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Hungarian Jacobins of the 18th Century

The Execution, Martinovics, Kazinczy, Batsányi, Laczkovics, Szentmarjai, and Hajnóczy

Hungarian Jacobins of the 18th Century

Karolina Tima Szabo 

The 18th century French Revolution sowed the seed in the Hungarian soil.  Francis II (1792-1835), Holy Roman (and later, as Francis I, Austrian) Emperor and King of Hungary, was not a smart man or highly educated.  He had no hostility toward Hungary, but his patriarchal rule was unsuited to the period of time in history, and was harmful for the countries he ruled.  He distanced many of the reform-minded people with his conservative absolutism.

One of these was Martinovics Ignác, who was a brilliant man.  He spoke, wrote and translated from 10 languages, but he had a restless soul.  He attended the Piarist school in Pest.  Having finished the lower grades there, he joined the Franciscan Order, and received a doctorate in Theology and Philosophy in Baja in 1773.  Because of his restless nature, he moved around a lot.  At one point he was an army priest, where he met a Polish count.  With the count’s money he traveled all over Europe.  During that time, he met many scholars, and many Freemasons, and he became a believer in the Enlightenment.

His written studies sparked the interest of the Habsburg court, and he was invited to teach the Natural Sciences at Lemberg University, then was appointed Dean of Philosophy.  A year later he became a secret agent for the Royal Court.  He reported on the Freemasons and the Jesuits he was associated with.  For this work, and also for his knowledge, he became a Court Counselor. After the death of Emperor Leopold II, he kept writing his reports, but King Francis II disliked him, and sent him away, naming him abbot of Szászvár.  By that time his views had changed, maybe because he could not get into Francis’ favor, and he became an atheist.  He still sent his reports to the Court, but was ignored, and eventually fired.  He kept writing his atheist works in secret, three of which were confiscated by the king.  He attacked imperial censorship, and the Monarchy’s Hungarian politics.

With the French Jacobin Society serving as an example, Martinovics started the Hungarian Jacobin movement in 1794.  He established two clubs, and was the “president” of both.  The leader of the moderate club, the Reformátorok Társasága (Society of Reformers) was Sigray Jakab.  This group was the more conservative of the two.  They wanted to address the most important issues:

 - Hungary was to become a noble federal republic, which would include Dalmatia, Croatia, Slavonia, Slovakia, Transylvania and Bánát;

 - each of these were to have their own constitution, use their own language and keep their own religions;

 - all minorities were to have equal rights;

 - the rights of the serfs were to be expanded, short of giving them property rights  

 - the composition of Parliament was to be changed, to consist of two houses, one for the nobility, the other for the commoners;

 - taxes were to be cut, support given to the arts and sciences, and the rights of man were to be observed.

Basically, they advocated for social reforms, without violence.

Leaders of the more radical group “Szabadság és Egyenlőség Társaság” (Society of Liberty and Equality) were Hajnóczy JózsefSzentmarjay Ferenc and Laczkovics János.  Members were from noble families, and educated men, such as Kazinczy Ferenc, Verseghy Ferenc.  During the rule of Emperors Joseph II and Leopold II, these people had a promising future.  As with Martinovics, all changed after Francis became King.  This group wanted a dictatorial regime, to nationalize the Church’s and King’s lands, and eliminate some taxes.  It is interesting that the Society of Reformers did not know of the existence of the other group.

The movement had supporters in Romania, Slovakia, and Croatia, but despite the request that each member recruit two new members, they did not establish close contact with the majority of Hungary.

