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Klemens Eckhel was a controversial general and politician in the Danubian Federation. Best known for his participation in the 1854-1856 National Emergency Committee, historians have classified him both as a savior and a destroyer of the Federation's fragile democratic systems.
Klemens was born in January, 1819, to Johann and Anna Eckhel. Due to Johann's prosperous shoemaking business, Klemens could afford a relatively prestigious education in Vienna. Little else is known about his early life until his entrance into military service in 1840.
As a commoner in the Austrian cavalry, Klemens served with relative obscurity until the revolutions in 1848. Due to a lack of qualified nobility and a pressing need for new officers, the military began promoting promising commoner officers far beyond their usual expectations. Klemens became a dragoon commander in July, 1848, during the campaigns against the rebelling Hungarian armies.
Klemens proved himself to be a competent, if ruthless, officer. However, his time in the Austrian military was soon to end. As the Hungarian advance was turned back, several Austrian armies were recalled to Vienna to quell the growing dissent in the Hapsburg's capital - Klemens' among them.
Joining the Revolution
Faced with the prospect of firing on civilians in his own home town, Klemens surrendered to revolutionaries without a fight. He attempted to abandon military responsibility entirely, but local revolutionary leaders saw his defection as an opportunity to boost rebel morale. After several conversations with his captors over the virtues of republican governance and the plight of the workers, Klemens began writing pamphlets and helping train the revolutionary forces. The sight and expertise of an Austrian military officer encouraged revolutionaries in the district, and Klemens was rewarded with a military position in the newly formed Danubian Federation.
Chief of Staff
With a shortage of military officers in the newly formed Federation, the popular Klemens Eckhel was quickly promoted to Chief of the General Staff of the Federal Army. The position would soon prove to be a challanging one as Russia sought to curb the new republic's power by seizing Krakow in August, 1850. As the city had been an ally to the Federation, and even considering statehood, this was seen as an act of war. Federal troops, massed on the Russian border due to earlier tensions with Russia, began to establish defensive positions as the Federation officially declared war on the Russian Empire.
Despite Klemens' preparations, the newly minted Federal armies fell back before the larger Russian armies. Ignoring the slow political workings in Vienna, Klemens issued a call for general mobilization. With these new troops, as well as a Prussian intervention on the Federation's side, Klemens was able to hold the Carpathian line - leaving much of Galicia in Russian hands, but preventing the enemy armies from sweeping through the Hungarian plains into Budapest and Vienna - long enough for Prussian forces to make progress into northern Russia.
With Russian forces diverted to the northern front, Klemens was able to regroup the devastated Federal armies and regain control of Galicia. In 1852, as Federal armies pushed the Russians out of Galicia and Prussian armies continued to gain in the north, the Krakow War ended in the Federation's favor.
A Second Revolution
After the Codrinau administration took power in 1852, Klemens was relieved of his position as Chief of Staff in order to command the Republican Guard - the army ostensibly organized to defend Vienna and the Congress of the Danube. Continually understaffed, his army was soon thrown into a new war as the Federation declared war on the Ottoman sultans.
While the "Forgotten War", as it was sometimes called, proceeded as many had expected - easy victories against the weaker and disorganized Turkish armies - troubles at home would change the fate of the Federation.
What began as a political debate over Slovakian statehood and Hungarian rights in the Federation escalated into violent riots throughout Hungary. Federal armies were ordered to quell the riots, but General Edvard Masaryk refused to fire on his own people - much as Klemens had done in the 1848 revolution. General Masaryk was ordered to turn in his command due to his remarks. Instead, he declared the government illegitimate, and began a march on Vienna.
Growing increasingly worried that the Cordrinau administration was purging political dissidents and crushing popular protest, Klemens Eckhel would reluctantly announce his solidarity with Masaryk's rebellion two days later. With the Republican National Guard joining the coup along with many other disgruntled military officers, the government collapsed and the military took control of the Federation.
The generals declared that the Cordrinau administration and its supporters had formed a corrupt and anti-democratic political machine that controlled politics. Their stated intention was to restore order to the Federation and return to a freer democracy after the last of this corruption had been rooted out.
