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Modernism: The Creation of Nation-States

Ahmet Ersoy
Maciej Górny
Vangelis Kechriotis

Chapter I. Making of the modern state in a multi-national context

The Easter article

Ferenc Deák
Traduction de Dávid Oláh

Texte intégral

1Title: A húsvéti cikk (The Easter article)

2Originally published: Pesti Naplό, 16 April 1865

3Language: Hungarian

4The text used is from Manό Kόnyi ed. Deák Ferenc beszédei, vol. III. (Budapest: Franklin-társulat, 1903), pp. 401–408. Modern edition: László Tökéczki, ed., A magyar liberalizmus (Budapest: Osiris, 1996), pp. 121–125.

About the author

5Ferenc Deák [1803, Söjtör (west Hungary) – 1876, Budapest]: Hungarian politician, lawyer. He came from the nobility of Zala county. Studied law and philosophy at the Academy of Györ (1817–1821). He was a practicing lawyer from 1823 and entered the Hungarian Diet in 1833, soon becoming a prominent figure in the liberal opposition. He was re-elected for the session of 1839–40, and was a member of the committee in charge of the reform of the Penal Code. Due to local conflicts between Reformists and Conservatives, he relinquished his candidacy for the Diet and abstained from joining the 1843–44 and 1847–48 sessions. He returned to politics in 1848, becoming Minister of Justice after the Revolution of March 1848. He opposed Lajos Kossuth in an attempt to prevent an open break with Austria, resigning from office upon his failure. In January 1849, he completely withdrew from public affairs. After the collapse of the revolution, he became the symbolic leader of Hungarian opposition to the neo–absolutist regime. During the 1860s, he was the most important proponent and principal engineer of the constitutional compromise between Vienna and the Hungarian ‘political nation.’ In the Diet of 1866, he cooperated with Gyula Andrássy in drawing up a report on the planned new Austrian constitution. This report was the basis of the negotiations with the Austrian chancellor, Friedrich Ferdinand von Beust, resulting in the Ausgleich (Compromise), which established the Austro–Hungarian Monarchy. Until his withdrawal from politics in 1873, Deák continued to act as a principal figure in Hungarian politics, even though his efforts to reach a compromise with the other nationalities on the basis of the unitary Hungarian political nation were not crowned by success.

6Main works: Követjelentés az 1839-40-i országgyülésröl [Report by the delegates of the parliament of 1839–40] (with Károly Hertelendy) (1842); 1847-es Ellenzéki nyilatkozat [The opposition declaration of 1847] (with Lajos Kossuth) (1847); Adalék a magyar közjoghoz [Contributions to Hungarian public law] (1865); Deák Ferenc beszédei 6 vols. [The speeches of Ferenc Deák] (1882–1897).


7After the suppression of the Hungarian revolution (1849), Deák became an iconic figure of the ‘passive resistance’ against Habsburg neo–absolutism. In 1854, he moved to Pest, and his apartment in the English Queen hotel became the center of Hungarian political activities seeking to re-establish constitutional rule. Although advocating the union of Austria and Hungary, he insisted on the restoration of the constitution of 1848, the territorial integrity of the country and eventually the recognition of Hungary as a separate kingdom. In 1861, at the time of the first attempt of reintroducing parliamentarism, Deák emerged as the leader of the moderate camp. Due to the lack of willingness to compromise on all sides, the attempt failed and a new intermezzo of neo–absolutist rule followed. In 1865, Deák published the famous ‘Easter Article.’ It was a refutation of neo–absolutist doctrines, which claimed that Hungary had lost her rights of constitutional self-government due to her unfaithfulness towards the Emperor (this was called the Ver-wirkungstheorie). The article also asserted the need for reconciliation which would entail the restoration of the constitution, which he considered to be the principal achievement of 1848. The text had an important symbolic value as it signaled the end of ‘passive resistance’ and the eagerness of the Hungarian political elite to reach a compromise. In dialogue with a series of Austrian liberal pamphlets urging the reconciliation with the Hungarians, most importantly the writings of Adolf Fischhof, Deák’s argumentation expressed the main tenets of mid-nineteenth century Hungarian liberalism, connecting modern liberal precepts with ‘ancient constitutionalism.’

