The Government's Intentions

The reimposition of absolutism entailed more than the elimination of all traces of rebellion; it aimed at the complete liquidation of the constitutional arrangements that had prevailed prior to the 1848 events. The construction of a great, centralized Habsburg empire progressed through a five-year long state of emergency, followed by several provisional administrative régimes, each of which bore a different label.

The country's administration, and the regulation of its daily life was conducted within a semi-military framework. Amidst the unsettled conditions left by revolutions that had almost destroyed the empire, the dynasty and the Austrian upper bourgeoisie could rely only on the army.

The imperial government, which encompassed both liberal-minded ministers and conservative military governors, pursued not only the restoration of order and unity but also a second objective, modernization, which was an unavoidable legacy of the revolution. It tried to differentiate its notions of modernity from the ideas that were current in the revolutionary period. In place of the idea of national independence, it promoted the principle of a centralized monarchy; instead of constitutional parliamentarism, which it had initially pledged, it advocated individual human rights. To be sure, the government did not become a wholehearted champion of reform. When, at the end of 1851, it publicly ruled out a return to the Olmütz Constitution, it inaugurated a phase that history named after the empire's principal policy-maker, Interior Minister {3-338.} Alexander Bach. In the monarchy, the Bach era accurately reflected the tendencies that issued from the dilemma that faced the Germanic middle classes in central Europe. The ideological unity of nationalism and liberalism had prevailed throughout Europe until 1848, but now it was shattered, and this opened the way for a conservative government to manipulate and subdue the middle classes with the most modern methods at its disposal. Bach pandered to the rather weak nationalism of the Austrian bourgeoisie by centralizing the administration of the empire; at the same time, he sought to defuse its liberal tendencies by taking initiatives for economic modernization. Faced with pervasive discontent, the government sought allies in other strata, especially among landowners. It offered generous compensation to landowners for the losses imposed by the abolition of serfdom, but to little avail; the aristocrats, who owned the largest estates, failed to support Bach and his policy of centralization, and, over time, opposition among medium landowners also grew stronger. A more permissive policy with regard to the Roman Catholic Church won the support of the clergy, and of the Vatican as well; at the same time, it weakened the state's prestige among the more enlightened members of the bourgeoisie and provoked rivalry between denominations. The régime's church policy was protective to a fault of the higher clergy's privileges, but it limited their freedom of action in the provinces; in the end, Catholic prelates sided with the class to which they essentially belonged, the landowning aristocracy.

The régime's firmest base of support, the military staff officers, often came into conflict with the government. As for the gendarmerie, it found itself at odds not only with ordinary folk but also, quite commonly, with the organs of public administration; Kempen's police ministry, which had been created out of the interior ministry, not only kept an eye on political dissidents but also spied, with some relish, on the private life of senior civil servants, and even of government members and the higher clergy. These conflicts, {3-339.} along with the prolonged state of siege, complicated the establishment and normal functioning of the new régime. Bach's task was made harder by the latently hostile passivity of most of society, and by the intrigues woven by the military and other Viennese circles as well. Yet there was no widely-respected consultative body that he could lean on, one that could provide moral and political support, such as a parliament. Even the Reichsrat, an eight-member consultative committee, became his adversary — a rival, conservative shadow government that worked through the emperor to expand its influence.

When he arrived in Transylvania, the military and civil governor bore secret instructions to eliminate all separatist and particularistic tendencies in this southeastern border region, and to integrate it fully into the monarchy. The government's seat was moved once again, from Kolozsvár to Nagyszeben, and the military became the province's omnipotent masters. For a few months, the occupation régime served to bridge the gap between the liquidated revolution and the order yet to be constructed.

The war had left Transylvania dotted with burnt villages and damaged towns. The population, already exposed to persecution and repression, also had to contend with a new system of proportionate and general taxation, with various other new levies, and with the necessity of supplying the needs of the vast occupation force. The lack of an efficient military transport system imposed a heavy burden on private carriers, especially those in southern Transylvania, from where they would often have to drive their carts down to Wallachia in order to bring back flour, timber, and fruit. Their efforts earned them little payment, or none at all, as was the case in the district of Udvarhely, where the Székelys — explained the ministry — did not deserve compensation. Another calamity was the requirement to provide billets for soldiers and officers, especially along major roads; neither former nobles nor loyal supporters of the régime were exempt from this obligation. In the Saxon {3-340.} towns, shelter had to provided not only for the numerous soldiers and wounded but also, initially, for Hungarian prisoners. A severe cash shortage, resulting from the recall of Kossuth banknotes, and a cattle-plague moving in from the east only added to the general misery. To rebuild and repair the war damage would have required aid from the state, but public funds were drained by maintenance of the military, establishment of a new provincial administration, and compensation payments pursuant to the abolition of serfdom. The remainder was allocated on the basis of political preference. In 1850, the 'loyalty' of the Saxon Universitas earned it a 1.5 million forint loan, on easy terms, from the central treasury; 80,000 forints were allocated for the reconstruction of Romanian churches; the landowners of Zaránd received an interest-free loan of 50,000 forints; Nagyenyed, which had suffered much fire damage, got a 30,000 forint loan at 4 percent interest. In contrast, the 'disloyalty' of the Székelyföld in 1848–49 earned it collective sanctions.

