Political Map Of Austria

The Neoabsolutism of Franz Josef I: 1849-1860 (1 minute)

Franz Josef’s main endeavor was to hold the Austrian Empire together but he sought to do this without an enlightened ideology. In 1851 after the revolutions in the empire had been put down the government withdrew the promise of a constitution. Freedom of the press and public trails were abandoned and police surveillance was increased. The government was centralized and a bureaucracy gained the authority that the local Diets lost.

The period of neoabsoluteism came to an end due to Austria’s unsuccessful foreign policy during the Crimean War (1853-1856) which pitted the alliance of Britain, France and the Kingdom of Sardinia against Russia over the influence of territories of the declining Ottoman Empire. When Austrian army mobilized in Galicia on the Russian borders it estranged its ally Russia who had help put down the revolts in Hungary and gained no new ally in the west. When France sided with Sardinia in the 1859 war of Italian Unification against Austria Lombardy was lost to the Sardinians.

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Franz Josef acknowledged the failure of neoabsolutism. The landed aristocracy opposed the centralized government yearning for the return of the provincial diets when they could again control their local regions. The liberals of the empire who were mainly bureaucrats and members of the German middle class supported a centralized government but wanted be ruled according to the enlightened principles that were promoted in the 1848 revolutions.

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In 1860 Franz Josef expanded the Reichsrat, an advisory council, by 38 members and gave them the task of drafting a constitution. The body worked on two proposed constitutions. The first was supported by German speaking delegates that would establish a strong central parliament and limit the power of provincial governments. The second that was supported by Hungarians, Czechs and Poles would provide a weak central government and concentrate the power at the provincial level. Franz Josef adopted the second draft and decreed it the constitution called the October Diploma shifting Austria from centralized absoluteism to conservative federalism. No one liked the new constitution: the German centralist felt it gave too much authority to the provinces and the federalist, particularly the Hungarians, opposed it because it did not restore the full rights and privileges of the crown lands.

Four months later a revised version of the October Diploma known as the February Patent updated the constitution by adding a bicameral parliament known as the Reichsrat which included a Senate (Herrenhaus) composed of archdukes, high church officials and appointees of the Emperor and a Assembly (Abgeordnetenhaus) composed of members chosen by the provincial diets. The new revised constitution pleased the centralist but displeased the federalist and was considered unworkable by 1865.

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