. 

Despite everything he had heard from Pulszky, in a letter from Pest on 
15 October he demanded of the Viennese ‘a well-armed force of 
20-30,000 men in our camp, with which jointly to attack the enemy.’ 225 
On 22 October, FML Moga, the Hungarian military commander, wrote to 
him, concerned that no reinforcements would arrive from Vienna, and 
advised against an attack. 226 A battle was fought at Schwechat in any case 
and that battle was lost to Jelacic. Kossuth explained: 227 ‘Luck has not 
favoured us but one must not despair for the fatherland on that account.’ 
He blamed defeat on the ‘silence of Vienna’ — no help arrived after all — 
but still believed that inside Hungary the army was invincible. In the end, 
of course, this proved an illusion and Kossuth, too, ended up a glorious, 
romantic failure. 

I should have liked to discuss several other themes — nationality 
policy in particular — but I think enough evidence has already been 
produced to prove that Kossuth and Jelacic were ‘mirror images’ of each 
other. Both were beloved national leaders and heroes, both were 


222 Ibid. 

223 Pulszky, Memoirs , vol. 2, p. 246. 

224 Windischgraetz refused to read it saying, notoriously, that he did not ‘negotiate 
with rebels’. Pulszky, Memoirs , vol. 2, p. 248. 

225 For a considerable correspondence surrounding Kossuth’s invasion of Austria, see 
Friedrich Walter, Magyarische Rebellenbriefe 1848. Aemtliche und Privat- 
Correspondenzen der magyarischen Rebellenregierung, ihrer Fiihrer und 
Anhanger, Munich 1964. For this quotation, see Document 65, Kossuth’s 
instructions for his emissaries to Vienna, pp. 101-02, p. 102. 

226 Walter, Magyarische Rebellenbriefe , Document 84, Moga to Kossuth, 
Headquarters, Pamdorf, 22 October 1848, pp. 124-26. 

221 Walter, Magyarische Rebellenbriefe , Document 90, Kossuth to the Committee of 
National Defence, Pressburg, 30 October 1848, p. 130. Cf. Friedrich Walter, ‘Die 
Ursachen des Scheitems der madjarischen Waffenhilfe fur die Wiener Oktober- 
Revolutionare 1848’, Siidost-Forschungen , 22, 1963, pp. 377—400. 



182 


Mirror Images: Kossuth and Jelacic in 1848-49 


charismatic, both were willing to risk all for their cause, both were liberal 
monarchists who ‘converted’ their national constitutions, both were 
appointed to their posts under peculiar circumstances, both were willing 
to gamble on force for success, both were betrayed by the Habsburgs, 
both ended up as failures. Today, both are deservedly honoured by the 
countries they served, long after the Habsburg Monarchy has disappeared. 


Kossuth’s Pie in the Sky: Serbia and the Great 
Danubian Confederation Scam 


Ian D. Armour 

Between 1849 and the conclusion of the Ausgleich in 1867, the concept 
of a Danubian confederation was much discussed, at least in Hungarian 
emigre circles. Around this indisputable fact has grown up a persistent 
myth that such schemes, precisely because they offered a genuine 
compromise to the non-Magyar peoples of historic Hungary, and their co¬ 
nationals in surroundings states, represented a viable alternative to 
Dualism. Tragically, according to this interpretation, Danubian confeder¬ 
ation was never given a chance, in part because its advocates were in exile 
and powerless, in part because the non-Magyar nationalities showed no 
interest in it; but it was nevertheless the last, best hope for inter-ethnic 
harmony in the area. According to Oscar Jaszi, writing in the 1920s, the 
Hungarian emigration under Lajos Kossuth ‘acknowledged completely 
the errors of the past’, and their idea of Danubian confederation was ‘an 
ingenious anticipation of an historical necessity.’ 1 Domokos Kosary, in a 
work first published in English in 1969, was of the opinion that ‘Kossuth 
anticipated his time by urging the settlement of minority problems not 
exclusively on the territorial basis [...] but on the basis of autonomous 
communities [...] within historical units.’ 2 According to Kosary, ‘The 
greatest obstacle was in the circumstance that the mentality of these 
peoples [the non-Magyars] was not ready for such collaboration, even if 
Austria’s grip could have been broken.’ 3 If only, these interpretations 
suggest, there had been a more generous response to Kossuth’s noble if 


1 Oscar Jaszi, The Dissolution of the Habsburg Monarchy, Chicago & London, 1929, 
pp. 312, 313. 

2 History of the Hungarian Nation , Part I: 830-1919 AD, based on the works and 
former publications of Dr Dominic G. Kosary, Astor Park, FI., 1969, p. 155 
(hereafter History of the Hungarian Nation). 

3 Ibid. 


183 



184 


Kossuth’s Pie in the Sky 


belated conversion to such ideas, the subsequent history of the Danubian 
basin might have been different. 

The title of the present paper is a deliberately provocative one, because 
I believe the story of these successive schemes shows their essential 
impracticability. This is particularly the case when we look at how Danu¬ 
bian confederation was meant to apply to the autonomous Principality of 
Serbia, and at the reaction of the Serbian government to the idea. The fact 
is that we simply cannot know whether Danubian confederation would 
have worked, because it never got off the drawing-board; but the imprac¬ 
ticability was obvious to observers at the time, and nowhere more so than 
in Belgrade. Moreover, research into related areas of enquiry in this 
period suggests strongly that we are dealing with a rather sad fantasy. In 
other words, Kossuth and his associates in exile ought to have known that 
their fantastical proposals would meet only with scepticism and derision; 
indeed, the sheer impracticality of the scheme suggests that its originators 
may not themselves have taken it seriously, and that they deployed it 
primarily as a device for winning support in specific circumstances. The 
following paper will first give a necessarily brief resume of the Danubian 
confederation proposals themselves. It will then describe the Principality 
of Serbia and what its government’s priorities were. Finally it will assess 
what the dealings between Serbia and the Hungarian emigration 
amounted to, and why in the end the results of these contacts were bound 
to be so exiguous. 


I: Danubian Confederation Schemes 

Dimitrije Dordevic, writing over thirty years ago about the proliferation of 
schemes for federation or confederation after 1848 (not all of them 
concocted by Hungarians), pointed out that there were two basic problems 
being addressed. The first problem was the conflict of nationalities within 
the Habsburg Monarchy. Most schemes for solving this problem involved 
some sort of restructuring of the Monarchy internally; only in the case of 
Italian, and to some extent Hungarian and Polish nationalism, was seces¬ 
sion or break-up seen as the answer. The second problem was the position 
of the Balkan Christian nationalities within the Ottoman Empire. This 
aspect of the ‘Eastern Question’, at least in the eyes of Balkan nationalists, 
posited the destruction of Ottoman rule. 4 The Danubian confederation 


4 Dimitrije Dordevic, ‘Projects for the Federation of South-East Europe in the 1860s 
and 1870s’, Balcanica, 1, 1970, pp. 119-45 (pp. 119-20). (Hereafter ‘Projects’.) 



Ian D. Armour 


185 


scheme evolved by Lajos Kossuth and other Hungarian emigres, by 
contrast, was unusually ambitious, in that it proposed a solution combining 
both these problems, and doing away with both the Habsburg Monarchy 
and the Ottoman Empire in the Balkans. 

The thinking of Kossuth and his associates in exile on this matter went 
through several stages. Even before the defeat of the revolutionary 
government, in the spring of 1849, Count Laszlo Teleki, Kossuth’s repre¬ 
sentative in Paris, urged Kossuth to consider granting effective self-deter¬ 
mination, within Hungary, not only to the Croats, but to Serbs and 
Romanians as well. Beyond this federally reconstituted Hungary, more¬ 
over, Teleki held out the visionary prospect of a situation in which other 
non-Magyar peoples would ‘with joy accept Hungary as the centre and 
queen of a future Danubian confederation, whose power would break the 
monster of absolutism forever and which would extend from the Baltic to 
the Black Sea.’ 5 The Romanian Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia, 
Serbia, Bulgaria, and possibly even Bohemia and Moravia could conceiv¬ 
ably join this Hungarocentric superstate. All it required, Teleki urged 
Kossuth, was ‘a little self-sacrifice’. 6 

Teleki’s ideas are of interest, not just because they represent the most 
advanced opinion of any Hungarian leader at this point, but also because 
Teleki was clearly influenced by a variety of contacts: by Italian 
Mazzinian nationalists; by the Polish emigration under Prince Jerzy Adam 
Czartoryski; and by Romanian revolutionaries such as Alexandru Golescu 
and Nicolae Balcescu. Giuseppe Mazzini himself had argued in 1832 that 
Hungary’s mission was to act as the centre of a ‘liberal federation’ of all 
those peoples for whom the Danube was the vital artery of communica¬ 
tion; and in 1848 Teleki had been one of the most vehement opponents of 
sending Hungarian troops to help suppress the revolts against Habsburg 
rule in the Italian Peninsula. 7 In Paris, Teleki established good relations 


5 Teleki to Kossuth, 14 May 1849, in Teleki Laszlo valogatott munkai, 2 vols., ed. 
Gabor G. Kemeny, Budapest, 1961, ii, p. 28. 

6 Ibid. The genesis of Teleki’s initiative is discussed in numerous sources, among 
which the most detailed are Lajos Pasztor, La Confederazione danubiana nel 
pensiero degli Italiani ed Ungheresi nel Risorgimento, Rome, 1949, pp. 11-16 
(hereafter La Confederazione ); Gyula Merei, ‘Foderationsplane in Sudosteuropa 
und die Habsburger Monarchie in den Jahren 1849-1914’, Nouvelles Etudes 
Historiques, 2, 1965, pp. 5^45 (pp. 6-12) (hereafter ‘Foderationsplane’); Zoltan 
Horvath, Teleki Laszlo 1810-1861, 2 vols., Budapest, 1964, i, pp. 247-54 
(hereafter Teleki Laszlo). 

7 Pasztor, La Confederazione, pp. 3-4, quoting Mazzini’s Dell’Ungheria (1832); see 
also Istvan Deak, The Lawful Revolution: Louis Kossuth and the Hungarians 
1848-1849, New York, 1979, p. 294 (hereafter The Lawful Revolution). 



186 


Kossuth’s Pie in the Sky 


with Golescu, the emissary of the Wallachian government, and was conse¬ 
quently familiar with the plan drafted in May 1848 by Balcescu, for a 
Swiss-style confederation of the Romanian Principalities, Hungary and 
Transylvania. 8 

The most significant of the influences on Teleki, however, was Czarto- 
ryski’s Polish circle based at the Hotel Lambert in Paris. Czartoryski had 
a long history of promoting the cooperation of the peoples along the 
Danube, and he saw the revolutions of 1848 as the chance to reorder the 
whole of Eastern Europe as a ‘democratic alliance of equal and inde¬ 
pendent states’, the principal function of which would be to fend off both 
Russian and Austrian domination. 9 

On the subject of Hungary, the Polish emigration had its doubts. The 
simmering race war in southern Hungary throughout 1848-49 was hardly 
the best advertisement for cooperation, and Czartoryski was inclined to 
see Kossuth’s government in particular as an oppressor of national minor¬ 
ities not unlike the Russian and Habsburg empires. Teleki, however, over¬ 
came these reservations, and the result was an agreement reached on 19 
May 1849 between Teleki, the Poles and others, by which Teleki held out 
the recognition of complete equality of nationalities, and autonomy for 
Croatia, the Vojvodina and the Romanian-inhabited portions of Transyl¬ 
vania; the rights of Germans, Slovaks and other minorities within these 
territories were to be safeguarded by the granting of some form of self- 
government, at least at municipal level. 10 

Teleki had earlier made it clear to Kossuth, in a despatch of 7 March, 
his belief that Hungary, with its back to the wall and facing Russian inter¬ 
vention on the side of a newly absolutist Habsburg Monarchy, could not 
afford to alienate its national minorities. ‘For God’s sake, give them a fine 
proclamation, give them whatever they want. And if Austria can’t be 
made to collapse, Hungary must in any case be reconstituted as a confed¬ 
eration.’ * 11 The problem was that neither Teleki’s preliminary negotiations 
with the Poles and others, nor the agreement of 19 May, had the authori¬ 
zation of the Hungarian government, and the agreement was immediately 
repudiated by Kossuth. The Hungarian foreign minister, Kazmer 

8 Pasztor, La Confederazione , pp. 6-7; Merei, ‘Foderationsplane’, pp. 6-7. 

9 Ibid., pp. 6-9; the description is Merei’s, p. 6. See also Piotr S. Wandycz, The 
Lands of Partitioned Poland 1795-1918, Seattle & London, 1974, pp. 120-22. 

10 French text of the agreement of 19 May 1849 in Horvath, Teleki Laszlo, ii, 
pp. 177-80; see also the preliminary memorandum of Frigyes Szarvady (Teleki’s 
secretary) for Czartoryski, 9 Mar. 1849, ibid., pp. 172-74. 

11 Endre Kovacs, Magyar-delszlav megbekelesi torekvesek 1848/49-ben, Budapest, 
1958, p. 89. 



Ian D. Armour 


187 


Batthyany, issued a circular on 10 June to all Hungary’s representatives 
abroad, explicitly repudiating Teleki’s agreement and with it the very idea 
of a confederation. The non-Magyar nationalities would be assured full 
civil liberties, and the free use of their language within Hungary, but 
Hungary’s territorial integrity and its unitary constitution could not be 
infringed, nor could the dominant position of the Magyars within the state 
be abandoned. 12 

With hindsight, it is hard not to agree with the judgment of Ferenc 
Pulszky, Teleki’s fellow representative abroad, who considered the whole 
episode a waste of time. 13 Even one of Teleki’s biographers concluded 
that Danubian confederation was ‘unrealistic’. 14 It seems clear that neither 
the Hungarian government nor the nationalities were ever likely to agree 
to such a scheme, given the bad feeling that already existed between 
them. Yet the fact is that the Kossuth government’s peremptory refusal 
even to consider a federated Hungary makes Kossuth’s subsequent 
conversion (if that is the mot juste ) to the idea all the more suspect. 
Teleki’s proposal, however high-minded, was indeed impractical, and the 
arguments against it after 1849 were no less obvious than before. 

Certainly it was only in exile that Kossuth’s own thinking started to 
move seriously in the direction of confederation, albeit in a rather zig-zag 
fashion. As early as October 1849, stranded at Vidin in Ottoman Bulgaria, 
Kossuth began to envisage, in the words of the Polish emigre Count 
Wladislaw Zamoyski, ‘the creation of a vast confederation of states 
comprising Hungary, Poland, Croatia, Serbia and the Romanian lands, a 
sort of 'Banda orientale \’ 15 Kossuth still regarded as ‘indispensable [...] 
the historic and political unity’ of Hungary, but within this framework he 
envisaged complete civil and political equality for all nationalities, as 
well as the free exercise of language in local administration, although the 
‘language of politics and diplomacy’ would still have to be Magyar. 16 

12 Horvath, Teleki Laszlo, ii, pp. 283-84; also Merei, ‘Foderationsplane’, pp. 11-12; 
Deak, The Lawful Revolution, pp. 296-97. 

13 Ferenc Pulszky, Eletem es korom, 2 vols., Budapest, 1958 [1880], ii, p. 495-96. 

14 Horvath, Teleki Laszlo, i, p. 252. 

15 Memorandum by Count Wladislaw Zamoyski, 10 Nov. 1849, citing talks with 
Kossuth on 29 Oct., in Istvan Hajnal (ed.), A Kossuth-emigracid Torokorszagban, 
Budapest, 1927, no. 48, p. 530 (hereafter A Kossuth-emigracid). See also the 
discussion of this in Laszlo Katus, A magyar politikai vezetoreteg a delszlav 
kerdesrol 1849 es 1867 kozott’, in Istvan Fried (ed.), Szerbek es magyarok a Duna 
menten, II: Tanulmanyok a szerb-magyar kapcsolatok korebol 1848-1867, 
Budapest, 1987, pp. 147-84 (note 6, p. 173); see also p. 149; (hereafter A magyar 
politikai vezetoreteg’). Katus misquotes the document slightly. 

16 Zamoyski memorandum, 10 Nov. 1849, in Hajnal, A Kossuth-emigracid, p. 531. 



188 


Kossuth’s Pie in the Sky 


Zamoyski, as he reported to Czartoryski, found much that was vague and 
confusing in this. Kossuth claimed that each of the nations named ‘would 
have its complete independence, minus the external link of federation 
needed for common defence.’ This, Kossuth continued, ‘would put Serbia 
at the level of Croatia and both at the level of Poland.’ But, Zamoyski 
wondered, what was meant here by Serbia — the Vojvodina within 
Hungary, or the Principality of Serbia and vassal-state of the Sultan? 
Zamoyski was inclined to think the former, since Kossuth seemed 
opposed to the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire. 17 The Hungarian 
made it obvious that he regarded Hungarians, Poles and Italians as natural 
allies in the current situation; but he acknowledged that there was not 
much chance of effecting change short of a major international upheaval, 
in particular a war directed against Russia. 18 

At an early stage, too, Kossuth tried to establish links with the govern¬ 
ment of Serbia. He even wrote personally to the Serbian minister of the 
interior, Ilija Garasanin, early in 1850, expressing his conviction that ‘the 
future of our country and the various Slav nationalities will only be 
assured, if they unite on the basis of a strong confederation’. 19 The letter 
by implication invited Garasanin to set forth his own ideas on Serbo- 
Hungarian cooperation. 20 By June 1850, however, in a letter to Teleki, 
Kossuth was referring to the ‘North-East Confederal Free States’, made 
up of Poland, Bohemia, Croatia, Romania and Hungary, whose federal 
capital and executive would be based somewhere in Hungary. 21 The 
exclusion of the Ottoman Empire’s South Slavs, at this stage, and indeed 
the proposal of a defensive alliance between the new confederation and 
the Ottomans, undoubtedly reflected the fact that, until September 1851, 
Kossuth was effectively interned in Turkey. 22 

The opportunities seemingly offered by the Crimean War gave a 
further impetus to Hungarian ideas about confederation. In 1855 
Kossuth’s associate, General Gy orgy Klapka, published in French, 
German and English a more elaborate plan, in which the emphasis was 
now much more firmly on Hungary and south-eastern Europe, and which 

17 Ibid. 

18 Ibid., p. 533. 

19 Kossuth & Kazmer Batthyany to Garasanin, 18 Jan. 1850, ibid., no. 104, p. 664; 
see also Katus, ‘A magyar politikai vezetoreteg’, p. 149, and note 8; Merei, 
Foderationsplane’, p. 17. 

20 Hajnal, A Kossuth-emigracio , p. 533. 

21 Kossuth to Teleki, 15 June 1850, in Horvath, Teleki Laszlo, ii, no. 67; Katus, A 
magyar politikai vezetoreteg’, p. 149. 

22 Dordevic, ‘Projects’, pp. 126-27; Deak, The Lawful Revolution , pp. 340-42. 



Ian D. Armour 


189 


excluded the Poles and Czechs from the equation, in part because the 
Hungarian emigration now fully supported the restoration of an inde¬ 
pendent Poland. 23 The Klapka plan saw three core ‘states’ in this Danu- 
bian confederation: historic Hungary, plus a South Slav state based on 
Serbia, and a Romanian state based on the two Romanian Principalities. 
The eventual adhesion of Bosnia and Montenegro was also envisaged. 
Although Klapka referred to ‘a strong federative state’, his description 
made it clear that the separate interests, history and traditions of the 
peoples inhabiting the three constituent units ‘do not reasonably permit 
thinking of a fusion into a single, centralized state.’ 24 There was thus no 
question of federalizing the Hungarian state, still less of transferring terri¬ 
tory to the others, although Klapka was prepared at least to consider an 
autonomous status for Croatia and Transylvania, within Hungary. Each 
state would be fully independent and autonomous within its own territory, 
with only foreign affairs, defence and external trade and customs in the 
hands of a federal superstructure. 25 

The fundamentally flawed premise underlying the Klapka plan was 
revealed by the end of the Crimean War: even this major international 
conflict had not sufficiently disrupted the state system to permit so wide- 
ranging a scheme to be realized. Nothing daunted, the Hungarian emigra¬ 
tion continued to seek to exploit international crises, and of course in 
1859 they were encouraged, by Napoleon III and the Piedmontese 
government, to form the Hungarian Legion and to hold themselves in 
readiness for an attack on the Habsburg Monarchy. 26 Nothing came of 
this; but in the course of 1859 the Hungarians once again made specific 
proposals to both the Serbian and Romanian governments, to which we 
shall return. 

In 1862 the final and most complex of the Hungarian plans for Danu- 
bian confederation was launched. What came to be known as the ‘Kossuth 
plan’ was in fact originally draftee by Klapka, with the collaboration of 


23 Georges Klapka, La Guerre d ’Orient en 1853 et 1854, jusqu’a la fin de juillet 
1855..., Geneva, London & Paris, 1855, pp. 177-79 (hereafter La Guerre 
d’Orient ). See also Merei, ‘Foderationsplane’, pp. 19-21; Dordevic, ‘Projects’, pp. 
125-26. 

24 Klapka, La Guerre d’Orient , pp. 177—78. 

25 Ibid., p. 178; Merei, ‘Foderationsplane’, p. 20. 

26 Pasztor, La Confederazione, pp. 33-36; Angelo Tamborra, ‘La politica serba del 
Regno di Sardegna 1856-1861’, Rassegna storica del Risorgimento, 38, 1951, 1-2, 
pp. 43-72 (p. 53); Kosary, History of the Hungarian Nation, pp. 155-56; Ljiljana 
Aleksic-Pejkovic, Politika Italije prema Srbiji do 1870. godine, Belgrade, 1979, 
pp. 65-67 (hereafter Politika Italije ). 



190 


Kossuth’s Pie in the Sky 


Ferencz Pulszky and the Italian Mazzinian nationalist, Marc Antonio 
Canini. Kossuth, however, although he objected to the plan’s publication 
in May 1862, never seriously dissented from its details, as the work of 
Lajos Lukacs clearly demonstrates. 27 

The 1862 plan represented a considerable advance on Klapka’s 
thinking in 1855. While Magyars, South Slavs and Romanians were still 
seen as the core peoples, there were now seven states: Hungary, Croatia, 
Transylvania, Slavonia, Dalmatia, plus Serbia and Romania. As before 
the option was held open of other ‘states’ such as Bosnia and Montenegro 
joining later. The formation of a Serbian or Romanian nation-state was 
thus, as before, implicitly excluded; but on the other hand Kossuth and his 
associates had clearly renounced the territorial integrity of the historic 
Hungarian state as well. The confederation would have a common foreign 
policy, defence and customs, transport and communications system, 
currency and even weights and measures. There was to be a common 
executive council, and a bicameral federal parliament. The capital, or to 
be more precise the organs of central government, would alternate every 
two years between Budapest, Zagreb, Belgrade and Bucharest; and the 
official language at federal level would be French. Below the federal 
level, each state would have full internal autonomy: in short, its own 
government, laws and representative system. In particular, issues of 
nationality were to be regulated by the laws of individual states. Any 
powers not specifically reserved to the federal authority were considered 
automatically to be the preserve of the states. 28 

We shall shortly consider what reception this complicated, but in many 
respects imaginative and high-minded, proposal met with in Serbia. It is 
worth reminding ourselves, however, that the Hungarian emigration’s 
plans were being evolved against a background which included not only 
international crises, but a continuing debate within Hungary itself about 
relations with the non-Magyar nationalities on the one hand, and the 
Habsburg Monarchy on the other. In this context, which was constantly 
changing after the 1859 war, it is equally important to stress that the 

27 The French original of the plan is published in I Documenti diplomatici italiani, 1st 
series: 1861-1870, 7 vols, Rome, 1952-83, i, no. 253, pp. 293-95; Italian text 
published in Pasztor, La Confederazione, pp. 97-99. See also Lajos Lukacs, 
Magyar politikai emigracio 1849-1867, Budapest, 1984, pp. 202-15 (hereafter 
Magyar politikai emigracio ); for the critical edition of the texts see Gabor 
Pajkossy, ‘Az 1862. evi Duna-konfoderacios tervezet dokumentumai’, Szdzadok, 
136, 2002, pp. 937-57; see also Merei, ‘Foderationsplane’, pp. 25-30; Bordevic, 
‘Projects’, pp. 129-30. 

28 Lukacs, Magyar politikai emigracio , pp. 204-06. 



Ian D. Armour 


191 


governments of all the autonomous Balkan principalities, including Serbia, 
maintained links not only with their co-nationals in Hungary, but with the 
domestic Hungarian leadership as well. 29 As the 1860s wore on, it became 
increasingly evident to these Balkan observers that the real centre of 
Hungarian politics lay in Hungary, rather than with Kossuth in Turin. 


II: Serbia 

Serbia in the 1850s and ’60s posed more of a theoretical threat to peace in 
the Balkans than a real one. The Principality was small, and would have 
fitted into the Habsburg Monarchy a score of times. Its population still 
numbered only a million, the vast majority of whom made their living off 
the land, in a country with no modem infrastructure. 30 Even in the 1860s 
Serbia’s official military capacity was a sham, rather like the frog that 
inflates itself to twice its size to impress its enemies. The Prince of Serbia, 
though autonomous, was still a vassal of the Sultan and obliged to pay a 
yearly tribute on pain of condign punishment. Ottoman garrisons occu¬ 
pied the main fortified towns of Serbia down to 1867. 

Yet both the Habsburg and Ottoman Empires, and many of the 
Hungarian leadership at home and abroad, feared what Serbia might yet 
become. A greater Serbia would be a power to reckon with, especially 
since it could only aggrandize at the expense of its neighbours to south 
and north. Even if its expansion were prevented, Serbia’s strategic impor¬ 
tance could only grow, and from the 1830s all the major powers main¬ 
tained consulates at Belgrade, which became one of the diplomatic 
listening-posts of Europe. Both the intended regulation of the Danube as 
an international waterway, and the pressure to complete a rail link 
between central Europe and Constantinople, made the powers all the more 
anxious to secure some form of influence in Serbia. 


