Volume IV, Number 2, Fall 2008

"Born in Hungary, 160 years ago – Joseph Pulitzer and the Hungarians" by András Csillag

András Csillag is Professor at the Department of English & American Studies, College of Education, University of Szeged, Hungary. E-mail:

Joseph Pulitzer (1847–1911) is widely recognized as a founder of modern journalism, whose Prizes are awarded annually for outstanding achievements in American journalism, literature and music. In 1864, at the age of seventeen, he left his native Hungary with the purpose of making a military career. He wanted to follow in his uncle’s footsteps, who had volunteered as a hussar to fight for the Habsburg Emperor Maximilian in Mexico.1 En route to Mexico, he ended up in the United States as an immigrant and decided to join the Union Army in the Civil War. Later, as a successful newspaperman, he lived the life of a truly assimilated American until he died. For a long time, therefore, relatively little was known about this great self-made man even in his native country, which he visited only occasionally. Interest in the innovator of mass-appeal journalism, however, has grown in the past two decades in Hungary and, as a result of extensive research, his family background, the circumstances of his emigration, his relationship with Hungarians and the old country, have been largely clarified by the present author.2

Influenced by a Revolutionary Spirit

Pulitzer’s work, especially The World, was a monument to the idealism and patriotism of the many men from Central Europe who went to the United States in the 19th century in expectation of the Promised Land. They were glad to have turned their backs upon poverty, persecution and the autocracies of Europe, and brought to their new homeland a devotion quite unsurpassed by native born Americans. Theirs was a keener appreciation of the true principles of a democratic society and of the fundamentals of American idealism and patriotism than was held by many others. True, Pulitzer was not a direct product of the revolutionary movement of 1848–49 and did not cross the ocean as a result of that idealistic uprising which would have liberated Hungary under Lajos (Louis) Kossuth. He belonged to a later generation of immigrants; however, he had been inspired by the recent example of his uncles serving in the Hungarian revolutionary army,3 by the enduring spirit of the struggle for freedom and by its defeat with the help of the Russian tsar, followed by cruel oppression in the name of the emperor of Austria. Thus, the memories of his adolescence made it easy for the young man to turn to republicanism during the American Civil War. In essence, Pulitzer, who later despised and often ridiculed monarchy, became a radical reformer as a result of his association with Carl Schurz (1829–1906) while working for his newspaper, the Westliche Post, in St. Louis. It was this famous German–American patriot, one time editor and participant of the German revolutions of 1848, a master journalist, soldier and politician of his adopted land, who taught him a great deal about the more subtle principles of democracy. “I am a radical myself, progressive, liberal to the core”, wrote Pulitzer proudly in a memorandum to the editors of his own liberal newspaper, The World, in 1904, an expression of his dedication to the ideals he followed during most of his journalistic career.4

Joseph Pulitzer’s atavistic love of freedom and the fighting spirit he imported from Hungary accompanied him throughout his lifetime. For his entire life, he was a passionate devotee to the cause of liberty: the liberty of action, of opinion, of government. Seldom hesitating to start a crusade in his papers for a good cause, he was equally ready to fight his great challenger, William Randolph Hearst (1863–1951), for the primacy in newspaperdom. He not only frowned upon on all the “crowned heads” of Europe but was a sympathetic supporter of revolutions for freedom the world over. For example, in 1896, after working successfully to avoid the possibility of an armed conflict between the U.S. and Great Britain over the Venezuelan boundary dispute, Pulitzer was invited to London by the British peace and arbitration societies and recognized for his efforts. In his speech of acceptance he pointed out:

Yet this does not mean peace at any price. There are certain issues that are not arbitrable. War against cruel despotism or slavery Americans regard as not only just but as inevitable. They believe in the French Revolution. They naturally sympathize with the uprising of any people against despotism, whether in Greece or Hungary or Poland in the past, or in Cuba today.5

Originally, Pulitzer sincerely supported the just cause of the Cuban uprising against colonialist Spain. Later, however, he went too far in his sympathy by demanding direct American intervention for a war with Spain…

The Hungarian historical figure who made the greatest impression and had a lasting influence on him was Louis Kossuth (1802–1894), the leader of his nation’s revolutionary movement in 1848–49. (Two years later Kossuth, as “the Guest of the Nation”, went on a tour of the United States and was given a hero’s welcome.) Although the great patriot had been living in exile for quite a while, Pulitzer still frequently alluded to him privately or in his newspapers.6 When Kossuth died in 1894, the event became the leading news item of The World with illustrations on the front page and inside the paper. A detailed description of his career started with these words:

Louis Kossuth has been little more than a name to the present generation of Americans, but to those who were young and ardent forty years ago it has never ceased to be a name to quicken the pulse and thrill the imagination. The memory of a mighty national impulse speaks in it; romance, supreme devotion to the cause of freedom and a life-long consecration breathe through it, and a failure, which has been in the highest sense a triumph, in that it has dignified manhood and enlarged the love of liberty throughout the nations.7

The World immediately appointed a special correspondent to report from Turin (Torino), Italy, where Kossuth had died and had been lying in state. Joseph Pulitzer himself sent a large wreath there, which was duly hung in the great patriot’s death chamber, and later placed on the coffin resting on the catafalque during the funeral service.8 Besides extensive news coverage, some enthusiastic editorials as well as a lengthy story entitled “Kossuth’s Place in History” (taken from the London Times), were also printed by the paper.9 No doubt, what the 1895 edition of The World Almanac wrote proudly in retrospect was true: “The death of the great Hungarian patriot Kossuth, in Turin; the extraordinary scenes along the route as his body was carried back to his native land, and the remarkable funeral in Budapest were depicted in The World with a fullness and fidelity found nowhere else.”10

