What do Hungarians celebrate on March 15? Revolution and freedom fights 1848-49


While Ireland celebrates its main national holiday, St. Patrick’s day on March 17, Hungarians also remember relevant events on March 15. March 15 is the day when Hungarians wear rose-shape badges of their national flag (kokárda). This custom originates from the French revolution, where people were wearing small strips of the French flag. This post describes what happened on this day in 1848 together with the aftermath of the revolution.

Between 1845 and 1847 an extensive economic and financial recession swept through Europe. An increase in food prices, famine due to potato blight in Silesia and Ireland, and mass unemployment resulted in political tensions. Problems around voting rights and the situation of labourers in the Wes and the question of sovereignty and nationalism, combined with the situation of serfs in the East increased these tensions.

As a chain reaction revolutions broke out in all countries of Europe except for Great Britain and Russia. In 1847 a civil war between the liberal and the Catholic cantons of Switzerland resulted in a new federal liberalist Constitution. The civil war was followed by uprisings in Italy (Ferrara - 1847, Palermo - January 1848), demanding independence from the Hapsburgs and the Bourbons.

The revolution in Paris between February 22 and 24, 1848, defeated the Monarchy and established the Second Republic. Leaders of the Second Republic brought measures to solve the problems of labourers, including general voting rights, a 10-hour workday and the right to work.

The immediate cause of the revolution in Hungary was the revolution in Vienna on March 13, 1848. After the Territorial Assembly was opened in the Landhaus in Vienna, a huge mass of people arrived there. As their envoys were not let in, they broke into the assembly hall and forced the officials to follow them into the castle (Burg) where they demanded the impeachment of Count Metternich. As their demand did not find an answer, they called labourers from the suburbs for support. The rulers tried to oppress the revolution, however they were unsuccessful. Fights broke out between the army and civilians. After shots were fired, the revellers started building barricades. Civil guards petitioned for withdrawing the army from Vienna after the killings and demanded the impeachment of Metternich as well. As the fights did not stop, Metternich resigned eventually.

The escape of Metternich (satire). Source: Wikimedia Commons.

March 15 in Hungary

On this day, between 6:00 a.m. and 8:00 a.m. poet Sándor Petőfi, authors Mór Jókai and Pál Vasvári, and journalist Gyula Bulyovszky met at Petőfi’s apartment where they created a proclamation containing the following 12 points:

  1. We wish freedom of press and the abolishment of censorship.
  2. Responsible Ministry in Buda-Pest
  3. Yearly Parliamentary assembly in Pest
  4. Equality before law both in a civil and in a religious sense
  5. National guards
  6. Common burden of taxation
  7. Abolishment of feudal conditions
  8. Assize Court and equal representation
  9. National Bank
  10. The army should take an oath on the Constitution, the Austrians shall not send Hungarian soldiers abroad. Foreign soldiers however, shall be ordered to withdraw from the territory of Hungary.
  11. Release of political prisoners
  12. Union.
The original 12 points. Source: Wikimedia Commons
After they finished the proclamation, they went to the Pilvax Café, where Jókai read out the proclamation and Petőfi read out his poem written especially for this occasion, entitled “The National Song” (“Nemzeti dal”).
From there about 10-15 people went to the medical university, where Petőfi read out his poem and Jókai read out the proclamation again. Some of the medical students joined them. The crowd increased to about 300-400 people. They went to the Landerer & Heckenast Press, where they demanded the printing of the National Song and the 12 points. After some reluctance Landerer agreed to print the documents and then withdrew into his office. While Petőfi and his companions were busy printing, orators were entertaining the people outside in the pouring rain.
Jókai in front of the Landerer & Heckenast Press. A painting by Miklós Barabás. Source: Wikimedia Commons

After the first copies were printed, Petőfi read out the National Song again and József Irinyi read out the 12 points. They threw the other copies into the crowd.

Around noon the leading orators asked the mass to disband and met again for an assembly in front of the National Museum at 3:00 p.m. At the National Museum about 10,000 people were listening to Vasvári's and Irinyi's speeches. Petőfi made only a short speech here. The revellers decided to free Mihály Táncsics from the prison of the Buda Castle and elected a committee of six people (Petőfi, Jókai, Irinyi, Vasvári, Dániel Irányi and Bulyovszky) to negotiate with the Council of Pest City. Pál Nyáry and Gábor Klauzál joined the crowd in order to prevent radicalisation and to guide the movement.

The Council accepted the 12 points as they were scared of the crowd. There were 300 people in the assembly hall and another 15,000 outside. They also appointed candidates into the Committee of the new institution established by the revellers or “the youth of March”. At about 4:30 p.m. a new Council of 13 members was elected. The people and the members of the new Council walked through a bridge made of ships to the Buda Castle and advanced the proclamation to the Governors’ Council. Scared by the events in Vienna and of the mass of 20,000 people, the vice president of the Governors’ Council, Count Ferenc Zichy agreed to everything: Censorship was abolished until a press law was passed, the press became controlled by a council, the army was not deployed, instead it was replaced with the Pest civil guards.

People gathering in front of the National Museum. Source: Wikimedia Commons


At 6:00 p.m. Táncsics was released from prison. The crowd delivered him and his wife on a cart to an inn (A Nádorhoz), where the owner provided them free accommodation.

At 7:00 p.m. the crowd broke into the National Theatre, intercepting the performance of Bánk bán. People started singing the national anthem, the Szózat and other patriotic songs. After reading out the National Song again, other poems were read out as well.

