The Provisorium and the Convocation of the Nagyszeben Landtag

Following the dissolution of the 1861 diet in Pest, the Romanian committee's permanent representatives in Vienna persuaded Schmerling that by extending the franchise, he could deal a heavy {3-428.} blow to the Hungarian opposition in Transylvania. The Austrians realized that they could not count on the Hungarians to participate in the diet that was planned for Transylvania, and even less on Hungarian participation in the Reichsrat. Nevertheless, in September 1861, the sovereign overruled Kemény and ordered the convocation of the national assembly at Gyulafehérvár; what is more, the franchise was extended to all those whose direct taxes amounted to at least 8 forints, which was lower than the threshold mooted earlier. Ferenc Kemény stuck to his principles: He considered the broader franchise to be inconsistent with the monarchy, and submitted his resignation. On October 3, the Gubernium issued a lengthy memorandum protesting at the convocation of a separate diet and accusing the government of resorting to cheap tactics in extending political rights in Transylvania. 'In Your Majesty's other provinces, the interests of the people, and in particular, the interests of the broader masses have not been favoured in this fashion, and the diets have been designed to secure and nurture property, the intelligentsia, industry, and trade; it is therefore hard to comprehend why Your Majesty's government should apply contrary principles to a country that deserves a better fate.'[50]50. Okmánytár, p. 178. The Gubernium concluded with the observation that the convocation of a separate diet would undoubtedly aggravate tensions between the nationalities. Although they considered the convocation to be unavoidable, three Romanian gubernial councillors appended a separate, and equally forceful opinion: the sovereign's action 'was highly repugnant to all classes of constitutionally-minded people in the country, regardless of linguistic and ethnic differences,' and could only promote discord.[51]51. See ibid, pp. 180-1. The only councillor to endorse the court's initiative was Konrad Schmidt, who had replaced Salmen as the Saxons' count. To be sure, the Romanian councillors' separate opinion struck those in the Romanian national movement as being too pro-Hungarian. With regard to Schmidt's attitude, the farsighted Kronstädter Zeitung observed that little good would come from a diet that was {3-429.} boycotted by the Hungarians and by 'pro-constitution Romanians and Saxons,' and that the contending parties would now wield a bloody sword instead of the palm branch of reconciliation.

The conflict between the Gubernium and the government over the proposed elections soon came to a head. Mikó's group, supported by most county administrators, actively opposed the preparations, thereby incurring the wrath of the government, and of the Romanian national committee as well. Up to now, the latter had regarded the sincere but intransigent Kemény as their main obstacle; now, they turned against the Gubernium in Kolozsvár. In a memorandum to the sovereign, Archbishop Şuluţiu accused Mikó's group of defying the spirit of the age and of rebellion: 'They brand Your Majesty's rule and all your measures illegitimate ... the memorandum of the Gubernium Regium is nothing but an open invitation to insubordination.'[52]52. Ürmössy, Tizenhét év III, p. 339. Finally, on 21 November 1861, Imre Mikó resigned.

The provisorium (provisional administration) in Transylvania is associated with the chancellorship of Count Ferenc Nádasdy and the governorship of Lieutenant General Ludwig Folliot de Crenneville, both of whom were appointed in November. The former had served the régime in many capacities: as head of the treasury, president of the appeals court at Sopron, president of the highest urbarial court and, since 1857, as the imperial minister of justice. Francis Joseph reportedly was aware that Nádasdy was regarded as 'the most hated Hungarian.' His deputy, Baron Franz Reichenstein, was considered by some contemporaries to be the evil spirit of the chancellery. Crenneville descended from a noble Norman family who had fled into exile at the time of the French Revolution. He had served for a time in Hungary; when he came to Transylvania, an awkward situation developed, for the previously-appointed military commander remained in office, and the result was a great deal of administrative confusion and duplication. The appointment of Nádasdy and Crenneville marked the end of a {3-430.} twelve-month period during which absolutism had been divested of its more overt features and, equally important for each and every nationality, political activity had come to life again.

The provisorium did not restore the full rigor of the Bach régime. Transylvania's recently reconstituted judicial system was kept in place, and the conservative Baron Károly Apor retained the presidency of the Marosvásárhely appeals court. There was no return to the Bach model of district organization, although the government undertook an administrative reform of the counties. The new age bore the features of both absolutism and liberalism.

The departure of Kemény and Mikó was followed by the resignation of the gubernial councillors, then by that of Hungarian lord lieutenants and of government officials in charge of the Székely széks. One exception was György Pogány, the lord lieutenant of Alsó-Fehér County, who remained in office, along with his staff; they had decided earlier that under no conditions would they hand over the county to their Romanian rivals. Only loyal servants of the government were appointed to administrative positions. Romanians were appointed to head the counties of Doboka and Küküllő, and since the leadership Naszód, Fogaras, Hunyad, and Felső-Fehér counties did not change, this brought the number of Romanian lord lieutenants to six.

