The Emperor’s attack upon the language of the nation irremediably broke the last tie between him and the country, and henceforth the relations between them could be only hostile.
Continuing Joseph II Attempts Reform In Hungary,
our selection from Story of Hungary by Arminius Vambery published in 1887. The selection is presented in four easy 5 minute installments.
Previously in Joseph II Attempts Reform In Hungary.
It would, therefore, have been an easy matter for Joseph to replace the Latin language, which had become an anachronism, by the Hungarian, and thus to restore the latter to its natural and legal position in the state. He was perfectly right in ridding the country of the mastery of a dead tongue, but he committed a most fatal error in trying to substitute for it the German, an error which avenged itself most bitterly. Joseph entertained a special antipathy to the Hungarian tongue, a dislike which betrayed him into omitting the teaching of the native language from the course of public instruction, and refusing to allow an academy of sciences to be established which had its cultivation for its object.
The Emperor’s attack upon the language of the nation irremediably broke the last tie between him and the country, and henceforth the relations between them could be only hostile. The counties assumed a threatening attitude, some of them refusing obedience altogether. Thus most of them declined to give their official cooperation to the army officers who had been delegated by the Emperor to take the census. The count, nevertheless, proceeded, but in many places the inhabitants escaped to the woods, and in some there were serious riots in consequence of the opposition to the commissioners of the census.
A rising of a different character took place among the Wallachs. The Wallachs, smarting under abuses of long standing, buoyed up by exaggerated expectations consequent upon the Emperor’s innovations, and stirred up by evil-minded agitators, took to arms and perpetrated the most outrageous atrocities against their Hungarian landlords. The ignorant common people were assured by their leaders, Hora and Kloska, that the Emperor himself sided with them. The Wallach insurgents assassinated the Government’s commissioners sent to them, destroyed sixty villages and one hundred eighty-two gentlemen’s mansions, and killed four thousand Hungarians before they could be checked in their bloody work. Although they were finally crushed and punished, a strong belief prevailed in the country that the court of Vienna had been privy to the Wallach rising.
Joseph subsequently laid down most humane rules regulating the relations between the bondmen and their landlords. But the country could not be appeased by any boon, especially as the high protective tariff, just then established for the benefit of the Austrian provinces, was seriously damaging the prosperity of the people. Joseph’s foreign policy tended to increase the domestic disaffection. In 1788 he declared war against Turkey, but the campaign turned out unsuccessful, and nearly terminated with the Emperor’s capture. The nation, emboldened by his defeat, urged now more emphatically her demands, and requested the Emperor to annul his illegal edicts, to submit to be crowned, and to restore the ancient constitution. Joseph continuing to resist her demands, most of the counties refused to contribute in aid of the war either money or produce. In addition to their recalcitrant attitude, they most energetically pressed the Emperor to convoke the Diet at Buda, a few counties going even so far as to insist upon the chief justice’s convoking it, if the Emperor failed to do so before May, 1790.
The courage of the nation rose still higher when the news of the Revolution in France and the revolt in Belgium reached the country. The people refused to furnish recruits and military aid, and the Emperor was compelled to use violence in order to obtain either. The counties remained firm and continued to remonstrate in addresses characterized by sharp and energetic language. Joseph yielded at last. He was prostrated by a grave illness, and, feeling his end approaching, he wished to die in peace with the exasperated nation he had so deeply wounded. On January 28, 1790, he retracted all his illegal edicts, excepting those that had reference to religious toleration, the peasantry, and the clergy, and reestablished the ancient constitution of the country. Soon after he sent back the crown to Buda, where its return was celebrated with great pomp, amid the enthusiastic shouts of the people. Before he could yet convoke the Diet death terminated the Emperor’s career on February 20th.
The world lost in him a great and noble-minded man, a friend to humanity, who, however, had been unable to realize all his lofty intentions. The effect of his reign was to rouse Hungary from the apathy into which it had sunk, and at the time of Joseph’s death the minds of the people were a prey to an excitement no less feverish than that which had seized revolutionary France at the same period. But while in Paris democracy was victorious over royalty, the latter had to yield in Hungary to the privileged nobility. The restored constitution was a charter of political privileges for the nobles only, and as such was most jealously guarded by them. This class kept a strict watch over the liberal tendencies of the age, preventing the importation of democratic ideas from France from fear of harm to their exclusive immunities.
Joseph was succeeded by his brother, Leopold II, who until now had been Grand Duke of Tuscany. The new ruler was as enlightened as his predecessor, and had as much the welfare of the people at heart; but he respected, at the same time, the laws and the constitution. He immediately convoked the Diet in order to be crowned, and by this act he solemnly sealed the peace with the nation. The people hailed with joy this first step of their new King, and there was nothing in the way of their now obtaining lawfully from the good-will of the King the salutary legislation which Joseph had attempted to force arbitrarily upon them. But the fond hopes in this direction were doomed to disappointment. The national movement had not helped to power those who were in favor of progress, equality of rights, and democracy.
No doubt there were people in the country who differed from the men in authority, who were sincerely attached to the doctrines of the French Revolution and eager to supplant the privileges of the nobles by the broader rights belonging to all humanity. The national literature was in the hands of men of this class. They combated the reactionary spirit of the nobility, and contended for the recognition of the civil and political rights of by far the largest portion of the people, the non-nobles. They boldly and with generous enthusiasm wielded the pen in defense of those noble ideas, and indoctrinated the people with them as much as the restraints placed upon the press allowed it at that period. They succeeded in obtaining recruits for their ideas from the very ranks of the privileged classes, and many an enlightened magnate admitted that the time had arrived for modernizing the Constitution of Hungary by an extension of political rights.
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* Picture from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_II,_Holy_Roman_Emperor#/media/File:Joseph_Hickel_(attr)_Joseph_II_als_Mitregent_seiner_Mutter.jpg