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Hans Kudlich

Hans Kudlich(1823-1917) Hans Kudlich's name is linked to the most important achievement of the Austrian revolutionary parliament of 1848: liberation of the peasantry. On Kudlich's motion the renewed Austrian state in its first freely elected popular assembly finally emancipated the rural population from the remaining personal and material burdens of medieval manorial rule and early modern squirearchy. The young parliamentary deputy, himself the son of a peasant, continued thereby the political tradition whereby Empress Maria Theresia and even more her son Joseph II step by step through extensive reforms of the peasantry distanced the crown from a social and political dependency on the landed aristocracy for Austrian reason of state. The French Revolution, with Bonapartism and its numerous wars and the resultant policy to restore the European powers, in which the Austrian state chancellor Metternich took a decisive role, halted the decisive social-political reform course of the Habsburg monarchy, so that rift increasingly widened between social developments on one side and the dispensing of political-social laws and state initiative on the other. The resultanttension in Europe and in the Austrian imperial state discharged in the revolutionary year 1848. The elementary event touched the Danubian monarchy in two ways: it placed not only explosive political and social questions on the order of the day, and also the weighty national problems, resulting from the multi-national structure of the imperial state. Kudlich's political formation reflected in almost exemplary fashion the antagonism which Austria then plunged in its most severe crisis of existence for which the Danubian monarchy found no lasting solution until the end of the First World War.

Hans Kudlich was born on October 25, 1823, son of a hereditarily burdened peasant, liable to forced labor (Robot) in Lobenstein (Austrian Silesia). The memory of protestant forefathers lived within the family and apparently that knowledge combined with Robot bore witness to a kernel in the conscious and critical consciousness of the father toward tradition in the widest sense, witnessed in the memoirs of the peasant liberator. The father, a sober, industrious man, community speaker of Lobenstein before the lords of Liechtenstein and their acquired privileges, beyond his own poverty and duties surveyed the welfare and travails of a larger community, was self-taught and transmitted a liberal world view to his children, whose midpoint included Maria Theresia and the mythical peasants' friend Joseph II. The influence of the deeply religious mother apparently effected more his elder brother Hermann than Hans Kudlich.

At the age of eleven Hans joined his elder brother who studied in the Gymnasium in Troppau. Upon graduation Hans enrolled at the University of Vienna with permission of the rulers of Liechtenstein; the older brother opened access to the intellectually dynamic upper bourgeois and reform minded liberal society, where he was in particular exposed to reform plans and ideas in the Viennese reading circle (Wiener Leseverein). Following his father's wishes, Kudlich studied law. Shortly before the outbreak of the revolution in 1848 he passed the first examination for his doctorate (Rigorosum); then he was caught up in the March Days in Vienna. The course of the revolution soon showed him that he did not belong to the moderate reform party of the upper bourgeoisie which was then forming in the reading circle. The general liberal contemporary ideas fundamentally moved him in a very concrete shape: he was a peasant's son, thus he focused upon the liberation of Austria's peasantry from the last fetters of feudal dependency as the first goal and supposition of the new order of state. Already on March 13, 1848, he requested the suspension of Robot at the demonstration before the Lower Austrian Provincial Diet (Landhaus). The dramatic events of the memorable days tore Hans Kudlich quickly from his initially aloof role of mediator into the epicenter of revolutionary events. During the morning he gathered with other students before the Lower Austrian Diet (Ständehaus) in order to move the body by political defense of united, unmistaken expression of the will of the people. Some speakers, among them the well known liberal Adolf Fischof, read the fiery words to the waiting crowd of the famous speech of the Hungarian revolutionary leader Lajos Kossuth, in which he called for a constitution for all the states of the monarchy--however this did not satisfy the young peasant student Kudlich. "During all the speeches," so he later reported on the dramatic events, "I missed any mention of the liberation of the peasants. No speaker thought of it. Several times I cried out at the fountain (where the speakers stood) "Robot! Robot!"--yet those there did not seem to understand the word. Jews, the press, conscience, learning and teaching--all would be emancipated, only not the peasant." His fruitless calls contained the basis of his political program for the Reichstag. During the day the military was turned on the crowd, blood flowed and Kudlich was also wounded in the hand by a bayonet; he, who wished to maintain a tranquil, internal reserve against the radical students, was swept along by events. He joined "academic legion", which played an important role during 1848, even for a time was a revolutionary "alternative government" causing great difficulties for the first constitutional ministry of Pillersdorff. Kudlich's "Diary of the Revolution", that he included in his Rückblicke, extended to May 17 and gave an authentic picture of the confusing tangle revolutionary events crashing down upon Vienna: the vacillations of the Hungarians, their nationalism; the turn of the Czech national movement against Germans, who were linked in Czechs' minds with Viennese centralism; the obscure position of the court toward the revolutionary development, which the students decisively sustained in the imperial capital; all of this brought him to a realization, that the March events had solved no problems, rather placed them in the open and exposed their intransigence first time; the most important of these like nationalism, the social question, centralism, and federalism remained on the political order of the day until the end of the Danubian monarchy.