29 Katus, ‘A magyar politikai vezetoreteg’, pp. 153-54. The contacts between the 
Serbian government and the Hungarian opposition to the neo-absolutist regime in 
the 1860s are abundantly documented in, inter alia , Vojislav J. Vuckovic (ed.), 
Politika akcija Srbije u juznoslovenskim pokrajinama Habsburske Monarhije 
1859-1874, Belgrade, 1965 (hereafter Politicka akcija Srbije ); see especially nos. 
25 (pp. 38-39), 27-29 (pp. 40-41), 30-38 (pp. 44-52). 

30 F. Kanitz, Serbien. Historisch-ethnographische Reisestudien aus den Jahren 
1859-1868, Leipzig, 1868, still one of the most valuable contemporary sources, 
gives a figure for 1866 of 1,192,086, p. 552. For a comprehensive account of 
Serbia in this period, see Michael Boro Petrovich, A History of Modern Serbia 
1804-1918, 2 vols., New York, 1976, i, ch. iv , passim. (Hereafter .4 History of 
Modem Serbia). 



192 


Kossuth 5 Pie in the Sky 


Serbian governments had their own nationalist agenda, but as it 
happened it was focused on the Ottoman Empire, not the Habsburg 
Monarchy, or rather southern Hungary. The classic statement of Serbian 
nationalist priorities was Ilija Garasanin’s Nacertanije or ‘outline’ of 
1844. 31 Garasanin is important in our story not just because he was a 
prominent minister in the 1840s and 1850s, and Serbian minister presi¬ 
dent from 1861 to 1867, but because he articulated a more coherent and 
aggressive nationalism, which was directed chiefly against Ottoman rule, 
but was also strongly anti-Austrian. The Nacertanije was directly influ¬ 
enced by other Slav nationalists, in particular Czartoryski, who had 
singled out the Serbs as the only Balkan people who, because of the very 
existence of Serbia, might unite the Peninsula against Russian domina¬ 
tion. One way or another, Czartoryski felt, Serbia must take over as the 
principal power in the region; ideally this should involve other South 
Slavs, including the Catholic Croats. 32 Garasanin, however, was less 
interested than Czartoryski in grandiose visions of ‘Yugoslav’ unity, and 
concentrated more on the practical options open to Serbia. 33 This entailed 
recognizing that the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire in Europe was 
unlikely to be achieved peacefully, and that the only rational strategy for 
Serbia was a policy aiming at withdrawal of Ottoman garrisons, arma¬ 
ment, alliance with other Balkan states, and staged uprisings of Balkan 
Christians under Ottoman rule. In addition Garasanin, like Cavour in 
Piedmont, realized that Serbia had to enlist the influence of a great power 
in this enterprise, and that this power was likely to be Russia, even though 
Garasanin had no desire to see Serbia permanently under Russian influ¬ 
ence. 34 With the Habsburg Monarchy, by contrast, there could be no such 

31 Serbo-Croat text in Jozsef Thim, A magyarorszagi 1848-49-iki szerb jolkeles 
tortenete, 3 vols., Budapest 1930-40, iii, no. 1, pp. 1-14 (hereafter A 
magyarorszagi 1848-49-iki szerb jolkeles tortenete ); English translation in Paul N. 
Hehn, ‘The Origins of Modem Pan-Serbism — The 1844 Nacertanije of Ilija 
Garasanin: An Analysis and Translation’, East European Quarterly, 9, 1975, 2, pp. 
153-71 (pp. 158-69) (hereafter ‘The Origins of Modem Pan-Serbism’). See also 
Petrovich, A History of Modem Serbia, p. 233; and Charles Jelavich, ‘GaraSanins 
Nacertanije und das groOserbische Programm’, Siidost-forschungen, 27, 1968, 
pp. 131-47 (hereafter ‘Garasanins Nacertanije’). 

32 David MacKenzie, Ilija Garasanin: Balkan Bismarck, New York, 1985, pp. 46-47, 
47-54 (hereafter Ilija Garasanin)-, Vaso Cubrilovic, Istorija politicke misli u Srbiji 
XlXveka, Belgrade, 1982 [1958]), pp. 130-31, 131-34. 

33 This insight is the important contribution of Jelavich, ‘Garasanins Nacertanije’, 
pp. 143—47. 

34 MacKenzie, Ilija Garasanin, p. 55; Petrovich, A History of Modern Serbia, 
pp. 231-33. 



Ian D. Armour 


193 


accommodation. Because of the Monarchy’s fears that a South Slav state 
would be built out of Habsburg territory, ‘Austria [...] must in all circum¬ 
stances be the eternal enemy of the Serbian state.’ 35 

As is well known, there was no love lost between Serbia and the 
Hungarians in the 1840s, because of the position of the Serb minority in 
southern Hungary. In May 1848 the Vojvodina Serbs appealed directly to 
Belgrade for help; in response Garasanin wrote that ‘We regard the cause 
of our brethren [...] as our own.’ 36 Serbia acted as a conduit for arms to 
the Hungarian Serbs, and between five and eight thousand volunteers 
crossed over to fight against the Hungarians in 1848—49. 37 At the same 
time, as a vassal-state of the Sultan, Serbia was obliged to keep a low 
profile; and it is clear from other comments by Garasanin that the Serbian 
government regarded the entire Hungarian war as a digression from 
Serbia’s normal policy of pursuing the end of Ottoman rule. 38 Involve¬ 
ment in the fighting in Hungary was seen as an unavoidable distraction; 
certainly there is no evidence that Garasanin considered the disintegration 
of the Habsburg Monarchy as imminent. And when, in May 1849, the 
Hungarian government despatched Count Gyula Andrassy to Belgrade in 
an attempt to improve relations, Garasanin was polite but non-committal. 
Despite Andrassy’s claim that the Serbian minister was ‘sincerely in 
favour of an alliance with Hungary’, despite Garasanin’s assurance that 
‘he had always wanted the union of the two nations’, Andrassy came 
away empty-handed. 39 There was certainly no attempt by either party, at 
this stage, to discuss the even more wide-ranging ideas about confedera¬ 
tion floated by Teleki in Paris. 

In Hungary itself, the situation was transformed by the defeat of the 
Hungarians and the imposition of neo-absolutist rule on all nationalities of 
the Monarchy. Overnight, the Serbs of southern Hungary' were converted 
from the bitter foes of the Hungarians to their companions in misfortune, a 

35 Garasanin’s Nacertanije, in Thim, A magyarorszagi 1848-49-iki szerb folkeles 
tortenete, p. 2; cf. the translation by Hehn, ‘The Origins of Modem Pan-Serbism’, 
p. 159. 

36 Garasanin to Dorde Stratimirovic, 17/29 May 1848, in Grgur Jaksic (ed.), Prepiska 
Ilije Garasanina, i (only volume published). 1839-1849, Belgrade, 1950, p. 157 
(hereafter Prepiska Ilije Garasanina ); MacKenzie, Ilija Garasanin, p. 97. 

37 Ibid., pp. 99-100, 101; Petrovich, A History of Modern Serbia , p. 245. 

38 See, for example, GaraSanin to Knicanin, 9/21 Jan. 1849, in Jaksic, Prepiska Ilije 
Garasanina, no. 268, p. 355; wrongly cited by MacKenzie, Ilija Garasanin, p. 105, 
as no. 269, p. 335. 

39 Andrassy to Kazmer Batthyany, 11 June 1849, in Thim, A magyarorszagi 1848-49- 
iki szerb folkeles tortenete , iii, no. 822, pp. 788, 789. A Hungarian translation of 
the French original is in Horvath, Teleki Laszlo, ii, no. 55, pp. 184-87. 



194 


Kossuth’s Pie in the Sky 


situation which created at least the possibility of political cooperation. 40 
The Serbian government, for its part, maintained links with both sides, 
while continuing to concentrate on affairs within the Ottoman Empire. 


Ill: The Hungarian Emigration and Serbia 

The links between Serbia and the Hungarian emigration, on the other 
hand, were altogether more episodic. Although Belgrade, in view of its 
position within the Ottoman Empire, refused asylum to Hungarian refu¬ 
gees fleeing Habsburg territory in 1849, a more positive note had been 
sounded when the Serbian government facilitated the escape of Kossuth’s 
wife, who was able to join him at Vidin. 41 Kossuth personally had a high 
opinion of Garasanin, not least because of the latter’s record of hostility to 
the Habsburg Monarchy. 42 As we have seen, the emigration’s hopes of 
solving the Hungarian question increasingly posited cooperation with 
other nationalities, and their attitude towards Serbia was inevitably condi¬ 
tioned by the Principality’s potential as a springboard for launching either 
an invasion of Hungary or as a base for fomenting revolution. The only 
problem was that both the Habsburg and the Ottoman governments were 
perfectly aware of this, and consequently monitored events in Belgrade 
closely. 

Certainly the Serbian government displayed an understandable caution 
in its dealings with Kossuth. When, at the start of 1850, Kossuth sent his 
first ideas about Danubian confederation to Garasanin, via the Italian 
Giuseppe Carrosini, there was no clear response. 43 Garasanin appears to 
have promised Carrosini ‘to work out a detailed outline’ for future coop¬ 
eration; but given the complete powerlessness of the Hungarian emigres 
at this point, it is not surprising that nothing came of this. 44 


40 C. A. Macartney, The Habsburg Empire 1790-1918, London, 1969, pp. 446-47, 
449; Vasilije Krestic, ‘A magyarorszagi szerbek politikai torekvesei es a magyarok 
(1849-1867)’, in Istvan Fried (ed.), Szerbek es magyarok a Duna menten, II: 
Tanulmanyok a szerb-magyar kapcsolatok korebol 1848-1867, Budapest, 1987, 
pp. 129-46 (pp. 129-30, 131). 

41 Kossuth to Garasanin, 18 Jan. 1850, in Hajnal, A Kossuth-emigracio, no. 102, 
pp. 659-61; Merei, ‘Foderationsplane’, p. 16. 

42 Katus, A magyar politikai vezetoreteg’, p. 152. 

43 Kossuth & Kazmer Batthyany to Garasanin, 18 Jan. 1850, in Hajnal, A Kossuth- 
emigracio, no. 104, pp. 663-64 (cited above, note 19); see also Kossuth’s 
instructions to Carrosini, 19 Jan. 1850, ibid., no. Ill, pp. 671-77. 

44 Merei, ‘Foderationsplane’, p. 17; Hajnal, A Kossuth-emigracio, introduction, p. 372. 



Ian D. Armour 


195 


What is interesting about Kossuth’s proposals of 1850, the first in 
which he embraced the idea of confederation, was how contradictory and 
hedged about with conditions they were. While acknowledging his 
conversion to the principle that Hungary’s free existence could only be 
assured if it remodelled itself as a federation, Kossuth insisted that 
Hungary must remain a unitary state, one with which Serbia could unite if 
it so wished. Within Hungary, however, all Serbs would be merely 
assured of ‘political and national freedoms and rights’; there was no ques¬ 
tion of autonomy. On the other hand, Kossuth was ready to contemplate 
the independence of Croatia-Slavonia, as long as Hungary retained 
Fiume. A union of Serbia with Croatia and/or Slavonia was sanctioned, 
but in no circumstances could this be extended to include the Banat or the 
Bacska. To cap it all, Kossuth stressed that for him ‘the interests of the 
Sublime Porte are sacred’ — which was a reasonable enough profession 
for someone interned on Ottoman soil, but was hardly like to commend 
itself to the government of Serbia. 45 

There was even less heard from the Serbian side in 1855, when 
Klapka’s plan was published, nor, given the circumstances, is it hard to 
see why. Russia’s defensive war in the Crimea effectively eliminated it 
from the picture, and although the Ottomans were also preoccupied with 
the War, other great power involvement in the Balkans was constant. 
From mid-1854 the Habsburg Monarchy was occupying Moldavia and 
Wallachia, and the threat of an occupation of Serbia was a real one. 46 
Prince Alexander Karadordevic, never the strongest of personalities, was 
utterly dominated by the Austrian consul, while Garasanin, excluded from 
government in this period, could only fume, in July 1856, that ‘Serbia can 
never count on anyone’s help, and that which she cannot create for 
herself, she can never expect from another.’ 47 Nor is there much evidence 
that the Hungarian emigration was in a position to take advantage of the 
Crimean War. 

The Italian War of 1859, however, provided an ‘object lesson’ in the 
perils for Serbia when, for a change, the Hungarian emigration was full of 
hopes that a grand re-ordering was about to commence. The cooperation 
of the Romanian and Serbian governments was actively sought, not just 
by the Hungarians but, briefly, by Napoleon III and the Piedmontese 

45 Kossuth’s instructions to Carrosini, 19 Jan. 1850, ibid., pp. 672, 673, 676-77; see 

also Merei, ‘Foderationsplane’, p. 16. 

46 MacKenzie, Ilija Garasanin , pp. 151-54. 

47 Garasanin to Marinovic, 3/15 July 1856, in Jaksic, Prepiska Ilije Garasanina, 

pp. 307-08; MacKenzie, Ilija Garasanin , p. 156. 



196 


Kossuth’s Pie in the Sky 


government. Both Cavour and Napoleon III, before the outbreak of hostil¬ 
ities on 26 April, were conscious of the advantages of fomenting a 
Hungarian revolt in Austria’s backyard, and Cavour at least seems to have 
regarded the break-up of the entire Habsburg Monarchy as the inevitable 
consequence of such an uprising. ‘If it works,’ he wrote to Prince Napo¬ 
leon, the Emperor’s cousin, in January 1859, ‘Austria is finished: 
deprived of Italy and her Hungarian and Slav provinces, she will be left 
completely helpless.’ 48 General Klapka was recruited to lead a Hungarian 
legion which would invade Hungary at the given moment. For this, 
however, the cooperation of both Serbia and the recently united Principal¬ 
ities of Moldavia and Wallachia was essential. The Piedmontese govern¬ 
ment accordingly appointed its first consuls to Belgrade and Bucharest, 
appointments suggested by Kossuth; Klapka paid a flying visit to 
Belgrade in April and, for a few months anything seemed possible. 49 The 
consul for Belgrade, Francesco Astengo, arrived at his post in March 
1859; on the 23rd he was received by Prince Milos and, encouraged by 
the latter’s obvious hostility to Austria, immediately broached the project 
for a Hungarian uprising. Would the Serbian government assist Klapka 
and his troops? 50 

The Serbian government, headed by the recently restored Prince Milos 
Obrenovic and his son Michael, was in a terrible dilemma. Without any 
guarantees of support against the probable enmity of Austria and Turkey, 
Serbia was being asked to incite both Hungarians and Hungarian Serbs to 
revolt. Astengo even expressed the hope that, if Britain should join on the 
side of Austria, Serbia would stir up Turkey’s Christian population to 
revolt as well. Milos and Michael, the next day, replied that Serbia would 
not itself take part in an intervention on Austrian soil because of a lack of 
arms; nevertheless, they agreed in principle to facilitate the supply of 
arms and supplies to the insurgent forces in Hungary. 51 On 27 March, 
Milos sent Michael on a tour of the European capitals to discover how far 
Serbia’s involvement would be tolerated, if at all. 

The answers justified Milos’s and Michael’s trepidation. In Vienna the 
Russian ambassador, Balabin, advised Serbia to wait and see. The present 

48 Cavour to Prince Napoleon, 7 Jan. 1859, in Frederic Masson, ‘L’ltalie liberee 
(1857-1862): Lettres et depeches du roi Victor Emmanuel II et du comte de 
Cavour au prince Napoleon’, Revue des deux mondes, 13, 1923, p. 45; Grgur Jaksic 
& Vojislav J. Vuckovic, Spoljna politika Srbije za vlade Kneza Mihaila (prvi 
balkanski savez), Belgrade, 1963, p. 20 (hereafter Spoljna politika Srbije ). 

49 Hermann Wendel, Bismarck und Serbien im Jahre 1866, Berlin, 1927, p. 27. 

50 Jaksic & Vuckovic, Spoljna politika Srbije, p. 21. 

51 Ibid., pp. 22-23. 



Ian D. Armour 


197 


crisis, if it came to war between Austria, France and Sardinia, might also 
lead to a general war involving Turkey, and in that case Serbian involve¬ 
ment would be feasible, and would even, Balabin promised, secure the 
Principality possession of Bosnia-Hercegovina. For the present, however, 
‘we must above all preserve what we have.’ 52 

In Paris, Michael found that Napoleon III was willing to promise no 
more than diplomatic support for various Serbian grievances against the 
Porte. The arrangements between the Piedmontese government, Prince 
Napoleon and the Hungarian emigration, though undertaken with the 
Emperor’s consent, had not been known even to the French foreign 
minister, Walewski. Now, as Walewski pointedly informed his consul in 
Belgrade, the French government would have nothing to do with a 
Hungarian uprising. 53 It had to take into account the possibility that a 
Franco-Piedmontese attack on Austria, which threatened the status quo in 
the Near East, was likely to bring Britain into the struggle in defence of 
the Ottoman Empire. 54 Michael left a memorandum for Napoleon III in 
which he offered Serbia’s cooperation against Turkey and Austria but, 
sensibly, only in return for a formal alliance; this was not taken up by the 
French government. 55 Prince Michael advised his father in April 1859 to 
keep the peace ‘at all costs’. 56 

In London, the British Conservative government’s disapproval of any 
departure by Serbia from strict neutrality was plain to see. Prince Michael 
also met Kossuth in London in May; but the encounter only confirmed the 
inadvisability of getting involved. Kossuth was under the impression that 
Napoleon III was actively promoting a Hungarian rebellion; in any case 
the Serbian government, he claimed, should be willing to help Hungary, 
since an independent Hungary was in Serbia’s own interests. This confu¬ 
sion on the part of the Hungarian emigration, again, appears to have been 
due more to the wishful thinking of Prince Napoleon, who happened to be 
an uncle of King Victor Emmanuel of Sardinia-Piedmont, than to prac¬ 
tical considerations. 57 


52 Kosta Cukic to Miloje Lesjanin, 20 Mar./l Apr. 1859, in Vuckovic, Politicka akcija 
Srbije, no. 3, p. 9; Jaksic & Vuckovic, Spoljna politika Srbije, pp. 22-24. 

53 Walewski to des Essards, 21 Apr. 1859, in Vuckovic, Politicka akcija Srbije , no. 8, 
pp. 17-18; Jaksic & Vuckovic, Spoljna politika Srbije , pp. 24-25; Aleksic-Pejkovic, 
Politika Italije , pp. 69-71. 

54 Jaksic & VuCkovic, Spoljna politika Srbije , p. 26. 

55 Prince Michael Obrenovic to Napoleon III, 16/28 Apr. 1859, in Vuckovic, 
Politicka akcija Srbije , no. 11, p. 21 

56 Prince Michael to Prince Milos, 17/29 Apr. 1859, ibid., no. 12, p. 23. 

57 Jak§ic & Vuckovic, Spoljna politika Srbije , pp. 32-34. 



198 


Kossuth’s Pie in the Sky 


In the course of their meeting, Prince Michael and Kossuth also 
discussed the idea of Danubian confederation, but the surviving accounts 
also bespeak confusion. According to Kossuth’s own memoirs, written 
only two decades after, Prince Michael was personally in favour of Serbo- 
Hungarian cooperation and Danubian confederation; it was also, according 
to Kossuth, an understood thing that the sole reward Serbia might expect 
for helping a Hungarian uprising would be the establishment of an inde¬ 
pendent Hungary. 58 By contrast Milan Pirocanac, one of Michael’s secre¬ 
taries in 1859, but writing in 1895, did not dispute Michael’s willingness to 
find common ground with Hungary; but that did not mean that Serbia 
could afford to act in this case, without some guarantee of survival. 59 

Back in Serbia, with the outbreak of the war on 26 April, the Ottoman 
government started reinforcing its garrisons in Belgrade and the other 
Serbian fortress towns as well as in neighbouring Bosnia and Bulgaria. 
This was a clear response to the rumours of Serbian involvement, which 
had been fuelled by Klapka’s flying visit to Belgrade around 20 April, 
and by the increasingly eccentric behaviour of old Prince Milos, whose 
open Austrophobia was becoming an embarrassment. 60 Austria, too, 
despite its preoccupation with the fighting in Italy, was keeping a 
watchful eye on its southern border. The Austrian ambassador to Constan¬ 
tinople, Baron Anton von Prokesch-Osten, suggested closing the frontier 
to Serbian trade, as an extremely effective means of checking Serbian 
provocation. The new foreign minister Count Rechberg, however, was 
content to rely on the Ottoman government’s troop movements, and the 
restraining influence of Prince Michael on his father. 61 Michael reached 
Belgrade on 9 June, and his arguments in favour of strict non-involve¬ 
ment were reinforced by Walewski’s total repudiation, to the Ottoman 
government, of any desire to use Klapka to raise a revolt in the Habsburg 
Monarchy. The wisdom of staying out was amply demonstrated in August 
when, at the news of the French armistice with Austria at Villafranca, the 
Piedmontese government abruptly called the whole project off. ‘The 
secret goal of your mission,’ Astengo was informed, ‘is terminated.’ 62 

58 Lajos Kossuth, lrataim az emigracziobol , vol. i: Az 1859-ki olasz haboru korszaka, 

2nd ed., Budapest, 1880, pp. 394, 398. 

59 Milan Pirocanac, Knez Mihailo i zajednicka radnja balkanskih naroda, Belgrade, 

1895, pp. 19-21; MacKenzie, Ilija Garasanin , p. 242. 

60 Dr Pacek to Prince Michael, 12/24 Apr. 1859, in Vuckovic, Politicka akcija Srbije, 

no. 10, pp. 19-21; Jaksic & Vuckovic, Spoljna politika Srbije , pp. 25, 35 

61 Prokesch-Osten to Rechberg, 3 June 1859, in Vuckovic, Politicka akcija Srbije, no. 

16, p. 28. 

62 Tamborra, ‘La politica serba del Regno di Sardegna 1856-1861’, p. 56. 



Ian D. Armour 


199 


The events of 1859 are worth dwelling on in such detail because they 
illustrate the problems Serbia faced. From the point of view of the Serbian 
government, the perils of any close dealings with the Hungarian emigra¬ 
tion were all too obvious, so obvious as to make projects for Danubian 
confederation all the more improbable. By the time the final version of 
the Danubian confederation scheme became public, in May 1862, the 
Serbian government under Prince Michael, with Garasanin back in office 
as minister president, was forging ahead with its plans for Balkan alli¬ 
ances and uprisings. Nevertheless the interchanges between Belgrade and 
the Hungarian emigration, scant though the records are, are of interest. In 
the summer of 1862, Kossuth made use of his Italian confidant, Marc 
Antonio Canini, who was being sent to Bucharest and Belgrade by the 
Italian government, to elicit the responses of the two main ‘associate’ 
peoples to the confederation plan. Once again there were hopes, encour¬ 
aged by the Italian government, of exploiting the crisis in the Ottoman 
Empire caused by the uprising in Crete, while simultaneously engineering 
a confrontation with the Habsburg Monarchy. Serbia’s contribution 
would be to raise an insurrection among the Serbian Border Guards in 
Hungary. 63 

Behind the Canini mission there was a tortuous secret history of disa¬ 
greement among the Hungarian emigration as to the way forward. The 
‘Kossuth plan’ itself, as we have seen, was the outcome of a hurried adop¬ 
tion of the ideas of Klapka, with some of which Kossuth had long been in 
disagreement. Kossuth nevertheless lent the prestige of his name to the 
plan when it was published in May 1862. 64 The problem now was to 
convince the Hungarians’ proposed partners in the project of its feasibility. 

Canini was undoubtedly not the aptest choice as envoy in this 
campaign to win hearts and minds. A former secretary of Mazzini in the 
revolutionary year of 1848-49, Canini had since made a living as a jour¬ 
nalist, residing for a decade in Bucharest before returning to Italy in 
1859, after which he joined Garibaldi’s movement. He had a long¬ 
standing association with both the Polish and Hungarian emigre commu¬ 
nities, and played a significant role in drafting and then publishing the 
1862 plan. Officially, Canini’s mission to the Balkans was to set up an 
Italian-Romanian cultural society for research into the Roman origins of 
the Romanians. Unofficially, he was charged by King Victor Emmanuel 
II, the Italian minister president Ratazzi, and Garibaldi with sounding the 

63 On the general background, see Jaksic & Vuckovic, Spoljna politika Srbije , ch. iv 

and v passim; Aleksic-Pejkovic, Politika Italije, pp. 107-10. 

