Mr. Motley to Mr. Seward.
Sir: I transmit herewith a careful translation of the royal rescript or message, issued at Pesth, on the 3d of this month, in answer to the address of the Diet to the Crown on the 26th of February, a translation of which paper was sent with my despatch No. 146.
I deem it my duty to lay before you the text of these important official documents in the order of their appearance, as it is only thus that I can present a faithful picture of events now occurring and about to occur in this empire. The manifestoes from the Crown are drawn up with much ability, dignity and calmness, although the style of the state papers in the German language differs much from the diction to which we are most accustomed in English.
The documents proceeding from the Diet are learned, logical, full of eloquence, enthusiasm, and power.
I have delayed a few days sending you the royal rescript until the address [Page 643] from the Diet should make its appearance, in order that you may take a simultaneous view of both.
This paper was reported to the Chamber of Deputies of the Diet at Pesth on the 14th of this month, and is essentially the same in spirit as the first address to which the rescript is a reply. It is at present only a “project,” but it will unquestionably be adopted without change. I do not propose to send a translation of the whole document, which is very long, but shall content myself with giving you as accurate an idea as I can of its scope and spirit.
You will observe that not much advance has been made as yet on the part of Crown or Diet towards a compromise of their respective claims. Each occupies essentially the same position as at the opening of the Pesth assembly in December last.
You will also observe that the King of Hungary—as a matter of course—always speaks as Emperor of Austria, of which united monarchy he regards Hungary as a most important part. On the other hand, the Diet, thoroughly imbued with the national maxim that “extra Hungariam non es vita” always expresses itself as a parliament representing a self-dependent and entirely independent kingdom, treating of its own proper affairs with its constitutional king, and before all, and above all, resolute to recover in all its integrity a suspended constitution for which during seventeen years an absolute government has been substituted, and in this radical, almost elemental difference, lies, as you are well aware, the enormous difficulty of the situation.
The royal rescript, as you will observe, reminds the Diet that not only since the days of the pragmatic sanction, but for two centuries before, Hungary had been practically united for weal or woe with the hereditary domains of the imperial house, and that this union was one of mutual interest and common protection.
“The countries of the Hungarian crown constitute an important part of our united realm,” says his Majesty, speaking not as king but as emperor, and reminding the Diet that the latest laws of Hungary, to wit, the famous statutes of 1848, are incompatible at present, until thoroughly revised, with the changed conditions and great material development of that united empire.
As he has recently endowed with constitutional rights the countries under his sceptre which were hitherto without them, the Emperor is far from desiring Hungary to sacrifice her legal and constitutional independence.
At the same time he expects her to keep that independence within the limits indicated in his speech from the throne, and not to be extended into isolation.
He awaits with interest the promised discussions of the Diet as to the mode of treating the common affairs, and is convinced that such discussions will prove the absolute necessity of revising and modifying the laws of 1848. Only thus can there be harmonious co-operation of the legislative and executive powers, since the arrangement contemplated by the third article of the statutes of 1848 make a successful treatment of the common affairs impossible.
That article presupposes a representative clothed with royal powers, and resident in Hungary; but his Majesty firmly declares that he will never consent to appoint such a representative.
He will likewise never consent to article No. 4 of those statutes, according to which the Diet can never be dissolved until the budget has been voted.
He indicates the impossibility of immediately revising the municipal system without great danger to the interior administration, because the laws of 1848 have made great changes in that system, which are not in harmony with present circumstances, not historic law, and must, therefore, of necessity, be most diligently and thoroughly revised.
The national guard, created by act 22 of the statutes, is declared by the Crown to be inadmissible, and, in general, the revival of these laws of 1848, [Page 644] claimed by the Diet on the ground of legal continuity, is expressly refused before revision and satisfactory modification.
To permit their unconditional revival would be, in the opinion of the Crown, only to exchange one provisional condition of affairs for another.
The only practical application of the theory of legal continuity is declared to consist in the alteration of the laws, by the harmonious working together of all the branches of the Hungarian legislation.
The monarch, feeling deeply the significance of royal anointment and the holiness of the vow by which the crowned king swears to maintain the constitution, cannot consent to the restoration of such laws as conscience and religious sentiment would forbid him to confirm by his oath.
On the Diet is the responsibility to hasten the period when propositions can be laid before the sovereign which are in harmony with the rights of the Crown, and with the just requirements of the united empire.
The monarch will consider that the happiest moment of his life in which, by his royal confirmation of such propositions, he shall be able to secure the prosperity of Hungary and all the people in his realm.
