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National Romanticism: The Formation of National Movements

Balázs Trencsényi
Michal Kopeček

Chapter III. The Nationalization of Space

Proposal. Concerning the future political establishment of Hungary

Lajos Kossuth
Translated by Dávid Oláh

Full text

1Title: Javaslat. Magyar Ország jövő politicai szervezetét illetőleg – tekintettel a nemzetiségi kérdés megoldására (Proposal. Concerning the future political establishment of Hungary, in view of solving the nationality question)

2Originally published: The text in its present form was written in 1859 and remained in manuscript

3Language: French/Hungarian

4The text, originally written in French, survived in various versions. The first draft was published in English as well as in French in 1851, while an extended version in French (Projet d’organisation de la Hongrie la question des nationalités étant prise en considération) was published by Dániel Irányi and Charles-Louis Chassin in 1859. The current version, the most complete, remained in manuscript until published by György Spira, Kossuth és alkotmányterve (Debrecen: Csokonai, 1989). The excerpts used are from: Kossuth Lajos alkotmányterve (Budapest: Budapest Főváros Levéltára, 1994), pp. 50–59.

About the author

5Lajos Kossuth [1802, Monok (Upper Hungary) – 1894, Turin]: lawyer, journalist, politician. His family was from the Upper-Hungarian petty-nobility, ethnically Slavic and Lutheran by denomination. Trained as a lawyer, he entered politics first in 1832 as a representative of an absentee aristocrat in the Upper House. Between 1832 and 1836 he edited the Országgyűlési Tudósítások (Reports from the Diet), the principal popularizing organ of the reform movement. By the mid-1830s he became a key figure in the liberal nationalist opposition. He was arrested in 1837, but popular pressure forced the Metternich regime to release him in 1840. He edited the journal Pesti Hírlap (Pest Gazette), which became the most important organ of the opposition in the forties. He was a protagonist in the Hungarian revolution of 1848, becoming Minister of Finance in the revolutionary government of Lajos Batthyány. When the Austrian government openly sided with the ban (viceroy) of Croatia, Count Jelačić, who was moving against Hungary, Kossuth became head of the ‘Committee of National Defense’ which assumed the reins of government. His government withdrew to Debrecen before the advance of the Austrians under General Windischgrätz. In April 1849 the Hungarian parliament declared Hungary an independent republic, with Kossuth as governor. The Hungarians won several victories, but Russian troops intervened in favor of Austria, and Kossuth was obliged to offer the government to General Artúr Görgey, who finally surrendered at Világos. Kossuth fled first to Turkey, and then to England. From 1865 he lived in Italy. He could not accept the Ausgleich of 1867, and refused an offer of amnesty in 1890. After his death in Turin his body was returned to Budapest and buried with official ceremony. One of the most important nineteenth century Hungarian politicians, Kossuth became the symbol of ‘national independence,’ used and abused by various regimes in the twentieth century.

6Main works: Felelet [Answer] (1841); 1847-es Ellenzéki nyilatkozat [The Opposition Declaration of 1847] (with Ferenc Deák); Irataim az emigrációból [My writings from emigration], vols. I–III (1880–82).


7Soon after the initial enthusiasm for the revolution in March 1848, the Hungarian liberal nationalist leadership had to face growing discontent on the part of considerable segments of the nationalities of the country, who expected it to acknowledge not only their individual civil rights but also their right to form a separate national body with territorial self-government. At the outset the Hungarian revolutionaries perceived these demands as opposed to the sweeping measures of modernization they proposed, and blamed the elites of these nationalities for sticking to their purported “feudal privileges” instead of accepting the Hungarian liberal offer and together with it a dominant symbolic position in the Hungarian national project. It was only after the painful experience of a series of clashes—with the Croatian army of Count Jelačić, with the Serbian and Romanian guerrilla armies in southern Hungary and Transylvania, respectively, and with the less numerous but still considerable Slovak nationalist movement—that the Hungarian liberals were forced to reformulate their national agenda.

8Kossuth himself started his political career as an ardent nationalist, and his position on the nationality question was one of the main points of contention in the early 1840s between him and István Széchenyi, who came to consider the impatient assimilatory discourse of the Hungarian liberal nationalist camp as potentially self-destructive. Kossuth remained suspicious of the demands of the nationalities during the entire ‘War of Independence’ and shifted to a more conciliatory political stance only at the end of the fight, mainly thanks to the efforts of Hungarian revolutionary diplomacy, and especially László Teleki (1811–1861), who was a special envoy of the revolutionary government in Paris with close links to other Eastern-European émigré communities. The representatives of these revolutionary émigrés (such as the Romanian Nicolae Bălcescu) made considerable efforts to reconcile the last bastion of the European revolutionary movement with the leaders of the nationality movements within the country. The result of the negotiations was the 1849/VIIIth so-called ‘Nationality Law,’ which offered considerable concessions to the nationalities; it was, however, more of symbolic importance, since it was accepted in July 1849, on the very eve of the collapse of the Hungarian army.

