Nationalism: state-building in Italy- Part III

Nationalism- State building in Italy- Part III

Liberation and Unification of Italy (1850 – 1870)

Cavour appointed as Prime Minister

  • Cavour was born in 1810, the son of a Piedmontese noble of the Old Regime, served as a military engineer and had liberal opinions. His liberalism attracted the hostile notices of the government.
  • Finding himself cut off from all prospected professional advancement, he left his service and applied himself to the development of his estate and proved an excellent agriculturist.
  • His study of English political ideas confirms his liberalism.
  • In 1847 Cavour was involved in the the founding and editing of “Risorgimento“, a newspaper whose very publication had been facilitated by a recent relaxation of censorship, which became the official voice for the Italian National Movement.
  • He successfully pressed King Charles Albert of Sardinia to grant a constitution to his people to form a constitutional monarchy; and in 1848 to battle against Austria as an holder of power in the Italian peninsula. The failure of this military action prompted the king to abdicate in favour of his son, Victor Emmanuel.
  • Cavour became a member of parliament briefly from 1848 – 1849. Subsequently, he became minister of agriculture, industry and commerce in 1850, finance minister in 1851, and premier or prime minister in 1852.
    • Cavour formed a coalition with the connubio (“union”), uniting the moderate men of the Right and of the Left, and brought about the fall of the cabinet in November 1852.
    • The King reluctantly accepted Cavour as prime minister as the most conservative possible choice, but their relationship was never an easy one.
  • Cavour’s career as prime minister can be considered one of the most successful of all time, given that when he took up the post, Piedmont had just suffered a horrible loss to Austria, but when he died, Victor Emmanuel II ruled a state five times as large, which dominated Italy and ranked among Europe’s great powers.
  • Cavour was a great statesman and a leading figure in the movement toward Italian unification.

Cavour’s Policy

  • Cavour was generally liberal and believed in free trade, freedom of opinion, and secular rule, but he was an enemy of republicans and revolutionaries, whom he feared as disorganized radicals who would upset the social order.
  • Cavour was the first man who felt that only Piedmont-Sardinia could lead the war for independence and unification of Italy. He was a great monarchist and thus wanted to unify Italy under monarchy.
  • He laid great emphasis upon the social, economic, spiritual and intellectual issues along with the political problems.
  • He considered that if Piedmont under the House of Savoy had to lead the national movement of Italy, she must be made a model state of Italy by raising her up in the political, social, economic and spiritual fields, so the other states of Italy would recognize her leadership. He thought that Piedmont, reformed from within, was sure to attract favourable notice of the patriots everywhere.
  • In his own words: It would gather to itself all living forces of Italy and will be in a position to lead her to the high destiny to which she is called Piedmont must begin by raising herself by re-establishing in Europe as well as in Italy a position and a credit equal to her ambition.”
  • Economic Reform:
    • Cavour believed that economic progress had to precede political change and began several initiatives in attempts to solve economic problems.
    • He encouraged agricultural and other industries and expanded trade and commerce by his policy of free trade.
    • He stressed the advantages of railroad construction. He was a strong supporter of transportation by steam engine, sponsoring the building of many railroads and canals. He reorganised the budget and increased taxation.
  • Internationlising the problem of Italy and Austria as the main enemy:
    • He had seen the experiences of the patriots during the last for years. He desired the unity and independence of Italy.
    • He hated Austria and called her as the oppressor of Italy. He knew very well that Austria was the greatest opponent of the liberty and unity of Italy and the patriots could not achieve their go without driving her out of Italy.
    • But, at the same time, he all knew the actual position of the military power of the states Italy. His views were quite different from those of Mazzini considered this issue. Mazzini considered that only Italians could complete the work of unification. Italia fara dase (Italy will fend for herself) was the motto of 1848, but Italian unity could not be accomplish so long as a great power like Austria and France could and would interfere to prevent that unity.
    • It was his great achievement to brush aside the old methods of plots and insurrection and to devise new methods and tactics.
    • Hence he sought the sympathy and active support of the Great Powers.
      • A small state like Sardinia-Piedmont could not alone or with the help from other part of Italy, face Austria’s superior number and strength. So, support of great military power was must.
      • Besides the Italian question involved many complicated issues, such as the interest of the princes and the position of the Pope. These problems could not be solved without international co-operation as their solution would require whole-sale modification of an international arrangement, viz., the settlement of Italy as made by the Congress of Vienna. So, he wanted to make it European concern by lifting it out of Austria’s domestic policy.
    • In other words, it can be said that Cavour was the first man who wanted to internationalise the problem of Italy.
  • Reorganisation of Army:
    • Cavour believed that the freedom and unity of Italy could on be achieved by war, and for this purpose he considered essential to increase the military strength against Austria.
    • Hence, the military organization of Piedmont was the main element of Cavour’s policy.
  • Reform in Church:
    • As Prime Minister Cavour sponsored policies that promoted economic development, allowed some liberalisation in politics, and countenanced reforms that, in ways, compromised the position of the Church.
    • Piedmont-Sardinia had already in 1848 abolished the ecclesiastical courts and introduced civil marriage – policies which had met with the dire protests of Pope Pius IX.
    • Cavour’s new measure ordered the closure of some one half of the monastic houses within Sardinian territories. He reduced the excessive privileges of the church.
    • He tried to divorce religion from politics as the clerics were strongly opposed to Italian unity under Sardinian auspices. “A free church in a free state” was the principle he stood for.
  • In all these measures, Cavour worked with and through Parliament, which thus became the centre of the political life of the nation.
  • Thus under Cavour, Piedmont came to occupy a commanding place in Italy.

