MUNICIPALITIES AND TAXATION.
County Meeting at Pest.—Origin of Hungarian Municipalities.— The Municipal Government of Counties.—Municipal Officers. —Fö Ispan, —Vice-Ispán.-Szolga-biro.—Payment and Election of Magistrates.—County Meetings—their Powers.—Restaurations.—Municipal Government of Towns.—Senatus and Község.—Abuse of Candidation.—Municipal Government of Villages.--Advantages of Decentralization.—The Biro.—Taxation.—Mode of Levying Taxes.—Amount of Revenue.— Errors of the System.
ON our return to Pest, all the world was talking
of a great county meeting which had just taken
place ; in which the member, Mr. Pécsi, had been
recalled by his constituents, and dismissed from his
place for voting contrary to their instructions. The
greatest efforts had been made by the Government
party, at the head of which was the Fö Ispan, to
defeat the Liberals ; and, finding themselves in a
minority, they proposed to adjourn the new election
to another day : but, just at the critical moment
Count Karolyi György sprung upon the table, and
calling out, " No time like the present !" was received with such a burst of acclamation as at once
There is something so decidedly free, and even democratic, in these county meetings, and in the municipal95 institutions of Hungary generally, that they excited my interest in no ordinary degree ; and I think I cannot do better than dedicate a few pages to their consideration before we proceed further on our journey. The county meeting at Pest was, it is true, rather political than municipal in its character ; but, though, in this instance, the two institutions were mixed together, they are generally sufficiently separated to entitle us to consider them apart.
I am inclined to think the Hungarians owe their municipal institutions to the Sclaves whom they conquered ; not merely because the latter were a settled nation skilled in agriculture and other arts of civilized life, and therefore necessarily exercising
95" By the term `municipal,' I mean to designate the administration which the inhabitants of any village, burg, or section of the country, established for the management of their local affairs, as distinguished from and independent of the political government.'— Urquhart's Turkey, p. 71.
Be this as it may, when St. Stephen,—the Alfred of Hungary,—about the year 1000, undertook to settle the affairs of his new kingdom, he at once destroyed the octarchy, or rule of the descendants of the eight chieftains who conquered the land ; and in part redividing, and in part adopting former divisions, he constituted the counties nearly in their present number and form, whilst for the government of these counties he appointed officers similar to those now existing.
In Hungary, each of the fifty-two counties (Var-
There can be few positions in society more honourable, or more to be coveted, than that of Vice-Ispán in Hungary. Chosen freely by the whole gentry of his county, possessed of immense power and influence, and exercising it among his own friends and neighbours, he enjoys all that to a healthy ambition can appear desirable. As a school for constitutional statesmen, I know of no office so good as this. It lays open a clear view of the wants and capabilities of the country, even to the minutest details ; it places its occupant in the closest connection with his constituents, keeps him in constant remembrance of his dependence upon them, accustoms him to public speaking, and initiates him into that ars agendi — that tact in the management of affairs—which nothing but a long continuance in office can give, and which is almost as necessary in the government of a country as commanding talent and just principles. It has accordingly been much sought after of late by young men of family, and I could name more than one hereditary magnate whose greatest pride is his election to the office of Vice-Ispán.
The municipal officers below the Vice-Ispán, and
elected by the county, are the Szolga-birok, the
Jurassores, the receivers of the state taxes and
receivers of the county taxes, collectors, fiscals,
and others, besides a medical officer of health,
surveyors, jailors, inferior officers of police, &,c. who
All these officers receive a small annual payment during the period of their service, varying from 801. the salary of the Vice-Ispán, to 101. that of the Jurassor. It is not intended that this should be a remuneration for their services, but only a provision for the extraordinary expenses which their offices may bring upon them ; it being especially stated that none but men "well-to-do," and capable of living on their own property, shall be appointed. No man, when chosen, can refuse to serve.