Pulitzer’s attachment to his Hungarian past was additionally well reflected by his appreciation of the culture of his old country. One of his favorite composers was the romantic Ferenc (Franz) Liszt, also great as a pianist, while one of his best loved musical pieces was the Rákóczy March by Berlioz.11 (Both Liszt and Rákóczy were related to the revolutionary past of Hungarian history.) In Pulitzer’s later years, when he was stricken with blindness, depression, and was unable to read or write, listening to music became a solace to him as well as books read out by his private secretaries. One associate made the following characteristic observation about his nature:

Moods of buoyancy and gayety were rare with him; they seemed to draw nearest when he listened to Hungarian Czardas played by the Tsigane orchestras… Some ancestral current in his blood responded to the rhythms, his face softened, his cheek flushed, his head kept time and he even forgot to ask what the latest issues of The World and Post-Dispatch contained. Usually, however, his mind worked with its normal three-deck capacity: He could listen to music, enjoy a novel read aloud and formulate an editorial to be put on the cable — all at the same time.12

Pulitzer did not care about preserving his Hungarian–Jewish ethnic identity in family or social life. He seldom, if ever, used the Hungarian language publicly with anyone in America and did not mind leaving even his closest associates in doubt whether his mother tongue had been German or Hungarian.13 Rather, he wanted to be a truly assimilated American, an insider whose goal was to shape the political processes of the United States as much as possible. And this he successfully attained through his “new journalism”. Nevertheless, the inherited spirit remained with him, and not just subconsciously. We know from his correspondence that long after losing his eyesight but still active as a newspaperman, he once ordered the English language edition of Zsolt Beöthy’s “Hungarian Literature” (published by Appleton) in order to keep in touch with the intellectual achievements of his old country.14

Pulitzer’s Relationship with Hungarians in America

Two years after Pulitzer’s death, Szabadság (Liberty), one of the dominant daily newspapers of the Hungarian–American community, wrote the following about the life of the “Hungarian newspaper king”:

In our article concerning the youth of Joseph Pulitzer we pointed out that only his origin was Hungarian. The Hungarians in America did not derive either moral or material aid, for origin itself is nothing. What counts is the adherence to race, fellow feeling with one’s countrymen and work done in their behalf. Pulitzer acted towards us Hungarians as the parvenu does with his relatives whom he abandons and forgets.15

The laments of the paper sounded true and justifiable, expressing the view of the Hungarian immigrant community at the time. However, those who were disappointed in Pulitzer as a Hungarian left some facts out of consideration: (1) He belonged to an earlier generation of immigrants, who had been living in the United States for almost twenty years before the mainstream of his compatriots started to arrive in the 1880s. By the time the new immigrants got settled, he had already become an almost perfectly assimilated, prominent member of American society. By that time, he had been deeply interested and involved in such political activities as the presidential election of Grover Cleveland and his own election to Congress. (2) In the mid 1880s, he had already become the publisher of successful, leading newspapers in the English language catering to the needs of the general public and concerned with issues of national importance and other matters that attracted the widest readership. Though he did express solidarity with the problems of new immigrants, he looked upon those as social questions that must be solved, rather than particular ethnic interests. Thus Pulitzer’s political and journalistic ambitions were far greater than merely satisfying the needs of one immigrant group by publishing a newspaper for them in their language. (3) His ethnic affiliation had never been strong; he was more like a disaffiliate. He never denied his Hungarian background but rarely mentioned it, just as he never identified with the Jewish community of New York although he had come from a Jewish family. He was, by choice, a product of the “melting pot” in every possible way; in his private and public life his attitude was more like the behavior of a second or third generation immigrant, far from the lifestyle and ignorance of his newly arrived countrymen. (4) By 1887–88 Pulitzer had lost his eyesight. This happened at the age of forty, at the peak of his career. As a result, he suffered from manic depression which made him a virtual invalid. Although he remained able to manage his newspapers with the help of his associates, he was constantly travelling for his health, thus staying away from public life, clubs or any other kind of organization. After his nervous breakdown he lived in isolation, often distancing himself even from his own family and relatives. He preferred seclusion so much that he entered the Pulitzer Building, a new and lavish office block of his publishing company, only three times in his life.

Though, to the dismay of his compatriots and for reasons described above, Pulitzer never really became part of the Hungarian immigrant community, he did find some ways of expressing sympathy for their affairs. His contacts with them were mainly at the personal level or in the form of charity. However, when he was occasionally approached by various Hungarian–American organizations, he declined their offers for a post. Obviously, he was too busy or simply not willing to meddle with their internal life. Nevertheless, his paper duly highlighted the activities of Hungarian immigrant associations, thereby making them better known for the general public. One of the earliest reports on the Hungarian movement, for example, served as a letter of recommendation at a time when the unskilled, uneducated East and Central European immigrant masses were looked down upon by many WASP citizens:

The Hungarian meeting at Irving Hall this evening will be an event of much interest. Its object is to establish a Hungarian Aid Society to look after the interests of persons of that nationality who may come to New York, with the ulterior object of extending the Association to other cities and States. The Hungarians are a people who love liberty and have suffered oppression. They have patriotic traits, and while they readily assimilate with the Americans and become devoted to their adopted country, they never lose their pride in the land of their birth.16

The event, which perhaps brought Pulitzer the closest to the affairs of the Hungarian community of New York and made him truly proud to be a Hungarian, took place in 1886. That year, America was visited by the famous Hungarian artist, Mihály (Michael) Munkácsy (1844–1900), who lived in France. Pulitzer’s interest in art explains his knowledge of the great realist master, who went to New York for the exhibition of his grand painting “Christ before Pilate.” Therefore, Pulitzer agreed to be chairman when a committee was set up by the Hungarians of that city to welcome their celebrated compatriot. In the days preceding the artist’s arrival and during his visit, The World gave full coverage of his official program and printed appraisals of the artistic merits of his masterpiece. One such appraisal read: “The work is a grandly conceived one, is majestic in its simplicity and tells its dramatic story through no tricks of art, but simply by genius guiding the hand which created it. It satisfies and it moves the spectator.”17 On the first day of the immensely successful exhibition, Munkácsy attended a performance at the Metropolitan Opera House as the guest of Pulitzer and his wife.18

