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oppressive feudal services were not abolished, but definite and moderate reforms were carried out, limiting the amount of compulsory labour by the tenants.
After the death of Maria Theresa in 1779, Joseph proposed in this widely separated empire, of many races, of varying forms of faith, speaking at least ten languages, to abolish all differences of law or social custom, religion and language, and unite all into one nation, governed by one central authority in the interests of the people as a whole. He proposed the abolition of all feudal privilege, the broadening of the basis of religious faiths and the encouragement and advance of all arts and sciences. He abolished the local authorities, displacing great numbers of useless and possibly oppressive officials, but getting rid of the chief check on the Crown of the local assemblies. For local oppression he substituted imperial force. The Empire was divided into thirteen great governments, of which, for example, one was the Netherlands, another the Tyrol, another Hungary, another Lombardy. These were presided over by his imperial intendants. These governments were subdivided into circles, and the circles into city and village communities. The circle, which was the most important part of the scheme, dealt with the affairs of lord and vassal, education and military matters. Courts of justice, presided over by imperial officials, regulated the rights of the lord and peasant, and all decisions of officers were referred to the Council at Vienna, whose acts were submitted to the Emperor. A High Court of Justice at Vienna controlled all local courts. The old feudal courts disappeared. His reforms of the criminal law were remarkable and excellent.
Joseph abolished in his German dominions all feudal rights such as tithes, heriots and corvées, and liberated the serfs in the Slav provinces, and defined the labour rents.
In 1780 Joseph issued an edict for the regulation of taxes by which he hoped to give the peasant class liberty from their feudal oppression. The very heavy feudal dues and day labour were swept away to be replaced by payment by the peasant of thirty per cent. in lieu of all taxes and work. He took the responsibility for payment of the land tax from the lords and accepted in its place collection by the peasants themselves in their villages.
These measures were naturally intensely unpopular with the local nobility and their great following, and their resentment was increased by the attacks made on the privileges and monopoly of the Roman Church, the destruction of the monasteries, and the establishment by Joseph of two general seminaries for the training of priests according to his liberal views. But Joseph pursued his views without regard to popularity or discontent. He had belief in himself, capacity for work, and will to give himself without stint to the work in hand. The subordination of the provinces to the unity of the Empire, the abolition of privilege, the removal of all restraints on individual liberty as a corollary to the supremacy of the State seems to have been his design. As a young man he had travelled quietly in his dominions and had formed his opinions on the condition of his people which he now tried to carry into effect. But his methods were despotic : his doctrine absolute obedience to the good ruler. When the provincial estates were suppressed, taxation and spending passed from them to the Crown, Joseph asserting his absolute independence to such an extent that when he set up a new system of taxation in 1789, which was very unpopular, he published it without any consultation with the estates. Holding such views, both Maria Theresa and Joseph followed Britain in her contest with the revolted colonies. They refused to acknowledge them or to receive their embassies.
Besides these reforms of Church and State which provoked opposition, Joseph made great efforts to improve the condition of his dominions on the lines on which society was then moving. He encouraged in every way arts and sciences and trade, especially agriculture, made new roads and canals, made Trieste and Fiume free ports, abolished the internal customs between the local centres, and at the same time put a prohibitive tariff on foreign manufactures with the idea of helping native industries. He made great efforts to improve the trade of Hungary by treaty with the Turks in 1784, obtaining the free navigation of the Danube, the Black Sea and the Dardanelles, so as to give an outlet to the export of grain. But when, in 1788, he went to war with the Turks in alliance with Catherine of Russia, all this came to an end.
Joseph had remodelled the army, being desirous of obtaining glory as a soldier, after the example of Frederick of Prussia. When, on December 30th, 1777, the Elector of Bavaria died without issue, it appeared as if Joseph, who wished for its possession and claimed it by descent, would have an opportunity of showing his capacity in war. He moved troops to take possession, and Frederick moved to oppose him. But Frederick was unwilling to fight, and Maria Theresa was so strongly opposed to war as to render nugatory all Joseph's designs, the dispute ending in May, 1779, by peace at Teschen on the arbitration of Russia, by which Austria gave up all claim to Bavaria, receiving compensation in other directions. It was left to Joseph to try to obtain this valuable addition to his dominions by exchange for the Netherlands, a possession which, from its position, its distance from the centre of Austrian authority, and from the traditions and character of the people, was a troublesome and expensive part of the Empire.