The advantages resulting from this system of
elected county officers, and their consequent responsibility to public opinion, are so striking that
I need not point there out ; but some of its disadvantages may be less evident to those unacquainted with Hungary. In the first place, all these
officers are elected by the people,—and be it recollected that in Hungarian that term excludes the
peasantry,—and, from the short duration of their
Four times at least in the course of every year, and oftener, if necessary, the Fö Ispan, or, in his absence, the Vice-Ispan, is obliged to call a public meeting (Márkdlis szék—Congregatio) of all the nobles and clergy of the county. These meetings partake both of a political and municipal character. During the sitting of the Diet, it is here that the questions before the chambers are discussed ; and, according to the vote of the majority, instructions are sent back to the deputies as to the manner in which they are to vote. Here, too, the wants and the "grievances" of the county are debated, and orders sent to the representatives to introduce bills to remedy them. They have the right of corresponding not only with other counties, but with foreign powers also ; which right was exercised riot long since in the case of the King of Bavaria. In short, the county meetings of Hungary are little less than provincial parliaments, and the deputies members of a confederation.
In their municipal or local character they have the management and direction of the means of communication, as the making of roads, cutting of canals, and the opening of rivers; they assess the taxes, and order the levies of soldiers voted by the Diet; they provide for the expenses of the county ; assize the price of corn and meat ; —in short, perform all the business which the government of the county can require. They have one privilege of a very extraordinary character, and which may be quoted as, perhaps, the greatest extent of power ever conferred on a popular assembly under any form of constitutional government. In the same manner as I have already stated, that the acts of the Diet are sent down to the counties to be published, so also are the ordinances of the monarch : but if, after due examination, these are found by the county meetings to be contrary to law, or in their tendency dangerous to liberty, they have " the right to lay them, with all due honour, on the shelf (cum honors seponuntur), and take no further notice of them ; a right which they have frequently exercised, and which is in itself a sufficient guarantee against any kind of administrative tyranny."96
Another of their privileges is of rather a curious nature; namely, the right of citing before them any noble who leads a scandalous life, and obliging
96I quote from a very excellent article on Hungary, in the Athenaeum of Nov. 1837.
But important as the county meetings are in their immediate effects, they are still more so in training the people to think of, and act in, the affairs of the country; and I am convinced it is to them we must attribute the fact, that, in spite of the censorship of the press, in spite of their isolated position, and the many other disadvantages which they labour under, the Hungarians have sounder notions of politics, and a better acquaintance with their own real interests, than many of the so-called highly civilized nations of Europe.
There are few scenes better calculated to bring
out the striking peculiarities of national character
than a popular election ; and the elections of Hungary are no exceptions to the rule. It so happened
that I never was present at a Restauration, as an
election is called; but, if I may credit those who
have, such a scene of feasting, fiddling, fuddling,
and fighting was never equalled even in an Irish
fair. A little country town, crowded during three
or four days by three or four thousand noblemen,
armed and accompanied by their followers, for the
most part glorious with wine, their enthusiasm fired
in the cause of a party or a name, and edged on by
those little piquant animosities which near neigh-
The restaurations, whether of the deputies or municipal officers, are commonly presided over by the Fö Ispán himself. In the case of the municipal officers, the king, in the person of his representative, has the right of candidation ; that is, of naming three persons for every office, from among whom one must be chosen. In general, however, he nominates such as desire the honour, or who have a respectable party to support them ; so that this power is rarely used except to exclude an unworthy person. Elections are now commonly made by acclamation, though polling has been used ; Government having resumed what it calls the more ancient, certainly the more barbarous, mode, because it was thought that in the confusion the Fö Ispán might more easily decide upon the candidate most pleasing to the powers that be.
Never was scheme less successful. In the heat and enthusiasm of such a moment the influence of Government is lost; and the Hungarians have taught their lords-lieutenant to act with impartiality, by tossing out of the windows some who had shown a disposition to be partial. Should the numbers appear doubtful, the losing party have, within this last year or two, adopted the plan of demanding a poll, which the lords-lieutenant have not dared to refuse.
There is a good deal of similarity between these
It must be confessed that the excesses sometimes
committed are rather startling,—only the year before our visit eight men were killed at a restauration
in the county of Bars ;—but they are certainly less
than might be expected from an assembly of so many
rude and often uneducated men of warm temperament, excited by wine and party animosity, especially when it is considered that there is no police
to restrain them, and that they are for the most part
armed. I can easily believe that to the well-drilled,
well-policed slave of an absolute Government, such
a meeting must appear very alarming; but by an
Englishman, who has gone through the scenes
of a contested election, it will be readily understood. Such a man has felt the blessings of Liberty, and can therefore easily overlook some of
these outbursts of her wilder humours in consideration of the thousand blessings she showers
At these meetings it is wonderful with how much ease the Magyar, naturally eloquent, gives utterance to his burning thoughts and feelings in the sonorous tones of his much-loved mother-tongue. Word after word, and sentence after sentence, are poured forth without the slightest hesitation or difficulty. The election once over, and the Magyar forgets his anger. Both parties commonly meet, when the business of the day is concluded, without rancour or ill-will, at the table which the lord-lieutenant is obliged to provide for all comers. There again are speeches made,—thanks to the hot wines, yet more fluent than before !—toasts are drunk, healths are pledged, the national airs burst forth in all their native wildness from the gipsy band, and the sad-looking Magyar grows gay with the enthusiasm of the hour.