Cavour and the Crimea War

  • “Realpolitik” is the notion that politics must be conducted in terms of the realistic assessment of power and the self-interest of individual nation-states (and the pursuit of those interests by any means) and Cavour used it superbly.
  • The material reforms inaugurated by Cavour were but a prelude to the second part of his programme, the union of Italy under the House of Savoy, which could be achieved only by foreign assistance.
  • The Crimean War (October 1853 – February 1856) was a conflict in which Russia lost to an alliance of France, the United Kingdom, the Ottoman Empire, and Sardinia.
    • Crimean War was part of the wider Eastern Question.
    • The immediate cause involved the rights of Christian minorities in the Holy Land, which was controlled by the Ottoman Empire.
    • The French promoted the rights of Catholics, while Russia promoted those of the Orthodox Christians.
  • The Crimean War broke out and this to Cavour was a heaven sent opportunity. In 1855, as prime minister of Sardinia, he involved the kingdom on the British and French side of the Crimean War, using the peace conference to give international publicity to the cause of Italian unification.
  • Cavour was looking for allies to help him in the unification of Northern Italy.
    • He had no interest in Eastern Question and no quarrel with Russia.
    • He seized the opportunity to join England and France against Russia for alliance with great powers which would put these powers under a moral obligation to be useful at some time later.
    • He took Piedmont into the war in 1855 when it was more obvious that the Allies would win.
  • Peace negotiations at the Congress of Paris resulted in the signing of the Treaty of Paris on the 30th of March 1856.
    • A significant diplomatic victory was scored by tiny Piedmont that, although not being yet considered a “great” European power, was nevertheless granted a seat at the Congress as his troops had fought brilliantly.
    • There Cavour in the face of considerable opposition from Austria raised the whole Italian Question before the assembled diplomats and gave a very damaging account of Austrian rule.
    • Cavour seized this opportunity to denounce Austrian political and military interference in the Italian peninsula that he said was stifling the wish of the Italian people to choose their own government.
    • The anomalous and unhappy condition of Italy was exposed to Europe and was discussed no longer by revolutionaries only but representatives of Great Powers and hence Italian Question was converted into a matter of European concern.
    • The prestige of Piedmont got high and she won sympathy of Europe.