On November 23, the greatly admired painter was entertained at a dinner by the Hungarians of New York City. Pulitzer presided and served as toastmaster at this lavish banquet at Delmonico’s, where a “brilliant company of notable men” had also been invited to meet the artist. Along with Pulitzer came mayor-elect Abram Hewitt, the minister Henry Ward Beecher, journalist-politician Carl Schurz, and a number of other influential public figures of the day. Following words of greeting in Hungarian by Francis Korbay, and the “national airs” (played by Lichtenstein’s Hungarian band), Pulitzer also spoke (in English):

We have met tonight to do honor to Mihály Munkácsy, who has honored us with his presence; … we welcome him because he is not only a great artist but a Hungarian; we welcome him because he represents two of the most beautiful countries in the world —Hungary, the land of his birth, and France, the land of his adoption. We welcome him because both Hungary and France are not only beautiful, but are among the most liberty-loving nations of Europe. We welcome him because he has the same matchless genius in art which his great countryman, Louis Kossuth, had in oratory and Franz Liszt had in music… We welcome and admire him because if the pen is mightier than the sword, his brush is even mightier than the pen! Tonight we are all Hungarians —we are all Americans.19

It was the ex-Hungarian immigrant who spoke. This was his last presence at a Hungarian-related public event before his health failed him. The same evening one of the New York politicians, Chauncey Depew, in his speech paying tribute not only to the painter but also to the publisher, said: “Without the contribution which Hungary gave in Mr. Joseph Pulitzer and the aid of the columns of The World, the pedestal for the Statue of Liberty would never have been completed.”20 The next morning, a lengthy report about the banquet appeared, quite unusually, with a headline in Hungarian on the front page: “ÉLJEN MIHÁLY MUNKÁCSY” (Long Live Mihály Munkácsy).21

On December 22, after Munkácsy’s return from Washington, the Pulitzers gave a grand pre-Christmas reception in honor of the artist at their home. The editor gave a commission to Munkácsy to paint his wife, Kate’s portrait, which he eventually completed in Paris. “Christ before Pilate”, the monumental work of art that indirectly brought Pulitzer closer to the Hungarian community in New York, was purchased by John Wanamaker of Philadelphia. (It is currently on display in the Déri Museum of Debrecen, Hungary.)

In the late 1880s, Pulitzer still had a good reputation in the Hungarian immigrant community of New York. In a letter William Loew (Löw), a noted translator of Hungarian literary works into English and a well-known public figure in immigrant circles, wrote this to him in 1887: “Since Kossuth’s visit to the United States you have done more than any other to secure the goodwill of the American people for Hungary.”22 In the spring of 1888 the Hungarian Ladies Aid Society sent 25 tickets to Pulitzer and his employees for a “Strawberry Festival”, accompanied by the following introductory words: “Being aware of your generous and kind disposition toward your countrymen…”23 The World kept on reporting about the cultural and social events of Hungarian immigrants, including visits by prominent compatriots from the old country. The paper used words of appraisal not only in the case of classical artists, such as Munkácsy or Edouard Reményi, the great violinist. When a famous Gypsy band from Hungary appeared for the first time in New York in 1886, The World‘s expert critic (probably Pulitzer himself) in an article pointed out: “The Hungarian Gypsy has always shared the joys and sorrows of his nation. He took part in all his battles for freedom and independence, and his music has been described as a kind of chronicle wherein are preserved all the battle songs, the marches and the hymns of victory of the people among whom he always led a nomadic existence.”24

Pulitzer and his paper helped to preserve Kossuth’s memory among the Hungarians of America by informing the general public about how the immigrant community remembered the great patriot on his death and about their plan to erect a monument to Kossuth in New York. Although the sickly publisher earnestly advocated the ideas and efforts of the Louis Kossuth Monument Association in the 1890s, he played no role in it, unlike ten years before, when through his newspaper he led the fundraising campaign to set up a pedestal for the Statue of Liberty.25 It is not known whether Pulitzer ever offered any financial support in this case. However, it is a fact that after some years the idea of the monument was dropped for a long time for lack of sufficient funds.

The subsequent resentment of the Hungarian immigrant society of New York was probably mainly due to the fact that the millionaire Pulitzer never made a sizable donation to help the causes, organizations or institutions of the community. Nevertheless, occasionally he made smaller contributions to various events or celebrations that Hungarian associations held in town.26 Sometimes he gave assistance to old friends who turned to him for help. For example, once Anselme Albert, the Hungarian-born colonel of the Union Army in the Civil War, a former friend of Pulitzer’s during his St. Louis years, was about to lose his job as a district assessor and asked for help. The well-known editor, publisher and former Congressman immediately wrote from New York to the mayor of St. Louis, who answered: “I am in receipt of your personal letter on behalf of Anselme Albert, and also of your telegram subscribing for $100,000 of St. Louis City 3 1-2 percent bonds. I find Mr. Albert is a Republican, but your request will receive due consideration, although the Democrats are demanding a clean sweep. I am exceedingly obliged to you for the bonds…”27

