They laid much stress on the historic task of Austria in bringing German culture to the half-civilized races of the east. They demanded, therefore, that all higher schools and universities should remain German, and that so far as possible the elementary schools should be Germanized. They looked on the German schoolmaster as the apostle of German culture, and they looked forward to the time when the feeling of a common Austrian nationality should obscure the national feeling of the Slavs, and the Slavonic idioms should survive merely as the local dialects of the peasantry, the territories becoming merely the provinces of a united and centralized state. The total German population was not quite a third of the whole. The maintenance of their rule was, therefore, only possible by the exercise of great political ability, the more so, since, as we have seen, they were not united among themselves, the clergy and Feudal party being opposed to the Liberals. Their watchword was the constitution of 1861, which had been drawn up by their leaders; they demanded that it should be restored, and with it parliamentary government. They called themselves, therefore, the Constitutional party. But the introduction of parliamentary government really added greatly to the difficulty of the task before them.
In the old days German ascendancy had been secured by the common army, the civil service and the court. As soon, however, as power was transferred to a parliament, the Germans must inevitably be in a minority, unless the method of election was deliberately arranged so as to give them a majority. Parliamentary discussion, moreover, was sure to bring out those racial differences which it was desirable should be forgotten, and the elections carried into every part of the empire a political agitation which was very harmful when each party represented a different race.
The very first events showed one of those extraordinary changes of policy so characteristic of modern Austrian history. The decision of the government on the constitutional question was really determined by immediate practical necessity. The Hungarians required that the settlement should be ratified by a parliament, therefore a parliament must be procured which would do this. Crisis of 1867. It must be a parliament in which the Germans had a majority, for the system of dualism was directly opposed to the ambitions of the Slavs and the Federalists. Belcredi, who had come into power in 1865 as a Federalist, and had suspended the constitution of 1861 on the 2nd of January 1867, ordered new elections for the diets, which were then to elect deputies to an extraordinary Reichsrath which should consider the Ausgleich, or compact with Hungary. The wording of the decree implied that the February constitution did not exist as of law; the Germans and Liberals, strenuously objecting to a "feudal-federal" constitution which would give the Slavs a preponderance in the empire, maintained that the February constitution was still in force, and that changes could only be introduced by a regular Reichsrath summoned in accordance with it, protested against the decree, and, in some cases, threatened not to take part in the elections.
As the Federalists were all opposed to the Ausgleich, it was clear that a Reichsrath chosen in these circumstances would refuse to ratify it, and this was probably Belcredi's intention. As the existence of the empire would thereby be endangered, Beust interfered; Belcredi was dismissed, Beust himself became minister-president on the 7th of February 1867, and a new edict was issued from Vienna ordering the diets to elect a Reichsrath, according to the constitution, which was now said to be completely valid. Of course, however, those diets in which there was a Federalist majority, viz. those of Bohemia, Moravia, Carinthia and Tirol, which were already pledged to support the January policy of the government, did not acquiesce in the February policy; and they refused to elect except on terms which the government could not accept. The first three were immediately dissolved. In the elections which followed in Bohemia the influence of the government was sufficient to secure a German majority among the landed proprietors; the Czechs, who were therefore in a minority, declared the elections invalid, refused to take any part in electing deputies for the Reichsrath, and seceded altogether from the diet.
The result was that Bohemia now sent a large German majority to Vienna, and the few Czechs who were chosen refused to take their seat in the parliament. Beust's compact with the Poles. Had the example of the Czechs been followed by the other Slav races it would still have been difficult to get together a Reichsrath to pass the Ausgleich. It was, however, easier to deal with the Poles of Galicia, for they had no historical rights to defend; and by sending delegates to Vienna they would not sacrifice any principle or prejudice any legal claim; they had only to consider how they could make the best bargain. Their position was a strong one; their votes were essential to the government, and the government could be useful to them; it could give them the complete control over the Ruthenes. A compact then was easily arranged.
Beust promised them that there should be a special minister for Galicia, a separate board for Galician education, that Polish should be the language of instruction in all secondary schools, that Polish instead of German should be the official language in the law courts and public offices, Ruthenian being only used in the elementary schools under strict limitations. On these terms the Polish deputies, led by Ziemialkowski, agreed to go to Vienna and vote for the Ausgleich.
When the Reichsrath met, the government had a large The constitution of 1867. majority; and in the House, in which all the races except the Czechs were represented, the Ausgleich was ratified almost unanimously. This having been done, it was possible to proceed to special legislation for the territories, which were henceforward officially known as "the kingdoms and lands represented in the Reichsrath." A series of fundamental laws were carried, which formally established parliamentary government, with responsibility of ministers, and complete control over the budget, and there were included a number of clauses guaranteeing personal rights and liberties in the way common to all modern constitutions. The influence of the Poles was still sufficient to secure considerable concessions to the wishes of the Federalists, since if they did not get what they wished they would leave the House, and the Slovenes, Dalmatians and Tirolese would certainly follow them. Hence the German Liberals were prevented from introducing direct elections to the Reichsrath, and the functions of the Reichsrath were slightly less extensive than they had hitherto been. Moreover, the Delegation was to be chosen not by the House as a whole, but by the representatives of the separate territories.