Lajos Louis (Kossuth), a Hungarian patriot, born at Monok, county of Zemplen, April 27, 1802. His family, of Slavic descent, were Lutherans and noble. His father, a lawyer, gave his children a liberal education. Lajos, the only son, received his first classical instruction in the gymnasium of the Piarists at Ujhely, studied at Eperies, and passed through a legal and philosophical course at the college of Pa-tak. The spirit which animated this last institution has almost always been one of opposition to the rule of Austria. Kossuth was well read in history, and spoke with almost equal fluency Magyar, Slovak, German, French, and Latin, the last of which was still in part the legal language of his country. Shortly after leaving college, he was appointed an assessor in the assembly of his native county, and soon became noted as a liberal, exceedingly popular with the lower classes, and was for some time manager of the estates of the countess Szapary in Zemplen. In the diet of 1832-6 he was proxy of a magnate or member of the upper house, in which capacity he had a deliberative voice, but no vote, in the lower.
This diet ranks among the more important assemblies of modern Hungary. Its debates, closely following the Polish tragedy of 1831, were watched with lively anxiety by the patriots, but their publication was hindered by severe restrictions. The opposition, at the suggestion of Kossuth, resorted to the extraordinary means of a written newspaper, the Orszdggyulesi tudositdsok ("Parliamentary Communications "). Extracts and comments were dictated by Kossuth to a large number of copyists, and widely circulated. After the close of the diet Kossuth endeavored to continue his activity by a lithographic paper, Torvenyhatosagi tudositdsok ("Municipal Communications"), edited in Pesth; but the government prohibited its publication. Kossuth resisted, putting himself under the protection of the county of Pesth. The government sent its prohibition to the latter. The assembly refused to obey, declaring all censorship unconstitutional. Numerous other counties supported Kossuth with equal zeal. He, with several other advocates of the popular cause, was seized in the night (May 2, 1837), tried for treason, and condemned to four years' imprisonment. A general outburst of indignation and an unprecedented agitation followed.
The liberals carried the elections for the diet of 1839-'40, and answered the government propositions, the principal of which were demands for subsidies in money and men, with a demand for the liberation of the prisoners. The Thiers ministry in France threatened a general movement in Europe, which was then agitated by the Egyptian question, and the cabinet of Vienna was compelled to yield. Kossuth's liberation was hailed with loud demonstrations. The laws of 1840, enacted under the leadership of Deak, gave new vigor to the opposition. At this juncture Landerer, a publisher of Pesth, having received a license for the publication of a semi-weekly journal, invited Kossuth to assume its direction. The Pesti hirlap ("Pesth Journal") started on Jan. 1, 1841, with fewer than 100 subscribers, but in a month they were numbered by thousands. The national, moral, and material regeneration of the whole people was its avowed aim; the existing constitution was to serve as a means, the aristocracy to have the lead. Count Stephen Szechenyi, in a book entitled Kelet nepe ("People of the East"), denounced Kossuth as a dangerous agrarian and demagogue. Szechenyi was ready to bestow freedom on the people as a gift; Kossuth demanded it as a right, and threatened to extort it.
Baron Eotvos declared in his favor in the pamphlet Pesti hirlap es Kelet nepe. Public opinion was decidedly in favor of Kossuth, and the Pesti hirlap not only became the regular organ of the opposition, which again carried the elections in 1843, but also the oracle of the younger portion of the nation. A difficulty with the publisher, which was not believed to be accidental, removed Kossuth from the editorship, which was transferred to Szalay (July 1, 1844). Kossuth received no license for another journal, and as the new editor of his former organ belonged to a branch of the opposition to which he was most heartily opposed, he found no better medium for the occasional publication of his views than the Hetilap ("Weekly Paper "), a small industrial sheet. Hungary was exhausted by a tariff calculated to keep it for ever in a state of colonial dependence on the German provinces, which by another tariff were protected against the competition of England, France, and Belgium. This system formed one of the chief grievances of the nation.
Assisted by the most influential members of the opposition, among others by Counts Louis and Casimir Batthyanyi, Kossuth now founded the Vedegylet (protective union), whose members, men and women, bound themselves for five years to use exclusively home-made productions, whenever these could be had. Other societies, agricultural, commercial, and industrial, were practically to assist the protective union. The latter soon counted its members by hundreds of thousands. Kossuth was the animating spirit of the whole organization, which proved less effective for its direct purpose, the development of home industry, than for keeping alive the national agitation, and most of the practical projects failed. The elections of 1847, coinciding with the movements in Switzerland, Italy, and elsewhere, gave a new turn to affairs. Kossuth was elected for Pesth; and Count Szechenyi, though entitled to a seat in the upper house, had himself elected to the lower for Wiesel-burg, in order to oppose him personally. A few sessions sufficed to establish Kossuth as a recognized leader of the house.
The uncompromising spirit of the two parties seemed to condemn the diet to inaction, when the news of the Paris revolution of February, 1848, reached Presburg. In a speech delivered on March 3, Kossuth proposed an address to the emperor Ferdinand, urging the restoration of Hungary to its former independence as a state, and the granting of a charter of liberty for the whole Austrian empire. The house of deputies accepted the propositions; the upper house wavered, but the people of Vienna, taking the matter into their own hands, decided the question on March 13. Metternich fled. Kossuth was received in the capital of the empire, whither he now carried his address, with the honors of a liberator, and Louis Batthyanyi was intrusted by Ferdinand with the formation of an independent Hungarian ministry, in which Kossuth received the department of finance. The long urged measures of liberal reform were now carried in an amplified shape, and on April 11, 1848, the last diet of Presburg closed its sessions, to make room for a national assembly in Pesth. Foreseeing the coming struggle, Kossuth devoted all his energies, as the leading spirit of the new government, to the organization and consolidation of its powers.
