1848 was a marquee year for the smaller nations of Europe. Revolutionary fervour was in the air, and the Habsburg Empire’s diversity became a beacon of insecurity for the Austrian rulers. Hungary was at the centre of the Hungarian Revolution, and Debrecen acted as the new state’s capital for a short while.
So what brought the Hungarians to this point? The Kingdom of Hungary actually retained a certain amount of autonomy within the Austrian Empire, with a separate parliament and independence when it came to governing the lives of Hungarians. But the atmosphere was changing in 1848, and many of Hungary’s prominent intellectuals and academics were preparing for life as a truly independent state.
It was Lajos Kossuth who spearheaded this revolutionary fever, although he did so in a fairly relaxed manner. The Austrian government responded in typically heavy-handed fashion by arresting the popular leader, which only enraged the peasantry further. Revolution became practically inevitable.
Kossuth was released and the Hungarians brought 12 demands to the Austrian leadership, among them freedom of the press, civil and religious equality, and a national bank. A bloodless revolution took place on March 15, 1848, and the first independent Hungarian government was formed with Lajos Batthyány as Prime Minister.
All seemed fine, but there was one key flaw with the Hungarian Revolution — the Hungarians weren’t willing to afford their own minorities what they were demanding from Austria. War soon broke out on multiple fronts, and the Hungarians were soon surrounded. Austria managed to manipulate other nations into defending the integrity of the Empire (most notably the Croatians), and by the autumn of 1849 it was over. Kossuth fled to the US, and the Hungarians were brought back under Austrian control.
And that is the Hungarian Revolution in a nutshell. It took the combined powers of the Austrian and Russian forces to bring an end to it, but Hungary wouldn't stay cowed for too long. The Austrian Empire was weak, and the revolutionary demands of other nations eventually led to the creation of the dual monarchy, what we knew as Austria-Hungary, in 1867.