It may be easily understood why the reading of the rescript was not often interrupted by enthusiastic “eljens.”
Let us now see how the Hungarian Diet responded to the message, eleven days afterwards.
To that portion of the document referring to the treatment of the common affairs, and to a revision of certain portions of the laws of 1848, they reserve a reply until it shall be made in the general proposition on those topics already announced by the Diet as forthcoming. To that portion, however, which rejects their request in the first address, in regard to legal continuity, the appointment of a responsible ministry and the restoration of constitutional municipalities, they feel it their duty, without delay or reserve, to express their views, together with their profound feelings of pain.
“We begged your Majesty,” they say, “for that which is doubtless the fundamental principle and the indispensable requirement of every constitution, that existing laws should be executed. We begged for this on the ground of our own constitution, according to the prescription of German law, and even by reason of its opportuneness. Our constitution has been suspended for seventeen years, our laws have been set aside and replaced by edicts, and we still are living under absolute power. The Diet was summoned to enact new laws, although the existing ones are not maintained, and to change an important portion of our laws at a moment when all our laws are actually put out of validity, not by legislation, but by executive power.
“Not only are the laws of 1848 suspended; not only those laws whose revision is demanded, but also all those earlier principal laws which determine the circle and the limits of the executive power, and form the most important part of the constitution.”
They here indicate especially the statute of 1790-’1, which says that Hungary is an independent country, which possesses its self-dependence and its own constitution, and is to be ever governed by its own laws, and the article of the pragmatic sanction itself, which promises that his Majesty will always govern according to the laws of Hungary.
With deep regret they had already reminded the King, in their first address, that the united will of the King and the nation were necessary to alter that which the King, together with the nation, had ordained.
Their anxiety has been increased by the remarks in the rescript as to the only practical application of legal continuity. “The legislative power,” they say, “is the most precious right of the nation. Most important and wholesome for a country it is that no laws can exist there save such as those to which the country has consented; but, in order that this right may be a reality, it is in [Page 645] dispensably necessary that the laws be maintained until the constitutional legislature has repealed or modified them in the regular way. If the executive power has the right to abstain from executing laws constitutionally enacted, to suspend their force, to replace them by edicts, and to keep law and constitution so long in suspense, as regular legislation had not altered them, then, indeed, will the executive power exercise likewise the right of legislation, that is to say, legislation and execution will be both in one hand.
“Your Majesty, as we believe, does not intend to maintain absolutism any longer; but this union of the executive and legislative, even if it were only provisional, is pure absolutism.
“Not such a legal continuity as this was founded by the constitutional principle, by the laws, by royal inaugural diplomas, and by princely oaths. True legal continuity regards not only the manner in which laws are enacted, but their execution and maintenance.”
They then refer to many historical examples, in which the constitution of Hungary had been suspended, sometimes for years, but affirm that when restored it had always been without conditions and without modifications. Even the clause of the golden bull, legalizing disobedience to unconstitutional decrees of the Crown, was revived, together with the whole constitution, by Leopold I, in the year 1681, after a ten years’ suspension; and examples to the same effect are cited in the reigns of Joseph II and Francis I.
In regard to his Majesty’s appeal to the religious sentiment, the declaration in the rescript that the coronation is not regarded as a mere ceremony, and the conscientious scruples as to reviving certain laws, they say, “according to the fundamental laws of Hungary, it is not the crowned king only that is duty bound to maintain the laws, but every ruler who, according to the law of inheritance, ascends the throne is bound to maintain them before the coronation.” And here they cite textually the laws of 1790-’91, and the articles of the pragmatic sanction.
“If this were not legally thus,” they continue, “if the monarch were only bound after taking the coronation oath to execute laws already enacted, there would come an interval at every new succession to the throne during which the powers of the laws would depend entirely on the will of the monarch. With every succession it would be necessary to make a new contract with the sovereign, and thus from time to time constitutionalism and absolutism would alternately relieve each other. What we ask of your Majesty is not demanded on the ground of the royal oath to be taken at your coronation, but by virtue of that fundamental contract which has secured at the same time the unbroken succession to the throne and the inviolable maintenance of our constitution. We ask for it on the ground of that holy oath which your Majesty’s ancestors have taken to this constitution. The royal inaugural diploma must, according to the law, be issued before the coronation, and in that document the monarch solemnly promises to maintain the laws already enacted or afterwards to be enacted. According to Hungarian law only the crowned king can sanction laws. So long as the coronation has not taken place, earlier laws are rightfully in force; contemplated changes only obtain legal strength after the coronation. If your Majesty does not in fact recognise existing laws, and if new laws cannot actually or legally be created before the coronation, the inaugural diploma, to be issued before the coronation, will have no object at all.”
