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Hungary against the Habsburgs: March 3, 1848

Lajos Kossuth

For many years, Hungary and Austria had shared the same monarch (who was emperor in Austria, but king in Hungary), but not the same laws. Unlike Austria, and the rest of the Habsburg domains, Hungary had her own constitution. Hungary had her own diet, which was supposed to meet every three years in the city of Pressburg (or Poszony or Bratislava), located on Hungary’s border with Austria.

Hungary had performed great and important services for her Habsburg rulers, both in the wars against Friedrich the Great of Prussia and in the struggle against Napoleon. Hungarians had suffered much for their Habsburg kings.

Yet, for about 13 years after the defeat of Napoleon, Emperor Franz I, influenced by Metternich, did not call a single meeting of the Hungarian Diet. This was a problem, for the Magyar middle class, nobility, and intellectuals were growing more Liberal and nationalistic. Nationalists demanded greater independence for Hungary. They wanted to make the Magyar language, instead of Latin, the official language of government and education. Liberals wanted a number of political reforms as well as greater freedom for non-Catholics in Hungary to practice their religion.

Hungary’s Liberals, however, had split into two factions – those who wanted slower, more moderate changes and those who favored more extreme measures. The leader of the extremists was Lajos Kossuth, the editor of a political newspaper.

A nobleman from northern Hungary, Kossuth believed that political and social changes needed to be forced on Hungary – by violence, if necessary. A Lutheran, he demanded complete religious freedom for non-Catholics in Hungary. He said Hungarian law should allow Catholics and non-Catholics to marry. He favored a rapid growth of industrvy in Hungary.

On account of his political activity, Kossuth was imprisoned in 1837 on charges of treason and spent the next four years in jail. When released, he again took up the causes he championed, especially Magyar nationalism. Kossuth was such a strong nationalist that he opposed granting equal political rights to Slavs, Croats, Ruthenians, and other minority nationalities in Hungary.

Though split into factions, the Magyar Liberals did unite to push a program called the Ten Points through the Hungarian Diet. The “points” demanded popular representation in the diet, equality for everyone before the law, and absolute religious liberty. But getting the diet to approve the Ten Points would be nearly impossible, for a majority of the delegates were opposed to them. Kossuth threw himself into the effort with all the zeal of his fiery temperament.

Prince Klemens von Metternich, chancellor of Austria — a man who guided the destiny of Europe from 1815 to 1848

Yet Kossuth and the Liberals would have failed had they not received unexpected help from abroad. News of the 1848 revolution in Paris reached Pressburg in late February and greatly encouraged the Magyar Liberals. On March 3, 1848, Kossuth delivered an address to the diet. Not just Hungary, he said, but the entire Austrian Empire needed reform. Hungary, Kossuth declared, could not hope for freedom if Austria and Bohemia were still in chains.

The lower chamber of the diet enthusiastically approved Kossuth’s address. It had only to be delivered to the upper chamber. But before that happened, an event occurred that not only convinced the diet to approve Kossuth’s reforms, but shook the foundations of the political and social order of Europe.

Music and Dance of the Magyars

The Verbunkos style came to characterize much of Hungarian music and dance in the 19th century. It became a symbol of Hungarian nationalism. The style was derived from the music used by military recruiters in the 18th century, and its melodies come from Hungarian and, some say, Gypsy folk music.

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