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Hungary During the Age of Reform

István Széchenyi's political programme

Count Széchenyi had his father and uncle as an example in front of him. His travels to Western Europe boosted his ideas on how to improve the old-fashioned, feudal Hungary.

In the 19th century, he introduced the National Casino in Pest, which became the meeting point of the young people, horse races, which contributed to connecting Hungary with Western Europe, he made the Chain Bridge built, encouraged horse-breeding, insisted on steam-shipping on the river Danube and he established the Academy of Sciences, to where he also offered his own library. He supervised the regulation of the Danube and the Tisza. By initiating silk-worm farms, he wanted Hungary to have unique silk to sell. He also wanted to enhance the agricultural development and trade.

He had multiple books and theories as well, for example in 1830, he wrote his first book, Credit, where he contributed that in Hungary there was lack of capital and credit, also the nobility was considered non-credit worthy, since the laws of Entailment and Fiscalitas set back the modernising of the country and the appearance of the capitalism. These dated back to the Middle Ages. The Hungarian landowners would be much poorer if they started to modernise their estates.

In 1831 in Light, he shared interests of capital and labour. In his last work, Stages, he chronologically lists the necessary economical and social reforms and he explains all of them easily understandably.

For example, he implied the abolition of serfdom, socage work and the feudal duties and insisted on introducing wage labouring. Another idea of his were, everyone should be equal before the law, the government should stop from interfering in the country's economy. He wanted to modernise the infrastructure by building better roads and railways and more bridges. And one of the most important idea of his was to make Hungarian the official language of the country.

Lajos Kossuth's political programme

Lajos Kossuth was born into a landless, lower noble family in 1802. He followed his father to study law and he was invited as a representative to the 1832-36 Parliament. He edited the Dietal Reports, where he accurately reported the debates, since there was a censorship, his reports were copied by hand-writing. Later he edited the Municipal Reports and thus he extended the public sphere and knowledge on politics.

The Habsburg government wanted to silence the opposition, so after Miklós Wesselényi and László Lovassy, he was also imprisoned for 3 years.

After he gained amnesty through the 1839-40 Parliament, he started editing “The Pest News” in January 1841. He revolutionised journalism: instead of writing the dry chronicling of events, it was marked by reasoning.

For his programme, he needed support, especially from Ferenc Deák and the liberals led by him, so he tried not to be too radical with his ideas.

The main point was a real union of interests: the nobility could start modernising only if they renounced their privileges and reconciled their interests with the rest of the society.

He emphasised to liberate the serfs to avoid revolution, to abolish the entailment to help the landlords start modernising and to have public taxation.

He also advocated that everyone should be equal before the law and to have political independence, Hungary should have economic independence first.

Another important point was to reunite Transylvania with Hungary.

Political Polarization

Before the revolution of 1848


The cautious progressives: Young aristocrats: new conservatives said, minimum reforms are needed to secure the support of the more liberal aristocracy (cautious progressives). They wanted to drive a wedge between the radical Kossuth and the less radical Széchenyi, Batthyány and Deák.

Metternich said, new conservatives are effective against liberalism in Hungary, stronghold of the liberal opposition was the nobiliary county, appointed Count György Apponyi to direct the Hungarian and Baron Samu Jósika the Transylvanian Chancelery in 1844. He introduced system of administrators, who were instead of ispáns. In 1846: Conservative Part, they avoided compulsory redemption of serfs, general taxation & abolition of entailment.

Political polarisation among the Hungarian liberals: different political group (the centralists) Széchenyi was in the moderate wing, Kossuth with his radical reforms, Revolutionary democrats were even more radical and the Centralists (József Eötvös, László Szalay, Ágoston Trefort): rejected nobiliary county, advocated constitutional centralisation. Ideal form of government was a strong, central government responsible to the parliament.

Metternich could push Kossuth aside. He was made to resign as the editor of the Pesti Hírlap but he didn’t give up and found a new forum: the Protectionist Assotiation

The opposition took the challenges of 1846 and they wanted to create a nation-wide political organisation. In February 1864 an anti-Habsburg revolt broke out in Cracow and Galicia where the deep-rooted conflict and hatred made the peasants turn against their landlords: the revolution was bloodily suppressed.

Kossuth took the initiative → urged the nobility to take action, reform was inevitable

→ in 1847 the Opposition Party was founded by Kossuth, Deák and Batthyány

Kossuth worked out the Opposition Manifesto: abolition of serfdom, abolition of entailment, equality before the law, freedom of religion, speech, representative parliament, responsible government, union of Hungary and Transylvania.

The last feudal parliament was opened in 1847: leader was Kossuth in the Lower House, Batthyány in the Upper House. The municipal tax, abolishment of entailment were accepted but general tax and compulsory redemption of serfs were rejected.

In February 1848 wave of revolutions came, since the Hungarian parliament would not have brought about an end to feudal society and economy and founded a modern civil and bourgeois order in its place.

Another political group in Café Pilvax was the Revolutionary Democrats, they were more radical than Kossuth. It consisted of Hungarian intllectuals: Sándor Petőfi, János Vajda, Mór Jókai, Mihály Táncsics, Pál Vasvári, József Irinyi. They called themselves the revolutionary democrats: wanted fundamental changes without considering the interests of the nobility and they idealized the French Revolutionary

The 12 Points and the April Laws

Before the April Laws came the 12 Points, which was drafted by the revolutionary democrats. These summed up the demands of the liberal opposition. For example, freedom of the press, a responsible government was needed, they wanted annual parliaments in Pest, demanded everyone’s equality before the law, national Militia should be formed, general taxation was needed to be introduced, they wanted to abolish the serfdom, juries and courts should be based on an equal representation, a National Bank was needed and the army must take an oath to the Constitution, they should release political prisoners and they demanded the union with Transylvania.

The April Laws were based on these 12 Points and were sanctioned by Ferdinand V on 11th April, 1848. The constitution made Hungary a modern parliamentary democracy by laying the foundation of a fairly democratic political system, modernised the society by guaranteeing liberal rights to all citizens.

The independent, responsible government became the new executive power, it is responsible to the parliament, independent of the court.

Hungary became a hereditary constitutional monarchy, which preserved the link with the Habsburg Monarchy through the person of the king. The palatine was made the deputy of the king with full powers in the king’s absence.

The annually convened legislature consisted of an upper house of the titled nobility and a lower house elected every 3 years.

The manifestation of rights to freedom was a basic demand of Liberalism: Citizens became equal before the law. All serfs were liberated from personal bondage and manorial obligations and the peasants became the owners of the plots where they worked.

Entailment and tax privileges were both abolished and the press gained freedom as well as religious liberty was guaranteed.

They also proclaimed the reunion of Hungary and Transylvania.