Nationalism: state-building in Italy (Part 2)
1848 revolutions in the Italian states
Problems of the Peasantry
- As is often the case during historic revolutions, the hunger and poverty of the lower classes in Italy of 1848 served as the central spark of revolution. Due to very meager seasonal harvests in 1846 and 1847, poor Italians faced hunger paired with dramatically inflated food prices, causing many demonstrations. Meanwhile, the peasants lost long-held communal land to the wealthy, conservative ruling class and industrial workers struggled with lay-offs as a result of over-production.
- These factors led to still more riots and protests in both rural and industrial areas across the country.
Reforms movements by Pope Pius IX
- On June 16, 1846 Pope Pius IX was chosen to the papacy as. He was considered a liberal and aroused the hopes of political liberals and of the poor both in the Papal States and throughout Italy. He began numerous political and economic reforms. Most dramatically he immediately pardoned hundreds of political prisoners, creating a sensation. He created a Council of State in order to share his power, as well as a municipal council for Rome and a Citizens’ Guard so that the middle class would be armed and support his regime.
- These projects raised high hopes for greater popular influence in the papal government and for Italian unification. Metternich became uneasy and sought to coerce the Pope by occupying Ferrara with Austrian troops. This evoked strong protests from Pope and caused a wave of furious indignation to sweep all over Italy.
- Democratic enticement, mingled with a strong anti-Austrian feeling, surged all over Italy in 1847. Next year was year of revolutions in Europe and it also broke out in Italy.
Revolt in Sicily and Naples
- After witnessing the liberal friendly events that were occurring in Rome, the people of other states started to demand similar treatment. In Sicily the people began to demand a Provisional Government, separate from the government of the mainland. King Ferdinand II tried to resist these changes, however a full-fledged revolt erupted in Sicily, a revolt also erupted in Salerno and Naples. These revolts drove Ferdinand and his men out of Sicily, and forced him to allow a provisional government to be constituted.
- In Sicily the revolt resulted in the proclamation of the Kingdom of Sicily with Ruggero Settimo as Chairman of the independent state until 1849 when the Bourbon army took back full control of the island on 15 May 1849 by force.
Spread of Revolt in other parts of Italy
- Notwithstanding the events in Rome and Naples, the states still were under a conservative rule. Italians in Lombardo-Veneto could not enjoy these freedoms. The Austrian Empire of this region had tightened their grip on the people by further oppressing them with harsher taxes. The revolutionary disturbances began with a civil disobedience strike in Lombardy, as citizens stopped smoking and playing the lottery, which denied Austria the associated tax revenue.
- In February 1848, there were revolts in Tuscany that were relatively nonviolent, after which Grand Duke Leopold II granted the Tuscans a constitution. A breakaway republican provisional government formed in Tuscany during February shortly after this concession.
- On 21 February, Pope Pius IX granted a constitution to the Papal States, which was both unexpected and surprising considering the historical recalcitrance of the Papacy.
- By the time the revolution in Paris occurred, all states of Italy had constitutions except Austrian dominion. So far the movement was a democratic one with temporary success in form of constitutional governments.
The revolt develops into a struggle for Italian liberation
- Democratic movement developed into struggle for national independence.
- Meanwhile, in Lombardy, tensions increased until the Milanese and Venetians rose in revolt on 18 March 1848. The insurrection in Milan succeeded in expelling the Austrian garrison after five days of street fights.
- Meanwhile, the Italian insurgents were encouraged when news of Metternich abdicating in Vienna and revolution in Paris spread out. Also, by this time Charles Albert of Piedmont had published a liberal constitution for Piedmont.
- Cavour (young editor) wrote a stirring appeal to Charles Albert of Sardinia- Piedmont for war against Austria.
Charles Albert leads national war against Austria and his deefeat
- Soon, Charles Albert, the King of Sardinia (who ruled Piedmont and Savoy), urged by the Venetians and Milanese to aid their cause, decided this was the moment to unify Italy and declared war on Austria (First Italian Independence War).
- While journeying to the fortress preparing for the attack, Charles garnered the support of princes of other states. His fellow princes responded by sending reinforcements to his aid: Leopold II, Grand Duke of Tuscany sent 8,000, Pope Pius contributed 10,000, and Ferdinand II sent 16,050 men on the advice of general Guglielmo Pepe. (they did so under public pressure)
- After initial successes at Goito and Peschiera, he was decisively defeated by Radetzky at the Battle of Custoza on 24 July. An armistice was agreed to, and Radetzky regained control of all of Lombardy-Venetia.
- At that point, Pope Pius IX became nervous about defeating the Austrian empire and withdrew his troops, citing that he could not endorse a war between two Catholic nations. King Ferdinand of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies also called his soldiers back and retired his troops.
- The monarchs who had reluctantly agreed to constitutions in March came into conflict with their constitutional ministers.