64 Lukacs, Magyar politikai emigracio, pp. 204-13. 




200 


Kossuth’s Pie in the Sky 


governments of Greece, the Romanian Principalities and Serbia on the 
possibilities of a coordinated attack on the Habsburg Monarchy and 
revolt in the Ottoman provinces. Canini, however, was a classic loose 
cannon. In the words of a Yugoslav historian, he was ‘a boastful, vain, 
garrulous person, completely irresponsible’; and he rapidly made himself 
so obnoxious wherever he went that his mission soon degenerated into 
farce. 65 

Before Canini even arrived in the Balkans the Italian government had 
been forced by the great powers to change course, and had hastily disa¬ 
vowed any intention of meddling in the Ottoman Empire. In the Roma¬ 
nian Principalities Canini aroused suspicions wherever he went, and he 
was eventually arrested by the Ottoman authorities and all his papers and 
funds confiscated. He arrived nearly penniless at Belgrade on 25 July, 
preceded by a hail of indignant diplomatic reports, and shortly after the 
international crisis touched off by the Ottoman bombardment of Belgrade 
in June. 66 

In the Romanian Principalities, Canini’s mission as exponent of Danu- 
bian confederation was the culmination of a series of contacts with the 
government of Alexandru Cuza since 1859, when the latter was elected 
prince of both Wallachia and Moldavia. Among the Hungarian emigres 
both Klapka and, until his death in 1861, Teleki, were warmer advocates 
of the Romanian connection than Kossuth who, together with most of the 
emigration, took especial exception to Klapka’s and Teleki’s willingness 
to contemplate a plebiscite over the fate of Transylvania. 67 Cuza, for his 
part, was inclined to cooperation with the Hungarians, but had to reckon 
with serious opposition to this among Romanian politicians like Dumitru 
Bratianu. 68 In the end, it was the opponents of cooperation who gained the 
upper hand, and by 1862 Cuza’s government, hoping for great power 
sanction for a formal union of Wallachia and Moldavia, was frankly unen- 
thusiastic about Danubian confederation. 69 

In Belgrade, the response to the Kossuth plan was if anything even 
more embarrassing. Canini had some difficulty even achieving an audi¬ 
ence with Garasanin, and he was not permitted to see Prince Michael at 


65 Aleksic-Pejkovic, Politiha Italije, pp. 106-07, and note 56. 

66 Ibid., pp. 107, 108; Jaksic & Vuckovic, Spoljna politiha Srbije, pp. 107-22. 

67 Merei, ‘Foderationsplane’, pp. 23-24. 

68 Ibid., p. 24. 

69 Lukacs, Magyarpolitikai emigracio , p. 220; Merei, ‘Foderationsplane’, p. 25. See 
also Strambio (Bucharest) to Durando, 29 July 1862, reporting on Canini’s 
disastrous sojourn in Wallachia, in I Documenti diplomatici italiani , 1st series, ii, 
no. 610, pp. 601-04. 



Ian D. Armour 


201 


all. Letters which he attempted to have delivered to the prince were inter¬ 
cepted, one being bought by the Italian consul to prevent it falling into the 
hands of his Austrian colleague. 70 Nevertheless Canini managed to meet 
with Garasanin a total of four times, enough to make clear that the 
Serbian government had no intention of responding to Kossuth’s initia¬ 
tive. 

Although in his memoirs, written in 1868, Canini claimed that 
Garasanin ‘showed himself well disposed to an understanding with the 
Hungarians’, and informed him that the confederation scheme was 
received in the Belgrade casino with applause, the reality was otherwise. 71 
A rather pathetic letter from Canini to Garasanin, on 29 August, regretted 
that their interview was cut short, and pleaded for a meeting with the 
Prince, even ‘at night, in secret.’ 72 Kossuth, Canini claimed, disposed of a 
secret army of 120,000 men; even in Bohemia there was an underground 
military corps, awaiting the word to rise up. In one of those protestations 
which amounted to a confession of the opposite, Canini insisted that there 
was no disagreement between Kossuth and Klapka. ‘They are also,’ he 
continued, ‘in agreement on the big political questions, such as for 
example Danubian Confederation, which is proven by the two 
programmes which contain the same basics.’ 73 In the Habsburg army, 
there were ‘secret committees’ of Serb, Croat and Hungarian officers, on 
whom the Hungarians and the Serbian government could call. The Italian 
government still supported the whole project, but had to pretend other¬ 
wise officially in order not to alienate Russia. At the end of this wildly 
inaccurate plaidoyer , Canini raised an implied threat: if the Serbian 
government did not hasten to take advantage of this opportunity, Austrian 
machinations could mean that Serbs would find themselves once again 
confronting Hungarians as enemies. ‘The natural friends of Serbia,’ 
Canini concluded, ‘are the Italians and Hungarians.’ 74 

Garasanin’s considered response was to ignore the advances of the 
Hungarians, for reasons which he explained to his representative in Paris, 
Miloje Lesjanin, early in October 1862. In Garasanin’s opinion the Serb 

70 Canini to Prince Michael, 17 Aug. 1862, enclosed in Scovasso to Durando, 7 Sept. 
1862, in I Documenti diplomatici italiani , 1st series, iii, no. 130, pp. 96-8; Aleksic- 
Pejkovic, Politika Italije, pp. 108-09, and note 60. 

71 Katus, ‘A magyar politikai vezetoreteg’, pp. 150-51, and note 16 (p. 174), citing 
M. A. Canini, Vingt ans d’exil , Paris 1868, pp. 174-75. 

72 Canini to Garasanin, 29 Aug. 1962, in Vuckovic, Politicka akcija Srbije , no. 53, 
pp. 88-89. 

73 Ibid., p. 89. 

74 Ibid., pp. 89, 90. 



202 


Kossuth’s Pie in the Sky 


population of southern Hungary and the Border were unlikely to rise in 
support of the Hungarians. Despite the recent improvement in Serbo- 
Hungarian relations within Hungary (something which had nothing to do 
with the emigration), there was still not much common ground. The two 
sides would ‘have to agree on things that up to now have never been 
agreed on.’ 75 In the circumstances, it was clear that the Serbian govern¬ 
ment expected no more from the emigration than it did from the Deakists, 
which was not saying much. As for the whole idea of Danubian confeder¬ 
ation, Garasanin thought that the Hungarian emigration ‘made this public 
too soon. It is necessary to reach an agreement in secret and not via the 
papers.’ 76 But crucially, Garasanin concluded, ‘There cannot be a confed¬ 
eration as long as there is an Austria and a Turkey [...] one must proceed 
in an orderly fashion to eliminate these two and replace them with a 
different form of government for their peoples.’ 77 In other words, Serbia 
was obliged to cope with existing realities, which were intractable enough 
from Belgrade’s point of view. Danubian confederation could wait. 


Conclusion 

In conclusion, it is worth noting that the final version of the confederation 
scheme provoked disagreement even within the emigration. The fact was 
that the whole idea of confederation, especially if it involved a diminution 
of Hungary’s historic territory, was anathema to most Hungarians, in and 
out of Hungary. One of Kossuth’s associates in London, Sebo Vukovics, 
advised him on 7 July 1862 that ‘I think we should simply drop it, without 
a word more.’ 78 Kossuth in his reply appeared already to be backing away 
from the scheme, assuring Vukovics that he agreed that national liberation 
should be the priority. Vukovics returned to the charge in August, urging 
an explicit repudiation of the plan, and suggesting a face-saving formula: 
‘the cleverer ones are saying: we know that this is not Kossuth’s wish, but 
[...] a manoeuvre dictated by circumstances.’ 79 More significant is the 
effect news of the plan had on public opinion in Hungary, where 


75 Garasanin to Lesjanin, early Oct. 1862, ibid., no. 54, p. 92. 

76 Ibid. 

77 Ibid. See also Jaksic & Vuckovic, Spoljna politika Srbije , pp. 125-26; Aleksic- 
Pejkovic, Politika Italije , pp. 108-10. 

78 Sebo Vukovics to Kossuth, 7 July 1862, quoted in Lukacs, Magyar politikai 
emigracio, p. 220. 

79 Vukovics to Kossuth, 23 Aug. 1862, quoted ibid., p. 221. 



Ian D. Armour 


203 


according to Lukacs the details spread ‘with the speed of lightning’, and 
significantly with the apparent encouragement of the otherwise strict 
Austrian censorship. 80 Members of the ‘Resolution Party’ in Budapest, 
and who maintained discreet contact with the emigration, let Kossuth 
know in no uncertain terms that they entirely rejected confederation 
plans. 81 One of the Resolutionists, Frigyes Podmaniczky, confided 
gloomily to his diary, on 11 June, his conviction that ‘If I have to go to the 
Reichsrat, better go to Vienna among Germans, than to Belgrade among 
Serbs [racok\T sl Support for Kossuth within Hungary, in so far as this can 
even be estimated, appears to have diminished, and the thought of this 
alternative, after 1862, may have inclined Ferencz Deak to seek accom¬ 
modation with Vienna. 83 

Even more intangible is the legacy which the Danubian confederation 
scheme left in the minds of the younger generation of Hungarian politi¬ 
cians. As late as 1868 the young diplomat Benjamin Kallay, at the outset 
of his posting to Belgrade as Austro-Hungarian consul, could refer to 
confederation as ‘the only possibility for us and for the Christian nations 
of Turkey.’ 84 Kallay was twenty-eight at this point; and nothing in his 
subsequent career as diplomat, historian and k.u.k. minister suggests that 
he seriously pursued confederation. On the contrary, it can only be 
assumed that his conception of confederation involved an unequivocal 
Hungarian, or in the end Austro-Hungarian hegemony. 85 

The Danubian confederation idea was impracticable, however gener¬ 
ously conceived, and the history of the various attempts made to interest 
the Serbian government in it demonstrate this. There were simply too 
many obstacles internationally, certainly too many for Belgrade, posi¬ 
tioned as it was on the edge of two tectonic plates. But the scheme was 

80 Ibid., p. 214; Katus, ‘A magyar politikai vezetoreteg’, p. 151. 

81 Ibid., citing Deak Ferencz beszedei , 2nd ed., ed. Mano Konyi, 6 vols., Budapest, 
1903, v, pp. 46-47. 

82 Ibid., p. 47; quoted in Katus, ‘A magyar politikai vezetoreteg’, p. 152. 

83 George Barany, ‘Hungary: The Uncompromising Compromise’, Austrian History 
Yearbook, iii, 1967, pt. 1, pp. 234-59 (pp. 244-45); Macartney, The Habsburg 
Empire 1790-1918, p. 538. 

84 Dnevnik Benjamina Kalaja 1868-1875, ed. Andrija Radenic, Belgrade & Novi 
Sad, 1976, entry for 12 May 1868, p. 18; see also entry for 26 June 1868, ibid., 
p. 44. 

85 On Kallay, see Ian D. Armour, Austro-Hungarian Policy towards Serbia 
1867-1871, with Special Reference to Benjamin Kallay, University of London 
PhD, 1994, pp. 36-37; Robin Okey, ‘A Trio of Hungarian Balkanists: Beni Kallay, 
Istvan Burian and Lajos Thalloczy in the Age of High Nationalism’, The Slavonic 
and East European Review, 80, 2002, pp. 234-66 (pp. 237-41). 



204 


Kossuth’s Pie in the Sky 


also impracticable in terms of delivery, even had the diplomatic condi¬ 
tions been more favourable. For the reaction of Kossuth’s fellow exiles, to 
say nothing of the political leadership in Hungary, suggests that the orig¬ 
inal proposals might well have been watered down in the long run. It is 
true that pyramid salesmen often believe their own sales pitch, but that 
does not mean one has to believe them. The proof of the pie in the sky is 
in the eating. 


A Comment on Dr. Armour’s Paper, ‘Kossuth’s Pie 
in the Sky: Serbia and the Great Danubian 
Confederation Scam’ 

Robin Okey 

Dr Armour has given a lucid and very largely persuasive account of the 
Kossuth’s Danubian confederation plans in the mid-nineteenth century as 
they concerned the Serbs. The purpose of these comments is not really to 
challenge his pessimistic assessment of a famous episode. They touch on 
two aspects of the matter, one tangential, the other more central to his 
theme. The first is the nature and constraints of emigre politics; the 
second probes the implications of Dr Armour’s confessedly provocative 
term ‘scam’ to ask whether something be rescued of the view of the 
confederal plans as a significant point in Kossuth’s career. 

It could be argued that the manoeuverings over Danubian confedera¬ 
tion, which Dr Armour describes, belong more to the theme of emigre 
politics than of meaningful Hungaro-Serb relations. The very fact of exile 
constrains emigres to turn to other countries in their political combinations 
in ways that would not arise if they remained at home. Times of interna¬ 
tional tension offer apparent opportunities for these combinations to 
succeed, but the long history of the Polish cause in the nineteenth century 
shows the frustration regularly involved, matched in the twentieth century 
by the calculations of Ukrainian emigres or Kurds. Federal or confederal 
schemes seem to be popular in emigre politics because they offer scenarios 
for cooperation which avoid hard questions about the ultimate disposition 
of power. The Polish-Czech confederal schemes of the Second World 
War, which glided over the issue of Teschen (Tesin, Cieszyn), and vaguer 
talk of Balkan federation, where Macedonia posed the same ambiguities as 
Transylvania, are cases in point. Of course, emigre politics has not always 
been unproductive, as the role of the Slav exiles in the First World War 
showed. Even this role’s importance has been questioned, however, and it 
did not entail seeking amity, like Kossuth, between historically suspicious 
neighbours, but invoking third party support against them. Where the Slav 


205 


206 


A Comment on Dr. Armour’s Paper 


emigres did try for a historical reconciliation, as the Yugoslav Committee 
tried with Italy, they hardly succeeded. 

Thus emigration is rarely a good starting point for a realistic politics. Dr 
Armour stresses that the Serbian government was more interested in the 
Hungarian politicians in Hungary than in Kossuth’s exiled cohorts. Politi¬ 
cians on the ground are more likely to mean what they say and are in a 
better position to deliver. The Hungarians who successfully international¬ 
ized their cause in 1790-91 had the advantage of a home base. This factor 
of location has often been relevant in modem Central European history. 
Notoriously, Tomas Masaryk disavowed the 1918 Pittsburg Declaration 
offering autonomy for Slovaks in a Czechoslovak state on the grounds that 
he had concluded it as a mere private citizen; Sikorski refused to discuss 
Poland’s frontiers in visiting Moscow in December 1941 because only the 
Homeland could decide such matters; Benes was swayed in negotiations 
with his fellow exile, the Sudeten German socialist Jaksch, by the 
mounting hatred of Germans back home. The exiled Sikorski and Benes 
were heads of widely recognized governments and their responsibilities 
made them cognizant of the limitations on their freedom of action; in 
Masaryk’s case, closer to Kossuth’s, a man renowned for his uprightness 
was simply disingenuous. All three cases show the pitfalls of trying to 
negotiate the region’s ethnic minefield from afar. 

My second comment concerns Dr Armour’s judgement on the Danu- 
bian confederation scheme as ‘essentially futile and impracticable’. The 
sharpness of ‘scam’, with its implication of bad faith, is later softened by 
phrases like ‘well-meant but unrealizable’ and the characterisation of the 
1862 proposal as ‘in many respects imaginative and high-minded’. The 
remarks above about the inconsequentiality of much emigre politics would 
imply support for the harsher verdict. After all, Hungaro-Serb relations 
had a bad track record. The Serb settlement of southern Hungary from the 
fifteenth to the eighteenth centuries had been a significant factor in 
reducing Magyars proper to a minority in their historic territories, while 
Hungarian Serbs traditionally saw Magyar feudalism as an unmixed evil 
and looked more hopefully to the central Habsburg administration, as in 
1848; on that occasion Kossuth had notoriously said of them that he would 
not negotiate with rebels. In this context a strong prima facie case can be 
made that Kossuth’s later relations with Serbs were dictated by conven¬ 
ience rather than the conquering of traditional distance. Calling Serbs ‘a 
band of robbers’ would no doubt echo disagreeably in Serbian ears, wrote 
one of his agents in 1859, but the fact itself was historically true. 1 


1 L. Kossuth, Memories of My Exile , London, 1880, p. 344. 



Robin Okey 


207 


Moreover, Dr Armour’s stimulating doctoral thesis on the role of Beni 
Kallay as Austro-Hungarian General Consul in Belgrade from 1868 to 
1874 tellingly illustrates the limits of contemporary Hungaro-Serb under¬ 
standing. 2 The Serb-speaking and in all eyes Serbophile Kallay, later 
Austro-Hungarian Joint Finance Minister, rested his Serbophilia on the 
premise that the Serbian government could be weaned off links to the 
Hungarian Serbs, the Russians and the Croats through promises of 
Habsburg support for its acquisition of Bosnia. The premise was dubious 
and the promises undeliverable and in the long run insincere; when the 
‘Bosnian scheme’ misfired, Kallay began to obstruct Serbian aspirations 
at every point. Even when confiding his ideal of a Danubian confedera¬ 
tion to his diary he notes how he and his leading confidant in the Serbian 
government were each hiding their hegemonic goals from the other. 3 Dr 
Armour’s view of the Danubian confederal schemes reflects awareness of 
this syndrome of the age of nationalism, in which even the apparent advo¬ 
cates of inter-ethnic cooperation saw their neighbours as raw material for 
their own sacred national egoism. Hence the view in his present contribu¬ 
tion that the Hungarian exiles were asking Serbs to join their anti- 
Austrian movement without anything in return. 

This may just be putting it slightly strongly. As Dr Armour suggests 
Hungarian attitudes were not uniform: a spectrum rather than a single 
syndrome. While the conservative Kecskemethy argued in the 1850s that 
Magyars had more to gain from Austria than from the nationalities and 
exiled figures like Pulszky, Teleki and Szemere were prepared to modify 
the unitary nature of the Hungarian state, Kossuth was closer to the latter 
but believed, as he told Klapka in 1861, that the price for non-Magyar 
support might be too high. 4 This implies he was prepared to give some¬ 
thing, and far from dissociating himself with radical Danubian confederal 
plans which were in origin Klapka’s he seems to have sought to lay claim 
to priority on the issue. 5 True, he did not offer the Serbs the collective 
territorial autonomy they demanded in southern Hungary, but then they 
were not a majority in the coveted area. He was willing for Serbs to have 
two language-drawn counties immediately after the 1848—49 revolution 
and the 1862 proposals allowed for universal suffrage and any language 

2 I. D. Armour, Austro-Hungarian Policy towards Serbia 1867-71, with special 
reference to Benjamin Kallay, University of London Ph.D., 1994. 

3 A. Radenic ed., Dnevnik Benjamina Kalaja 1868-75, Belgrade, 1976, p. 44. 

4 L. Katus, ‘A magyar politikai vezetoreteg a delszlav kerdesrol 1849-1867 kozott’ 
in I. Fried (ed.), Szerbek es magyarok a Duna menten. II. Tanulmdnyok a szerb- 
magyar kapcsolatok korebol 1848-1867, Budapest, 1987, p. 148. 

5 L. Lukacs, Magyar politikai emigracio 1849-1867, Budapest, 1984, p. 216. 



208 


A Comment on Dr. Armour’s Paper 


to be spoke in the central parliament, concessions never approached in 
practice till historic Hungary’s collapse in 1918. Hungarian Serb seces¬ 
sion was not a serious Serbian goal in the 1860s and the fact that Kossuth 
supported Hungarian state integrity could have surprised no-one. Though 
Dr Armour rightly notes Garasanin’s preoccupation with the Ottoman 
empire, the Hungarian Serbs remained, too, a very important part of 
Serbdom at this time. Only in the 1860s did Novi Sad (Ujvidek) definitely 
lose out to Belgrade as the leading Serbian cultural centre. Finally, from 
the standpoint of contemporary liberalism at its most enlightened in the 
area, as represented by Eotvos, the fact that Serbs were trying to build a 
political autonomy out of old-style religious privileges (the Leopoldine 
concessions to the Orthodox church of 1690) was a further reason for not 
yielding all that was asked. 6 

These are possible grounds for Katus’s suggestion that the Serb and 
Romanian autonomy demands of 1867 were not so far from the proposals 
of Kossuth and the centralistic liberals. 7 Of course, these politicians were 
not representative of mainstream Hungarian opinion. Yet the implication 
at the end of Dr Armour’s paper that it was Kossuth who was living in 
cloud-cuckoo land may be taken up in a conference on Kossuth’s anniver¬ 
sary. After all, Kossuth’s conviction that the reactionary Habsburg 
Monarchy had had its day — on which he based his strategy of alliance 
with the new nations on its borders — proved to be correct. From a longer 
perspective of Hungarian history, 1918 is a more significant date than 
1867. The decision of those opting for Dualism to lock Hungary into the 
fortunes of the anachronistic empire was open to many of Kossuth’s criti¬ 
cisms. It may be objected that there is too much hindsight in this view, but 
there is a place for the visionary in politics, and at least the negative side 
of Kossuth’s vision cannot be denied reality. In 1918 historic Hungary 
was broken on the wheel of the aspirations of its ‘nationalities’. The posi¬ 
tive side of the vision, that a settlement could be reached with Hungary’s 
neighours which preserved the essence of historic Hungary, is more ques¬ 
tionable, but Kossuth may surely be allowed his place among those 
historical figures who saw wider than their contemporaries and did 
envisage a radical shift in the existing order. The man whose bold combi¬ 
nations were being formulated in part conjunction with Mazzini and 
Garibaldi’s dream of a Europe of the Peoples, who pushed the emancipa¬ 
tion of the serfs well beyond original intentions in 1848-49 and who 
lectured on advanced economic ideas in exile co-exists with the gentry 


6 Ibid., p. 167. 

7 Ibid., p. 171. 



Robin Okey 


209 


leader to which A. J. P. Taylor somewhat crudely reduced him. 8 None of 
the aspects of his remarkable career can be discounted. Like another 
famous Hungarian icon, the Rubik cube, Kossuth is infuriatingly difficult 
to pin down. 


8 For Kossuth’s interest in contemporary economic ideas, see R.A. Horvath, 
‘Kossuth’s Views on Economics in his Lectures on National Economics at London 
University’, Journal of European Economic History, 2, 1973, pp. 339-54. For 
Taylor, A.J.P. Taylor, The Habsburg Monarchy, 1809-1918, 2 nd ed., London, 1948, 
pp. 51-2. 










■ 




















Kossuth in Exile and Marx 


Klara Kingston-Tiszai 

The focus of this essay is on Kossuth’s adversaries in exile and, in partic¬ 
ular, of Karl Marx. Marx went to great lengths to exploit every opportu¬ 
nity to disqualify Kossuth as a valid representative of Hungary and of 
European liberty, and he did so by misrepresenting facts and by belittling 
Kossuth at every turn. And Marx found plenty of willing accomplices, 
including a number of Hungarian emigres. 

The European order which emerged from the treaties of Vienna of 
1814-15 served only the interests of the ‘northern courts’ of Vienna, 
Berlin and St Petersburg. The three northern powers did not abandon their 
policies of social and political coercion even in the aftermath of the 
February Revolution in France in 1848. Indeed, Austria pressed on and 
imposed anew its administrative system on the north Italian states and, 
through the ‘Bach’ system, sought a new measure of hegemony over its 
Central European possessions. The outcome was a seething discontent 
which spilled over into periodic violence and confrontation. In Britain, by 
contrast, social order was guaranteed by constitutional monarchy. Even 
movements of social protest, such as Chartism, failed to upset the social 
order. 1 

Such was the environment in which the emigre Kossuth sought to 
promote the cause of Hungarian liberty. He knew that he largely owed his 
release from internment in Turkey to public opinion in Britain and he 
recognized that, if he was to achieve any results there, he needed to rally 
to his side the wealthier and more influential sections of British society. 

Kossuth was often criticized by fellow exiles, and also by Marx, for 
‘usurping’ the title of governor and thus for appointing himself sole repre¬ 
sentative of the Hungarian cause. Undoubtedly, there were many other 
outstanding leaders of the Hungarian revolution who could have fulfilled 
this role just as well, but at the time these men were largely unknown 

1 Klara Kingston. ‘Gunboat Liberalism? Palmerston, Europe and 1848’, History 

Today , 47, 1997, 2, pp. 37-43 (pp. 38-9). 


211 



212 


Kossuth in Exile and Marx 


outside Hungary. There was only one name that resonated through the 
columns of the international press and in the corridors of international 
diplomacy, and that was Kossuth’s. It was up to him, therefore, and no 
one else to rally support for the liberty of his country, by hook or by 
crook, even to the extent, as he himself put it, of ‘allying himself with the 
devil’. 

It was precisely this Machiavellian approach which Marx criticized. At 
the time, however, Marx was himself unknown internationally. He was an 
emigre journalist who wrote for the most part articles of a sensationalist 
and ‘tabloid’ character. Although some of Marx’s criticisms of Kossuth 
were doubtless valid, they were also coloured by his own desire for 
acclaim. Moreover, by his choice of target — and Kossuth was, after all, 
one of the most celebrated and controversial figures of his age — Marx 
sought to add to his own lustre and reputation. Marx’s comments and crit¬ 
icisms of Kossuth should thus be judged very much in this ‘subjective’ 
light. 

Throughout his life in exile and, in particular, during his first ten years 
in exile, Kossuth endeavoured to rally support for Hungary’s independ¬ 
ence. He failed, but this failure should not colour our estimate of the man. 
At this time, the ‘balance of power’ and the rights of great nations and 
empires determined international outcomes, and small nations, however 
great their spokesmen, had no influence in determining the European 
order. 

Historiography still tends to couple Marx with Engels. Although 
Engels was often critical of Kossuth’s actions, his criticisms were milder 
and less sustained by animus than Marx’s own. Indeed, from the very 
start, Engels viewed the struggles of the various European countries differ¬ 
ently from Marx. As a war correspondent for the Neue Rheinische Zeitung , 
Engels keenly followed the war of independence in Hungary. He consid¬ 
ered Kossuth to be a national hero: Kossuth was ‘a Danton and Carnot in 
one person’, 2 who fought not only against Austrian despotism but, as 
Engels saw it at the time, also for the liberty of all oppressed peoples. He 
blamed the Slavs for the failure of the revolution and, in respect to the 
Croats, faulted Kossuth for making ‘all possible concessions to them ... 
This submissiveness to a nation that is counter-revolutionary by nature is 
the only thing with which the Magyars can be reproached’. 3 

2 Friedrich Engels, ‘A magyar hare’ (13 January 1849), in Marx-Engels muvei 
(hereafter MEM), 47 vols, Budapest, 1962 etc, 6, pp. 157-67 (p. 157) 

3 Engels, ‘A demokratikus panszlavizmus’, Neue Rheinische Zeitung (15 February 
1849), translated in MEM , 6, pp. 268-76 (p. 269). 