Archival research suggests that there were almost no Hungarians among Pulitzer’s friends, associates or even employees while he was a famous newspaperman in New York. Oddly enough, he also had an estranged relationship with his own younger brother, Albert Pulitzer (1851–1909), who lived in the same city as publisher and editor of the Morning Journal. The two became fierce competitors and rivals. It is not clear whether it was a mere coincidence or out of moral support to them, but three prominent Hungarian immigrant leaders happened to have their offices for a time in the Pulitzer Building. In a travelogue published in 1900 Morris (Mór) Cukor, William Loew and Marcus Braun, all distinguished public figures and occasional contributors to The Sunday World, were described as renting their offices in the large building of The World on Park Row; which obviously made the place well-known for the Hungarian immigrant community.28 Most likely, the only Hungarian whom Pulitzer called his friend in America was László Hengelmüller de Hengervár, the ambassador from Austria–Hungary in Washington since 1894. On one occasion, The World printed a report about an event suggesting how divided American–Hungarians were concerning the popularity of the ambassador.29 Pulitzer did not like the article and later sent the following reproach to the editors of his own paper: “Who wrote that asinine story… about the Hungarian banquet? Why allow a reporter to be used by a faction? It so happens that Baron Hengelmüller is a friend of mine and stays in my house. Even if he were not, you ought not allow somebody to make use of the paper in this way… Someone should see Baron Hengelmüller and present the apology of the paper for the blunder…”30 Evidently, the editors soon forgot who their chief’s friend was because less than two years later The World printed a comic strip in its news about how the elderly ambassador had fallen over two valises at a hotel recently…31

Pulitzer’s interest in prominent compatriots coming for a visit from the old country continued in the first decade of the 20th century. When in 1904 the Interparliamentary Union was going to hold its international peace conference in St. Louis, then site of the World’s Fair, Pulitzer made a special request of his newspaper in that city. He wished the editors of the Post-Dispatch to pay special attention to the Hungarian delegation led by the eminent statesman Count Albert Apponyi (1846–1933) during their visit.32 At the time of the conference, the paper appeared with Apponyi as the central figure of its front page news on two occasions. This advocate of peace, “from a great land”, who made excellent speeches in English, was presented in generously illustrated reports and interviews. The profile of a great politician was drawn up by the St. Louis paper with the help of quotations and accompanied by the following flattering words about the country he had come from: “Did you ever appreciate Hungary? Look up her musicians. She has much else, but her contributions to music alone are enough to win her a kingdom in our hearts and a place in our esteem. Hungary is one of the countries rich in genius.”33 In 1911, nine months before Pulitzer died, Apponyi sailed to the United States for a second visit. This time, he went on a tour of the country to deliver a series of lectures. He was received in the highest places and met by outstanding representatives of American society. Before his arrival, The World introduced Apponyi as a “foremost man in Hungary”, a politician “of exceptional abilities and intense convictions”, whose “gift as an orator has kindled the fire of liberty in the hearts of thousands of his countrymen.”34 Next the paper added: “Count Albert Apponyi, the giant Hungarian nobleman, statesman and Democrat, who has come here on the invitation of the Civic Forum and the New York Peace Society to point out why America should lead in the attainment of universal peace…”35 The World gave a coverage of his visit similar in style to what Munkácsy received 25 years earlier. The equally successful tour of this other Hungarian was also accompanied by reports full of appraisal. This time, however, the publisher himself was no longer in a condition or mood to meet the guest and participate in his program personally. Nevertheless, The World, with its detailed coverage of Apponyi’s eloquent speeches and extensive interview with him, did help to shape a favorable image of Hungary in America. The editorial “Hungary’s Peace Ambassador” had this to say: “Count Apponyi’s visit to the United States has attracted an attention which gives his utterances exceptional weight. As a peace plenipotentiary from the country whose great patriot was so enthusiastically welcomed by us more than half a century ago, he has aroused a popular interest both to himself and his mission not often accorded to visitors from Europe.”36 Pulitzer and Apponyi never met but knew all about each other and held one another in high esteem.

For the ethnic Hungarian community, however, this kind of a commitment was cold comfort. They became increasingly disappointed in Pulitzer because they never got what they had really expected from the disabled millionaire. He refrained not only from making large donations but hardly ever took an interest in the positions they offered him. American Hungarians tried for the last time in 1905, when the New York Committee for the Erection of the George Washington Monument in Budapest respectfully approached him with the idea of ordering a statue as a gift for the old country, and made the following request: “Our Committee, at its last session, by a most enthusiastic unanimous vote, decided to tender to you, sir, as a most distinguished American citizen of Hungarian descent, the post of honorary president. We feel that your kind acceptance would serve to make this movement a marked and immediate success that would redound to the everlasting benefit and glory of our native land as well as of our adopted country.”37 The offer was turned down and no donation was made. One only wonders why it happened like this. Pulitzer refused to give his name to a cause which was noble (and eventually carried out without him) and in line with his principles. He was a great admirer of American liberty and democracy as conceived by the Founding Fathers. (Earlier he had helped with the erection of the Statue of Liberty; in Paris a statue of Lafayette and Washington shaking hands had been his gift; just as it was his bequest which later made possible the erection of a fine monument to Thomas Jefferson at Columbia University.) The problem must have been something else, perhaps, the fiasco of the first Kossuth statue movement, which had left behind memories of disagreement and indifference.

Even though Pulitzer distanced himself from the affairs of the immigrant community in terms of active participation, in spite of the resentment, a latent pride was assumed by the Hungarian–Americans following his death. The day after he died, a certain Béla Tokaji of New York wrote in a reader’s letter to The World: “I am proud as a Hungarian by birth of Joseph Pulitzer, who was born in the land of Louis Kossuth and the liberty-loving Magyars… It can truly be said that he was the best representative of European emigrants landed on the American shore who through personal ability helped to make America what it is…”38 Szabadság, the daily quoted earlier, in the same article in which it compared him to a “parvenu”, remarked this in conclusion:

Pulitzer was only one among us; his career would have been unique even if he had been born in America and of American family. And even if we cannot look upon Pulitzer as a Hungarian-American, we can draw excellent conclusions from his career, with all other immigrants. These conclusions are manifest. The newspaper king in our eyes would have been still a greater man had he given expression to his Hungarian origin.39

The Image of Hungary in The World

The relatively frequent appearance of Hungary in the news columns of The World may well have been due to Pulitzer’s as well as the immigrant readers’ natural interest in the old country rather than to the importance of the affairs of this nation for America. The zenith of Pulitzer’s journalistic career happened to coincide with the peak period of Hungarian immigration (1880–1910) and this fact was borne in mind by the mass-appeal journalism he followed when satisfying the needs of the paper’s growing readership. Despite the highly sophisticated techniques of modern newsgathering, one could hardly find much more information about Hungary even in The New York Times nowadays than what The World provided a century earlier.40 The reports from Hungary consisted mainly of political news and, to a lesser extent, society and cultural news. Political news dealt both with domestic and foreign policy issues. Occasionally, features and editorials would also appear about various subjects. Often the articles were illustrated.

