Constitutionalism and Reunification

The questions raised in the revolution of 1848 — Hungary's relations with Austria and her internal system of governance — were settled, in a conservative spirit, by the Compromise of 1867. The Compromise turned the Habsburg empire into a constitutional monarchy with two centres of authority. Henceforth, Austria and Hungary would manage their internal affairs separately and independently, while the essential aspects of sovereignty, foreign affairs and defence, would be handled by a joint agency over which the monarch exercised decisive influence. Qualified sovereignty remained a contentious political issue over the fifty-year span of Dualism, and it would have an impact on the evolution of policy towards national minorities.

The 300-year long separate status of Transylvania thus came to an end. The Compromise, which the monarch, Francis Joseph, mediated between Hungarian liberals and the Austro–German bourgeoisie, restored the union that had been agreed to back in 1848; for the Hungarians, this was a precondition to any accord. On 20 June 1867, the Kolozsvár diet was dissolved by royal decree, and a separate ordinance abrogated the legislative acts of the Nagyszeben provincial assembly.

The government formed by Count Gyula Andrássy was given full powers to manage the affairs of Transylvania. On April 29, Manó Péchy, lord lieutenant of Abaúj County, was appointed royal commissioner, and the slow process of unification got under way. The commissioner was not based permanently in Transylvania. The reorganisation of the governing and administrative agencies was {3-638.} supervised by his deputy, Gusztáv Groisz. Municipal authorities received most of their instructions straight from the Budapest government. However, the monitoring of nationality movements and the handling of police affairs were left largely in the hands of the commission, which thus acquired great political weight. Critics of the dualist system complained that, for a long time, Transylvania's public administration remained essentially under the control of Groisz, who had for a long period presided over the Nagyszeben provincial assembly, and of his associates; they were regarded as 'reactionary functionaries allowed to remain on the platform of power.'

The central government was in no hurry to fully implement union, if only because — as opposition critics put it — 'the problem of nationalities impelled it to deal cautiously with Transylvania.'[1]1. Magyar Polgár, 2 September 1868. The government rescinded county resolutions that had made Hungarian the exclusive language of county councils, thereby in-validating a law passed in 1848, and gave some leeway for the use of the other languages. The finance minister directed his subordinate agencies 'to respond to all petitions with decrees and resolutions issued in the language in which petitions are presented and edited, if this language is widely used in the region.'[2]2. Törvények és Hivatalos Rendeletek Gyűjteménye, ed. by B. Ökrös (Pest, 1868), p. 54. The royal commission communicated in German with the Saxon county seats, and in Romanian with the counties of Fogaras, Naszód, and Hátszék; the central government had to do likewise. In his instructions to county councils, the interior minister prescribed that 'for all elected offices, three to five suitable persons are to be nominated, with due regard for the several religions and nationalities.'[3]3. Ibid., p. 207. The government wished to obtain the cooperation, however qualified, of leading Romanians and Saxons. Eötvös invited George Bariţ, the most influential member of the Romanian opposition, to accept — without giving up his principles and convictions — appointment as ministerial counsellor charged with 'the guidance of the education of young Romanians.'[4]4. János Gál's letter of 25 May 1867 to Bariţ, in George Bariţ magyar levelezése, ed. by I. Chindriş and F. Kovács (Bucharest, 1975), p. 103. Such gestures, along with the measured pace of unification, reflected the government's intention to avoid a {3-639.} political confrontation with Transylvania's Saxons and Romanians over minor administrative issues, for it was faced by bigger problems: the difficulties encountered in implanting a new administrative order nationwide, the protests of counties dominated by the opposition, the activities of democratic movements in the Great Plain, winning acceptance for the Austro–Hungarian trade and customs union, and securing foreign loans.

The new order required a comprehensive regulation of the modalities of union. The legislation (Act XLIII, 1868) once again entrenched the equality of political and civil rights and abolished divisions and privileges linked to the feudal 'nations.' The Churches' equality before the law was confirmed, as was their right to autonomous administration, and it was made explicit that the provisions applied equally to the Uniate and Greek Orthodox Churches. The number of Transylvania's parliamentary seats was in-creased to 75; the interior ministry inherited the responsibilities of the Gubernium, and the government reserved the right to name Transylvania's royal magistrates as well the Saxon bailiff. The Saxon Universitas was momentarily allowed to survive, but it was deprived of its judicial functions. The law took account of the practical consequences of Transylvania's prolonged separate status and did not provide for the automatic application in Transylvania of earlier Hungarian legislation; since the entire legal code had to be updated, it made no sense to enact new interim measures. As a result, numerous laws enacted in the absolutist period remained in force, and for a long time Transylvania retained a distinctive legal system, particularly in the sphere of civil law. The differences were gradually reduced through the enactment of new laws, but some distinctive features were still in evidence at the end of this period. Still, over a period of ten years, Hungarian legislation came to supersede the Austrian code of civil procedure, penal law, commercial law, and regulations for bills of exchange. Later, criminal law was similarly reformed.

{3-640.} In the meantime, the preservation of measures introduced by the absolutist administration meant that Transylvania's legal system was in some respects more modern, and in other respects less liberal than that prevailing in the rest of Hungary.The modern, liberal Austrian code of civil law was frequently amended but survived, as did the mine law of 1854, which favoured entrepreneurs over land-owners. To maintain law and order in Transylvania (and Croatia), the government considered it necessary to preserve a state police force, the gendarmerie, which until 1876 came under the authority of the Austro–Hungarian defence ministry; it was a somewhat more modern organization than the pandúr gendarmerie that operated in the counties of historical Hungary until the 1880s. The retention of Transylvania's gendarmerie was undoubtedly inspired in part by the need to control the activities of national groups. It also served to enforce the illiberal press laws of 1852. Only in 1871 did a decree 'extend to Transylvania freedom of the press as guaranteed by the institution of common jury.'[5]5. Decree no. 1498 (1871) of the justice and interior ministers. Rendeletek Tára 1871, p. 183. As a consequence, restrictions were eased, and it became more difficult to shut down newspapers; six 'not guilty' votes among the twelve jurymen were sufficient for acquittal. This procedure served to limit administrative sanctions, although the notion that the supposedly free and independent jurymen's 'living conscience is a better guarantee of justice than dead rules' proved to be somewhat illusory.[6]6. Ibid., p. 207.

The distinctive legal provisions gave rise to recurring complaints, but they did not change the reality of union or prevent the gradual incorporation of the region (with some allowance for local circumstances) into the national administrative system. Simultan-eously with the act of union, and in order to reassure non-Hungarian citizens, a special bill was enacted concerning the 'equal rights of nationalities — a measure that then, and later, carried heavy political and ideological consequences.