Title


[181]

CHAPTER VII

TRANSYLVANIA. -- HISTORY AND POLITICS.

Transylvania. -- Its Population. -- Settlement of the Szeklers, -- of the Magyars, -- of the Saxons, -- under Woiwodes. -- Zápolya. -- Native Princes. -- Bethlen Gábor. -- Aristocratic Democracy. -- Union with Austria. -- Diploma Leopoldinum. -- Confirmed by Maria Theresa. -- Actual Form of Government. -- Constitution infringed. -- Opposition. -- Baron Wesselenyi. -- County Meetings. -- Grievances. -- General Vlasita. -- Diet of 1834. -- Archduke Ferdinand. -- History of the Diet. -- Violent Dissolution. -- Moral Opposition.

A STRANGE little country is this Transylvania! Very likely the reader never heard its name before, and yet some hundred years ago it was in close .illiance with England; and, long before religious liberty, annual parliaments, payment of members, and the election of magistrates were dreamed of, amongst us, they were granted to Transylvania, by a solemn charter of their Prince, the Emperor of Austria. Here is this country on the very limits of European civilization, yet possessing institutions and rights, for which the most civilized have not been thought sufficiently advanced.

The distinctions and differences among the population [182] of Hungary have offered us a singular spectacle enough, but tho Transylvanians far outpass them in these matters, as they vary among themselves, not only in language, race, and religion, but in civil laws and political institutions. The Magyar, the Szekler, the Saxon, and the Wallack, have all their rights, but differing most materially in nature and extent from each other. The whole population of the country does not amount to more than two millions,23 yet they have among them four established religious, -- besides several others tolerated, -- at least four languages, and I know not how many different national customs, prejudices, and modes of feeling.

23 The best statistical authority 011 which I can lay my hand is a small geography of Transylvania, by Lebrecht, published as far back as 1804. Tho whole population is estimated at 1,458,559 (without the clergy); of these, 729,310 are Wallacks; about 358,596 Magyars; about 123,085 Szeklers; 181,790 Saxons; while of Gipsies, Jews, Greeks, Armenians, and Bulgarians, there are about 05,772. In the "Transylvania" published in 1833, it is conjectured to have risen to 2,034,375, including the Transylvanian military Borderers.

It is not my intention to enter upon these matters at any length. Suffice it to say, that there are three nations, the Magyar, the Szekler, and the Saxon, which have each a part in the government of the country. They inhabit different districts; the Magyars, the whole west and centre; the Szeklers, the east and north; and the Saxons, the greater part of the south; and [183] with these are mixed up a number of Wallacks, Gipsies, Jews, Armenians, &c. In order to give the English reader some idea of this country, and of its present state, I believe it will be best to dedicate a page or two to its previous history.

When the Romans finally retired from Dacia, and Aurelian offered as many of the inhabitants as chose to accept it, a refuge in Muesia, which he named his Dacia,24 the country was left defenceless, and open to the incursions of those barbarous hordes which in turn cursed Europe with their devastating presence. The greater part of these seem to have passed and repassed Transylvania, without either effecting the total destruction of the Dacians, or being able to establish themselves in the country. Of one of them, however, a considerable number -- whether cut off from the principal body of the enemy, or separated by &ome quarrel among themselves, or stationed to retain a command of the mountain-passes, and so facilitate a return, is unknown -- were left behind the rest; and there their descendants remain to the present day. These are the Szeklers.

24 The Wallacks, still found in some parts of Bulgaria, are probably the descendants of those who followed Aurelian.

From which of these savage nations the Szeklers, or Siculi, are derived, is one of those historical puzzles in which the learned of Hungary, are fond of losing themselves. Attila and his Huns, having gained the widest renown, if not the best, Szekler [184] antiquaries generally fix on them as their forefathers. But, be that as it may, the Magyars found them where they now are, on their entering the country in the tenth century; and as they wore evidently of the same family -- for their language, features, character, all declare them Magyars, -- they were received into favour, and allowed to retain free possession of their lands, on condition of guarding the frontier.

