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Louis Kossuth

Louis Kossuth

The Hungarian statesman and orator Louis, or Lajos, Kossuth (1802-1894) was the foremost leader of the Hungarian Revolution of 1848-1849 and the symbol of Magyar nationalism.

The son of an impoverished Lutheran nobleman, Louis Kossuth was born at Monok in northern Hungary on Sept. 19, 1802. He attended the famed Protestant schools of Eperjes (now Prešov in Slovakia) and Sárospatak, known for their Magyar patriotic and anti-Hapsburg sentiments. This Kuruc spirit became part of his nature, remaining with him throughout his long life.

After practicing law in his native Zemplén county (1823-1832), Kossuth was sent to the national Diet at Pozsony (Pressburg, Bratislava). There, in the exciting atmosphere of the reform debates and under the over-powering influence of the great reformer Count István (Stephen) Széchenyi, he soon developed his own socio-political creed. This included a belief in the necessity of Hungary's thorough social, economic, and political transformation and the termination of its subordination to Vienna. He aired his views in the form of "dietary proceedings" (Országgyülési tudósìtások), which were not verbatim records but opinionated personal impressions so inflammatory in tone that they soon landed Kossuth in prison (1837-1840).

Released under an amnesty (May 1840), Kossuth agitated for civil liberties and national independence in his newly founded paper, the Pesti Hirlap (Pest Journal). His popular views and beguiling style immediately gained attention and support. But they also alarmed the government and the less radical reformers, among them Count Széchenyi, who disagreed with Kossuth on actual issues (for example, complete independence) and felt his tactless agitation would lead to more political oppression. Széchenyi was convinced that Kossuth's relative intolerance toward national minorities, although stemming from a conviction that Magyar nationalism was the only real liberal and cultural force in Hungary (a conviction shared by Karl Marx), could only end in catastrophe.

Kossuth, defending himself in the brilliant polemical pamphlet Reply to Count Stephen Széchenyi (1841), continued agitating in the Pesti Hirlap until July 1844, when, upon governmental pressure, he lost the editorship. Unable to establish another paper, he poured his energies into Védegylet, a society to protect Hungarian industry through boycotting Austrian goods.

The Hungarian Revolution

In 1847 Kossuth was again sent to the Diet, where he soon assumed the leadership of the liberal opposition. His great moment came on March 3, 1848. At the news of the February revolution in France, he delivered a powerful speech in the Diet, demanding immediate implementation of the liberal program and calling for constitutionalism throughout the empire.

After Prince Metternich's regime collapsed, Kossuth became minister of finance in the new government of Count Lajos Batthyány in Hungary. His economic and political activities tended to increase the tension both between Hungary and the dynasty and in his relations to the South Slavs, who soon rebelled, joining with Viennese reaction. When growing radicalism and the dynasty's double-dealings led to the fall of the moderate government (September 28), Kossuth assumed full control, becoming chairman of the newly founded Committee of National Defense and the life and soul of the revolution.

The next few months brought out the most in the undoubtedly brilliant Kossuth. With elements of greatness (courage, magnetism, the ability to accomplish the impossible) weaknesses in his personality (intransigence, jealousy, lack of realism) also came to light. Particularly unfortunate were his inability to come to terms with the nationalities, his jealousy and suspicion of his best general (Arthur von Görgey), and his unrealistic dethronization act of April 14, 1849, which contributed much to Russian intervention.

Later Years

Despite notable victories, Russia's intervention made Hungary's situation untenable. Kossuth fled Hungary (Aug. 11, 1849) and, after 2 years' internment in Turkey, made a brilliant but futile English and American campaign to gain support for Hungarian independence. His plan to create a "Danubian Confederation" (1861), while commendable, came too late and was too anti-Hapsburg to be realistic.

With the establishment of Austria-Hungary in 1867, Kossuth's hopes faded altogether. He died at 92 in Turin, Italy, on March 20, 1894. He was buried in Budapest, still an idol of the Magyar peasant masses.

Further Reading

The first edition of Kossuth's Complete Works (13 vols., 1880-1911) is neither complete nor sufficiently scholarly. A much better critical edition is now in progress (15 vols. to date, 1948-). The Select Speeches of Kossuth, edited by F. M. Newman (1854), and his Memoires of My Exile (2 vols., 1880), are also available in English.

Although works about Kossuth are numerous, his definitive biography has not yet been written; and reliable, scholarly works about him are scarce, even in Hungarian. The available English language books are neither scholarly nor critical. Otto Zarek, Kossuth (trans. 1937), is a popular, novelistic account by a Kossuth enthusiast; and Endre Sebestyén, Kossuth: A Magyar Apostle of World Democracy (1950), is a brief laudatory pamphlet, with an emphasis on Kossuth's American connections. For Kossuth's role in the revolutionary movement of 1848 the student can turn to Lewis Namier, 1848: The Revolution of the Intellectuals (1946); Arnold Whitbridge, Man in Crisis: The Revolutions of 1848 (1949); and Priscilla Robertson, Revolutions of 1848 (1952). □

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Kossuth, Louis

Louis Kossuth (kŏsōōth´), Hung. Kossuth Lajos, 1802–94, Hungarian revolutionary hero. Born of a Protestant family and a lawyer by training, he entered politics as a member of the diet and soon won a large following. His liberal and nationalist program did not avoid the possibility of dissolving the union of the Hungarian and Austrian crowns. He was arrested in 1837, but popular pressure forced the Metternich regime to release him in 1840. Kossuth, a fiery orator, was one of the principal figures of the Hungarian revolution of Mar., 1848. When, in April, Hungary was granted a separate government, Kossuth became finance minister. He continued and intensified his anti-Austrian agitation. His principles were liberal, but his nationalism was opposed to the fulfillment of the national aspirations of the Slavic, Romanian, and German minorities in Hungary and was particularly resented in Croatia. When the Austrian government, supported by the ban [governor] of Croatia, Count Jellachich de Buzim, prepared to move against Hungary, Kossuth became head of the Hungarian government of national defense. His government withdrew to Debrecen before the advance of the Austrians under Alfred Windischgrätz. In Apr., 1849, the Hungarian parliament declared Hungary an independent republic and Kossuth became president. The Hungarians won several victories, but in 1849, Russian troops intervened in favor of Austria, and Kossuth was obliged to resign the government to General Görgey. The Hungarian surrender at Vilagos marked the end of the republic. Kossuth fled to Turkey. He visited England and the United States and received ovations as a champion of liberty. Kossuth lived in exile in England and (after 1865) in Italy. He was dissatisfied with the Ausgleich [compromise] of 1867, by which the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy was created, and he refused an offer of amnesty in 1890. After his death at Turin, Italy, his body was returned to Budapest and buried in state.

See biography by P. C. Headley (1971); I. Deak, The Lawful Revolution (1979).

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Kossuth, Lajos

Kossuth, Lajos (1802–94) Hungarian nationalist. Emerging as leader of the Revolution of 1848, Kossuth declared Hungarian independence (1849), but Russian intervention led to his defeat. He fled to rouse support for Hungarian independence in Europe and the USA. The compromise of 1867, which created the Dual Monarchy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, put an end to his hopes.

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