Form of Government Edit
The empire of Austria being a collection of different states, with different rights and privileges, the form of government necessarily differs in each; but in none is the emperor either absolute or despotical. With the exception of Hungary, Transylvania, and the Tyrol, the powers of the states or provincial parliaments, that meet annually in each of the other provinces, are indeed very limited. They have no deliberative votes in the legislative or financial matters. The amount of the taxes for the year, which vary according to the exigencies of the state, is communicated to them, and the distribution of the taxes among the contributors takes place under their inspection. They have likewise the permission of addressing humble petitions, on the subject of grievances, to the throne, of which they but rarely avail themselves. The estates of Lower Austria are invariably convoked at Vienna in September, which is one month previously to the assembling of the provincial estates, which meet in October.
The Hungarian diet possesses very different privileges, and has been able to maintain them notwithstanding the vast influence of the crown. They have full deliberative voice in legislation, and nothing can be decreed by the sovereign without their concurrence: hence the country is not subject to the heavy taxation, nor legally to the police and censorship ordinances which prevail in other parts of the empire. Passports are not usual in the kingdom, and the Hungarians do not consider their liberty to travel in foreign countries as depending on the will of the sovereign. With these valuable privileges they have, however, preserved a number of faulty laws and cumbrous observances. But the exertions of the more enlightened members of both houses have of late years succeeded in obtaining considerable alterations in these, without sacrificing any of their rights; and the country is rapidly improving through their laudable efforts.
It is not, however, to be denied, that the freedom of Hungary has hitherto been merely the freedom of the nobles and clergy. The great bulk of the people have long been, and still continue to be, substantially in the state of adscripti globe. Their condition has, however, been in some respects materially improved, and limits set to the lord's demands upon their services, trough the interference of the government, and principally of Maria Theresa and Joseph II, in their behalf; but there can be no doubt that the power and privileges of the other classes, however advantageous in some respects, have hitherto been decidedly injurious to the peasantry, that is, to the bulk of the population. The fair presumption is, that but for these privileges the peasantry of Hungary would now have been as free, and have enjoyed the same privileges, as those of the German provinces of the empire. In the provinces, the members of the provincial diets meet in one chamber, and are composed of prelates, nobles, knights, and burghers, the free peasants being only represented in Tyrol. In Hungary the prelates and magnates, with the Obergospanne (lord-lieutenants) of the counties, form the chamber of magnates (Tabula excelsa Procerum) ; the deputies of the cathedral chapters, of the counties, of the free royal towns, and of absent magnates, form the chamber of the states (Tabula inclytorum Statuum et Ordinum). Transylvania has a separate diet, but sends members to that of Hungary, as do also Croatia and Slavonia. In the Tyrol there is a chamber of peasants, and no new tax can be levied without the consent of the states.
Offices of Government and Administration. Edit
The arrangement of the different branches of the administration in Austria attained its perfection under the late emperor, Francis I, and is admirably calculated to admit of the personal interference of the monarch in every department.
1. The Ministry of the state, which long consisted of three members, received a fourth in the person of a distinguished general, on the prospect of a disturbance of the peace of Europe after the French revolution of 1830. This board may be called the emperor's cabinet. The minister for foreign affairs, with the title of imperial chancellor, is the president, and is prime minister.
2. The council of state may be compared to a privy council, and is composed of three sections, embracing seven departments; viz., justice, army, police, exchequer or crown office, finances, board of health, and board of studies. A councillor is named for each department, and a refendary is attached to each in the person of a member of some one of the different administrative offices charged with the execution of the imperial decrees, that is, with the entire administration of the empire. The council of state exercises, in a great measure, the legislative functions; but the drawing up of laws is confided to a commission specially appointed for the purpose. As the legislative power in Hungary belongs to the diet, two councillors manage the affairs of that country and of Transylvania, in as far as they come under its cognizance. The eleven administrative offices embrace the functions of the different departments of the secretaries of state in England, together with those courts of appeal and of the commander-in-chief. They consist of, 1. The united chancery for the German, Slavonic, and Italian provinces; 2. The Hungarian chancery; 3. The Transylvanian chancery; 4. The exchequer and finance board; 5. The mint; 6. The board of justice, or highest court of appeal for all provinces excepting Hungary and Transylvania; 7. The board of police and censorship; 8. The war-office, of which the navy board is a branch; 9. The book-keeper-general's office, in which the accounts of every department, excepting those of the police and ministry of foreign affairs, are inspected; 10. The board of education ; 11. The legislative commission.
Under these different boards, which all have their seats at Vienna, the political, administrative, financial, military, police, clerical, and educational authorities of the provinces are placed, who communicate with the respective departments through the medium of the Gubernium of each province. Judicial appeals go direct from the provinces to the board of justice, with the exception of Hungary and Transylvania, in the last of which the gubernium is the highest authority under the emporer. Under the gubernium are the captains of circles, and the magistracy of the towns; with this difference, that the former unite the functions of administration and police, whereas the police in towns is entrusted to a special board, independent of the magistracy. In Hungary, the “Statthalterei,” whose president is the paladne, is the chief administrative body, and like the gubernium of Transylvania, communicates with the sovereign direct through the medium of a special chancery at Vienna. The statthalterei is composted of twenty-two councillors, two of whom are prelates, and has its seat at Ofen (Buda). Under this board the Obergeapann (lord-lieutenant) of each country, who is named by the emperor (the charge is often hereditary), and the Vicegespann, his deputy, who is chosen by the nobles, with all authorities excepting the courts of justice, stand in a subordinate degree.
Hungary has a peculiar court of appeal in the Septemviral Tupel. Public business in every department is carried on in writing. The personal influence of the emperor may be powerfully exerted even in the extensive and well-organized system system of public offices here described. Though the councillors of state have each a peculiar department, they must not consider themselves as exclusively bound to it only. According to the will of the emperor, or any of the ministers, the duty of investigating and reporting on any subject may be given to any member of the board, or, in case of need, a member of an inferior office may be charged with the temporary function of a councillor. Innumerable commissions of inquiry and control are annually appointed; and every check that can be devised is adopted in order to supply the pace of the most effectual of all, the free expression of public opinion through the press. Appeals and representations to the emperor in person may be made by every individual, of whatever rank, upon the most trifling as well as the gravest subjects: and these appeals frequently occasion a revision of the decisions of the public boards either through another councillor or a special commission. The immense load of business which thus devolves upon the emperor, obliges him to keep a private cabinet, which communicates at pleasure with every office or functionary in the empire, and consequently may be said to represent the omnipresence of the sovereign. From a decree issued through this cabinet, there is no appeal; such decree (Handbillet) supersedes all law.
As sovereign of many territories, which were formerly considered fiefs of the empire, the emperor of Austria is a member of the Germanic confederation, and his ministers plenipotentiary is at present the president of its diet at Franfort. The states which are included in the confederation are, the archduchy of Austria, the kingdom of Bohemia, with Moravia and Silesia, and the duchies of Ozwiechzian and Zalor in Galicia, the county of Tyrol, and the duchies of Styria, Carinthia, Carniola, with the towns and territory of Trieste. In the ordinary sittings of the diet, Austria has one vote; in the plenary assemblies, four votes: the emperor's contingent to the confederate army is 94,822 men.