The Magyars made themselves masters of Dacia and Pannonia as early as the beginning of the tenth century, and from that time till 1526, Transylvania was little more than a part of Hungary, though it must he confessed a very unruly part. A certain degree of independence is still maintained. It was governed by a Woiwode appointed by the King of Hungary, who seems to have held Diets to consult with the nobles on the affairs of the country. These meetings were sometimes even presided over by the Kings of Hungary themselves, During the greater part of this period, Transylvania was rarely without suffering the evils of domestic or foreign warfare, and so terribly was the population diminished, that whole tracts of country lay waste for want of cultivators. To supply this deficiency, foreign colonists were invited to re-people the wasted districts. As early as the middle of the twelfth century, a colony of Germans, from the Rhine country, were tempted by the offer of a fertile soil, and by a promise of the enjoyment [185] of their own customs and religion, as well as of certain other privileges, to settle in the nearly deserted Transylvania. It is to this colony the present Saxons owe their origin.

It was not till the battle of Mohács had reduced the power of Hungary to so low an ebb, that she accepted an Austrian Emperor for her king, and till she so far forgot her ancient traditions, as eventually to establish the succession hereditary in that family, that Transylvania, under Zápolya, threw off her dependence on Hungary, and proclaimed herself an independent state. Zápolya's views were not confined to Transylvania; his object was the crown of Hungary, and it is certain that his schemes during the weak reign of Ludwig II. constantly tended to that object, and it is even suspected that his absence from Mohács was caused by the same ambitious motive. Be that as it may, although actually crowned at Stuhlweissenburg, and although supported by a large party, he was unable to establish himself on the throne, and he was finally reduced to the principality of Transylvania, which he may be said to have founded.

Transylvania achieved her independence, if such it can be called, under bad auspices, for Zápolya submitted to the degradation of paying a tribute to the Porte, as the condition on which he should receive aid against the arms of Austria. For more than a century and a half, Transylvania continued in this state of partial independence, sometimes [I86] paying tribute to the Porte, sometimes seeking the support of Austria, but always throwing off her allegiance, both to one and the other, the moment her own strength or rather their weakness, afforded her the slightest chance of doing so with impunity. During this period, the country was governed by native princes, generally chosen by the Diet, but rarely without the intervention of a Turkish Pasha, or an Austrian ambassador, and, sometimes, they were nominated hy one of these powers without even the form of an election. Short as was the time, Transylvanian historians enumerate with exultation, no less than twenty-four possessors of the Crown, as if the number of princes increased the brilliancy of the epoch. Of these, one reigned only a single day, others not more than a year; and it often happened that two reigned at the same time, the one acknowledging himself a vassal of Austria, the other a tributary of the Porte. Of all these princes, hut few have either acquired or deserved a European reputation. Bethlen Gábor, who presided over the destinies of Transylvania, nearly at the same period as Cromwell over those of England, is the most striking exception; like Cromwell, lie was a staunch adherent to the doctrines of Calvin, a successful general, and a man of most determined resolution and untiring energy. As a sign of the times, rather than as a characteristic of the man, it may be mentioned that Bethlen composed psalms which are [187] still sung in the Reformed churches, and that he read the bible through twenty times. Two of Bethlen's most constant objects were the banishment of the Jesuits from Transylvania, and the securing the rights of the Protestants in Hungary; but to accomplish the first, he did not hesitate to persecute to the death, and the second seems to have been rather a cloak to ambition than the object in which that ambition centred. The part which ficthlcn took in the Thirty Years' War, gave a European importance to Transylvania, such as it never before nor since that time has enjoyed. For many years Bethlen's favourite project was the restoration of the kingdom of Dacia, including Transylvania and Hungary east of the Theiss, in favour of himself, and the only reason that can be assigned for his having abandoned this object was, the failure of heirs to inherit his power and glory. He died childless. The engagements of Bethlen with the chiefs of the Thirty Years' War, the faithlessness of the Jesuit ministers of the Austrian court, and the discontent of the Protestants of Hungary, together with his own ambition, made the life of this prince a constant series of intrigues and wars. That his character should come out quite clear from such a trial is hardly to be expected ; indeed, in the intricate mazes of policy, there seems to have been few paths, however tortuous, which he did not tread; yet it is impossible not to admire the greatness of his designs, the fertility of his [188] resources, his diplomatic skill, and tlio noble principle of religious liberty, for which he professed to struggle.

