Ambassador Francis to the Secretary of State.
Vienna, December 28, 1906.
Sir: The question of universal suffrage in Austria has been a subject that has commanded the closest attention of the people of this monarchy during the last year. Public opinion generally, outside of the circles of nobility and of the large landowners’ class, has enthusiastically favored the measure.
In November last the so-called “franchise reform bill” was considered by the lower house of Parliament, the Chamber of Deputies, and, during debate, many interesting sessions of that body occurred in which acrimonious charges and countercharges were made against each other by prominent members. The situation became acute, and was only relieved when Emperor Francis Joseph called together at the Imperial Palace the political leaders and strenuously advised the prompt passage of the reform measure; and it was a significant fact that the Chamber of Deputies passed the bill by a large majority on the fifty-eighth anniversary of His Majesty’s accession to the throne—December 1.
The upper house of Parliament, or House of Peers, progressed the franchise bill through a second reading, but declined to place it on final passage until the Chamber of Deputies agreed to vote for an amendment to the constitution which would give the Emperor the authority to appoint for life not more than 170 nor less than 150 members of the higher legislative body. This pledge has already been given by the Austrian premier, Baron Beck. It is believed the Chamber of Deputies will surely pass such a bill within a few weeks and the House of Peers act affirmatively on the franchise reform measure, thus assuring to Austria in the near future the universal right of suffrage to every male above 24 years of age.
The proposed legislation, in order to avoid the conflicts which have frequently occurred in the past among the ten races residing in Austria, provides that separate constituencies shall be organized for electors of different races, so the Czech voters on a Czech register will vote only for a Czech, Germans will only vote for a German candidate, etc., and seats in the Chamber of Deputies will be allotted to the various races according to population and taxpaying capacity. In this way electoral struggles will be confined to political parties within racial limits, and the originators of the plan believe that it will [Page 49]accord the different races in Austria opportunities of compromise and agreement among themselves and prevent the open racial quarrels in the Chamber of Deputies that have so conspicuously marked past sessions of that legislative body.
Austria is a country of multitudinous political parties as will be observed when it is stated that, upon the final passage of the franchise reform act in the Chamber of Deputies, the supporters of the measure included German Radicals, the young Czechs, Poles, most of the German Progressives, the Christian Socialist Antisemites, most of the Catholic Center, the southern Slavs, Italians, Social Democrats, and one Rumane. Those opposing the bill were the German Constitutional party of the large landed proprietors, with whom certain special privileges will be eliminated; the Bohemian Feudal party, the Pan-Germans, the Liberal Slovenes, the Czech Clericals, and a few German Progressives.
It is said that the new Parliament, elected under the provisions of the franchise reform bill, will probably be more Clerical in its composition than its predecessors have been, and, as a consequence, there will be less likelihood of “deadlocks” similar to those that have so marked many previous sessions of the Austrian national assembly.
I have, etc.,