The Abrogation of the Provisorium

Although Schmerling's policies failed to break the opposition of Hungarian liberals, they did weaken it. The prolonged period of absolutism did not bring economic benefits to the landowning class. On the contrary, new taxes had to be raised in 1860–62 to pay for the costs of administration; Hungarian officials received no remuneration until the advent of the provisorium, and in the Mikó era they commonly had to pay their own expenses if they assumed administrative functions. The taxes had to be paid, but the province still had no railways, and thus was unable to draw much benefit from otherwise favourable economic trends. The Hungarian landowners had no access to credit; in the absence of regulations, their holdings could not be subdivided and the market value of the estates plummeted. The knowledgeable Romanian in charge of Fogaras estimated that all the agricultural land in Transylvania could be purchased for a few million forints. The necessity of finding a solution drove many to seek a compromise with the court. The conservatives had already taken the initiative: in late December {3-446.} 1863, Kemény urged that they request 'the restitution of the status that had been promised to Transylvania' in the October Diploma.

Acting on the emperor's instructions, Baron Antal Augusz paid a secret visit to Ferenc Deák at the end of 1864; the latter was invited to produce a detailed plan for compromise based on the restoration of Hungary's territorial integrity. The following spring, Deák, in his famous 'Easter Article,' set out the goal of harmonizing the essential interests of the empire and those linked to Hungarian constitutionalism. He evoked the possibility of amending the laws of 1848, of reconciling them with 'the preservation of a strong empire;' and he reiterated one of the most important desiderata of Hungarian liberals, that constitutional government must be introduced in the Austrian part of the empire in order to make a clean break with absolutism. With the tacit support of conservatives, the exploratory talks got under way. Then, on 26 June 1865, the chancellors of Hungary and Transylvania, Zichy and Nádasdy, were dismissed; the latter's place was taken by Count Ferenc Haller, a cavalry general who had distinguished himself by his loyalty to the dynasty. The life and soul of the régime, Schmerling, was replaced by the Bohemian Count Richard Belcredi, and coincidentally the sovereign became personally involved in the Austrian–Hungarian negotiations. In August, the new prime minister, the two chancellors, Ferenc Kemény and Lajos Jósika, reached agreement on the modalities of restoring the union between Hungary and Transylvania. Their plan, which was in keeping with Kemény's project of 1861 and took account of the electoral regulations of 1791 and 1848, anticipated that new elections and a new diet would win the support of the large number of regalists and bring about the desired result. Having approved the principle of union, Francis Joseph convoked Şaguna (who in December 1864 had been appointed archbishop of all Orthodox Romanians in Hungary as well as Transylvania, and now led a church independent of the Serbs) and the Saxon Count Konrad Schmidt. He {3-447.} informed them of his decision to conclude an agreement with the Hungarians and promised to guarantee the national rights of non-Hungarians if Saxons and Romanians could adapt themselves to the new situation. This timely advice confirmed what was already suspected by the Romanian politicians, but the latter were not able exploit it and make contact with the Hungarian liberals. Their national committee had become split in 1863, and owing to the antagonism between the two prelates, it effectively ceased to function; as a result, although Şuluţiu, Bariţ, and Ratiu tried to carry on, their influence waned, and they were reduced to observing the events in a state of near-helplessness.

In the autumn of 1865, the sovereign decreed that a new diet be convened at Kolozsvár on November 19. The 'sole and exclusive task' of this diet was to be 'the revision, on the basis of interests common to the parent states, of Article I of the laws of 1848 concerning the unification of Hungary and Transylvania.' There followed a decree on elections, and another on municipalities, in consequence of which local governments were soon restored in their 1861 format. The sovereign also convoked the Pest diet, for December 10. The Diploma and the letters-patent were annulled by the various parliaments, and with this step Francis Joseph brought to an end the experiment that had been launched in the spring of 1860.

Eligibility for the franchise was once again based on a individual minimum tax level of eight forints, but this was far more restrictive than in 1863, for the poll tax was not counted. The significance of the new electoral system did not lie in the smaller number of voters, for despite the higher threshold, the number of eligible voters (which, in the absence of reliable data, can only be estimated) rose by several thousand above the 1863 level, to over 80,000; the key difference was that farmers of noble origin regained their 'ancient rights' and were not subject to the tax qualification. This petty nobility — regardless of its ethnic status — was a potential {3-448.} source of support for Hungarian interests, as was the large number of regalists. The new electoral system was highly disadvantageous to the Romanians, and advantageous to the Hungarians.

The shift in imperial policy, and in particular the new electoral rules, came like a bolt from the blue for the Romanian intelligentsia. The Romanian vice-chairman of the Gubernium Regium believed that the new policy would be short-lived, and that the Romanians should wait it out. With his encouragement, the Uniate archbishop, Şuluţiu, adopted the resistance tactics employed by the Hungarians against the Nagyszeben diet, and planned a boycott. Şuluţiu wanted to convene a national conference, but he was denied permission by Vienna as well as by Kolozsvár. Even the newly-anointed Orthodox archbishop, Şaguna, disagreed with Şuluţiu, for he knew that the Romanians could no longer exert a substantial influence on the course of events; therefore, although he opposed the union, he refrained from open displays of resistance. At the last moment, Bariţ's group decided to take part in the elections. Their platform was clearly anti-unionist, yet they hoped that they could obtain concessions in exchange for accepting union. The preceding summer, Zsigmond Kemény had observed in the Pesti Napló that 'although we want union, we have no wish for a unification that tolerates no autonomy in Transylvania or a separate diet for purely provincial affairs, [...] in view of the peculiar situation of the Transylvanian nationalities, we must be prudent about unification, for we would not want union to prejudice the fair and reasonable demands for autonomy.'[60]60. Pesti Napló, 30 June 1865.

The Universitas Saxonum opposed the new measures but it was willing to participate in the diet on the basis adumbrated by Zsigmond Kemény; it was prepared to accept union if first 'the Saxon minority's municipal constitution was guaranteed in law.'

The outcome of the November elections reflected the psychological impact of the sovereign's support for the union, as well as the new electoral rules, which (as noted) raised the financial threshold {3-449.} for eligibility and further reduced the number of Romanian voters by omitting the special provision that had been made for the intelligentsia in 1848. The anti-union opposition (including those who imposed substantial conditions to its acceptance) was reduced to 14 elected (and 34 regalist) Romanian representatives; the Saxons were represented by 30 deputies and 20 regalists. These nationalities were far outnumbered in the diet by the Hungarians' 59 elected deputies and 137 regalists; even without the regalists, the unionists formed a solid majority.