What the strength and cunning of a Bethlen Gábor was unable to hold in peace and security, the comparative feebleness of his successors rendered a perpetual object of contest. For a long series of years, Transylvania was engaged in wars, half political, half religious, in which neither the bigotry of the mass was rendered respectable by its sincerity, nor the restless turbulence of the chiefs by their faith or disinterestedness. The Protestants of the mountains of Transylvania, and the half nomad population of the plains of Hungary, were ever ready to engage in expeditions, where their faith was to be defended, and plunder to be gained. Nor were adventurous leaders wanting; who, if they did not gain freedom from the struggle, rarely failed to increase their patrimony by obtaining rich grants of lands ere their zeal could be cooled. As the first battle of Mohacs may be said to have given rise to this state, so the second battle of Mohacs may be considered to have put an end to it.

It has often astonished me to hear Transylva-nians speak of the period during which they were ruled by native princes, as the golden age of their history, the epoch of national glory, the time to which their national songs and legends all relate. Is it that national independence has such charms for a people, that civil war, with all its horrors, [189] foreign invasion, with all its suite of crimes, can be forgotten under the influence of its magic name ? It must be so; and yet are there men who dare to mock such sentiments, and who dispose of nations with as little regard to their feelings as if they were flocks of sheep.

Perhaps, too, it may be that this period was the one most fruitful in the establishment of free institutions, of which the benefits are still felt. If the weakness of Transylvanian princes gave a vast weight to the demands of the aristocracy, their need of support during such long wars, induced them to extend the privileges of that aristocracy to so great a number as to render it almost a democracy. It is to this circumstance we must attribute the character of freedom which distinguishes the institutions of Transylvania.25 It was no longer a privileged few demanding power to restrain the suffering many. The aristocracy became a people, demanding liberty for all, except the conquered part of the nation. The establishment of equal rights for four denominations, at a time when all the rest of Europe was persecuting for religion's sake, was an act so far above the paltry spirit of [190] oligarchic legislation, that we can account for it in no other way than by reference to that great extension of political rights enjoyed by the Transyl-vanians, and which was in a great measure achieved under their native princes.

25 Transylvania can scarely be considered an aristocracy any more than America can. The native Indians and negroes of America -- the free negroes of the north, I mean, for Transylvania knows nothing so degrading as absolute slavery -- occupy the place of the gipsies and Wallacks of Transylvania ; the rest of the inhabitants of both countries enjoying nearly equal rights.

Another circumstance which has made the Transylvanians look back to the government of their native princes with affection and regret, is the frightful persecutions to which, in the earlier times of their subjection, they were exposed at the hands of foreign masters, and in later days, the violence with which their constitutional rights have been trampled under foot. The names of Basta, Caraffa, and Heister, generals of Austria, to whom the task of oppressing Transylvania was in turn committed, are never mentioned without a shudder, even to the present time. The peasant still tells his children of the sad days when liasta, after having taken all their cattle, harnessed their forefathers to his waggons, and thus supplied his army with forage and transport.26

26 A kind of wheelbarrow was introduced for that purpose by liasta, and they are still called Basta szekér, or Basta's carriages.

Without attempting to trace the constitutional history of Transylvania step by step, through its various phases of developement, it may be worth while to pause a moment, and examine its great foundation-stone, the celebrated Diploma Leopold!-nmn, as it not only contains the chief elements of the form of government which has been in operation [191] from the day on which it was granted to the present, but may serve also to give us some notion of the progress made by the nation previous to the period when it was obtained. The want of good historians of Transylvania, -- at least in the German language, and I believe also in the Hungarian, -- -the disturbed and unsettled character of the period itself, and the fact that the institutions were then rather forming than formed, must be our excuse for not entering more fully into the political condition of the country, previous to the date of the Diploma. It is certain, however, that the princes were elected,27 but the form of election was exceedingly indeterminate, and the supreme power was more frequently obtained by force of arms than by a majority of votes. The Diets were held annually under some princes, nearly dispensed with by others. The members were in part elected, in part nominated, and in part, I suspect, even hereditary.

27 I have been astonished to hear really sensible men refer to the time when they elected to, -- that is quarrelled for, fought for, intrigued for, bribed for, betrayed for, -- the throne as a period of glory, and the loss of that privilege as the greatest misfortune. I, on the contrary, believe sincerely that the greatest -- some might say the only -- advantage Hungary and Transylvania have received from their connexion with Austria, is the loss of this right, and the establishment of an hereditary succession to the crown.

