Today’s installment concludes Joseph II Attempts Reform In Hungary,
our selection from Story of Hungary by Arminius Vambery published in 1887.
If you have journeyed through all of the installments of this series, just one more to go and you will have completed a selection from the great works of four thousand words. Congratulations!
Previously in Joseph II Attempts Reform In Hungary.
Their number was swelled also by the more intelligent portion of the inhabitants of the cities, and those educated patriotic people who, although no gentle blood flowed in their veins, had either obtained office under Joseph’s reign or had imbibed the political views of that monarch. But all of these men combined formed but an insignificant fraction of the people compared to the numerous nobility, who, after their enforced submission during ten years, were eager to turn to the advantage of their own class the victory they had achieved over Joseph. During the initial preparations for the elections to the Diet, and in the course of the elections, sentiments were publicly uttered and obtained a majority in the county assemblies, which caused a feverish commotion among the common people and the peasantry.
The latter especially now eagerly clung to innovations introduced by the Emperor Joseph, so beneficial as regarded their own class, and were reluctant to submit to the restoration of the former arbitrary landlord system. Their remonstrances were answered by the counties to the effect that Providence had willed it so that some men should be kings, others nobles, and others again bondmen. Such cruel reasoning failed to satisfy the aggrieved peasantry. Symptoms of a dangerous revolutionary spirit showed themselves throughout a large portion of the country, and an outbreak could be prevented only by the timely assurance, on the part of the counties, that the matter would be submitted to the Diet about to assemble.
The Diet, which had not been convened for twenty-five years, opened in Buda in the beginning of June, 1790. The coronation soon took place. Fifty years had elapsed since the last similar pageant had been enacted in Hungary. After a lengthy and vehement contest extending over ten months, in the course of which the Diet was removed from Buda to Presburg, the laws of 1790-1791, which form part of the fundamental articles of the Hungarian Constitution, were finally passed. By them the independence of Hungary as a state obtained the fullest recognition. The laws, which were the result of the coõperation of the crown and the Estates, declared that Hungary was an independent country, subject to no other country, possessing her own constitution, by which alone she was to be governed.
Important concessions were also made to the rights of the citizens of the country. The privileges of the nobility were left intact, but the extreme wing of the reactionary nobles had to rest satisfied with this acquiescence in the former state of things, and were not allowed to push the narrow-minded measures advocated by them. The majority of the Diet was influenced in their wise moderation, partly by the exalted views of the King and to a greater extent yet by the disaffected spirit rife among the people, and especially threatening among the Serb population of the country. The laws secured the liberties of the Protestant and the Greek united churches, remedied the most urgent griefs of the peasantry, and declared those who were not noble capable of holding minor offices. Although the most important measures of reform were put off to a future time by the Diet of 1790-1791, several preparatory royal commissions having been appointed for their consideration, yet the work it accomplished was the salutary beginning of a liberal legislation which culminated, not quite sixty years later, in the declaration of the equal rights of the people as the basis of the Hungarian commonwealth.
After the meeting of this Diet, however, very little was done in the direction of reforms. The good work was interrupted, partly by the premature death of Leopold II (March 1, 1792), and partly by the warlike period, extending over twenty-five years, which, in Hungary as throughout all Europe, claimed public attention, and diverted the minds of the leaders of the nation from domestic topics. Francis I, the son and successor of Leopold II, caused himself to be crowned in due form, and much was at first hoped from his reign. But the Jacobin rule of terror in Paris, and the dread of seeing the revolutionary scenes repeated in his own realm, wrought a complete change in his character and policy.
He soon stubbornly rejected every innovation, and gradually became a pillar of strength for the European reaction, that extravagant conservatism which expected to efface the effects of the French Revolution by an unquestioning adherence to the old and traditional order of things. This illiberal spirit of the monarch rendered impossible for the time any further reform movement in Hungary. Every question of desirable change met with the most obstinate opposition on the part of the King, and the reforms submitted by the royal commissions were considered by every successive Diet without ever becoming law.
The period which now followed was gloomy in the extreme, as well for Hungary as for the Austrian provinces of Francis I. The inhabitants of these countries were constantly called upon by the King in the course of the wars to make sacrifices in treasure and blood, by furnishing recruits and by paying high taxes. At the same time the Government resorted to the most absolute and arbitrary measures to prevent the people from being contaminated with French ideas. The press was crushed by severe penalties. Every enlightened idea was banished from the schools and expunged from the school-books. Only men for whose extreme reactionary spirit the police could vouch were appointed to the professorships or to other offices. A system of universal spying and secret information caused everybody to be suspected and to suffer from private vindictiveness, while those who dared to avow liberal views were the objects of cruel persecution.
This ends our series of passages on Joseph II Attempts Reform In Hungary by Arminius Vambery from his book Story of Hungary published in 1887. This blog features short and lengthy pieces on all aspects of our shared past. Here are selections from the great historians who may be forgotten (and whose work have fallen into public domain) as well as links to the most up-to-date developments in the field of history and of course, original material from yours truly, Jack Le Moine. – A little bit of everything historical is here.
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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