Italian Nationalism/Unification

Italian Nationalism
Italian Nationalism
The French Revolution and the Napoleonic Era unleashed forces that engulfed the whole of Europe. Nationalism became a potent force. Although the votaries of counterrevolution made a valiant effort to check the progressive ideas at the Congress of Vienna, Europe was changing fast. The rise of nationalism in Italy and Germany were two major events that dominated European history after 1815.

The ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity from the French Revolution appealed to the people of Italy. The reduction of the number of states into the Kingdom of Italy, Papal States, and the Kingdom of Naples and Sicily, along with introduction of reforms by the Napoleonic regimes between 1796 and 1814 unleashed the forces of nationalism.

Joachim Murat, installed by his brother-in-law, Napoleon I, as king of Naples and Sicily, even conceived the idea of the Union of Italy in 1815 before Napoleon’s defeat. The provisions of the Congress of Vienna once again vivisected Italy. The Bourbons were restored in the south in the form of the Kingdom of Two Sicilies. The Papal States once again ruled over central Italy.

Austria dominated Italy by possessing Lombardy Venetia and having close Habsburg ties with monarchs of various Italian states. Only the northwestern part of Italy, the kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia, was free from foreign control. The smaller states included the Grand Duchies of Tuscany, Parma, and Modena, where the ruling houses had close ties with the Habsburgs.

Italian nationalism was nurtured at first with a streak of romanticism. Italian authors, particularly Alessandro Manzoni, contributed a great deal toward fostering Italian nationalism. After 1796 the Freemasons advocated for a united Italy. Apart from a common hatred of the Austrians, the political and economic advantages at the time of unified administration under Napoleon contributed to the rise of nationalism among Italians.

From 1810 onward, the secret societies that had sprung up in Italy against Napoleonic rule diverted their attention toward the new regimes after the Congress of Vienna. The carbonari (literally, “charcoal burners”) members, numbering about 50,000, pledged to revolt, signing their names in blood. They had a common goal of national independence and freedom from foreign domination.

The Kingdom of Two Sicilies, ruled by King Ferdinand I, felt the onslaught of a cabonari army led by General Guglielmo Pepe in July 1820. Pepe, a distinguished military officer, had joined the carbonari revolution. A liberal constitution was created, but the following year the revolution was crushed by the Austrians.

The constitution was scrapped, and revolutionaries were arrested. Pepe went into exile for 20 years. The insurrection in Piedmont-Sardinia led by a group of army officers under the leadership of Santorre di Santarosa in March 1821 also was short-lived.

King Victor Emanuel I abdicated in favor of his brother, and the new king, Charles Felix, sought Austrian help to crush the revolt. Santarosa, who had become the minister of war at the time of the uprising, went into exile in France after the failure of the revolution.

The July Revolution of 1830 that swept over France had its impact in Italy, where a series of insurrections took place. Francis IV, duke of Modena, with a plan to extend his dominion, had declared that he would not oppose the rebellions. The French monarch, Louis-Philippe, also promised that he would oppose an Austrian intervention.

Encouraged by this, the carbonari revolutionaries began to rise in rebellion in northern and southern Italy. The duchies of Parma and Modena, along with a sizable part of the Papal States, came under their control. A program of Province Italian Unite was proclaimed.

But like the earlier insurrection of 1820s, carbonari attempts failed due to Austrian intervention. Louis-Philippe did not come to their aid after an Austrian warning against French intervention. By the spring of 1831 the resistance movement was crushed.

The Risorgimento in Italy would be dominated by three important nationalists, who had separate ideology and strategy, but had the common goal of achieving Italian unification. Giuseppe Mazzini was a political theorist; Giuseppe Garibaldi was a soldier; and Count Camillo Benso di Cavour was a politician.

Mazzini joined the carbonari movement in 1827, but was imprisoned in Savona in 1830. After his release, he appealed to the new king, Charles Albert of Piedmont-Sardinia, to liberate the Italian states from Austrian domination. Although he had joined the carbonari as it was developing awareness among Italians, Mazzini was moving away from it.

As an exile in the French city of Marseille, Mazzini set up Giovine Italia (Young Italy) in 1831 for Italian unification. He believed in the power of youth and membership was restricted to persons under the age of 40. By 1833, membership grew to 60,000 people. Mazzini was avowedly anti-royalist and was in favor of a republican form of government.

Within his agenda, social reforms played an important part. His vision of a democratic and republican Italy also extended beyond the borders of Italy. The Young Italy movement spread, giving rise to Young Poland, Young Germany, and other organizations that were merged into a revolutionary organization called Young Europe in 1834.

Raising an Insurrection

With his political credo of liberty and equality, Mazzini believed in a mass movement to end the dominance of Austria and drive out the ruling houses from the different kingdoms of Italy. In 1832 his attempt to raise an insurrection in a Sardinian army failed, and he was awarded a death sentence in absentia.

Expelled from France, he lived in Switzerland and made another abortive attempt in 1834 against Sardinia. After three years, he migrated to London and made the city his base to carry out revolutionary activities. He had become a cult figure and a prophet of European nationalism.

Apart from Mazzini’s, another group, called the Neo-Guelfs, was working toward an emancipated Italy. Like the Guelfs of the Middle Ages, the Neo-Guelfs engaged the pope to free Italy from the domination of the German emperor. Their leader, Abbe Vincenzo Gioberti, published a 700-page volume entitled Il Primato Morale e Civile Degli Italiani in 1843, in which he outlined federated Italian states under the papacy.