In judging of the state of legislation previous to the Diploma Leopoldinuin, it must not be forgotten that Austria obtained the election of the Emperor, as Prince of Transylvania, chiefly through the influence [192] fluence of treachery on the part of one or two Transylvaniane, seconded by the weakness of the aged Prince Apaffi, and by the presence of a large array under Caraffa, and that the Diploma was, therefore, little more than a compromise, forced on the country, between the absolute principle of the Austrian Government, and the almost republican forms then in use in Transylvania.

The first article of the Diploma gives an assurance of equal rights to the four religions, -- viz., the Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, and Unitarian, and the permission to build new churches wherever their numbers may require them.

The second secures to each religion, all the lands, tithes, benefices, foundations, churches, schools, &c., then actually possessed by them, although they may have belonged formerly to the Catholics.

The third insures the Transylvanians the enjoyment of their civil privileges, according to the established laws of Hungary, while by the Saxons their own municipal organization is to be retained.

By the fourth it is promised that nothing shall be changed in the form of government, in the appointment of the Privy Council, in the constitution of the Diet, the manner of voting, or the administration of justice, except the right of appeal to the Crown.

The fifth excludes foreigners from the possession of offices.

By the sixth it is declared that property reverting [193] to the Crown, by the extinction of families, shall be bestowed on other deserving persons, and that Transylvanians possessing property in Hungary shall enjoy it with the same rights as Hungarians.

By the seventh it is stipulated that the President of the Privy Council, the Commander-in-chief of the Transylvanian Militia, the Chancellor, the members of the Privy Council, the Prothonotaries, and other high dignitaries, must be natives chosen by the Diet, although requiring the royal assent to their election.

By the eighth it is provided that in the Privy Council a fourth of the members shall be Catholics, as likewise in the supreme courts of justice. By the ninth an annual Diet is guaranteed, the dissolution to depend on the royal will.

It is stipulated by the tenth that the Governor shall reside in the country, and that he, as well as the Privy Council and the members of the court of justice, shall be paid by the Crown.

It is agreed by the eleventh that in peace the country shall pay an annual tribute of fifty thousand thalers; in time of war, against Hungary and Transylvania, four hundred thousand florins, including supplies delivered in kind. The assessment of this sum to bo left to the Diet. All other charges are to be borne by the Crown out of the Kanuneral revenues derived from the Fiscal estates, salt-tax, metal tax, among the Saxons the customs' [194] tenth, and in the Hungarian counties the tithe rent.28

28 This tithe-rent arises from the secularization of all the church property under one of the princes, -- I think the Unitarian Zapolya Zaigmund. Previous to that time the nobles had paid tithe to the church, they were now to pay it to the tiscus. As the collection in kind more than swallowed up the profits of the tax, it was generally let, or compounded for, by a fixed Bum of money, paid by the nobles, who had then the right to collect the tithe from their own peasants. This composition is paid to the present day. -- A great part of the Transylvanian clergy of the established religions are paid by the government. The Greek church alone, entirely maintains its own.

By the twelfth the free Szeklers are to remain tax free, but bound to do military service.

The thirteenth provides that the taxes, duties, and customs shall not be increased beyond what they had previously been.

By the fourteenth the tithes are to be rented by the land owners, but the fiscus is to receive the aremla canon or composition.

By the fifteenth the country is required to maintain troops for its occupation and protection under the command of an Austrian general ; but he is not to mix in civil affairs, and must maintain a good understanding with the Governor, the Diet, and the Privy Council, in matters of war.

By the sixteenth the people are to be relieved from the burden of supporting and lodging travellers, by the establishment of posts and inns. Although the Austrian power was long rendered uncertain by a series of civil wars, in which Transylvania [195] took a leading part, it was finally established on a firm basis, and, as the Austrian party grew stronger, the more liberal articles of the diploma were gradually invaded, but the monarchs, nevertheless, continued to swear to their observance, and no legal modification was ever made in its provisions. Maria Theresa imitated her predecessors, and adopted the diploma in all its extent, requiring only that the Diet, in return, should formally renounce the right of electing the Prince, and accept the Pragmatic Sanction establishing the succession in her, and her descendants. Here, as in Hungary, during the latter years of Maria Theresa's reign, and during the whole of Joseph's, the constitution was in abeyance, nor, during the very few occasions on which the Diet was called together, towards the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth centuries, did any important change take place. The long wars in which Austria became engaged soon after, furnished an excuse for ruling without a Diet, and so matters remained till 1830.