9After the fall of the revolutionary government, Kossuth turned again to the nationality question in his constitutional proposal written in 1851 while in exile in the Turkish town of Kütahya. By that time it was a commonly shared opinion that one of the main reasons for the failure of the revolution was the outbreak of conflicts between the Hungarians and the other nationalities. As an émigré politician hoping to return to Hungary with the new revolutionary conjuncture, he was pressed by international circles favorable to the Hungarian revolutionary cause (especially that around Giuseppe Mazzini, as well as the European Democratic Central Committee led by the Frenchman Alexandre-Auguste Ledru-Rollin, the German Arnold Ruge and the Pole Wojciech Władysław Darasz), to come up with a proposal for settling the nationality issue in an acceptable way to the Croats, Slovaks, Serbs and Romanians living in the territory of ‘historical Hungary.’ Federalism was a fashionable idea in these circles, and shortly before Kossuth’s proposal, Bălcescu, for instance, came up with the concept of Serbian-Hungarian-Romanian trialism.

10There was also a favorable conjuncture, as the nationalities were not satisfied with the measures of the Viennese government, which, after crushing the Hungarian revolution, disregarded its previous promises concerning the federalization of the country and reverted to an indiscriminate authoritarianism. It seemed likely that if the Hungarian leadership made a favorable offer to the nationalities they might be able to count on their support upon resuming their revolutionary activities. The Hungarian émigrés were encouraged in this by the shift in the attitude of prominent Serbian politicians like the Prime Minister Ilija Garašanin, who expressed sympathy toward the Hungarian cause.

11While it failed to have any practical impact due to the changing international climate, Kossuth’s proposal, commonly referred to as the ‘Kütahya Constitution,’ served as a basis of further constitutional deliberation though-out the 1850s. It became topical again especially after 1858, when the Austrian defeat at the hand of the Italians opened up the way to fresh speculations concerning a renewed outbreak of revolution in Hungary. At the request of Dániel Irányi (1822–1892), one of the protagonists of the Hungarian emigration in France, Kossuth returned to work on his draft in 1859.

12Kossuth had two principal aims in his constitutional proposals. One was to harmonize individual liberties and collective rights, while the other was to make a fundamental distinction between those communities that possessed a ‘historical right’ to independent national development and those that possessed only an ethnic basis for claiming institutional separation. Kossuth was willing to concede the right of secession to the Croats, whose status he defined as that of an “allied nation,” whereas in the case of the other nationalities he offered those rights (individual and collective) which would not en-danger the “unity of the State.” In the version of 1859 he went as far as envisioning the possibility of a Serbian entity under a freely elected voivode, and the possibility of a Transylvanian constitutional separation (upon a plebiscite), which would secure the rights of all three nationalities living there, Romanian, German, and Hungarian. He believed such an arrangement would guarantee the national identity of the minorities, but at the same time maintain some kind of administrative and political integrity at the state level, while also safeguarding the precarious status of the various ethnic communities living in territories with mixed populations.

13While the ‘Proposal’ documents Kossuth’s gradual shift towards a more conciliatory position on the nationality question, it also indicates the considerable limitations of his thinking. In the letter to Irányi he formulated a more tolerant vision, allowing for the territorial self-government of Translyvania and Vojvodina and the use of vernacular languages not only in municipal bodies but also in the Parliament. When Irányi asked his permission to publish the letter, Kossuth reverted to a more limited position, arguing that these were just tactical concessions to be offered in extreme necessity, and not his real political platform.

14The constitutional proposal, in its various forms, became a crucial reference for the émigré groups, and also found its way back to Hungary, where it was ardently discussed. Nevertheless, its value was rather symbolic, meant as a gesture for governments (mostly Piedmont and France), which were generally favorable to the Hungarian cause, but were also demanding the emancipation of other nationalities within the country. At the same time, the solution proposed was not really satisfactory for the elites of these nationalities, who were aiming at establishing compact territorial units on the basis of ethno-linguistic allegiance. In addition, its provisions were far more liberal than the instincts of the Hungarian political elite at home, who had been engaged in a “passive resistance” movement and, propelled by their fear of the nationalities, eventually started negotiating with Vienna concerning the re-establishment of Hungary’s constitutional status. Thus, the proposal did not have much practical consequence; nevertheless, it can be considered as the most articulate document of the conciliatory intentions of the émigré revolutionary movement. It is along these lines that in the 1910s the civic radicals and in the 1930s the populists invoked Kossuth’s constitutional projects, in support of their vision of a “Danubian confederation.”


Proposal. Concerning the future political establishment of Hungary, in view of solving the nationality question

16You asked me what are my views about the solution of the nationality question.

