The medieval Kingdom of Hungary was conquered by the Ottoman Turks in 1526 and was liberated by the Austrian Empire in 1699. It had an uneasy relationship with the Hapsburg monarchy. The Ausgleich (Compromise) of 1867 granted Hungary considerable autonomy over its internal affairs and control over its non-Magyar ethnic groups. The Emperor of Austria was also King of Hungary. Institutions were Imperial, Royal, or Imperial and Royal (Kaiserlich-und-Koeniglich). This arrangement lasted until the breakup of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the end of World War I.
As the Central Powers faced defeat, the Hungarian parliament declared independence from Austria on October 17, 1918. An independent government was formed November 1. Austria-Hungary concluded an armistice with the Allies on November 3. A separate Military Convention between the Allies and Hungary, signed on November 13, called for the withdrawal and demobilization of Hungarian armed forces. A republic was proclaimed on November 16. Hungary was proclaimed a kingdom on March 23, 1920, although the throne remained vacant.
On September 10, 1919, the Treaty of St.-Germain recognized Hungary’s independence from Austria. The Treaty of Trianon, signed on June 4, 1920, defined Hungary’s postwar boundaries. It lost three-quarters of its prewar territory and two-thirds of its prewar population to neighboring states. However, the United States never ratified the treaties; thus, it was not until 1921 that the United States ended its state of war against the former Austro-Hungarian Empire and recognized Hungary.
During World War II Hungary fought on the side of Germany, although the country fell under German military occupation after an unsuccessful attempt to switch sides on October 15, 1944. During the Cold War, Hungarian foreign policy was generally aligned with that of the Soviet Union, with the exception of the short-lived period of neutrality declared by Imre Nagy in November 1956. Since 1989, relations between the United States and Hungary have strengthened significantly.
U.S. Recognition of Hungrian Independence, 1921.
After the United States declared war on Germany, Austria-Hungary severed diplomatic relations with the United States on April 8, 1917. The United States declared war on Austria-Hungary on December 7. The tenth of President Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points called for free opportunities for the “autonomous development” of the peoples of Austria-Hungary.
The American Commission to Negotiate Peace and the U.S. Food Administration sent missions to Hungary in 1919. The United States was represented on an Inter-Allied Military Mission that oversaw Hungarian compliance with the Armistice. On December 4, 1919, Ulysses Grant-Smith was appointed U.S. Commissioner to Hungary, with the mission of reporting on political developments and promoting commerce.
At the time, the United States had not ratified the Treaty of St.-Germain, which recognized Hungary’s independence, or the Treaty of Trianon which defined Hungary’s postwar boundaries. Establishment of relations had to await termination of the state of war, which took place under a Joint Resolution of Congress on July 2, 1921. Hungary’s National Assembly accepted the terms of the Joint Resolution on August 12 and authorized the Hungarian Government to negotiate a treaty with the United States.
Establishment of Consular Relations,1869.
The first U.S. consular post in the Kingdom of Hungary was established in 1869, when a Consular Agent was appointed in Pesth. A Consul was appointed in 1874 (those appointed after 1888 were accredited to Budapest). The post became a Consulate General in 1904 and was closed in 1917.
The only other consular post in the Kingdom of Hungary was at Fiume, the Kingdom’s only seaport. It was a Consular Agency from 1865 to 1908 (Fiorello LaGuardia, future Mayor of New York City, served there from 1904-06) and a Consulate from 1908 to 1917. The postwar Consulate in Fiume, Italy is outside the scope of this paper.
Hungary opened its first consular posts in the United States in 1922, with a Consulate General in New York City and Consulates in Pittsburg, Chicago, and Cleveland.
Establishment of Diplomatic Relations, 1921.
The United States and Hungary signed a treaty establishing friendly relations on August 29, 1921. It entered into force on December 17.
Establishment of American Legation in Budapest, 1921.
The U.S. Legation was established in Budapest on December 26, 1921, with Commissioner Ulysses Grant-Smith as Chargé d’Affaires pro tempore. Grant-Smith presented his new credentials on January 24, 1922, and served until April 28.
Theodore Brentano was appointed as the first U.S. Minister to Hungary on February 10, 1922. He presented his credentials May 16, 1922 and served until May 6, 1927.
Establishment of American Legation in the United States, 1922.
Count Laszlo Szechenyi presented his credentials as Hungary’s first Minister to the United States on January 11, 1922. He served until March 31, 1933.
Relations Interrupted, 1941.
