As already explained, the name Austria is used for convenience to designate those portions of the possessions of the house of Habsburg, which were not included by the settlement of 1867 among the lands of the Hungarian crown. The separation of Hungary made it necessary to determine the method by which these territories were henceforth to be governed. It was the misfortune of the country that there was no clear legal basis on which new institutions could be erected. Each of the territories was a separate political unit with a separate history, and some of them had a historic claim to a large amount of self-government; in many the old feudal estates had survived till 1848. The February Constitution. Since that year the empire had been the subject of numerous experiments in government; by the last, which began in 1860, Landtage or diets have been instituted in each of the territories on a nearly uniform system and with nearly identical powers, and by the constitution published in February 1861 (the February Constitution, as it is called), which is still the ultimate basis for the government, there was instituted a Reichsrath or parliament for the whole empire; it consisted of a House of Lords (Herrenhaus), in which sat the archbishops and prince bishops, members of the imperial family, and other members appointed for life, besides some hereditary members, and a Chamber of Deputies. The members of the latter for each territory were not chosen by direct election, but by the diets.
The diets themselves were elected for six years; they were chosen generally (there were slight local differences) in the following way: (a) a certain number of bishops and rectors of universities sat in virtue of their office; (b) the rest of the members were chosen by four electoral bodies or curiae, - (1) the owners of estates which before 1848 had enjoyed certain feudal privileges, the so-called great proprietors; (2) the chambers of commerce; (3) the towns; (4) the rural districts. In the two latter classes all had the suffrage who paid at least ten gulden in direct taxes. The districts were so arranged as to give the towns a very large representation in proportion to their populations. In Bohemia, e.g., the diet consisted of 241 members: of these five were ex officio members; the feudal proprietors had seventy; the towns and chambers of commerce together had eighty-seven; the rural districts seventy-nine. The electors in the rural districts were 236,000, in the towns 93,000. This arrangement seems to have been deliberately made by Schmerling, so as to give greater power to the German inhabitants of the towns; the votes of the proprietors would, moreover, nearly always give the final decision to the court and the government, for the influence exercised by the government over the nobility would generally be strong enough to secure a majority in favour of the government policy.
This constitution had failed; territories so different in size, history and circumstances were not contented with similar institutions, and a form of self-government which satisfied Lower Austria and Salzburg did not satisfy Galicia and Bohemia. The Czechs of Bohemia, like the Magyars, had refused to recognize the common parliament on the ground that it violated the historic rights of the Bohemian as of the Hungarian crown, and in 1865 the constitution of 1861 had been superseded, while the territorial diets remained. In 1867 it was necessary once more to summon, in some form or another, a common parliament for the whole of Austria, by which the settlement with Hungary could be ratified.
This necessity brought to a decisive issue the struggle between Centralists and Federalists. the parties of the Centralists and Federalists. The latter claimed that the new constitution must be made by agreement with the territories; the former maintained that the constitution of 1861 was still valid, and demanded that in accordance with it the Reichsrath should be summoned and a "constitutional" government restored. The difference between the two parties was to a great extent, though not entirely, one of race. The kernel of the empire was the purely German district, including Upper and Lower Austria, Salzburg, Tirol (except the south) and Vorarlberg, all Styria except the southern districts, and a large part of Carinthia. There was strong local feeling, especially in Tirol, but it was local feeling similar to that which formerly existed in the provinces of France; among all classes and parties there was great, loyalty both to the ruling house and to the idea of the Austrian state; but while the Liberal party, which was dominant in Lower Austria and Styria, desired to develop the central institutions, there was a strong Conservative and Clerical party which supported local institutions as a protection against the Liberal influence of a centralized parliament and bureaucracy, and the bishops and clergy were willing to gain support in the struggle by alliance with the Federalists.
Very different was it in the other territories where the majority The Slavonic Lands. of the population was not German - and where there was a lively recollection of the time when they were not Austrian. With Palacky, they said, "We existed before Austria; we shall continue to exist after it is gone." Especially was this the case in Bohemia. In this great country, the richest part of the Austrian dominions, where over three-fifths of the population were Czech, racial feeling was supported by the appeal to historic law. A great party, led by Palacky and Rieger, demanded the restoration of the Bohemian monarchy in its fullest extent, including Moravia and Silesia, and insisted that the emperor should be crowned as king of Bohemia at Prague as his predecessors had been, and that Bohemia should have a position in the monarchy similar to that obtained by Hungary. Not only did the party include all the Czechs, but they were supported by many of the great nobles who were of German descent, including Count Leo Thun, his brother-in-law Count Heinrich Clam-Martinitz, and Prince Friedrich von Schwarzenberg, cardinal archbishop of Prague, who hoped in a self-governing kingdom of Bohemia to preserve that power which was threatened by the German Liberals. The feudal nobles had great power arising from their wealth, the great traditions of their families, and the connexion with the court, and by the electoral law they had a large number of representatives in the diet.