The Hungarian Liberal Opposition's Approach to Nationalities and Social Reform

The Hungarian national movement entered a new phase in the early 1840s, which, as noted, was a time of great cultural efflorescence. When its campaign for the convening of a diet met with success in 1841, the movement expanded its agenda to include not only the institution of constitutional government but also the much-discussed goal of social reform.

Wishing to avoid dangerous collusion between the two 'sister countries,' of which it had a foretaste five years earlier, the Viennese court made sure that the Transylvanian diet would not meet until the Hungarian diet at Pozsony had ended its session. On the other hand, much was expected of the younger generation of Transylvanian reformers, whose members enjoyed close contacts with the principal members of the reform movement in Hungary. Several Hungarians now joined Zsigmond Kemény and László Teleki to become actively involved in Transylvanian politics. They were sometimes referred to as 'emissaries,' although some of them owned property in Transylvania. The newcomers included Lajos Kovács as well as Antal Somogyi. The latter, who for a short time took up residence in Kolozsvár, had been one of the authors of the opposition's first programmatic manifesto, the 'Twelve Points of Szatmár.' Lajos Kossuth had turned the newspaper Pesti Hírlap into a powerful mouthpiece of opposition demands and social criticism of liberal-democratic inspiration. Szentiváni, Kemény, and {3-135.} (apparently at Kossuth's urging) Kovács sought to emulate this new type of journalism by taking editorial control of both the Nemzeti Társalkodó and Erdélyi Híradó. Speechifying was supplanted by political journalism as a means of moulding progressive public opinion; these young journalists showed an unprecedented determination to bring about historic change. Said Kemény: 'For us, progress is an ongoing necessity, for if we falter, our constitutional system will wither away and a shroud will descend over our nation. Civic liberalism is spreading inexorably, and the nation that rejects its gentle yoke is doomed to perish.'[133]133. Zs. Kemény, 'Utóhangok kórjeleink felől,' Erdélyi Híradó, 18 February 1842, no. 14.

The liberals were confident of winning the support of the government's support. They were on good terms with the diet's chairman, Baron Ferenc Kemény. Indeed, when the estates convened for the diet, he called upon them to follow the example of the 'sister country.' It also seemed propitious that Vienna picked Count József Teleki from among the diet's nominees to serve as governor. Generally regarded as a 'man of the opposition,' Teleki was an eminent member of the group of conservative aristocrats who, in Hungary, had earned the nickname 'prudent progressives.' He showed some sympathy for the liberals and, partly through his younger brother László, entertained good personal relations with them.

The linkage between the Viennese court's policies towards Hungary and Transylvania was expected to be beneficial to both countries. Since the monarch had endorsed many of the legislative proposals issuing from the Pozsony diet of 1839–40, notably bills providing for voluntary commutation and setting limits to entailment, there was good reason to hope that he would not reject similar initiatives coming from the Transylvanian diet. The wave of repression following the Kolozsvár diet of 1834–35 had come sooner that the one after the Pozsony diet, and a compromise with regard to Transylvania also materialized earlier, in 1837–38; this raised the further hope that if some Transylvanian proposals were accepted by Vienna, reform initiatives coming from the forthcoming {3-136.} Pozsony diet would benefit from the positive precedent. Early in the session, the Transylvanian diet appointed a standing committee that would, through its sub-committees, draw up detailed legislative proposals on a wide variety of issues, following the pattern that had been set in 1790–91.

The goal of reunification reflected a general tendency in Europe to forge unified nations, and it generated demands for harmonizing the reform-oriented activities of the Kolozsvár and Pozsony diets. 'Powerful forces militate worldwide in favour of national unity,' argued Kossuth, 'and a nation that defies this general trend can anticipate a future of oppression, subjugation and servitude.'[134]134. L. Kossuth, 'Erdély és unió-egység a magyarnak,' Pesti Hírlap, 14 April 1841, no. 30. There was another reason for forging closer links between Transylvania and Hungary: the fear that the court would exploit its grip on the empire's easternmost province to check Hungary's efforts at constitutional autonomy.

