Alexander John Cuza
Alexandru Ioan Cuza
(March 20 1820
- May 15 1873
was the ruler (1859-1866) of the United Principalites of Romania
Cuza belonged to the traditional noble (boiar) class, the Orthodox Christian Romanian upper class that had come into control of the local governments of Wallachia and Moldavia, and retained traditional control of the country's land, the only key to pre-industrial wealth. Cuza received an urbane European education. In the year of European revolutions, 1848, Moldavia and Wallachia rose up too. In Moldavia the unrest was quickly suppressed, but in Wallachia the idealistic revolutionaries actually governed during the summer. Young Cuza played a prominent enough part to establish his liberal credentials and to be shipped to Vienna as a prisoner, where he soon made his escape.
Afterwards however, following a brief career in the Moldavian army, he became minister of war in 1858, and represented Galatz in the assembly at Iasi, acting under the guarantee of the European Powers in the wake of the Crimean war to nominate a prince for Moldavia. Cuza was a prominent speaker in the debates and strongly advocated the union of the two Danubian principalities, Moldavia and Walachia. In default of a foreign prince, he was himself elected prince of Moldavia (Moldova) on January 5, 1859 (January 17, Gregorian) and of Wallachia (Ţara Românească) on January 24, 1859 (February 5, Gregorian). Thus Colonel A. I. Cuza achieved a de facto union of the two Romanian principalites. The Powers backtracked, Napoleon III remaining supportive, while the reactionary Austro-Hungarian ministry witheld approval of such a union at the Congress of Paris, (October 18, 1858); partly as a consequence Cuza's authority was not recognized by his nominal suzerain, the sultan of Turkey, until the 23rd of December 1861. The Union was formally declared three years later, on January 24/February 5 1862, the new country bearing the name of Romania, with Bucharest as its capital city.
Cuza was not a diplomatic politician, let alone a prince, but he knew how to choose progressive ministers and had an intelligent ear for advice. Immediately he gained the sultan's assent to a single unified parliament and cabinet for his lifetime, in recognition of the complexity of the task. Thus he was the political embodiment of a unified Romania, for his lifetime.
Assisted by his councilor Mihail Kogălniceanu, an intellectual leader of the 1848 revolution, Cuza initiated a series of reforms that contributed to the modernization of Romanian society and of state structures, including:
- The law of monastery estates, secularizing monastic assets (1863).Probably more than a quarter of Romania's farmland was controlled by untaxed Greek Orthodox "Dedicated Monasteries." which supported Greek monks in shrines like Mount Athos and Jerusalem but were a substantial drain on state revenues. Cuza got his parliament's backing to expropriate these lands, with the backing of the parliament. He offered compensation to the Greek Orthodox Church, but the Patriarch refused to negotiate. This was a mistake: after several years, the Romanian government withdrew its offer and no compensation was ever paid. State revenues thereby increased without adding any domestic tax burden.
- The Agrarian Reform, liberating peasants from the last feudal duties, freeing their movements and redistributing some land (1864). This was less successful. In attempting to create a solid support base among the peasants, Cuza soon found himself in conflict with conservative boyars. A Liberal bill granting peasants title to the land they worked was defeated. Then Conservatives responded with a bill that ended all peasant dues and responsibilities, but gave landlords title to all the land. Cuza vetoed it, then held a plebiscite to alter the constitution, in the manner of Napoleon III. His plan to establish universal male suffrage, together with the power of the prince to rule by decree, passed by a vote of 682,621 to 1,307. With his new plenary powers, Cuza then promulgated the Agrarian Law of 1863. Peasants received title to the land they worked, while landlords retained ownership of one third. Where there was not enough land available to create workable farms under this formula, state lands (from the confiscated monasteries) would be used to give the boiars compensation. Peasants were not satisfied with the distrubution, and landlords managed to keep the best land; they used the compensation fund as investment capital and the boiar class emerged with new wealth from capitalist agriculture.
- The Criminal Code and the Civil Code (1864)
- The Education law, establishing tuition-free but compulsory public education (1864)
- The founding of the Universities in Iaşi (1860) and Bucharest (1864).
- Development of a modern, Europeanized army for Romania, under a working relationship with France.
The drastic reforms which he imposed to bring Romania fully into the 19th century impinged upon all classes and alienated his more influential subjects. Cuza failed in his effort to create an alliance of prosperous peasants and a strong Liberal prince, ruling as a benevolent despot in the style of Napoleon III. Financial distress supervened, there was an awkward scandal that revolved around his mistress, and popular discontent culminated in revolution. Cuza was forced to abdicate by the so-called Monstrous coalition
of Conservatives and radical Liberals. At four o'clock on the morning of February 22, 1866, a band of military conspirators broke into the palace, and compelled the prince to sign his abdication. On the following day they conducted him safely across the frontier.
His successor Prince Charles of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen was proclaimed king as Charles I of Romania on March 26, 1866. Ironically, a foreign prince with ties to an important house, legitimizing Romanian independence, had been one of the Libreal aims in the revolution of 1848.
Prince Alexander spent the remainder of his life as an exile, chiefly in Paris, Vienna and Wiesbaden. He died at Heidelberg May 15, 1873.\n