Klara Kingston-Tiszai 


213 


With the fall of Hungary as the last bastion of freedom on continental 
Europe, disillusionment with revolution as the means of liberty overcame 
both Engels and Marx. Nevertheless, in the case of Marx, disillusionment 
also turned into a bitter contempt for revolutionaries in general and for 
Kossuth in particular. At first, Marx’s contempt for Kossuth was made 
manifest mainly in his private correspondence with Engels and other 
friends. This did not, however, satisfy Marx’s perverted lust for long. He 
jealously watched Kossuth’s every move and resolved to discredit him at 
the bar of public opinion. To this end, he gathered over a ten-year period 
information on Kossuth and on Hungarian and other exiles with a view to 
a final ‘showdown’. This culminated in Marx’s pamphlet, Herr Vogt 
( 1860 ). 

Marx and Engels frequently accused Kossuth of applying ‘double 
standards’ in his dealings. According to Engels, however, the revolution 
does not recognize the ‘legality of proceedings’. 4 Accordingly, one can 
argue in Kossuth’s favour that his own disregard for consistency and prin¬ 
ciple in the interests of national freedom comported with Engels’s own 
view. We should additionally note that Marx and Engels interpreted 
Kossuth’s actions, and based their accusation of ‘double-dealing’, either 
in a highly partisan manner or else on the basis of false information. 

Thus, at the time of Kossuth’s arrival in England, Engels exploded: 
‘Kossuth, who might have known from the Blue Books that Hungary had 
been betrayed by the noble viscount [Lord Palmerston], called him “the 
dear friend of his bosom” when landing at Southampton’. 5 As it was, 
however, far from calling Palmerston his ‘bosom friend’, Kossuth had not 
even mentioned his name. He had thanked the people of Southampton for 
his reception and shaken hands with the city’s mayor, referring to him as 
‘my best and trusted friend’. 6 Engels’s claim was also refuted by Richard 
Cobden, leader of the ‘Peace Party’, who in writing to his friend and close 
companion, John Bright, stated, ‘Kossuth himself avoids saying anything 
in praise of Palmerston’. 7 

4 Engels, ‘Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Germany’ ( New York Daily 
Tribune, 9 April 1852), in Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Works (hereafter 
MEW), 45 vols, London, New York and Moscow, 1978 etc, 11, pp. 3-91 (p. 62) 

5 Marx, ‘Lord Palmerston’, The People’s Paper, 22 October — 24 December, given 
in MEW, 12, pp. 341-7 (390-1). See also, Marx, ‘Herr Vogt — Patrons and 
Accomplices’ (hereafter, ‘Patrons and Accomplices’), in MEW, 17, pp. 214-329. 

6 Authentic Life of His Excellency Louis Kossuth Governor of Hungary, (reprinted from 
The Illustrated London News), London, 1851, p. 35. (Hereafter, Authentic Life). 

7 John Morley, The Life of Richard Cobden, 2 vols, London, 1881, 2, p. 101 (Cobden 
to Bright, 29 October 1851). 



214 


Kossuth in Exile and Marx 


It seems also to have been incomprehensible to Engels that, while 
praising republicanism and the French socialists in Marseille, Kossuth 
could yet pay his respects to Queen Victoria at Southampton. This 
apparent contradiction prompted Engels to comment, ‘Kossuth is like the 
Apostle Paul, all things to all men’. 8 It might, though, be argued that 
Kossuth’s statement on this occasion, ‘It is ... a glorious sight to behold a 
queen on the throne representing the principle of liberty’, was not only an 
expression of gratitude but also an oblique attack on Franz Joseph, who 
could hardly be described as either a constitutional monarch or a repre¬ 
sentative of the principle of liberty. 9 

Marx and Engels were not the only voices of ill-will towards Kossuth. 
Among others was The Times. It is worth noting a striking similarity 
between Engels’s outburst, as given above, and The Times. Certainly, at 
first sight, The Times seems rather complimentary: ‘No foreigner ever 
made better speeches in this country; perhaps no man ever succeeded so 
entirely in addressing another country in its own language; but Kossuth 
has not only mastered our language, he has mastered the feelings of each 
class, and the peculiarities, the prejudices, and the history of each town; 
he has been all things to all men with the zeal and even the power of an 
apostle’. 10 One can only speculate as to how Engels’s own words and 
allusion, given previously in a private letter to Marx, could have found 
their way into The Times. 

Cobden regarded this and other numerous attacks on Kossuth in The 
Times as a great affront. He wrote to Bright: ‘Are we to let him be slaugh¬ 
tered here by The Times , and stand silently by whilst worse than Turks are 
assassinating him morally?’ * 11 With respect to the machinations of The 
Times , even Lord Palmerston expressed views to the ambassador in 
Vienna, instructing him ‘not to allow the Austrians to imagine that public 
opinion in England is to be gathered from articles put to The Times by 
Austrian agents in London’. 12 

The beady eye of Marx, who had been in frequent contact with the 
English Chartists, did not fail to note Kossuth’s reluctance to attend meet¬ 
ings of working men. Under pressure from his fellow exiles, Kossuth did 

8 Engels to Marx, 27 October 1851, given in MEM, 27, p. 345; Marx, ‘Patrons and 
Accomplices’, p. 216. 

9 Authentic Life, p. 35. 

10 The Times, 22 November 1851. 

11 Morley, Life of Richard Cobden, 2, p. 103 (Cobden to Bright, 6 November 1851). 

12 Evelyn Ashley, The Life of Henry Temple, Viscount Palmerston 1846-1865, 
Second edition, 2 vols, London, 1876, 1, p. 139 (Palmerston to Ponsonby, 
9 September 1849). 



Klara Kingston-Tiszai 


215 


in fact go to a few such meetings but he, nevertheless, always delivered 
carefully prepared speeches. On two occasions, he departed from his 
usual position and disavowed socialism. As he put it, socialism ‘is incon¬ 
sistent with social order and the security of property ... Believing then, 
that — not from any merit, but from the state of my country — I may be 
able somewhat to influence the course of the next European revolution, I 
think right plainly to declare beforehand my allegiance to the great prin¬ 
ciple of security for personal property ’. 13 

This statement was as fuel to the fire for the Chartist leaders, especially 
for the poet-cum-joumalist, Ernest Jones. Marx, who evidently shied 
away from attacking Kossuth himself, seized the opportunity to incite 
Jones to assail Kossuth publicly, and Jones rose to the invitation. Jones’s 
outbursts are worth citing since they also mirror Marx’s own outlook. It is 
uncertain just how much information Marx passed on to Jones but it is 
suggested in the letter Marx wrote to Engels, ‘E. Jones — using my letter 
— mercilessly attacked Kossuth ’. 14 

Jones’s claims were, however, so ridiculous and extravagant as not to 
be taken seriously. He wrote, ‘M. Kossuth tells us, “he will influence the 
great European revolutions, giving them an anti-social direction”. Of 
course he phrases his declaration of war against SOCIAL RIGHT, under 
the guise and cover of “security to property” ... I tell him they are not to 
be cut down to the intellectual and social standrard of an obscure semi- 
barbarous people, like the Magyars, still standing in the half-civilization 
of the sixteenth century, who actually presume to dictate the great enlight¬ 
enment of Italy, Germany and France, and to gain a false-won cheer from 
the gullibility of England ’. 15 

One may speculate as to the motives behind this attack. It is possible 
that Marx and Jones considered it unacceptable that Kossuth should ever 
succeed in winning the workers to the side of ‘the inevitable European 
revolution’ and that he should become the leading spokesman of Euro¬ 
pean liberty. Marx could not conceive other than that he and his closest 
followers had an exclusive right to preach authoritatively on revolution, 
freedom, democracy and ‘a new world order’. In this respect, it is not 
surprising that Marx’s antagonism extended beyond Kossuth to embrace a 
variety of other revolutionary democrats. 


13 F. W. Newman, Select Speeches of Kossuth, London, 1853, pp. 5-6. 

14 Marx to Engels, 1 December 1851, given in MEM, 27, p. 353. 

15 Ernest Jones, ‘Kossuth and Hungary, “What is Kossuth?” Notes to The People, 2, 
1851, no 26, pp. 501-889 (p. 606). 



216 


Kossuth in Exile and Marx 


When Kossuth departed for the United States, Marx did not miss the 
opportunity to express his profound contempt for the revolutionary demo¬ 
crats, including the German Gottfried Kinkel, the French Alexandre Ledru- 
Rollin as well as Giuseppe Mazzini. As he quipped, ‘these gentlemen had 
gone to sleep after deciding to suspend world history until Kossuth’s 
return’. 16 Commenting on Kossuth’s departure for America, Marx wrote to 
Engels, ‘You do know that Kossuth left on the 20 th , but you don’t know yet 
that he was accompanied by Lola Montez and the cavalier Gohringer’. 17 

Lola Montez, a dancer and former mistress of the Bavarian King 
Ludwig I, was indeed on board the same ship, but not as a member of 
Kossuth’s entourage. After numerous attempts she succeeded in 
approaching Kossuth with the following words, ‘Commander, in your 
next war with Austria give me a hussar regiment!’ Instead of Kossuth, his 
trusted friend, Ferenc Pulszky, replied, ‘Of course, Mademoiselle. I am 
sure nothing less would satisfy you’. 18 For his part, Gohringer, a former 
German revolutionary and innkeeper in London, was an admirer of 
Kossuth. Leaders of the various revolutionary committees frequented his 
inn where they laid their plans for a rising led by Mazzini and Kossuth. 19 
Apparently Marx owed Gohringer money for meals that he had not paid 
for. Marx, ever the materialist, expressed his dismay that his debt, once 
discharged, might be used to finance the next revolution. 20 

Nor did The Times miss the opportunity to comment sarcastically on 
Kossuth’s departure: ‘M. Kossuth is a person of no inconsiderable ability, 
as his addresses testify; but after serving the purposes of his political 
Bamums, he will be ultimately carried off to America along with Kate 
and Ellen Bateman, the woolly horse, and other public notorieties’. 21 

The intense political rivalry, which engulfed the whole of America 
during the campaign for the 1852 presidential election, put Kossuth in a 
difficult situation. Almost all parties sought to exploit his immense popu¬ 
larity, and the Young America movement adopted his tenet of ‘interven¬ 
tion for non-intervention’ in their agitation for the abolition of slavery. As 
Kossuth had originally meant it, ‘intervention for non-intervention’ was 
an appeal to America to stop Russia from interfering in Hungary’s affairs 
in the event of an armed conflict breaking out again between Hungary and 

16 Marx to Engels, 9 December 1851, given in MEM, 27, p. 359. 

17 Marx to Engels, 24 November 1851, given in ibid., p. 348. 

18 Ferenc Pulszky, Eletem es korom, 2 vols, Budapest, 1884, 2, p. 71. 

19 D. Janossy, A Kossuth-emigracio Angliaban es Amerikaban 1851-1852 , 2 vols, 
Budapest, 1944, 2, part 2, p. 945. 

20 Marx to Engels, 13 October 1851, given in MEM, 17, p. 335. 

21 The Times, 29 October 1851. 



Klara Kingston-Tiszai 


217 


Austria. Whereas the abolitionists in the North hoped that Kossuth would, 
as a representative of liberty, denounce slavery, the anti-abolitionists in 
the South expected him to argue for non-intervention in their affairs by 
the federal government. 22 Kossuth, however, sided with neither party. 

Marx, who watched Kossuth’s progress in America like a hawk, 
misrepresented him in print while, typically, refusing to identify his 
sources: ‘Kossuth’s performance in the United States, where he spoke 
against slavery in the North and for slavery in the South, left behind 
nothing but a great sense of disappointment and 300 dead speeches’. 23 
With regard to the issue of slavery, however, Kossuth made his position 
absolutely clear at a gathering in New Orleans: ‘What have I to do with 
abolitionism or anti-abolitionism? Nothing in the world. That is not my 
matter; I am no citizen of the United States, I have neither the right nor 
the will to interfere with your domestic concerns; I claim for my nation 
the right to regulate its own institutions; I therefore must respect, and 
indeed I do respect, the same right in others’. 24 

All the while, Marx was busy collecting incriminating evidence 
against Kossuth. Evidently, he had already come across some. To his 
friend Adolph Cluss, Marx briefly alluded to ‘the putsch plans of 
Mazzini, Kossuth etc’, 25 and to Engels he wrote, ‘I expect they intend to 
commence it in Sicily’. 26 In both cases, Marx was referring to the insur¬ 
rection planned for Milan which eventually broke out in February 1853. 
Marx had, however, no knowledge of plans for a parallel rising in 
Hungary, scheduled for the end of 1852. This second plan was known to 
the Austrian secret service, which duly frustrated the attempt. The 
Austrians had, however, no knowledge of one of Kossuth’s secret agents 
in Italy, a certain General Vetter. 27 Marx, nevertheless, named Vetter in 
one of his articles, thus betraying his secret mission. 28 

Following this revelation, Marx more or less ignored Kossuth until 
1858. In that year he launched a vicious campaign aimed at proving 
Kossuth’s collusion with Russia, which has gone down in history as the 

22 Pulszky, Eletem es korom, 2, pp. 77-8; D. S. Spencer Louis Kossuth and Young 
America 1848-1852, London, 1977, p. 103 (hereafter, Spencer, Louis Kossuth). 

23 Marx, ‘Patrons and Accomplices’, given in MEW, 17, p. 217. 

24 Spencer, Louis Kossuth, p. 149. 

25 Marx to Cluss, 10 May 1852, given in MEM, 28, p. 492. 

26 Marx to Engels, 6 May 1852, given in ibid., 28, p. 62. 

27 Janossy, Kossuth emigracio, p. 917. 

28 Marx, ‘Movements of Mazzini and Kossuth — League with Louis Napoleon — 
Palmerston’, New York Tribune, 28 September 1852, given in MEW, 11, pp. 354-7 
(p. 354). 



218 


Kossuth in Exile and Marx 


‘Circassian affair’. 29 In this incident, Kossuth’s agent in Turkey, Janos 
Bangya or Mehemet Bey, was accused by Marx of having betrayed the 
cause of the Circassians to the Russians. Bangya was, as it turned out, 
also a high-ranking officer in the British army and had been only 
following British instructions. 30 Marx’s attempt to discredit Kossuth was 
thus in turn discredited. 

Then something came to Marx’s rescue: the 1859 war in Lombardy. On 
this occasion, Kossuth and the majority of Hungarian emigres really did 
‘ally themselves with the devil’, albeit in the unlikely shape of Louis Napo¬ 
leon. The alliance prompted Marx to launch the most vicious attack on 
Kossuth and the Hungarian exiles. His contempt was most keenly 
expressed in the following: ‘Voltaire, we know, kept four monkeys in 
Femey [... and] needed these monkeys to draw off his bile, satisfy his 
hatred and calm his fear of the weapons of polemics, just as much as Louis 
Napoleon needs the monkeys of the revolution in Italy. And Kossuth, 
Klapka, Vogt and Garibaldi too are fed, given golden collars, kept under 
lock and key, cajoled or kicked, depending on whether hatred of the revolu¬ 
tion or fear of it predominates in the mood of their master’. 31 

Kossuth’s role in the war for Lombardy is well documented and has been 
extensively analysed. It turned out to be his own and the emigres’ last effort 
aimed at achieving the liberation of Hungary with foreign help. And Marx’s 
long battle with Kossuth also came virtually to an end with Villafranca. In 
his pamphlet, Herr Vogt , published in 1860, Marx merely reiterated his 
worn-out objections to the revolutionary activities of Kossuth and the exiles. 

Marx, of course, never understood Kossuth nor the extent of support 
which the Hungarian leader could always enlist, even in exile. Kossuth 
rested his appeal, and derived his support, from a concept of the nation 
which was inimical to Marx’s own understanding of the dynamics of revo¬ 
lution and of ‘progress’. Kossuth’s message had the capacity of mobilizing 
the masses, which was something for which Marx could never forgive him. 
As a consequence, Marx could counter Kossuth only by relying upon the 
techniques of misrepresentation and of ‘tabloid-journalism’. The bank¬ 
ruptcy of Marx’s outlook never stood more starkly revealed than in his 
criticisms of, and campaign against, Lajos Kossuth. 


29 Marx, ‘A Traitor in Circassia’, The Free Press, no 34, April Fool’s Day, 1857, 
given in MEW ' 15, pp. 236-7; New York Daily Tribune, 23 September 1858, given 
in MEW, 16, pp. 21-7 (p. 21). 

30 London, Public Records Office, FO 78, R1328, 19 June 1856 (Turkey. Records of 
Correspondence, Mehemet Bey). 

31 Marx, ‘Spree and Mincio’, Das Volk, 25 June 1859, given MEW, 16, pp. 380-1. 



Kossuth in Exile 


George Gomori 

When Lajos Kossuth arrived in Southampton in 1851, two letters awaited 
him. One was from Lord Palmerston and included a private invitation to 
the Foreign Secretary’s estate; the second was from Mazzini, telling him 
not to accept Palmerston’s invitation. Kossuth put both letters in his 
pocket and proceeded to make a speech to the citizens of Southampton. 
This episode tells us much about Kossuth. He was his own master and he 
adapted himself to the demands of the situation rather than to what was 
expected of him by other politicians. His answer to Palmerston was, inci¬ 
dentally, the correct one: he would meet the English statesman only if 
invited officially as Governor of Hungary. As this was not the case in 
1851, the meeting between the two men took place only later, after 
Kossuth’s return from America. 

There is much truth in Engels’s observation that Kossuth was Tike the 
Apostle Paul, all things to all men’. Kossuth was a consummate politician 
who could address royalists and republicans in an equally convincing 
manner. One thing is certain: he was and remained a liberal all his life. 
Radicals belonging to other nationalities were often disappointed by his 
conduct, especially after 1859 when he showed himself ready to meet 
Napoleon III in order to give Hungarian support to the French in the war 
agains> Austria. (There were at this time 4,000 Hungarians in Italy, most 
of them prisoners of war, ready to join the Hungarian Legion and march 
back to Hungary. They all hailed and followed Kossuth, but following 
Villafranca the unit was disbanded). After 1859, neither Mazzini nor 
Ledru-Rollin would have anything to do with Kossuth; on the other hand, 
however, he continued to be admired by Cavour and Garibaldi. 

As for the Hungarian emigration, the attacks on Kossuth in British and 
American newspapers by Kazmer Batthyany and Bertalan Szemere in 
1851-52 created much division and rancour. One of the best-informed 
emigres, Laszlo Teleki (who was critical of Kossuth in several respects) 
realized that whoever attacked Kossuth publicly also harmed the cause of 
independent Hungary. It was not, however, Teleki but another emigre, 

219 


220 


Kossuth in Exile 


Janos Czetz who in a letter from Paris went so far as to claim that 
‘Kazmer and Berci [i.e. Szemere] are trying by every means to make a 
Polish club of the Hungarian emigration’. Czetz alluded here to the 
squabbles between Polish conservatives and democrats who often refused 
to sit down at the same table when representing Poland on international 
committees. As for Klapka, he might have had an axe to grind against 
Kossuth, yet he was also ready to cooperate with Kossuth in 1859 when 
Hungarian interests required cooperation of this sort. 1 The same was true 
of Laszlo Teleki who often wrote that Kossuth loathed listening to criti¬ 
cism and only got along with flatterers. In most of his letters to Klapka, 
Teleki refers to Kossuth by the nickname of Rengeteg, which could mean 
either ‘enormous’ or ‘a vast forest’. He wrote on one occasion, ‘Rengeteg 
rengetegebb, mint valaha’ (literally, ‘The enormous one is more enor¬ 
mous than ever’). In other words, Teleki recognized that, personal sympa¬ 
thies and aversions notwithstanding, Kossuth was a politician on a ‘large 
scale’ and that, for better or worse, he was the most important representa¬ 
tive of Hungary abroad. This changed after 1861, and even more so after 
the Compromise of 1867, but until then whoever attacked Lajos Kossuth 
in public did, arguably, a disservice to Hungary. 

Finally, a point about Kossuth and Jelacic. While Jelacic was and 
remained a provincial Croatian hero, Kossuth grew in emigration from a 
national figure into an international hero, acclaimed on both sides of the 
Atlantic. From a spokesman of the Hungarian cause, he was transformed 
into one of the great liberal heroes of the age. Neither he nor Jelacic saw 
their hopes realized in their own lifetime, but Kossuth left behind a more 
lasting legacy. 


1 When Kossuth was in Vidin, he rather foolishly assigned the post of commander of 
Komarom to an adventurer called Henningsen, but Klapka acted more quickly by 
agreeing with the Austrians to negotiate the terms of the castle’s surrender. 



Marketing Hungary: 

Kossuth and the Politics of Propaganda 


Tibor Frank 

During his years in exile after 1849, Lajos Kossuth made, almost single- 
handed, a formidable contribution to the cause of Hungary: he put the idea of 
his native country as a prospective political entity on the map of Europe. 
Pioneering methods of modem public relations and political marketing, he 
built up Hungary as a political construct, a product to be ‘sold’ by his unflag¬ 
ging, unstoppable propaganda, a public relations effort to win the goodwill 
of the English-speaking peoples whose political support seemed to him 
essential in pursuing the struggle for Hungarian freedom and independence. 

Kossuth used his reading of English, particularly Shakespeare, to 
construct a myth in the course of the nineteenth century and this became 
something of a literary topos itself, virtually Shakespearean in nature. It 
presented Kossuth as a hero who chose freedom in his solitary confine¬ 
ment by reading, studying, and translating the works of Shakespeare, the 
bard of the freedom-loving English (and American) people. Thus, through 
a process of ‘sliding transitions’, Shakespeare became a metaphor, identi¬ 
fied with freedom itself, and found his place both in Kossuth lore and in 
the realm of international political symbolism. 1 


I 

Hungarian interest in England and the English language increased greatly 
in the late eighteenth century. In his diary for 1787, Count Ferenc 


1 Recent publications have already suggested that Kossuth’s much-quoted account of 
the origins of his English is a myth, see Agnes Deak, ‘Ket ismeretlen Kossuth 
dokumentum’, Holmi, 1994, p. 834; Gabor Pajkossy, cserebe nyertem egesz 
kesobbi eletemet:’ Kossuth es fogsaga’”, in Istvan Orosz and Ferenc Poloskei, eds, 
Nemzeti es tarsadalmi atalakulas a XIX. szazadban Magyarorszagon. 
Tanulmanyok Szabad Gyorgy 70. sziiletesnapjara , Budapest, 1994, pp. 164-65. 


221 



222 Marketing Hungary: Kossuth and the Politics of Propaganda 

Szechenyi noted that the influence of British culture had become espe¬ 
cially noticeable on the continent after the Treaty of Paris in 1763. The 
impact was powerful and widespread, he added: ‘Man fing an sich nach 
England zu kleiden, lemte seine Muttersprache, und ass seine Nationals- 
peise’. 2 During the Napoleonic Wars, the influence of English life, atti¬ 
tudes, ideas and customs became even more marked, particularly in 
countries allied to Britain against France, such as the Habsburg Empire of 
which Hungary was part. Vienna became a focal point of interest in 
Britain, and it was often there that travelling Hungarian noblemen such as 
Gergely Berzeviczy learned to appreciate the qualities of the English 
constitution, government, industry and commerce. ‘England ist sicher das 
interessanteste Land der Welt, sowohl was die Nation, die Verfassung 
und Regierung, die Industrie und den Handel betrifft.’ 3 

At the end of the 18th century, members of the Hungarian nobility 
began to study English, using grammars and dictionaries available in 
German or Latin. 4 Count Gyorgy Festetics considered a knowledge of 
English so important that he included it in his study plan for his son 
(1799). 5 Count Laszlo Teleki [III] gave similar advice to the tutor of his 
three sons, arguing that knowledge of English was greatly needed, not 
necessarily to speak it, but to understand the growing number of impor¬ 
tant books in that language. 6 One of his sons, Count Jozsef, was to 
become the first president of the Hungarian Academy. These instructions 
were also consulted by Baroness Ilona Cserei-Wesselenyi for the educa¬ 
tion of her son Miklos, an aristocratic mentor of and model for Kossuth. 7 
The study of English went so far, in aristocratic circles at least, that Count 
Aurel Dessewffy considered it simply a matter of fashion which, 
however, ‘did not go beyond some conversation in English with the horse 

2 Ferenc Szirbik, Az angol nyelv terjeszkedese Magyarorszagon 1914-ig, Debreceni 
angol dolgozatok, IV, Kecskemet, 1941, p. 11. 

3 Aladar Berzeviczy, Aus den Lehr- und Wanderjahren eines ungarischen 
Edelmannes im vorigen Jahrhunderte, Leipzig, 1897, pp. 60-61. Quoted by 
Szirbik, op. cit., p. 11; cf. Eva H. Balazs, Berzeviczy Gergely, a reformpolitikus 
(1763-1795), Budapest, 1967, pp. 124-6. 

4 Emo Solymos, ‘Angol nyelvtanulas Magyarorszagon’, Studies in English 
Philology, Vol. II, Budapest, 1937, pp. 126-7. 

5 Vince Lakatos, ‘Festetics Gyorgy grof planuma fia neveleserol’ Magyar Kozep- 
iskola, 1910, pp. 227-30, esp. p. 228. 

6 Count Laszlo Teleki, A nevelesrol , c.1780, Library of the Hungarian Academy of 
Sciences, Budapest, MSS Collection: RUI 4r, 133/III, p. 47 [p. 24]. Cf. Sandor 
Imre, “Grof Teleki Laszlo Tanacsadasa a nevelesrol — Adalek a M. T. Akademia 
elso elnokenek eletehez”, Protestans Szemle, 34, 1925, pp. 603-8. 