8The text is an extremely polished rhetorical parable which—on the surface—tries to subvert the claim of the Viennese semi-official journal Botschafter that the Hungarians were “eternal separatists.” In its depth, however, it reiterates the political, legal and historical arguments in favor of the restoration of the constitutional government in Hungary. Deák seeks to show that it was exactly the Austrian politicians’ lack of trust—exemplified by the very article he sought to refute—which undermined the Hungarian nation’s harmonic integration within the framework of the Habsburg Empire. To support this claim, he gives a historical overview of the conflicts between Vienna and the Hungarian political nation, suggesting that the conflicts originated in the negative influence of Austrian statesmen upon the sovereign. Evoking the loyalty of Hungarians to the Emperor, he created a rhetoric framework inviting Francis Joseph to restore the constitutional liberties of the Hungarians.

9Deák thus offers to the liberal Austrian political elite reconciliation on the basis of mutual trust and the respect of constitutional rights and traditions. Most importantly, he suggested, the Austrian elite should give up the Ver-wirkungstheorie. The Hungarian revolts were always counter-reactions: had the Hungarians really wanted to separate, they would have had splendid opportunities in different historical situations right after their constitutional demands were satisfied. He points out that in these conspicuous moments, Hungarians actually turned out to be the most reliable partners in defending the integrity of the Empire. While Botschafter considers, on the one hand, the interests of the Empire and the legal system of Cisleithania (the Austrian part of the Empire, lying to the west of the river Leitha [Hun. Lajta]) and, on the other, the Hungarian constitution to be mutually exclusive, Deák claims that in fact these codes are not only compatible, but also mutually reinforcing. Thus, any compromise was to take into account the security of the Empire, the basic laws of the Hungarian constitution, and also the constitutional liberties of the Cisleithanian lands. This formulation prefigures a key point of the architecture of the Compromise—that is, the claim that the defense of the Empire constitutes the most important ‘common cause.’

10Deák’s article had a crucial political significance and his argument had a formidable internal and external resonance. It contributed to the acceptance of the terms of the Ausgleich on the part of a significant segment of the Hungarian political elite. At the same time, Lajos Kossuth, in his famous ‘Cassandra Letter’ to Deák, accused him of causing the ‘death of the nation’ by binding the country’s destiny to the moribund Habsburg Monarchy. On the whole, Deák’s text represents both the strength and the weakness of the Hungarian liberal state-building project of the 1860s. It demonstrated a sophisticated legal-constitutional argumentation and a powerful vision of a normative past. At the same time, it was marked by the reluctance to question the doctrine of Hungarian political nationhood in view of the actual ethnic plurality of the country. It thus locked the political discourse into the iron cage of constitutional questions, which determined Hungarian politics up to 1918.


The Easter article

12In the 9th of April issue of Botschafter it is written that “a desire for separation runs throughout Hungarian history, passed on from generation to generation, just as vigorously alive now as a hundred years ago.”

13If by this desire for separation Botschafter means that the Hungarian nation has always held loyally to her own constitutional independence and has always born an unrelenting resentment towards any attempts by the government, and especially certain of its administrators, to disregard or even eliminate the Hungarian constitution in addition to absorbing the country, then we have no reason to contradict the words of Botschafter quoted above; for this loyal devotion and this unrelenting resentment towards absorption is in fact passed on from one generation to the next amongst the Hungarians, and it is just as vigorous now and it was a hundred years ago, and, if the grace of the Almighty stays with us, it will still be vigorous centuries later.

14But if in the lines quoted above, the paper talks about a desire for separation that would contain an endeavor towards a final secession, we are forced to react to the claim with a few words.

15If such a desire, nay, sometimes no less than an actual endeavor, did manifest itself in Hungarian history, what caused it and what buoyed it? The article itself answers this question when it says that the laws and constitution of Hungary have often been violated by the government or rather by its administrators.

16It takes the highest degree of public dissatisfaction to arouse in a whole nation a desire or undertaking to break off a connection established after much pre–meditation, and even then only if all hope of things ever getting better has vanished can it come about. In the past, more than one Austrian statesman have, by means of their counsel and influence upon the sovereigns, done everything—willingly or not—to arouse such a desire in the nation. We could cite in this respect several sad periods in Hungarian history, all demonstrating the fact that the Hungarian nation was not the cause of this dissatisfaction and this shaken confidence. And when, for a long series of years, these assaults against the Hungarian constitution came one after another, when their natural consequence, a gradually growing bitterness, reached its peak, what was it that finally remedied the harm, calmed aroused tempers and restored shaken confidence? Did the Austrian statesmen change their views and, learning from experience, begin to give better counsel to the sovereign? No. This did not happen, or at least according to the testimony of history, it happened very infrequently. It was always the sovereigns who, with their more profound discernment and stricter conscientiousness, withdrew the statutes aimed at the Hungarian constitution, restored the violated laws and re-awakened trust and hope in the nation.

