On the 19th of November, 1866, the Hungarian Parliament met, and received a rescript from the Emperor Francis Josef, in which he declared he had resolved to give due “consideration to its demands and claims,” and hinted at the appointment of a responsible ministry and the introduction of responsible government in all parts of the Empire. Deak mistrusted the tone of the rescript. In it he discerned the voice of Belcredi rather than the voice of Beust, and reflecting his mistrust, excitement reigned in Pesth. In the midst of it Beust hurried to the Hungarian capital to the house of the National leader. It was the first meeting of the two men, and Beust, had he any intention of playing a game against Deak, abandoned it after the inter- view. He found Deak ironwilled and impenetrable – not discourteous, as Beust wrote half-complainingly years afterwards, but shortspoken and abrupt. Beust gave Deak an assurance that he would not rest until the Hungarian Constitution was restored, and Deak felt that Beust, though his motives were not of the highest, was sincere. An unspoken – an unwritten – agreement was made between the two men. Beust had to fight and overthrow Belcredi, who was still Prime Minister, before he could restore the Hungarian Constitution. Deak had to prevent the excitement of Hungary playing into Belcredi’s hands, while at the same time maintaining the unyielding attitude of the nation. But Deak was too skillful a politician to involve himself with Beust, whose defeat was possible. After his meeting with the Saxon statesman in Pesth, he avoided any further direct conference with him, but by secondary channels the two men kept in touch.
While the struggle between Belcredi and Beust was proceeding in Vienna, Deak kept the Hungarian Parliament as calm as the excitement of the times would permit. Every deputy was ready with a scheme for the final settlement of the Hungarian question, and with a speech upon it, and between the Republicans, Radicals, and Conservatives – all agreed that the status quo was impossible, but all differing as to what New Hungary should be – only Deak could have saved Hungary from playing into Belcredi’s hands. The result would probably have been another effort to enforce arbitrary rule upon Hungary, and a consequent insurrection, in which the Austrian Empire might have disappeared; but Hungary, weak and exhausted after the struggle, would not unlikely have fallen into the hands of Russia in the partition of the Empire, for the Hungary of 1866 was not the strong Hungary of to-day. This was the danger Deak foresaw, and desired to avert; but he was too great a man to desert a principle because of possible danger in its enforcement. Therefore, even while he felt that if Beust failed, his uncompromising attitude might involve war, Deak did not waver. In the address which he drafted in reply to Francis Josef on the 15th December, 1866, he spoke on behalf of Hungary in straightforward terms: “None of your Majesty’s proposals,” he said, “will be taken into consideration by the Parliament of Hungary until all the demands made by the Parliament of Hungary are conceded, and a ministry responsible to it alone assumes power… Between Absolutism and a nation deprived of its constitutional liberties, no compromise is possible.”
This was the firm language of a patriot statesman speaking on behalf of his nation to the head of a power which oppressed it. Deak’s firm reply evoked a despotic rejoinder. In the beginning of 1867, the Emperor issued a decree making military service compulsory on the Hungarians. Belcredi was on top. A shout of rage and defiance rang through all Hungary, and for a moment it seemed as if insurrection would break out. Only the strenuous efforts of Deak saved the situation. He saw that the crisis had come, but the last moves in the game had not been played. His voice was heard above the tumult and the Parliament, swayed by him, sent a deputation to the Emperor with “Hungary’s Last Word,” as it has been called – the reply to the Emperor’s conscription decree – which had been drawn up by Deak himself, and in which he said, speaking in the name of the Parliament of Hungary – “Let your Majesty cancel the decree and all other measures sanctioned by Absolute power in defiance of our Constitution, let your Majesty restore our Constitution in its integrity, and that as speedily as may be.” It is reminiscent of the stern addresses of the Volunteers of 1782 to the British representative in this country.
The deputation bearing the ultimatum went to Vienna and presented it to the Emperor, who, to their delight and surprise, replied that he was ready to cancel the army law and accede to all the wishes of his beloved Hungarians “when the obstacles which hindered the formation of a responsible Hungarian Ministry were removed.” The Council of Sixty-seven, which had been appointed by the Hungarian Parliament to investigate into these obstacles, thereupon addressed his Majesty on the subject, and after a severe struggle between Belcredi and Beust the former went down. Deak’s unyielding policy had killed him. On the 7th of February, 1867, the Emperor dismissed Count Belcredi from the Premiership and appointed Count Beust his successor. On the same day he summoned Deak to Vienna, and in the Imperial Palace pledged his word to his old antagonist to concede all that had been demanded. Four days later, Julius Andrassy, who had fought in 1848 for Hungarian freedom, and for whose apprehension his Majesty had been pleased to offer a reward of several thousand crowns, was summoned also to Vienna. Andrassy, after the defeat of 1849, escaped to France, where he lived for years in exile, returning to Hungary on the proclamation of the amnesty. When, in response to the Emperor’s telegram, he went to Vienna, it was to be informed by the Emperor that he desired him to undertake the formation of a National Ministry for Hungary, responsible to the Hungarian Parliament, with Andrassy himself as Premier.
On the 18th of February, 1867, the Hungarian. Parliament reassembled in Pesth to hear the reply to the “Last Word.” It came in the form of a Royal rescript suspending the Conscription law and all other obnoxious laws until such time as the Hungarian Parliament declared itself willing to adopt them, and restoring the Constitution of Hungary. The reading of the rescript was followed by prolonged cheering from the Deputies, which, taken up by the waiting crowds outside, rolled and echoed through the streets like the roar of artillery. The appearance in the street of the hunted patriot of eighteen years before – Julius Andrassy, now Prime Minister of a freed Hungary was signalised by the continuous shouting of “Eljen a haza!” “My Country for Ever,” the words with which the previous Prime Minister of a free Hungary – Count Batthyany – went to his death at the hands of the Austrians. At night Buda-Pesth flamed with bonfires and shone with illuminations – and next day its citizens – and the people elsewhere – busied themselves tearing down all Austrian flags, ensigns and devices particularly the double-headed eagle – brother to the lion-and-unicorn – and burning them in the streets to the chant of the Marseillaise or Petofi’s National Anthem. The proceedings, however, being likely to lead to great boisterousness, the National Government issued a proclamation – it was its very first – to the people, ordering them not to tear clown any more of the Austrian ensigns – as the officers of the National Government would remove them themselves.
What the Ausgleich or Agreement between Austria and Hungary consisted in, how the Emperor Francis Josef went to Pesth and was crowned King of Hungary, and how Hungary, who won her independence by refusing to send members to the Imperial Parliament or to admit any right in that Parliament to legislate for her, has prospered and grown giant-like in her strength since she became mistress of her own household we shall relate, after which we hope to convince some very practical people that the fight for Ireland’s independence, when circumstances do not permit it to be waged with sword and gun, is nevertheless not in the alternative to be fought out on the floor of the British House of Commons.