17You will find my answer to this great and important question in the Proposal Concerning the Structure of the Country presented above.

18Read it through carefully and you shall see that from the individual rights held to be inviolable—and this includes the right to freedom of thought, freedom of religion and free association through all the constitutive layers of the state, in the city, in the county, in legislation, in the government, in jurisdiction, in public administration, in public education—that is, in every possible aspect, I pay such a consistent attention to the requirements, the elevation, the safeguarding and the development of the nationalities that, unless it happened to be your desire that the state should fall apart to the common ruination of the Hungarian as well as the other nationalities, I hardly know what else you may wish for.

19One other thing, however, I want to mention.

20There is a distinction to be made between the peoples living mixed in the territory of the Hungarian Crown and the (symbolically speaking) separate parts of the Hungarian Crown.

  • 1 Adminstrative entity of the Hungarian kingdom, mostly inhabited by Croatians. Today it forms part (...)

21It is only Croatia and Slavonia1 that fit the latter category in all respects— including Dalmatia as well, if the Dalmatian nation, which has been isolated for a long time, wishes to ally or unite with them.

22With respect to both their compact nationality and their territory, these associated countries have always been separate countries historically—they are not parts but companions of Hungary.

  • 2 Traditionally the highest adminstrative office of Croatia under the Hungarian Crown, a sort of vic (...)

23If these countries are willing to maintain their historical connection with Hungary, I deem it only fair that in their internal government they should be acknowledged as perfectly independent from the Hungarian government and legislation in every conceivable aspect. Let them arrange their affairs themselves in the townships, in the counties, and in legislation as they will—let themselves elect their bans2—let them administer themselves as they like— let them be as perfectly independent, even in matters of inspection, from the Hungarian Government and the Hungarian Parliament as the sovereign states comprising the North American confederation. Between them and Hungary only a tie of association should exist, and the authority of common legislation and the principal government should in their case be restricted to the matters that concern both them and Hungary. These matters should be listed in a new treaty of confederation (I include here no more than land and naval home-defense, relations with foreign powers, customs, the system of trade and the main transport lines to the sea in which they have a joint interest).

24I wish from my heart that our Croatian, Slavonian, Dalmatian brothers be content with this, to the common good of all of us.

25If, however, they are tired of the 600-year-old connection which has provided a constitutional past for them, if they do not wish to join hands with us to break the Austrian yoke for good under any other condition than that, as a reward for the victory to be achieved by our joint efforts, they may be separated from us and set up independent states, terminating their connection with us totally—then I beg them to consider soberly what they are doing. But if this is really what they want, I say let them have it as they like; I am ready to accept it, and I solemnly declare that it is not becoming the freedom-loving temperament of the Hungarian nation to insist on an associate connection against their wishes. In the latter case I deem only an agreement about the following points to be necessary.

  1. That our Croatian, Slavonian and (provided they join the former) Dalmatian brethren, whatever form of government they may adopt, should not elect a sovereign for themselves from the Austrian House.
  2. A mutual trade contract should be made ensuring safe transit.
  3. Fiume3 should be given a free opportunity to decide whether she wants to belong to Hungary or Croatia or to be, following the ancient example of the Hansa, a free city and port under the joint protection of both countries.
  4. Pétervárad4 has little or no internal importance for Slavonia, while it constitutes a key to Lower Hungary. For this reason, it should either remain in Hungarian hands or be given a joint garrison whose numbers are to be defined.

26So much for the Associated Countries.

27With so much community of interest related to personal matters, family and estates which has accumulated during the 600-year-long contact, and also out of regard for stability in the future, wouldn’t our Croatian brethren best safeguard their interests by holding to the first proposal that would pro-vide a perfect guarantee for their nationality, national status and national self-government and establishing their connection with us upon confederate foundations?—This question I wish to commit to their sober reflection and free judgement.

28As for Transylvania: Transylvania is not to be treated along the same lines as Croatia. It is neither a single, compact and distinct nation from the aspect of nationality, nor from a territorial and historical aspect is it a separate confederate country but a part of Hungary severed from her and in 1848 reunited with her by their joint wish. There is no such thing as a Transylvanian nationality, so the task here is not to seek for a guarantee of a Transylvanian nationality (it being non-existent) against Hungary but to make the nationalities living in Transylvania feel secure about each other.

29This particularly concerns the Saxons and the Romanians—and we must remember that in 1848 these nationalities censured and raised objections to the Union.

30With respect to the Saxon nation, I should remark that in the structure I have proposed above the Saxon nation would not only keep their institutions of self-government with all the authority that I have expounded under the heading “County Structure” [...] but also keep closer contact based on national and administrative unity and independence that they possessed in the previous centuries, and in fact all these rights could be exercised through their self-government by every inhabitant of the Saxon Territory on the basis of equality before the law and common suffrage, and they could elect their senior functionaries independently; in addition, they would elect representatives and senators to both Houses of the Parliament in due proportion.