The issue of Hungarian national unity acquired sharp focus in the debate over the status of the Partium, which included the counties of Zaránd, Közép-Szolnok, and Kraszna as well as the Kővár district. To pacify the opposition in Hungary, the monarch endorsed the demand of the 1832–36 diet in Pozsony for reannexation of the Partium to Transylvania. However, when the Transylvanian diet met at Nagyszeben in 1837–38, it was urged by the court to oppose this measure. In fact, most delegates spoke against it; the liberals among them did so on the calculation that if the Partium was not reannexed to Transylvania, it would be easier to argue that the latter was not a viable state and needed to unite with Hungary. When the diet reconvened in late 1841, it cut the Gordian knot by, on the one hand, voting against reannexation of the Partium, and, on the other hand, proposing that Transylvania join the Partium in uniting with Hungary; it urged that the two diets begin negotiations as soon as possible.

The cause of reunification was helped by the fact that Transylvania belonged to the Hungarian Crown, but even if the two crown {3-137.} provinces shared much of their history, they were sharp differences between them with regard to administrative structure, legislative practices, and taxation. These differences were readily evoked by noble landowners who, having chosen to serve Vienna, feared losing their posts, and who also feared the prospect of socage reform. References to 'Hungarian socage' alarmed them all the more since serfs were becoming aware that the Pozsony diet of 1832–36 had prescribed larger urbarial plots and a lower level of services than was the case in Transylvania.

The conservative landowners could find justification for their alarm in Kossuth's anticipation that when Transylvania was reunited with Hungary, its legal code would be harmonized with that of the latter. On the other hand, they, along with liberals who feared that Transylvanian interests might be shunted to the background, were to some extent appeased by Kossuth's further speculation that Transylvania might be given the status of an autonomous province, much like that of Croatia. However, events moved too quickly to allow for serious consideration of this potentially ideal solution. The generally adverse circumstances allowed for only two options: a single-minded drive for reunification, which carried the promise of liberal reform, and silent submission to the forces of conservatism.

In pursuing the goal of union, the Hungarian liberal opposition in Transylvania was motivated not only by an aspiration to restore past greatness, although that view enjoyed much currency; it also wished to create conditions favourable for liberal reform and national survival. Ineluctably, the hope for reform personified in Wesselényi and shared by countless progressive Hungarians became identified with the goal of union. However, amidst the Hungarians' feverish drive to create a modern nation-state, there loomed the reality of a region's multi-ethnic makeup and the prospect that other national groups would set themselves similar objectives. There was an urgent need to develop a policy regarding {3-138.} these other groups so that they could be drawn into the struggle for a modern liberal state. Time and again, the policy toward other nationalities would have to be revised and modified.

The Hungarians suffered from a suffocating sense of ethnic isolation. They were haunted by the prediction, made by the German historian Johann Herder at the end of the 18th century, that the Hungarian nation was destined for extinction. Liberals fed this neurosis by talking of four million Hungarians and ten million non-Hungarians, when the population in the lands of the Hungarian Crown actually included five million of the former and eleven to twelve million of the latter. The bulk of ethnic Hungarians was found in the rapidly developing central region of the Carpathian Basin. Some 10–12 percent of them lived in Transylvania, where they constituted 27–30 percent of the population, including a majority of nobles and urban dwellers. They constituted a solid ethnic bloc in the Székelyföld, which helped to replenish the more dispersed communities of Hungarians. The latter may have been isolated, but they preserved their ethnic identity thanks to their Churches, and they lived in relative harmony with their Romanian and Saxon neighbours.

Meanwhile, there was growing awareness that 'civilization could hardly progress in a country where tolerata Natio played a more important role than recepta religio.'[135]135. 'A két Magyar Haza vagyis az egybekelhető testvérek,' OSzK Kézirattár, Quart. Hung. 1522, p. 71. The risk was ever-present that the serfs' discontent would be exploited not only by the Viennese court but also, through the Orthodox religion, by a Russian czar intent on expanding his influence. An early recognition of these dangers led Hungarian reformers, feudal as well as liberal, to propose preventive measures. A high school teacher, György Szabó, observed in 1830 that 'everyone, even the Vlach [Romanian], has the right and capacity to work for the common goals of humanity.' He asked rhetorically whether, instead of taking 'precipitous measures, it would not be better to give Hungarian peasants a share of the nobles' privileges, to let them hold some official {3-139.} posts and, like in Switzerland, send delegates to the national assembly. This would place the privileges enjoyed by Hungarian nobles on a broader footing and give the Vlachs an incentive to become Hungarian.'[136]136. Gy. Szabó, 'Az oláh nemzet eredete,' Nemzeti Társalkodó, 16 October 1830, II, no. 42. When, in 1832, the assembly of Alsó-Fehér county drafted a circular letter calling for reunification, Sándor Gyulafe-hérvári Farkas — a typical well-educated civil servant from the ranks of the lesser propertied nobility — argued that 'the prospect of union should not give rise to apprehensions if every religion is granted equal rights and status; if the system of representation is based on the counties, districts, and towns; if the long-suffering populace finally wins representation; and if a judicious federal structure, similar to those in several other countries, comes to be established.'[137]137. OL, EOKL, Gyrás gyűlési jegyzőkönyvek, vol. 2, p. 241.

