Czech Republic Table of Contents

Formation of the Dual System

After the revolutions of 1848, Francis Joseph attempted to rule as an absolute monarch, keeping all the nationalities in check. But the Hapsburgs suffered a series of defeats. In 1859 they were driven out of Italy, and in 1866 they were defeated by Prussia and expelled from the German Confederation. To strengthen his position, Francis Joseph was ready to improve his relations with the Hungarians. At first it seemed that some concessions would be made to Bohemia, but in the end the crown effected a compromise with the Hungarian gentry. The Compromise of 1867 established the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary (also known as the Austro-Hungarian Empire). The two parts of the empire were united by a common ruler, by a joint foreign policy, and, to some extent, by shared finances. Otherwise, Austria and Hungary were virtually independent states, each having its own parliament, government, administration, and judicial system.

Despite a series of crises, this dual system survived until 1918. It made permanent the dominant position of the Hungarians in Hungary and of the Germans in the Austrian parts of the monarchy. While Czechs, Poles, and other nationalities had some influence in government, they were never permitted to share political power. This inability to come to terms with its nationalities contributed to the ultimate collapse of the Dual Monarchy.

As a result of the dual system, the Czechs and Slovaks continued to go their separate ways. The Slovaks chafed under the Hungarians, and the Czechs were ruled by Vienna. The Austrian and Hungarian parts of the empire had different political systems. Austria had a parliamentary government, and a gradual enlargement of the franchise culminated in universal male suffrage in 1907. The Czechs, therefore, were able to take a greater and greater part in the political life of Austria. In Hungary the franchise continued to be fairly restricted and pretty much controlled by the Hungarian aristocracy. Because of this, very few Slovaks gained positions of importance in Hungary.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress