Francis Deak had been placed under arrest by the Austrians in an early stage of the war for declining to advise Kossuth and the members of the Hungarian Diet to unconditionally surrender. In the latter stage he had resided on his estate at Kehida. When the Hungarian flag had been trampled in the blood of its soldiers and Hungary lay prostrate, all her other leaders dead or in exile, Deak bethought himself it was time to sell his estate and move into town. So he sold his estate and moved up to town – to Pesth – and hired a bedroom and a sitting room at the Queen of England Hotel, and walked about the streets, playing with children, giving alms to beggars, and conversing with all sorts and conditions of men. The Austrians regarded him doubtfully. “What did Deak sell his estate and come to Pesth for?” they asked each other. “Keep your eyes on him, my children,” said the Austrian Prefect to the Austrian police.
But although they kept as many eyes on him as Argus had, still they could find nothing in Deak’s conduct to warrant his arrest. They had taken away Hungary’s Constitution, they had taken away even Hungary’s name, yet they could not construe playing with children, giving to beggars, and talking with men and women, into treason, and that was all Deak did. Still the uneasiness and mistrust of the Austrians grew. “It would be a good thing,” at length said one brilliant Austrian statesman, “to make Deak a Grand Justiciary. This would console the Hungarian people.” And they made the offer to Deak. “When my country’s Constitution is acknowledged I shall consider your offer,” replied Deak. “What Constitution?” asked the Austrians. “The Constitution of 1848,” said Deak. “Why, my dear Deak,” said the Austrians, “have you forgotten that we have crushed your Hungarian revolution?” “The Constitution still remains,” said Deak. “The Constitution of 1848 was a quite impossible affair,” began the Austrians. “The Constitution still remains,” repeated Deak. “Let us point out to you-” began the Austrians. “It is useless, gentlemen,” said Deak; “it is not a matter for argument. The Constitution still remains.” Then a conciliatory Austrian statesman put his arm beneath Deak’s, and said, coaxingly, “Surely, Deak, you don’t demand that after such a series of accomplished facts we should begin affairs with Hungary over again?” “I do,” said Deak. “Why?” asked the Austrian. “Because,” said Deak, “if a man has buttoned one button of his coat wrong, it must be undone from the top.” “Ah, ha,” said the Austrian, “but the button might be cut off. “Then, friend,” said Deak, “the coat could never be buttoned properly at all. Good afternoon.”
“Deak wants the Constitution back,” said the Austrians; “children cry for the moon.” “Repeal the Union – restore the Heptarchy,” said the English statesman, scoffingly, but Ireland had no Deak. In Deak’s little room in the Pesth hotel every night a few friends gathered who puffed tobacco and drank moderately of wine. They had no passwords and no secrecy – they discoursed of Hungarian history, Hungarian literature, Hungarian industries, Hungarian economics, and the Hungarian Constitution, which they obstinately declined to oblige the Austrians by believing to be dead. “It is not dead, but sleepeth – owing to the illegal administering of a drug.” Deak, who was a cheerful man, talked of the day when it would awaken, and made jokes. Visitors to Pesth from the country districts came to visit Deak. They stopped an evening, smoked a pipe and drank a glass of wine with him and with those who gathered in his sitting-room, and as they talked despair fell from them. Deak’s sanguine spirit crept into their hearts, and they left convinced that Hungary was not dead. Then they returned to their districts and said to the people: “Though our Parliament has been abolished – though our County Councils have been suppressed, though martial law reigns throughout the land, though our language is banned and our Press muzzled, though Batthany is dead, Szechenyi in a madhouse, and Kossuth in exile, countrymen, all is not lost. Francis Deak has re-arisen in Pesth. We have seen him, we have spoken with him, and he charges us to say to you, ‘Lift your hearts up, people of Hungary. Justice and Eight shall prevail. Hungary shall rise again!'” Tyranny walked the land and crushed with iron hand every manifestation of nationality; but hope, rekindled by Deak, it could not crush out. The light that shone nightly from the window of Francis Deak’s room lit up Hungary – the conversations and witty sayings of the men of all shades of opinion who gathered around his fireplace were repeated and passed from mouth to mouth throughout Hungary. The figure of Deak impressed itself stronger than the State of Siege on the Magyar. Deak grew and grew in his imagination till he grew into a Colossus – in his shadow protection, in his hands strength. “Hungary shall arise,” said the Magyars, “for the great Francis Deak – Deak the Unswerving, Deak the Farseeing, has told us so.”
Now the strength of Francis Deak in 1850 lay mainly in the fact that Hungary was united. Hungary before 1848 had been aristocratic and democratic, republican, royalist, revolutionary, reactionary – all sorts and conditions of things. Hungary emerged from the war united – class distinctions had faded, party distinctions as they had been understood had vanished. Some men blamed the revolutionists, some men blamed the reactionaries, but all were agreed that Hungary must govern itself for the future or perish, and to Deak the whole nation looked to show them how the national existence could be preserved. Those who had been the West-Britons of Hungary, the Austrian Garrison, had learned wisdom and patriotism from the terror that had devastated the land, and with “all due reverence and loyalty,” they forwarded a memorial to the Emperor of Austria, telling him in plain words that dragooning the people and blotting out the name of Hungary was not the way to win the hearts of their countrymen.” “Hungary is, indeed, indissolubly connected with Austria,” said the erstwhile Garrison, “but Hungary has rights which Austria cannot deny or take away – she has a right to free municipal institutions and a free constitution. We are loyal subjects of your Majesty, but it is not incompatible with our loyalty to demand the restoration of our rights.” “That is quite enough,” said the Emperor, “have the fellows who signed this memorial placed under police surveillance.” “And let them thank God that your Majesty is merciful enough not to chop off their rebelly heads,” said Bach.
Bach was an Austrian Lloyd-George. In his early days he had been possessed of a thirst for aristocratic gore and a habit of shrieking “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity,” wherever he went. He hated tyranny and kings and lords and loved the labouring poor. He shouted so loudly that the Government, becoming moidhered, took him by the hand and introduced him to polite society and a number of duchesses. In a short time Bach learned to shout the other way round, and damned all and sundry who would dare gainsay whatever the Lord’s Anointed – Francis Josef – decreed. Like his English copy, Bach was blessed by nature with a cheek of brass, and by its aid he soon became the Emperor’s right-hand man. Said the Emperor to Bach: “This Francis Deak is giving us some trouble in Hungary; better conciliate him.” “It shall be done, sire,” said Bach; and then he smilingly turned to Deak and said: “It appears, Deak, you are not satisfied with the manner in which Austria governs Hungary. Now, let us discuss the matter in a reasonable and statesmanlike spirit. Let Hungary .appoint you her representative, and you can open negotiations with me here in Vienna.” “I must beg you to excuse me,” replied Deak, “but I cannot negotiate with Vienna while the Hungarian Constitution is illegally suspended. As you see, Herr Bach, while Hungary has no Constitution I can have no political existence.”
So far to hint at the policy Deak had conceived, a policy of Passive Resistance, which in eighteen years beat the Austrian Government to its knees. Deak stood by the Constitution of Hungary. He declined to argue or debate the merits of that Constitution or the “fitness” of his countrymen for it – good or bad, fit or unfit, it was Hungary’s property and Hungary alone could relinquish it. He refused to go to Vienna or to go to Canossa. Pesth was the capital of his nation, and in Pesth he planted his flag. “Keep your eyes on your own country,” he said to the people, from which it may be inferred that a policy of Passive Resistance and a policy of Parliamentarianism are very different things, although the people of Ireland have been drugged into believing that the only alternative to armed resistance is speech-making in the British Parliament. Deak wrote on his banner: “No compromise on the Constitution,” and he never swerved a hair’s breadth during his struggle from that motto, as we shall see in following the development and triumph of his policy.