  • 5 The Szeklers, although ethnically Hungarians, were considered a separate ‘natio’ in the Transylvan (...)

31I propose a similar right of self-government and representation for the Szekler nation.5

32And as for the Romanians, I am convinced that with the constitutional structure I recommend based on universal suffrage, equality before the law, self-government in townships and counties and parliamentary representation—I am convinced, as I said, that from the aspect of nationality as well as from civic and political aspects, our Romanian kinsfolk in Transylvania cannot but wish for the maintenance of the administrative union of Transylvania and Hungary as it was proclaimed in 1848—and if they weigh their interests soberly, they cannot fail to wish for this. However, if, notwithstanding my expectation, a hostility towards the Union in Transylvania would still manifest itself, I believe it to be befitting the brotherly sentiment of the Hungarian nation not to stick to the letter of the Union accepted by both parties under the impulse of the 1848 revolutions, but to summon the population of Transylvania to decide by means of a referendum to be held on a certain day whether they wish to maintain the union with Hungary or not—and let it be the way the majority would have it.

33If the majority takes side against the Union, the Hungarian Parliament would naturally have no right to interfere in the internal affairs and internal government of Transylvania, but it is self-evident that all state authority held until 1848 by the Court of Vienna would be conferred on the Hungarian government and would be exercised from Pest—it being the responsibility of the Transylvanian Parliament elected by common suffrage, that is, by the common will of the Hungarian, Szekler, Saxon and Romanian nations to define the means, manner and organs of the constitutional practice of this state authority.

  • 6 Also known as Banat; an administrative entity created by the Habsburg government in the eighteenth (...)

34Lastly, as for our Serbian brethren—who live mixed with our fellow-citizens from other nationalities—just as I do not wish the Hungarian or any other nationality to exercise superiority over them, likewise I presume them to be sufficiently equitable not to wish to exercise superiority over their fellow-citizens speaking different languages.—In fact, the official survey from 1850 shows that in the Serbian voivodeship and the banship of Temes6 out of the 1,426,000 inhabitants only 384,000 are Serbians—little more than a quarter of the whole.

35Thus it is quite conspicuous that here, where Romanians, Serbs, Germans Hungarians, Slovaks, Bulgarians, Jews, Gypsies, Ruthenians, Croatians and Greeks are living together, the demands of the nationalities can only be satisfied by the kind of constitutional system I recommend above, which guarantees for the Serbs under the heading of inviolable individual rights the social unity of their nationality, the right to elect their voivodes, the independent self-government of their Church, and the right to elect their pontiff freely and to endow him with the title of Patriarch if they please—just as it guarantees for them the free use of their language in local and county administration, and even the right to speak in that language at the Parliament; and lastly it guarantees for them equal rights and liberty in every respect.

  • 7 Territorial units in the Great Hungarian Plains, once populated by Iranian and Turkic peoples who (...)

36However, to prove how much I desire that the feuds between the nationalities, which have caused in the past so many calamities and a common servitude in the common homeland, should be replaced by a mutual reconciliation and fraternal harmony: I declare that I do not oppose the transformation of the towns and communities of the Serbian voivodeship and the banship of Temes inhabited by compact masses of Serbs unmixed with other races and their segregation from the neighboring counties, following the examples of the Jászság and the Great and Little Kunság,7 or more properly the Saxons of Transylvania—the right to elect its voivode naturally appertaining to the in-habitants of the voivodeship.

37I have shown how much I wish that the feuds between the nationalities be settled and that we create anew with a united will a free homeland for all of us without discrimination of language, race and religion.

38We have all suffered enough because of the national hatred—we oppressed Hungarians, you others deceived and oppressed together with us. All of us victims deprived of their freedom!

39May God grant that all of us may learn from the past.


1 Adminstrative entity of the Hungarian kingdom, mostly inhabited by Croatians. Today it forms part of Croatia.

2 Traditionally the highest adminstrative office of Croatia under the Hungarian Crown, a sort of viceroy.

3 Present-day Rijeka (Croatia), which held a special legal status in the nineteenth century.

4 Today Petrovaradin, near Novi Sad in Vojvodina (Serbia), in the early modern period it was an important fortress.

5 The Szeklers, although ethnically Hungarians, were considered a separate ‘natio’ in the Transylvanian constitutional tradition.

6 Also known as Banat; an administrative entity created by the Habsburg government in the eighteenth century. Its territory is now divided between Serbia and Romania.

7 Territorial units in the Great Hungarian Plains, once populated by Iranian and Turkic peoples who moved to Hungary during the Middle Ages and enjoyed specific privileges up to the nineteenth century.

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