Of the municipalities of the towns in Hungary
it is not necessary to say much; they are German
in their origin, dependent in their principle. The
municipal body consists of a Senatus and a Község.
The Senatus answers to our court of aldermen, and
is composed of twelve members, from among whom
are chosen the Polgár Hester, or Mayor ; the Város
Biro, or Judge of the town ; and the Város Capitány,
or Commander of the police. The Kozseg forms the
The other cause for the subserviency of the towns is this;—To enable the Senatus to dispose of any part of the funds, exceeding in amount six pounds, furnished by the taxes which they are authorized to impose on the town to defray local expenses, or from the corporate property97 in their possession, it is necessary that permission should be granted by the Crown. Now the Austrian Government makes it a point never to refuse any request made to it, if it is possible to avoid it, — I believe, if the Hungarians asked for the moon, the Austrians would only reply that their request should be attentively considered—but they have a method of delaying to give an answer, which they know will break the spirit of the strongest petitioner in the world ; and
97Though a citizen is not noble, and cannot possess landed property, a ..hole town, by a fiction of law, is considered equal to a noble, and so possesses land which it can sell to its citizens. In like manner, although a citizen cannot bring an action against a noble, the town in corpore can proceed for him.
There is still one part of the municipal system to
be considered,—that which refers to the local government of a village. Every Hungarian village forms
a Communitas in itself, and is governed by its own
elected officers, assesses and collects its own taxes,
The chief officer of the village is the Biro or
Judge : for this office the Lord nominates three
peasants, from whom the villagers choose one.
Here, too, it is generally understood that the Lord
should nominate the three persons most desired ;
but in case he does not do so, and the peasants
cannot decide in three clays, the Szolga-biro of the
district appoints one himself, independently of both
parties. The Biro must be able to read and write,
and he is generally a man respected by his fellows
for his character and acquirements. His salary,
though small, is enough to make it worth his while
to take the office ; and he is freed from all obligation to labour for the Lord or the county during his continuance in office. The Biro's duties
extend to the collection of the taxes, the furnishing
the appointed number of conscripts for the army,
the quartering the soldiers on march fairly among
the peasantry, the supplying horses for vorspann,
the apprehending of rogues and vagabonds, the
settling of disputes, and even the summary punishment of trivial offences. The Biro is aided
by the Notarius, who keeps the accounts; by two
Jurassores, who help him in his judicial functions,
and must be present at every legal punishment ;
by the Kis Biro, or Little Judge ; and by several
I have entered thus at length into the subject of
Hungarian municipalities, partly because it is a
subject likely to excite great interest in England
before long, and because I think we may borrow
some useful hints from them ; but more particularly because I believe that in them may be found
the true bulwarks of Hungarian liberty. It is an
extraordinary fact, that Hungary, though exposed
for so many centuries to constant war,—though her
throne has been occupied by men of genius, men
born for power, and of despotic dispositions,—
though aliens in blood, in language, and in interests,
have swayed her destinies,—though princes, whose
rule was absolute in all the rest of their dominions,
have worn the crown of St. Stephen,—though a
Maria Theresa would have coaxed the Hungarians
into slavery under the name of civilization,—
though a Joseph would have robbed them of their
constitution with the promise of " liberty and
equality,"—yet has Hungary retained to the present time her ancient rights and institutions unimpaired. Where are we to search for the eminently
conservative principle which has thus enabled her
to resist so many dangers? I believe it is in the
decentralization of the municipal system. The
quarterly county meetings, and the discussions
The manner in which the principle of decentralization has been carried out in Hungary, and
rendered at the same time consistent with strength
in the centre, is much more striking than in any
other country of the old world. The local government, both of the counties and villages, administrative as well as executive, rests entirely in the
hands of officers elected by those most interested.
