(Ed's Note: an excerpt from a web page covering the declining end of the Hapsburg Monarchy. Rivaling Germany in governmental complexity for the 18th and 19th centuries, and fatally intertwined with Germany's role in WWI. This essay is dedicated to Josef and Mary (Gill) Paha, who came to America in 1890 from the Austrian Empire)
Austrian-Hungarian Empire Before World War I
Hungary with Siebenburgen
Fiume and surrounding area
The Revolution of 1848
From 1815 to 1848 the course of the Austrian Empire, directed by Metternich, was essentially dedicated to preserving the status quo. The empire was still basically rural, though significant industrial growth had taken place since the late 1820s. Nationalism became entwined with the problems of social change; the pressures were heightened by peasant discontent. In March 1848, a rebel movement in Vienna forced Metternich to resign. The revolution quickly spread as Germans, Magyars, Slavs, Italians, and others turned against the imperial regime. Ferdinand I abdicated in December, and his 18-year-old nephew, Francis Joseph I, began a reign that would last until 1916. The new emperor promulgated a constitution for Austria that set up a parliamentary government and emancipated the peasants from feudal burdens. Italian rebels took over the government in Milan, and Hungary declared itself all but independent, bound to the empire only through its Habsburg monarch. In addition, a constitutional assembly drew up a plan for the administrative organization of the empire along national lines.
The revolutionary forces soon were weakened as the goals of different social classes and nationalities clashed. The Habsburg armies defeated the Italian rebels and, with the help of conservative Russia, crushed the Hungarian rebellion. Francis Joseph dropped all liberal pretensions. He abolished constitutional government and rejected the plan for imperial reorganization along national lines. The only reform that survived was the abolition of serfdom.
Ferdinand I (1793-1875)
Ferdinand I (of Austria and Hungary), emperor of Austria (1835-48) and king of Hungary (1830-48). He was the son of Francis I, emperor of Austria, who was also Holy Roman Emperor as Francis II. Ferdinand was completely controlled by the reactionary Austrian statesman Prince Klemens von Metternich; and, after the revolutionary outbreak of December 1848 forced Metternich from office, Ferdinand abdicated in favor of his nephew Francis Joseph I.
In the 1850s Austria faced the problems of protecting the empire from nationalism, especially in Italy and Prussia, and from Russian advances into the Balkan Peninsula. During the Crimean War (1853-1856) Austria threatened to intervene on the side of England and France if Russia did not evacuate the Romanian principalities of Moldavia and Walachia. After the Russians complied in 1854, Austria occupied the territories until the end of the war. The prolonged conflict ruined Austria's finances, however, and its long-time ally Russia became an enemy, supporting the anti-Austrian policies of France and Prussia. After a war that broke out in 1859, the kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia expelled Austria from the Italian Peninsula, gained Lombardy, and created the kingdom of Italy. After this defeat, the emperor tried to strengthen his government by promulgating a limited constitutional system, which satisfied none of the opposition groups.
Austria fared no better in its struggle with Prussia for supremacy in Germany. The Prussian chancellor, Prince Otto von Bismarck, was determined to eliminate Austria from German affairs and bring about the unification of Germany under Prussian leadership. The climax was reached on the battlefield of Sadowa (1866) with a Prussian victory. The German Confederation was dissolved and Prussia took the lead in the reorganization and eventual unification of Germany. In addition, Austria lost Venetia to Prussia's ally, Italy .
The Dual Monarchy
After the war, in 1867, Emperor Francis Joseph was forced to come to a compromise (German Ausgleich) with the Hungarian nation, represented by the nobility. The compromise gave Hungary its own constitution and a nearly independent status. After 1867 the empire was known as Austria-Hungary, and popularly referred to as the dual monarchy. Austria and Hungary were separate states, each with its own constitution, government, parliament, and language. The Magyars predominated in Hungary while the Germans had a privileged position in Austria. The two states were linked by a single monarch, who was emperor in Austria and king in Hungary, and by common ministers of foreign affairs, war, and finance.
The 1867 compromise inspired movements for autonomy among
other national groups within the empire. Besides Magyars and Germans (about 10
million each), the empire as a whole was also home to nine major nationalities:
Czechs, Poles, Ruthenes (Ukrainians), Slovaks, Serbs, Romanians, Croats,
Slovenes, and Italians. About 6.5 million Czechs living in Bohemia, Moravia, and
Austrian Silesia made up the largest, most advanced, and most restless minority.
All efforts of the national groups to achieve autonomy were stymied by Hungarian
determination never to alter the political structure created by the compromise.
