The Reagan Speech Preservation Society

Martin Koszta

Modified: Friday, 25 September 2020 08:23 by admin - Uncategorized
Martin Kostza was a Hungarian-born political dissident who had worked in a movement to separate Hungary from the Austro-Hungary empire. As the movement fell apart, he fled to America and began the process to become an American citizen (and renounce citizenship to any other country). He became a trader and, while in Turkey in 1853, was captured by Austrians and held on one of their ships.

He was eventually released and the incident showed a dedication, on the part of the American government, to its citizens, even if a person hasn't quite finished the process of becoming a citizen.

Martin Koszta


Speech Relevance

Reagan tells the story in his first CPAC speech, 'A City Upon a Hill' to illustrate the government's highest ideals on display.

Reagan would also tell the story during one of his Radio Commentaries (then called "Viewpoints") in 1975. It was entitled "London #2".

In the meantime, men who yearned to breathe free were making their way to our shores. Among them was a young refugee from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He had been a leader in an attempt to free Hungary from Austrian rule. The attempt had failed and he fled to escape execution. In America, this young Hungarian, Koszta by name, became an importer by trade and took out his first citizenship papers. One day, business took him to a Mediterranean port. There was a large Austrian warship under the command of an admiral in the harbor. He had a manservant with him. He had described to this manservant what the flag of his new country looked like. Word was passed to the Austrian warship that this revolutionary was there and in the night he was kidnapped and taken aboard that large ship. This man's servant, desperate, walking up and down the harbor, suddenly spied a flag that resembled the description he had heard. It was a small American war sloop. He went aboard and told Captain Ingraham, of that war sloop, his story. Captain Ingraham went to the American Consul. When the American Consul learned that Koszta had only taken out his first citizenship papers, the consul washed his hands of the incident. Captain Ingraham said, "I am the senior officer in this port and I believe, under my oath of my office, that I owe this man the protection of our flag."

He went aboard the Austrian warship and demanded to see their prisoner, our citizen. The Admiral was amused, but they brought the man on deck. He was in chains and had been badly beaten. Captain Ingraham said, "I can hear him better without those chains," and the chains were removed. He walked over and said to Koszta, "I will ask you one question; consider your answer carefully. Do you ask the protection of the American flag?" Koszta nodded dumbly, "Yes," and the Captain said, "You shall have it." He went back and told the frightened consul what he had done. Later in the day three more Austrian ships sailed into harbor. It looked as though the four were getting ready to leave. Captain Ingraham sent a junior officer over to the Austrian flag ship to tell the Admiral that any attempt to leave that harbor with our citizen aboard would be resisted with appropriate force. He said that he would expect a satisfactory answer by four o'clock that afternoon. As the hour neared they looked at each other through the glasses. As it struck four he had them roll the cannons into the ports and had them light the tapers with which they would set off the cannons — one little sloop. Suddenly the lookout tower called out and said, "They are lowering a boat," and they rowed Koszta over to the little American ship.

Captain Ingraham then went below and wrote his letter of resignation to the United States Navy. In it he said, "I did what I thought my oath of office required, but if I have embarrassed my country in any way, I resign." His resignation was refused in the United States Senate with these words: "This battle that was never fought may turn out to be the most important battle in our Nation's history." Incidentally, there is to this day, and I hope there always will be, a USS Ingraham in the United States Navy.

I did not tell that story out of any desire to be narrowly chauvinistic or to glorify aggressive militarism, but it is an example of government meeting its highest responsibility.

Koszta was actually placed in the custody of the French while America and the Austria-Hungarian Empire worked out a diplomatic solution.

A 1902 history book (link below) provides the following quote in relation to the incident, but provides no attribution, "to be an American citizen was a greater honor than to be a king."


Source Links

Koszta Affair (Wikisource)

A History of the United States, published 1902 (Google Books)

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