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Italy After The Union (1870 – 1914)

Italy After The Union (1870 – 1914)


  • The year 1870 brought to a close what may be called the heroic age of Italian history. It was an age marked by high purpose, which invested with epic grandeur the achievements of Mazzini, Garibaldi and Cavour. Italy had been freed from foreign domination, united into one state, and provided with a parliamentary constitution. But after 1879 problems of a quite different nature confronted her. Some of these were common to all states of the day, while others were peculiarly her own, being the outcome of the process just completed.
  • The first problem was that of consolidating the union, “We have made Italy, we still have to make Italians” was the remark of an observant critic. In other words, the outward unity which had been attained must be supplemented by a real spiritual unity based upon community of political and social interests. Italian unity had been achieved too suddenly by a people divided against one another for centuries. There existed wide disparity between the North and the South in regard to political progress and economic development. Thus in the north, Piedmont, a prosperous state enjoying constitutional government, had very little in common with the southern states of Naples and Sicily. These had suffered long under the paralysing despotism of the Bourbons, and as a consequence, had no experience in self-government and no civic-sense. Hence the task before the new Government was to bring the different regions to the same level of political progress and economic well-being. The political unification to be successful had to be followed by cultural unity and economic solidarity. Only slowly could a common Italian political and social life develop from a background which had been primarily local, resting on separate traditions and separate histories.
  • The Government devoted a good deal of attention to the introduction of uniform conditions throughout the peninsula. It centralised the administrative and judicial systems and established local government units on the French bureaucratic model. It nationalised the railways and reorganised the army and navy on the basis of compulsory military service. Brigandage and secret societies, which were rife in the south, were suppressed, and encouragement was given to the spread of the factory system in southern districts which were mainly agricultural. By an Act of 1877 compulsory education was introduced but its operation was rendered somewhat ineffective owing to inadequacy of funds.

Relation between the Papacy and the State | Italy After The Union (1870 – 1914)

  • The relation between the Papacy and the State was one of the most perplexing problems which grew out of the unification of Italy. The Italian kingdom had seized Rome by force and fixed it as its capital. But over this city the Popes had ruled in unchallenged
  • authority for a thousand years. Moreover, the position of Rome was peculiar in that it was the capital of the Catholic world. Any interference with the Papal authority might lead to foreign intervention for restoring the temporal power of the Pope. The situation was unique and delicate—two sovereigns in one city, one temporal and the other spiritual. No agreement could be come to as the Pope refused to recognise a Government which had despoiled him of his lands and of his real freedom. So the Government proceeded to solve the question by passing the Law of Papal Guarantees embodying Cavour’s principle of a “free Church in a free state.” The Pope was accorded sovereign rights on a par with those of the King of Italy, viz., inviolability of his own person, the right to send and receive ambassadors, and the honours due to a reigning sovereign. He was to receive a large annual subsidy as compensation for the loss of his temporal possessions. Certain places were set apart as entirely under his sovereignty and he was allowed the unfettered exercise of his spiritual functions. The Pope, Pius IX, condemned this law, refused to accept the compensation allowance and shut himself up as a “prisoner”, in the Vatican. He issued a circular latter (the encyclical Non-expedit) forbidding the Catholics to vote at parliamentary elections and to hold office under the Italian government. His successor Leo XIII (1878-1903) also maintained the attitude of hostility to the crown, and considered himself a prisoner of the “Robber King”. This Papal attitude embarrassed the foreign and domestic relations of the new kingdom. It weakened the solidarity of the state by drawing a sharp line between loyal patriots and faithful Catholics and shut out from politics many an able and conscientious citizen. Besides, the Government for a time had to fear an intervention of Catholic powers on behalf of the Pope. But from the beginning of the twentieth century the bitterness between the Papacy and the King of Italy began to grow less. Socialism was menace to both Church and State and in combating the danger the Clericals were permitted and even encouraged to make common cause with the conservatives. Catholics began to return to politics and the ban forbidding them to take part in politics or elections was lifted by Pius X in 1905. Slowly the two powers grew more accustomed to living side by side, if they did not meet. In 1919, the encyclical Non-expedite was repealed by Pope Benedict XV and the tendency was perceptible in the direction of a reconciliation.

Economic Problems | Italy After The Union (1870 – 1914)

  • The most obvious difficulties of the new kingdom after 1870 were economic. It had inherited an enormous National Debt. The Government had to make large expenditures on the army, on public work and on internal improvements, particularly on the building of railways which were essential to the economic prosperity of the country and to the growth of a sense of common nationality. In a word, the new kingdom proved very expensive to organise and run. Hence taxes steadily grew more and more heavy, and soon rose to a greater height of per-capita than in any other country of contemporary Europe. The distress of the people was very acute as the country was poor, being backward in agriculture and industrial life. This was specially the case with the southern half of the peninsula where there was comparatively little industry, and the miserable peasantry toiled upon a soil scourged by malarial fever, ravaged by untamed watercourses or periodically desolated by earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Under these conditions the Government was perpetually on the brink of bankruptcy and it was with the greatest difficulty that successive ministers could balance the budget and make both ends meet.
  • The economic problem was greatly intensified by the rapid growth of population, which surpassed the annual increase in other European states. But the situation was somewhat eased by the large emigration of the Italians to adjacent countries, but principally to North and South America. It reached its height in the year before the Great War, amounting to nearly one million.
  • In a country economically undeveloped, and with an expanding population it was inevitable that the condition of the labouring classes was extremely wretched. Their misery was further intensified by the high prices and crushing taxation occasioned by the ambitious colonial project of the Government. The result was acute distress which manifested itself in dissatisfaction with the monarchy, and the growth of republican and socialistic parties. In 1889 riots broke out in Turin, Milan and Rome while in 1893 a serious labour revolt took place in Sicily. The crisis came to a head in 1898 when sanguinary riots broke out in various parts of Italy. The movement was general but was extremely bloody in Milan. It took the form of “bread riots” in southern and central Italy, but in the north it was distinctly revolutionary. The Government suppressed the riots with savage harshness. The general disaffection showed itself in 1900 in the assassination of King Humbert by an anarchist.