7 Sandor Imre, op. cit., p. 606. 



Tibor Frank 


223 


trainer and the stable-boy, and at best the reading of perhaps one or two 
fashionable novels’. 8 

It is to this generation of anglophile Hungarian aristocrats and 
noblemen that the remarkable reformers of the 1820s and 1830s looked as 
ideals and models to follow. 9 English literature in translation flourished, 
with some of the very best literary talents striving to make English litera¬ 
ture available to Hungarians. 10 

Encouraged by eminent authors and such influential journals as 
Erdelyi Muzeum and Felsomagyarorszagi Minerva , the study of English 
became the fashionable intellectual adventure of the new generation. For 
some English visitors it amounted almost to Anglomania. A number of 
language instructors appeared on the scene. * 11 The poet Mihaly Voros- 
marty began to read Shakespeare in 1820, and collected his works. In 
1822 he declared he had chosen ‘Shakespeare’s world as his home, so that 
[...] we can shut out the clamour of the world outside’. 12 

Members of the intellectual elite in Hungary commonly read Shakespeare 
as early as the end of the eighteenth century. The Hungarian authors who 
served as guards at this time in the court of Maria Theresa, such as Gyorgy 
Bessenyei, studied Shakespeare alongside the works of Young and Milton. 
Jozsef Karman wondered ‘whether Pannonia could be turned into England? 
Is there among us a Newton, a Locke, a Shakespeare, a Milton [...] Begone, 
you daring dream that deceives me with your delusive images’. 13 Though 

8 Count Aurel Dessewffy, Osszes muvei, ed. Jozsef Ferenczy, Budapest, 1887, 
p.328. Quoted by Gyula Komis, A magyar muvelodes eszmenyei 1777-1848 , 
Budapest, 1927, Vol. II, p. 446. 

9 H. Balazs, op. cit., pp. 124-25. 

10 Sandor Fest, Angol irodalmi hatasok hazankban Szechenyi Istvan fellepeseig, 
Budapest, 1917, pp. 51-52. 

11 Solymos, op. cit., p. 128. cf. Sandor Fest, ‘Adalekok az angol nyelv terfoglalasahoz 
hazankban 1848 elott’, Egyetemes Philologiai Kozlony, 45, 1921, pp. 128-29; 
Komis, op. cit., Vol. II, pp. 443-47, 334-35. For English teachers in pre-1848 
Hungary such as J. S. Zerffi and Imre Szabad, see Tibor Frank, From Habsburg 
Agent to Victorian Scholar: G.G. Zerffi 1820-1892, New York, 2000, pp. 17-19; 
Tibor Frank, Ethnicity, Propaganda, Myth-Making, Budapest, 1999, pp. 373-74. 

12 Mihaly Vorosmarty, ‘Tesler baratomhoz’: 

Shakespeare’ vilagat valasztjuk lakul, 

Hogy, mig zajaval eltelik sziviink, 

Ne halljuk itt a ‘kiilvilag’ zajat, 

Melly edes almainkat elveri. 

In: Vorosmarty Mihaly kisebb koltemenyei, Vorosmarty Mihaly, Osszes Muvei, 
Vol. I, Budapest, 1960, p. 214. 

13 Jozsef Karman, A nemzet csinosodasa, quoted by Sandor Mailer and Kalman 
Ruttkay (eds.) Magyar Shakespeare-tiikor, Budapest, 1984, p. 65. 



224 Marketing Hungary: Kossuth and the Politics of Propaganda 

most English literature came to be known in Hungary through translations, 
particularly German and French, editions of the original works also turned 
up in the libraries of Hungarian aristocrats and well-informed members of 
the gentry. 14 

The most obvious case is Count Istvan Szechenyi, an aristocratic 
reformer and the great rival of Kossuth, who took a very special interest 
in England, read Macbeth and King Lear in Hungarian translation, and 
mentioned the poet in several of his works such as Vilag [Light] and his 
Kulfoldi uti rajzai [Foreign Travels]. Szechenyi frequented the theatre and 
was particularly interested in productions of Shakespeare’s plays, such as 
Julius Caesar in 1842 and Romeo and Juliet in 1847. 15 His diary contains 
references to Hamlet , Romeo and Juliet , Macbeth , and other plays by 
Shakespeare. 16 His library included a book on The Beauties of Shake¬ 
speare. 11 None the less, the authors he most frequently read were his own 
great contemporaries, notably Goethe, Schiller, Byron and Scott. 18 

The typical Hungarian aristocratic library included some English liter¬ 
ature in addition to Shakespeare, though the bulk of these collections 
consisted of books in German, French and Latin. 19 Nevertheless, the 
library of the Karolyi family, nurtured particularly by Count Gyorgy 
Karolyi (1802-1877), included the complete works of Shakespeare in 
various editions from the early nineteenth century (1826, 1829, 1838, 
1844), as well as some Hungarian translations (Mihaly Vorosmarty, 
18 5 6). 20 The remains of the English collection of another branch of the 
Karolyi family, headed by Count Sandor Karolyi (an uncle and mentor of 
Hungary’s post-World War I President Count Mihaly Karolyi), include 
The Plays and Poems of William Shakespeare in seven volumes (Leipzig, 
1843—44). 21 Some of the Karolyi collection, confiscated after Mihaly 

14 For a general survey of Hungarian reading habits before 1848, see Geza Fiilop, A 
magyar olvasokozonseg a felvilagosodas idejen es a reformkorban, Budapest, 
1978, pp. 77-137. 

15 Istvan Szechenyi, Naplo, Budapest, 1978, pp. 972, 1153. 

16 Szechenyi, op. cit ., pp. 59-60, 72, 1315. 

17 Laszlo Bartfai Szabo, Grof Szechenyi Istvan konyvtara, Budapest, 1923, p. 83. 

18 Grof Szechenyi Istvan kulfoldi uti rajzai es foljegyzesei, ed. Antal Zichy, Budapest, 
1890, pp. 282,285,286,291. 

19 Szirbik, op. cit., p. 8. 

20 ‘A nemzeti muvelodesi alapitvany tulajdonat kepezo Grof Karolyi-konyvtar 
aukcioja’, Arveresi Kozlony , 18, Budapest, 1937, p. 68. 

21 Currently in the Library of the School of English and American Studies, Eotvos 
Lorand University, Budapest. Cf. Tibor Frank, ‘Bibliotheque du Comte Etienne 
Karolyi’ in Gabor Ittzes and Andras Kisery eds., Mives semmisegek , Piliscsaba, 
2002, pp. 349-56. 



Tibor Frank 


225 


Karolyi’s trial in the 1920s, was auctioned off in 1932; these included the 
complete works of Shakespeare in English (1820), as well as several 
works in French translation (Alfred de Vigny, 1830). 22 

The Zichy family library, founded by Bishop Count Domokos Zichy, 
who also bought a number of smaller collections from outstanding literary 
collectors, included the works of Shakespeare in German translation 
(1826). 23 One of the most remarkable members of the nineteenth century 
Hungarian aristocracy, Baron Jozsef Eotvos, read Shakespeare from the 
1830s, and called him ‘the greatest poet in the world.’ 24 Most probably, 
however, like so many of his contemporaries, Eotvos read Shakespeare in 
German: A copy of Othello in German survived in his library for some 
time. 25 

The interest in foreign literature was so remarkable that Hungarian 
aristocrats were often chided for their cosmopolitan, non-national intel¬ 
lectual outlook. More often than not, a critic noted in 1848, aristocratic 
libraries in Hungary boasted ‘almost exclusively French and English 
novels and historical works, and if a book by [Baron Miklos] Josika, 
[Baron Jozsef] Eotvos and [Count Istvan] Szechenyi happens to wander 
in between them this is simply because those authors belong to their own 
class’. 26 

While Hungarian aristocrats may have boasted only a fine copy of 
Shakespeare in their libraries, authors such as Mihaly Vorosmarty, Jozsef 
Bajza, Ferenc Toldy and Gabor Dobrentei were directly influenced by 
Shakespeare. The history of the impact of Shakespeare on Hungarian 
literature in the nineteenth century filled two large volumes as early as 


22 ‘A M. Kir. Postatakarekpenztar arveresi csamokanak 1932. novemberi kiilon 
aukcioja’, Arveresi Kozlony, 13, Budapest, 1932, pp. 63, 68. Book collector Gyula 
Grexa identified this collection as formerly the property of Count Mihaly Karolyi. 
I am indebted to antiquarian bookseller Mr. Emo Lorincz for this piece of 
information, 1982. 

23 ‘A bodakajtor-felsdszentivani Grof Zichy kastely konyvtara’, in ‘A M. Kir. 
Postatakarekpenztar arveresi csamokanak 1938. evi kiilon aukcioja’, Arveresi 
Kozlony, 19, Budapest, 1938, p. 219. 

24 Jozsef Eotvos, Gondolatok, Budapest, 1903, quoted by Miklos Benyei, Eotvos 
Jozsef olvasmdnyai, Budapest, 1972, p. 29. 

25 Miklos Benyei, ‘Eotvos Jozsef konyvtara Doctoral Dissertation, Eotvos Lorand 
University, Budapest, 1967, p. 94. Cf. Gabor Gango, ed., Eotvos Jozsef konyvtara, 
Budapest, 1995, pp. 282-83. 

26 Otto Csatari [pseudonym of Laszlo Telegdi Kovach], “Irodalmunk 1847. evi 
termekei”, Pesti Divatlap, 1848, pp. 539-40; published in Mate Kovacs, ed. Konyv 
es konyvtar a magyar tarsadalom eleteben az allamalapitastol 1849-ig, Budapest, 
1963, p. 525. 



226 


Marketing Hungary: Kossuth and the Politics of Propaganda 


1909. 27 The great national poet Ferenc Kolcsey had his own copy of 
Shakespeare and remarked that ‘it is only from the bosom of genius that 
life pours forth with warmth: ordinary folk are cold and stunted forever’. 28 
The fin-de-siecle Hungarian critic and literary historian Frigyes Riedl 
went as far as to suggest that Shakespeare served as the great mentor of 
Hungarian poets in the early nineteenth century. 29 Indeed, Shakespeare 
had a tremendous impact on Vorosmarty’s poetry and drama, as well as 
on Bajza’s aesthetics. 30 

Both traditions, the aristocratic as well as the literary, were to have a 
far-reaching impact on the class and the generation that nurtured 
Hungary’s greatest nineteenth century statesman, Lajos Kossuth. 


II 

The Hungarian aristocracy, cosmopolitan through family connections and 
travel, left a formidable imprint on the cultural behaviour, taste and sensi¬ 
bility of the educated members of the lesser gentry. Losing their ancient 
estates, this social class formed a layer intermediate between the landed 
nobility and the peasantry, creating what came closest to a middle class in 
an essentially feudal social structure. 31 The aristocracy’s way of life and 
thinking conditioned their lifestyle and mindset. Their ablest members 
came to form Hungary’s missing professional elite, the outlook of which 
was largely shaped by an increasingly significant Hungarian literary tradi¬ 
tion. 32 Lajos Kossuth was to play a special role at the interstices of several 
of these traditions. 

Kossuth was a typical representative of the lesser nobility, which 
became a powerful political force in Hungary’s ‘Vormarz’ age of reform 
(1825-1848). Though no longer possessing their lands, the Kossuth 


27 Jozsef Bayer, Shakespeare dramai hazankban, Vols. 1-2, Budapest, 1909; cf. Peter 
Davidhazi, ‘Isten mdsodsziildttje ’. A magyar Shakespeare-kultusz termeszetrajza, 
Budapest, 1989, pp. 200-201, and also 77-195, 323. 

28 Kolcsey to Pal Szemere, August 2, 1834, given in Mailer and Ruttkay, op. cit. p. 86. 

29 Frigyes Riedi, Shakespeare es a magyar irodalom, Budapest, 1917, pp. 8, 14, 36; 
cf. Laszlo Jakabfi, Az angol irodalom es a Vorosmarty-Bajza-Toldy triasz, 
Budapest, 1941, pp. 52-3. 

30 See Jakabfi, op. cit., pp. 18-35, 37-9, 40-41, 52-7, 74. 

31 Domokos Kosary, Kossuth Lajos a reformkorban , Budapest, 1946, pp. 30-41; 
Istvan Deak, The Lawful Revolution: Louis Kossuth and the Hungarians, 
1848-1849, New York, 1979, pp. 3-9. 

32 Fiilop, op.cit., pp. 183-95. 



Tibor Frank 


227 


family maintained a certain intellectual standard and put special effort 
into the education of young Lajos. 33 For role models the Kossuths had 
several exemplars. The social class to which they belonged included a 
number of eminent intellectuals such as Kossuth’s future personal physi¬ 
cian, Pal Almasi Balogh, who had a library of almost 50,000 volumes. 34 
Ivan Nagy (1824-1898), an outstanding historian, considered it important 
to collect not only Shakespeare, but also Milton, Byron, Dickens and 
Thackeray. 35 A major representative of the same class, Hungary’s exiled 
1849 Prime Minister Bertalan Szemere, possessed the complete works of 
Shakespeare in his sizeable library in Paris. 36 

The son of a lawyer and a lawyer himself, Kossuth was exceptionally 
well-read in German, French, and English as a young man. German was 
probably his first foreign language and he preferred to read books by 
French and English authors also in German. 37 

The lawyer became one of the leaders of ‘Young Hungary’, finding his 
way into the Hungarian parliament where he became the editor of a 
unique, handwritten parliamentary gazette, Orszdggyulesi TudosUasok. 
Between 1832 and 1836, he published some 346 issues of what could be 
called a Hungarian Hansard. In an era without a political press, Kossuth’s 
venture became the sole advocate of Hungary’s budding national move¬ 
ment, the rallying point for the forces of political opposition to the system 
of Mettemich and the Habsburgs. After 1836, he continued his paper as 
Torvenyhatosagi Tudositasok, of which 23 numbers had appeared by the 
time the government finally decided to close it down. 38 Kossuth was 


33 Kosary, Kossuth Lajos a refofmkorban, pp. 18-9, 42-8, 58-60; Istvan Barta, A 
fiatal Kossuth , Budapest, 1966, pp. 11-22; Gyorgy Szabad, Kossuth politikai 
palyaja , Budapest, 1977, pp. 10-13. 

34 Fulop, op. cit., p. 183. 

35 Anna Kovacs, ‘Nagy Ivan konyvtara mint egy nemzedek muveltsegenek tiikore’, A 
Nograd Megyei Muzeumok Evkonyve, VI, 1980, p. 130; Geza Fiilop, op. cit., pp. 
206-207; Geza Fulop, ‘A videki kisbirtokos nemesseg konyvkulturaja a 18-19. 
szazad fordulojan (A Skublics csalad zalaszentbalazsi konyvtara)’, Magyar 
Konyvszemle, 90, 1974, p. 255. 

36 Leltara az 1865ik evi marcz 21en Parisban elhunyt neh. Szemere Bertalanne 
Jurkovits Leopoldine Asszonysag hagyatekahoz tartozo osszesjavaknak, Szemere 
hagyatek, Fovarosi Leveltar, Budapest. Visszaallitott (Pesti) Varosi Torvenyszek 
iratai, Hagyateki iratok (Szemere B.), 470/I-II/1866, IV. 1343/1-2, 65/a-66. 

37 Kosary, Kossuth Lajos a reformkorban, p. 58; Kossuth Lajos iratai 1837. Majus — 
1840. december, Kossuth Lajos osszes munkai, Vol. 7, ed. Gabor Pajkossy, 
Budapest, 1989, p. 16. 

38 Kosary, Kossuth Lajos a reformkorban , pp. 96, 131; Barta, pp. 183-99; Szabad, 
pp. 26-37. 



228 


Marketing Hungary: Kossuth and the Politics of Propaganda 


captured in the Buda hills, charged with high treason and jailed for over 
three years. In 1839 he was sentenced to four years altogether and freed 
only in 1840 under the terms of an amnesty. 39 

It was in the prison located in the ‘Jozsef military barracks on the 
Castle Hill of Buda that Kossuth continued his studies in a variety of 
disciplines and languages. He was hungry for books: his correspondence 
with family and friends clearly demonstrates his voracious, almost insa¬ 
tiable appetite for reading. 40 The English language and the works of 
Shakespeare were to some extent already known to the prisoner. 
Kossuth’s later claim that he actually learned English in prison by trying 
to read Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Macbeth seems to be an exagger¬ 
ation, even though in Britain and the United States after 1851 this was his 
standard response to questions about the origins of his ability to speak 
English. 41 In a letter to his mother dated May 10, 1837, early in his first 
prison year, Kossuth asked for ‘my copy of Shakespeare, Walker’s 
English Dictionary, together with the other little ragged dictionary, and 
the grammars of Fin and Arnold, as well as Searl’s little book on correct 
English pronunciation ,..’ 42 He recalled these books even fifteen years 
later when addressing an American audience in 1852. 43 His references 
suggest a measure of familiarity with those books; his friend Laszlo 
Paloczy called him ‘Times Redactor’ already in a letter dated 1835, 


39 For a recent, systematic treatment of Kossuth’s term in prison, see Pajkossy, op.cit. 
(see above, note 1) pp. 157-74. 

40 See esp. Kossuth to his mother, Buda, December 24, 1837, Orszagos Leveltar 
[hereafter OL] R 90, I. 50, p. 23, Kossuth Lajos iratai, p. 317; cf. pp. 75, 98-99, 
102, 144-145, 147, 185, 210, 322, 413-14, 489, 509, 563; Kosary, ‘Kossuth 
fogsaga’, Part I, Magyarsagtudomany, 2, 1943, pp. 242-44; Kosary, Kossuth Lajos 
a reformkorban, pp. 173-75, 382; Szabad, op. cit., pp. 40-41; Aurel Pompery, 
Kossuth Lajos 1837/39-iki hutlensegi perenek tortenete , Budapest, 1913, 
pp. 149-50. 

41 P. C. Headley, The Life of Louis Kossuth, Governor of Hungary, Auburn, 1852, 
pp. 48—49. Cf. Szabad, pp. 13, 41, op. cit.; ‘Eloquence of Kossuth’, The Eclectic 
Magazine (originally from The Athenaeum), February 1852 (New York, 1851), 
p. 217. Cf. Pajkossy, op. cit., pp. 158-60. 

42 Kossuth to his mother, Buda, May 10, 1837, in Kossuth Lajos iratai, p. 75; see 
Kosary, ‘Kossuth fogsaga’, Part I, p. 223. 

I identified ‘Walker’ as A Critical Pronouncing Dictionary and ‘Arnold’ as 
Grammatica Anglicana oder Englische Grammatik Leipzig, 1782; Vienna, 1793 
for Kossuth Lajos iratai, p. 75, note 4. This grammar was popular in Hungary (also 
found in the library of the author Sandor Kisfaludy); cf. Solymos, ‘Angol 
nyelvtanulas Magyarorszagon’, p. 126. Kossuth did indeed receive the books, with 
the exception of Searl: cf. Kossuth Lajos iratai, p. 98, note 1. 

43 Headley, op.cit., p. 49. 



Tibor Frank 


229 


clearly an indication of his special relationship with the British paper and 
the English language. 44 In a letter to his mother late in 1837 he also 
referred to his evaporating knowledge of French, explaining that ‘I have 
been reading more in English for the last three years’. 45 His comment led 
the historian Denes Janossy to believe that Kossuth ‘began his English 
studies during the diet [of 1832-1836]’. 46 In a speech in Birmingham in 
1852, Kossuth also made it clear that ‘... it is not only from today, but 
from my early youth, [that] I have been spiritually connected with 
Britannia’. 47 Though this was doubtless intended to please his audience, it 
was essentially true and expressed his genuine sentiments. 

The long list of English and American authors that Kossuth actually 
read during his prison years suggests that it would be misleading to iden¬ 
tify Shakespeare as the sole source of his formidable knowledge of 
English. During his long years in prison, Kossuth was an avid reader of a 
number of books that surely helped shape his great oratorical powers. He 
knew of, and most probably read, a number of seventeenth- and eight¬ 
eenth-century English works, among them Milton, Hudibras by Samuel 
Butler, Pope’s The Dunciad, Addison’s tragedy Cato , The Vicar of Wake¬ 
field by Goldsmith, novels by Marryat and Bulwer-Lytton, the histories of 
Gibbon, Hume, and John Lingard, as well as the poems of Byron. Of 
American authors he knew The Alhambra and A Tour on the Prairies by 
Washington Irving and The Prairie, The Spy, and Lionel Lincoln by 
James Fenimore Cooper. 48 Like so many of his contemporaries, Kossuth 
loved the Romantics of all nations, such as Georges Sand and Beranger, 
and also enjoyed Goethe and Schiller. 49 

Though Kossuth, as already stated, read some of his English and 
American authors in German translation, 50 we have reason to believe that 
his intimate knowledge of a variety of classical English authors, as well as 

44 Szabad, op. cit., p. 41; cf. Kosary, Kossuth Lajos a refoi mkorban, p. 50. 

45 Kossuth to his mother, December 24, 1837, OL, R 90,1. 50, p. 23, in Kossuth Lajos 
iratai, p. 317. 

46 Kossuth to his mother, December 24, 1837, OL, R 90,1. 50, p. 23, in Kossuth Lajos 
iratai , p. 317; Denes A. Janossy, ‘Great Britain and Kossuth’, Archivum Europae 
Centro-Orientalis, Vol. Ill, fasc. 1-3, Budapest, 1937, p. 4. Cf. Davidhazi, p. 107. 

47 Headley, op. cit., p. 376. 

48 Kossuth Lajos iratai, pp. 144-45, 147, 317, 609; Gr. Szechenyi Ist\’dn iroi es 
hirlapi vitaja Kossuth Lajossal, Vol. I., ed. Gyula Viszota, Budapest, 1927, Vol. VI, 
(1841-43), pp. 685-89. 

49 Kossuth Lajos iratai, pp. 144, 147, 317, 321; Gr. Szechenyi Istvan iroi es hirlapi 
vitaja Kossuth Lajossal, pp. 685-89. 

50 Kossuth to his mother, December 24, 1837, OL R 90,1. 50, p. 23, in Kossuth Lajos 
iratai, p. 317. 



230 Marketing Hungary: Kossuth and the Politics of Propaganda 

his remarkable familiarity with the language of both English and Amer¬ 
ican Romantics, strongly contributed to the vocabulary, the grammar and 
style of his English in the 1850s and early 1860s. 

Yet, during his exile of over four decades, Kossuth himself remem¬ 
bered and identified Shakespeare as the single source of his English, as 
his only ‘teacher’, and attributed his success solely to the bard. Late in his 
career Kossuth claimed that it was his careful reading and translating of 
the first few lines of Shakespeare’s Macbeth that gave him his introduc¬ 
tion to the English language. 51 Elsewhere he seems to have suggested The 
Tempest as his chief source, though he may have been simply 
misquoted. 52 As always, he was a meticulous student: ‘1 have a certain 
rule never to go on in reading anything without perfectly understanding 
what I read; so I went on, and by and by became somewhat familiar with 
your language’, was how Kossuth in 1852 remembered his reading of The 
Tempest on which he ‘worked for a fortnight to get through the first 
page’. 53 Much later, in 1878, he recalled the first 16 lines of Macbeth 
which he spent several months with in order to study the language. 54 

As far as Macbeth is concerned, Kossuth’s intimate knowledge of the 
tragedy is fully documented by his outstanding translation of the first five 
scenes, not published until 1934. 55 The author of one of the very first 
‘modem’ translations of Shakespeare in nineteenth-century Hungary, 
Kossuth proved to be a pioneer for a generation of Shakespeare transla¬ 
tors. Though Ferenc Kazinczy translated Hamlet (via German) in 1790 
and Gabor Dobrentei preceded Kossuth with his own translation of 
Macbeth in 1830, 56 most of the classic translations came well after 
Kossuth: Julius Caesar (1839) and King Lear (begun in 1847) by Mihaly 
Vorosmarty; Coriolanus (1848) by Sandor Petofi; A Midsummer Night’s 
Dream (begun in 1858) by Janos Arany. 57 Kossuth actually abandoned his 

51 Pal Kiraly, ‘Latogatas Kossuthnal’, Vasarnapi Ujsag, 1878, No. 37, pp. 589-90. 
Cf. Kossuth Lajos iratai, p. 606, note 3. 

52 Headley, p. 49. 

53 Ibid. 

54 Kiraly, pp. 589-90. 

55 Geza H. Kiss, ‘Kossuth Lajos Macbeth forditasa’, Budapesti Szemle, 234, 1934, 
pp. 75-90. The translation was recently published in full by Gabor Pajkossy in 
Kossuth Lajos iratai , pp. 593-606. cf. Kosary, ‘Kossuth fogsaga’. Part I, p. 242. 

56 Mailer and Ruttkay, eds., pp. 58-63, 77-84; Miklos Szenczi, Tibor Szobotka, Anna 
Katona, Az angol irodalom tortenete, Budapest, 1972, p. 139; Kossuth Lajos iratai , 
p. 593. 

57 Bayer; Kalman Ruttkay, ‘Klasszikus Shakespeare-forditasaink’, in: Laszlo Kery, 
Laszlo Orszagh, Miklos Szenczi, eds., Shakespeare-tanulmanyok, Budapest, 1965, 
pp. 26-55; Davidhazi, pp. 104-10. 