The actual form of government then, as settled by the Diploma Leopoldinum, and according to law, -- if not always according to fact, -- existing at the present time, is nearly as follows : --

A Governor, aided by a Privy Council, Secretaries, and others, corresponding with the Transyl-vanian chancery at Vienna, -- in other words, acting under the direction of an Austrian minister, -- constitute [196] the executive, whilst the legislative is formed by a Diet, to be held every year. The appointment of the executive is to be vested jointly in the Diet and the Crown.29 For every office the Diet is to candidate or nominate three individuals from each of the received religions, that is twelve persons for each office, from among whom the Crown appoints one.

29 This is a disputed point which I do not pretend to decide, but merely state how it actually takes place ; whether right or wrong, I leave others to determine.

The Diet itself forms only one body, though it is composed of various elements. Every county and free town sends its members, -- the Magyars about forty-six, the Szeklers eighteen, and the Saxons eighteen also ; the members of the towns in Transylvania have the same rights as those of the counties ; the Catholic church sends two members representatives of abbeys. The Catholic and united Greek Bishops claim each a seat also. Besides these, there are Regalists, as they are called (a sort of Peers), who sit and vote with the others, hut who are not endowed with any other power or title in consequence. Some of these arc nominated by the Crown for life, others have seats in virtue of their office, as the Lords Lieutenant, Privy Counsellors, and Secretaries. The number of Regalists is said to have been limited to eighty-nine by Maria Theresa, but this regulation has been grossly infringed, the present number exceeding two hundred.

[197]

Besides the candidation of the executive, the duties of the Diet may be said to consist, in the making and altering of laws for the internal government of the country, the voting supplies of troops, the levying, but not voting, the contribution, and the conferring the Indigenal30 or right of citizenship upon strangers.

30 Although the king can make any Hungarian peasant noble, he cannot confer on a foreigner, not even on an Austrian subject, the rights of Hungarian nobility ; this power, both in Hungary and Transylvania, the Diet reserves to itself. The Indigenat tax -- in Hungary two thousand, and in Transylvania one thousand ducats -- is often remitted as a compliment to the person on whom the right of citizenship is conferred.

The Municipal Government of the counties and towns is nearly the same as that of Hungary, except among the Saxons, of whose form of local government we shall speak further hereafter.

From the little we have said, it is easy to see how grossly the institutions of Transylvania have been violated; and one far better able to judge than we can possibly be, Baron Kemény Dénes, has publicly declared, "that of the whole Diploma Leopoldinum but one article has been faithfully observed, and that is the one stipulating that the general commanding the troops should be a German!"

The length of time which elapsed without the assembling of the States, and the consequent illegal appointment of all the chief officers; the neglect to call the county-meetings, and the want of legal [198] sanction to all the municipal proceedings, were fast destroying in the minds of the people all confidence in the faith of the Government, all trust in its officers, and almost all respect for the laws they administered. A corrupt bureaucracy, whose interest it was to maintain this order, or rather disorder, of things, because by its illegality alone could its members exist, was fast demoralizing the country by an exhibition of the basest subserviency to power, and of the most open contempt for every principle of honour and honesty.

Fortunately the very excess of its viciousness was the cause of saving the country. A number of well-meaning men, who had consented to aid Joseph in his constitutional violence, because they saw it associated with so much that was enlightened and good, shrunk with horror from a system which alike violated the rights of the nation, and the rights of man. The staunch Conservative party, which had never been juggled out of its consistency by any pretence of amelioration, and which loved old things because they were old, still hated the innovators, however they might otherwise have liked their principles; and besides these, a new party had arisen far more powerful than all the others. The progress made in the West of Europe, during the last quarter of a century, in the establishment of rational freedom, was not without its effect even in this distant part of the globe. In vain the youth of Transylvania were forbidden to [199] exercise their ancient privilege of visiting foreign universities; in vain the strictest censorship endeavoured to suppress and mutilate the truth; liberal facts, and liberal principles found their way into the country, and a Liberal party was gradually formed. By this party the ancient institutions were all the more closely cherished, because they were free; nor were there wanting among them those who felt that stronger guarantees were required for the observance of these institutions, and above all, that it was necessary to extend the privileges, now exclusively enjoyed by the nobles, to the other classes of society. The greater portion of this party, however, have no higher wish than to return to the strict letter of the constitution, as enjoyed by their ancestors, and sworn to by the Emperor, and they claim therefore for themselves the title of conservatives, and denounce their adversaries as destructives.