In order to reconcile the demand for a nation-state with the multi-ethnic character of the region, disarm the opponents of liberal reform, and thus to facilitate progress, the Hungarian liberals developed a highly distinctive argument. The non-Hungarian groups would benefit from the nobles' efforts to secure social reform and constitutional rights; in return, they would give their allegiance to the liberal nation-state and learn its language. At the time, a common language was considered to be a precondition of development; it was said to 'foster a sense of solidarity and common purpose, to channel energies in pursuit of the welfare of the nation, to facilitate education and collective initiatives — in short, to nurture a sense of nationhood and fulfilment in our country.'[138]138. Address by the notary Ferenc Nagy in Nemes Torda vármegye Casinója megnyitása alkalmával 1833 Boldogasszonyhava 10-kén Tordán tartott Beszédek (N.p, n.d.), p. 35.

At least in the 1830s, the goals of social reform and of Magyarization seemed to be in perfect harmony. In 1835, when the dissolution of the diet induced a climate of fear, Sándor Bölöni Farkas imagined how he would testify at a trial: 'I have propagated democratic principles. I have sown the seeds of free institutions such as exist abroad. I devoted myself to the cause of my mother tongue, wishing to ensure its dominance and exclusivity by suppressing other languages, and to turn everyone into a free Hungarian.'[139]139. Bölöni Farkas Sándor naplója, introd. by E. Jancsó (Bucharest, 1971), p. 49. {3-140.} Later, he would sharply condemn efforts at linguistic assimilation. Wesselényi, for his part, argued in his programmatic work, published in the early 1830s, that the emancipation of serfs should be made conditional on the latter's assimilation of the Hungarian language. Inspired by the promise of individual freedom and liberal constitutionalism, the reformers regarded the legal entrenchment of the three feudal nations and four religions as Transylvania's seven deadly sins, for it obstructed progress by preserving disunity.

Hungarian liberals were overly optimistic about the prospects of linguistic assimilation; they underestimated the depth of hostility aroused by the forceful imposition of another language. They had no domestic experience or precedents to draw on, for the national conflicts of earlier times had been of an essentially feudal character. However, they found justification for their assimilative efforts in the French experience of forging national unity as well as in the American evidence that freedom can generate integration. They were also encouraged by the voluntary assimilation, linguistic and political, of Transylvanian nobles of non-Hungarian origin. László Teleki had been elected to the diet by the Romanian boyars of Fogaras; in Kolozs County, the brother of the Romanian, Greek Catholic bishop of Balázsfalva campaigned on behalf of Lajos Kovács.

In the early 1840s, the liberals modified their policy regarding other nationalities. As Count Lajos Gyulai, a liberal who flirted with utopian socialism, noted in his diary, the leaders of the reform movement shifted their sights from imposing assimilation to nurturing conditions that would induce a more voluntary process. They tried to blend the old Hungarian and new French concepts of the nation, trusting that free and responsible citizens of all ethnic origins would give their allegiance to a unified, Hungarian nation-state. The liberals' reluctance to interfere in the private lives of non-Hungarians was not simply a reflection of political pragmatism. To be sure, they failed to acknowledge that the other national communities should enjoy the same right to self-determination as {3-141.} the Hungarians, and years would pass before the former's language rights were enshrined in law. Even so, liberal publicists increasingly came to stress the merits of fairness and moderation. These notions no doubt influenced a future 'popular educator,' János Gáspár. In his widely respected primary school textbooks, published a few years later, he emphasized the respect due to people of different national origin.