The French Jacobins (which had their meetings in the Rue St. Jacques monastery, where the name came from), had been organized by Maximilian Robespierre, who became their leader. Originally, they wanted to represent the city’s poor, the unemployed, the small bourgeoisie; but they eventually became an extremely radical society.  After they took over power, with the help of the poor people of Paris, they became a terror group.  They wanted to eliminate religion, close all theaters and music halls, to control every aspect of people’s lives.  (One minor change: they eliminated the 7 day-week and replaced it with a 10-day week!)  The more moderates left the club, but they were quickly eliminated, as were the opposition.  The exact date of the start of the Jacobins' Reign of Terror has been disputed, with some placing it as early as 1789. (It ended on July 27th, 1794, with the death of Robespierre.)  During that time, they had executed close to 17 000 people, including King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

The Hungarian Jacobins were working in secret, still in July 1794 they came to the attention of the imperial secret service.  On July 23rd, Martinovics was arrested in Vienna, where his real character appeared: he was a spineless but egotistic man.  He did spill the names of the Society’s members, and exaggerated the importance of what he did.  On August 16th, all the leaders were apprehended.  The trial was moved from Vienna to Buda, and the Seven Member Court of Appeals deliberated for five months, to make the case sound more serious than it actually was.  The charge was high treason.  What was on paper didn’t constitute treason, but the prisoners were bribed to tell on the others, or were told that the others had already told on them.  The charges were beefed up and the sentences were way too severe, to serve as an example for the future.  

Thirteen were sentenced to death, but six of them were pardoned.  Three were sentenced to 10 years in prison, three to 5 years in prison, nine to 3 years in prison, and 15 were pardoned. While in prison, two committed suicide, one lost his mind, one died during the trial, one died in jail.  In most cases, the King lowered the sentences that were handed down by the Court.  

Those who were sentenced were sent to the most severe prisons - Kufstein, Spielberg and others.

On May 20th, 1795, Martinovics, Sigray, Hajnóczy, Szentmarjay and Laczkovics, were beheaded at what was then called the General Meadow (Generális rét) in Buda; Őz and Solártsik were executed at the same place on June 3rd.  The area has since then been called Vérmező (Blood Meadow).

While the French Jacobins had about 400 000 members in Paris and in the region, the Hungarian Jacobins numbered about 100.  What can a hundred men do?  Physically, they did nothing.  All Martinovics did was to put his program on paper, as in a catechism.  It was no danger to the Monarchy whatsoever.  They were nowhere near as dangerous as the Robespierre Jacobins.  The Hungarians didn’t walk their talk.  Theirs was only a wish, a dream, but it did serve as an example for the 1848’s Youth of March.

Karolina Tima Szabo is a retired Systems Analyst of the Connecticut Post newspaper and  Webmaster of Magyar News Online.  She is the proud grandmother of two.

Magyar jakobinus dala

Ady Endre

  Ujjunk begyéből vér serken ki, Dunának, Oltnak egy a hangja,
  Mikor téged tapogatunk, Morajos, halk, halotti hang.
  Te álmos, szegény Magyarország, Árpád hazájában jaj annak,
  Vajon vagy-e és mink vagyunk? Aki nem úr és nem bitang.
  Vajon lehet-e jobbra várni? Mikor fogunk már összefogni?
  Szemünk és lelkünk fáj bele, Mikor mondunk már egy nagyot,
  Vajon fölébred valahára Mi, elnyomottak, összetörtek,
  A szolga-népek Bábele? Magyarok és nem-magyarok?
  Ezer zsibbadt vágyból mért nem lesz Meddig lesz még úr a betyárság
  Végül egy erős akarat? És pulyahad mi, milliók?
  Hiszen magyar, oláh, szláv bánat Magyarország népe meddig lesz
  Mindigre egy bánat marad. Kalitkás seregély-fiók?
  Hiszen gyalázatunk, keservünk Bús koldusok Magyarországa,
  Már ezer év óta rokon. Ma se hitünk, se kenyerünk.
  Mért nem találkozunk süvöltve Holnap már minden a mienk lesz,
  Az eszme-barrikádokon? Hogyha akarunk, ha merünk.

Ady Endre (1877-1919) is considered to have been the outstanding Hungarian poet of the 20th century.  His fusing of Western influences with his Hungarian heritage produced a new poetic direction that sparked a literary renewal.  “Ady’s purpose was to lay bare the inhumanity of materialism and to urge national renewal ... His love for the people became a kind of socialism (which) was inspired not by the ideas of Marx... (he) wanted change from within, not imposed by bayonets from outside”  (From A Sampler of Hungarian Poetry, by Erika Papp Faber).


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