Chancellor Nádasdy was determined to break down the resistance of Hungarian-led counties and of the Székely széks, for he needed the counties' assistance to convoke the Transylvanian diet and, indirectly, for the dispatch of delegates to the Viennese Reichsrat, which was an even more important objective. The municipal councils were dissolved on 28 November 1861, and the ensuing elections — of major landowners and other carefully selected candidates — were conducted on the basis of provisional regulations; the new councillors had to take an oath of loyalty. In practice, the councils were controlled by senior civil servants who were directly appointed to serve on the new bodies. There were more {3-431.} Romanians than before on the new county committees and in the civil service, but Hungarian landowners and administrators remained in the majority. Here and there, a rough parity materialized between Hungarians and Romanians, but this only reinforced the bureaucracy's arbitral role. The Hungarian liberals — landowners, bourgeoisie, and intelligentsia — retained control of Hungarian towns and of Székelyföld. They commonly ignored the provisional county rules prohibiting any discussion of country-wide policy issues and insisted on putting on the agenda the question of restoring constitutionalism. The authorities had to resort to numerous dismissals and the forceful suppression of provocative submissions to contain the Hungarians' opposition, and by the spring of 1863 they were confident enough to hold parliamentary elections.

One of the régime's tactics was to offer support for Romanian and Saxon political endeavours. In the autumn of 1862, the emperor sent notes to the two Romanian prelates — who were considered to represent their people — and to the Saxon Universitas: praising them for their support of the empire's unity, he promised the convocation of a Transylvanian diet and prompt action by that body to 'regulate by law the Romanians' official status and religion.' Thus reassured, the Romanian prelates again requested authorization for a Romanian national conference which would deal solely with Transylvanian matters. Hitherto, the court had not allowed the convocation of a congress that would represent all the Romanians living in the empire, but the new circumstances brought a change of heart, and within two weeks, imperial assent was given for a limited conference. The two prelates relied on their respective church organizations to select 75 priests and an equal number of laymen. Joined by Romanian councillors and lord lieutenants (who brought the proportion of priests down to a third), they gathered at Nagyszeben on 20 April 1863. After four days of debate, attended by Romanian counsellors and lord lieutenants, the Romanian vice-chairman of the Gubernium, Vasile Popp, gave voice to their loyalty {3-432.} to the emperor and expressed their satisfaction over the February Patent. Bariţ dissented; despite a great deal of pressure, and despite Şaguna's attempts at obstruction, he openly maintained that the Diploma and the Patent had not brought the Romanians either national or individual rights. The growing tendency to offer the government unconditional support was inspired by hopes that Francis Joseph and Schmerling would keep their promise to grant collective national rights to the Romanians. The meeting's requests and declaration of gratitude were conveyed to Vienna in early May by a delegation headed by Şaguna; the city fathers and the Lower-Austrian estates held a festive reception in their honour, and the emperor as well as Schmerling and his ministers welcomed them warmly.

The emperor convoked the diet in Nagyszeben for 1 July 1863. As noted, men (other than servants) who had reached 24 years of age and paid direct taxes (including the poll tax) of at least eight forints were eligible to vote. The eligibility of the professional classes — including priests, lawyers, doctors, schoolmasters, and notaries — was based on the property qualification that applied to the intelligentsia. The electoral decree, which was justified by the 'lack of an applicable fundamental law,' departed from the past practice of Hungarian parliamentarism. The most significant novelty was not the larger number of eligible voters, but the change effected in the social composition of the electorate: in 1848, all nobles possessed the franchise, whereas now they were subjected to property qualifications. This excluded so many minor nobles who lived as peasants that in the counties, only one out of five nobles got the right to vote. The social stratum that suffered most from these provisions, whether of Hungarian or Romanian ethnic origin, had always been, and would remain, a leading promoter of Hungarian-oriented policy. Objective factors justified the re-drawing of electoral districts; this produced two representatives for each of the 13 cities, one for each of the 23 market towns, and 76 in all for the village {3-433.} districts. The regulations did not provide for full proportional representation, but the Romanians were mollified by an increase in the number of county representatives. The number of people represented by one deputy varied from 3,700 in Sebesszék to 27,600 in Felső-Fehér County; the numbers were 18,000 in Fogaras and Naszód, 14,500 in Székelyföld, and 8,700 in the Saxon regions.

