{3-403.} The Conservatives' Federalist Initiative: The 'October Diploma'

In late May 1860, the 'consolidated imperial council' assembled in Vienna under the chairmanship of Rainer — who among the archdukes counted as liberal — in order to discuss the following year's budget. Designed to replicate a parliament, the advisory council nevertheless had a feudal character, for it was composed, by royal appointment, of archdukes, prelates, soldiers, aristocrats, and a few burghers. Yet, despite the fact that it had no right to initiate or pass laws, the council eventually acquired a significance that went far beyond what its creators had intended. In the absence of a representative system, discontent had been building up for a decade, and now, at the meetings of the council, the participants — as Bariţ put it — raised a storm of complaints and accusations. The conservatives' line of attack was to demand autonomy for the historic countries of the empire, and other lines of opposition emerged during the heated debates. Karl Maager, a Saxon from Brassó, criticized absolutism and advocated the introduction of the centralized constitutional system. Bariţ's petitions to the chairman of the council detailed the Romanians' grievances, thereby revealing the general conditions in Transylvania, and urged, as one of the most pressing tasks, the creation of a constitutional order in the province.

On October 20, 1860, at the prompting of the conservative aristocracy, Francis Joseph issued the so-called October Diploma. In this 'permanent and irrevocable basic state law,' the emperor graciously 'restored' the separate institutions charged with internal government of the empire's historic components and regions; he also promised to convoke the separate provincial diets, declaring that henceforth, laws would be issued only after consultation with the diets and the imperial council — although the explicit consent of these organs was not necessary for promulgation. The imperial council (Reichsrat) was now to consist of one hundred delegates, {3-404.} who were to be appointed by the sovereign on the basis of nominations from provincial assemblies. The council's task was to reconcile the interests of the different constituent countries and provinces with the general interest of the empire; its purview encompassed budgetary, financial, commercial, and transportation affairs, as well as some aspects of military affairs.

On the same day, the emperor issued an edict reinstituting the court chancelleries of Hungary and Transylvania. The heads of the two chancelleries became members (ex-officio in the case of Hungary, de facto in the case of Transylvania) of the central government ('the state ministry'), which had been reorganized due to the dissolution of the former ministries of the interior, justice, and ecclesiastical affairs. A further disposition held out the prospect of a national assembly in Transylvania, which would act on the basis of the 'profound changes that have had an impact on the particular character of the previous Transylvanian constitution'; preparations for this assembly were to be conducted by a council of 'excellent men ... from the various nationalities, denominations and estates.'[32]32. Okmánytár Erdély legújabb jogtörténetéhez, 1848-1865, compiled by J. Sándor (Kolozsvár, 1855), p. 116.

The October Diploma was received with far less enthusiasm than its initiators had hoped for. The Austrian bourgeoisie found the liberal concessions insufficient, and the rights given to the Hungarian provinces too great; in their view, the edict was a plot against centralization concocted by feudal and federalist magnates. Hungarian liberals were dissatisfied with both the procedure and the substance of the reform, although they acknowledged that it was an improvement over recent practice. They denied the sovereign's right to take decisions of national import on his own, refused to recognize the formal authority of any central (meaning external) government agency or of any imperial parliament limited in its jurisdiction, and they did not regard a patched-up, feudalistic structure as an adequate alternative to the reinstitution of the responsible ministerial system created in 1848 in Hungary. Both Zsigmond Kemény's Pesti Napló and guidelines provided by the émigrés {3-405.} called on Hungarians to persevere in demanding broad autonomy. Lives were lost when the authorities clashed with demonstrators in Pest. There were mass protests all around the country in November; Hungarians and Romanians frequently joined forces during demonstrations in and around Szatmár, Nagyvárad, and Arad.

Transylvania's Hungarian liberals denounced the Diploma all the more readily since it confirmed that the act of union of 1848 was null and void. 'Without a union, the Hungarians of Transylvania are lost forever, every last Hungarian peasant here is convinced of that,' said their message to Eötvös.[33]33. Quoted in Gy. Szabad, Forradalom és kiegyezés válaszútján (1860-1861) (Budapest, 1967), p. 389. They readily acknowledged that rights might have to be extended, and that a modification of the 1848 electoral law was unavoidable, but they were committed to legal continuity and therefore unwilling, at least at the start, to consider more fundamental changes. Nor were Transylvania's Hungarian conservatives particularly satisfied by the October reform; intent on protecting their direct economic interests and saving their political prestige, they generally refrained from taking a stand against union.