In June his health collapsed because of the effect of his wound, and he had to return to Lobenstein for his mother's care. Fortunately for him, his return coincided with preparations for the election of deputies to the Viennese Reichstag; so, Kudlich, supported by the reputation of his politically moderate father and his own fame as a Viennese fighter for freedom, could stand as candidate in the electoral district of his home district of Bennisch. Against the bourgeois German-Liberal candidate, he won the election with the electoral slogan of peasant freedom that could attract the Czech and the German peasants in his home district to unite in the run-off election.

So he took his seat as the youngest deputy in the first freely elected Viennese Reichstag on the left of the house along with his German-Bohemian comrades Schuselka (Budweis), Löhner (Teplitz), Borrosch (Prague), Fischhof (Brno), etc. The Reichstag election brought two surprises. First, the left was able to gather a decisive portion of the votes, and secondly, the parliament, to the astonishment of the Germans, who until then had dominated the state, included a considerable Slavic majority, who, above all the Czechs, were already politically well organized.

Under these conditions parliamentary work began. After an unpleasant procedural debate concerning the language of debate in the Reichstag, in which the nationality struggle was already inflamed, finally came Kudlich's hour. He offered the first motion, that a truly new order and consolidation of state relationships after the revolution should take place. As he had promised the peasants in his home district, on July 25, 1848 he moved and the following day in a longer speech defended this famous motion: "The high assembly wishes to declare: from now on the condition of subject including all relating rights is abolished, with proviso that the regulation and compensation is provided."

On the last point, the matter of a compensation for the landed aristocracy, a parliamentary battle broke out, in whose course the political fronts became increasingly more sharply drawn. In the conflict Kudlich sat opposite the estate-owning upper bourgeoisie as well as the Czech deputies. The latter hoped for great national concessions by their parliamentary proclamations of loyalty to the emperor and his government, and thereby consciously sacrificed the material interests of the majority of their peasant electors. Kudlich, whose original motion was inopportune, above all in the matter of compensation, through interfactional negotiations finally reached the best possible resolution in the Reichstag. To do this he had to struggle against the radicals within his own camp, who feared the a rapid relief of the peasants from the soil would only abate revolutionary energies--not wholly inaccurately. As matters later proved, Kudlich's greatest achievement was not the relatively low level of restitution for the peasants' compensation, which they had to pay following their emancipation, but rather the general principles of an agrarian reform in the elaboration of the law which was handed over to a commission and thereby could vanish from the political arena.

Speed was called for, because, after the repression of the Whit revolt in Prague, conservative forces rallied for a reaction. On September 8 the Reichstag passed the law of emancipation; a month later the Viennese October revolt broke out which led to the collapse of the revolution and finally also parliamentary government. The siege of the capital by Windischgrätz left the Reichstag's left no exit. From the beginning Kudlich realized that Vienna alone could not save the parliament, and, against the advice of the remaining Reichstag rump in Vienna, attempted on his own during the October struggle to win the peasants of upper and lower Austria by a demagogic sweep to rally them to support the Reichstag and the Viennese revolt militarily. He was unsuccessful in this attempt; since the Reichstag had already provided the peasants their principle objective, the emancipation from the soil and liberation. They rallied to the conservative camp, in order by their action to insure that the revolutionary act would be immutable. So Kudlich, unable to escape from the predicament, returned to the Vienna, meanwhile conquered by the counter-revolution.

Vienna's fate was consummated. Prince Windischgrätz and the Croat leader Jellacic conquered the city after a hard struggle; the revolutionary leaders were summarily executed, countless participants in the struggle arrested and judical proceedings opened against a number of parliamentarians. As Kudlich on November 4 with empty hands attempted to reach occupied Vienna, already the police sought his arrest for reported participation in the death of the Minister of War Latour as well as for his agitation in the countryside. An outlaw, he arrived in Kremsier, the parliament's new meeting place, where his party friends urged him to flight because he had compromised the left by his agitation among the peasants. However, he remained until the dissolution of the Reichstag, where he was hardly politically visible. He believed that the democratic cause was lost with the overthrow of the Viennese revolt; Kremsier for him was a political shadow struggle; the most important attempt at a national compromise, above all between the Germans and the Czechs, he found ineffectual.

After the violent dissolution of the parliament on March 7, 1849, Kudlich, like the other deputies of the left, had to flee abroad and travelled to Frankfurt am Main where his brother sat as a deputy in the St. Paul's Church. From this point on, he appeared as "professional revolutionary" at the focal point of the German revolution: in Saxony, in the Palatinate, where he was a member of the provisional revolutionary government, and finally in Baden. After the fall of Rastatt he escaped in June 1849 with many other German democrats to Switzerland.