Soon after Pulitzer had gained control over The World in 1883, the first news dispatches that were printed in the paper about Hungary were related to a sad but topical domestic issue. Following an anti-Semitic flare-up in society, pogroms against the Jewish population were threatening some parts of the country. This was duly reflected by front page news under the headline “Fatal Riots in Hungary”, while the report (received from Vienna) read in part: “Violent riots against the Hebrews began at Egerszeg, Hungary, on last Friday night. Two thousand peasants took part in the outbreak. They wrecked all the houses and shops of Hebrews in the place and shouted ‘Murder all Jews’. Troops were called out, but were unable to suppress the violence of the mob until they were reinforced…”41 Some days later, as a follow-up on this report, a lengthy commentary by “Count” Paul d’Esterházy was printed also front page in The World. The editor-in-chief, a Jew himself, must have agreed with its contents because he decided to put it on the front page — a very unusual place for readers’ opinions. (Anti-Semitism, after all, could easily have been one of the reasons why Pulitzer never went back to live in Hungary after he had gotten to know American democracy.) Esterházy, a resident of New York, wrote his contribution on behalf of Hungarian–Americans as a protest against the anti-Semitic agitation and the show-trials of innocent people which had taken place in Hungary in those days. The full column-sized article, as its sub-heading stated, sought to call on the government of that country “to protect the Jews against gross fanaticism.” The author’s words, in unison with the editor’s views regarding this question, read in part:

We indulge the fond hope that we shall yet live to see the day in Hungary when every man, without regard to creed, shall gather in and enjoy the fruits of those fields which the blood of heroic sons of Jews and Christians alike has prepared for the rich harvest. The Honvéds of 1848–49 will, I am confident, ever honor the memory of their comrade Jews who, with equal bravery, fought freedom’s battles, and also cheerfully sacrificed their lives for the glory of the common fatherland.42

More than a year after this rather negative image of the country was drawn by The World, Pulitzer thought it necessary to stand up for Hungary. He was rather annoyed when the New York Tribune, speaking of an act recently passed by the Hungarian legislature, wrote that “It is not so very long since this Nation emerged from barbarism”.43 Although his own paper had had to condemn hatred and violence in his old country only shortly before, now, with the passage of dark clouds from its skies, Pulitzer felt a moral obligation to publicly defend its reputation in an editorial:

We have no idea of the Tribune‘s method of computing chronology, but… A full half century before William the Conqueror and Civilizer descended upon England, King Stephen of Hungary had built churches, introduced Latin schools, proclaimed the freedom of slaves and had so ordered and organized the political and administrative institutions of the State as to win from Pope Sylvester II., in the year 1000, the title of Apostolic King, and he was even canonized as a saint…44

Concerning foreign policy issues, The World duly reported on Austria–Hungary’s resolute efforts to preserve the status quo in the Balkans as decided earlier by the Congress of Berlin. The paper carried reports from the Budapest Parliament as well as quotations from the speeches of prime minister Kálmán Tisza in the 1880s when Austria–Hungary (supported by Germany) aimed at counter-balancing Russian mastery by trying to consolidate the Empire’s influence over much of the Balkans.45 The annexation of Bosnia–Herzegovina by Austria-Hungary in 1908 did more harm than good to the image of the latter. The move was regarded as a threat to peace and a violation of the Berlin agreement by most of the great powers. President Theodore Roosevelt was ready to be a mediator and to suggest arbitration in order to prevent the Balkan “powder-keg” from exploding. Because of the complexities of the ethnic situation, The World had reservations concerning the feasibility of self-government in the new territories as promised by King Francis Joseph.46 An editorial put the blame on the Empire for creating dangerous circumstances: “It is in Vienna, as it has been from the beginning, that war threatens. Austria–Hungary has broken her contract with the other powers in the Berlin Congress. Germany backs her in doing so.”47 Another editorial comment sees no bright future for the ethnic mixture living in this area (a problem well known from the crises of the 1990s):

Austria succeeds Turkey as the chief Balkan power. The Germans and Magyars are its controlling nationalities, but the former are less than one-third of the people of Austria, the latter less than one-half of the people of Hungary. Hence for political reasons working arrangements are formed with other elements… Hungary imposes the Magyar tongue upon all its people except in Croatia-Slavonia, which has home rule. The dual Government is dependent upon shifting combinations of these five main races. They quarrel violently, but have no notion of parting, since each alone would be at the mercy of big nations…48

Pulitzer’s guidance is clearly seen in these editorial comments; few other editors would have been able to provide such a historically and geographically adequate description of the region. Pulitzer, an ardent opponent of monarchy and imperialism, strongly disapproved of the expansionist foreign strategy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. However, he added that “The core of the Dual Monarchy is the Magyar race in Hungary, surrounded by Germans in the west, Slavs in the north, Roumanians in the east, Slavs again in the south, Italians and Slavs on the Adriatic coast. Most Magyars, like Count Andrássy, their Minister of the Interior, oppose the Bosnia–Herzegovina annexation and the plan of a Slav empire.”49 The reputation of Hungary, which had been damaged by playing the role of an “aggressor”, was slightly improved by The World‘s unbiased reports and editorial comments.

