On 15 March 1848, mass demonstrations in Pest and Buda enabled Hungarian reformists to push through a list of 12 demands. Under governor and president Lajos Kossuth and the first Prime Minister, Lajos Batthyány, the House of Habsburg was dethroned.
The events leading to the revolution of 1848
The Hungarian Diet had not convened since 1811. In 1825, Emperor Francis II convened the Diet in response to growing concern amongst the Hungarian nobility with regard to taxes and the diminishing economy following the wars. This sparked the Reform Period (Hungarian: reformkor) of Hungary. This period enjoyed slow progress, as the nobles insisted on retaining their privileges (no taxation, exclusive voting rights, etc.). Accordingly, the achievements were of mostly national and symbolic character (e.g. introduction of Hungarian as one of the official languages of the country, instead of the former Latin).
Count István Széchenyi, one of the most prominent statesmen of the country recognized the urgent need of modernization and his message got through. The Hungarian Parliament was summoned once again in 1825 to handle financial needs. A liberal party emerged in the Diet. The party focused on providing for the peasantry. Lajos Kossuth - famous journalist at that time - emerged as leader of the lower people gentry in the Parliament. Their aspiration was to construct a modern state based on a democratic liberal, constitutional system and civil equality. Habsburg monarchs tried to preclude the industrialisation of the country. A remarkable upswing started as the nation concentrated its forces on modernisation even though the Hapsburg monarchs obstructed all important liberal laws about the human civil and political rights and economic reforms. Many reformers (like Lajos Kossuth, Mihály Táncsics) were imprisoned by the authorities.
The revolution of 1848 and the war for independence
The revolution started on March 15, 1848, with bloodless events in Pest and Buda (mass demonstrations forcing the imperial governor to accept all demands) followed by various insurrections throughout the kingdom, which enabled Hungarian reformists to declare Hungary's autonomy within the Habsburg Empire, under the governor Lajos Kossuth and the first Prime minister Lajos Batthyány. The new government approved a sweeping reform package, referred to as the "March Laws", that essentially created an autonomous national kingdom of Hungary with the Habsburg Emperor as its king. They also demanded that the Hungarian government receive and expend all taxes raised in Hungary and have authority over Hungarian regiments in the Habsburg army.
The revolution of 1848 in Hungary grew into a war for independence from Habsburg rule. István Széchenyi, Lajos Kossuth, Józef Bem, Sándor Peto"fi were the most respected national figures in Hungarian History. They were not only leaders but even participants during that time.
The Habsburg Ruler and his advisors skillfully manipulated the Croatian, Serbian and Romanian peasantry, led by priests and officers firmly loyal to the Habsburgs, and induced them to rebel against the Hungarian government. The Hungarians were supported by the vast majority of the Slovak, German and Rusyn nationalities and by all the Jews of the kingdom, as well as by a large number of Polish, Austrian and Italian volunteers. In July 1849 the Hungarian Parliament proclaimed and enacted the first laws of ethnic and minority rights in the world. Many members of the nationalities gained the coveted highest positions within the Hungarian Army, like General János Damjanich, an ethnic Serb who became a Hungarian national hero through his command of the 3rd Hungarian Army Corps.
Initially, the Hungarian forces (Honvédség) defeated Austrian armies. To counter the successes of the Hungarian revolutionary army, Habsburg Emperor Franz Joseph I asked for help from the "Gendarme of Europe", Czar Nicholas I, whose Russian armies invaded Hungary. This made Artúr Görgey surrender in August 1849. The leader of the Austrian army, Julius Jacob von Haynau, became governor of Hungary for a few months, and ordered the execution of the 13 Martyrs of Arad, leaders of the Hungarian army, as well as Prime Minister Batthyány in October 1849. Lajos Kossuth escaped into exile.
Defeat was followed by a large-scale — and, even by the standards of the time, brutal — retaliation against the rebellious Hungarians. I shall uproot the weed, Haynau swore. I shall set an example to the whole of Europe of how rebels should be treated and how order, peace and tranquillity should be ensured for a century. Hungary's first prime minister, Batthyány, died before a firing squad on October 6. On Haynau's orders, more than 100 people were executed, 1,200 Imperial officers fighting on the Hungarian side were sentenced to imprisonment, and an additional 40,000 to 50,000 officers and soldiers were drafted into the Imperial army.
The Revolution's Suppression and Kossuth's Exile
Following the war of 1848–49, the whole country was in "passive resistance". Archduke Albrecht, Duke of Teschen was appointed regent (civil and military governor) of the Kingdom of Hungary in 1851, being relieved of the post in 1860, and this time was remembered for Germanization.
Lajos Kossuth went into exile after the revolution. In the US he was most warmly received by the general public as well as the Secretary of State at that time Daniel Webster, leading to tensions in US-Austrian relations for the next twenty years, and a Kossuth County, Iowa was named in the honor of his great contributions.
After spending time in Turkey, Kossuth left for America in September 1851 aboard the U.S. Navy frigate Mississippi, and between December and July 1852 he toured the United States at the invitation of the government. At receptions in New York, Philadelphia and Boston, he was touted as the Hungarian George Washington, and in January 1852 he addressed the Senate and House of Representatives, the second non-American to do so since the Marquis de Lafayette in 1824. He died, still in exile, in Turin, Italy, on March 20, 1894.
Kossuth was the father of the idea of a multi-ethnic confederation of republics along the Danube, which might have prevented the escalation of hostile feelings between the ethnic groups in these areas. Many of Kossuth's revolutionary comrades in exile, including the sons of one of his sisters, as well as other supporters of the 1848 revolution, (usually referred as "Forty-Eighters") stayed in the USA, and fought on the Union side in the US Civil War.
The April laws, also called March laws
The April laws, also called March laws, were a collection of laws legislated by Lajos Kossuth with the aim of modernizing Kingdom of Hungary into a nation state. The imperative program included:
- Hungarian control of its popular national guard,
- national budget and
- Hungarian foreign policy,
- as well as the removal of serfdom,
- and freedom of press.
They were passed by the Hungarian Diet in March 1848 in Poszony (now Bratislava, Slovakia) and signed by Ferdinand V at the Primate's Palace in the same city on 11 April 1848, as a reaction to the Revolution of 1848. When the revolution was crushed in 1849, Austria did not pass the laws, and Hungary did not retain full external autonomy until the Compromise of 1867 which would later influence Hungary's position in World War I.
In spite of Austria's ultimate victory Hungary achived its goals in 1867
In spite of Austria's ultimate victory, the prophecy of future British Prime Minister Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston, was fulfilled: Continuing the fight till the end, he had predicted, Austria is crushing her right hand in this war.
The social changes brought about by the revolutionary legislation were irreversible.
After a series of failures, both abroad and at home, during the 1850s and early 1860s, Franz Josef I was finally compelled to compromise and create a dualistic state out of the Hapsburg empire in 1867.
The first prime minister of the Austro-Hungarian dual monarchy was Grof Gyula Andrássy, who had fought in the war as a hussar officer and who, during his years in exile, had been sentenced to death by Emperor Franz Josef.
The anniversary of the revolution's outbreak is thus on March 15 and it is one of Hungary's three national holidays.