Saxons and Romanians reacted to the diploma in more equivocal fashion. An optimistic Bariţ observed enthusiastically in his Brassó paper that 'today, the sovereign has proclaimed the maturity of Transylvania's Romanian and other nations,' and that, with a perpetual guarantee of Transylvania's autonomy, 'they have made us masters of our destiny.'[34]34. Quoted in V. Netea, Lupta românilor din Transilvania pentru libertates naţională (1848-1881) (Bucharest, 1974), pp. 158-9. However, when Bariţ was approached by Eötvös and by Samu Wass, who had recently returned from exile, with a proposal for reconciliation and collaboration, he responded in an evasive, if not wholly dismissive manner. A similar tone was adopted by the rival paper, Şaguna's Telegraful Român, which was in its eighth year of publication in Nagyszeben. That autumn, the new, Romanian lord lieutenant of Máramaros still considered that the Romanians could be won over to the unionist cause. However, at a conference in November, Romanian intellectuals chose — with varying degrees of certitude — to pursue the {3-406.} goals set out in the Balázsfalva program of 1848. The Orthodox synod of Nagyszeben advocated a parliament made up in equal parts of each nationality's representatives, and equal rights for the three mother-tongues. A demand for the convocation of a constitutional assembly, with a Romanian majority, was aired at meetings in Szászváros, Brassó, and Gyulafehérvár. A meeting at Abrudbánya produced demands for the territorial unification of all Romanians in the Habsburg empire, for a Romanian national assembly elected by universal suffrage, and for the designation of Romanian as the sole official language.

In the Banat, Romanian burghers met at Temesvár in the presence of the province's imperial commissioner. They decided to request that a slice of territory be turned into a 'Romanian captaincy,' with an elected leader. At the same time, they wanted to keep the Voivodina and the Banat separate; and when it became apparent that Vienna opposed this, Andrei Mocsonyi asked the sovereign, in a memorandum bearing numerous endorsements, for the annexation of the Banat to Transylvania. They maintained their stand even after this territory, like the Partium, was reannexed to Hungary on 27 December 1860.

The Saxon bourgeoisie decided at a conference in Brassó that every municipality should apply for reinstatement of the old Saxon rights and institutions, and that the future Transylvanian national assembly should work on the basis of the law of 1791. Decision was postponed on extension of the franchise and on the question of union, which most of them tended to oppose.

The emperor's initiative thus drew different political responses from the several national groups. The Hungarians' attitude was determined by their attachment to their achievements in 1848. Hungarians and Saxons considered that their historical, national system of institutions had to be restored before further reforms could come into consideration. The Romanians, lacking such a heritage, were more disposed to look upon the October Diploma as a {3-407.} fundamental guarantee of their future national development. This divergence in reactions justified Vienna's inclination to reopen the question of mutual relations between Hungary, Transylvania, and Croatia, for that would allow it in the future to play off the Hungarians and the other nationalities against each other.

In the event, the October Diploma and subsequent measures placed Hungary in a political context similar to the one prior to the revolution of 1848. The authors of the reforms acted in response to the intervening events while trying to pretend these had not occurred. By denying 1848, they felt free to address anew the issues left unresolved in 1848–49, that is, self-determination and relations among nationalities, but this time on the strict terms defined by the régime. Many a contemporary misread these signs and anticipated — hopefully or fearfully — a replay of 1848.

It took nearly two months to cobble together Transylvania's new government, a task that necessitated the involvement of those who had been moderate conservatives before 1848. On December 9, the sovereign named Baron Ferenc Kemény, the chairman of Transylvania's last national assembly, to head the Transylvanian chancellery in Vienna; the appointment was provisional, for Kemény had declared that he was not willing to treat the union effected in 1848 as null and void. The Gubernium Regium was reconstituted in Kolozsvár as the local institution of government. Its head, also appointed pro tempore, was Count Imre Mikó, the highly-respected onetime treasurer, who calculatedly 'forgot' to take the oath of office. New councillors were appointed to supplement the surviving members of the former Gubernium, and other changes were made. Kemény modified the structure, which had been based on the 'three political nations,' by setting up Romanian sections (referaturae) both in the court chancellery and in the Gubernium; and he appointed — for the first time, on the basis of nationality — independent-minded Romanian councillors to head these sections. This was meant to facilitate the recognition of {3-408.} Romanians as 'the fourth nation.' For a time, Transylvania had two governments: Until 23 April 1861, while the Gubernium was being formed, the governorship at Nagyszeben remained in place, headed by Prince Friedrich Lichtenstein, who had become governor following Schwarzenberg's death in June 1858. Eventually, the governorship was dissolved, most of the foreign civil servants were dismissed, and the old judicial system was restored. The criminal and civil codes, and the trial procedures of the absolutist era remained in place, although a commission of experts began to review and systematize the legal provisions of that transitional period. The administration of tax and financial matters was not modified, and that important guardian of political and public security, the gendarmerie, also continued its activity.

Representatives of the nationalities were convoked by Kemény to Gyulafehérvár, where, on 11 February 1861, they began preparations for an election and for the programme of the next Transylvanian national assembly; they were instructed to consider not only the interests of the nationalities that enjoyed full rights prior to 1848 but also 'the desiderata and needs of nationalities, estates, and denominations which heretofore had not disposed of political rights.'[35]35. Francis Joseph's note of 21 December 1860, in Okmánytár, p. 117. Typically, the selection of participants had a feudal quality: the invited notables included eight Hungarian burghers, eight other Hungarians, eight Székelys, eight Saxons, and eight Romanians.

