Austrian Ausgleich Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

A negotiated compromise between the Austrian Empire’s German-Austrian and Hungarian segments, the Ausgleich created a dual monarchy under which almost all internal government functions were separated and coordinated national policies became almost impossible.

Summary of Event

The Austrian Empire, as the Habsburg realms were officially known after 1804, consisted of several sets of crownlands, many ethnically heterogenous and all with a rich, distinct historical tradition. Brought together under the Habsburg Dynasty Habsburg Dynasty chiefly by judicious royal marriages arranged between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries, these kingdoms and principalities and their eleven nationalities, including Germans, Magyars in Hungary, and various Slavic peoples, among others, made up a genuinely multiethnic realm. Internal peace was largely assured as long as its ethnic groups remained nationalistically quiescent. Austria;Ausgleich Ausgleich, Austrian Magyars Austria;Magyar revolt Hungary;and Austria[Austria] Austria;and Hungary[Hungary] [kw]Austrian Ausgleich (May 29, 1867) [kw]Ausgleich, Austrian (May 29, 1867) Austria;Ausgleich Ausgleich, Austrian Magyars Austria;Magyar revolt Hungary;and Austria[Austria] Austria;and Hungary[Hungary] [g]Austria;May 29, 1867: Austrian Ausgleich[4060] [g]Hungary;May 29, 1867: Austrian Ausgleich[4060] [c]Government and politics;May 29, 1867: Austrian Ausgleich[4060] Francis Joseph I [p]Francis Joseph I[Francis Joseph 01];and Ausgleich[Ausgleich] Deák, Ferencz Kossuth, Lajos Andrássy, Count Gyula Beust, Friedrich von Palacký, František

However, with the national awakenings during the nineteenth century, the domestic tranquillity of the Habsburg monarchy became gravely jeopardized. Revolution swept across the Austrian Empire in 1848, as its various nationalities made vociferous demands for autonomy within, if not complete independence of, the empire. The most serious challenge to the Habsburgs was the revolt of the Magyars, who sought the virtual independence of Hungary. The Magyar revolt culminated in the declaration of a Hungarian Republic under the charismatic leadership of Lajos Kossuth Kossuth, Lajos . This revolution was the last to be put down, and required the aid of Russian troops. Hungary had traditionally been the most autonomous unit of the Austrian Empire. After the suppression of its revolt, it became completely subordinate to the highly centralized, neo-absolutistic regime established in Vienna under new emperor Francis Joseph I Francis Joseph I [p]Francis Joseph I[Francis Joseph 01];and Ausgleich[Ausgleich] , whose feeble-minded predecessor Ferdinand I had been forced to abdicate.

The Hungarian Hungary;revolution of 1848 Revolution of 1848 represented the initial effort of the Magyars to establish a new constitutional relationship with the rest of the Austrian Empire based on the historic rights of Hungary as a separate kingdom, whose Habsburg ruler enjoyed the title of king of Hungary only after formal election by the Hungarian “legislature,” a body comprising representatives of the Hungarian nobility and landed gentry. The neo-absolutistic rule imposed on Hungary after 1848 relegated Hungary to the position of a mere province of Austria—a sharp contrast to Magyar hopes for all but complete independence of the Habsburgs. After 1848, Hungarians generally relapsed into a sullen passive resistance, and the government in Vienna made no attempt to ensure the legality of its monarchy in Hungary by securing its acceptance of the new monarch by the Hungarian legislature, and his coronation in Budapest.

Meanwhile, the Vienna regime, which had established this absolutistic regime in a moment of military strength, could only maintain it by remaining strong. Defeats suffered by the Austrian army in Italy in 1859 forced the government in Vienna to consider liberalizing its governmental structure. Austria’s Austria;and Italy[Italy] Italy;and Austria[Austria] defeat in Italy cost it half of its possessions in northern Italy, the province of Lombardy Lombardy , and necessitated a rapprochement with an increasingly restive Hungary that would acknowledge the real importance and the historical constitutional rights of the largest political unit of the Austrian Empire. During the early 1860’s, however, the leading Magyars rejected the two constitutional experiments tried by the Vienna government because both failed to grant Hungary autonomy as a unitary kingdom within the empire.

Ferencz Deák.