The newly established Council was sitting at the City Hall until 10:30 p.m., editing two regulations about extending civil guardianship and about the results of negotiations at the Governors’ Council. The regulations could be seen all over the city the next morning.

Aftermath of the revolution

After the revolutions in Vienna and Budapest, the Hapsburgs had to take steps. They appointed Lajos Batthyány Prime Minister and the Hungarian king, Ferdinand V ratified the news laws called “April Laws”. These April Laws can be regarded as a Constitution since they set out the new political structure and social reforms in Hungary.

Hungary became a constitutional monarchy. Legislation was represented by the ruler and the Parliament, consisting of the representatives of the people. The Parliament had to sit every year and the ruler could only dissolve it based on statutory requirements. About 6-7% of the population received voting rights. The voting rights of men depended on their occupation or religion. Women could not vote at all. Noblemen could vote without having to meet any special criteria.

The Batthyány-government. Source: Wikimedia Commons


The government was endowed with executionary power as well. It became responsible for domestic affairs, finance, community work and public transportation, agriculture and industry, religion and public education, the administration of justice and the army. A separate law governed the National Guards. The orders of the ruler became valid only after ratification of one government Minister.

The Constitution declared the attachment of the Partium to Hungary again and acknowledged the Union of Hungary and Transylvania. The situation of Croatia was not changed. Freedom of speech rose to statutory footing.

The basis of social reform was the abolishment of noble privileges, equality before law and the common burden of taxation. Serfdom and tithe were abolished. Freedom of religion was established.

The April Laws did not say anything about Hungary’s independent foreign policy, the organisation of the Hungarian army or sharing the issuance of money and state debt between Austria and Hungary. These laws did not include decisions about the nationalities living within the Austro-Hungarian Empire either.

Later tensions arose between Hungary and Austria, mainly because Austria wanted to melt the Departments of Defence and Finance together. As a protest Hungary wished to call the nationalities. In spite of Batthyány’s request the Hungarian soldiers were not sent back home. That is why he issued a decree about the recruitment of the first ten private battalions. Lajos Kossuth, Finance Minister, issued a decree about the printing of bank notes.

The non-Hungarian nationalities were enthusiastic about the revolution and also drafted their demands: autonomous territory and own national assembly. These demands created tensions between the nationalities and the Hungarians. Finally, the nationalities went against the Hungarians and turned to the Vienna government, which had a lot of promises for them. That is when the real hostilities between Hungarians and the other nationalities started. As a result, Romanians led their serfs against the Hungarian freedom fighters.

Jellasic with his soldiers. Source: Wikimedia Commons

 The Croatian leader, Josip Jellasic did not accept Croatian independence, but wanted a total subordination of Hungary, due to which the ruler withdrew the powers of the Defence and Finance Departments. The Hungarian leadership did not accept these measures, which led to Jellasic crossing the Hungarian border on September 11, 1848.

The Parliament ordered the recruitment of soldiers. In order to win the peasantry for their cause, they abolished tithe on grapes. A National Defence Committee was elected with the leadership of Kossuth, however they had to face the Croatians. Hungarians defeated the troops of Jellasic at Pákozd on September 29, 1848, with the leadership of János Móga. The Croatian leader withdrew. Ferdinand V ordered the dissolution of the Hungarian Parliament on October 4. After Kossuth’s intervention the Hungarian army set off for Vienna, however Windisch-Grätz's troops beat them near Schwechat on October 30.

Artúr Görgey. Litography by Miklós Barabás. Source: Wikimedia Commons



At the inauguration of the Union there was already a sharp conflict between Hungarians and Romanians. The high command of the Transylvanian Romanian troops openly spoke up against the Hungarian government. The Austrian army enjoyed the support of Romanian border guards and troops against the Transylvanian Hungarian army, however a popular uprising of the Sekler prevented the Austrian troops attacking the Great Plains. A Polish general, Józef Bem chased the Austrians out of Transylvania by the end fo March, 1849. Bem was a very skilled leader who moved his soldiers fast. He was not scared of bold ventures and used the artillery continuously. After the success the united Hungarian troops received a new leader, the Polish Henrik Dembinski. However, he was not as skilled as Bem was. Due to Dembinski’s insecurities Hungarians suffered a great defeat in the battle of Kápolna at the end of February, 1849. After the defeat the Austrian issued the Constitution of Olomutz, which melted Hungary into the centralised empire. As a consequence, Kossuth appointed Görgey as general.

Jozef Bem. Source: Wikimedia Commons



Spring war

The new military leadership planned to beleaguer and chase away the Austrian army. In April, 1849, the Hungarian army won over the Austrian one in six battles, however the Austrian army could avoid the Hungarians in Gödöllő and Komárom.

On April 14, 1849, the Hungarian Parliament declared the disenthronement of the Hapsburgs and the independence of Hungary. Lajos Kossuth was elected as governor and a new constitutional government was established. The government started peace negotiations with Serbians and Romanians. A decree created with the help of the Romanian Balcescu allowed a  minority language use in public affairs and education and recognised the Hungarian language as a state language at the same time. The decree did not guarantee territorial autonomy though.

The Hungarian success did not last long. Franz Josef asked the Russan Tzar, Nicholas I for help on May 1, 1849 and together they could defeat the Hungarian. Kossuth resigned and transferred power to Görgey, who had to agree to capitulation at Világos (current-day Siria in county Arad in Romania). Even though the Austrian government promised impunity, it turned to retribution instead.

Capitulation at Világos. Source: Wikimedia Commons



Herrmann, R.: Az 1848-49. évi forradalom és szabadságharc története. Videopont Kiadó: ISBN 963 8218 207