Wesselényi cautioned Transylvanians against engaging in forceful Magyarization. He reminded his county's elites that 'we have neither the right nor the capacity to enlarge our [Hungarian community] by forceful means.'[140]140. Wesselényi's address to the Estates of Közép-Szolnok County, Freywaldau, 4 June 1842, OL, EOKL, Gyrás gyűlési jegyzőkönyvek, Vol. 34, p. 373. Kossuth, who reflected and, to an increasing extent, shaped the progressives' political priorities, proposed that Hungary's legislature issue a declaration, to the effect that 'it had never aimed to deprive non-Hungarians of their mother tongue, which it recognized all the more since any interference in the private use of language would be unlawful.' However, in public life, Hungarian had to be the exclusive language. 'To do less than this would be cowardly,' said Kossuth, 'but to impose more would be tyrannical; any other route would spell suicide for us. Nations that are cowardly or tyrannical deserve their fate.'[141]141. L. Kossuth, 'Bánat és gondoskodás,' Pesti Hírlap, 2 October 1842, no. 183.

The movement for national renewal encompassed competing groups, but the scope of their debate was limited by a shared conviction that, for reasons of legitimate self-defence, ethnic Hungarians had to secure hegemony over the country. At the same time, doubts about the feasibility of this objective served to temper impatience and induce moderation as well some grudging consideration of the other ethnic communities' interests. When bills that aimed at extending use of the Hungarian language were tabled in the Pozsony diet, Hungarian statesmen were struck by the fierce opposition of the delegates from Croatia; they had to take stock of the ensuing hostile press campaign conducted by Serb, Croat, and Slovak intellectuals, and also of the fact that Vienna, despite its grudging assent, was disposed to exploit these conflicts.

{3-142.} It was partly a fear of being left isolated that led Hungarian liberals in Transylvania to join the mainstream of the national movement. When, in 1841, the county assemblies drafted instructions for their delegates to the diet, liberals in several counties obtained that 'elimination of any grounds for jealousy between nations and religious denominations' be added to the agenda. When the diet convened, the liberals drafted bills, modelled on those at Pozsony, that aimed to safeguard Hungarian language rights, although Dénes Kemény stressed that 'we are conscience-bound to give just consideration to the interests of other nationalities, and air the interests of those who have no other representation.'[142]142. Minutes of the meeting on 27 January 1842, Beszédtár. Záratékul az 1841/2-ik országgyulési jegyzőkönyvhöz II (Kolozsvár), p. 8. Directed principally against the central government and feudal backwardness, the fight for language rights focused on supplanting Latin with Hungarian, notably in the spheres of legislation and diplomacy. In addition to confirming the official status of Hungarian in the public administration of Székely and Hungarian districts, the reformers wanted to make it the sole language for registering personal data; they also wished to prescribe that, within ten years, all education at Balázsfalva, including that of Orthodox seminarians, be conducted in Hungarian. However, leading Hungarian liberals had abjured forcible assimilation; Dénes Kemény declared that 'we wish not to compel Vlachs to adopt Hungarian as their daily language, but to give them the means to learn the language of administration.'[143]143. Minutes of the meeting on 12 February 1842, in Beszédtár, p. 164. Thus, when the Viennese court took note of the hostile reaction of Romanians and sent back the legislative proposals, the reformers omitted most of the offensive measures from the new draft. Their prudence was inspired not only by Wesselényi's warnings, but also by a speech that Széchenyi delivered in November 1842, at the Hungarian Academy. Although they were part of a tactical attack on Kossuth and the liberals, Széchenyi's remarks rang with profound humanism. He insisted of the imperative of 'mutual respect' and consideration for the interests of others, and he asked rhetorically {3-143.} how his Hungarian compatriots might react if laws proscribing 'national disloyalty' were foisted upon them.