They protest that in their first address they have not asked for political impossibilities, but they have seen with pain that their whole petition has been unsuccessful, their wishes in no direction fulfilled. “The legal continuity is denied, even where it was not out of the regions of possibility. In a word, the restoration of our constitution has been refused, and we are called upon, under the burden of an absolute government, to exercise the constitutional right of legislation and to alter an important part of our fundamental laws, in the hope that [Page 646] when it has been done according to the will of your Majesty, then, and only then, our constitution may be restored.”
They further remind the sovereign that “in Hungary the collective rights of the King rest upon the law even as do those of the nation; that it is the law that has given supreme power to the Hungarian King,” and that the King has no legal right to prevent the execution of existing laws.
In regard to the objections in the royal rescript that the municipal system has been altered by the laws of 1848, they say: “Yes, indeed, your Majesty, those laws have essentially changed the form of public administration; they have changed many ancient institutions, for they have transformed the aristo cratic constitution of Hungary and have placed it on the broader basis of the legal equality of the people. The law-givers of 1848 understood the warning word of eternal justice; they did not strive against the demands of a progressive time; they did not await that certainly coming period in which their will would be no longer master. Many evils and dangers followed their resolves, but much greater are the dangers which their foresight has kept off from this country.”
They affirm that bureaucratic forms of administration had been deleterious to the royal name, which had been often used as a shield to cover official injustice. The defects of the corporative government and their mischievous results came from the want of constitutional responsibility, and this want came from the corporative nature of the government.
“When accordingly,” they continue, “the legislation of 1848 elevated the people and made them free, on the ground of legal equality, it wished at the same time to secure that constitutional freedom thus extended to the people and the thousand-fold interests of the legally new-born land. And even in regard to this security it was obliged to provide for a responsible government, in order that, in the hands of an irresponsible corporative administration, ail that which had been founded by the united will of nation and monarch for the good of the fatherland should not go to gradual destruction.”
They declare that history and experience teach that a responsible ministry and parliamentary government are absolute requirements of constitutional freedom, founded on equality of the people and on a system of popular representation.
“One of the fairest pearls of the Hungarian constitution,” they say, “is the municipal system. It is an ancient institution, like our whole constitution. It has been evolved out of the life of the nation from the days of St. Stephen. The development of the national life brought about that transformation of the year 1848 which based our constitution on the equality of the people. After this transformation the municipal system could not remain an aristocratic one. That right of self government which inheres in the municipal system could never more be exercised exclusively by the privileged classes, but had necessarily to be extended to the people. The same reason which changed the form of the general administration caused all those alterations to appear necessary which have been made by articles XVI and XVII of the laws of 1848.
“The changes in the law of election were the necessary consequence of a system of national representation resting on a democratic basis.”
They proceed accordingly to renew their request for the appointment of a responsible ministry, the restoration of the comitats, districts, and towns, for the reason already given in the first address.
The consciousness that in the very moment when they are called upon to perform the severest labor of revision, they are living under absolute rule, they declare to be paralyzing to their strength, disturbing to the tranquility of their souls.
“We prayed for legal continuity,” they say in conclusion, “and for the restoration of our suspended laws, and our petition has been entirely rejected until the moment comes in which our severe task shall have been accomplished.[Page 647]
Once more we implore your Majesty to free us and the whole land from the oppressive anxiety that must remain so long as the actual recognition of legal continuity is not made.”
I have thus given you in very abbreviated form the substance of this latest solemn utterance of the Hungarian Diet. I have given you, as faithfully as it can be rendered through three languages, some portions of the diction.
I do not mean to weary you at the end of this long despatch with comments which you do not require my assistance to make. “Seribitur ad narrandum non ad probandum.”
I will venture to say, however, that it would be difficult to find a flaw in the logic or in the legal and historical accuracy of the document, and I know not in what part of Europe you will find representatives of the people addressing a monarch in nobler, bolder, or more loyal language. But they speak as Hungarians only, and what is to be the issue?
Certainly but little progress has yet been made towards a compromise between the demands of Hungary and the constitutional requirements of the united monarchy.
We must await the project in regard to the common affairs soon to be offered by the Diet.
Meantime all the countries of the empire, on this and on the other side of the Leitha, remain provisionally under absolute government.
I have the honor to remain, sir, your obedient servant,
Hon. William H Seward, Secretary of State, Washington D. C.