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“Let there be Peace, Liberty and Harmony.”
“Let there be Peace, Liberty and Harmony.”

Mihály Táncsis

This was the heading of the 12 demands published by the youth of Pest-Buda on March 15th, 1848, summarizing the essence of what the Hungarian people wanted after centuries of Austrian Habsburg rule (“Mit kiván a magyar nemzet”).

They spelled out the details thus:

1)  A free press with the abolition of Austrian censorship.

2)  A responsible government administration in Pest-Buda.

3)  An annual session of parliament at Pest.

4)  Equality before the law in civil and religious matters.

5)  A Hungarian national guard.

6)  Common taxation of all strata of society.

7)  Abolition of serfdom.

8)  Common jury and representation based on equality.

9)  A Hungarian national bank.

10) The military to swear allegiance to the Hungarian constitution;

      Hungarian soldiers not to be sent abroad; foreign (Austrian)

      soldiers to be removed from Hungary.

 11) Release of political prisoners.

 12) Union of Hungary with Transylvania.

 At the bottom of their poster was added the slogan of the French Revolution:  “Equality, liberty, fraternity!” 

Members of the “March Youth” read the 12 points and Petőfi recited his “Talpra Magyar!” (Nemzeti dal) at several points in Pest-Buda, including the university, where they interrupted the lectures to do so.  Finally, they went to the National Museum where, contrary to common belief, Petőfi did not recite his poem, but just gave a short speech to the enthusiastic crowd of some 10,000.

Taking over the printing press of Landerer és Heckenast, they printed up – without censorship!  –  thousands of copies of the 12 points and of Petőfi’s “Talpra magyar!” which they distributed to the crowds that kept gathering despite a pouring rain.

The 12 points were accepted by the general assembly of the city of Pest, with the populace admitted for the first time in centuries to the assembly halls on the afternoon of March 15th, 1848.  The general populace was notified of this fact by means of posters.

A Committee of 13 was elected to assure order, and Petőfi was one of its members.  The crowd demanded the freeing of Táncsics Mihály, who was held prisoner in Buda for his “radical” political views: he had published a pamphlet entitled “The Word of the People is God’s Word” (a translation of “Vox populi, vox Dei”).  The people proceeded to the prison at Buda, and the president of the governor’s council freed him immediately.  They put him in a carriage that they drew by hand across to the National Theater in Pest.  They wanted to see Táncsics on stage, but realizing his poor physical condition, they gave up the idea.

The highest city and county officials took the lead of the independence movement, giving it national importance. Both sides of the city were brightly lit, and people kept yelling “Long live liberty!”  (“Éljen a szabadság!”)  A crowd of some 20,000 to 25,000 people demanded the immediate establishment of a national guard, and threatened to break into the arsenal.  Members of the Committee calmed them by suggesting that each section of the city send 100 people, and patrol the city alternately during the night.

Meanwhile, Kossuth was in Vienna, negotiating with the Austrians.  At first, the Emperor Ferdinand V would not agree to the demands, but hearing of the events of Pest-Buda, eventually had to yield.  He agreed to sanction the laws of reform passed in April by the last feudal parliament, which made Hungary an independent country and united it with Transylvania.  

Count Batthyány Lajos was named prime minister, empowered to form a Hungarian government responsible no longer to the king, but to elected representatives of the Hungarian parliament.  Elections were held in June, and the first elected parliament opened on July 5th in Pest.

Emboldened by the Hungarian successes, the minorities – Slovaks, Serbs, Croatians and Romanians – also began demanding recognition as separate nations within Hungary.  (Only the Rusyns and Slovenes did not turn against the Hungarians.)  In response, the Hungarian leadership declared that, no matter what their language, the minorities were all members of the Hungarian nation.  The Serbs and Croatians turned to Austria for help, and Austria responded by demanding that unless Hungary withdrew the April laws, there would be military action on their part.

On September 11th, Jellasics, the bán[1] of Croatia crossed the Dráva River, attacking Hungary with 35,000 troops.  They were beaten back at Pákozd by Kossuth’s hastily gathered national guard (honvédség).  But they were not able to deal similarly with the Serb and Romanian uprisings.

Jellasics, combined with the Austrian forces, defeated the Hungarian army at Schwechat near Vienna at the end of October.

In the spring, the Hungarian forces rallied, and were able to achieve considerable victories over the foreign forces.  (See “Victory is Ours!” in the March 2012 issue of Magyar News Online).  Realizing that he would not be able to crush the Hungarian uprising with his own forces alone, Emperor Francis Joseph, who had recently acceded to the throne, wrote to Tsar Nicholas of Russia for help.  He was not disappointed.  Although a folk song mentions only 100,000 men[2], a force of 200,000 Russians invaded Hungary, putting an end to the Revolution of 1849. 

All because Hungarians wanted free speech and the right to be masters in their own house!  (And a little more than a century later, in 1956, history repeated itself.)

 

 

[1] The bán had territorial power with authority to gather an army – in case of danger – without previous royal permission.

[2] Megjött a levél  fekete pecséttel.     
     Megjött a muszka száz ezer emberrel.     
     Négyszáz ágyúval áll a harc mezején.     
     Így hát jó Anyám elmasírozok én. 

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