Executive authority would be entrusted to a group of princes. A union of Rome with Turin (the capital of Piedmont) would lead the pope to head the federation of Italian states and the army of Piedmont would defend it.

The new pope, Pius IX, had carried out reforms, raising the hope of liberals. He was highly praised for granting freedom of speech and the press. When the February Revolution engulfed France in 1848, there was a great upsurge of revolutionary activity in Italy.

In the Kingdom of Two Sicilies, King Ferdinand II was forced to grant a liberal constitution with a free press and individual liberty. Piedmont, Tuscany, and Rome also had similar constitutions. In Milan and Venice, the respective capitals of Austrian Lombardy and Venetia, there were revolutionary upsurges.

Proclamation of Italy
Proclamation of Italy

The collapse of Austrian rule in Lombardy and Venetia brought about an upsurge against the Austrians. The economic exploitation of Venetia by Austria fueled the demand for independence. The desire for political change was voiced by all, including manufacturers, bankers, and intellectuals.

The Republic of St. Mark was proclaimed in March 1848 under the leadership of Daniel Manin. The Milanese welcomed Mazzini, returned from exile. Mazzini was soon joined by Garibaldi in Milan.

Garibaldi, the revolutionary hero of Italian unification, had joined the Young Italy group in 1833. He shared the political philosophy of Mazzini to a large extent. He was also sentenced to death in absentia for his participatiion in the abortive rebellion in Piedmont in 1834. He lived as an exile on the American continent and formed the Italian Legion in 1843.

The liberation of Uruguay in 1846 made him a hero. He, along with 60 volunteers, came back to Italy to participate in the struggle for unification and offered assistance to the Milanese.

Both Mazzini and Garibaldi proceeded toward Rome, where the adherents of Young Italy had rebelled in November 1848. Pope Pius IX fled to the Neapolitan zone, where a democratic republic was in place. Mazzini was at the helm of affairs and carried out the administration and social reforms with efficiency.

Triumphant March

It seemed that Italian revolutionaries were on a triumphant march everywhere, and unification was becoming a reality. But it was not to be; the Austrians led a counter-offensive. Charles Albert, the king of Piedmont-Sardinia, had agreed to a constitutional regime and annexed Lombardy along with the duchies of Parma and Modena.

He took command of the Italian forces against the Austrians, but was defeated at the Battle of Custozza in July 1845 and again at the Battle of Novara in March 1849. Albert abdicated in favor of his son Victor Emmanuel II.

The defeat of Albert sealed the fate of Piedmont-Sardinia, Lombardy, Venetia, and likely the whole of Italy. Besieged Venice did not withstand. General Pepe, who had returned from exile, and Manin surrendered to the Austrian army in August 1849. The Republic of St. Mark came to an end.

Meanwhile, an alarmed pope appealed to France for assistance. The new Roman republic was besieged, and Mazzini surrendered on July 3, 1849. A crestfallen Mazzini returned to London, where he attempted republican uprisings (Mantua, 1852, and Milan, 1853). They failed but kept national consciousness burning. The heroic defense of the city made Garibaldi a cult figure in the saga of Italian unification.

Italy almost returned to its pre-1948 status, divided into sovereign principalities, with Austrian domination intact. The revolutionary phase of unification was over. It was left to the cautious diplomacy of Cavour, the prime minister of Piedmont-Sardinia, to achieve the task. The kingdom took leadership, had a constitution, and elected a parliament.

Cavour began publishing the newspaper Il Risorgimento in 1847, and it became the mouthpiece of movement toward Italian unification. He entered parliament in 1848–49 and subsequently became the premier of Piedmont in 1852. A practitioner of Realpolitik, he cultivated a friendship with Britain and France. He even joined the Crimean War against Russia on the French side.

Cavour persuaded Napoleon III to sign the Pact of Plombières in July 1858. Napoleon III wanted to change some provisions of the Congress of Vienna and desired annexation of Savoy. Piedmont-Sardinia would be enlarged into a North Italian Kingdom. Austria was defeated in the two battles of Magenta and Solferino in June 1859.

Napoleon III was alarmed when Prussia threatened to help Austria. He met with Franz Josef, and the compromise formula of Villafranca in July 1859 allowed only the annexation of Lombardy but not Venetia with Piedmont.

Popular uprisings in northern and central Italy resulted in the merger of Parma, Modena, Tuscany, and Romagna with Piedmont after a plebiscite in March 1860. Garibaldi landed with his 1,000 Red Shirts and brought Sicily and Naples under his control. Afterward the two states voted to join Piedmont.

The troops from Piedmont vanquished the Papal States, except for Rome. In March 1861 the Italian parliament proclaimed the Kingdom of Italy. Only Venice and Rome were outside the orbit of unified Italy. In the Austro-Prussian War of 1866, Italy sided with Prussia and received Venice. Rome voted to merge with Italy in October 1870 after the Franco-Prussian War.

The city had been abandoned by Napoleon III, and Italian troops easily marched in. It became the capital of Italy in July 1871. Thus the unification of Italy was almost complete. Italian nationalists had not regained possession of Trieste and Trent, and Italy joined World War I, mainly to obtain them.