Towards the end of the 1890s and in the first decade of the 20th century, more and more news had been reported about serious Hungarian domestic issues. Social problems and political instability were well reflected in the news columns of American daily papers such as The World, even if sometimes slanted or distorted. In the late 1890s, the situation in agriculture was especially grave, with a large segment of the peasantry suffering from unemployment, poverty and hunger. In some rural areas, disaffected peasants went on strike, organized riots or arbitrarily occupied the land of rich landowners. However, such news occasionally fell victim to the sensationalism of the “yellow press” prevalent around the time of the Spanish–American War. Unfortunately for the reputation of the country, The World happened to be resorting to the worst methods of faking news at this time, and printed a feature article about the Hungarian situation. The story “Hungarian Peasants Harnessed to Ploughs” was written and illustrated by someone ignorant about Hungarian history, with the apparent purpose of presenting something merely shocking and sensational:

There still exists in Europe at the close of the nineteenth century… a country where the feudal nobility have retained to such an extent their mediaeval rights and privileges that they are permitted by law to call upon the peasantry on their estates to furnish them with nearly two months of forced labor each year without any remuneration whatsoever. If any attempt is made by the peasants to rebel against the tyranny they are pitilessly suppressed by force of arms. To such an extent is this tyranny carried that many of the landowners are accustomed to use their peasants as beasts of burden, harnessing four men to a plough, instead of a pair of horses or a yoke of oxen…50

An expressive sketch next to it, almost half a page in size shows four desperately struggling men harnessed to a plow, driven by a slave driver with a whip, while some gendarmes and a “feudal lord” look on. But in reality, regardless of how bad conditions were for the landless peasantry at the turn of the century, they were never forced to work as slaves or serfs or do the job of plowing instead of animals. (This may have been true for Russia earlier.) The feudal system of serfdom had been abolished for good as a result of the 1848–49 revolution. Landlords no longer owned peasants and could no longer force them to work without any payment (“robot”), nor had they any jurisdiction over them in case of a strike or riot. For all its shortcomings, Hungary was a civilized constitutional state at the turn of the century: Thus, the picture depicted by The World‘s illustrated article was anachronistic. The paper turned elements of truth into a story of curiosity and horror just as it had done in the case of the Cuban uprising, the Maine incident and during the Spanish–American War, which followed in 1898. This was a time when the blind editor wanted to outdo Hearst by selling more papers and did not mind sensationalism.

The heated debates and stormy scenes that took place in the Hungarian Parliament in late 1898 appeared among the news dispatches of The World in graphic detail. The paper especially praised Dezső Szilágyi, “the great Hungarian reformer” from the Liberal Party who resigned the presidency of the house of deputies rather than override the rules at premier Bánffy’s direction while the latter was planning to govern by decrees.51 As events had developed into a political crisis by 1905, the readers of The World, thanks to a special correspondent sent to Budapest, were provided ample information on all the major issues. News about massive street demonstrations, strikes and a struggle for universal suffrage came along with dispatches of intense political debates, including a confrontation with the king over national interests. In September, Pulitzer instructed his editors to “print fully foreshadows of secession revolution.”52 A headline on September 29th read: “Hungary Seethes; Disorder Reigns.” On October 2nd The World reported that Hungary was “ripe for revolution” and added: “Every ward in Budapest is organized for defense of the Hungarian constitution…” Its correspondent had been shown by the ward leaders “stores of revolvers and knives for distribution”. Premier Fejérváry, in a statement to the paper, remarked: “As for the predicted revolution it is impossible to say what may happen.”53 According to an editorial, Count Apponyi and Ferenc Kossuth, leader of the Independence Party, declared to The World reporter that “the people are not seeking an armed revolution” and “both still believe the King can be brought by peaceful agitation to grant the Hungarian demands.”54 The paper also quoted Count Gyula Andrássy, the third leader of the so-called Coalition (opposition parties in parliament with a nationalist program demanding a separate tariff for Hungary and the use of the Magyar tongue throughout the army). In an article illustrated with his portrait, he was referred to as saying that “The Austrians are not a people gifted with political genius while Hungarians have, perhaps, a little too much; but at least this habit saves us from revolutionary folly.”55

Still, Pulitzer, in a memorandum written to one of his editors, said: “I believe there will be a revolution and secession in Hungary. Events there today are similar to those of the ten years preceding the War of Independence, when efforts were to compromise the differences between England and her American colonies.”56 Early in December, in a lengthy review of law and liberty in Europe, The World, evaluating the consequences of the Hungarian parliamentary situation and the Russian uprising of 1905, came to the conclusion:

Anarchy and civil war in Russia and the deadlock between the Diet and the Crown in Hungary prove that the people of both countries are determined to overthrow the last important strongholds of despotism in Caucasian Europe… At the present time there are only 900,000 voters in Hungary in a population of 17,000,000. The Socialists, who are largely disenfranchised workmen of the cities, are clamoring for universal suffrage, but the Magyar leaders of the Coalition fear any diversion from their original programme… Revolutions move with lightning rapidity in these days.57

Although Hungary was not as backward politically as Russia, and its king was not an autocrat as suggested by Pulitzer’s contempt of the regime of the Dual Monarchy at the turn of the century, the situation really seemed critical. Despite the political discontent of the people, labor unrests, the emigration of the poor, the economic and cultural prosperity of the country was generally good. Thus, Hungarian society was not as ready for radical changes at this point as Pulitzer had judged it to be through American eyes; a revolution and the disintegration of Austria–Hungary became a reality only in 1918.