He created a treasury, organized the militia, formed new battalions of national soldiery (honveds), established armories, and roused the spirit of the nation by proclamations, speeches, and articles in his new organ, Kossuth hirlapja (edited by Bajza), at the same time neglecting no means of bringing about a peaceful solution of the difficulties. The south of Hungary and Transylvania were already engaged in an internecine struggle of races, in which the Rascians, old enemies of the Magyars, were particularly conspicuous. Reaction was triumphant everywhere, the camarilla was flushed by the victories of Radetzky in Italy, and Jellachich crossed the Drave with a large army to subdue Hungary. Batthyanyi resigned, the palatine Stephen fled, and Jellachich was approaching the capital. Kossuth in the meantime had begun his armaments and issued treasury notes without the sanction of the king, and in a proclamation he called upon the people to rise and vindicate their rights. He repaired to the people of the Theiss, who flocked around his banners, and on his return entered upon a new course of activity, as head of the "committee of defence." The war of revolution was thus begun. (See Hungary.) It was from beginning to end a struggle for life or death under inauspicious circumstances, and the overwhelming power of Russia, the obstinate disobedience of Gorgey, the want and the indifference of the governments of Europe, or rather their connivance with Russia and Austria, finally decided against Hungary, which had been declared independent, and Kossuth its governor.
On Aug. 11, 1849, he resigned his powers in favor of Gorgey, who two days later surrendered to the Russians. Kossuth sought refuge in Turkey, where he and his followers were confined in Widin, Shumla, and subsequently in Kutaieh in Asia Minor. His extradition was demanded by Austria and Russia, but though he refused the proposed means of evading all danger by an adoption of the Mohammedan religion, the Porte, encouraged by England and France, resisted all threats; and finally, at the intervention of the United States and England, he was allowed to depart with his family and friends. His wife had secretly escaped from Hungary, and his children, two sons and a daughter, had been allowed by Haynau to join him in Asia. On Sept. 1, 1851, he was liberated and set out to embark on the war steamer Mississippi, which had been despatched by the United States government, in accordance with a resolution of the senate, to convey him to America as the nation's guest. He had employed the days of his confinement in Asia in the study of military science, and in perfecting his knowledge of living languages.
He was able to address the people of the West in French, English, German, and Italian; and when, after visiting Gibraltar and Lisbon, where he was treated with distinction, he finally reached Southampton, he was listened to with no less admiration than sympathy by the English. The same enthusiastic feeling followed him on his tour through the most populous cities of the kingdom, and subsequently through the United States, where he arrived Dec. 5, 1851, accompanied by his wife and Mr. and Mrs. Pulszky. He addressed deputations and meetings in New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, and numerous other places, urging the acknowledgment of the claims of Hungary to independence, and the interference of the United States jointly with England in behalf of the principle of nonintervention, which would allow the nations of Europe fair play in a new struggle for liberty. His agitation received a fatal blow by the coup d'etat of Louis Napoleon, the news of which reached America a fortnight after his arrival, and his call for contributions for a reopening of the struggle in Hungary had therefore a very small result, in spite of the general sympathy with the exile and his cause.
At Washington he was received with distinctions which had never been bestowed on any foreigner except Lafayette. He returned to Europe in July, 1852, where for some time he acted in concert with Mazzini and Ledru-Rollin. Preparations for a rising in the spring of 1853, which rapidly consumed the contributions received in the United States, ended with the execution of Ju-bal, Noszlopi, and others in Hungary, and with the banishment of Kossuth's mother and sisters. His mother died soon after in Brussels; one of his sisters, Mme. Meszlenyi, died some time after her arrival in the United States, and another, Mme. Zulyavsky, in 1860; and the only surviving one, Mme. Ruttkay, still resides there. After some participation in newspaper discussions, Kossuth delivered lectures on various topics, but especially on the history and affairs of Hungary, in England and Scotland. The preparations of Napoleon and Victor Emanuel for a war against Austria at the beginning of 1859 once more rekindled his hope for the liberation of Hungary. He went to Paris, and subsequently to Italy, where he was received with great enthusiasm by the people, and introduced by Prince Napoleon to the emperor of the French, with whom he concerted a common plan of attacking Austria in its Hungarian possessions in case the war should be carried into the interior of Venetia. This was prevented by the peace of Villafranca. Kossuth, bitterly disappointed, returned to England, and the Hungarian legion, formed under Klapka in Sardinia, was dissolved.
In 1862 he removed to Turin, where he has since resided, and where he successively lost his daughter and wife. During the war of 1866 he issued an address to the Hungarians, trying to rouse them to action, and subsequently repeatedly and strongly condemned the arrangement with Austria carried through under the lead of Deak. Declining several elections to the diet of Pesth, he has since remained in voluntary exile, occupied with scientific studies, and has published several papers, among them Farbenveranderung der Sterne (1871). - His collected writings have been published in the Europaische Bibliothek (Wurzen, 1860-70). Of his speeches various collections have appeared in England, the United States, and Germany. See W. J. Wyatt, "Hungarian Celebrities" (London, 1872).