The events of 1830, which shook all Europe to its basis, gave a voice, in Transylvania, to those feelings of discontent which had been long entertained in secret, and the country, as with one accord, demanded that the county-meetings should he summoned, and a Diet called together.

A really strong popular feeling rarely wants a good leader to direct its expression ; in Transylvania such a leader was found in Baron Wesselélnyi Miklós. In addition to the advantages of rank and fortune, Wesselényi possesses so much energy [200] and courage, so much truth and sincerity, and withal an eloquence so powerful, that it is not astonishing he was soon acknowledged as the head of the party.

The first point conceded by Government was the county-meetings, and these were immediately taken advantage of to give expression to public opinion. In the absence of a free press, these meetings were of the greatest importance; they operated as safety valves, which, while they may have given vent to some useless vapour, served to inform the observer under how great a pressure the machine was labouring.

Wesselényi, and a party of his friends, purchased small portions of land in every county, that they might have the right of attending, and of speaking at every public meeting. They had no lack of matter for the exercise of their oratory; the unconstitutional procedure of withholding the Diet, the consequent illegal appointment of the great officers, and the neglect of municipal privileges, were all subjects for eloquent declamation. Then, too, since the last Diet, no less than twenty thousand soldiers had been raised in Transylvania without the consent of the nation. The taxes, -- that subject which touches the most indifferent, and in which some men believe the wbole science of politics to consist, -- were open enough to animadversion; for from the 300,000 florins stipulated in the Diploma, they had been arbitrarily [201] raised to upwards of a million and a half.31 The salt tax too, which the Government had been allowed to increase during the war. still continued at the war rate after fifteen years of peace. The export and import duties, which the Diploma expressly declared should not be altered, had been raised so high as to be prohibitory.

31 The exact amount of the present contribution is not known. The mode of levying it has heen completely changed; a fixed sum is paid by the peasant for his land per acre, and for his cattle, sheep, &c., so much per head, without any relation to any stipulated agreement, so that the tan goes on increasing in amount probably every year.

The grievances of the Protestants were deep, aiuL from their numbers and intelligence, of much importance: they demanded that they should enjoy their rights, and be admitted to places of trust and profit equally with the Catholics; they objected to the forced observance of Catholic holidays, and they protested against the injustice of forcing the Catholics, who wished to become Protestants, to undergo six weeks' instruction from a priest, while the Protestant was received into the Catholic church without the slightest difficulty being thrown in bis way.

The Szeklers were discontented that one portion of their nation were obliged both to serve in the army and to pay taxes ; and the Saxons -- even the quiet submissive Saxons -- were not without their griefs. Their municipal constitution had been completely changed, and instead of being governed [202] by officers freely elected by the people, they found themselves delivered over to the tender mercies of a self-elected bureaucracy.

These, and a host of minor abuses, which had crept into the administration from the want of due popular control, formed the subject-matter of the harangues of Wesselényi and his friends, and they were insisted on with a degree of courage and energy which lent force to their acknowledged truth. The Liberals carried the day at almost every meeting at which they presented themselves ; petitions and remonstrances, more loud and more angry as delay exhausted the patience of the petitioners, crowded the archives of the Chancery : petitions and remonstrances soon grew into demands, and demands at last assumed the form of threats. Baron Wesselényi publicly announced his intention to allow no soldiers to be levied on his estates till a Diet had been granted. Not only individuals, but several counties follow his example.

In the mean time Baron Josika, the Court nominated governor, overlooking the legal and constitutional character of the opposition, saw nothing but revolution in these demonstrations, and he is said to have written the most exaggerated reports of their danger to Vienna, and to have demanded a supply of troops to repress them.

So violent a measure seems to have startled even the Court itself, and though troops were sent, they sent with them a commissioner, General Vlasits, [203] with power to inquire into the state of the country, and to apply the necessary remedies to the existing evils. On a certain day the county-meetings were assembled in every part of Transylvania, and an edict of the Crown was published, denouncing the decision of the former meetings, as illegal and null, and promising them a Diet and the reform of abuses, on condition of their retracting the offensive resolutions.