17Let us bring up a few examples from history.

  • 1 Deák refers to the conspiracy of Hungarian magnates against Habsburg absolutism. Its leaders, Fere (...)

18There has hardly been a period more tragic than the eleven years preceding the Parliament of 1681. Besides the bloodshed, the political and religious persecution, let us underline one single fact: the constitution of the country was abrogated and the realm was placed under the authority of a governor from abroad. True, this was preceded by a widespread conspiracy whose participants paid for their actions with their life and all their possessions.1 But there was no lack of statesmen who used the activities of these persons as an opportunity and a pretext for strict and unconstitutional acts against the whole nation. And as the ensuing resentment gradually grew, it was Leopold I himself who annulled the decrees contradictory to the constitution and who, together with the Estates, restituted the Hungarian constitution in a complete and intact form at the Parliament of 1681.

19The benefits of this rightful act were not long in coming: this effect was the restoration of trust and devotion, the result of which was that the nation promptly enacted a law six years later at the Parliament of 1687 that established, in accordance with the sovereign’s wishes, the principle of primogeniture in the question of the right of succession for the male line in the House of Habsburg. This the nation did for her own good as well; nevertheless, it is beyond doubt that were it not for the restoration of trust in 1681, the country would never have enacted such a law voluntarily.

  • 2 Peace treaty of Szatmár (Rom. Satu Mare), made between the Hungarian insurrectionary army and the (...)
  • 3 Reference to the War of Austrian Succession when the Hungarian troops fought on the side of the Ha (...)

20In the early eighteenth century a sanguinary civil war was fought in Hungary, a civil war that was caused, or at least advanced, by a new attempt of Austrian statesmen to curb the Hungarian constitution. The Peace Treaty of Szatmar2 put an end to this civil war—the peace treaty that once more warranted the country’s constitutional liberty. And twelve years after this peace treaty, the Hungarian nation assigned the right of succession to the female line of the Habsburg House voluntarily, of her own free will. This is a genuine sign that confidence and devotion between the nation and the dynasty was restored. For had the Treaty of Szatmár been signed in a different form, had the country’s constitution never been fully restored, the restless and distrustful nation would hardly have agreed to ratify the Sanctio Pragmatica. And then what would have happened in 1741?3 We have no wish to dwell upon it.

21After 1780, Joseph II annulled the constitution of the country again, and adopting the old plan of certain Austrian statesmen, he set himself the goal of absorbing Hungary or at least totally terminating its constitutional independence. But in the final days of his life, he himself revoked his decrees, while in addition to restituting the Hungarian constitution, his successor, Leopold II, even strengthened it with new and expedient laws in accord with the Estates of the country.

22Soon came the bloody French wars, which for a long time took an adverse turn for Austria. These wars proved that the Hungarian nation that was loyal to the completely restored constitution was also loyal to her king. She fulfilled her obligations in the defense of the empire with full readiness and much enthusiasm. And when in 1809 the mighty emperor of the triumphant enemy stood here in this country with his victorious army and called upon the Hungarian nation to secede from Austria, feeding her with hopes whose realization seemed quite possible, these proclamations did not shake the nation’s lawful devotion and confidence. All such alluring promises and flattering vanished into thin air.

23In 1823, one of the fundamental laws of the constitution was assaulted by the commanding words and arms of the government. But a few years later the just ruler solemnly declared in the Parliament of 1825 that these events, which had been displeasing to his fatherly heart as well, would never occur again in the future, and with the approval of the Estates of the country he enacted Article No. 3, in which he proclaimed that he was “fully convinced that the happiness of the sovereign and the country is founded upon the strict observance and intactness of the laws, and if any rights of either the king or the Estates are curtailed, the whole structure of laws and the legal system of the country sanctioned by centuries shall be undermined.” He also proclaimed that he would “protect and maintain at all times the constitution of the country, which he had confirmed by his coronation oath. For the same reason he will closely observe and make others observe Articles 10, 12 and 19/1790–1791.”

24This declaration His Majesty made upon the counsel of that eminent statesman who has managed the affairs of the empire with much wisdom even amidst the most adverse of circumstances and who said the following to His Majesty with respect to Hungary:

25“If Your Majesty wishes to govern Hungary well and with ease, govern it in accordance with its own constitution.”