According to the official report, 82,693 people paid tax amounting to at least eight forints: 48,744 in the counties, 8,341 in the Székely széks, 21,950 in the Saxon regions, and 3,658 in the eighteen towns and the other privileged localities. In the counties, Romanians accounted for over half of the electorate; encouraged by this, the Romanian national committee mounted a vigorous campaign through the press and churches. They hoped that the diet would alter the course of history and bring the Romanian nation to political power.

The Hungarian liberals needed to participate in order to safeguard their remaining positions in the counties and to display their political strength. Although they opposed the diet in principle, they still had to decide how it might serve their political interests. The Hungarians were lured to vote by three of the proposals made by the monarch in the letter that convoked the diet, involving issues important to the landowners: the introduction of cadastral registers, the redemption of land, and the creation of a credit bank. The government reportedly spent 800,000 forints in its attempts to influence the choice exercised by the 75,000–80,000 voters.

In the elections, held in mid-1863, 49 Romanian candidates, 44 Hungarians, and 33 Saxons won a seat. Romanian peasants, who were normally busy in the fields at this time of year, were commonly led to the polls by priests in full regalia, flying national and church banners; they heard orators make various popular promises relating to problems left over from the abolition of villeinage. The Hungarian voters backed liberal candidates even when the latter had no prospect of winning a seat, while the Saxons voted only for {3-434.} Saxon candidates. Liberals won the seats in the Székely districts and in Hungarian towns, but in the counties, the traditional locale of Hungarian political activity, the Hungarians suffered a disastrous setback. Out of the 38 deputies elected in the counties, only two were Hungarians: Gábor Bethlen in Felső-Fehér and István Kemény in Alsó-Fehér, and the latter's success was of questionable value. These results strengthened the belief that national and liberal objectives could only be reached with the unification of Hungary and Transylvania.

The elected representatives were joined in the diet by eleven 'regalists' from each nationality. Appointed by the sovereign from among 'men of distinction' and government administrators, this group was designed to perform the counterbalancing function of an upper house. In the end, 60 (later 59) Romanians, 56 Hungarians, and 44 Saxons became eligible to attend the diet that convened at Nagyszeben on 15 July 1863.

The three nationalities' leaders prepared feverishly for the diet. Gyula Andrássy came down to Transylvania, and Kálmán Tisza reportedly participated in the Hungarian deputies' preparatory meeting, held at Benedek Mikes's home in Nagyszeben. The two-day long meeting, chaired by Ferenc Kemény, focused on a single crucial question: How could they contribute to the diet's most important task which was to grant specific rights to the Romanians, without undermining the fundamental principles and dispositions of 1848 concerning unification, and without breaching their principled rejection of the diet itself? They were prepared to endorse a resolution of the diet on equal rights, but they did not recognize the legitimacy of the Nagyszeben diet, much as the liberal majority had refused to recognize the legislative competence of the truncated diet at Pest in 1861. According to the confidential minutes of the meeting, the participants 'saw no valid reason' for participation, nor adequate means 'for rescuing and updating our constitution, and for preserving our laws'; they did not believe that the {3-435.} pro-government camp would renounce 'the guidelines that it had been given' in order to please the Hungarians. Their resolution, which included a detailed historical introduction and was formulated with great care, was set down in a memorandum addressed to the monarch. After stipulating that 'the very concept of a Transylvanian diet is contrary to law,' the memorandum stressed that 'if we choose to boycott the diet, it is not because we do not wish to satisfy the rightful demands of the nationalities; on the contrary, we have no more ardent wish than to satisfy in a properly legal fashion the wishes of the Romanians, so long as these are reasonable and can be realized without jeopardizing our homeland and our constitutional liberties.' According to the minutes, some participants suggested that the concessions be listed, to make clear 'that we wish to grant the Romanians such and such, lest they react to our general declaration of goodwill with the reproach that the Hungarians are generous only with words and do not follow them up with deeds.' In the end, there was no enumeration of concrete suggestions in the memorandum.[53]53. For the abridged version of the minutes, see Országos Széchényi Könyvtár (National Széchényi Library) Archives, Fol. Hung. 1430. 1-3. For the text of the memorandum, see Deák Ferencz beszédei III, pp. 244-5.