Tibor Frank 


231 


version of Macbeth upon learning of Gabor Dobrentei’s 1830 transla¬ 
tion. 58 

Incomplete as it was, Kossuth’s Macbeth was a forerunner of these 
classics that came to define Shakespeare for Hungarians for almost a 
century. 59 Though obviously dated and laden with antiquated elements of 
vocabulary and style, Kossuth’s Macbeth is powerful and impassioned. It 
is no exaggeration to suggest that his extensive and rich Hungarian vocab¬ 
ulary helped him match the flavour of the original. Spirited at times, 
awkward at others, Kossuth’s text is still understandable, even enjoyable 
today. Kossuth was not a poet, and he never seriously considered himself 
one. 60 Yet his Macbeth had a number of genuinely poetic lines, particu¬ 
larly where the Witches chant spells. He was able to create characters that 
fully served Shakespeare’s intentions and helped express the intensely 
dramatic qualities of the tragedy. Kossuth seems to have understood 
Shakespeare’s imagery and often cleaved closely to the original, with a 
rare ability to translate abstract ideas into images. 61 

In his private correspondence, as well as in his Hungarian journalism, 
Kossuth made a series of references to Macbeth and often quoted from 
Shakespeare in his own translation. 62 Other plays by Shakespeare mentioned 
in Kossuth’s letters from the prison years include A Midsummer Night’s 
Dream and The Tempest. 63 He found the farewell scene in Romeo and Juliet 
“divinely beautiful” and a perfect example of the ‘ poesie descriptive ’ which 
he thought, however, was ‘a unique tour de force even for Shakespeare’. 64 
Nonetheless, he was not uncritical of the English poet, whose histories, and 
particularly their historical scenes, he dismissed as the ‘least successful’. 65 


58 Kossuth Lajos iratai, p. 593, note 1. 

59 For the history of Macbeth in nineteenth-century Hungary, see Bayer, Vol. I, 
pp. 234-72. 

60 For an ironic reference to his ability to write poetry, see Kossuth to his mother, 
Buda, February 24, 1839, in Kossuth Lajos iratai, p. 609. 

61 Cf. Hippolyte Taine, Histoire de la litterature anglaise, Paris, 1863, Vol. II, 
pp. 93-102; Antal Szerb, A vilagirodalom tortenete , Budapest, 1941, Vol. I, p. 346. 

62 Kossuth to his mother, Buda, May 5, 1838; Kossuth’s article for Jelenkor, No. 64, 
1840, which was identified by Pajkossy partly on the basis of a reference to 
Macbeth', several of his articles for Pesti Hirlap, 1841-42, in Kossuth Lajos iratai, 
pp. 403, 606 (note 3), 647. 

63 Kossuth to Pal Almasi Balogh, Buda, March 15, 1840; Kossuth to Komelia 
Vachott, Parad, July 21, 1840, in Kossuth Lajos iratai, pp. 620, 643. 

64 Kossuth to his father and mother, Buda, May 20, 1838, OL: R 90,1. 50; in Kossuth 
Lajos iratai, p. 412. 

65 Kossuth to his mother, Buda, September 27, 1838, OL: R 90, I. 49, p. 106; in 
Kossuth Lajos iratai, p. 493. 



232 


Marketing Hungary: Kossuth and the Politics of Propaganda 


Though it seems little short of a miracle, by the time an amnesty set 
him free in 1840, Kossuth was equipped with some command of English. 
He had studied a number of British and American authors, and acquired a 
feel for the structure and rhythm of the English sentence. It was not 
Shakespeare’s poetry and music alone that he found spell-binding: Shake¬ 
speare had obviously taught him much about interpersonal relations, 
about power, influence and politics. Bom and bred in early nineteenth- 
century Hungary, his intellectual horizons were extended by his literary 
pursuits. Also, given his deep interest in drama and the theatre, 66 he was 
obviously greatly affected by the theatrical in Shakespeare and several 
other dramatists, and it is very likely that his reading contributed to the 
much-debated histrionics of his later public appearances. Based exclu¬ 
sively on his reading of classical English and American authors, and 
chiefly on his intimate knowledge of Shakespearean tragedies, Kossuth’s 
English was now able to support his political role in the English-speaking 
world. Kossuth, with his popularity riding high after the martyrdom of the 
prison years, 67 was ready to put the language of Shakespeare to political 
use. 


Ill 

Evidence of his knowledge was slow in coming. He had never been to 
Britain or the United States before being forced to choose exile after the 
defeat of the Hungarian revolution and War of Independence in 1849. He 
was 49 when he first arrived in England and had never had an opportunity 
to speak to large audiences in a language other than his native one. Not 
even during his longish stay in Turkey did he have ‘much opportunity to 
study English’. 68 Speaking at a legislative banquet in Faneuil Hall in 
Boston on April 30, 1852, he remembered the state of his English before 
his arrival at Southampton: 


66 Kossuth to his mother, Buda, February 11, 1838, in Kossuth Lajos iratai, 
pp. 321-25. 

67 Kosary, ‘Kossuth fogsaga’, Part II, p. 430. 

68 Kossuth’s Address at Faneuil Hall, Boston, April 30, 1852. Published in Kossuth in 
New England: A Full Account of the Hungarian Governor’s Visit to Massachusetts, 
with His Speeches, and the Addresses That Were Made to Him, Boston, 1852, 
p. 106. Cf. Denes Janossy (ed.) A Kossuth-emigracio Angliaban es Amerikaban, 
Vol. I, Budapest, 1940, p. 371. 



Tibor Frank 


233 


Just to show how little I knew of English, my friend and representative in 
London, Mr. Pulszky [...], can bear testimony that, a few weeks before I came 
to Southampton, I sent him a dispatch, written in English, a part of which it was 
necessary to publish; and he, not considering himself authorized to alter it, was 
somewhat embarrassed, because it was written in such a bad manner. 69 

In a speech at Winchester in 1852 he spoke of the ‘double difficulty to 
address you connectedly in English’. 70 And yet he soon overcame his 
difficulties and realized ‘what an instrument in the hand of Providence 
became my little knowledge of the English language which I was obliged 
to learn, because forbidden to meddle with politics’. 71 It was in the United 
States that he came to appreciate the ultimate meaning and significance of 
his prison years, increasingly seeing them as having been a time for 
contemplation and preparation. 72 

Upon arriving in England and, somewhat later, in the United States, 
Kossuth was called upon to address large audiences on innumerable occa¬ 
sions. 73 He saw his role as an advocate of Hungary’s freedom and inde¬ 
pendence and soon became one of the most influential orators of the 
period. In just six months in 1851-1852 he gave over 600 public speeches 
in the United States alone. His public and his critics were amazed at his 
sonorous oratory and cadences, his original and complex imagery, the 
force of his reasoning, the power of his intellect, the full display of his 
unparalleled talent on what then amounted to a world stage. 74 A contem¬ 
porary went so far as to describe his ‘power unequalled by any departed 
or living orator’. 75 Not even ‘the idioms of foreign languages’ that he 
used, which Harriet Beecher Stowe complained about, seemed to trouble 
his enthusiastic audiences. 76 


69 Kossuth’s Address at Faneuil Hall, Boston, April 30, 1852, in Kossuth in New 
England, p. 106. 

70 Headley, p. 330. 

71 Headley, p. 49. 

72 Gabor Pajkossy, ‘Eloszo’, Kossuth Lajos iratai, p. 17; Pajkossy, ‘... cserebe 
nyertem ...’ p. 160. 

73 Denes Janossy, ed., A Kossuth-emigracio Angliaban es Amerikaban, Vol. I-II/1-2, 
Budapest, 1940, 1944, 1948; Janossy, Great Britain and Kossuth; John H. Komlos, 
Louis Kossuth in America 1851-52, Buffalo, 1973; Joseph Szeplaki, ed., Louis 
Kossuth ‘The Nation’s Guest’, Ligonier, PA, 1976; Gyorgy Szabad, ‘Kossuth and 
the Political System of the United States of America,’ Studia Historica Academiae 
Scientiarum Hungaricae, Vol. 106, Budapest, 1975, pp. 5-31. 

74 Janossy, Great Britain and Kossuth, pp. 85-86, 96-97, 99, 101. 

75 Headley, p. 302. 

76 Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe, Sunny Memories of Foreign Lands, London, 1854, 

p. 182. 



234 Marketing Hungary: Kossuth and the Politics of Propaganda 

Once in exile, Kossuth continued to read and collect the best of English 
and American literature. He built up a very sizeable library of some 
2,500-3,000 volumes where, in addition to several editions of Shakespeare, 
English literature was copiously represented through some 250 volumes. 
Dominated by the English Romantics, the collection included poets such as 
Wordsworth, Byron, Bums and W.S. Landor, and novelists such as Walter 
Scott, the Bronte sisters, Thackeray, Bulwer-Lytton, and Disraeli. Amer¬ 
ican authors of belles-lettres in Kossuth’s rich exile library included Wash¬ 
ington Irving, Harriet Beecher Stowe, James Fenimore Cooper and 
Longfellow. 77 Yet, notwithstanding his varied reading matter, the general 
impression Kossuth always gave was that he spoke essentially the language 
of Shakespeare. Kossuth himself identified English, even American 
English, as ‘Shakespeare’s language’ when he exclaimed in Boston in 
April 1852: ‘Spirit of American eloquence, frown not at my boldness, that I 
dare abuse Shakespeare’s language in Faneuil Hall! It is a strange fate, not 
my choice.’ 78 He capitalized on this theme, and was remembered for it even 
after he died by contemporaries such as George S. Boutwell, governor of 
Massachusetts in 1851-52. 79 He often spoke about the origins of his 
English, particularly in England, and memories of his prison experiences 
were given wide circulation. 

Speaking at Faneuil Hall, Kossuth recalled the story of his imprison¬ 
ment and implied that the origins of his English should be traced back to 
his prison years. This, in fact, may be considered the birth of what devel¬ 
oped into a personal myth structuring the ties between his personal 
martyrdom and his English, the language of Shakespeare and freedom, 
liberty and the English-speaking nations, his mission and the free world 
of Great Britain and the United States, and, in the following lines, his 
knowledge of the English language as a service to his country. 80 

I was sent to prison, and was for one year deprived of all intellectual food; until, 
at last, when permitted to select books, I was ordered to have nothing about 
politics. Well, indeed, not conscious of what I did, but remembering the treas¬ 
ures hidden in the English language — treasures of knowledge and of science 
—, I told them to give me an English Dictionary and Shakespeare. These could 
have nothing to do with politics. Look what came out of that fact! — not that 


77 Lajos Kossuth, Konyv Lajstrom Vol. I, Turin, Majus [8,] 1864, pp. 8-16; National 
Szechenyi Library, Budapest, MSS Collection: Oct. Hung. 1064/1. 

78 Kossuth in New England , p. 87. 

79 George S. Boutwell, Reminiscences of Sixty Years in Public Affairs, New York, 
1902, Vol. I, p. 208. 

80 Legislative Banquet in Honor of Kossuth, Faneuil Hall, Boston, April 30, 1852, 
Kossuth in New England , pp. 106-07. 



Tibor Frank 


235 


with my bad English I could contribute anything to knowledge, intellect or 
righteous sentiment; but, if I did not know what little English I speak, I would 
not have been received as I have been in England or America, ... 81 

Kossuth’s case comes very close to what social psychologists describe as 
the ‘mythological transformation of autobiography’ in an attempt to make 
it fit existing patterns of life strategies. 82 

During his American tour, Kossuth reinforced this message a number 
of times. ‘What little English I know, I learned from your Shakespeare’, 
he declared to his audience in Salem’s Lyceum Hall in late April 1852. 83 
In June he quoted Hamlet in the Broadway Tabernacle in New York. 
Even at the turn of the century, many Americans remembered Kossuth’s 
connection with Shakespeare. William Roscoe Thayer noted in his 
memoirs published in 1899, ‘He was sentenced to a further confinement 
of four years, during which his great solace was the study of Shake¬ 
speare’. 84 ‘His English’, Parke Godwin recalled in 1895, shortly after 
Kossuth’s death, 

was not so much our modem every-day English as the English of the Elisa- 
bethan age. He had learned it, you know, while he was in prison, from Shake¬ 
speare and the Bible, and it had in it at times the sinewy strength, the rounded 
fullness, the majestic roll of Hooker and Jeremy Taylor. Indeed, it was curious 
to listen to idioms that were like the idioms which the master poet of mankind 
has put in the mouth of Brutus when he pleaded for the liberties of Rome, or in 
the mouth of the banished Lea.r when he discoursed with the elements and made 
oak-cleaving thunderbolts the vehicles and companions of his passion. 85 

Yet to others, his speeches gave the impression of ‘a scholar who had 
mastered the English language by the aid of books. His idiomatic expres¬ 
sions were few’. 86 Nonetheless, his career was generally remembered by 
contemporary American statesmen as ‘a meteoric display in political 
oratory, such as the world does not often witness’. 87 


81 Ibid. 

82 Agnes Hankiss, ‘“En-ontologiak” (Az elettortenet mitologikus athangolasa)’, in 
Tibor Frank and Mihaly Hoppal, eds, Hiedelemrendszer es tarsadalmi tudat, 
Budapest, 1980, Vol. II, pp. 30-38. 

83 Kossuth in New England, p. 187. 

84 William Roscoe Thayer, Throne-Makers , Boston & New York, 1899, repr. 1927, 
p. 89. Kossuth K. 2751/22, Istvan Huzianyi Collection, National Szechenyi 
Library, Budapest. 

85 Parke Godwin, Commemorative Addresses, New York, 1895, pp. 132-33. 

86 Boutwell, Reminiscences, p. 213. 

87 Ibid., p. 214. 



236 Marketing Hungary: Kossuth and the Politics of Propaganda 

Kossuth’s reception in England was sometimes controversial and the 
mere mention of Shakespeare always offered a convenient rallying point. 
Kossuth knew how to choose the words of Shakespeare when praising 
Britain’s power in a Birmingham address of 1852: 

Full well I know that Britannia, with the mighty trident in her powerful hands, 
is fully entitled — even more entitled than of yore — to proclaim with your 
great Shakspeare — 

This England never did, nor ever shall, 

Lie at the proud feet of a conqueror. 

I know this very well, 

he added. 88 

As a popular biography of the Hungarian governor suggested in 1852, 
‘... with the companionship of Shakspeare, he mastered the mysterious 
harp of the human heart, whose chords he has touched so well’. 89 ‘In 
England’, the biographer later continued, ‘men who have heard the 
eloquence of parliament for half a century, and could listen motionless to 
advocates whose fame is wide as the empire, while making juries weep, 
have felt their pulses leap to the sound of his voice. They describe his 
eloquence as “Shakespearean”, “Miltonian”, and “most thrilling’”. 90 The 
reviewer for The Athenaeum also gave the full story of the prison years 
and Shakespeare and explained with great enthusiasm: 

Out of the great dramatist he learned our speech, our modes of thinking, our 
national sentiments. Certain it is, that this extraordinary mastery over our 
tongue has proved power to the Exile and to his cause. It was a sad blunder of 
the Austrian police to give him Shakespeare for a prison companion! 91 

To express the sentiments of ‘Englishmen of all parties’, the journalist 
and author Douglas William Jerrold proposed a subscription for ‘a testi¬ 
monial taking the form of a fine copy of Shakespeare, inclosed in a shrine 
...\ 92 Harriet Beecher Stowe recalled how this idea actually emerged: 
‘There are those here in England who delight to get up slanders against 

88 Headley, op. cit., pp. 392-93. Quoted from Shakespeare’s King John, Act V, Scene 
7. Correctly: ‘never shall’ and ‘proud foot’. 

89 Headley, op. cit., p. 50. 

90 Ibid., p. 302. 

91 ‘Eloquence of Kossuth’, p. 217. 

92 Ibid, On the history of the 1851 subscription initiated in the Daily News by 

r 

Douglas Jerrold see E. H. Haraszti, Kossuth: Hungarian Patriot in Britain. 
London-Budapest, 1994, pp. 29-31. For a recent, excellent treatment of the 
Shakespeare presentation, see Agnes Deak, pp. 832-48. (See note 1 above). 



Tibor Frank 


237 


Kossuth, and not long ago some most unfounded charges were thrown out 
against him in some public prints. By way of counterpoise an enthusiastic 
public meeting was held, in which he was represented with a splendid set 
of Shakespeare.’ 93 Harper’s New Monthly Magazine was quick to report 
the background of the ‘penny subscription [that was] commenced to 
represent Kossuth with a copy of Shakespeare’s works, in a suitable 
casket’. The Magazine quoted Douglas Jerrold as saying: 

It is written in the brief history made known to us of Kossuth, that in an 
Austrian prison he was taught English by the words of the teacher Shakespeare. 

An Englishman’s blood glows with the thought that, from the quiver of the 
immortal Saxon, Kossuth has furnished himself with those arrowy words that 
kindle as they fly — words that are weapons, as Austria will know. There are 
hundreds of thousands of Englishmen who would rejoice thus to endeavour to 
manifest their gratitude to Kossuth for the glorious words he has uttered among 
us, words that have been as pulses to the nation. 94 

Kossuth was excited about the presentation. In a hitherto unpublished 
letter, dated May 3, 1853, now in the Folger Shakespeare Library in 
Washington, he turned to his political friend Charles Gilpin, M.P., 
revealing the political character of his interest in Shakespeare. 

It is Tuesday already; and I have yet no communication about the ‘Shakespeare 
presentation meeting[‘], at which you desired my presence from Friday next. — 
Will it be indeed or not? What hour of the day? What is its particular character? 

A large open meeting or a private one of a committee? Is it indeed to have a 
political character or not? Am I expected to be present and to speak? What will 
be the address which I am expected to answer? — about all this I know nothing 
yet, 95 

The presentation took place in London’s Tavern Hall on May 6, 1853. In 
a major speech, carefully written for the occasion, Kossuth gave the 
fullest and most spirited version of his encounter with Shakespeare. 

And there I sat musing over it [= Shakespeare]. For months it was a sealed book 
to me, as the hieroglyphs were long to Champol[l]ion, and as L[a]yard[’]s 


93 Stowe, op.cit., p. 182. 

94 Harper’s New Monthly Magazine , Vol. IV, 1852, p. 277. Copied by Istvan Gal, 
courtesy of Gal’s family. 

95 Kossuth to Charles Gilpin, Esq., 21 Alpha Road, Regents Park, May 3, 1853. The 
Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, D.C. I am greatly indebted to Peter 
Davidhazi for drawing my attention to, and allowing me to use, this document 
which he found in Washington, D.C. There is no record of Gilpin’s answer in the 
Hungarian National Archives where most of his correspondence with Kossuth is 
preserved. 



238 Marketing Hungary: Kossuth and the Politics of Propaganda 

Assyrian monuments still are. But at last the light spread over me and I drank in 
full cups with never quenched thirst, from that limpid source of delightful 
instruction, and of instructive delight. Thus I leamt the little English I know. 96 

By then his story was complete, burnished to glowing and openly serving 
political ends. As he added to his audience of Londoners, he acquired 
from the poet not only his English language skills, but also his knowledge 
of politics: 

But I leamt something more besides, I learned politics. What? politics from 
Shakespeare? Yes, Gentlemen. What else are politics than philosophy to the 
social condition of men? And what is philosophy but the knowledge of nature 
and the human heart? And who ever penetrated deeper into the recesses of these 
Mysteries than Shakespeare did? He furnished me the materials, contemplative 
meditation wrought out the rest. 97 

What was originally a personal myth now came to be the basis of a topos: 
Shakespeare’s name became identified with Kossuth’s long preparation 
for his role as an exiled spokesman for his country. In his 1853 speech in 
the Tavern Hall he went as far as to identify Shakespeare unambiguously 
as ‘that mute but eloquent teacher of mine’ and referred to his English as 
‘your language (which) I leamt from him’. 98 

The handsome seven-volume edition, complete with a biography of 
Shakespeare, and personalized for Kossuth with his family coat of arms 
embossed on the magnificent binding of all eight volumes, was presented 
in an ingenious wooden replica of Shakespeare’s birthplace. As the small 
plaque on the gift proudly and characteristically stated, it was ‘purchased 
with 9,215 Pennies, Subscribed by Englishmen & Women, as a tribute to 
Louis Kossuth who achieved his noble mastery of the English language to 
be exercised in the noblest cause from the page of Shakespeare’. 99 
Kossuth cherished the splendid gift of London workers, though for a time 
it was relegated to a storage facility together with many of his less often 
used books. In the late 1870s, however, his Hungarian visitors were 
deeply impressed to see in his study in Italy the gift, ‘which Kossuth 

r 

96 Kossuth’s speech was found by Agnes Deak and recently published in Hungarian 
translation, pp. 832—48 (see note 1, above). I am indebted to Ms. Deak for 
generously allowing me to quote from Kossuth’s original version which she found 
in the British Library in London. 

97 Ibid. 

98 Ibid. 

99 Silver-plated bronze plaque on the model of Shakespeare’s birthplace, kept in the 
Kossuth Museum of Cegled, Hungary, in what is now furnished as Kossuth’s Turin 


room. 



Tibor Frank 


239 


received on the occasion of learning the English language, according to 
his own statement, in his captivity, from Shakespeare’. 100 He always kept 
a two-volume U.S. edition of Shakespeare, a Boston gift from 1852, in his 
house as part of the select few books often in demand. 101 All these 
editions are listed in Kossuth’s own handwritten catalogue of his personal 
library, dating from 1864, and have miraculously survived until today. 
The books are kept in the National Szechenyi Library in Budapest, 102 
while the special box containing the 1853 gift is preserved in the Kossuth 
Museum in Cegled, Hungary. 

Following the well-publicized book presentation, 103 the symbolism of 
‘Kossuth’s Shakespeare’ also found its way into contemporary English 
poetry. Alfred B. Richards put the very question that Kossuth liked to put 
himself: 

And then thy riper age, 

From Shakespeare’s hallowed page, 

Drew inspiration of our English tongue, 

Did no prophetic thought 
Tell thee of wonders wrought, 

Far from thy home, a stranger race among? 104 

Kossuth’s critics, however, may have thought that he was not always 
sincere. By 1854, with Kossuth’s celebrity slowly fading away, George 
Gilfillan argued in Hogg’s Instructor that Kossuth’s ability to suit his 
quotations to the taste of his actual audience ‘is connected more with 
mechanical readiness and the talents of an improvisatore, than with 

100 A czegledi szazas kiilddttseg Kossuth Lajosnal Budapest, 1877, both quoted by 
Agnes Deak, pp. 833, 847; (notes 3-4). 

101 Kossuth, Konyv Lajstrom Vol. I-II, Turin, Majus [8,] 1864, pp. 8-16; National 
Szechenyi Library: MSS Coll.: Oct. Hung. 1064/I-II, Vol. I, p. 8, Vol. II, p. 3. 

102 The 1853 London gift edition of The Pictorial Edition of the Works of 
Shakespeare , ed. Charles Knight, Vols. I-VII complete with Charles Knight, 
William Shakespeare: A Biography , (London: Charles Knight and Co.), Kossuth 
Konyvtar 2723. The 1852 U.S. gift edition, originally kept at Kossuth’s home, was 
The Dramatic Works of William Shakespeare, in Two Volumes, Boston, 1852, 
today in National Szechenyi Library: Kossuth Konyvtar 1675. 

103 Agnes Deak, pp. 832, 847, (note 2). 

104 Alfred B. Richards, ‘Welcome and Farewell to Kossuth’, from Minstrelsy of War, 
London, 1854, Testveriseg, Vol. XIX, May 1941, p. 12, Istvan Gal Collection, 
Budapest, courtesy of Gal’s family. Walter Savage Landor also greeted him with 
an ‘Ode to Kossuth’ where there is an unconnected reference to Shakespeare: The 
Examiner, December 15, 1849, p. 789; published by Istvan Gal, ‘W. S. Landor, 
Kossuth es a szabadsagharc angol koltoje’, Filologiai Kozlony, 14, 1968, Nos. 
1-2, pp. 34-35. 



240 Marketing Hungary: Kossuth and the Politics of Propaganda 

genius, and shows him rather as the Lope de Vega than as the Shake¬ 
speare of orators’. 105 Yet, by the end of the nineteenth century, Shakespeare 
and prisoner Kossuth became a running theme, a commonplace of history. 
As time went by, the memory of the prison term and the significance of 
Shakespeare became more marked for both his English and American 
friends who remembered Kossuth at the end of the nineteenth century. The 
story made his way into A History of Our Own Times (1879) by Justin 
McCarthy, M.P., one of the most widely, and indeed, internationally known 
books on the history of Victorian Britain, soon to be translated into several 
languages including German and Hungarian. 106 McCarthy discussed 
Kossuth’s reception in England in great detail in his chapter on the foreign 
policy of Lord Palmerston. There was much in Kossuth himself as well as in 
his cause to attract the enthusiasm of popular assemblage’, McCarthy 
remembered. 

He had a strikingly handsome face and a stately presence. He was picturesque 
and perhaps even theatric in his dress and his bearing. He looked like a picture; 
all his attitudes and gestures seemed as if they were meant to be reproduced by 
a painter. He was undoubtedly one of the most eloquent men who ever 
addressed an English popular audience. In one of his imprisonments Kossuth 
had studied the English language chiefly from the pages of Shakespeare. He had 
mastered our tongue as few foreigners have ever been able to do; but what he 
had mastered was not the common colloquial English of the streets and the 
drawing-rooms. The English he spoke was the noblest in style from which a 
student could supply his eloquence: Kossuth spoke the English of Shake¬ 
speare. 107 

Increasingly, the personal myth gained public currency and made its 
way into journalism and popular literature. Kossuth’s studies of Shake¬ 
speare became synonymous with England and the United States, his 
English with the language of Shakespeare, Shakespeare’s language in 
turn with the voice of freedom and democracy. Something like a 
literary topos was created, Shakespeare becoming a metaphor for 
freedom. 


105 George Gilfillan, “Louis Kossuth”, Hogg’s Instructor, III, July-December 1854, 
p. 359. 

106 Justin McCarthy, A History of Our Own Times from the Accession of Queen 
Victoria to the General Election of 1880, Leipzig, 1879; McCarthy, Anglia 
tortenete korunkban , Budapest, 1885, Vols. I-III; McCarthy, Geschichte Englands, 
von der Thronbesteigung Viktorias bis zum Berliner Kongress 1837-1878, 
Leipzig, 1881. 