As well as being a Marshal and a General of the Republican National Guard (still continually undermanned), Klemens was given the position of Foreign Minister of the Federation. His first acts included a diplomatic mission to the major European powers, assuring them of the Federation's stability and continued alliances.
Meanwhile, the Federation struggled to meet Klemens' promises. The secessionist revolt of Hungary - encouraged by the chaos following the coup's declaration - together with the war in the orient stretched the federal armies thin. Internal dissent and opportunism also created headaches for the new leaders of the Federation. Klemens was known to decry the infernally corrupt bickering of politics and bureacracy, and grew to detest his job - preferring the simplicity of military service.
It was with these simple tactics that he faced his next challange. Since the formation of the Federation, the state of Venice had created controversy with expansionist land claims and the autocratic (if carefully democratic enough to avoid censure) rule of the Doge and his supporters. After Venetian meddling in the Federal territory of Crete, Marshal Eckhel privately wrote to a nephew, "They are like a man pushing a rock up a hill. Over and over riots and political maneuvers keep their power rising. First Dalmatia, now Albania and Crete? But if we can stop them from using their popular pride to push around the Federation, I am confident it will all roll back onto them.". When tensions rose again in Venice, Klemens marched in half of the Republican National Guard - ostensibly to protect the harbor from Turkish attack or rioters. Some say that he made sure to march his cavalry within earshot of the legislature's meeting halls, but this is likely just a myth.
Whatever his tactics, the presence of federal troops maintained peace in Venice as legislative and interstate agreements stripped away much of its former power. Much as Klemens had predicted, it appeared that their gains had rolled back onto Venice, as popular uprisings overthrew the patricians and formed the Republic of San Marco.
Chairman De Sanctis' Committee, and the Return to Democracy
As the National Emergency Committee continued to hold control over the nation, many began to fear that Chairman Masaryk would not return power to a democratically elected president. A minor issue of renaming the Committee (specifically, removing the word "Emergency") sparked a frenzy of concerns that the junta would be permanent. Supported by the legislature and the Chief of Staff, Marshal De Sanctis took over leadership of the Committee - with Chief of Staff Johann Skala promoted to take over Masaryk's position as Marshal - with a promise of new elections within a year. While Marshal Eckhel appears to not have been involved in this bloodless "coup", he and the Republican National Guard tacitly supported it by not intervening. Many historians believe that Klemens, like many others at the time, was suspicious of Chairman Masaryk's actions - or at least trusted De Sanctis more.
Klemens peacefully - even enthusiastically - stepped down to power with the election of Victor Kraus as president in the newly restored elections. For his service in the coup and the return to democracy, Klemens was awarded the Medal of Merit by the president. While Marshals Skala and De Sanctis would later lose their commendations in the monarchist rebellion, Klemens' further support for the Federation would leave him among the few in the Federation to keep such an honor. He returned to commanding the Republican National Guard.
Later Military Service
As the Federation continued to throw itself into wars and revolts, Klemens' life after the NEC was anything but peaceful. He served as a loyalist commander during Kremvara's monarchist revolution, and continued in various leadership and training roles through several more conflicts. He finally retired from the military in June, 1879, and died a year later of influenza.
Klemens Eckhel was well regarded by many of his contemporaries, although his role in the 1852 coup and junta government cast suspicions on his character (or, for many, his intelligence - some saw him as a pawn of the Chairmen, ideologically pure but easily fooled) and support of democracy.
Historians debate whether his actions truly supported the Federation, as he claimed. His coup declarations protested - as General Masaryk had done - the shedding of the blood of citizens, the use of armies to fight protestors, and the mismanagement of political crises. The coup - and the war with Hungary, Klemens' arm wringing of Venice, and other crises among the states - did little to improve on the situation, though. While the Committee did return to democracy, it seems distinctly naive to believe that they eliminated corruption and dirty politics given what happened afterwards. Some historians have even argued that the Committee did not hold power long enough, returning to democracy before the system was ready for it.