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Lajos (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.”

Lajos 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 father’s 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 Diet’s 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 and Shakespeare.

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, Kossuth’s 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 county’s 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 Kossuth’s 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. Navy’s 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 Kossuth’s 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.

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Kossuth County Economic Development Corporation
106 South Dodge Street, Suite 210, Algona, Iowa 50511
515-295-7979 | Fax: 515-295-8873
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Kossuth County Economic Development Corporation