In attuning their nationalities policy to social and historical realities, the liberals had to acknowledge the existence of other, historically-rooted affirmations of national autonomy. Croatia had long existed as an autonomous province; noting that the Croatians were seeking a separate understanding with the court, Kossuth observed speculatively that Croatia might just as well secede from Hungary. Transylvania's political leaders were not prepared to legitimate the general use of the German language, but they consistently endorsed the administrative status quo in the Saxon lands, and thus, by implication, accepted a large measure of Saxon autonomy. For them, the requirement that all communication with governing institutions be conducted in Hungarian was simply a token of the country's unity. The Saxons, for their part, wanted to obtain full self-government in their region and wished to preserve an empire that guaranteed what was called at the time 'German hegemony.' In response, Zsigmond Kemény would argue that a reconciliation of these divergent interests was preordained: as the balance of power shifted within the empire, the lands east of the Leitha River would inevitably come under 'Hungarian rule,' and the Saxons would have to moderate their demands in the context of that new nation-state.[144]144. Zs. Kemény, 'Még egyszer nyelvügyünkben,' Erdélyi Híradó, 30 December 1842, no. 104. Moreover, a strong Hungary would serve the European balance of power by containing Russian expansionism.

Yet the liberals were not aiming for self-sufficient hegemony. Miklós Wesselényi was one of the first to argue, in his Szózat (1843), that the Habsburg empire could survive only if it were transformed into a constitutional confederation of the former crown provinces. He suggested that the Slav communities in Austria be granted the same degree of autonomy as the Saxons. Wesselényi reflected the view of the liberal majority in the diet when he declared that the Saxons' 'continued existence as a nation should be {3-144.} enshrined in law.'[145]145. M. Wesselényi, Szózat a magyar és szláv nemzetiség ügyében (Leipzig, 1843), p. 201. However, the Saxons should acknowledge that it was the Hungarian constitution, and not their nationality, that offered the best guarantees for their future. Moreover, argued Wesselényi, they should give up their dialects and adopt standard German as their mother tongue.

Amidst all the heated debates, there was no time to elaborate on a prescient observation by Mihály Szentiváni: 'Beyond a certain point, political progress clashes with the promotion of nationhood. A state where several nationalities have taken consciousness of their identity will either have to suspend liberalisation and sink back into darkness, or give up dreams of being an ethnic melting-pot and forge a fraternal union between nationalities whose interests and future are inextricably linked, and whose fate is determined by the same roll of the dice.'[146]146. [M. Szentiváni], 'Hírlapírói vakság és rossz akarat,' Erdélyi Híradó, 25 November 1842, no. 94. As will be noted, many unfounded accusations were aired in the violent debates between Hungarian, Romanian, and Saxon publicists. Yet one of the participants, the Romanian George Bariţ, observed some twenty years later: 'Whatever our nationality, we must recognize that those battles, those paper-battles were justified and generous-spirited; they arose from a desire for survival that is innate to man. Such chivalrous contests, head to head, arm to arm, will always be respected and rewarded.'[147]147. G. Bariţ, 'Limbile oficiale,' Gazeta Transilvaniei, 1860, no. 32.

Nor should it be surprising that the struggle for power inspired some more utopian perspectives, notably that of a global society that was unified and no longer divided by national particularism. Such worthy utopianism struck root in Transylvania as well. The aging Farkas Bolyai stuck to the cosmopolitan ideals of the 18th century and, in his book Aritmetika (1843), alluded to the advantages of common ownership and a universal language. His son János, who lived on a small family estate employing four or five urbarial serfs, developed a more comprehensive utopian scheme, entitled Üdvtan (Salvation). Armed with the burning enthusiasm of a true Romantic, he set about devising the model of a productive {3-145.} society that was based on common property and free of conflict. He believed that a conspiratorial organization, similar to that of the 18th century freemasons, would succeed in mobilizing support for such a transformation. In the same period, that tireless champion of the Hungarian language and popular education, the scholar Sámuel Brassai, wrote an article in which a fictional schoolmaster observed: 'Linguistic differences serve to symbolize, promote, em-bitter, and perpetuate conflict between nations. If everyone spoke the same tongue, mankind would soon constitute a single nation, and people would treat each other with the same love and understanding that reigns within families.'[148]148. S. Brassai, 'Az iskolamester,' Vasárnapi Újság, 1 January 1843, no. 452.

Liberals had to labour under the conflicting pressures of universal and national values. Zsigmond Kemény declared that 'our duty is to promote liberalism without neglecting our nationality, even though these two commitments often clash and lead in different directions. To satisfy the needs of both mankind and our kin: this is the Ulyssean bow that the raw masses, with all their brute force, will never be able to draw.'[149]149. Zs. Kemény, Korteskedés és ellenszerei I (Kolozsvár, 1843), p. 70. The drawing of the bow symbolized the task of social reform.