Most of the politicians representing Saxons and Romanians were opposed to the union, and from the start they resented the numerical predominance of Hungarians at the conference. Archbishop Şuluţiu had visited Vienna to plead with the sovereign and his ministers. He found no support for the earlier demand that a Romanian be appointed as Transylvania's chancellor. However, when he appealed — over Kemény's head — to Schmerling, the new minister of state gave the two Romanian prelates permission to hold a smaller national conference. Thus, in the first such meeting since {3-409.} the revolution, some 150 Romanian politicians assembled at Nagyszeben in January 1861. After a four-day debate, they decided to endorse the October Diploma and the recognition of the Romanian nationality as a separate political entity; they also demanded the abrogation of a few Transylvanian laws which were detrimental to the Romanians, and which in any case had lost their validity in 1848. Only an insignificant minority of the participants backed the temporary maintenance of the 1848 electoral law; most favoured a broader franchise, one that had no income criteria and extended to all property owners, which in practice included almost every settled tradesman and intellectual. Fears arising from their community's political weakness drove the participants to recommend that their eventual delegates be given explicit instructions, which was a departure from normal democratic practice.

Considering that the size of the Romanian contingent at the official talks in Gyulafehérvár was humiliatingly small, the meeting took steps to ensure that they would act in unison. They were instructed to stick to the prescriptions of the diploma and avoid giving personal opinions — and cursed be the one who undermines the national unity proclaimed at the Nagyszeben meeting. To ensure coordination, the meeting established a Romanian national committee (which later acquired great importance) under the joint chairmanship of Bishop Şaguna and Archbishop Şuluţiu; among its eighteen other members were Axente, Bariţ, the young lawyer Ioan Ratiu, and a few civil servants.

In Gyulafehérvár's episcopal palace, gathered around a long table covered in green baize, Hungarian, Saxon, and Romanian politicians prepared to act jointly for the first time in Transylvania's history. The chairman, Kemény, dispelled their illusions by pointing out that their mandate was simply to prepare proposals for the sovereign's consideration. The speeches delivered over the first two days made the worries of the Hungarian public and the fears of the Romanians seem unwarranted. Out of the twenty-four Hungarian {3-410.} participants, seven were liberals; and of the eight Romanians, only the two prelates and an archdeacon could be considered independent, the others being officials of one sort or another. First to speak was the Catholic bishop Lajos Haynald, who only two years earlier had been described in a police report as 'a solid supporter of the dynasty and the monarchy's unity'[36]36. L.M. Popescu, Documente inedite privitoare la istoria Transilvanici intre 1848-1850 (Bucharest, 1929), p. 259.; he took a resolute stand in favour of restoring the validity of the act of union and of the 1848 laws (including the electoral law), and he summed up the Hungarians' position by arguing that since the civil franchise had been enacted in 1848, Transylvania's representatives should simply be invited to the parliament in Pest. The veteran liberal, Count Domokos Teleki, questioned the legitimacy of the meeting and insisted that the Hungarians should consider themselves 'private patriots,' for neither the country nor the electorate had given them a mandate. Şuluţiu, on the other hand, offered a lengthy historical analysis that buttressed his insistence on Transylvania's autonomy. He argued that productive collaboration was contingent on the existence of a separate diet, one that endowed Romanians with equal rights and guaranteed that their influence in government would be proportionate to their numbers; only then could the 1848 laws and the question of union come under discussion. Konrad Schmidt, a Saxon, voiced sympathy for the union and some of the measures passed in 1848, but he urged that a Transylvanian diet be convoked to underpin minority rights and Saxon autonomy. He proposed an electoral law that rested on a complex representation of interests, with the application of various restrictions and criteria for major landowners, burghers, counties, and towns of different sizes; his ultimate purpose was to compensate for the numerical disadvantage of Transylvania's Saxons. The voting pattern at the conference followed national lines as well. The Hungarians supported the Hungarian proposal, and the Romanians, the Romanian one. The sole Romanian who favoured union was sent home by Şuluţiu and Şaguna; on the other hand, three of the Saxons gave their qualified support to the Hungarian resolution.

{3-411.} The Transylvanian chancellor was fully aware that the conference was a formality, and that its opinion on union and on the franchise could not be decisive. He therefore submitted to the emperor both the resolution approved by the (Hungarian) majority and the draft proposals of the Romanians and the Saxons, with the recommendation that consideration be given to the Hungarian one. At conference's end, the opposing positions were as far apart as they had been at the start. However, the issue of union was back at the centre of political debate.

'The time for silence is past.' Kolozsvár's new liberal newspaper, Korunk, noted this more as a fact than as a precept, and it called in December 1860 for political mobilization: 'We want to live and progress together with our brothers beyond the Királyhágó [i.e. in Hungary proper].'[37]37. 'Helyzetünkről,' Korunk, 2 December 1860. With censorship relaxed, the Hungarian, German and Romanian papers could give ample space to politics, to programmatic demands and polemical charges against other nationalities, all in the interest of a 'clarification of views.'