Cavour wins over Napoleon III

  • The next step in Cavour’s policy was to win over Napoleon III to the Italian cause. The French Emperor was known to be sympathetic towards a country where he had fought as a Carbonari in 1831.
  • In Paris peace conference, Cavour had found Britain and France to be sympathetic, but entirely unwilling to go against Austrian wishes, as any movement towards Italian independence would necessarily threaten Austria’s territory in Lombardy and Venetia. Private talks between Napoleon III and Cavour after the conference identified Napoleon as the most likely, albeit still uncommitted, candidate for aiding Italy.
  • Cavour cleverly worked upon Napoleon’s sympathy and his effort were seconded by an unexpected incident, the attempt to murder the French Emperor by an Italian named Orisini.
    • On January 14, 1858, Felice Orsini, an Italian, led an attempt on Napoleon III’s life. This assassination attempt brought widespread sympathy for the Italian unification effort, and had a profound effect on Napoleon himself.
    • The incident for a time seemed fatal to Cavour’s hopes and if handled by a lesser man than him, might have proved disaster. But he pointed out that revolutionary crimes like this were but the misguided acts of those driven to desperation by the oppressive rule of Austria and the Italian despots.
    • His arguments were reinforced by Orisini’s appeal to the Emperor. While in jail awaiting trial, Orsini wrote a public letter to the Emperor of the French, ending with, “Remember that, so long as Italy is not independent, the peace of Europe and Your Majesty is but an empty dream… Set my country free, and the blessings of twenty-five million people will follow you everywhere and forever.”
    • Napoleon was touched and stimulated to immediate action. He was now determined to help Piedmont against Austria in order to defuse the wider revolutionary activities that the governments inside Italy might allow to happen in the future.
  • After a covert meeting at Plombieres in 1858 (Compact of Plombieres), Napoleon III and Cavour signed a secret treaty of alliance against Austria:
    • France would help Sardinia-Piedmont to fight against Austria if attacked, and Austria would be driven out from Lombardy and Venetia and these two provinces were to be added to Piedmont.
    • Naples and Rome were to be left unmolested and rest of the Italy was to be made into a separate Kingdom.
    • As a price of his aid, napoleon was to receive Nice and Savoy (the seat of the Piedmontese royal family) and Franco-Sardinian alliance was to be cemented by the marriage of Victor Emmanuel’s daughter with Emperor’s cousin (Prince Jerome Bonaparte).
  • This secret alliance served both countries: it helped with the Sardinian (Piedmontese) plan of unification of the Italian peninsula under the House of Savoy, and weakened Austria, a fiery adversary of Napoleon III’s French Empire.
  • In the same year, Cavour sent his cousin, the famous beauty, photographic artist, and secret agent Virginia Oldoini, to further the interests of Italian unification with the emperor by whatever means possible, and by all accounts she succeeded, famously becoming the mistress of Napoleon.


Austro Sardinian War, 1859

(Second Italian Independence War of 1859. First was 1848 Revolution)