107 McCarthy, A History of Our Own Times, Vol. II, pp. 109-10. 



Tibor Frank 


241 


Kossuth himself went on to quote Shakespeare in his Hungarian polit¬ 
ical correspondence throughout his long political career. 108 

Quite until the turn of the century, Kossuth’s name remained, both in 
Britain and the United States, synonymous with freedom-loving Hungary. 
On his death he was mourned even by Conservative British papers as an 
eloquent champion of the ideals of 1848-49. 109 In the early 1900s, several 
important British journalists and prospective policy-makers, such as The 
Times correspondent Henry Wickham Steed and historians R. W. Seton- 
Watson and H. W. V. Temperley, first came to Hungary with the noble 
image of Kossuth’s nation in mind. While in Budapest, they were often 
assisted and influenced by Kossuth’s son, by the family of his friend 
Ferenc Pulszky, or by his aged supporter General Istvan Tiirr. 110 

Much later, barely a day before the Nazi takeover in Hungary, the 
Budapest daily Esti Ujsag published a long article on ‘The Triumphant 
Entry of Lajos Kossuth into New York, December 6, 1851’, and pointed 
out that Kossuth “owed his immense success preeminently to Shake¬ 
speare as he used the archaic and classical expressions of the world- 
famous dramatist which impressed the masses tremendously. Kossuth 
himself admitted that ‘I learnt English from Shakespeare’.” * * 111 At that 
historic juncture, the article was intended as a powerful evocation of 
Hungary’s lost freedom and independence. During the Cold War, 
Hungarian-Americans sought to portray Kossuth as a champion of 
Western liberty, and again his English, and its source, Shakespeare, 
played a part in constructing a politically actualized image of the hero. 112 


108 Quotation from The Tempest in a letter to the Independence Party of Debrecen, 
Collegno al Baraccone at Turin, June 15, 1875; quotations from Hamlet in a letter 
to Ignacz Helfy on the Occasion of Ferenc Deak’s Death, 1876, and in Irataim , 
Vol. Ill; quotation from Julius Caesar in a letter to Emo Simonyi, Collegno al 
Baraccone, December 12, 1876: Kossuth Lajos, Valogatott munkai, Budapest, 
n.d., pp. 227, 240, 260, 355. 

109 Sidney J. Low, ‘Kossuth and the Hungarian War of Liberation’, The National 
Review, Vol 23, May 1894, pp. 350-63; The Saturday Review, March 24, 1894, 
pp. 301-02; The Times, March 21, 1894, pp. 9, 11. Cf Geza Jeszenszky, Az 
elveszettpresztizs. Magyarorszag megitelesenek megvdltozasa Nagy-Britanniaban 
(1894-1918) Budapest, 1986, pp. 115, 329. 

110 Geza Jeszenszky, op.cit., esp. pp. 10, 48, 51, 64, 65, 72, 89, 92, 93. 

111 E. R. Ivandy, ‘Kossuth Lajos diadalmas bevonulasa New Yorkba 1851. december 
6-an’, Esti Ujsag, March 18, 1944. Newspaper clipping in the Istvan Gal 
Collection, Budapest, courtesy of Gal’s family. 

112 Endre Sebestyen, Kossuth: A Magyar Apostle of World Democracy, Pittsburgh, 
1950, p. 136. 



242 


Marketing Hungary: Kossuth and the Politics of Propaganda 

IV 


Kossuth proved to be a genuinely skilful forerunner of modem political 
marketing. Indeed, his activities in exile can be almost completely 
described and explained in terms of modem public relations, market 
communication and negotiating corporate (i.e. national) identity. It seems 
likely that upon entering the English-speaking world he became very 
much influenced by British and American political ideas, methods, and 
tools and reacted sensitively to the then new tactics and strategies of 
national and international political communication. 

Marketing in the modem sense of the world arose as a consequence of 
the industrial revolution first in Britain and then in the United States. 
Kossuth realized that image building, for both commercial and political 
purposes, was a politically useful idea. He immediately understood that 
first he was supposed to craft an image of his own country, create faith in 
the brand name of ‘independent Hungary,’ and embark upon a strategic 
advertising campaign for the freedom of his nation. He quickly recog¬ 
nized that his personal input was much needed to influence the ‘political 
market’ and started a major public relations operation to build up the 
‘corporate identity’ of his country. His British and, particularly, his Amer¬ 
ican tour became an outstanding example of what economists would clas¬ 
sify today as marketing communication. 

Kossuth was particularly successful in this venture as he identified 
himself with one, and only one, major cause: Hungary’s freedom and 
independence. He spoke of a number of issues such as freedom, democ¬ 
racy, self-government, republicanism, release from tyranny, free 
commerce with the U.S., recognition of the Hungarian declaration of 
independence, but all of them ultimately revolved around the central 
pivot of Hungary’s destiny. He identified himself with Hungary, spoke 
of ‘my bleeding nation,’ referring to himself almost as if he were 
Hungary itself. He repeated a number of themes in the best tradition of 
classical oratory, and used highly colourful language full of metaphors 
and images. His success was the result of the style and content of his 
oratory. He invariably spoke highly of George Washington and William 
Shakespeare, and always found time to single out the individual merits 
and achievements of the particular places where he happened to address 
his audience. 

Almost immediately upon his arrival, the Hungarian guest delivered a 
series of speeches. He had begun to study the English language seriously 
as an adult, during the years he spent in prison between 1837 and 1840. ‘I 


Tibor Frank 


243 


told them to give me an English Dictionary and Shakespeare.’ 113 Reading 
Shakespeare, together with the English Romantics, left an indelible mark 
on Kossuth’s English, his vocabulary, his grammatical structures and on 
his phraseology. 

As he began to speak English only in exile, at the age of 49, the cele¬ 
brated public speaker was often lost for words in private conversation. In 
the light of this, it is quite remarkable how, even on his arrival in England, 
but especially during his trip to the United States, he became known and 
respected as one of the great orators in English of the time. 

‘I heard him speak for about three quarters of an hour at the legislative 
banquet of last week,’ George Stillman Hillard wrote to his friend Francis 
Lieber on May 8, 1852. 114 Himself a master of rhetoric and an excellent 
orator, whose occasional addresses ‘were famous in their day,’ 115 Hillard 
was a competent judge of Kossuth’s abilities as a public speaker. 

That I hold to have been an oratorical achievement of a very high order. He 
spoke, in all, about two hours, without notes and standing out at full length upon 
a table. His voice is firm, his manner pleasing and persuasive, and his counte¬ 
nance full of animated expression. His management of his person, his legs espe¬ 
cially, was admirable. I can perfectly understand that in his own language he 
must be a popular orator of the first class. I have no doubt, from what I hear, 
that he does exert a very fascinating power over all who approach him. He is a 
man of an Eastern, luxuriant, imaginative & feminine cast and he wins men and 
especially women, through the sympathies. His charm of his manner is a 
winning & sort of caressing persuasiveness. This is perfectly consistent with a 
dash of the theatrical and melodramatic which I think belongs to him. When I 
first saw him, he was on horseback, and he did not ride remarkably well, and he 
wore a shewy velvet coat, and altogether he looked to me like a troubadour 
more than a hero and that he ought to have had a harp by his side, instead of a 
sword. 116 

For his most important speeches Kossuth prepared a draft, sometimes 
with the help of a native English speaker or a Hungarian who spoke the 
language well. Nevertheless, about two-thirds of the estimated 600 
speeches of varying length that he delivered in England and the United 
States by the summer of 1852 were off the cuff and the majority of these, 


113 Kossuth in New England, pp. 106-07. 

114 George Stillman Hillard to Francis Lieber, Boston, May 8, 1852. Francis Lieber 
papers, LI 1981, Huntington Library, San Marino, CA. 

115 George H. Genzmer on George Stillman Hillard, in: Dictionary of American 
Biography Base Set. American Council of Learned Societies, 1928-1936. 
Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich., 2002. 
(http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/bioRC). 

116 George Stillman Hillard to Francis Lieber, May 8, 1852, Francis Lieber Papers, LI 
1981, Huntington Library, San Marino, CA. 



244 Marketing Hungary: Kossuth and the Politics of Propaganda 

as well as most of the letters he wrote in English, were considered master¬ 
pieces of nineteenth-century English prose. In the next fifty years, books 
such as The Golden Age of American Oratory (Boston, 1857) and several 
others quoted long passages from these texts. Fifty-two of his best 
speeches were published right away under the title Select Speeches of 
Kossuth (New York, 1854). 

Of course not everybody was enthusiastic about the kind of oratory 
that Kossuth presented. Francis Lieber’s critical comments were shared 
by several of his American contemporaries: 

Do you remember what I say in my Character of the Gentleman, on exaggera¬ 
tion? It is both unmanly and ungentlemanly to spout and speak with the 
eloquence of a fire engine. See what a list of “down-trodden” words we could 
collect in America. Splendid, meaning now anything not much below par. 
Magnificent, so common you can hardly use it except you have proved on ten 
previous pages that you are not word-drunken. Great means almost distin¬ 
guished, but not quite. Admirable has become so paltry, that it means 9 letters 
and no more. Greatest man of the age, means at times Webster, at others Scot 
[Sir Walter Scott], or Kossuth or Wellington, or Bamam [P .T. Bamum], or 
Jenny Lind, or Lola [Montez] — man, intellect or woman. Kossuth is the 
greatest orator of the age, if not of any age — my own eyes have seen this in 
print. Oh, it is beastly. Cows can roar too, and the articulated roar is the most 
brutal of the two. 117 

Kossuth’s assertive politics and blazing oratory divided Americans. As 
demonstrated by the correspondence of Francis Lieber with his friends 
George Stillman Hillard and Charles Sumner, now in the Huntington 
Library in San Marino, California, the East Coast elite respected 
Kossuth’s fight for the freedom and independence of Hungary, but ques¬ 
tioned the reality and rationality of his claim that the United States should 
get involved in what appeared to be an internal conflict within the 
Habsburg Empire. 

Bom in Germany, Francis Lieber (1798-1872) became famous in the 
U.S. as a liberal political philosopher and lawyer with his ‘laws of war,’ a 
systematic, institutionalized code of behaviour to regulate the conditions 
of warfare. In a Christmas 1851 letter to George Stillman Hillard, Lieber 
glorified Kossuth: 

I have a very high opinion of Kossuth, and even that against which I should 
write should not be laid to his charge; for if he is presuming, even impertinent if 
you choose, he has but his one great thought in his mind, one great sentiment in 
his soul — up with Hungary and down with Austria — God speed him; and the 


117 Francis Lieber to George Stillman Hillard, Columbia, S.C., January 8, 1852, 
Francis Lieber Papers, LI 2161, Huntington Library, San Marino, CA. 



Tibor Frank 


245 


way that the Americans have given in so far shows that he is not wrong in his 
presumption. But that Americans should fall in with a Hungarian, when he tells 
us we are totally wrong, and that Washington did not mean what we always 
have held him to have meant, and that Americans should, apparently at least, 
take the key from a strong democratic Gallican element in N. York, that is 
shameful. 118 

Much as he respected the Hungarian leader and his cause, Lieber was 
disturbed by the role Kossuth expected the United States to play in the 
European conflict. For him Kossuth was too much of a visionary. ‘But, 
then,’ he told Hillard, 

I should enter upon the true mission of the U. States — the path laid out for 
them and the means of their influence. I should then ask what are we asked to 
do? Tell the Czar “Dont do that”, as the Chinese, you recollect, let down a large 
pactboard, from the walls of Hong Kong, on which was written “you must not 
come in here”, for the benefit of the redcoats, who approached with powder and 
bayonet? Shall we send money? How much? And who shall send it, the 
Government, or the people voluntarily? Shall we send troops? In less than 6 
weeks the Hungarians would mortally hate the Americans, and the Americans 
hate the Hungarians. It is always so, and must be so. If the foreigner carries the 
victory, he is hated, because he carries the victory, and because he becomes 
insolent; if he is not essential to the victory, he is hated as a cumbersome fellow, 
who wants land, money and often the women. 119 

Throughout Lieber remained sceptical about the international role 
America was being called upon to fulfil and the moral feasibility of its 
possible intervention. 

And is Hungary the only downtrodden country? Does Italy not wail and cry for 
help? Have the German princes not proved truthless truckles? I can very well 
imagine a case when the U.S. with other powers would say to Russia: Hands 
off, you disturb the peace of the world and trample on peoples like an elephant 
on a rice-field. If you dont stop we poach you at sea. But to help a nation to rise 
in revolution, by our government — it is absolutely preposterous. I would write 
— I would — I would — but — I shall not. 120 

The Massachusetts lawyer and author George Stillman Hillard 
(1808-1879) agreed with what Lieber said of Kossuth, but was ill- 
informed and consequently doubtful about the political abilities of the 
Hungarians. ‘Now on these questions of Hungary, Kossuth, Austria and 
Russia, we agree to a hair,’ he responded to Lieber. 

118 Francis Lieber to George Stillman Hillard, Christmas 1851, Francis Lieber Papers, 
LI 2160, Huntington Library, San Marino, CA. 

119 Ibid. 

120 Ibid. 



246 Marketing Hungary: Kossuth and the Politics of Propaganda 

I abhor Russia and Austria and regard them as great rocks in the stream of 
progress & humanity, too big and heavy to be borne away, and always a 
retarding and perverting influence. And I admit the eloquence of Kossuth, his 
patriotism and his devotion to a great idea: but none the less do I deem his 
projects wild & Quixotic and that his influence upon the public mind has been 
the reverse of salutary. I dont know much about Hungary but I dont believe in 
their fitness for Constitutional & independent government. The simple fact that 
a nation of 13,000,000 was thrown down and muzzled by Russia in a single 
campaign, seems to prove that there are elements of weakness among them 
which would make it impossible for foreign intervention to do any good. 
Compare their feeble struggles with the persevering pluck of the Circassians & 
with the constancy of the Dutch in the 16th & 17th centuries. 121 

Lieber repeatedly criticized some of his fellow-Americans for misleading 
the Hungarian politician and thought Kossuth had been ill-advised. 
‘Kossuth, for whom I have a high regard,’ he wrote to the influential 
abolitionist statesman and longtime (1852-1874) Massachusetts Senator 
Charles Sumner (1811-1874), 

(though by no means as extravagant a one as many pretend to have for him, and, 
as I fear, he may have for himself) has ended here where he must infallibly have 
ended — , and whither some very reckless men have led him, little dreaming or 
caring what deep injury they were inflicting upon that cause which they, in 
many cases hypocritically, pretend to serve. Kossuth has distinctly forgotten 
since he came to this country, that to make a great idea pass into a great event, it 
requires two things — the wide impulse of masses and the clearest possible 
definiteness in the conception of measures and husbanding of means in the 
leaders — the Richelieu or Cromwell part of great events as I will call the latter. 
Nothing so weakening in the sphere of action as cloudiness, or if you will 
pardon a very low term, highfelutanism [highfalutinism]. I can say all this 
because my correspondents can testify that from the first I have said that the 
course pursued by Kossuth must necessarily lead to Congress and that the 
distinct question what? and the higher the path led all the time, in words decla¬ 
ration and indictment aspirations, the greater must be the distance from the ulti¬ 
mate point of that line to the point of factal (may I make the word?) reality. 122 

Lieber emphatically told Sumner: ‘I have never felt such itching to write a 
thorough political pamphlet as when Kossuth was coursing on. I should 
have done it had I lived in a populous place. But I love him.’ 123 

Lieber never questioned the validity and nobility of Kossuth’s cause 
though he noticed that he ‘travels fast and makes long bounds ...’ He 

121 George Stillman Hillard to Francis Lieber, Boston, January 13, 1852. Francis 
Lieber to Charles Sumner, Francis Lieber Papers, LI 1975, Huntington Library, 
San Marino, CA. 

122 Francis Lieber to Charles Sumner, Columbia, S.C., January 10, 1852, Francis 
Lieber Papers, LI 3475, Huntington Library, San Marino, CA. 

123 Ibid. 



Tibor Frank 


247 


could not withstand his urge to write a tract on ‘Kossuth and his Mission 
in the United States’ (most probably in 1852) where he declared, 

... we have a very high opinion of Louis Kossuth, and most deeply detest the 
Austrian government — more intensely, probably, than most persons in this 
country, because we know Austria and thoroughly know it. If the distinguished 
Hungarian has allowed himself to be carried to the very utmost limit of political 
propriety, on some occasions since he has been among us — if he has stated that 
which rises to arrogance, we readily pass it over, at least so far as he is 
concerned, whatever we may think of those men who have done everything in 
their power to mislead him, partly through their own want of reflexion, partly 
for selfish purposes without any abiding belief in their own assertions. 124 

Lieber continued to be captivated by Kossuth’s cause: 

Kossuth has but one idea, and that idea is a great and noble one — the delivery 
of his country from an odious, faithless, cruel and coarse government. If in the 
all-absorbing desire of realizing this great idea, he, occasionally travels fast and 
makes long bounds, who would quarrel with him? Certainly no generous mind. 

If every one-sidedness or extravagance in the fiery words of a burning heart 
were to be a noose, without the benefit of clergy, few fervent speakers would 
remain un-hanged before they come to the intended end of their discourses. 125 

A close friend of both Lieber and Sumner, George Stillman Hillard felt 
tom. 

In regard to Kossuth I am, as often happens in our intense little community, 
between two fires. I disprove of his course in America, especially his sort of 
appeal from the government to the country, and therefore cannot swell the train 
of his admirers; and on the other hand, there is much in his European career 
which commands my sympathy and applause, and I do not like to join in any 
wholesale denunciations of him. The vehement abuse which some people lavish 
upon him seems to me to flow from a timid conversation, founded on a selfish 
love of property — a feeling for which I have no great respect. Have you 
thought or read about Hungary and his course there? If you have, I pray you tell 
me what you think about him. 126 

When Kossuth left the United States he felt keenly the division of public 
opinion in the country he tried to win over in vain. His prophetic idea that 
the United States should play a major role in European politics proved to 
be premature: he was a hundred years ahead of his time. It was far too 
early to suggest 


124 Francis Lieber, ‘Kossuth and his Mission in the United States,’ probably 1852, 
Francis Lieber Papers, LI 478, Huntington Library, San Marino, CA. 

125 Ibid. 

126 George Stillman Hillard to Francis Lieber, Boston, May 8, 1852, Francis Lieber 
Papers, LI 1981, Huntington Library, San Marino, CA. 



248 


Marketing Hungary: Kossuth and the Politics of Propaganda 


that the policy of Europe will have a visible effect upon the character, power, 
and destiny of the American republic. That policy as indicated by Russia and 
Austria, is the work of centralization, consolidation and absolutism. American 
policy is the antagonist of this. 127 

Stating that ‘Russia and the United States are as unlike as any two nations 
which ever existed,’ Kossuth went as far as to prophecy that war between 
the two ‘will be inevitable’. 128 


V 

Lajos Kossuth never accepted the notion that he was a ‘visionary’ and 
considered himself a ‘practical man’ and an achiever. To the end of his 
journey he spoke with pride and self-confidence of his own leading role in 
the Hungarian revolution and war of independence and declared in his last 
Boston speech on May 14, 1852 at Faneuil Hall: 

Some here take me for a visionary. Curious, indeed, if that man who, a poor son 
of the people, took the lead in abolishing feudal injustices a thousand years old, 
created a currency of millions in a moneyless nation, and suddenly organized 
armies out of untrained masses of civilians; directed a revolution so as to fix the 
attention of the whole world upon Hungary, beat the old, well-provided power 
of Austria, and crushed its future by his very fall, and forsaken, abandoned, in 
his very exile is feared by Czars and Emperors, and trusted by foreign nations as 
well as his own — if that man be a visionary, then for so much pride I may be 
excused that I would like to look face to face into the eyes of a practical man on 
earth. 129 

Through the press, his fame spread all over the country, reaching even the 
Pacific coast, which he never visited. Thanks to regular and surprisingly 
detailed reports published in The Los Angeles Star, The Daily Union of 
Sacramento, The San Diego Herald, The Oregon Spectator of Oregon 
City, The Weekly Oregonian of Portland and The Deseret News of Salt 
Lake City, readers in the West could follow Kossuth’s reception in the 
eastern states. The press coverage on the western coast was exceedingly 
favourable towards the Hungarians’ plight, with opinions split only on the 
issue of whether the United States be content to give moral and financial 


127 Kossuth’s speech at Faneuil Hall, Boston, April 29, 1852, Select Speeches of 
Kossuth, pp. 320-21. 

128 Ibid. 

129 Select Speeches of Kossuth, p. 368. 



support or whether it should also issue a political guarantee for non-inter¬ 
vention in Hungary’s domestic affairs. 

On July 14, 1852 Kossuth left the United States for good. Bitterly 
disappointed, he took stock of the scant results his journey had produced: 

The novelty has long since subsided, and emotion has died away. The spell is 
broken which distance and misfortune cast around my name. The freshness of 
my very ideas is worn out. Incessant toils spread a languor upon me, unpleasant 
to look upon. The skill of intrigues, aspersing me with calumny; wilful misrep¬ 
resentations, pouring cold water upon generous sympathy. 130 

Although he never again visited North America, Lajos Kossuth has not 
been forgotten in the United States. He has a statue in New York City and 
in the Capitol in Washington, D.C. Portrayal on a United States postage 
stamp secured his place as a ‘champion of liberty.’ On his bicentenary he 
has been remembered in the U.S., mostly by Hungarian-Americans who 
have celebrated him throughout the country, from New York to New 
Orleans. As of 2001, New York Governor George Pataki, himself of 
Hungarian descent, declared December 5 ‘Lajos Kossuth Day’ in the 
State of New York. Hungarians, in and out of Hungary, continue to think 
of him as their hero who was once worshipped by America. Even though 
his American journey produced no lasting political or financial results, 
Lajos Kossuth single-handedly did more to articulate the Hungarian cause 
to America and to secure international recognition for Hungary than 
anyone before or since, or could possibly do in the future. He was the man 
who put Hungary on the political map of Europe. 131 


130 Select Speeches of Kossuth, pp. 373-74. 

131 In this paper I have made use of two of my previous articles: ‘“Give Me 
Shakespeare:” Lajos Kossuth’s English as an Instrument of International Politics,’ 
in: Holger Klein and Peter Davidhazi, eds., Shakespeare and Hungary, 
Shakespeare Yearbookyol 7, NY., 1996, pp. 47-73 and “‘...to fix the attention 
of the whole world upon Hungary ...,” Lajos Kossuth in the United States, 
1851-52,’ The Hungarian Quarterly, Vol. 43, No. 166, Summer 2002, pp. 85-98. 



























- 























































































Comments on Tibor Frank’s Paper, ‘Marketing 

Hungary’ 


Daniel Abondolo 

To the student of Hungary, whatever her or his discipline, Lajos Kossuth 
must seem a quintessential^ paradoxical figure. Tibor Frank’s paper has 
stimulated my thinking along lines which persuade me to suggest a small 
thesis: In whatever disciplinary terms we frame the Kossuth paradox, the 
chief contrast may be boiled down to one which we may express meta¬ 
phorically as inside v. outside. I can outline this thesis most clearly and 
compactly in the form of questions. The questions have a philological 
bias, but practitioners from other disciplines will want to translate them, I 
hope, into terms articulated by their own training and practice. 

‘Shakespeare became a metaphor ...’ [221]. For metaphor, here, can 
we not usefully substitute metonymy, taken in the broadest, Jakobsonian, 
sense, i.e., embracing, inter alia, synecdoche? If by ‘sliding transitions’ 
[221] Grenzverschiebungstropen are meant, then Shakespeare can stand 
for England in the same and opposite way as Egypt may stand for Cleo¬ 
patra. By contrast, it is through metaphor properly so called that England 
may stand for freedom : metaphor is the Sprungtrope par excellence. 

Kossuth’s oratorical talents are the stuff of legend. And oratory is a 
forensic activity, more visibly societal than what at first glance appears to be 
the private practice of the poet. But oratory has a linguistic, and therefore a 
poetic, dimension, and one which is more profound and multi-layered than is 
usually appreciated. In attempting to assess contemporary judgements of 
Kossuth’s oratorical competence and performance, ought we not to try to 
distinguish content from form or, to put it in rhetorical terms, argument from 
ornatusl We read that ‘[Kossuth’s] intimate knowledge of a variety of clas¬ 
sical English authors, as well as his remarkable familiarity with the language 
of both English and American Romantics, strongly contributed to the vocab¬ 
ulary, the grammar and style of his English in the 1850s and early 1860s’ 
[229-230] but we are given no examples, i.e., specific confrontations of 
matter drawn from Shakespearean (or other English literary) texts with the 


251 


252 


Comments on Tibor Frank’s Paper, ‘Marketing Hungary ’ 


matter of Kossuth’s (transcribed) speeches. This is to leave to one side any 
consideration of the other streams of the multimedia experience of 
witnessing a public speech: for a textbook example of the distracting power 
of these, see G. S. Hillard’s account [243] of a Kossuth performance, in 
which numerous aspects of the percept are characterized — Kossuth’s 
stance, dress, appearance and endurance are all cited — but the language 
itself, i.e. Kossuth’s English, is not once described or even mentioned. G. S. 
Hillard may have been a master of rhetoric and an excellent orator, but ought 
we to confuse the kind of speaking which he did ‘in his own language’ — to 
quote him out of context — with Kossuth’s foreign-language endeavours? 

There is no doubt — in fact it is a commonplace, and badly needs 
new elucidation, elaboration, and documentation — that much of the 
work of Shakespeare exercised an important influence on the develop¬ 
ment of Hungarian literary language. Such influence is hinted at in cata¬ 
logues of the private libraries of noblemen, to be sure, but might be 
more sharply and convincingly delineated in texts, both Hungarian and 
English. What is the philological status of such texts? 

