During the final years of Napoleonís domination of Italy, hopes grew that his regime would be replaced with independence and constitutional rule. It was not to be. Following Napoleonís defeat at Waterloo in 1815, all of the peninsulaís former rulers were reinstated by the Congress of Vienna. It was a backward step that had terrible consequences for the country but it did encourage the rapid growth of secret societies comprised, in the main, of disaffected middle class intellectuals. In the south, one of these societies, the republican Carbonari society, pushed hard and often ruthlessly for a valid constitution, leading a revolutionary uprising in Naples in 1820.
One of the leading revolutionary figures of the secret societies of the time was Filippo Buonarroti, who strove for independence from Austria and the establishment of a communist society devoid of private property interests.
A Genovese, Giuseppe Mazzini (1805-72), emerged as a key proponent of nationhood and political freedom. Having quit the Carbonari movement in 1830, Mazzini founded Young Italy, a society of young men whose aims were the liberation of Italy from foreign and domestic tyranny and its unification under a republican government. This was to be achieved through education and were necessary, revolt by guerilla bands.
Exiled from his homeland for his former activites with the Carbonari, Mazzini was responsible for organising a number of abortive uprisings throughout Italy during the 1830's and 1840's. These left many of the young men dead who had flocked to join Young Italy. Twice sentenced to death, Mazzini was to live out his days in England, from where he wrote articles and solicited as much support as he could from influential allies in order to raise the consciousness of Europeans about the Italian question.
In 1848 there were revolutions in almost every major city and town of Europe. In their newspaper Il Risorgimento, one of several publications to have sprung up as the Italian nationalist movement gained ground among citizens of all classes, nationalist writer Cesare Balbo and Count Camillo Benso di Cavour of Turin pressed for a constitution. In 1848 they published their Statuto (Statute) advocating a to-chamber parliament, with the upper chamber to be appointed by the Crown and the lower chamber to be elected by educated taxpayers. In 1861 the Statuto was to become the constitutional basis of the Kingdom of Italy, but not before 13 more years of warring between the various European princes had resulted in the deaths of a great many more Italians.
Returning to Italy in 1848 from his famous exploits in South America, where he is still remembered as one of the founding fathers of Uruguay, Giusepper Garibaldi (1807-82) was to become the hero Italians needed to lead the towards unification. Garibaldi's personal ma, the result of his respect for people, both rich and poor, drew more Italians into the fight for nationhood than ever before.
Despite significant personal animosity, Garibaldi and Cavour fought side by side, each in their chosen arena, to break the stranglehold of foreign domination. The brilliant diplomacy of Cavour, coupled with the independent efforts of Garibaldi and his popular base, finally caught the attention of European communities, particularly the British (who became staunch supporters of a free and united Italy).
When King Carlo Alberto, the sympathetic Piedmontese monarch, granted his people a constitution based on the Statuto in March 1848, Cavour stood for election. In 1850 he was given three ministries-navy, commerce and finance- in the government headed up by Massimo d'Azeglio. When Cavour's centre-left faction joined with the centre-right, headed by Urbano Ratazzi, behind d'Azeglio's back, the prime minister resigned and Cavour was asked by the king to take the top government post. As Piedmontese prime minister, Cavour focused on forging an alliance with the French emperor Napoleon III, in a move destined to overthrow Austrian domination of Piedmont.
Meanwhile the unification movement was literally on the move as Garibaldi led his expedition of One Thousand, which took Sicily and Naples in 1860. The Kingdom of Italy was declared on 17 March 1861 and Vittorio Emanuele II, who had been king of Sardinia-Piedmont from 1849, was proclaimed king. But Italy was not completely united. Venice remained in the hands of the Austrians and Rome was held by France.
Cavour died within six months of leading the first parliament of the Kingdom of Italy. He had been betrayed by his French allies when Napoleon III signed the armistice of Villafranca, ending the Franco-Austrian war (fought in Italy, largely by Italians) without consulting Cavour, who resigned his post. Venice was wrested from the Austrians in 1866 but it wasn't until the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 that Napoleon III's hold over Italy was broken. Needing all available troops elsewhere, he withdrew from Rome, leaving the way clear for the Italian army to claim the capital.
The only resistance to the push on Rome came from the papal soldiers of Pope Pius IX, who refused to recognise the Kingdom of Italy. The pope eventually stripped of his remaining secular powers as well as his palace, the Quirinale. The papacy would regain some autonomy in the 1920's when the fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini, restored the independent papal state but, in the interim, the papacy forbade Catholics to participate in government elections.
As the 20th century approached, the economic crisis of Europe was reflected by constant fluctuations in Italian politics as socialist democrats and right-wing imperialists in turn gained and lost the support of the populace. In the general elections of 1894, Pope Pius X formally gave Catholics the right to vote (although many had already been doing just that) and there was a widespread backlash against socialism.
Giovanni Giolitti, one of Italy's longest-serving prime ministers (heading five governments between the years 1892 and 1921), managed to bridge the political extremes and was able to embark to parliamentary reforms that gave the voter to all literate men aged 21 or over and illiterate men who had completed military service or were aged 30 or over. Male suffrage had been achieved but Italian women were denied the right to vote until after WWII.
When war broke out in Europe in July 1914, Italy chose to remain neutral rather than become caught between old enemies. But senior politicians soon allied themselves with the British, Russians and French, while the papacy spoke out against the 'atheis' French in favour of Catholic Austria.
Italy was, in fact, a member of the Triple Alliance with Austria and Germany. Although Italy had territorial claims to make in Trent, the southern Tyrol, Trieste and even in Dalmatia, the weakness of the new country had compelled it to pursue a policy of appeasement with its powerful Austrian neighbour.
Between July 1914 and May 1915, the government had a change of heart and decided to join the Allies, on the understanding that upon the successful conclusion of hostilities Italy would receive the territories it sought. From then until the end of 1918, Italy and Austria engaged in a wearing war of attrition. The front lines, along the River Isonzo in the east and in the Adige valley in the north, barely changed. In August 1916 the Italians took Gorizia but in October 1917 the Austrians routed the Italians at Caporetto and marched onto the Venetian plain, only to be halted on the Piave. When the Austro-Hungarian forces collapsed November 1918, the Italians were able to march into Trieste and Trent.
The young country had been manifestly ill-prepared for this gruesome conflict. Not only did Italy lose 600,000 men but the war economy had produced a small concentration of immensely wealthy and powerful industrial barons and left the bulk of the civilian populace in penury. It was an explosive cocktail.
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