(Library of Congress)

Austria experienced a second setback when it was defeated by Prussia in the Seven Weeks’ War Seven Weeks’ War (1866)[Seven Weeks War (1866)] Prussia;Seven Weeks’ War[Seven Weeks War] Austria;Seven Weeks’ War[Seven Weeks War] of 1866. In the peace settlement that enabled the unification of Germany under Prussian leadership but without Austrian participation, Austria was forced to rethink its entire role as a state. Instead of looking west toward Germany, it now would have to look east, taking on a role of guaranteeing stability in eastern, and especially southeastern, Europe. Nevertheless, if Austria was to do that, it was imperative that its differences with the Hungarian leaders be resolved. Finally, on May 29, 1867, the Austrians, who were represented by Count Friedrich von Beust Beust, Friedrich von , and the Hungarians, represented by Count Gyula Andrássy Andrássy, Count Gyula and Ferencz Deák, Deák, Ferencz concluded the Ausgleich, the political compromise that established the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary.

The compromise finally worked out in 1867 was as complicated and cumbersome as the realms to which it applied, and the issue it addressed, namely, Hungary’s place within the Habsburg Empire. According to the terms of the compromise, the Magyar kingdom, under its revived constitution Constitutions;Hungarian Hungary;constitution , became a separate unit that was to be autonomous in its purely domestic affairs. The “Austrian” parts of the empire, Alpine Austria, Bohemia, Bohemia Galicia, Galicia and Bukovina, Bukovina were to be similarly autonomous. In addition to sharing Francis Joseph Francis Joseph I [p]Francis Joseph I[Francis Joseph 01];and Ausgleich[Ausgleich] as their sovereign, Austria and Hungary were united through such common state functions as the military, foreign affairs, and finance. Expenditures for common functions were to be based on quotas that were to be negotiated every ten years. This decennial negotiation system made long-term national planning difficult, if not impossible, and it enabled each side to frustrate pet proposals of the other side. It would be largely responsible for the immobility that afflicted Austrian government through the half century that the empire lasted.

Significance

At first glance, the compromise worked out in 1867 between Austrians and Hungarians appears to have been a politico-constitutional agreement between two kingdoms contained within a large empire. It also represented an agreement between the two most powerful national groups in Austria and Hungary, the Germans and the Magyars. This circumstance, however, made it an obstacle to any further constitutional development, since each of these two groups blocked further concessions to other ethnic groups, most notably the Slavs, as such concessions would have diminished the paramount position the 1867 compromise granted to the Germans and the Hungarians.

Because the empire’s Slavic populations were divided, for governmental purposes, between Austria and Hungary—Croatians were delivered to the mercy of the Hungarians, although supposedly on terms providing for a limited degree of autonomy, and the Czechs, Poles, and Slovenians to the Austrians—any creation of a third entity, comprising all the Slavic peoples within the empire, was effectively foreclosed. Although the German-Austrians gradually yielded some power to their Slavic compatriots, who were not numerous enough to pose a threat, the Hungarians rigidly declined to make similar concessions to the Slavs in their part of the empire.

The compromise of 1867 was driven by the emperor’s determination to preserve, at all costs, Austria-Hungary’s status as a “great power.” It achieved that goal, but only at the price of undermining the long-term preservation of the empire. In the light of subsequent history, revealing the deep-seated ethnic animosities in southeastern Europe, it is doubtful if any arrangement could have been crafted that would have held together such disparate political entities. However, the centrifugal forces at work throughout the region demonstrate the truth of the sage observation of the Czech leader František Palacký: “If the Austrian Empire had not already existed, it would have had to be invented.” Even if it proved a short-term solution, the compromise of 1867 may have been its own justification.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gordon, Harold J., Jr., and Nancy M. Gordon. The Austrian Empire: Abortive Federation? Lexington, Mass.: D. C. Heath, 1974. Section 2 contains three different views of the compromise.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kann, Robert A. Dynasty, Politics and Culture: Selected Essays. Edited by Stanley B. Winters. Boulder, Colo.: Social Science Monographs, 1991. Contains a chapter on the compromise, its causes and effects.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kann, Robert A., and Zdenek V. David. The Peoples of the Eastern Habsburg Lands, 1526-1918. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1984. Kann, the foremost historian writing in English on the Habsburg monarchy, died in 1981; the work was continued by David. This work is an extensive historical survey, and is volume 6 of A History of East Central Europe.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lendvai, Paul. The Hungarians: A Thousand Years of Victory in Defeat. Translated by Jefferson Decker. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2004. Lively survey of the last one thousand years of Hungarian history, with several chapters on the Ausgleich era.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Pamlenyi, Ervin, ed. A History of Hungary. London: Collet’s, 1975. Although issued under the auspices of the History Institute of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, this book gives a balanced description of the evolution of Hungary under the compromise.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sked, Alan. The Decline and Fall of the Habsburg Empire, 1815-1918. London: Longman, 1989. The last half of this book is devoted to the compromise and its effects; considers various historical interpretations.

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