After Germany declared war on the United States, Hungary severed diplomatic relations with the United States on December 11, 1941. A declaration of war followed on December 13. U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt believed that Hungary, along with Bulgaria and Romania, had declared war under duress and against the will of their peoples. Congress did not approve a resolution declaring that a state of war existed with these countries until June 5, 1942. U.S. Minister Herbert Claiborne Pell left Budapest on June 16.
Relations Resumed, 1945.
On January 20, 1945, a Hungarian Provisional National Government signed an armistice agreement with the Allies in Moscow. An Allied Control Commission was established to oversee compliance. The U.S military representative to the Commission arrived in Hungary on February 18.
President Roosevelt also designated H. F. Arthur Schoenfeld as U.S. Representative in Hungary, with the personal rank of Minister. Schoenfeld arrived in Budapest on May 11 and established a U.S. Mission there.
On September 22, 1945, Schoenfeld delivered a note stating that the United States was ready to establish diplomatic relations with Hungary if its Provisional Government was ready to take measures that would make free elections possible. The Provisional Government replied affirmatively on September 25. Scheonfeld was appointed U.S. Minister to Hungary on December 15, 1945. He presented his credentials on January 26, 1946, and served until June 1, 1947. After Schoenfeld presented his credentials, the U.S. Mission became a Legation once more.
On November 2, 1945, the United States accepted the appointment of Aladar de Szegedy-Maszak as Hungary’s Minister to the United States. He presented his credentials January 18, 1946 and served until July 11, 1947.
Revolution of 1956 and U.S.-Hungarian Relations, 1956-1957.
Hungary revolted against Soviet domination on October 24, 1956. U.S. Minister Edward T. Wailes arrived in Budapest on November 2, but did not present his credentials before the Soviet Union began suppressing the Revolution on November 4. The Department of State instructed Wailes to remain in Budapest but to postpone presenting his credentials while events unfolded. On January 22, 1957, the Hungarian Government requested Wailes’ recall, claiming that he had been conducting official activities without having presented his credentials. Wailes left Budapest on February 27. From then until 1967, the United States was represented in Hungary by Chargés d’Affaires.
Elevation of American Legation to Embassy Status, 1966.
On November 28, 1966, the United States raised its Legations in Bulgaria and Hungary to Embassy status. These were the last U.S. diplomatic missions to be upgraded. Richard W. Tims was serving as Chargé d’Affaires at the time. Martin J. Hillenbrand was appointed as the first U.S. Ambassador to Hungary on September 13, 1967. He presented his credentials on October 30, and served until February 15, 1969. Janos Nagy presented his credentials as Hungary’s first Ambassador to the United States on October 7, 1968. He served until June 9, 1971.
Treaties and Agreements
Treaty of Friendship, Commerce, and Consular Rights, 1924.
The United States and Hungary signed a Treaty of Friendship, Commerce, and Consular Rights in Washington, D.C. on June 24, 1924. It entered into force on October 4.
Key Diplomatic Events
The United States and Hungarian Independence, 1849
On April 13, 1849, the Hungarian Diet (legislature) proclaimed a republic. The next day it elected Louis Kossuth as its president. On June 18, Secretary of State John M. Clayton appointed A. Dudley Mann as a special and confidential agent to the Government of Hungary. Mann was authorized to recognize the new government if Hungary appeared “able to maintain the independence she had declared.” He had gotten no further than Vienna when Austrian and Russian armies defeated the Hungarians.
The United States helped secure the release of Kossuth and those of his followers who had fled to the Ottoman Empire and had been imprisoned there. A Navy ship transported Kossuth to the United States, where he received an enthusiastic welcome. Kossuth’s visit lasted from December 5, 1851 to July 14, 1852, during which streets, squares, and even towns and counties were named for him. Although Secretary of State Daniel Webster waxed eloquent on the subject, Hungarian independence received no official support.
The United States and Hungarian Coronation Regalia, 1978
After the end of World War II, Hungarian soldiers guarding the country’s coronation regalia transferred the Crown of St. Stephen to U.S. military forces in Austria. The Crown was transferred to the United States in 1953 and held at Fort Knox until 1978. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance returned it to Hungary on February 6, 1978.
Hugarian Refugees and the United States, 1949
After the Revolution of 1956, the United States offered asylum to over 32,000 Hungarian refugees. Cardinal Jozsef Mindszenty, who had been imprisoned by the Communist government in 1949 and freed by the Revolution, found refuge in the U.S. Legation from 1956 to 1971.
- The United States and Hungary: Paths of Diplomacy 1848-2006. Department of State Publication 11363 (March 2007).
- Langer, William L. An Encyclopedia of World History. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1968.
- Department of State Country Fact Sheet: Hungary
- Department of State Country Information: Hungary