Returning to the linguistic layers of oratory: ought we not to attempt to 
distinguish Kossuth’s English from that of, say, Disraeli? By English here 
is meant every aspect of the language as made perceivable in speech, 
from the lowest-level phonetic detail (including voice quality) of a partic¬ 
ular utterance, on a particular occasion, by a particular individual, to the 
most abstract features of a culture: ‘Surely it is part of the meaning of an 
American to sound like one’ (J. R. Firth, cited by John Laver, The 
phonetic description of voice quality , Cambridge: Cambridge University 
Press, Cambridge Studies in Linguistics, No. 31, 1980, p. 5.). We have 
wax recordings of Kossuth speaking Hungarian; are there recordings of 
his English? Have they been assessed by phoneticians? Without such 
documentation, Kossuth’s performance is anecdotal, on at least the 
phonetic level. 

Returning to the question of metonymy, we must surely savour 
Kossuth’s irony in writing (or saying? — it is not clear which: another 
metonymic confusion) that ‘an English Dictionary and Shakespeare ... 
could have nothing to do with politics’ [234]. In a fascinating passage 
uncovered by Agnes Deak and quoted by Tibor Frank [238], Kossuth 
slides metonymically from politics, through philosophy, to psychology: in 
this utterance he is clearly aware that part of the evocative power of 
Shakespeare , for a nineteenth-century English-speaking audience, must 
be sought by invoking politics; compare here his contrasting of the 
‘visionary’ and the ‘practical man’ in his last speech in Boston, Massa¬ 
chusetts, 14 May 1852 (Francis W. Newman, Select Speeches of Kossuth. 


Daniel Abondolo 


253 


Condensed and Abridged, with Kossuth’s Express Sanction , New York: 
C. S. Francis & Co./Boston: Crosby, Nichols & Co., 1854, p. 368). Is 
there an element of mountebankery here? Only in the sense that Kossuth 
sought to conceal his own visionary qualities by distracting his audience 
with talk of praxis: we should recall that the visionary is a seer, and that 
the leading trope and topos of Hungarian literary self-definition, in the 
period of national classicism and beyond, was that of the poet as prophet 
(vates ). Would it not be in the interests of Kossuth’s rhetorical, i.e. public, 
external aims and aspirations to play down his poetic, i.e. personal, 
internal gifts and inspirations? When he calls Shakespeare ‘that mute but 
eloquent teacher of mine’ [238], he not only employs that most paradoxic 
of tropes, oxymoron: he also alludes to the fact (or myth, or both) that he 
learned to speak English not by speaking and listening, but by reading, 
not through the ears but with the eyes. (The question of phonetics arises 
here once again. Walker’s dictionary [228, footnote 42] did mark the 
stress of English words, but that is far from enough indication of their 
sound to a non-English speaker incarcerated in Buda.) 

Finally, there is the idea of Shakespeare as ‘rallying point’ [236]. Do 
we not see here, if not a reality, then at least a Hungarian projection, on to 
the English-speaking world, of its own desire that its greatest writers be 
recognized abroad? Views of Hungary from the inside can be understood 
only with the help of Hungarians’ views of their perception from the 
outside : and these views have been, for over two centuries, unremittingly 
negative only in the case of Hungary’s writers. The reason universally 
cited for this undeservedly low esteem is language, and specifically the 
uniqueness, remoteness, and alienness, — the idiosyncratic qualitas and 
quidditas — of the Hungarian language. For how else explain the world¬ 
wide recognition of achievements by Hungarian speakers in the fields of 
music, painting, sculpture, photography, and the cinema, not to mention 
mathematics, physiology, chemistry and physics, all fields in which 
linguistic qualitas and quidditas are far less important? Does not Kossuth 
offer, for Hungarian and English speakers alike, a tempting exception to 
this commonplace? The myth that he achieved such wide recognition 
outside, i.e. extra Hungariam , through his use of language is thus 
somehow, and unfortunately, more engaging than the philologist’s still 
unanswered question: Just what was his English like? 
























































































































































Contributors 


Daniel Abondolo 
Ian Armour 

Robert Evans 
Tibor Frank 
Andras Gergely 
George Gomori 
Robert Hermann 
Klara Kingston-Tiszai 
Robin Okey 
Gabor Pajkossy 
Laszlo Peter 
Martyn Rady 
Alan Sked 
Aladar Urban 


SSEES, University College London 

School of Humanities and Social Sciences, 
Staffordshire University 

University of Oxford 

ELTE, Budapest 

ELTE, Budapest 

University of Cambridge 

Institute of Military History, Budapest 

Laszlo Teleki Institute, Budapest 

Department of History, University of Warwick 

ELTE, Budapest 

SSEES, University College London 
SSEES, University College London 
London School of Economics 
ELTE, Budapest 


255 
















































































































































































Select Index 


Americans, 235, 241, 244-6, 249 
ancient constitution, 81, 89, 91 
Andrassy, Gyula, 193 
April Laws, 7, 9, 18, 30, 38-9, 44, 49, 
71-3, 79-82, 89-91, 110-1, 
139-41, 159, 163f, 170 
Arato, Endre, 129-30 
Armour, Ian, 205-8 
Asboth, Sandor, 66 
assimilation of non-Hungarians, 96, 
98, 101 

Astengo, Francesco, 196, 198 
Aulich, Lajos, 58 

Austria, Austrian Monarchy, 8, 23-8, 
33,39,57, 60, 104-5, 11 If, 128, 
148,153,156-7, 161-2, 170-1, 
174-7, 18Of, 193, 196-8, 202, 
207,211,216-9,237, 244-8; 
emperor, 23, 156; government, 7, 
20, 23,27-31,35,90, 110, 167, 
171, 175f, 247; National Bank, 
19-20 

Austroslavism, 156-7, 173 n 

Bach System, 138, 211 
Baillet de Latour, Count Theodor, 41 
Bajza, Jozsef, 26, 225-6 
Balcescu, Nicolae, 101, 185-6 
Balogh, Pal Almasi, 227, 231 n 
Bangya, Janos, 218 
Bamupi, Simion, 120 
Batthyany government, 7, 9, 45, 48, 
87, 90, 140, 147, 154n, 160 


Batthyany, Count Kazmer, 48, 58, 
66-7, 113-4, 193-4/1,219 
Batthyany, Count Lajos, 6-11, 16-19, 
21-23 n, 28-39, 41f, 50, 58, 78, 
87n, 90, 109-12, 117, 120, 124, 
140, 144, 147, 154, 158-61, 168, 
17 If, 178, 187, 193—4/2 
Bedekovic, Louis, 172 
Beecher Stowe, Harriet, 233-6 
Bern, Jozef, 47, 53, 61-8, 116, 120 
bene possessionati, 82 
Benes, E., 206 

Beniczky, Lajos, 66, 67 n, 132 n 
Beothy, Janos, 140 
Beothy, Odon, 48-9 
Blackwell, J.A., 17, 114, \16n 
Bohemia, 121, 135, 185, 188, 201 
Bonaparte, Louis Napoleon, 114, 136, 
217/1,218 

Bosnia-Hercegovina, 150, 189, 190, 
197-8, 207 

Boutwell, George S., 234 
Bratianu, Dumitru, 200 
Bright, John, 147, 213^1 
Bulgaria, 8, 185, 187, 198 
Bystrzonowski, Ludwik, 113 

Carrini, Marc Antonio, 190, 199-201 
Caroline Augusta, 172 
Carrosini, Giuseppe, 194, 195 n 
Cavour, Camillo Benso di, 192, 196, 
219 

Charles Albert, 111, 113 


257 


258 


Select Index 


dementis, Vladimir (Vlado), 128-9 
Chassin, Charles-Louis, 50 n, 106 
Cluss, Adolph, 217 
Cobden, Richard, 114, 147, 213-4 
Committee of National Defence 
(OHB), 7, 15, 37-9, 43-52, 55-6, 
68, 112 

Conservatives, 4, 6, 16, 73-4, 125, 220 
Constitution, 7, 45, 54, 59, 81-4, 
87-91,96, 102, 115, 138-^10, 142f, 
151f, 162f, 177, 182, 187, 222 
Constitution (March 1849), 59, 115 
Conversion of the constitution, 81-9, 
101, 139, 144, 156, 182 
Court, 7, 9, 16f, 26, 35-8, 54f, 71f, 84, 
88f, 100-1, 108-12, 115, 135, 137, 
143-6, 158-9, 166f, 178-80, 211, 
223 

Crimean War, 69, 188-9, 195 
Croatia, 7, 21,24, 31,41,71, 79, 85-7, 
90-1, 97, 104, 137-45, 149, 152f, 
168f, 175-7, 186-90, 195; Croatian 
Sabor, 85, 142f, 171-4; National 
Movement, 143 

Croats, 23-4, 35-7, 11 If, 123, 142-3, 
149, 157-8, 169f, 179-80, 185, 
192,207,212 

Csany, Laszlo, 34-6, 40, 58, 179 
Csemovics, Peter, 22 
Cuza, Alexandra, 200 
Czartoryski, Prince Adam, 107-8,113, 
135,185-8, 192 

Czech, Czechoslovak, 112, 12If, 
130-3, 157,205-6 
Czetz, Janos, 220 

Dalmatia, 85, 86/7, 109, 138, 157, 198 
Damjanich, Janos, 53 
Danubian confederation, 8, 10, 103-4, 
108, 113f, 135, 183-90, 193-207 
Deak, Agnes, 221/7, 236/7, 238-9/7, 

252 

Deak, Ferencz, 4-6, 10-11, 17f, 34f, 
45, 50, 80, 83, 87-8, 203 


Deak, Istvan, 4/7, 11/7, 12, 31/7, 37/7, 
42/7, 154, 172 

Declaration of Independence, 7, 10, 
38f, 40, 57-60, 80, 92, 106/7, 114, 
116, 139, 145, 154, 242 
Dembinksi, Henryk, 53, 61,65, 116 
Dessewffy, Arisztid, 67 
Dessewffy, Count Aurel, 11/7, 222, 
223/7 

Disraeli, Benjamin, 234, 252 
Dordevic, Dimitrije 184 
Drago§, loan, 60 
Draskovic, Count 145 
Duschek, Ferencz, 58, 66-7 

Egger, Count Ferdinand, 151, 153, 
159, 173 

emancipation of serfs, 5, 7, 10, 58, 
71-80, 90, 127/7, 131,208 
Engels, Friedrich, 212-9 
England, 8, 108, 136, 147, 153f, 
213-5, 221-4, 232-6, 240, 243, 
251 

English language, 1, 106,221,228-30, 
233-5, 238-40, 242 
Eotvos, Baron Jozsef, 5-6, 10-11,17, 
45,83,87, 208, 225 
Esterhazy, Mihaly, 47, 52 
Esterhazy, Prince Pal, 18/7, 27-8, 110, 
167, 169/7, 172, 176/7, 177 

Ferdinand, Emperor, 16f, 23, 26f, 35, 
39,41,90/7,91, 104, 108-9, 122, 
132, 151, 153, 156, 160f, 172f, 
196-7 

Ficquelmont, Count Carl Ludwig, 

164 

Foldvary, Gabor, 6 
France, 8, 21/7, 53, 105-8, 112-3, 
135-6, 154, 197,211,215,222 
Francis I, 150 

Frankfurt parliament, 28, 39, 107, 176 

Frank, Tibor, 251-2 

Franz, Archduke Karl, 161,164, 168 


Select Index 


259 


Franz Joseph, Emperor, 8, 9, 28, 50, 
66,91, 112, 114, 137, 146, 154, 
162,214 

Friedjung, Heinrich, 128 

Gaj, Ljudevit, 85, 137, 142/2, 158-9 
Galicia, 5, 71, 76, 85, 109, 116, 169 n, 
170 

Gal, Istvan, 1, 237f 
Garasanin, Ilija, 188, 192-5, 199-202, 
208 

Garibaldi, Giuseppe, 199, 208, 218-9 
German confederation, 108, 157 
German unification, 39 
Gesamt-Monarchie, 93; Gesamtstaat 
90 

Gilpin, Charles, 237 
Gladstone, William, 147 
Godwin, Parke, 235 
Golescu, Alexandru, 185-6 
Gorgei, Artur, 8, 10, 46, 50-8, 61-8, 
92, 106/2, 116, 181 
Griinwald, Bela, 126 
Guy on, Richard, 67 

Habsburg Empire, 8, 10, 105, 186, 
222, 244 

Habsburg Monarchy, 6, 13, 71, 83, 91, 
109, 125, 136f, 151, 156, 184-6, 
189-200, 208; Habsburgs, 56-57, 
109, 113, 135, 138, 153-5, 162-5, 
173f, 227 

Hajnal, Istvan, 108,116, 175 
Haynau, Julius, 62, 65, 116 
Herczegh, Geza, 109/2, 116 
Hillard, George Stillman, 243-7, 252 
Hodza, Michal, 120,124, 128-9 
Holyoake, G. J., 147/2 
Horvath, Mihaly, 17 
Hungarian official language, 84, 95, 
97; ‘civil society’, 1, 4, 81, 83; 
constitution, 45, 81, 82/2, 88, 138, 
168 

Hungarian National Directorate, 69 


Hungarian State, 83f, 90-3, 101, 138, 
189-90, 207-8 
Hrabovszky, Janos, 25 
Hugo, Victor, 113 
Hurban, Jozef M., 120, 124-6, 132, 
157 

Iancu, Avram, 60, 120 
Illyrism, 137, 151 
Imperial Constitution, 91, 156 
independence of Hungary, 1, 8, 24-5, 
57, 68-9, 80, 92, K)2f, 115, 140, 
148, 175, 197-8,212,241-4 
Independence War, 2, 10, 13, 81, 
106/2, 117, 212, 232, 248 
independent and responsible 
government, 7, 90, 139 
independent state, 58, 105, 175, 186 
Iranyi, Daniel, 55, 106 
Istvan, Archduke Palatine, 1, 16f, 22f, 
35-6, 58, 92 
Italian aid, 30-2 
Italian War of, 1859 195 
Italy, 2, 28, 31, 90-1, 113, 135f, 144, 
152, 167-70, 174f, 179/2, 196-9, 
206,215-9,238,245 
Ivanka, Zsigmond, 55 
Iveljic, Iskra, 141/2, 144, 156 

Janossy, Denes, 229 
Jaszi, Oscar, 3 n, 183 
Jelacic, Baron Josip, 7, 21,25f, 34-44, 
59, 63, 111, 120, 136-8, 141-59, 
167-82, 220 

Jerrold, Douglas William, 236-7 
John, Archduke, 26, 151, 158f, 172-5 
Jones, Ernest, 215 

Josika, Baron Miklos, 45, 47, 52, 158, 
225 

Kallay, Benjamin, 203, 207 
Karadordevic, Alexander, 195 
Katus, Laszlo, 187/2, 208 
Kazinczy, Ferenc, 230 


260 


Select Index 


Kazinczy, Gabor, 55 
Kecskemethy, Aurel, 207 
Kempen, Baron von F.M.L., 146, 149, 
151-3, 158, 178, 179/1 
kenyszerpalya, 116-7 
Klapka, Gyorgy, 52, 69, 188-90, 
195—201, 207, 218f 
Klauzal, Gabor, 18/?, 45 
Kmety, Gyorgy, 67 
Kosary, Domokos, An, 11-12 n, 13, 86 n, 
90 n, 107-8, 110, 112-7, 116/1, 183 
Kossuth, Dord’ (Durko), 131 
Kossuth, Lajos early life, 2-4, 226-7; 
editor, 4-5, 21-9, 227-8; 
nationality policy, 86, 95-104; 
emancipation of serfs, 71-80; in the 
National Assembly, 29-40; and 
constitutional reform, 81-93 and 
see conversion; cabinet minister, 
15f; financial measures, 18-21; in 
‘September Crisis’, 34-8; his 
oratorical skills, 5, 8, 11-13, 32, 
46, 57, 87, 136, 147-8,229, 233f, 
235, 242-4, 251-2; parliamentary 
dictator, 41-66; on foreign policy, 
105-17; Governor-president, 7-8, 
15, 38, 56-66, 80, 92; compared to 
Stur, 119-33; parallels with Jelacic, 
137-82; in exile, 102-3, 115, 153, 
184f, 21 If, 219-20; in Turkey, 68, 

188, 211,218, 232; in England, 
147, 153, 155, 213, 232-3, 235f; in 
the United States, 147; on Danubian 
confederation, 183-209; and Marx, 
211-8; and Shakespeare, 221, 
228-41; his English, 242f; ‘Kossuth 
Hirlapja’, 21 f 
Kovacs, Lajos, 55 
Kovy, Sandor, 3 
Kulmer, Franz, 158, 174/2 

Lamartine, 112 

Lamberg, Count Ferencz, 37—41, 

136/7, 179 


Ledru-Rollin, Alexandre, 219 

Lesjanin, Miloje, 201 

Lieber, Francis, 243-7 

Lincoln, Abraham, 148 

List, Friedrich, 86 

Lombardy, 23, 30, 71, 218 

Lonyay, Gabor, 48 

Ludwig, Archduke, 137, 158 165/7 

Ludwig I, 216 

Lukacs, Lajos, 190, 203 

Macartney, C.A., 2, 12, 81/7 
Macedonia, 205 
Macurek, Josef, 129 
Madarasz, Laszlo, 37, 44—9, 52, 55-6 
magyar alladalom, 92/7, 93 
magyarization, Ultra-Magyarism, 5, 
84, 86, 96, 126, 137, 169/7 
Marx, Karl, 211-8 
Marxism, 82, 90 
mandatory redemption, 73, 77 
Maria Theresa, 73, 150, 223 
Masaryk, Tomas G., 128, 206 
Matica Slovenska, 126 
Mazzini, Giuseppe, 185, 199, 208, 
216-9 

McCarthy, Justin, 240 
Messenhauser, Wenzel Casar, 180 
Meszaros, Lazar, 18, 32, 45, 48-9, 62, 
65 

Mettemich, Prince Clemens, 77-8, 88, 
135,227 

Mettemich system, 7, 88-9 
Military Frontier, 21, 58, 80, 85, 87n 
97, 141f, 147, 150, 169-73, 178 
Mod, Aladar, 105, 117 
Modernization theories, 82 
Moga, Janos, 181 
Moldavia, 185, 195-6, 200 
Montenegro, 189-90 
Montez, Lola, 216, 244 
Murgu, Eftimie, 115 

Napoleon III, 189, 195-7,219 


Select Index 


261 


Napoleon, Louis see Bonaparte, Louis 
Napoleon 

Napoleon, Prince, 196-7 
National Assembly, 7, 10, 15, 20, 
22-8, 32f, 38-47, 50-2, 55-60, 63, 
81,92, 102, 138, 143 
National Guard, 48, 79, 180 
nationalities, 59, 63, 95-104, 107-8, 

113- 5, 157, 183-190, 193-4, 
207-8,219 

Neue Rheinische Zeitung , 212 
Newman, Francis W., 252 
Nicholas I, 60 

Nyary, Pal, 29-30, 37,44-5, 47-9, 52, 
111 

Obrenovic, Michael, 196 
Obrenovic, Milos, 196, 198 
Opposition Manifesto, 77 
Orosz,. Istvan, 77 
Ottinger, Franz, 179 
Ottoman Empire, Turkey, Turks, 8, 68, 
116, 184-5, 188, 191-4, 196-200, 
202-3,208,211,218, 232 

Palacky, Frantisek, 109, 120-1 
Palffy, Janos, 2 n, 45, 52 
Palkovic, Juraj, 121, 124-5 
Palmerston, Henry John Temple, 8, 

114- 5, 213—4, 219, 240 
Paloczy, Laszlo, 228 
Panslavism, 96, 100, 123, 126 
Paskevich, Ivan, 62 

Pazmandy jr., Denes, 2In, 36, 44, 51, 
112 

Pazmandy sr.. Denes, 45, 48 
peace party in Debrecen, 51-2, 55, 57, 
92,213 

Perczel, Mor, 50-3, 56, 61-2 
Perenyi, Baron Zsigmond, 44-5, 47-8 
‘personal union’, 9, 87, 90, 109n, 156, 
175-6 

Pesti Hirlap 5, 9, 12n, 13, 17, 19, 2 In, 
75-6, 86, 120, 23In 


Peter, Laszlo, 138f, 165-6n, 175n 
Pillersdorf, Baron Franz, 25, 91, 170 
Pimodan, Georges de, 149 
Pipitz, von, his memorandum, 177 
Pirocanac, Milan, 198 
Podmaniczky, Frigyes, 203 
Poeltenberg, Emo, 66-7 
Poland, 113, 116, 135, 187-9, 206, 220 
polgari forradalom, 82 
Polish emigration, 113, 185-6 
Ponsonby, Lord (John), 17 
Pragmatic Sanction, 23, 29-30, 82n, 
90, 109-11, 162-5, 168, 175-7 
Principality of Serbia, 184, 188 
Proclamation of the Slavs, 25 
Prokesch-Osten, Anton von, 198 
Projet de Pacification, 101 
Prussia, 8, 122, 135 
Puchner, Baron Antal, 46, 53 
Pulszky, Ferencz, 21,48-9, 51, 108, 
114, 123-4, 136 n, 170, 175/2, 
180-1, 187, 190, 207,216, 233, 

241 

Queen Victoria, 214 

Raday, Gedeon, 48 
Radetzky, Joseph, 23, 60, 90, 111, 
136-7, 150 
Rajacic, Josef, 113 
Rapant, Daniel, 122 n, 125 n, 129 
Recsey, Baron Adam, 43 
Reichstag, 54, 71, 98, 115, 139/2, 144, 
157 

Richards, Alfred B., 239 
Riedl, Frigyes, 226 

Romanian(s), 8, 13, 25, 46, 60, 63, 85, 
99, 103, 112-5, 185, 190, 199 
Rudiger, Theodor, 67 
Russia, 8, 24-5, 53, 62-7, 100, 105-6, 
109, 112, 115, 143, 148, 151, 188, 
192, 195, 201, 216-7, 245-6, 248 
Russian intervention, 60-1, 100, 112, 
186 


262 


Select Index 


Sardinia, 8, 60, 105/2, 108, 174, 197 
Saxon universitas , 85 
Schlik, Franz, 50, 52-3 
Schwarzenberg, Felix, 116 
Serbs, Serbia(n), 31-2, 46, 59-60, 91, 
99, 102-4, 11 If, 140n, 149, 157, 
184-5, 188-99, 201-8 
Seton-Watson, R.W., 128, 241 
Settlement of 1867, 81, 117 
Shakespeare, William, 221,223-32, 
234-43,249n,251-53 
Sikorski, 206 

Slav congress in Prague, 124, 133, 157 
Slavonians, 142, 157, 171 
Slavs, 8, 13,25, 109, 112, 121f, 136, 
151-2, 156f, 158, 174-5, 188f, 212 
Slovak literary language, 123 
Slovak Memorandum of 1861, 126 
Slovak(s), 3, 98, 120-33, 146, 157, 
186,206 

Slovenske Narodne Noviny, 120, 124, 
132 

South Slavs, 8, 188, 190, 192 
Staatskonferenz, 16, 19, 155, 158-9, 
162-5; the State, 83, 90, 92-3, 101, 
103, 109 n, 139, 141, 161, 177 
Steed, Henry Wickham, 241 
Steier, Lajos, 129 
Stockau, Sophie, 146 
Stratimirovic, Djordje, 120, 146, 148 
Stur, Cudovit, 120-32 
Sublime Porte, 8, 24, 195 
Sumner, Charles, 244, 246-7 
Szabad, Gyorgey, 3, 155 
Szabo, Istvan, 77 
Szalay, Laszlo, 110-12 
Szechenyi, Count Ferenc, 222 
Szechenyi, Count Istvan, 4-6, 10-11, 
17-18, 39,45, 73-4, 83, 96, 160-2, 
166,224-5 
Szekels, 85 

Szemere, Bertalan, 7, 17, 18, 44-51, 
54, 58-67, 102, 106, 154, 207, 
219-20, 227 


Szemere government, 7, 61,63, 106 
Szent-Ivanyi, Karoly, 48 
Szentkiralyi, Moric, 77 
Szogyeny-Marich, Laszlo, 159 

Taylor, A.J.P., 3 n, 209 
Teleki, Count Adam, 36 
Teleki, Count Laszlo, 48, 69, 102, 
107-8, 112-7, 185-8, 193,200, 
207,219-22 
Temperley, H.W.V., 241 
The Times , 69n, 109n, 214, 216, 241 
Tkalac, Imbro, 156 

Transylvania, 46-8, 53, 56, 60, 63, 71, 
85, 90f, 97f, 104, 138f, 170-1, 
186-90, 200, 205 
Treaty of Miinchengratz, 60, 112 
Triune Kingdom, 8 6n, 157 
Tiirr, Istvan, 241 

Unitary Hungarian State, 85 
United States, 136, 148, 153, 216-7, 
228, 232-4, 240-5, 247-9 
Urban, Aladar, 107, 175 
Urbarial Patent of March, 1853 72 
USA, 8, 147, 153, 155 

Varga, Janos, 77-8 
Vecsey, Karoly, 67 
Vetter, Antal, 54, 56, 63, 217 
Victor Emmanuel II, 197, 199 
Vojvodina, 59, 91, 104, 140f, 157, 
186f, 193 

Vorosmarty, Mihaly, 223-6, 230 
Vukovics, Sebo, 48, 58, 202 

Waldapfel, Eszter, 107-12, 115 
Walewski, 197-8 
Walker’s dictionary, 228, 253 
Wallachia, 24-5, 63, 68, 185-6, 

195-6, 200 

Washington, George, 242, 245 
Welden, Ludwig, 57 
Werboczy, Stephen 73 


Select Index 


263 


Wesselenyi, Baron Miklos, 4, 6, 11, 
73, 76, 83 

Wessenberg cabinet, 26 
Windischgraetz, Prince Alfred, 146, 
162, 180, 187 


Zako, Istvan, 43 
Zamoyski, Wladyslaw, 68, 
187-8 

Zay, Imre, 121-6, 131 
Zay, Karoly, 122, 131 






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