Although several of the counties refused to adopt this suggestion and stultify their former acts, General Vlasits reported the country to be in perfect tranquillity, and the reports of the revolution, which he had been sent down to quell, without a shadow of foundation. The conduct of Vlasits though entrusted with so delicate a mission, secured for him even the respect and esteem of those most strongly opposed to him ; but by the Court, his efforts were not favourably regarded, and he was shortly afterwards recalled.

The moment, however, was now come when it was thought no longer safe to resist the popular wish. The Court knew full well that Wesselényi32 [204] was a man to keep his word, the counties too were firm in supporting him, and, under such circumstances, a collision, in which the nobles would appear as the protectors of the peasantry, was to be avoided at any price. A Diet was granted.

32[203] A short time previous to this, when Wesselényi was attending a levee of the Emperor at Presburg, the sovereign, in making his round of the circle, stopped opposite our Trausylvauian, already distinguished as a Liberal leader, and, shaking his head very ominously, addressed him, "Take care, Baron Wesselényi take care what you are about ! recollect that many of your family have been unfortunate 1" -- (His father was confined for seven years in the Kuffstein.) " Unfortunate, your majesty, they have been, but ever [204]undeserving of their misfortunes also !" was Wesselényi's told and honest answer. It is only those who know the habitual stiffness and decorum of an Austrian court that can conceive the consternation into which the whole crowd was thrown by this unexpected boldness. Explanations were offered to Wcsselfinyi to soften down the harshness of the royal reproof, in hopes of bringing hint to beg pardon ; but he could not apologise for having defended the honour of his family, even when attacked by his sovereign.

In 1834 then, the Transylvanian Diet was again called together, after an interval of twenty-three years.

The election returns left no doubt as to the state of opinion in the country, oven if any could have been entertained before. The members of both towns and counties were, with few exceptions, liberal. The Regalists, by office, as well as the Regalists by royal appointment, were also strongly tinctured with the same opinions ; and, consequently, the governor with his little band of faithful officials, saw before him nothing but the melancholy prospect of a certain defeat.

It is necessary that the Diet should be opened by a royal commissioner; and the person chosen for tins purpose was the Arch-duke Ferdinand d'Este, the brother of the Duke of Modena, and a near relation of the Emperor. The influence which [205] the high rank of the commissioner might naturally be expected to exercise on the nobility, was probably calculated upon as likely to strengthen the Court party; but, unfortunately, the well-known sentiments of the Arch-duke in favour of absolutism, and the troops which soon followed his arrival gave his appearance among them so much the air of an attempt to overpower and control the freedom of their discussions, that it only increased the bitterness of feeling and piirty spirit by which the country was divided.

Under such auspices the Diet opened.

The length of time that had elapsed since the last Diet had, among other consequences, rendered doubtful many of the rights and privileges of the chamber. At the very outset, the Government disputed the right of the chamber to elect its own president, while the chamber refused to admit the nominee of the Government.

This was but the beginning of a series of angry disputes, in which almost every constitutional question, in season or out of season, was dragged into the discussions ; for it was another evil of the long recess, that it had disaccustomed the leading members to those habits of parliamentary debate, and those forms of parliamentary business, on which the practical utility of a parliament so much depends. One of the most interesting of these questions was, the publication of the debates, which the Arch-duke positively forbade, but which Wesselényi, [200] by moans of a lithographic press, still found means of carrying on. Another, perhaps, still more important question was, the manner in which the election of officers should take place, -- whether each of the twelve candidates should be chosen by an absolute majority or not -- the Liberals contending for the absolute majority, by which alone they could exert some influence over the nomination of the Crown. At this period of the affair, the Diet sent a deputation of its members to wait upon the Emperor, to disabuse him of the falsehoods with which they believed his ministers and their spies had poisoned his ear against his faithful Transyl-vanians, and to prove to him that their objects, so far from revolutionary, all tended to the preservation only of their ancient rights and immunities.

In the mean time, evil passions had been called into play, which rendered greater every day the separation between the two parties. Personal animosity and private pique, ambitious vanity and wounded dignity, all conspired in turns, to embitter the debates. The conduct of Wesselényi himself was anything but conciliatory. With principles and views too far advanced, probably, both for the Government he wished to control, and the party he wished to lead, he grew only more uncompromising in their support, the more sharply they were attacked. It was in vain that Professor Szász, that Count Bethlen János, and others of the Liberal party, endeavoured to moderate the demands [207] of the ultras, or the mistrust and fears of the Absolutists. It was in vain, the more cautious inveighed against the danger of playing the lion's part with only the fox's strength; Wesselényi was not a man to yield, where be believed himself right, and he steadily refused to sacrifice a single principle on the plea of expediency.

