1902 Encyclopedia > Franz Deak (Ferenc Deák de Kehida)

Franz Deak
(Ferenc Deák de Kehida)
Hungarian statesman

FRANZ DEAK, (1803-1876), an Hungarian statesman, was born on October 17, 1803, at Kebida, in the comitat of Szalad. He sprang from an old noble family, of which he was the last descendant. Having studied law at the academy of Eaab, he practised as an advocate in Szalad, and soon became a prominent figure at the meetings of the comitat. He represented Szalad in the Diet which met at Presburg in 1832 and lasted till 1836. By his earnestness and practical sagacity he made so deep an im-pression that he was in a short time recognized as leader of the opposition. The object of his policy was, on the one hand, to resist the encroachments of the central Government at Vienna on the rights of his country, and, on the other, to remove abuses which then made Hungary one of the most backward nations in Europe. He again sat for Szalad in the Diet of 1839-40, and by skilful management effected a tem-porary reconciliation between the Imperial Government and the Reform party, of which he was the head. He gave deep offence, however, by the vigour with which he denounced the exemption of Hungarian nobles from taxation, as well as other injurious survivals of the Middle Ages; and when elected in 1843 he received such definite instructions from the constituency to vote in a reactionary sense that he declined to accept his seat. At a second election the Liberals exerted themselves so energetically that he was again appointed ; but, on the ground that violence had been used in connection with his candidature, he once more refused to enter the Diet. For some years he lived as a private citizen ; but he was everywhere regarded as the most influential Hungarian politician, and his party took no important step without consulting him. A project for a penal code which he drew up about this time was admitted in Germany, France, and England to be one of the most enlightened ever conceived. The excitement of 1843 caused the first symptoms of the disease of the heart of which he ultimately died; and during the rest of his life he always suffered more or less from ill health. On this account he could not enter the Diet of 1847; disturbed by the agitation of which Kossuth was the centre, and which aimed at changes of a more extreme character than he approved. He desired to maintain the relations of Austria and Hungary, and exercised his whole influence in favour of a good understanding between the two countries. Events decided against him, for Kossuth rose to power and began the war in the course of which the Hapsburg dynasty was formally deposed. Deak resigned his portfolio, and appeared in connection .with the subsequent struggle only as one of the deputation which, on the approach of the Austrian army to Buda-Pesth, went to negotiate with Prince Windischgratz. When the war was over, Deak was offered the post of Judex Curias;, but he insisted that the laws of 1848 were still in force, and would have nothing to do with any system of government in which they were ignored. On the other hand, he discountenanced violent proposals, urging that the legal rights of the land could be secured only by legal means.

Hungary suffered deeply from the reaction which followed the revolutionary period, and it was clear that she only awaited a favourable opportunity to throw off the imperial yoke. The disasters sustained by Austria in the Italian war of 1859 suggested to the emperor the necessity of a change of policy ; and the result was that in 1861 the Diet again met. This time Deak appeared as member for Pesth, which henceforth returned him at every election till his death. The Moderate party rallied round him, and after much discussion the address to the emperor drawn up by him was adopted. In this the Diet took its stand on the laws of 1848, and demanded the appointment of a Hungarian ministry ; but at Vienna they were not prepared to give way so far. The imperial rescript was very hostile in tone, and the Diet was speedily dissolved. In 1865 fresh negotiations were begun, and they were powerfully promoted by a series of letters in the Pesti Napld, setting forth Deak's ideas as to the proper bases of .reconciliation. Towards the end of 1865 the Diet was opened by the emperor in person. About six months afterwards it was hastily closed because of the approaching war between Austria and Prussia; but it reassembled on November 19, 1866, when Austria had been utterly defeated and seemed on the brink of ruin. The Radical party wished to take advantage of the general confusion by exacting terms to which the Austrian Government would never before have consented; but Deak maintained his former position, desiring no more than that the system which he considered the only legal one should been forced. His influence over the Diet and the nation prevailed ; and he had the satis-faction of seeing Count Andrassy appointed president of an Hungarian cabinet and the emperor and empress crowned as king and queen of Hungary. The establishment of the dual system, which enabled the Austro-Hungarian monarchy to enter upon a new career after terrible humiliations and losses, was due to the efforts of Deak more than to any other cause, and the fact was gratefully acknowledged both by the mass of his countrymen and by the emperor.

For some years the Deak party continued the most powerful in the Diet; but the state of his health rendered it impossible for him to do much more than deliver an occasional speech on subjects of unusual interest. His last speech, in the summer of 1873, was on the relations of church and state ; and he proclaimed himself in favour of the American system—" a free church in a free state." Before his death his party lost its hold over the nation ; and in 1875 Tisza, a man of more advanced opinions, was called to the head of the Government. Deak died on January 29, 1876, at Buda-Pesth, after a long and painful illness. His death was regarded as a national calamity, and he was buried at the cost of the state amid mani-festations of universal grief.

Hungary has produced no other statesman of equal distinction. He approached closely to the type which is supposed to be peculiarly English, holding fast vital principles, but always ready to accede to a compromise on matters of secondary moment. Intensely opposed to revolution, he was absolutely fearless when sure that he was standing on lawful ground, and pursued the political ideal he had formed with a persistence which has been rarely equalled. In youth his style as an orator was passionate and florid; but he ultimately became calm and deliberate, carrying conviction by command of facts, logical arrangement of ideas, and lucid statement. At all periods of his career he conveyed the impression of absolute sincerity and devotion to high and unselfish aims. He was of a genial disposition, remarkably fond of children, and with a gift of ready humour which made him as great a favourite in society as in parliament. (J. si.)

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