|Romania Table of Contents
With the tacit support of Napoleon III, Ion Bratianu, the leader of Romania's Liberals, nominated Prince Charles of southern Germany's Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen family as the new prince. Over objections from the other European powers, the Romanians elected the twenty-seven-year-old prince, who, disguised as a salesman, traveled through Austria by second-class rail and steamboat to accept the throne.
Charles (1866-1914) worked to provide Romania with efficient administration. In July 1866, the principality gained a new constitution that established a bicameral legislature, gave the prince power to veto legislation, proclaimed equality before the law, and contained guarantees of freedom of religion, speech, and assembly. Most of the constitution's civil-rights provisions, however, were not enforced, and it extended voting rights only to the landed aristocracy and clergy. The document also limited naturalization to Christians, a measure aimed at denying civil rights to Jews living in or migrating to the principality. The Romanian Orthodox Church became the official state religion. Charles, a Roman Catholic, pledged to raise his successor in the Romanian Orthodox Church.
The Franco-Prussian War in 1870 precipitated a political crisis as Francophile Liberal Party members denounced Romania's German prince. In August, pro-French activists led an abortive revolt against Charles at Ploiesti. Although the government quickly suppressed the uprising, a jury acquitted the leaders. A scandal erupted when a Prussian-Jewish contractor bungled construction of key Romanian rail links and defaulted on interest payments to Prussian bondholders; the Liberals denounced Charles for pledging to back the bonds. In March 1871 the Bucharest police looked on as an angry crowd attacked a hall in which Germans had gathered to celebrate Prussian war victories. A day later, Charles handed his abdication to the regents who had installed him. They convinced the prince to remain on the throne, however, and mustered conservative forces to support him.
Charles backed Russia during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78. He allowed Russian troops to transit Romania and personally led the Romanian army to aid Russian forces bogged down before Plevna, in the north of present-day Bulgaria. Finally, after the Ottomans' defeat, Charles proclaimed Romania's independence, ending five centuries of vassalage. Despite the Romanian army's heroism at Plevna, Russia refused to allow Romania to participate in peace negotiations or in the 1878 Congress of Berlin. At Berlin, Russia gained southern Bessarabia from Romania and as recompense offered northern Dobruja, a barren land between the Danube and the Black Sea south of the river's delta then inhabited mostly by Turks, Bulgars, and gypsies. The Congress agreed to recognize Romania's declared independence, but only if Romania acceded to Russia's annexation of Bessarabia and repealed laws that discriminated against Jews. Romania agreed, and, though its amendments to the discriminatory laws left many loopholes, the European powers in 1880 recognized Romania's independence. The tsar later denied Romania the fortress of Silistra, the strategic key to Dobruja on the south bank of the Danube, thereby deepening Romania's distrust of Russia.
In 1881 the parliament proclaimed Romania a kingdom, and Charles was crowned in Bucharest's cathedral with a crown fashioned from an Ottoman cannon seized at Plevna. Romania enjoyed relative peace and prosperity for the next three decades, and the policies of successive Conservative and Liberal governments varied little. Walachian wells began pumping oil; a bridge was built across the Danube at Cernavoda (in Dobruja); and new docks rose at Constanta. Foreign trade more than tripled between 1870 and 1898, and by 1900 the new kingdom had 14,000 kilometers of roadway and 3,100 kilometers of railroad. Charles equipped a respectable army, and peasant children filled newly constructed rural schoolrooms. Romania borrowed heavily to finance development, however, and most of the population continued to live in penury and ignorance.
Mistreatment of the Jewish minority and inequitable land distribution also were persistently troublesome issues. Jews had begun immigrating into Romania in numbers after the 1829 Treaty of Adrianople, crowding into northern Moldavia and making Iasi a predominantly Jewish city. In 1859 about 118,000 Jews lived in Moldavia and 9,200 in Walachia; by 1899 Moldavia's Jewish population had grown to 201,000 and Walachia's to 68,000. Economic rivalry precipitated riots and attacks on synagogues and Jews. The Liberal Party, supported by the increasing numbers of middle-class Romanians, strove to eliminate Jewish competition. Many rural Jews fled to the cities or abroad, and legal restrictions prevented all but a few Jews from gaining Romanian citizenship.
Bloody confrontations over inequitable land distribution brought partial agrarian reform. In the late nineteenth century about 2,000 landowners controlled over half of Romania's land; peasants held only one-third of the acreage. Beside limited ownership, peasants also had little representation in government. Their discontent exploded in 1888 and prompted an ineffective land reform. In 1907 peasants revolted even more violently in Moldavia, where they attacked Jewish middlemen, pillaged large estates, battled the army, and attempted to march on Bucharest. The government called out the army to quell the disorder, in which at least 10,000 peasants died. After the revolt, the government dispersed some 4 million hectares of land to the peasants in parcels of 1 to 61 hectares; large landowners retained about 3 million hectares.
An almost obsessive distrust of Russia prompted Charles to sign a secret treaty of alliance with Austria-Hungary, Germany, and Italy in 1883. Thus Charles' kingdom became one of the Central Powers. Romania openly fortified military defenses along its Russian border and left unprotected the Transylvanian mountain passes into Hungary. However, Charles withheld knowledge of the pact even from successive premiers and foreign ministers until 1914. For years the king kept Romania's only copy of the treaty locked in his personal safe at the royal summer retreat.
Romania's alliance with Austria-Hungary did little to ease the strain in relations between the two countries that Hungary was creating with its efforts to Magyarize Transylvania's Romanian majority. Romanian nationalism smoldered in Transylvania during the period of the Dual Monarchy. The National Party advocated restoration of Transylvania's historic autonomy; Hungary, however, opposed both autonomy and any expanded voting rights that would give Romanians the region's dominant voice. By the turn of the century, Bucharest's calls for unification of Romanians in Transylvania, Bukovina, and Bessarabia grew stronger.
Source: U.S. Library of Congress