In the course of the battles for Hungarian language rights, and in the diet debates on the preservation of feudal constitutionalism (encompassing the independent powers of the diet and the counties), the opposition forces, led by Dénes Kemény, won a moral victory over the government's supporters. Thus encouraged, they turned to the issue of social reform. Kossuth backed the initiative, mainly on the grounds that it would dispel 'the fear, which does not spare the best of us, that Transylvania, in its present state, would weigh down our attempts to advance on the difficult path of progress.'[150]150. L. Kossuth, 'Szózat a Részek és az Unió iránt Magyarhonból,' Erdélyi Híradó, 22 March 1842, no. 23.

Adopting a new style of political journalism, Erdélyi Híradó popularized the slogan 'socage [reform] now, union at the earliest.' Strictly speaking, the liquidation of the remnants of feudalism, including socage, was more a precondition than an element of liberal {3-146.} social reform. The demarcation in law of 'domanial' and 'rustical' land would finally clarify what was the landowner's exclusive property, and what was held in socage; once they were fully emancipated, serfs and cotters would gain title to land in the latter category. Thus the entire process would serve to set the basis for a new type of social stratification. The ideal of a society based on viable small holdings and free of pauperization was frequently evoked by Zsigmond Kemény. Since this ideal posed no threat to larger estates and their modernization, the more far-sighted landowner-aristocrats came to accept and promote a socially-responsible reform of socage.

In the course of its preparations for the diet, the liberal opposition divided into two camps over the issue of socage. A minority, composed of young radicals, called for a quick solution, or, at the very least, for 'selective legislation' that would bring partial but significant remedies and serve as a basis for the final settlement. The majority favoured 'codification,' that is, a piece of legislation that covered all aspects of the problem. They wanted to link socage reform to a comprehensive review and regulation of all landed property; by freeing themselves from the constraints of 'rotating common ownership,' landowners would have greater scope to modernize their estates and engage in market-oriented agriculture. However, the 'codifiers' anticipated that it would take at least twenty years to implement their proposal; in fact, after the emancipation of serfs in 1848, forty years would pass before a comprehensive regulation of landed property. Zsigmond Kemény indulged in biting sarcasm about the partisans of codification, but the latter prevailed, and, among the more prominent radicals, only Lajos Kovács and László Teleki managed to get elected as delegates to the diet.

A few years later, the elder János Bethlen would try to explain to Miklós Wesselényi why he had wanted to link the regulation of property rights to the issue of socage: the tactic was designed to promote the modernization of agriculture and, at the same time, to {3-147.} facilitate negotiation with the government. However, the linkage of socage reform to the issue of taxation meant that no progress could be made on the former until the diet's right to legislate taxes had been restored. In political terms, the demand seemed amply justified, for those who initiated socage reform would be held responsible by the public for any consequent tax increases. Such increases could be anticipated: landed property and livestock were taxable assets, and if socage reform was implemented without any reduction in the holdings of peasants, then, by contemporary estimates, the area of land subject to taxation would increase by more than a third. The opposition considered that socage reform could be instituted without tax increases if the diet endorsed the tax régime that had been imposed unilaterally by the government, and if the responsibility for financing local administration was devolved from the central treasury to the counties and districts, as was the case in Hungary. This, in the opposition's view, would also represent progress toward their goal of an equitable tax system — a politically sensitive issue, for the liberals had promised to restore the tax exemption of the lesser landowning nobility in order to win their support. To avoid charges of inconsistency, the liberals wanted to make the household tax generally applicable; at the local level, they tried to challenge the principle and — uneven — practice of exempting nobles from taxation by, for instance, requiring everyone to pay bridge tolls and imposing a general levy for the construction of hospitals. They hoped that such measures, properly explained, would win them the support of the county nobility and halt the spread of distrust among the peasants.

Thus the liberals left to the government the thankless task of confronting the nobility with concrete initiatives in the crucial sphere of socage reform. They were aware that, if the necessity arose, they could always go beyond what the government offered the peasantry. The liberals had to be careful about defining their role, for their grassroots supporters tended to equate opposition {3-148.} with anti-government grievances, while some of the younger radicals, along with Wesselényi, were prepared to cooperate with the government in the pursuit of social reform.