The political power, too, will be found to rest
partly in a centre — the Crown ; partly to be disseminated through the provinces,—they having merely
delegated an expression of their will, and not
deputed a portion of their power to the Chamber.
The executive is mixed in the same way ; partly
depending on the Crown through its officers in the
capital, partly on the people and their elected
officers in the country. The link of centralization,
too, by means of the Lord-lieutenant and his power
of candidation, and of decentralization, again,
through the limitation of the executive in the
I have remarked that the assessment and collection of taxes is confided to the municipal officers; and it may be as well, therefore, in this place, to give some further information on the subject of taxation in Hungary. The taxes in Hungary are divided into two classes, the general and local, — the Cassa Militaris and Cassa Domestica.
The Diet has the right of voting the amount of the taxes belonging to the Cassa Militaris, and the duty of fixing the proportion which shall be borne by each county. In order to render the proportion more equal, the whole country has been divided into six thousand two hundred and ten pork'? ; and so much is voted per porta.98
When the municipal officers have settled the
98The word porta was originally used, in 1342, to signify a gate through which a laden waggon could pass, such as is seen before every peasant's house. At this time a new finance system was introduced, according to which every porta which did not belong to a noble, a clergyman, a very poor peasant, a citizen,— he contributed separately,—the servant of a noble, or a peasant who followed his master to the wars, was obliged to contribute a certain sum yearly. This was afterwards adopted as the groundwork of assessments, and is continued to the present day; but although in time, as villages grew up and districts became inhabited, the number of gates increased, they still remained the same in the exchequer books; for it was found more easy to increase the amount of assessment than to make a new census. The revenue made up in this manner, now falls very unequally on some districts, while others escape tax-free. A new census has, however, been made, and a more equitable division arranged, which only waits for its formal adoption to be brought into use.
The whole amount of taxes thus collected it is
difficult to ascertain. The sum voted by the Diet
of late years for the Cassa Militaris has been
5,300,000 f c. in. or 530,000l. This, however, is
It must be evident to any one who casts his eye over this list, and secs, in a country which enjoys the constitutional right of voting the supplies, that
99By Deperditct is meant the sum required to make up the losses sustained by individual peasants from supplying the soldiers with bread, corn, and hay, at a price much below the real value. It was, I think, in the reign of Maria Theresa that it was settled that Hungary should quarter sixty thousand soldiers; finding them in bread at the rate of one kreutzer the pound, hay at twenty kreutzers (eightpence) the cwt., and oats at twenty-four kreutzers the metzen, the ordinary price of such articles being very much higher. The difference between the real value and the fixed price of these articles, is partly made up to the peasant out of the county rates (which the peasantry at large pay), and constitutes a very important part of the county expenditure under the head of " Deperdita."
To the foreigner it is of little importance whether Hungary pays more or less than her share of the general expenses of the Austrian empire ; but, as it is a question which excites great interest amongst both Hungarians and Austrians, we must not pass it over in silence.
The surface of Hungary equals nearly the whole
of the rest of Austria, and certainly includes by
far the most fruitful if not the most productive
The Cassa Domestica, instead of being voted by
the Diet, is voted by the county meetings, and is
entirely devoted to the expenses of the individual
county. The amount must of course vary in each
county, according to the circumstances of the time,
and the necessities of different localities. From this
source are derived the salaries of the municipal
officers, the sums necessary for the maintenance and
Some of the most enlightened Hungarians would gladly see this principle carried out to a much greater extent ; and it is not improbable that Government would second them : but among many of the nobles, especially the lowest and highest, there is so great an ignorance and so strong a prejudice,—on the one hand against losing what they consider their rights, and on the other against raising the peasantry to think and feel like men, — that much must be done before this act of justice can be accomplished. The advantage which such a reform would confer on the peasants by relieving them from an unjust and irksome burthen, on the country by the improvements which might then be undertaken in the means of communication, and on the nation at large by the encouragement of better feelings amongst all classes, and by the creation of a greater interest in preserving entire and free from foreign interference their municipal institutions, is incalculable, and worth any sacrifices to attain.
END OF THE FIRST VOLUME.
LONDON : Printed by S. & J. BENTLEY and HENRY FLEY, Bangor House, Shoe Lane.
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