Can’t Get Enough of Kossuth

On November 30, 2014 · 0 Comments - won't you be the first?

The formation and expansion of Kossuth County in the 1850’s discussed in The Odd Case of Iowa’s Largest County pointed to a simple question. Who was Kossuth? That string led me to Lajos Kossuth. I was wholly unfamiliar with the name and I wondered why a county deep within the American heartland would honor a former Governor-President of Hungary. This area wasn’t settled by Hungarians.


Kossuth Lajos Prinzhofer
Lajos Kossuth via Wikimedia Commons, in the Public Domain

Iowa wasn’t the only Kossuth reference in the United States either. A quick check of the Geographic Names Information System uncovered additional populated places named for him in Indiana, Mississippi, Maine, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin, plus a Kossuthville in Florida. The geographic placement implied a couple of different thoughts since the Kossuth tribute phenomenon seemed to be confined primarily the eastern half of the U.S. First, the designations began in close proximity to Kossuth’s zenith at the midpoint of the 19th Century (before the western states became highly organized and started naming everything) and second, his place in the American memory must have been brief (because he was overlooked when the western states started naming things in earnest).



Budapest Street Directory #14: Lajos Kossuth/Kossuth Lajos utca
Budapest Street Directory #14: Lajos Kossuth/Kossuth Lajos utca by Istvan, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Lajos Kossuth de Udvard et Kossuthfalva was and continues to be a revered figure in Hungary. He sought an independent Hungary and for a brief period he actually achieved it. Hungary was under the control of Austria’s Habsburg Empire. Civil dissatisfaction and unrest had been ongoing for a number of years and finally sparked a revolution in 1848. Hungary declared its independence in 1849 with Kossuth serving as the Governor-President. It wouldn’t last long. The Austrian army teamed with Russia and invaded later that year. Kossuth was forced into exile where he continued to advocate tirelessly for Hungarian independence until he passed away in 1894.

There are tributes to Lajos Kossuth all over Hungary today, including his likeness within in the statue complex at Hősök tere (Heroes’ Square), a major plaza in Budapest. Street View gives Hősök tere decent coverage if you want a more expansive understanding of its geographic context. Certainly, one would expect numerous memorials and commemorations in Hungary. That didn’t explain his prevalence in the United States.



P20021116_105453_0028
Statue of Lojas Kossuth by warsze, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

There were distinct elements of Kossuth’s struggle that resonated with audiences far beyond Hungary, including those throughout Europe hoping to establish democracies as well as within the U.S. where a representative government had already been achieved. Kossuth drew inspiration from the American Revolution and in turn many citizens of the United States viewed Kossuth as carrying that same banner, an instrument for spreading American ideals to other parts of the world. It helped that Kossuth proved very adept at publicizing his cause through his skills as a prolific orator, writer and media sensation on both sides of the Atlantic.

Statues of Kossuth were raised in the United States too, such as the one in New York City, above (map).



Portrait with Kossuth
Portrait with Kossuth by Roman Boed, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Lajos Kossuth traveled widely after his exile to promote Hungarian independence, including a wildly-successful tour through the United States. As described by The Hill after the dedication of a bust of Kossuth placed in the U.S. Capitol building in 1990,

This Hungarian statesman’s presence in the U.S. Capitol might seem arbitrary, but in fact Kossuth’s life was intertwined with the life — and values — of American democracy… The U.S. assisted him in traveling to America, where he ultimately spent one year. Kossuth became one of the first foreign statesmen to address a joint session of Congress, speaking to the body in 1852 about democracy… Moreover, throughout his year in the U.S., Kossuth made more than 300 speeches to thousands of American citizens. It is estimated that more than half of the nation’s population at the time heard him speak

Sorry about the random person appearing in the photo, however, there weren’t any other decent photos available and one has to use what one can find. This much later tribute to Kossuth served a means to regenerate awareness of his deeds that have largely faded from collective consciousness in the United States. It was commissioned by The American Hungarian Federation and sponsored for placement by Rep. Tom Lantos, a native of Hungary and the only member of the U.S. Congress who was also a Holocaust Survivor.

Kossuth may have been largely forgotten in the United States, however his name would have been well-known in the 1850’s. Creating and naming Kossuth County in Iowa in 1851 would have been viewed as a popular and logical choice associated with notions of freedom and independence.

On November 30, 2014 · 0 Comments - won't you be the first?

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