Albert Apponyi’s already mentioned visit to the United States in 1911 gave another opportunity for The World to get first-hand information about the situation of the country. In his interview, the Hungarian statesman spoke about questions that most interested the American reporter: the socialist movement, universal suffrage and foreign strategy. When asked about the purpose of his country’s increasing military build-up, three years before the outbreak of World War I, Apponyi answered: “Austria–Hungary does not want war, does not expect war, and, so far as man can say, will not have war.”58 At this point the optimistic politician did not think that in a few years, following a terrible war, he would be the one to face and convince the American, British and French delegates as chief negotiator for Hungary at the Versailles peace talks.

Besides the political affairs, the readers of The World were informed about society news and cultural life in Hungary, too, mainly presented as curiosities. A dispatch about an “imperial ball” in Budapest was part of the news concerned with the ever intriguing court life of the monarchies.59 Similarly, matrimonial and other events in the royal (imperial) family were occasionally reported by the paper.60 An interesting feature article appeared once about “Hungary’s picturesque pavilion at Paris.” Written by Emily Crawford, “the most famous of women correspondents”, it described the Hungarian pavilion (a castle) at the World Exposition of 1900, with a reference to the history and culture of the nation:

In the Hungarian Castle one saw Magyardom supreme. There was no trace of “Imperial” Austria. Everything was “Royal”, and Francis Joseph figured in sculpture as “King of Hungary”, and what is more, as a figure-head king… If a small minority, they are great landholders. They force their language down the throats of Germans, Slavs and Roumanians. It is a language unconnected with every other in Europe, and a bar to European intercourse and sympathy… The castle Gothic chapel was copied from the Abbey of Jaak. Its portal was a marvel of style. The halls and facade, looking on the Seine, and the Hussar’s Gallery were borrowed from the Castle of Szepes-Csütörtökhely… I looked in vain for traces of the late Empress of Austria. She did not care for her Austrian title, but was proud of being Queen of Hungary. The Hungarian horsiness appealed to her. Elizabeth was a centauress… The collection of the Transylvania section is the most interesting as showing race capacity. It is rich in plate dating from an early period… The women were also from an early period skilled embroiderers…61

Reports about high society and the art world included accounts of the life and activities of famous musicians and theatrical personalities. The World once proudly featured a portrait and a story with the headline: “Jóska Szigeti Rouses Berlin. Hungarian Violinist Also Wins Special Honor from the King and the Queen of the Belgians.”62 Later that month, The Sunday World printed sensational news about the romance of dramatist Ferenc (Francis) Molnár and star actress Irén Varsányi. “Budapest’s Eyes On These Lovers”, read the headline, accompanied by the portraits and a sketch of the two celebrities. (The playwright later emigrated to the U.S.)

Molnár, who is famous as an actor as well as an author, produced some weeks ago his latest comedy, “The Life Guardsman”, which has been having a most successful run. In it Miss Varsányi was the heroine. At the rehearsals, Molnár fell desperately in love with her and their lovemaking on the stage ripened into real affection. Both might have been “happy ever after” but for entangling alliances. Miss Varsányi is the wife of Elias Szécsi, the manager of a Budapest bank, and has two small children. Her husband is very much in love with her even yet…63

The above random selection of articles about Hungary from The World of the turn of the century shows that the image of this country as presented to the readers was more or less realistic. However, a feeling of doubt and reservation was lurking in the lines suggesting an instability of the political system. This editorial policy was due to Pulitzer’s conviction in the principles of democracy and his disbelief in what he thought to be the reactionary institutions of a monarchy. This kind of a presentation, consequently, may have given readers the impression of a country rich in history and culture, but, for all its revolutionary traditions, not in every respect progressive. One might add to this in retrospect that conditions in Hungary were no more contradictory than the life and work of Joseph Pulitzer himself.


1 Pulitzer’s original role model as a soldier was his mother’s brother, Vilmos (William) Berger.

2 For Pulitzer’s origins, family ties, his relationship with the Hungarians and his native land see András Csillag, Pulitzer József makói származásáról [The Makó Origins of J. Pulitzer] (Makó: A Makói Múzeum Füzetei 46., 1985); A. Csillag, “The Hungarian Origins of Joseph Pulitzer”, in Hungarian Studies, vol. 3, nos.1–2 (1987), pp. 189-206.; A. Csillag, “Joseph Pulitzer’s Roots in Europe: A Genealogical History”, in American Jewish Archives, vol. 39, no. 1 (April 1987), pp. 48-68.; A. Csillag, “Adalékok Pulitzer József családtörténetéhez” [Contributions to J. Pulitzer’s Family History], in Tanulmányok. Tóth Ferenc köszöntése [Studies. Congratulating Ferenc Tóth], ed. Pál Halmágyi (Makó: A Makói Múzeum Füzetei 90., 1998), pp. 95-102.; A. Csillag, Joseph Pulitzer és az amerikai sajtó [J. Pulitzer and American Journalism] (Budapest: Osiris Kiadó, 2000); Ray Reece, “Joseph Pulitzer, a Hungarian Revolutionary in America”, The Budapest Sun, June 17, 2004.

3 Two of Pulitzer’s uncles on his father’s side, Aron and Simon Pulitzer, were enlisted in the National Guard (Nemzetőrség) during the Hungarian revolution of 1848–49.

4 September 19, 1904. The World Papers, Butler Library, Columbia University, New York.

5 J. Pulitzer, “Arbitration, the American Principle” (1896), in The World, May 10, 1903.

6 Alleyne Ireland, An Adventure With a Genius. Recollections of Joseph Pulitzer (New York: Dutton, 1920), p. 170.

7 “Kossuth Is Dead.” The World, March 21, 1894.

8 The World, March 23, 29, 1894.

9 The World, March 21, 24, 1894.; “Kossuth’s Place in History.” The World, April 2, 1894.

10 The World Almanac and Encyclopaedia (New York: The Press Publishing Co., 1895), p. 26.

11 Ireland, pp. 95, 137.

12 Harold Pollard, “Joseph Pulitzer, Founder of The Post-Dispatch”, in St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 9, 1928.