- Despite the fact that Pius had abandoned the war against the Austrians, many of his people had still fought alongside Charles Albert. The people of Rome rebelled against Pius’ government and assassinated Rossi, Pius’ minister. the republics had the upper hand (due to defeat of Italy royals, people turned to republican like Mazzini ad Garibaldi), forcing the monarchs to flee their capitals, including Pope Pius IX. Pope Pius IX then fled to the fortress of Gaeta, under the protection of King Ferdinand II. In February 1849, he was joined by Leopold II, Grand Duke of Tuscany who had to flee from there because of another insurrection.
- Piedmont was also lost to the Austrians in 1849 and Charles Albert abdicated in favor of his son Victor Emmanuel II, and a peace treaty was signed on August 6, 1849 and Piedmont-Sardinia was forced to pay an indemnity of 65 million francs to Austria.
Republican movement in Rome
- Initially, Pius IX had been something of a reformer, but conflicts with the revolutionaries soured him on the idea of constitutional government. In November 1848, following the assassination of his Minister Rossi, Pius IX fled just before Giuseppe Garibaldi and other patriots arrived in Rome.
- In early 1849, elections were held for a Constituent Assembly, which proclaimed a Roman Republic on 9 February. In early March 1849, Giuseppe Mazzini arrived in Rome and was appointed Chief Minister.
- The Republic succeeded in inspiring the people to build an independent Italian nation. In the Constitution of the Roman Republic, religious freedom was guaranteed, the death penalty was abolished, and free public education was provided. It also attempted to improve economically the lives of the underserved by giving some of the Church’s large landholdings and giving it to poor peasants. It also made prison and insane asylum reforms, gave freedom to the press, provided secular education, but shied away from the “Right to Work”, having seen this fail in France. Thus Giuseppe Garibaldi and Giuseppe Mazzini tried to build a “Rome of the People”.
- Tuscany followed Rome’s example and set up a republic.
Fall of Roman Republic
- Runaway price inflation doomed the economy of the Republic. In addition sending troops to defend the Piedmont from Austrian forces put Rome at risk of attack from Austria. However, Pope Pius appealed to Napoleon III for help. The French President saw this as an opportunity to gain Catholic support. Also it would conciliate public opinion which did not like that Austria alone should control the situation in Italy.
- The French army arrived by sea under the command of general Charles Oudinot, and, despite an early loss to Garibaldi, the French, with the help of the Austrians, eventually defeated the Roman Republic. On July 12, 1849 Pope Pius IX was escorted back into town and ruled under French protection until 1870. Thus at one stroke, Louis Napoleon III strengthened his position at home and figured as the champion of the Catholic religion.
Collapse of the struggle
- Thus premature struggle for Italian independence collapsed. Austria regained her position in Lombardy and Venetia.
- Absolutism was restored in all the states except Piedmont where Victor Emanuel II remained loyal to the Constitution which his father had granted.
Why did the 1848 revolutions in Italy fail?
Confusion of aims
- Mazzini for Republic, Geobetri for a federation of states under presidency of pope and other for union of Italy under House of Savoy i.e. under King of Piedmont.
- The nationalists were divided in their aims; the removal of Austria being the only thing they could agree on. Issues were usually localised and there was lack of co-operation between revolutionary groups, for example in Piedmont where Charles Albert would only accept volunteers from other states or groups if they declared their loyalty to him first. This lack of organisation and unity made it easy for leaders such as King Ferdinand to suppress the risings in areas such as Naples and Sicily. In the case of Sicily their aims were so different that they weren’t even concerned with national unity. Sicily aimed to break away from Naples making themselves independent instead of unified. Whilst the states were not willing to co-operate and had such varying aims failure in the revolutions was inevitable.
Lack of coordination of efforts
- Lack of sound leadership (Mazzini could inspire, Garibaldi could fight but neither of them had sound statesmanship which could utilise the forces of the time to its advantage)
- With no real leadership to follow it was almost impossible for the nationalists to give a united front and defeat the Austrians, leading to failure of the revolutions. Of the three possible leaders for the revolutions; Pope Pius IX, Mazzini and Charles Albert, none was universally acceptable. Charles Albert was defeated twice by Austrian troops and therefore became a very weak potential leader. By issuing his allocution the Pope subsequently separated himself entirely from the nationalist movement, eliminating himself from being a possible ruler. Mazzini acted as leader of the Roman Republic for 100 days after the Pope fled and urged states to work together to end Austrian rule until he was crushed by the French troops which the Pope demanded.
Austrian and French intervention
- One of the largest problems Italian revolutionaries faced was Austria’s strong military power. Austrian intervention led not only to revolts continuously being crushed but also to the absolutist rule being restored by reinstating previous rulers. Initially, Austria was weakened by revolutions in areas such as Vienna, as well as Metternich’s resignation on 13th March 1848. This gave hope to many Italian revolutionaries and encouraged Charles Albert, king of Piedmont, to declare war on Austria. This had never been done before and gave hope of defeat against Austria. Although things initially looked good for Piedmont the Austrians soon recovered and crushed the revolt, defeating Charles Albert in the battle of Custoza on 24th July 1848 led by Radetzky. Piedmont was Italy’s strongest state and the fact that they couldn’t defeat Austria showed a great failure for the revolutionaries. In the Austrian battles with both Piedmont and Venetia (where the Austrians surrendered for a short period of time in March 1848) success didn’t last long for the revolutionaries as Austria ultimately returned and crushed the revolutions using their strong military.