The first governor, Baron Ludwig Wohlgemuth, dealt with the several Transylvanian national groups in the professional manner befitting a mathematics teacher who had become a general, but he was too much of a soldier to remain impartial. He seized the first occasion, during a tour of the province, to publicly chastise the Székelys for their revolutionary attitude, and he dismissed almost all Székelys from the civil service.

The purges among the Székelys led to the arrest of countless priests, lawyers, farm stewards, and petty nobles; once released, most of them could not return to their former functions and homes, and they scattered all over the country. The governor was especially disturbed by the discovery of weapons that had been concealed in anticipation of the Russians' withdrawal and a new uprising; he therefore urged that the Austrian military forces be steadily increased. At a time when reprisals were the order of the day, the governor avoided direct contact with Hungarian landowners. Wohlgemuth was no more indulgent with the Romanians. He condoned {3-341.} the decoration of leaders of the 1848–49 Romanian insurrection, but his decree to disband Iancu's irregular forces branded the latter gangs of brigands. Although he considered that the Romanian national liberation movement might pose some threat to the empire's unity, he handled it more with contempt than with fear. His goodwill regarding the Saxons was also short-lived; as early as 1851, he was urging the government to abolish the territorial status of the Szászföld.

On 29 April 1851, after the unexpected death of Wohlgemuth, the ruler named Prince Carl Schwarzenberg became Transylvania's new governor. This general, who issued from Bohemia's greatest aristocratic family, had several positive qualities, including a broad intellectual outlook. From Lombardy, where he had lately served, he brought administrative experience, and from Vienna, a sphere of authority greater than that of his predecessor. The post of imperial civil commissioner, which had existed alongside that of military governor, was abolished, and the governor was given authority over the court martials. The Hungarian landed nobility and the Székelyföld expected much of Schwarzenberg, who in turn tried to nurture good relations with the Transylvanian aristocracy. Feeling uncomfortable in the governor's modest residence at Nagyszeben, he wanted to leave the world of Saxon notables and move to the more elegant surroundings of Kolozsvár, but Vienna demurred. He did establish a second residence in Kolozsvár, learnt some Hungarian, often went hunting with magnates, and was even a guest in some of their homes. However, all this does not appear to have changed his fundamental political attitudes. He dutifully carried out Vienna's orders, supervising the creation of a lasting, centralized administrative system. That process saw a massive influx into the civil service of foreigners, including many who totally lacked professional qualifications; such criteria only came into play after the introduction in 1853 of a competitive system of recruitment.

{3-342.} Under Schwarzenberg's administration, political promises came to naught. In 1851, Francis Joseph raised the prospect of a new law academy, and plans were drawn up by the minister of education, Thun, but the governor opposed the creation of such a Hungarian-language institution in rebellious Kolozsvár. He suggested, instead, the foundation of a university at Nagyszeben, and the idea appealed to Thun, who hoped that this might rally support against the nationalistic strivings of Hungarians and Romanians, but the emperor vetoed the project.

A similar fate awaited the proposal for a provincial representative body (Landesvertretung), although it bore little resemblance to even a caricatural parliament. After four years of unalloyed absolutism, the government set up a committee, consisting mainly of local civil servants, to draft a proposal for a consultative body that would be small but nevertheless representative. The proposal, completed at the end of 1855, reflected the views of the ultraconservative majority on the committee: Of the 47 voting deputies, 21 were to represent major landowners, and 6 the churches. Hungarians were guaranteed at least half of the seats. The larger towns, market towns, and the small-holders were allocated twenty seats in all, which would have allowed in practice for some ten Romanian and five Saxon delegates. The main consequence of the committee's labours was a revival of mutual suspicion among certain nationalities. The proposal itself was the subject of endless debates in the government and the Viennese Reichsrat until it finally died a quiet death. In fact, since even such a puny representative system could give rise to conservative criticism, the government saw little advantage in endorsing the proposal.

The government wanted to remodel Transylvania into a peaceable province, strictly controlled and developing but slowly; a province that was free of national and social conflict, of political or publicistic debate; a province in which all creative energies were marshalled to ensure unquestioning obedience to the emperor.

{3-343.} The elaboration of a new approach, one better adapted to Transylvania's particular circumstances, was still not timely. The régime's policy, coupled with the weakness of the province's indigenous forces, ensured that Transylvania's future would continue to depend on developments elsewhere in the empire, particularly in Hungary proper.