26But we do not wish to prolong these arguments. All we want to stress from the examples of history is that whenever a grave dissatisfaction was manifest in Hungary, and this dissatisfaction awakened distrust and perhaps a desire for separation, it was almost always due to the counsels and endeavors of Austrian statesmen to abrogate the Hungarian constitution, and it was always the conscientious rightfulness and profound discernment of the sovereigns that ultimately remedied the harm and restored confidence and devotion.

  • 4 “History is the witness of times, and teacher of life” (Cicero, De Oratore).

27Thus history shows us the causes that from time to time have led to the occasional desire for separation (Sonderzug) that Botschafter accuses us of, while it also shows the surest method, indeed the only one, by which this desire has always been abated. Therefore if we accept Cicero’s saying that “his-toria est testis temporum, magistra vitae,”4 we must learn from history.

28From the events of the past we have learned that in the most adverse circumstances it has been the justice and wisdom of our sovereigns that have helped us out of our troubles, and it was they who saved our constitution from the attacks of others. This is the conviction that must be alive in us. Why does “B.” [Botschafter] want to tear away this conviction from our bosom by affirming that however much we have secured our constitution with new and more definite laws, however much our sovereigns have guaranteed it in their oaths of coronation diplomas, our laws have nevertheless been violated and our constitution always left by the wayside?

29Why does it want to destroy all trust, all hopes for the better, with the threat that the Austrian people under the constitution will not accommodate us, similar to the power that formerly enjoyed unrestricted authority in the Austrian province which did not preserve our constitution?

  • 5 Kiegyenlítés (Ausgleich, Compromise). The word is used to denote the possible reconciliation betwe (...)

30The Austrian government, the Cisleithanian newspapers and certain statesmen often talk about the need for a peaceful compromise,5 a compromise to be achieved to the relief of both parties. Such a compromise can only be founded upon mutual trust. Does “B.” really believe that this mutual trust is augmented by asserting that our constitution has not hitherto been respected by the government and will not be spared even by the constitutional Austrian people?

31Or if “B.” itself does not believe that all this would augment trust, is it really in its interest to hamper the possibility of a compromise; to sow the seed of distrust amongst the peoples and countries on both sides of the Lajta; to foster confrontation between them as though they were foes, foes who are unwilling to show regard for the rights of the other? Does “B.” consider it a sober, honest and wise policy to wrench from us the hope we have pinned upon the person of our sovereign, and at the same time as aspiring to awaken a desire of separation in the Hungarians, to reproach and accuse the nation for having the selfsame desire?

32We have often heard the doctrine that whenever one of two contracting parties fails to heed the clauses of the contract, the other is not obliged to obey them either. This is the doctrine of Verwirkungstheorie, which we consider reprehensible both in theory and in practice in the area of public law. But the doctrine advocated by “B.,” namely that when one party has perpetually violated the contract and despite all securities and promises kept acting in contradiction to the contract, is that the other party should no longer have the right to demand its observation and should instead be impelled to transform and even invalidate it unilaterally—this is truly a new and amazingly peculiar theory.

33If our ancestors had acted in accordance with this theory under Rudolph before 1608, under Leopold in 1681, under Joseph II in 1781 or under Francis I in 1825, where would the Hungarian constitution be now? But fortunately they had more confidence in their sovereigns, and this confidence sustained the liberty of Hungary.

  • 6 In 1861, after 12 years of neo–absolutism, the Hungarian Diet was convoked. The two emerging parti (...)
  • 7 The February Patent, a letters patent issued by Francis Joseph establishing a bicameral imperial p (...)
  • 8 The Pragmatica Sanctio (accepted by the Hungarian Parliament of 1722–1723) regulated the successio (...)

34Botschafter argues that the Hungarian constitution has perpetually been violated for the reason that the interests of the empire as a whole have made it impossible to obey it; so it will be violated again and again unless it is adapted and modified to fit into the imperial constitution. We do not doubt the importance of the empire’s stability. The address of Parliament in 1861 clearly stated that the Hungarian nation does not wish to endanger it by any means.6 However, in our opinion the right way to secure the stability of the empire lies not in discarding all solemn treaties, laws and rights, or in molding the Hungarian constitution into the pattern that the 26 February Constitution7 was molded into; instead, above all keeping in mind the security of the empire, an objective shared by the Sanctio Pragmatica,8 we should endeavor both to achieve the complete security of the empire and to sustain as far as possible the basic clauses of the Hungarian constitution as well as promoting and fully securing the constitutional liberty of the Cisleithanian countries.

35One of our aims is thus the stability of the empire, which we do not wish to subordinate to any other consideration. The other is the sustenance of the constitutionality of Hungary, her rights and her laws, which are solemnly secured already by the Sanctio Pragmatica, and from which it would indeed be neither rightful nor expedient to take away any more than what the safeguarding of the empire’s stability inevitably requires.