13 Ibid.

14 Bar Harbor, Maine, August 20, 1900. Joseph Pulitzer I. Papers, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

15 Szabadság, July 9, 1913.

16 “The Magyar Meeting.” The World, June 25, 1885.

17 “Munkácsy’s Great Picture as Seen on Exhibition Yesterday.” The World, November 18, 1886.

18 Ibid.

19 Quoted in “Eljen Mihaly Munkacsy. His Countrymen in New York Welcome the Hungarian Painter.” The World, November 24, 1886.

20 Ibid.

21 Ibid.

22 W. Loew to J. Pulitzer. New York, October 14, 1887. The World Papers, Butler Library, Columbia U., N.Y.

23 A letter by the Hungarian Ladies Aid Society to J. Pulitzer. New York, May 28, 1888. Pulitzer Papers, Butler Library, Columbia U., N.Y.

24 “Prince Paul Esterhazy’s Band.” The World, December 7, 1886.

25 The World, March 22, 23, 1894; Géza Kende, Magyarok Amerikában [Hungarians in America] vol. II. (Cleveland: Szabadság, 1927), pp. 100-101.

26 See Kende, vol. II., p. 41.

27 A. Albert to J. Pulitzer. St. Louis, March 7, 1887; Mayor David Francis to J. Pulitzer. St. Louis, April 24, 1887. Pulitzer Papers, Butler Library, Columbia U., N.Y.

28 Gyula Szávay, Túl a tengeren [Over the Sea] (Győr: 1900), p. 281.

29 “Count Széchenyi Led Into Game of Diplomacy.” The World, December 6, 1907.

30 Quoted in Don C. Seitz, Joseph Pulitzer. His Life and Letters. (Garden City, N.Y.: Simon and Schuster, 1924), pp. 433-434.

31 “Baron and Valises in Each Other’s Way.” The World, October 27, 1909.

32 J. Pulitzer by cable to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. September 8, 1904. Pulitzer Papers, Butler Library, Columbia U., N.Y.

33 “Men, Not Things Make America’s Greatness, as Seen by Count Apponyi, Hungarian Prophet of Peace.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 18, 1904.

34 The World, January 8, 1911.

35 The World, February 8, 1911.

36 “Hungary’s Peace Ambassador.” The World, February 19, 1911.

37 Letter to J. Pulitzer signed by Morris Cukor, Zoltán Kuthy, I. H. Rosenfeld. New York, November 18, 1905. Pulitzer Papers, Butler Library, Columbia U., N.Y.

38 “A Hungarian’s Tribute.” The World, November 1, 1911.

39 Szabadság, July 9, 1913.

40 One good example of this is the January 8, 1911 issue of The World, when there were three different Hungarian-related articles plus a picture featured on one single page of the paper: “Jóska Szigeti Rouses Berlin” (illustrated); “Széchenyis in High Finance in Budapest”; “Count Albert Apponyi To Arrive Next Month”.

41 The World, August 28, 1883.

42 “Hungary’s Inquisition. Count D’Esterhazy on the Antisemitic Agitation.” The World, September 7, 1883. (As mentioned earlier, two of Pulitzer’s uncles also served in the National Guard.)

43 Quoted in “Cross-Eyed History.” The World, January 8, 1885.

44 Ibid.

45 “Austria Against Russia. The Hungarian Parliament Informed of Austria’s Policy.” The World, October 1, 1886; “Tisza’s Warlike Speech. Austrian Interests in the Balkans To Be Defended with the Sword.” The World, November 5, 1886.

46 The World, October 8, 1908.

47 The World, October 10, 1908.

48 “The Melting-Pot of Races.” The World, October 11, 1908.

49 “Austria, the Problem.” The World, December 2, 1908.

50 The World, June 19, 1898.

51 The World, December 10, 11, 1898.

52 J. Pulitzer’s cable to editor John Heaton. Bar Harbor, Maine, September 1905. The World Papers, Butler Library, Columbia U., N.Y.

53 “Hungary Ripe For Revolution, It Is Asserted.” The World, October 2, 1905.

54 “The Hungarian Crisis.” The World, October 4, 1905.

55 “Count Andrássy Says No Armed Revolution.” The World, October 15, 1905.

56 J. Pulitzer to The World editorial office. November 1905. The World Papers, Butler Library, Columbia U., N.Y.

57 “Sixty Years of Law and Liberty in Europe.” The World, December 3, 1905.

58 “Count Apponyi Discusses World Political Movements.” The World, February 19, 1911.

59 The World, January 28, 1885.

60 “Proud Prince to Wed Plebeian.” The World, February 26, 1911.

61 “Emily Crawford Describes for The World Hungary’s Picturesque Pavilion at Paris.” The World, May 13, 1900.

62 The World, January 8, 1911.

63 The World, January 29, 1911.

Works cited

  • Csillag, András. “Joseph Pulitzer’s Roots in Europe: A Genealogical History”. American Jewish Archives. 39.1 (1987): 48-68.
  • Ireland, Alleyne. An Adventure With a Genius. Recollections of Joseph Pulitzer. New York: Dutton, 1920.
  • Kende, Géza. Magyarok Amerikában. Vols. I-II. Cleveland: 1927.
  • Pollard, Harold. “Joseph Pulitzer, Founder of The Post-Dispatch”. St. Louis Post-Dispatch 9 December 1928.
  • Pulitzer, Joseph. “Arbitration the American Principle” (1896) The World 10 May 1903.
  • Seitz, Don C. Joseph Pulitzer. His Life and Letters. Garden City, N.Y.: Simon and Schuster, 1924.
  • Szávay, Gyula. Túl a tengeren. Győr: 1900.