From neo-absolutism to Compromise
After the defeat of the Hungarian revolution, brutal retaliatory measures were decreed by the Austrian authorities. Officers, officials and other representatives of the revolution were court-martialled.
A total of 4,628 cases were dealt with, and thirteen generals and 114 other persons were executed. Thousands were imprisoned and their assets confiscated. Those who had fled in time, like the Hungarian revolutionary leader Lájos Kossuth, were sentenced to death in their absence.
In the long term, the bloody triumph of the imperial powers rebounded on them: the court martials in Arad were stylized by the Magyars as a national tragedy and became a rallying point for anti-Habsburg sentiments.
A political consequence of the Habsburg victory was the repeal of the historical constitution, which had been a symbol of Hungarian statehood. The new administration introduced on the instruction of the central government in Vienna and staffed by German-speaking officials was rejected outright as foreign rule. The reorganization of the country and the abolition of the comitatuses were designed to destroy the Hungarian state. Croatia-Slavonia and Transylvania became crown lands in their own right, and the Serbian Voivodeship and Banat were given special rights. These measures upset even the pro-Habsburg sectors of Hungarian society. The Hungarians themselves put up stubborn passive resistance.
When the supranational Reichsrat (imperial council) was established on the basis of the February Patent of 1861 – a concession by the neo-absolutist regime of Emperor Franz Joseph designed unsuccessfully as a basis for a toothless version of parliamentarianism – it was boycotted by the Magyars. Instead the newly established Hungarian parliament became a platform for protests.
All representatives of the Magyar elites were united in their rejection of the centralist imperial policy. Whereas the hardliners among them were entrenched in their opposition to it, the moderates led by Ferenc Deák (1803–76) sought to negotiate with the Viennese government. This brought about a normalization of relations and ultimately a compromise. The final trigger came with the defeat at Königgrätz in 1866, by which Austria forfeited its role in the unification of Germany. To maintain the viability of the Monarchy, Franz Joseph had to do something about the greatest internal trouble spot, the continuing rejection by Hungary of the Austrian supranational state.
Franz Joseph was no longer able to ignore the Hungarian demands, for one thing because of the special role of the Hungarian kingdom within the Habsburg Monarchy. Hungary was by far the largest historical state entity in the Monarchy, without whose enormous resources the Habsburg Empire could not have maintained its status as a major power.
For their part, the realists among the political leaders of the Magyars were aware that the privileged status of the Magyars in Hungary and even the existence of their fervently admired kingdom could be preserved only within the framework of the Habsburg Monarchy. In view of the striving for emancipation of the ethnic minorities in the country, the developments in the Balkans, and Russian expansionism, a Magyar nation state would have had little chance of survival on its own.
The stable political situation that prevailed after the Compromise with Hungary thanks to the authoritarian style of the Hungarian governments increased Franz Joseph’s trust in the Hungarians. He felt in fact that his rule was more firmly established in Hungary than in Cisleithania, which was fraught with nationalist struggles.
Translation: Nick Somers
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Tóth, István György (Hrsg.): Geschichte Ungarns, Budapest 2005
- The Magyars and the Habsburg Monarchy
- From ‘Natio Hungarica’ to Magyar nation
- Pride of the nation: the Hungarian nobility
- The Hungarian war of independence 1848/49
- From neo-absolutism to Compromise
- Élyen a Magyar – long live the Magyars! Hungarian Magyarization policy
- The crisis of dualism
- István Graf Tisza: Hungary’s ‘strong man’