- Austria was not the only foreign military power Italian revolutionaries faced. France used 20,000 troops to restore the papal control in the Papal States after the Pope was forced to flee.
The pope’s refusal to support the revolutions
- The Pope was forced to flee the Papal States after his chief minister Rossi was murdered in November 1848. This was due to the fact that the nationalist movements had become significantly anticlerical since the Pope’s allocution. Pope Pius IX initially appeared liberal due to the reforms he introduced such as 2000 political prisoners, ending press censorship by the church and giving more powers to laymen. This led to nationalists such as Gioberti wishing to use the Pope as a leader for their movement; he also appeared to be anti-Austrian and could stand up to the strong foreign powers Italy faced.
- However, in his allocution issued 29th April 1848 the Pope announced that the war against Austria did not have his blessing and the papacy did not support the idea of a united Italy. Therefore the allocution became significant as it removed any chance of the Pope offering leadership or even support to a unified Italy. This is what caused the Pope to appeal to France to crush the revolts in the Papal States, which further shows the Popes anti-nationalist views, becoming crucial to the failure of the revolutions as nationalists now had no leader and no allies against Austria.
Lack on involvement from the masses
- Another reason the revolutions failed was that they did not have the support of the masses. On the whole, revolutions were only organised by the social elite or radicals. The liberals did not want to encourage popular support or peasant involvement as they saw politics as something only for the middle classes. The Revolutionaries were not interested with social reform or improving life for ordinary people, therefore the majority of peasants did not get involved. This lack of support from the masses meant revolutionaries could not maintain power once gained it. However, the exception to this is Sicily where the majority of civilians were involved in marching in the islands capital, Palermo as the government repression coincided with an outbreak of cholera which therefore affected all classes of people. Even with the support of the masses Sicily was easily defeated by intense bombing by King Ferdinand (nicknamed ‘King Bomba’)
Significance of the Revolution of 1848
- First time they had combined in a common cause shaking off their narrow provincialism.
- The war marked the failure of Sardinia to defeat Austria singlehandedly. This caused Sardinia to seek allies against Austria and ultimately only with French (1859) and Prussian (1866) help would Sardinia be able to drive out the Austrians from Northern Italy.
- Piedmont King had risked his throne for a national cause, came to the front and was seemed to be only possible leader. This was a great gain. Now problem regarding leadership and aim was simplified.
- Republican looked discredited as it was too radical to attract masses and failure of Mazzini in Rome made it spent force. So only solution left was the erection of a Constitutional Kingdom under the King of Sardinia- Piedmont.
Why Piedmont became the Centre of Nationalist Hopes
- Piedmont was one of the biggest losers of the springtime of the people: their army was crushed, and they also lost Lombardy (the future powerhouse of the Italian economy). Carlo Alberto, who followed a liberal policy, had to abdicate to his son, Victor Emmanuel. Fortunately, he had the same views as his father, and thanks to this, Piedmont kept its liberal constitution so the liberal atmosphere could outlast 1848 which also resulted in the arrival of numerous political exiles.
- The revolutionists could now realize the efforts made by Piedmont against the Austrian authority. Earlier, Piedmont was perceived as an oppressor similar to Austria: revolutionists though that if they cooperate with the Piedmontese, in the end they will only manage to swap the Austrians to another authority of the same kind. Now, the role of Piedmont was changing, the people realized that there was no other way of establishing Italian unity but through an alliance with Piedmont. Instead of independence and freedom, their priority shifted to the unification.
This period ranging from 1849 to 1859 is called the ‘decade of preparation’.The liberal approach allowed a wide range of political and economic reforms, most of which are considered the results of Camillo Cavour’s governance who became the prime minister of Piedmont in 1852. He truly believed in economic progress which in his view was a result of liberal policy and political stability. Under his governance, he aimed to attack and weaken the church, the main pillar of reaction in Italy. He also achieved outstanding results in the modernisation of Piedmont: he modernised and standardized the credit and banking system; he encouraged foreign investment, and developed modern communication such as railways. A concrete evidence of the progress of Piedmont is the expansion of railway lines: between 1849 and 1859 the original 8 kilometres of railways increased to an impressive 850 kilometres.
- This fast-paced development of the Piedmontese economy was one significant reason why could Piedmont take the lead in the unification. While Piedmont was developing rapidly, the other states of the peninsula stagnated both economically and politically.
- Another reasons were: Piedmont was the only Italian State which was never been controlled by Austria and her King was only representative of the Native Italian dynasty.