The Wise Man of the Nation – Deák Ferenc died 145 years ago

Hungarian version of the article: Már életében utcát neveztek el Pesten a haza bölcséről – 145 éve halt meg Deák Ferenc

Written by: Dominik Filepkó

January 31, 2021 at 5:00 PM

He played a prominent role in reaching the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867, which created the dualist state known as the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. The compromise led to stunning development in Hungary. Ferenc Deák, the "Wise Man of the Nation", died on 28 January 1876, 145 years ago. Many memorials throughout Budapest stand in honour of the great statesman.

At the time of his death on 28 January 1876, Ferenc Deák was one of Hungary's most respected politicians. He began his work at the Nationaal Diets of the Reform Period as a spokesman of the opposition. In 1848 he became Minister for Justice in the Batthyány-government. After the War of Independence failed, his name was intertwined with the passive resistance movement. With the publication of his Easter article in 1865, he became one of the main figures to support the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867.

Ferenc Deák in 1866 (Source: FSZEK Budapest Collection)

"The Wise Man of the Nation"

Ferenc Deák was born into a noble family in Zala, and later obtained a law degree, which he used to work within the count administration. When his uncle fell ill in 1833, he sent his nephew to the National Diet in Pozsony (present-day Bratislava, Slovakia) in his place, where he soon became one of the leading figures of the liberal nobility's opposition.

In 1848, after the Pest Revolution, he became Minister for Justice in the Batthyány-government. But he did not stay in office for long, as the government resigned en masse after the attack by the Croatian ban, József Jellasics. Deák retired to his estate in Zala. He only moved to Pest in 1854, taking up residence in the Angol Királynő ('Queen of England') Hotel, which stood on the present-day Deák Ferenc Street. He soon became a leading figure in the passive resistance movement. Many acknowledged his consistency and political skills, and the name “Wise Man of the Nation" was used ever more often by his peers. Lajos Kossuth had first used the name in 1840 to recognise his merits.

The Angol Királynő Hotel, where the “Wise Man of the Nation” lived from 1854 until he died in 1876. The building at 1 Deák Ferenc Street, which stood next to the Vigadó, was demolished in 1940. Photograph taken in the 1890s (Source: FSZEK Budapest Collection)

A memorial plaque on the wall of the house built in the place of the former hotel informs passers-by that Ferenc Deák lived here
(Photo: Balázs Both/

Deák demanded that the April Laws of the 1848 revolution be restored but was aware of the need to compromise with the imperial court in Vienna. His Easter article, published on 15 April 1865, emphasised this, alongside other items. Deák became a member of the Hungarian delegation sent to the negotiations. Although many wanted him to be the prime minister of the first Hungarian government after the compromise, he firmly rejected the position. He remained a central authority in the ruling party for the rest of his life. He often fell ill in his final years and eventually passed away on 28 January 1876. The funeral of the "Wise Man of the Nation" was organised by the Hungarian state.

Procession of mourners at Ferenc Deák's funeral in front of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences on 3 February 1876
(Source: FSZEK Budapest Collection)

Mausoleum and monument 

On the day after his death, 29 January 1876, Ferenc Deák the government announced he would be buried with state honours. His body lay in state in the main building of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences on 31 January. Where Queen Elizabeth paid her respects, his funeral was held on 3 February 1876. The service began in the palace of the Academy of Sciences. Thousands of mourners accompanied the national hero on his final journey. His coffin was temporarily placed in a chapel in the Kerepes cemetery.

It was evident that the great statesman would be given a mausoleum befitting his memory. A tender was announced in April 1876. Kálmán Gerster, 26 years old at the time, won the design tender but construction only began three years later, in mid-1879.

Mausoleum of Ferenc Deák in the Kerepes Cemetery (today Fiumei Road National Cemetery), photographed after 1890 by György Klösz
(Source: Fortepan/Budapest Archives)

Gerster designed a square-floored mausoleum reminiscent of the Italian Renaissance. Bertalan Székely was asked to paint the frescoes for the 26-metre-high interior (these were later replaced by glass-mosaics by Rósa Miksa based on Bertalan Székely's designs, as the frescoes did not last). The sarcophagus with the remains of the statesman was designed by Alajos Strobl, György Kiss created the statue of the Mourning Genius. The construction of the mausoleum and the creation of the works of art dragged on until 1887. The remains of the great politician were placed in their final resting place on 21 May 1887.

The Deák Mausoleum today (Photo: Balázs Both/

A month after Deák's death, a committee tasked with erecting a worthy statue of the statesman was created on 29 February 1876. A national collection of donations began to fund the memorial. The committee finally issued an international tender in October 1877.

The judges announced the results in December 1878. Selecting a design by Adolf Huszár. But before the sculptor could begin work, he was sent on a study tour in 1879. An article in the 2 October 1887 issue of Vasárnapi Ujság, published after the statue was unveiled, reminds its readers that there had been significant disagreements over the main figure on the monument. For a long time, the committee could not decide whether the main figure should be shown standing or seated. Finally, a seated figure was chosen in 1881.

Sadly, Adolf Huszár could not finish his work. He died on 21 January 1885. At the time, only the main figure had been completed. Work was still needed on the side-figures. The young Ede Mayer was entrusted with continuing work, under the supervision of Alajos Strobl. Albert Schickedanz made the pedestal of the sculpture composition. 

The monument was unveiled on 29 September 1887 in what was then Lánczhíd Square, today's Széchenyi Square, in front of Lloyd Palace, in the presence of the king, Franz Joseph. The location itself was significant: Lloyd Palace, the home of the liberal party's headquarters stood behind the sculpture (today the Sofitel Hotel stands in its place). The Szabadelvű ('liberal') party was the leading party during the dualist period. The coronation mound stood in the middle of the square, on to which Franz Joseph had galloped after his coronation as King of Hungary in 1867.

The Deák monument in 1896. Lloyd Palace in the background was the headquarters of the Liberal Party, which gave the highest number of governments in the Dualist period. Photograph by György Klösz (Source: Fortepan/Budapest Archives)

The statue of Ferenc Deák on Széchenyi Square. The Royal Palace of Buda Castle in the background, which played a major role in the Compromise, and the coronation. By today, the trees have outgrown the monument. (Photo: Balázs Both/

Respect and cult 

Ferenc Deák was so deeply respected during his life that a sort of cult formed around his figure. Portraits and busts of the politician were sold as early as the 1860s, as evidenced by the newspaper advertisements of the time.

But only a selected few greats of Hungarian culture and history have had public spaces named after them during their lifetimes. Ferenc Deák was among these select few. A square and street were named after him in 1865. 

However, Balatonfüred was quicker. The 2 August 1865 issue of Politikai Ujdonságok reported that the city had named one of its finest walkways, Deák Promenade, after the politician who visited the city.

At its meeting on 5 October 1865, the City Council of Pest decided to name the former Nagyhíd Street, onto which Deák balcony looked, and Szén Square after the Wise Man of the Nation. The people of Pest quickly became accustomed to the new names: from the autumn of 1865, the new street name appeared in newspaper advertisements.

Anker Palace and the Lutheran Church, two defining buildings of Deák Ferenc Square (Photo: Balázs Both/

Today, Deák Ferenc Street is a pedestrian street lined with elegant shops (Photo: Balázs Both/

Cover photo: Monument to Ferenc Deák (Photo: Balázs Both/

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