The political fever was now spreading far and wide, and the Arch-duke and the administration became so unpopular, that the waverers, the men of no opinion, threw themselves into the ranks of the opposition. The colleges, with all the enthusiasm of youth, added their voices to Wesselényi's demand for liberty and justice. From the mountains of the hardy Szeklers to the quiet villages of the cautious Saxons, the cry for reform of abuses grew louder and louder. At such a moment, a bold hand, a comprehensive mind, and an honest heart would at once have grappled with the difficulties, offered a frank reform of abuses, and gone in advance even of the expectations of the people in correcting acknowledged evils. In an instant the whole country would have been at the foot of the throne. No one would have ventured to oppose so fair a promise of good, and Transylvania would have overlooked a thousand past faults in the anticipation of a happy future.

Such, unfortunately, was not the course pursued. On the 24th of May, Wesselényi had presented to [208]

the chamber his lithographic press, had claimed for it the protection of the country, and had seen it accepted with acclamations. A few hours later, and a proclamation from the Emperor had dissolved the Diet, suspended the constitution, and nominated the Arcli-duke absolute governor of the country!

A dénouement so sudden and so unexpected, produced the most extraordinary sensation. Angry words were exchanged between the parties, and in the excitement of the moment, a sabre is said to have started from its scabbard; but, fortunately, the leaders restrained these ebullitions of feeling, and the chamber separated in perfect quiet. What was their surprise on leaving the hall, to find the streets lined with troops, and everything bearing the aspect of a military demonstration ?

Intimidation was probably the object aimed at, for I will not for a moment suspect the Government of having wished to provoke a movement that they might thus dispose the more easily of their antagonists : the loyal and honourable character of the Arch-duke forbids such a suspicion, even should that of some of his counsellors provoke it. Intimidation was probably the sole object, but never was a purpose more signally defeated.

It was immediately determined, that without any appeal to arms, the strongest moral opposition [209] should be offered to this act of constitutional violence. With one or two exceptions only, every man of character holding office under the Crown -- Lords-Lieutenant of counties, Privy Councillors, Secretaries of State -- at once threw up their appointments, declaring that they could no longer act with a Government that seemed to set all law and justice at defiance.33 This was an unexpected blow; the Court party had reckoned on the love of place being stronger than the love of principle -- a few years previously it would have been so -- and its disappointed rage seemed uncontrollable. Actions at law were commenced against the leaders of the Liberals before judges certain to condemn them; injury and insult were heaped upon every member of the party, and their security and repose were placed entirely at the disposal of inveterate, and often unprincipled, enemies.

33 Among these, the principal were, Privy Councillors, Baron Kemenéy Ferenz, and Szék Dániel; Lords-Lieutenant, Count Degenfeld, Baron Bánffy Lászlo, Baron Báffy Adám, and Ugron István; Secretaries, Count Bethlen Imré, Ugron -- and some others, besides a great number of inferior officers.

These events took place in the spring of 1834; and, in the autumn of 1835, everything remained as it was placed in the first moments of distrust and violence.

An extraordinary number of troops were still collected in and about Klausenburg, and were even quartered in the houses of the nobles. The [210] Archduke Ferdinand remained apparently in military occupation of the country, for he had no position of authority recognised by the constitution. All the vacant places were filled up illegally, for no Diet had been summoned to give its list of candidates. With a few exceptions, the officers appointed were chosen from among the least respected persons in the country. The few men of honour among them declared publicly that they were ashamed of their associates ; and, worst of all, even the municipal constitution had been suspended, and consequently, all the magistrates, though fairly elected, had held their offices beyond the proper period, and all their acts were therefore illegal.

During the whole of this time the greatest tranquillity prevailed, -- a tranquillity which confounded the advocates of absolutism ten times more than would the most violent revolt. Incapable of understanding the confidence which freemen feel in the justice and righteousness of their cause, they cannot estimate, and therefore cannot oppose the moral courage which suffers in the full conviction, that its suffering will eventually work out a remedy for the evil.

In such a state was the political horizon of Transylvania when we reached Klausenburg.

Chapters 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 P.S.




Text Archive Home | Book Details | Table of Contents