Hungarians campaign for independence from Austrian Empire, 1859-1867
In the 1840s there were high tensions between Hungary and the Austrian Empire. Hungary, a part of the larger Austrian Empire, was characterized by nationalistic fervor and that feeling erupted in a violent insurgency in 1848.
Franz Josef, the emperor of the Austrian Empire, forcefully put down the rebellion, with assistance from Russian military forces. After the failed rebellion, the repression from the Austrian Empire only increased.
Executions were commonplace and police spies were everywhere. In addition, the constitution was withdrawn and the county assemblies of Hungary were dissolved.
Although these are all negative responses resulting from the violent rebellion, Austria’s violent repression of the rebellion increased nationalist spirit in Hungary and united the people with independence as a common goal.
Ferencz Deák spent the following years organizing his people through voluntary associations that encouraged nationalism. Throughout Hungary, there were groups promoting the Magyar language and music, as well as self-help in business and agriculture.
In 1859, Josef needed the assistance of Hungarians in fighting Napoleon III. When he saw the uncooperative Hungarian people, he learned that the nationalism he had fought to suppress was still flourishing in Hungary.
The leadership of the Hungarian military was uncooperative and the troops were unreliable. In order to appease the Hungarian people, Josef restored the county assemblies and made a popular Hungarian general the governor of the country.
Josef also set up a federal Parliament in Vienna with representation from all the provincial assemblies, including Hungary. While some Hungarians were satisfied with the restoration of their rights and establishment of the Parliament, most remained determined in their dream of Hungarian independence.
Following the reestablishment of the county assemblies, there were demonstrations against Austrian rule in Hungary. In addition, as a sign of protest, the newly reinstated county assemblies refused to vote for the raising of recruits for the army or the collection of taxes.
In February 1861, Josef attempted to establish a bicameral legislature for the entire Austrian Empire, including Hungary. He wanted the Imperial Parliament of Austria to have more power, but Hungary’s own parliament was still given little power.
Following this announcement, the Hungarian Parliament met and sent a message to the Emperor stating that Hungary would not recognize the right of the Imperial Parliament to legislate Hungarian affairs.
The Hungarian Parliament argued that they would cooperate with Austria only if the Austrian Empire would recognize the ancient Constitution of Hungary, with the emperor becoming a constitutional monarch.
Following this statement by the Hungarian Parliament, Josef responded by dissolving the Hungarian Parliament. When the leading county assembly protested, Josef dissolved that assembly as well.
Despite this order by the emperor, the assembly continued to meet until Austrian soldiers entered their meeting chamber and physically carried out the members of the assembly in August of 1861.
Following the eviction of the assembly members by the Austrian troops, a supporting crowd of Hungarians gathered outside the chambers. The crowd then held a march through the streets, eventually ending up at the home of the chairman of the council who declared “We have been dispersed by tyrannic force—but force shall never overawe us.”
As word of this action spread across Hungary, the notion of Austrian resistance became a nationwide phenomenon. The Hungarians in the bureaucracy refused to transfer their jobs to the Austrians, which left the administration in chaos.
Ordinary Hungarians who did not have bureaucracy positions refused to pay taxes to the Austrian Empire and also boycotted Austrian goods. As such actions spread throughout the Hungarian population, Deák emphasized the importance of nonviolence and constitutional legality.
For example, when an Austrian tax collector came to collect money, Hungarians told him that he was acting illegally and continued to refuse to pay.
When the police were called to seize the goods of protesting Hungarians, the Hungarian auctioneers refused to auction the goods. Naturally, Austrian auctioneers were brought in, but the Hungarian people refused to bid.
To combat these actions of protest, Josef imposed martial law and began repressive actions against protesters. He declared the boycott of Austrian goods illegal, and soon boycott organizers were overflowing the prisons in Hungary.
Josef also began stationing Austrian soldiers in Hungarian households in an attempt to destroy the resistance. Unfortunately for Josef, this lowered soldier morale more than it hurt the movement, and resistance continued.
Furthermore, Josef attempted to appease the nationalist movement by granting the boycott organizers in jail amnesty as political prisoners. In response to this, the Hungarians added a new verse criticizing the Austrian Empire to their satirical song, “The Austrian Thieves.”
In the years that followed, the resistance continued. New nationalist literature was written, and the voluntary associations became the informal government of Hungary, with Parliament using the groups to spread news and policies throughout the country.
This continued even during an economic recession in 1863. On June 6, 1865, Josef visited Pesth, the capital of Hungary. There were only a few Hungarians who displayed flags of the empire because so many others were part of the nationalist movement that opposed the Austrian Empire.
The governor of Pesth was pro-Austrian and thus encouraged the whole city to fly the Austrian flag. Rather than displaying the flag of the empire, however, Hungarians across the city displayed the green, white, and red official flag of independent Hungary.
What greatly helped the Hungarian nationalist movement was the conflict brewing between Austria and Prussia. In an attempt to satisfy Hungary, Josef reestablished the Hungarian Parliament.
This was followed by the resumption of the Hungarian Parliament sending demands to Josef for the restoration of the constitution and county assemblies.
Josef, pressured by the full-scale war he was waging with Prussia, attempted to gain Hungarian support in the war by promising autonomy. The Hungarians remained opposed to assisting Austria in the war, even after Josef mandated the conscription of Hungarian people for service against the Prussians.
He eventually gave up in his efforts to gain support from the Hungarian people. On June 8, 1867, Franz Josef was named the King of Hungary after he agreed to rule as a constitutional monarch with the restored authority of the Hungarian Parliament over Hungarian affairs.
When Ferencz Deák was offered the position of Hungarian Prime Minister, he refused because he wished to continue to serve his country in a quieter lifestyle.