Revolutionary Lajos Kossuth



One of the great Hungarian heroes, about whom much fact and fiction has been mixed, Kossuth was born in 1802. His family was poor but noble. He was part Slovak, part ethnic German. Well educated, he worked as a jobbing lawyer for a while, before entering politics as a deputy at the Diet (Parliament) of Pressburg.

He also published pamphlets that could not by law be published, so he had them transcribed and widely circulated. It was said of him at the time that it would be difficult to stop him in any activity he chose to follow, but the pamphlets got him into jail. After freedom came in 1840 he was appointed editor of the polkitical journal, published twice-weekly called Pesti Hirlap – an extremely liberal paper with perhaps too much of a chauvinistic approach.

In 1847 he became Leader of an Opposition that could hardly be more radical in its views and policy, but by March, 1848, following one of those frequent revolutions in France, Kossuth was demanding an independent government for Hungary. By September he had elbowed aside most of his fellow nobles (including the richer ones) and was heading the Committee for National Defence. In April of the following year he persuaded the Debrecen National Assembly to declare Hapsburg domination null and void, insisting the Dynasty had forfeited any right it had to the throne.

He then became Provisional Governor of all Hungary, and in this position tried in vain to secure the intervention of the Western powers, but all that happened was dissension between himself and his generals, who saw him as a dictator. He resigned in favour of Artúr Görgey, and got away to Turkey. The Turks imprisoned him but would not permit extradition.

In September, 1851 American and British influences got him freed and we went first to England, and then to the United States. Both these countries showed sympathy and respect but no more. By the end of 1852 he had returned to England, but when the Franco/Italian War with Austria broke out (1859) he proposed to Napoleon III making Hungary rise against Austria It was no good, though he tried again in 1861 and again in 1866. Worse was to come for the now weakening Kossuth; In 1867 Deák reconciled Hungary with the Hapsburgs, and Kossuth retired from public life a disappointed and frustrated man of sixty-five. He went to live in Turin, and when offered amnesty, refused it. He lived on, bitterly, until he died in 1894. He was ninety-two. According to possibly fanciful reports, he never in his life renounced any of his ideals, or changed any of his principles.

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