Despite his very modest means as a emigrant, he studied medicine in Bern and March 1853 passed his doctoral exam. Shortly before his emigration to the United States, which was speeded up by Austria's pressure on the Swiss authorities, he married the daughter of Professor Wilhelm Vogt, into whose liberal house he had earlier come as a refugee and had found succor. In America, he took up the practice of medicine, first in Greenpoint, then in 1854 in Hoboken, New Jersey, where he worked until his death in 1917.

Meanwhile the Austrian death sentence of 1854 lapsed. The charge was the attempt to overthrow existing order, mutiny of the landed population, his participation in the Palatine revolt, and seditious activity in Swiss exile. In the first fifteen years of his life in America Kudlich apparently consciously turned from his past. But he devoted himself not only to his practice of medicine, and thereby brought himself regard and wealth, but participated ardently in the cultural and political life of his new homeland. In Hoboken he helped to found German societies and schools, among others the Hoboken Academy. His abhorrence of all traces of oppression, drawn on his peasant ancestors, led him to be a decided opponent of negro slavery in the American southern states. He joined the Republican Party, worked actively for Abraham Lincoln's election in many electoral meetings, and fought for the Union in the Civil War. He himself felt that, in the struggle for a cause that he found right and good, America finally became his homeland; from then on he was proud to call himself an American.

After the Austrian defeat in 1866, Kudlich was asmnestied with the other "Forty eighters", so that nothing more stood in the way of his return to Europe. After the Franco-German war of 1870-71, which fired up his feeling of nationality, he actually returned to Austria, and was at that point undecided if he should attempt a political "come back" and remain in his old homeland. But Austria had changed since Kudlich's flight in 1849, and, despite the widespread, enthusiastic welcome prepared for him in liberal circles among Germans and at first also among Czech peasants, he could no longer really adjust to the changed conditions. His plan to cooperate in the formation of a great, super-national liberal party in Austria was no longer possible; after the collapse of the Czech-German negotiations for a compromise during the Hohenwarth government in 1871, the Czechs in their deep disappointment were no longer willing to cooperate with German liberals and began their withdrawal from Austria all together. During his first visit to Europe in 1871-72, Kudlich wrote his Rückblicke und Erinnerungen, which very clearly reflected his deep disappointment over the political development of Austria and above all over the negative attitude of Czechs.

During his later visits in Europe Kudlich once more participated with public speeches and articles in questions of political developments in Austria, where especially the increasingly sharper burning struggle of nationalities over the state excited his passionate interest; but he never again played a really active role. Thus often a bitter resignation broke out in his letters in the last years of his life to his nephew Hermann Krommer in Troppau, expressing himself in gloomy prognoses for the fate of the monarchy and the Germans. He repeatedly judged especially sharply the antisemitism of Schönerer's German National Party as well as the apathy of the Bismarckian Reich with regard to the struggle for existence of Germans in the Danubian monarchy. Into his old age, the year 1848 remained for him the pinnacle of his life and modern Austrian history.

As Hans Kudlich on November 10, 1917, died aged ninety-four America was in the midst of a war against the central powers. In October 1925 his remains were solemnly transferred to a "Hans-Kudlich-Watch" near Lobenstein. His name remains forever linked to the agrarian reform of the 1848 revolution, and this great political accomplishment deserves our commeration.
Fiedrich Prinz


Bennesch, W. "Hans Kudlich, der Bauernbefreier Österreichs" Phil.Diss. Prague, 1932.

Grünberg, K. Die Bauernbefreiung und die Aufhebung des gutsherrlich-bäuerlichen Verhältnisses in Böhmen,Mähren und Schlesien . 2 vols. Leipzig 1894.

Krommer, H. and Reimann, P. Hans Kudlich politisches Testament: Aus unveröffentlichten Briefen des Bauernbefreiers London 1944.

Kudlich, Hans Rückblicke und Erinnerungen. 3 vols Vienna-Leipzig- Budapest 1873, 2 vols.

Kudlich, Hans Die Revolution des Jahres 1848. Leitmeritz 1913.

Prinz, Friedrich Hans Kudlich (1823-1917): Versuch einer historisch-politischen Biographie. " Veröffentlichungen d. Collegium Carolinum" XI Munich, 1962

Prinz, Friedrich "Die böhmischen Länder von 1848 bis 1914" Handbuch der Geschichte d. böhmischen Länder K. Bosl (ed) Stuttgart 1968, III, 1-235.

Prinz, Friedrich Prag und Wien 1848: Probleme der nationalen und sozialen Revolution im Spiegel der Wiener Ministerratsprotokolle. "Veröffentlimgen d. Collegium Carolinum" XXI Munich 1968.

Seifert, W. "Der Bauern befreier Hans Kudlich." Phil. Diss. Vienna, 1939. excerpt in Die Burgwarte Nr. 8/9. Grettstadt, 1954.

Sieber, E.K. Ludwig von Löhner: Ein Vorkämpfer des Deutschtums in Böhmen, Mähren und Schlesien im Jahre 1848/1849. "Veröffentlungen d. Collegium Carolinum" XVIII Munich, 1965.

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