Noting that many Romanians favoured a broad constitutional order, the Hungarians held discussions with Romanians as well as Saxons, but the initiatives brought little success. Kemény, Mikó, Haynald, János Bethlen, Farkas Bethlen, and Albert Bánffy had several meetings with Şaguna, Şuluţiu, Bariţ, and Puscariu, and there was much talk of mutual dependence. While Romanian liberals and some Saxons hoped that the Hungarians would rally and reinforce the constitutionalist group in the diet, the Hungarians tried to persuade them to join the boycott. Haynald repeated the promise he had made two years earlier, that in the Pest diet 'we will secure in law all of your national demands.'[54]54. Puscariu, Notite, p. 75. The different points of view could not be reconciled, and the Hungarian deputies and regalists (apart from two senior civil servants and the Austrian-oriented mayor of Szamosújvár) stayed away from the diet. Their choice was reinforced by a royal ordinance that was meant to be {3-436.} confidential but which they had managed to obtain; it invalidated both the union of 1848 and the Diploma Leopoldinum of 1691. One of their major grievances was that while they were expected, as deputies, to take the oath of allegiance, the sovereign was not bound by any oath.

The Hungarian boycott wrecked the régime's hopes that the Transylvanian diet would serve the cause of centralisation. Without the Hungarians, the diet could not claim to represent Transylvania's three nations. Nor could it function as an assembly of independent citizens. Instead, it became an official gathering of civil servants wholly dependent on Vienna; of the 59 Romanian deputies, 36 were civil servants and 15 were priests; 22 of the 33 Saxon deputies and half of the Saxon regalists were civil servants. Of the parliament's 90–110 active members, 69 were civil servants, and 21, priests; that left around ten genuinely independent deputies, including the Saxon Maager and the Romanian Bariţ. In this respect, the Nagyszeben diet became what Schmerling had intended, a tightly-controlled, submissive Landtag with little autonomy.

The inaugural session of the diet took place on 15 July 1863, in the converted banquet hall of the Római Császár [Roman Emperor] hotel. It was presided over by the governor, Lieutenant General Crenneville, who had been appointed royal commissioner. Andrássy and Kálmán Tisza were in the audience as the 101 deputies present were sworn in. The next day the royal commissioner, dressed in Hungarian ceremonial costume, read out the throne speech to an assembly conspicuous for the absence of its Hungarian members. He promised the reinstatement of ancient constitutional rights as well the development of a representative system of government consistent with the equality of civil rights; invited the assembly to enact the October Diploma and the February Patent and thus allow for Transylvania to join the imperial council; and confirmed that the union was invalid. There followed a presentation of the government's legislative proposals. The régime was intent on {3-437.} demonstrating the equal rights of the three languages, and so the address was repeated in Hungarian and then in Romanian.

The Hungarian representatives handed letters explaining their absence to the diet's temporary speaker, then collectively took their leave of Crenneville. The latter may have had a premonition when he expressed his 'hope that perhaps they would meet again on another occasion.'[55]55. Ürmössy, Tizenhét év V, p. 120. After long debate, the Hungarians reached a compromise among themselves and drafted a new memorandum, in which they proposed to modify the 'state machinery' and pay due respect to the empire's interests on condition that Francis Joseph govern on the basis of 'legality.' Catholic, Calvinist and Unitarian bishops were among the first to append their signatures. When Kemény and Mikó arrived to deliver the memorandum, the sovereign refused to accept it. Meanwhile, Nádasdy, in an attempt to persuade Kemény's group to join the Landtag and the Reichsrat, dangled the promise of an electoral system more favourable to the Hungarians.

The government invalidated the mandates of the Hungarian representatives and called for by-elections in their districts; and to replace the absent regalists, it appointed new ones. In the new round of elections, held in August, the former Hungarians deputies were duly reelected; after this demonstration of their political credibility, they ceremoniously surrendered their mandates. The electoral duel between government and opposition was fought again several times. At the next round, in October, the government exerted greater pressure; municipal voters were required to promise that they would vote only for candidates who were ready to attend the diet in Nagyszeben. The Hungarian opposition won again, although not by the same margin. Nádasdy made two more attempts to break down the opposition, holding by-elections in May and August 1864, and failed each time. Thus there remained eleven Hungarians in the diet, nine newly-appointed regalists and two elected deputies who belonged to the government party. The government could {3-438.} scarcely claim that the representation of Transylvania's Hungarians was thereby assured.

The Hungarian voters' steadfastness demonstrated that the opposition had a solid, if none too broad, social base. The politicians who boycotted the diet served the cause of a more modern liberalism, and they facilitated the struggle of their fellow liberals in Hungary for greater autonomy. This was a fact, even if the government predictably construed the Nagyszeben assembly as a success, and not as a partial defeat. However, contradictions appeared between the pursuit of broad liberal objectives and the need to reshape relations between the nationalities. Circumstances had changed, but the non-Hungarian peoples could not be soothed or satisfied by application of the Hungarian 'nation-state' doctrine in its pure form. For the Hungarians, the road to this realization was slow and hard. Whatever their political affiliation, they were driven by the same conviction that a compromise had to be found.