Liberalism and neoabsolutism. Constitutional politics and administrative reform in the Hapsburg Empire during the ministry of Alexander Bach from 1848 to 1859
This paper examines the continuities and changes during the ministry of internal affairs minister Alexander Bach, from the time of his invitation to Felix zu Schwarzenberg's government. The author is looking for an answer to the question whether the neoabsolutist government policies of the 1850s had any liberal characteristics. The paper will not provide a detailed review Bach's internal affairs policies, but rather focus on two aspects of central importance: Bach's constitutional politics and his vision on local administrative bodies. On the basis of these, we can claim that Bach's break-up with his liberal past did not occur in 1848 or 1849: his policy sought to enact the March constitution of 1849 up until 1850, his standpoint was mainly the same as in 1848. From 1851 on, he gave up liberal politics – despite some obviously surviving elements in his theory, which were due to his conviction, crystallized in the meantime, that Austria could not be governed as a constitutional state. However, one would oversimplify to call his politics conservative. The difference between his bureaucratic conservatism and the monarchy's conservatism that sought absolute power was not a mere question of degree.
Country representation in neoabsolutist Hungary
The royal rescript attached to the New Year's Eve patent issued on December 31, 1851 decreed the establishment of country statutes and, on the level of lieutenancies and local authorities, the establishment of councils. One of the most important and unsuccessful reforms of the neoabsolutist regime was this controversial attempt to establish representative bodies with consultation rights inside an autocratic system. The paper provides insights into the structure of country representation in Hungary in the mid-1850s as well as into the process of political and administrative preparation of the system. Based on recently analyzed archival sources, it attributes the failure of the attempt (in addition to the causes mentioned in the literature) to the absence of interest from the Hungarian party. The intention of establishing representative bodies, unlike other neoabsolutist administrative measures, eventually had no lasting influence in Hungary.
A stage for politics? – or the participation of laymen in Protestant convocations during the 1850s
The surrender at Világos on August 13, 1849 marked the beginning of a new era for the Protestant churches in Hungary. Haynau’s decree on the “Governance of Protestant churches in state of emergency” issued on February 10, 1850 was a heavy blow to all the Protestant churches and determined their situation for the next ten years. From then on, convocations could be held only if permitted and in the presence of a government commissioner, lay members were excluded from the church government until then, based on the principle of parity, and the offices of church overseer and superintendent were abolished. Although their offices were abolished and they could only participate on convocations as “trustees”, laymen continued to actively take part in church life. Former superintendents and overseers frequently exchanged letters, their homes became the meeting points of lay and ecclesiastic members of the church, and they penned petitions to be sent to the monarch. After the 1856 issue of the Entwurf, the draft bill concerning churches, laymen stepped forward, appeared at convocations in growing numbers and got involved in delegations appealing to the court for the restoration of churches to the pre-1848 state. We can witness the peak of their activity during the Patent Controversy after the issue of the Protestant Patent on September 1, 1859. One of the delicate points in the nationwide dissent against the government was Protestant church autonomy, which seemed to be abolished for good by the Protestant patent. Regaining church autonomy – with the suspension of the Protestant patent – was the first sign that autonomy on a political level is something that can also be regained.
The noble judge of Esztergom in the storms of the 1852 imperial journey
In line with the reorganization of the Hapsburg Empire, Franz Joseph paid a visit to the Crown Lands during the firs years of his reign. The imperial visit of 1850–1852 permitted him to introduce himself, to build his “imperial image” and at the same time to survey the state of the territories under his rule and the moods of his nations.
He came to Hungary – to be more precise, to Hungary, to the Voivodeship of Serbia and Banat of Temesvár and to Transylvania – in 1852. Both the emperor and his subjects still had vivid memories about the events of the 1848–1849 revolution and war of independence, which affected both the way the imperial journey was organized and received.
The Vienna Court intended to avoid at all costs that the reception festivities organized for the emperor seem forced, however, in many cases it was suspected that it was only due to the pressure exerted by local civil servants and the gendarmerie that residents showed up in large numbers to greet the emperor. A file surviving in archival sources testifies that the county prefect and the noble judge of Esztergom were proceeded against on the suspicion of aggressive and despotic measures. The proceedings outlined during the inquiry, the measures taken, the other causes discovered by the commission and the conflicts between the members show the difficulties in the civil servants’ tasks and the clashes between civil and law enforcement servants resulting from the unclear boundaries between their competencies.
On the whole, the imperial visit did not reach the desired result. Despite the zeal of loyal civil servants the consolidation of absolutist monarchy was unsuccesful.
Roles reinterpreted or Empress Elisabeth’s metamorphosis in 1866
It was during the 1866 sojourn of the imperial couple in Hungary that Empress Elisabeth's change of character occurred, as she left behind the role of “accessory” at the side of her husband. This period is the early, transitional stage of her cult, which is characterized by a shift from the previous rhetoric of reverence in connection with the rise from nadir of the popularity of the imperial family due to the effects of political change, and the basic elements of the cult were consolidated and remained constant from that time on. As a spectacular result of the Court's change of image, that of the empress gradually transformed as well and, step by step, morphed into a positive image of an empress consort. This turn came about in two phases during Elizabeth's 1866 stay in Hungary and was started by the visit examined in detail in this paper. The perception of the empress shifted from forced reverence to a cult attitude which in the first phase met the expectations of both the Court and the political elite seeking an agreement, and in a second phase found its way to lower classes, constantly widening its public of reception.
The ethnic minority policy of József Eötvös and the constitutionalnationalist tradition of the Deák Party, 1860-1868
In the paper the author's goal was to prove that in the Reform Era the Hungarian liberals had not been thinking in terms of a French-style centralized nation state, as, adhering to the old Hungarian constitutional judiciary tradition, they accepted that the country’s linguistic and ethnic diversity prevailed through the educational and cultural institutions of local communities and parishes. Drawing the conclusions from the events of 1848-49, they improved upon this very tradition, allowing more room for ethnic and linguistic diversity, namely in county governments and on the higher levels of clerical administration and civil life. Not giving up the political creed of believing that ethnic groups living on the territory of the Kingdom of Hungary form a unified political nation, they intended to satisfy the linguistic and cultural demands of non-Hungarian peoples by exploiting the possibilities of decentralized self-governance and legal equality, while maintaining the status quo. This approach to the minority issue was first outlined in Zsigmond Kemény's pamphlets, and later, in the first half of the 1860s, it became the common political conviction of the liberal public. Although Eötvös undertook an indispensable task in preparing the minority act, his role must not be overestimated. His law concept was far from isolated in the political field: most of the liberal public shared his views, and everyone who has taken the floor from the Hungarian side spoke in defense of his 1861 bill. And finally, with some modifications, his concept did prevail in the 1868 minority act of Ferenc Deák.
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