BALCESCU, NICOLAE (1819-1852) Historian and revolutionary fighter, Nicolae Balcescu was one of 19th century Romania's most prominent personalities. Born in Bucuresti in a family of minor noblemen, he studied at St. Sava College, the most prestigious educational institution in the capital of Muntenia. Motivated by patriotism and a desire to ease the burden of his widowed mother, at seventeen, Balcescu enrolled in the newly created national army. He continued his education while in the army, and developed an interest in artillery and a life-long concern with military history.
In 1840, Balcescu was arrested for involvement in a political conspiracy aimed at accelerating the development and modernization of Muntenia as well as the creation of a unified Romanian state. His three-year detention commuted in 1842, he became active in Fratia (Brotherhood), another secret revolutionary association which laid the foundation for the 1848 revolution in Muntenia. At the same time, he gained recognition as a member of several literary societies and then as editor, along with the Transylvanian scholar, August Treboniu Laurian, of the historical magazine Magazin istoric pentru Dacia, which began to appear in 1844. Balcescu proved to be an inspired and inspiring historian, with an abiding interest in the union of all Romanians, illustrating the unity of his people despite their separation by various borders. He maintained relations with young patriots from Moldova and Transylvania, travelled in the Romanian lands, and published an influential study of medieval Romanian military history. His implication in the sensitive agrarian question resulted in his having to leave the country. He spent the next two years doing research in Vienna and Paris, unfortunately contracting tuberculosis, a disease which later caused his death.
The February 1848 revolution in France found Balcescu on the streets of Paris, not as a spectator, but as a direct participant. Thus inspired, he returned to Muntenia. En route, he had an important meeting with Prince Adam Czartoryski. Balcescu became immersed in the activities of the committee preparing for the outbreak of the Muntenian revolution, which occured on 11/23 June. Balcescu became secretary of state, and, a few days later, when Prince Gheorghe Bibescu abdicated, he became one of the secretaries of the new provisional government.
Despite his ill health, Balcescu remained in the forefront of the revolution during the three months that the revolutionary regime lasted. Foreign policy, military affairs, propaganda ef forts,and the revolutionary press were but a few of preoccupations during those hectic months. On September 13/25, 1848, Balcescu was among those arrested and exiled by the Ottoman army which brought the Muntenian revolution to an end. He managed to evade captivity and spent some time in Transylvania until he was expelled by Habsburg authorities.
After perigrinations through Belgrade, Trieste, Athens, and Constantinople, Balcescu went in the spring of 1849 to Hungary, where he was involved in high level negotiations with Kossuth and the Polish generals active in the Hungarian revolution that led to a Magyar-Romanian accord (the July 1849 Pacification agreement) just before the collapse of the Hungarian revolution. It was too little, too late. Following one last desperate trip into Transylvania, Balcescu returned to Paris on October 1849.
Though now desperately ill, Balcescu continued to try and organize the Romanian emigration, made efforts to gain the support of Palmerston and the British for the Romanian cause, and worked for cooperation with other suppressed national groups (particularly Polish and Hungarian), even contemplating a kind of United States of the Danube. At the same time, he continued his scholarly activities. In 1850, he published La Question Economique des Principautés Danubiennes, which focused on the thorny agrarian problem and the entire process of reform and modernization, worked on a monographic treatment of his hero, Michael the Brave (Mihai Viteazul), who had managed to briefly unite the three Romanian lands at the turn of the 16th century. It was BalcescuOs work that made Michael a symbol of the Romanian reawakening. He also was editor of România Viitoare, in which his influential study "The Course of the Revolution in the History of the Romanians," appeared.
Infighting among Romanian emigres and ill health caused Balcescu to withdraw from the Romanian organizing commission and to leave Paris. In May of 1851, he returned to Paris, where he delivered a speech on "The Transylvanian Romanian Movement of 1848," commemorating the Blaj National Rally of 1848, when "freedom and Romanian greatness saw the light of day."
In late 1852, Balcescu returned briefly to Muntenia, but was immediately expelled. He spent his last days in Palermo, working on his monumental study of Michael the Brave, passing away on at the age of 33.
Horia Nestorescu-Balcesti, Nicolae Balcescu Contributii Biobibliografice Bucuresti, 1971. .
G. Zane, N. Balcescu: Opera, Omul, Epoca Bucuresti, 1975. .
Dan Berindei, Peurmele lui Nicolae Balcescu Bucuresti: 1984. .
JGC revised this file (http://www.ohiou.edu/~chastain/ac/balcescu.htm) on September 9, 2004.
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© 1998, 2004 James Chastain.