(Louis) Kossuth, 1802 1894
Lajos Kossuth, the Hungarian political reformer
and leader of the 1848-1849 revolution for Hungarian independence,
was one of the greatest statesmen and orators of the mid 19th century.
He was a prominent figure, well known in the United States and Europe
for his leadership of the democratic forces who sought Hungarian
independence from Austrian domination. During his triumphal tour
of the United States in 1851-1852, American journalist Horace Greeley
said of Kossuth: Among the orators, patriots, statesmen, exiles,
he has, living or dead, no superior.
Kossuth, also known as Louis Kossuth, was born on September 19,
1802 in Monok, Hungary. At that time Hungary was a part of the Austrian
Empire ruled by the Habsburg Dynasty. Kossuth was born in modest
circumstances, although his father was a member of the gentry. Young
Lajos, following his fathers profession, became an attorney
and began his career as an agent for a local wealthy noblewoman.
In 1832 he was designated a substitute to represent
a local noble in the Hungarian Diet (national parliament). Kossuth,
a prolific writer and editor, produced a record of the Diets
proceeding as well as other newspapers and journals. In 1837, his
advocacy of political reform and national independence led to his
imprisonment for three years by the Austrian government. During
his confinement, he taught himself English by studying the Bible
After his release from prison in 1840, Kossuth
became the editor of the Pesti Hirlap, or Pest Journal.
The Pest Journal advocated political reform and an independent legislature
for Hungary. In 1847 Kossuth was elected to the Diet as a representative
of the county of Pest. Kossuth continued to spread his liberal ideas
and made brilliant speeches demanding a constitution for Hungary.
In 1848, Kossuths campaigns and demands earned Hungary its
own separate constitution from Austria. After the new government
was formed, Kossuth was named the Minister of Finance. Shortly thereafter,
revolution broke out across Europe. On September 28, 1848, after
five months of serving as the minister of Finance, he assumed full
control of the revolution in Hungary. He gathered, strengthened,
and armed his revolutionary army. Not satisfied with
their autonomous constitution, he demanded his countys independence
from Austrian rule. In the spring of 1849, Kossuth rallied against
the Habsburg monarchy. On April 14, 1849, the Hungarian Diet, inspired
by Kossuth, proclaimed the complete independence of Hungary from
Austria and deposed the Habsburg Dynasty. The Hungarian declaration
of independence was influenced by the American document. At the
same time the Diet elected Kossuth governor-president
and charged him to render an account of his actions to the parliament.
Hungary was the last bastion of the democratic revolutions of 1848
to remain standing against the forces of absolutism, and Hungarian
developments were carefully followed with considerable sympathy
by the governments and people of Europe and the United States.
The inability of the Austrian government to reestablish
its authority was a great concern to the autocratic government of
Russia. Czar Nicholas I offered to aid the Austrians in suppressing
the Hungarian revolution and that offer was accepted by the Austrians.
As a result the Russian imperial forces, allies to the Austrians,
declared war on the Hungarian Republic. The Russian armies brought
the revolution to a quick and bloody end.
After his defeat, Kossuth fled to Turkey where
he spent two years in exile. The governments of Great Britain, The
United States, and other West European nations successfully pressured
the Turkish Sultan to refuse Austrian and Russian demands for Kossuths
extradition. They were able to arrange for his departure from Turkey,
and on September 10, 1851, he steamed from the Turkish port of Smyrna
(now Izmir) aboard the U. S. Navys frigate Mississippi. After
brief stops in France and Britain, he arrived in New York City on
December 5, 1851, to great public acclaim. His triumphant six-month
tour throughout the United States was an unprecedented popular success.
Although Kossuth did not achieve his goal of winning
official United States government support and recognition for continuing
his struggle for Hungarian independence, his visit did leave a permanent
legacy in America. He gave several hundred speeches in all parts
of the United States, including separate addresses to both Houses
of Congress. During this tour 250 poems, dozens of books, hundreds
of pamphlets, and thousands of editorials were written about him
and his democratic ideals.
He left the United States after six months, returning
to Europe in July 1852 to rally support for the Hungarian cause.
He lived for a period of time in London, and eventually settled
in Turin, Italy. In exile he continued his efforts for Hungarian
independence, but he did not return to Hungary.
Following his death in Turin on March 20, 1894,
his body was returned to Hungary, where he was buried amid nationwide
mourning. After his death, Kossuth continued as the popular symbol
of the aspiration of the Hungarian people for independence.
Today there are many reminders of Kossuths
impact on the Unites States of America. There are towns with his
name in Indiana, Ohio and Mississippi, and a settlement with a Post
office in Pennsylvania. Previous to today there were two other full
figure Kossuth statues in the United States, in New York City, New
York and Cleveland, Ohio.
And, of course, there is Kossuth County, Iowa where the impact
of Kossuth is noted through out the county with the name Kossuth
appearing on buildings and streets in all parts of the county.
Kossuth County now has the third full figure statue of Lajos Kossuth
in the United States. The statue of Lajos Kossuth, being dedicated
today, is not only a reminder of the Hungarian struggle for independence
but it is also a reminder of our own United States democracy that
Lajos Kossuth idealized so much.