The October Diploma and the February Patent: The Constitution Meeting and Resistance
After the lost war with Italy (1859) and the debt crisis in its wake the Emperor proclaimed another Constitution in October 1860: the October Diploma. It failed, above all, due to the resistance of the German Liberals and the Hungarians. The amended version of the October Diploma, issued on 26 February 1861, was to go down in history as the February Patent.
Resistance against Absolute Rule
After the lost war with Italy (1859) and the debt crisis in its wake the Emperor proclaimed another Constitution in October 1860: the October Diploma. Still, this document did not mark a change of direction and a move towards genuine constitutional government, since it continued to vest in the Emperor, and only the Emperor, the power of decision on all important aspects of government. What is more, the Reichsrat was no longer to be elected but to be composed of delegates of the Diets.
The October Diploma failed, above all, due to the resistance of the German Liberals and the Hungarians, who even expressed their protest by refusing to pay taxes. The Emperor was again forced to make concessions, and he made a Liberal, Anton Ritter von Schmerling, his new Minister of State, who immediately proceeded to revise the fundamental law of the state, which had only just been promulgated.
A Parliament for the Entire Monarchy?
The amended version of the October Diploma, issued on 26 February 1861, was to go down in history as the February Patent. It envisaged a two-chamber parliament, consisting of a House of Deputies (Abgeordnetenhaus) and a House of Lords (Herrenhaus). While the Emperor was to appoint the members of the latter, the Members of the House of Deputies were to be delegated by the elected Diets. However, since the franchise for electing the Diets was restricted in terms of landownership and tax payments, only some 12 percent of the male population of full age were actually entitled to vote.
The February Patent was the last attempt to establish a joint parliament for the whole of the Monarchy, i.e. including Hungary. An “enlarged Reichsrat”, including Hungarian representatives, was to have competence in matters affecting the entire empire, a “restricted Reichsrat“ was to deal with all business relating to Cisleithania and the upgraded Hungarian Diet with all concerns of Transleithania.
Even though the Reichsrat envisaged by the February Patent was to have legislative powers, the Emperor was given an absolute veto power and was free to decide on all matters of foreign policy and the military. Moreover, the Patent contained emergency regulations, thus preparing the ground for the exercise of governmental powers to the exclusion of Parliament. The “new“ Reichsrat met for the first time on 29 April 1861 in a temporary wooden building erected on Schottenring within a few weeks, which came to be known as the “Schmerling Theatre”, so named after the Prime Minister.
Things developed, however, in an unexpected way: The Hungarian representatives were conspicuous by their absence and the representatives of Lombardy-Venetia and Croatia also boycotted the meeting (those from Transylvania made their entry only in 1863, while the Czech delegates left it by the end of 1864). In consequence, the Emperor dissolved the Hungarian Diet already in the summer of the year and declared a state of emergency in Hungary to bring pressure to bear on the “rebels“.