  • 9 months that elapsed between Pact of Plombiers and outbreak of the war were a period of increasing tension and difficulty for Cavour.
  • Cavour had to find a pretext for the war.
  • Cavour, being unable to get the French help unless the Austrians attacked first, provoked Vienna with a series of military manoeuvres close to the border, hostile tariffs, press attacks and fomenting disaffection in Lombardy and Venetia. Cavour wanted war before Napoleon III changes his mind.
    • Britain, Prussia, and Russia proposed an international congress, with one likely goal to be the disarmament of Piedmont.
    • Napoleon III also did not want war as French people were against it. Hence he agreed to the English suggestion for a general disarmament for the states involved.
    • Cavour- who in despair at the wreckage of his hopes even contemplated suicide- perforce agreed to the demobilisation of Sardinia.
    • But Austria foolishly stepped in and saved the situation for Piedmont by sending an ultimatum on April 23, demanding that Piedmont disarm itself instantly or face war, thus casting Austria as an aggressor (and thus played into Cavour’s hand).
    • Cavour rejecting the Austrian ultimatum could appeal to France and face Europe as defending and not attacking.
    • Napoleon III who hesitated to undertake an aggressive ware, was satisfied and Cavour cried: “The die is cast, we have made history“. The war broke out in 1859.
  • The Austrian forces counted on a swift victory over the weaker Sardinian army before French forces could arrive in Piedmont.
  • The Austrian commander in chief, Field Marshal Gyulay, was not a very aggressive leader, and his sluggish and indecisive advance soon petered out.
  • Franco-Piedmontese forces advanced to Lombardy and defeated Austria in Battle of Magenta and Solferance. At the same time, in the northern part of Lombardy, the Italian volunteers of Giuseppe Garibaldi’s Hunters of the Alps defeated the Austrians and Lombardy was cleared of the Austrians.
  • Treaty of Villafranca (Armistice of Villafranca):
    • The battles of Magenta and Solferino left Franco-Piedmontese forces in control of Lombardy. Venice was just in reach and Austrian expulsion certain.
    • The possibility of Prussian entry into the war, and the potential for an over-strong Piedmontese state convinced Napoleon to sign a separate peace with Austria in the Treaty of Villafranca on July 11, 1859. As per its terms:
      • Austria was to cede Lombardy to Sardinia but to retain Venetia.
      • The rulers of Central Italy (Tuscancy, Parma and Modena), who had been expelled by revolution shortly after the beginning of the war, were to be restored and an Italian federation was to be formed under the presidency of Pope.
    • This deal, made by Napoleon behind the backs of his Sardinian allies, led to great outrage in Sardinia-Piedmont — Cavour himself resigned in protest (though he returned after some time).
    • However, the terms of Villafranca were never to come into effect: although they were reaffirmed by the final Treaty of Zürich in November, by then the agreement had become a dead letter.
    • The central Italian states were occupied by the Piedmontese, who showed no willingness to restore the previous rulers, and the French showed no willingness to force them to abide by the terms of the treaty.
    • The Austrians were left to look on in frustration at the French failure to carry out the terms of the treaty.
    • For the time being, Napoleon did not press his claim to Nice and Savoy (as agreed in Compacts of Plombiers) as he did not pursue the war to the terms agreed upon.
    • Why Napoleon signed the treaty of Villafranca:
      • Prussia might have intervened on behalf of Austria because decisive French victory would be dangerous to the security of Prussia.
      • The French losses had been heavy and Austrian forces were strongly entrenched in Venetia.
      • The situation in France was becoming serious. The Catholic party was against war as Pope would have suffered in the case of victory of Piedmont.
      • The defeat of Austrian had inspired such an outburst of nationalism in north central Italy that people expelled their rulers and demanded union with Piedmont. A united Italy would have been dangerous for France.
      • This was more than Napoleon had bargained for. Instead of a divided Italy under French hegemony, a united Italy like to be dangerous to France.
  • Acquisition of Lombardy and sound judgement of Victor Emmanuel:
    • Lombardy was integrated but the truce of Villafranca was a cruel disappointment to Italians dashing their hope for complete emancipation.
    • Cavour was furious and urged King to repudiate the treacherous treaty but his advice was unheeded and he resigned.
    • But King Victor Emmanuel’s judgement was more sound at this moment than Cavour’s.
      • He clearly saw that it was wiser to take what one could take and bide the future than to imperil.
      • He realised that the determination of the future of Italy has passed out of the hands of diplomats into those of the people.
      • The events which followed justified his judgement.
  • Sympathetic attitude of British and confusion of France:
    • English policy, now directed by Liberal ministers like Palmerston and Russel was openly sympathetic to Italian aspirations. These ministers stood for non-intervention, and declared that the Italian people should be allowed to settle their own affairs.
    • It was a happy circumstance for Italy that her unity had no better friends than in the English Government during those difficult years.
    • Napoleon was confused as he could not encourage the annexationist movement in violation of the Treaty of Zurich nor could he oppose it by force in view of the attitude of Britain.
    • At this point, Cavour, who had returned to the office, found a way out. He reopened the offer of Savoy and Nice and thereby secured Napoleon’s consent.
  • Annexation of Central Duchies (Duchy of Parma, Duchy of Modena, Grand Duchy of Tuscany) and the Papal States:
    • The news of the evacuation of Lombardy by Austrians caused popular revolt in central duchies and Parma, Modena and Tuscany rose in revolt and expelled the rulers.
    • In Romagna, the most northerly of the Papal states, people repudiated the temporal sovereignty of the Pope.
    • All these states set up provisional government and unanimously voted for fusion with Piedmont. In this situation, Napoleon found it difficult to secure the restoration of the expelled rulers. Coercion became increasingly impossible.
    • The next year, in 1860, with French and British approval, the central Italian states — Duchy of Parma, Duchy of Modena, Grand Duchy of Tuscany and the Papal States — were annexed by the Kingdom of Sardinia. They unanimously voted for fusion with Piedmont in plebiscite. (This was second step towards unification of Italy after annexation of Lombardy.).
    • Napoleon had found it difficult to secure the restoration of the expelled rulers as per the treaty with Austria.
      • He became ready when France was given its deferred reward, Savoy and Nice.
      • This latter move was vehemently opposed by Italian national hero Garibaldi, a native of Nice, and directly led to Garibaldi’s expedition to Sicily, which would complete the preliminary unification of Italy.
    • Now, saving Venetia, the northern half of Italy was united and made free from foreign rule.


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