v. The Netherlands and Hungary.-In 1781 Joseph went to the Netherlands. By the treaty of Munster in 1621 the Scheldt had been closed, and after the Netherlands had passed from Spain to Austria a number of fortresses on the border had, by the Barrier Treaty of 1715, been garrisoned by Dutch troops to be paid by the sovereign of the Netherlands in order to prevent the advance of the French. The fortresses had fallen into ruin, and Maria Theresa had ceased to pay for their repair. As mentioned above, Joseph, naturally averse to seeing fortresses on his territory garrisoned by the Dutch, drove them out, dismantled the fortresses and disowned the Barrier Treaty. Then in 1784 he began the presentation of ultimatums over the navigation of the Scheldt, and sent ships up and down the river, which were stopped by the Dutch. France intervened and a compromise was arranged in November, 1785, by which the Scheldt remained closed, Joseph to receive ten millions of florins. The Dutch only agreeing to five and a half millions, Louis undertook to pay the balance, though France was practically bankrupt.
Joseph easily consented to this compromise, as he was then negotiating for the exchange of the Netherlands for Bavaria. But Frederick II., always anxious to depress the House of Austria, interfered and broke off the negotiations, organizing a Fürstenbund of princes against Joseph in Germany. Then, in 1787, Joseph began a struggle with the people of the Netherlands which went on side by side with the revolution in France.
More than any other part of the Austrian Empire the provinces of the Netherlands enjoyed customary rights of selfgovernment leaning to independence, strengthened by the tradition of centuries. At this time they were governed by two very popular Viceroys, Albert of Saxony, the son of Augustus III., King of Poland, and his wife Mary Christina, the favourite daughter of Maria Theresa. Under these Viceroys were Parliaments composed of the three orders of nobles, churchmen and commons, who assessed the taxes and expended the revenue, a recognized sum being paid yearly as subsidy, beyond which the sovereign could, in times of crisis, ask for an extraordinary contribution, which was not denied. The Liberties of all these provinces were finally expressed in a charter of Brabant, the district whose council was pre-eminent, called the Joyeuse Entrée, containing a declaration of the liberties which was duly acknowledged by each sovereign on his accession.
Joseph, dealing with this high-spirited people, who had, from the earliest times, headed the struggle for free institutions in Europe, in 1787 swept away everything, local government and ancient constitution, and replaced it by a division of the whole Netherlands into circles, each to be governed by an intendant and his entourage. No constitutional rights were left. The clergy, being extremely powerful and wealthy in the Netherlands, the reforms of the Church and of education had already roused the greatest anger. Now attacked on every side, the whole people rose in insurrection, not against Christina and her husband, but against Joseph's edicts and the officials who were to carry them out. Brabant refused to vote the necessary moneys and claimed a right of insurrection.
Joseph, at this time, was with the Empress Catherine in the Crimea, having been persuaded by her to enter into a war against the Turks. In such an impasse Mary Christina and Albert took upon themselves to suspend the edicts and passed other measures for peace. But the people continued to arm and organize resistance. On his return Joseph sent for the Viceroys and deputies from the Netherlands and lectured them at Vienna, while he sent troops to the province. But, engaged in war, Joseph could not afford to go too far with the Netherlands. He promised the repeal of the edicts, but insisted on the reform of the Church and the establishment of his seminaries. To these last the Council of Brabant refused
Joseph resorted to force. Under a determined military Commandant, d'Alton, the troops fired on the mobs; men were arrested and imprisoned ; the Press was censored; the University of Louvain was closed. From this time the revolution follows the course of all such movements. The nobles having been made use of, like the great planters in the American rebellion, stand to one side, and the movement becomes one of what is called the people. When it comes to voting the subsidy in Brabant, only the third estate refuses it.
On June 18, 1789, the estates of Brabant were assembled and, guarded by troops, were with the Council suppressed, and the Joyeuse Entrée and all privilege of customs revoked. Then on July 14, the Bastille fell, and the Belgian people began to follow the example of the French mobs. Neither Joseph nor d'Alton realized the spirit abroad, refusing to send sufficient reinforcements to the provinces in support of the scattered Austrian garrisons. The Belgian revolutionaries, encouraged from France, Holland and Prussia, crossed into Holland, and came back a regular army of invasion, to inflict many reverses on the scattered Austrians. It was too late for the conciliatory tone now adopted. In a short time the revolutionaries entered the capital, the imperial troops retiring; and on December 26, 1789, the States of Brabant declared themselves independent. Other States followed the example, and a confederacy, called the United Belgic States, was set up at Brussels.
Meanwhile a very similar state of affairs was on foot in Hungary and Galicia, where a very strong feeling had been aroused by the religious reforms. The nobles, who were here all-powerful and all-privileged, had for some time been at friction with Joseph's ill-judged measures. In 1784 he had ordered that German should be the official language in the place of Latin and Hungarian. He had introduced the circle system of federal rule ; he had abolished serfdom; re-measured