36The full constitutional liberty of the Cisleithanian countries can exist in parallel with the Hungarian constitution under a common sovereign and with a joint defense. These two are not at variance with each other; we believe that we can find a place for ourselves alongside each other without wanting to absorb the other.

37Finally, looking back to history one more time, we may take the liberty of asking Botschafter a question.

38If in 1527 the Hungarian nation had not elected Ferdinand I to be her king, would the fate and extent of the Austrian empire have been the same as it has been since his election? Could the empire have been able to stand the test after 1740 the way it did? Would it have been able to withstand the mighty foe that had wiped away most of Germany during the French wars?

39If therefore the empire’s establishment required Hungary, which elected Ferdinand voluntarily to be her king, isn’t it natural that the observance of the conditions of this election was at the same time an essential condition of the empire’s real establishment? And Ferdinand was elected to be king of Hungary freely, as he himself declared in Article 2/1527 and in the letter he addressed to the Estates of Hungary on the 29 June 1527. Before his coronation he assured the Estates of the country through his letter issued on the 30 November in 1526 in Vienna that he would preserve the rights and liberties of the country’s inhabitants intact. At his coronation he confirmed this guarantee with a solemn oath; and in 1537 in Article 29 he once more referred to this guarantee.

40All this happened partly before the first establishment of the empire and partly during its establishment. Is it possible to ignore these events now?

41The Sanctio Pragmatica, without which the empire would probably have broken up after the death of Charles III (or Charles VI), may be regarded as the second, firmer establishment of the empire. In this new and firmer establishment, the unimpaired upholding of the constitution and laws of Hungary was once more stipulated as an explicit condition.

42If therefore the empire was and could be established solely on this condition, it would be wrongful to discard it.

43For us, just as for the Parliament of 1861, the only possible starting point is the Sanctio Pragmatica. The common ruling house, the inseparable and indivisible possession and its natural corollary, a joint defense, are all laid down clearly there. Hungary fulfilled these conditions, she performed her obligations in defense loyally and willingly in the hardest times, and she proved herself ready to perform this obligation even when agitation and war raged and when the war in which joint defense was required was unpopular amongst many of her inhabitants.

44We do not mention these facts out of a desire to boast, for the nation was only doing her duty; whatever she did she did in her own interest as well, and the armies of the Cisleithanian countries had similarly defended Hungary for many years. We only spoke of these things to prove through history that our constitutional independence has not impaired in any way the stability of the empire. We do not want to sacrifice this constitutional independence just because certain clauses in the new constitution of the Cisleithanian peoples are at variance with it; but we shall be ever ready to harmonize by legal means our laws with the interests of the empire’s stability, and we shall never stand in the way of the liberty or the constitutional development of the Cisleithanian countries.


1 Deák refers to the conspiracy of Hungarian magnates against Habsburg absolutism. Its leaders, Ferenc Nádasdy, Péter Zrínyi (Cro. Petar Zrinski) and Ferenc Frangepán (Cro. Fran Krsto Frankopan) were executed in 1670.

2 Peace treaty of Szatmár (Rom. Satu Mare), made between the Hungarian insurrectionary army and the Habsburg forces in 1711, terminating the “Rákόczi Uprising.”

3 Reference to the War of Austrian Succession when the Hungarian troops fought on the side of the Habsburgs.

4 “History is the witness of times, and teacher of life” (Cicero, De Oratore).

5 Kiegyenlítés (Ausgleich, Compromise). The word is used to denote the possible reconciliation between the two political nations; interestingly enough, it is not the word that came to be used later (Kiegyezés).

6 In 1861, after 12 years of neo–absolutism, the Hungarian Diet was convoked. The two emerging parties differed mainly on the way to address Francis Joseph, which implicitly meant a difference in the vision of restoring constitutional continuity. The moderate camp, seeking to petition the Emperor with a “parliamentary address” asking him to reinstate the 1848 Constitution, was led by Deák. The more radical camp, called the “party of decision,” held that constitutional continuity could be restored simply by a decision of the Parliament.

7 The February Patent, a letters patent issued by Francis Joseph establishing a bicameral imperial parliament, was adopted as the Constitution of 1861.

8 The Pragmatica Sanctio (accepted by the Hungarian Parliament of 1722–1723) regulated the succession of the female line to the throne.


Dávid Oláh (Traducteur)

© Central European University Press, 2010

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