The constitution of 1867 regulated the political system in the Austrian half of the dual monarchy until 1918, but its liberal provisions were restricted in practice. Voting was tied to property qualifications, for example, and the aristocracy retained considerable influence. The ministers were responsible to the emperor, who had emergency powers to govern without parliament. As Austria experienced significant economic growth, there was increased social conflict, stronger national movements, the rise of mass political parties, and virulent anti-Semitism. From the 1880s political life was dominated by conflicts among the various nationalities.
Alongside the negative features of Austrian political life there were some solid achievements. Under Vienna's mayor, Karl Lueger, a program of "municipal socialism," including the building of hospitals, schools, and parks, made the city among the most progressive in Europe. Vienna was also the scene of extraordinary artistic and intellectual innovation.
The Alliance with Germany
The establishment of the German Empire in 1871 led to reorientation of Habsburg foreign policy toward the Balkan Peninsula. The intention of the foreign minister, Hungarian Count Gyula Andrássy, was to preserve the status quo. Adopting a policy of friendship with Germany, Andrássy promised that Austria-Hungary would not interfere in German internal affairs; in return, Germany backed Austro-Hungarian attempts to limit Russian influence in southeastern Europe. When Russia defeated the Ottomans in 1878, Austria-Hungary, supported by Germany and Great Britain, intervened to prevent the Russians from seizing all Ottoman possessions in Europe. The Congress of Berlin (1878) restricted Russian acquisitions; it also permitted Austria-Hungary to administer the Ottoman provinces of Bosnia and Herzegovina. In 1879 Germany and Austria-Hungary signed a formal alliance; with the addition of Italy in 1882 it became known as the Triple Alliance. From its inception, this alliance-the mainstay of Austria-Hungary's international position-was dominated by Germany, which subordinated Austria-Hungary's foreign policy interests to its own.
Serbia, made independent of the Ottoman Empire by the Congress of Berlin, was a satellite of Austria-Hungary until 1903, when new leaders came to power intent on unifying all the South Slavs in the Habsburg monarchy, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, into an enlarged Serbian state. In 1908, after a revolution in the Ottoman Empire, Austria-Hungary annexed the two provinces. The Serbs, backed by Russia, protested vehemently. Only Germany's support of Austria-Hungary prevented war. By the time Serbia emerged from the Balkan Wars victorious and territorially enlarged, Austro-Hungarian leaders were convinced that war with Serbia was inevitable.
Francis Josef I (German Franz Josef)
Francis Josef I, emperor of Austria (1848-1916) and king of Hungary (1867-1916), the last important ruler of the Habsburg dynasty; his policies played a major role in the events that led to World War I (1914-1918).
Francis Josef was born in Vienna, the eldest son of Archduke Francis Charles, who was brother and heir of Austrian Emperor Ferdinand I. Because Francis Charles renounced his right to the throne, Francis Josef became emperor when Ferdinand abdicated during the revolution of 1848. With Russian help, he and his prime minister, Felix, prince zu Schwarzenberg, restored order in the empire and reestablished Austrian dominance in the German Confederation. In 1854 he married Elizabeth, daughter of Duke Maximilian of Bavaria, with whom he had one son and three daughters. Francis Josef's failure to support Russia in the Crimean War (1853-1856) permanently damaged Austro-Russian relations. In the decade that followed, Austria lost most of its Italian possessions, as well as its position of leadership in Germany. Weakened by these reverses, Francis Josef began to negotiate with Hungary on its demands for autonomy. In 1866 Transylvania was reunited with Hungary. In 1867 Austria and Hungary agreed to create a dual monarchy in which the two countries would be equal partners. Under the empire of Austria-Hungary, as it was known after 1867, Hungary had complete independence in internal affairs, but the two countries acted jointly in foreign affairs. The same year, Francis Josef and Elizabeth were formally crowned king and queen of Hungary.
As the dual monarch, Francis Josef planned to grant some form of self-government to the Austrian Slavs, but the German and Hungarian elites who controlled the empire opposed the plan. The resulting dissatisfaction among Francis Josef's Czechoslovakian and Serbian subjects further weakened the Habsburg realms and caused increased friction with Russia, which championed the cause of Europe's Slavic peoples. Beginning in the 1870s, Austria-Hungary gradually became subservient to its powerful neighbor and ally, the Prussian-dominated German Empire.
Francis Josef's later years were marked by a series of tragedies in his family. In 1889 his only son and heir to the throne, Archduke Rudolf, committed suicide; in 1898 his wife was assassinated by an Italian anarchist; and in 1914 his nephew, Francis Ferdinand, who had replaced Rudolf as heir to the throne, was assassinated by a Serbian nationalist. The murder of Francis Ferdinand precipitated the crisis between Austria-Hungary and Germany on the one hand, and Serbia and Russia on the other, that led to World War I. Francis Josef did not live to see Austria's defeat in the war and the extinction of the Habsburg monarchy.
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