The state of Iowa has exactly one hundred counties, a nice, neat number that lends itself to memory. One of these one hundred counties is easy to remember if you are a Hungarian history buff. Several years ago, I was looking at a map of Iowa when I noticed Kossuth County. This immediately caught my attention. Of course, this was because the county name was the same as that of the famous Hungarian statesman and leader of the 1848 revolution, Lajos Kossuth. Immediately I knew that the county must have taken its name from him. The question was why? Either a bunch of Hungarian emigres had settled in the middle of Iowa or people in Iowa had heard about Kossuth’s democratic credentials and decided to honor him. The latter turned out to be true.
Famously Unknown – Remains Of A Name
In 1851 Kossuth County was officially formed. It was named in honor of the Hungarian patriot who had led the country during the Hungarian Revolution and then been forced into exile. In 1851-52 Kossuth toured the United States, including the American Midwest as a fighter for freedom and democratic values. This made him a revered figure in places where he otherwise would have been all but unknown. An outbreak of “Kossuth fever” spread across the United States. With his soaring oratorical skills Kossuth managed to make a name for himself in many American communities, especially those with large European immigrant populations. Many years later the lineage behind the county’s name was forgotten. The original inhabitants who had helped form Kossuth County died off. Those who came after them gave little thought to the cause of Hungary or for that matter, a politician who never saw his ideals come to fruition.
A few months after discovering Kossuth County on the map, I considered taking a trip to visit it. Before deciding whether to travel there, which would have required a six hour round trip drive from where I was then living in eastern South Dakota, I decided to call the Kossuth County Historical Museum in Algona, Iowa. I wanted to inquire about what, if anything, they had in the way of exhibits on Lajos Kossuth. A friendly female voice answered the phone. I proceeded to ask her if there were any Kossuth themed exhibits or artifacts in the museum. She replied that “we always knew the county was named for a famous Hungarian, but that is about it.” Our ensuing conversation, in which she communicated that they had nothing in the museum about Kossuth, dissuaded me from a potential visit. I soon forgot about Kossuth County, Iowa. At least until a couple of weeks ago when I was driving through the northern extremity of Mississippi.
Magyar In Mississippi – The New Hope
I was with my wife and mother on a trip to the Civil War battlefield of Shiloh in southern Tennessee. The quickest route to drive there from Memphis was to dip down into Mississippi along US Route 72, head eastward toward the city of Corinth and then turn north on another highway. The weather was poor that day, with intermittent rain showers falling from a gloomy sky. At times the rain degraded visibility to the point that I had to concentrate more than normal for safe driving. About five miles east of Corinth, I spotted one of those green signs denoting an upcoming turnoff for a nearby town. On the sign was a single word, Kossuth. I did a double take, then quickly pointed it out to my wife. We both agreed that taking a picture despite the inclement weather would be a good idea. Soon we were doing a U-turn followed by another U-turn, pulling over by the roadside and taking photos. I was zealous enough to chance my life by walking along the roadside to get in position for the best possible photo. Then I snapped several pictures. Our time was limited so we decided not to take the ten-minute detour to Kossuth. Instead, we satisfied ourselves by later doing research on the history of the town’s name.
The town of Kossuth, Mississippi was founded in the 1840’s. It was originally named “New Hope”. In 1852, the town’s named was changed to honor the Hungarian patriot Kossuth. It has kept that name ever since, giving it a quixotic claim to fame. This is about the only thing memorable about a place that is home to only 209 inhabitants. I doubt anyone in the town has given much thought to Kossuth, but perhaps one day they will rediscover him. Kossuth in America has quite a naming niche that spans several states. There are other towns named for Kossuth in Ohio, Wisconsin and Indiana. There is an entire Historic District in Dayton, Ohio that also bears his name. While Lajos Kossuth may seem like an unknown or at best an extremely obscure historical figure to Americans, that was not the case in the 1850’s.
The Great Orator – Something To Talk About
In 1851 the United States Congress authorized Kossuth to enter America. Ironically, he was transported to American shores by the U.S.S. Mississippi. Massive crowds gathered to greet him upon arrival in New York City. He was seen by many as a latter-day George Washington type figure, fighting to advance the cause of freedom and liberty. From New York he went on to Washington, D.C. In the nation’s capitol he became just the second foreigner to ever address a joint session of Congress. (A bust of Kossuth can be still found in the Capitol today) Kossuth then proceeded to go on a speaking tour of New England, the South and Midwestern regions of the United States. He hoped to garner support for the cause of a democratic Hungary that would break off the shackles of Austrian rule.
His efforts soon went awry after he started making his opinions known on American politics. Officials began to see Kossuth as a threat. He failed to denounce slavery and supported the pro-slavery presidential candidate Franklin Pierce. By the end of his speaking tour, the warm welcome had grown cold. He was soon traveling back across the Atlantic Ocean to England. He would never set foot again on American soil. Today, his legacy in America consists of a few town names scattered across the interior parts of the United States. The people who live in these communities say the name Kossuth hundreds of time each day. Unfortunately, few of them have little idea who he was or what he stood for. Such are the vagaries of history.