However, the central government in Vienna failed to rise to the occasion. To consolidate their position, the liberals followed the elder János Bethlen's advice and, in a departure from established practice, asked local authorities to invest delegates with new instructions. Meanwhile, the demoralized regalists left the diet to return to their estates. Thus the royal commissioner, who was charged with maintaining contact between the diet and the monarch, was left in a quandary when, in summer 1842, the head of government, József Teleki, and the chairman of the diet, Ferenc Kemény, allowed the legislative work to begin. In several debates, the delegate from Gyulafehérvár, Lajos Kovács, prevailed against the hitherto unchallengeable Dénes Kemény and won the backing of Hungarian and Saxon delegates who were 'united in defending urban interests.' The conservatives were much alarmed at the emergence of this 'rather democratic opposition.' True to fashion, the conservative press tried to undermine this 'new coalition' by reminding Saxons of the Hungarians' language initiatives.[151]151. [F. Szilágyi], 'Erdélyi új coalitio,' Múlt és Jelen, 15 November 1842, no. 91. It was to no avail, for, as a Kolozsvár newspaper reported, the 'Saxon nation joined up with liberal aristocrats to overcome many of the obstacles to progress.'[152]152. Zs. Kemény, 'A Pesti Hírlapnak "A testvérhon" című vezércikkéről,' Erdélyi Híradó, 7 October 1842, no. 80.

There was growing awareness of the potentially historic importance of the new legislation, which had to 'live up to the requirements of mankind's advanced state of development at least as much as to the more emotional demands made upon the diet by our nation.'[153]153. 'Három nagy elv,' Erdélyi Híradó, 9 September 1842, no. 72. The reformers tried to break down the feudal legal order by applying the principle of equality before the law. László Teleki called for legal emancipation of the Jews. Conservative newspapers pointed to the harder circumstances of Jews in Russia and the neighbouring Romanian principalities, and argued for their progressive assimilation. When Leopold Rokonstáin, from Hungary, and other Jews put the case for assimilation in Transylvanian {3-149.} newspapers, they freely argued that the future welfare of the 'two motherlands' was contingent on the institution of 'total liberty.' The diet also took a step that had been called for in several of the delegates' instructions back in 1834–35: it ordered the standing committee to draft a bill providing for recognition on equal terms of the Greek Orthodox religion. It submitted to Vienna legislative proposals for confirming the serfs' freedom of movement, setting a ceiling on their service obligations, and entrenching their right to acquire landed property. The diet also proposed that commoners become eligible for appointment to posts higher than that of secretary to the Gubernium. Finally, it took the first concrete step towards an equitable distribution of burdens by ruling that nobles must assume their share of responsibility for communal works.

The opposition had some cause to celebrate. The piecemeal approach to legislation required 'long and careful weighing of form and substance,' but the practical results 'justified the approach.'[154]154. Zs. Kemény, 'Szemelvényi eljárásunk felől,' Erdélyi Híradó, 22 November 1842, no. 93. In March 1843, Kolozs County sent a message to Pest County inviting it to follow Transylvania's example. Kossuth castigated those 'who, only recently, took so much satisfaction from the modest results of our modest efforts that they would look upon Transylvania with a certain sense of superiority and voice fears that our sister country might fetter our progressive feet; and behold! we find that Transylvania has already outstripped us. Transylvania's nobles have displayed such generosity and love of truth that we may win plaudits only by following in their footsteps.' (The Transylvanians' success bolstered not only the campaign for reunification but also the efforts of the Pozsony diet to institute greater equity in burden-sharing.) Kossuth was intentionally indulging in exaggeration, but he offered a more realistic assessment of their historic achievement when he emphasized that 'given its constitutional situation, Transylvania faces much greater obstacles than Hungary on the road to progress, and the steps it has taken deserve all the more credit.'[155]155. L. Kossuth, 'A testvérhon,' Pesti Hírlap, 25 September 1842, no. 181.

{3-150.} The diet had not been free of unpleasant surprises, and there were more come. Yet its achievements, however modest, momentarily erased the memory of failures and raised hopes of lasting and sincere cooperation with the Romanian and Saxon national movements. The latter now entered the fray, armed with new ideological fervour.