Italian Politics (1870-1914) | Italy After The Union (1870 – 1914)

  • Italy had adopted a parliamentary government modelled after that of Great Britain. The franchise in 1870 was quite limited. Property and educational qualifications were required of voters. So rigid was the restriction that only half a million out of 28 millions of peoples possessed the right to vote. But such a restricted franchise was at odds with the spirit and terms of the new unity and so its extension was inevitable. In 1882, the franchise was enlarged so that the number of voters was nearly quadrupled. The next great electoral reform took place in 1912 by which almost universal suffrage was established for men. It was denied only to those under thirty years of age who had neither performed their military service nor learned to read and write.
  • But it should be noted that these extensions of the franchise outran the progress of literacy so that the electorate was not sufficiently enlightened to make parliamentary democracy a success. Besides, on account of the prevalence of a regional spirit a healthy party life did not develop. The members formed themselves into groups as in France, and in each group there was a tendency to fissure. This coupled with the corruption which corroded the public life of Italy, enabled the politicians to play upon human weakness and to reduce politics to a game of skill.
  • Up to 1876 the Government was controlled by the “Right”, a group whose chief electoral strength lay in the north. Then for a decade the Left under Depretis (1876-1887) became Depretis favoured the Sicilians and Neapolitans at the expense of the Northern Italians. Under him an Act was passed to make elementary education compulsory. The railway system was completed, franchise extended, colonial policy initiated and the Triple Alliance concluded with Germany and Austria. All these were, no doubt, satisfactory, but he disgraced Italian politics by practising political corruption on an extensive scale and inaugurating a system of government by faction and sectional interests. On his death in 1887, Crispi, an old companion-in-arms of Garibaldi, became the head of the administration. He was the most powerful minister of Italy since Cavour. He heartily threw himself into the colonial enterprise begun by his predecessor and extended the claims of Italy in East Africa. An Italian protectorate was established over Somaliland. But his ambitious projects entailed additional taxation upon a people already overburdened. This caused great discontent and in 1889 riots broke out all over the country. Crispi adopted a policy of stern repression and restored quiet for the time being. He fell from office in 1891 but was recalled to power in 1893 and thenceforth until 1896 he ruled practically as a dictator. His policy was the same as before, the crushing of all opposition to the existing system. His fall was occasioned by the disaster which befell his aggressive colonial policy in Abyssinia where the Italians suffered an overwhelming defeat at Adowa at the hands of the Abyssinians (1896).
  • By this time the old parties of Right and Left had broken up, and it is difficult to trace party lines clearly. Government became unstable, a matter of expedients and shifts between groups, a policy with which the name of Giolitti is most prominently associated in the years before the Great war. The result was a certain discrediting of parliamentary and democratic government as unsuited to Italy, and as alien to her traditions. It was this view which after the war of 1914-18, helped the triumph of Fascism.
  • Thus for about three decades after the completion of her unification, Italy was a disorganised and ill-conditioned country politically, socially and economically. Politics was characterised by a condition regional spirit and sectional interests, and this showed that only an outward unity had been attained and that the spirit of nationality had not found an echo in the popular consciousness. Political life was vitiated by intrigue, corruption and jobbery. Bureaucratic centralisation dried up the springs of local energy. The people were mostly illiterate and sunk in abject poverty. The Catholics were hostile to the Government. Economically the South was undeveloped. The rapid increase of population magnified the poverty of the people and intensified the economic problem.           Italy After The Union (1870 – 1914)
  • But with the accession of Victor Emmanuel III, who came to the throne in 1900 after the assassination of his father Humbert, the fortunes of Italy began to improve steadily. The new king was a man of lofty character and scholarly tastes. He was amiable, enlightened and democratically minded. Under him a more liberal policy was adopted and the working classes were treated with sympathy. Trade revived, the merchant marine expanded, and the production of silk and other staple industries rapidly increased. The national finances were economically managed so that one surplus followed another. Italy was becoming an industrial state and the process was aided by the use of hydro-electric power as motive force. Nature has denied her coal but has given her immense water power in the streams which flow rapidly from the Alps to the Apennines.
  • In spite of this economic improvement the Socialists were active and labour troubles frequent. Under the influence of France, Socialism in Italy turned to Syndicalism rather than to Marxism. Strikes were frequent and in 1904 there was a general strike accompanied by the destruction of property and cutting of railways. Again in 1914 another general strike took place in which Benito Mussolini, the editor of the Socialist paper Avanti (Forward) was one of the leading spirits.

Foreign Policy | Italy After The Union (1870 – 1914)

  • The role of Italy in international affairs was at the outset a difficult one, for although by unity she had become one of the greater powers of Europe, she was not really very strong. She had no allies and she came into existence at a time when international affairs were dominated by the masterful diplomat, Bismarck. At first the direction of her foreign policy was determined to a large extent by the hostile attitude of the Pope. She feared that the cry of the “prisoner of the Vatican” might lead the Catholic countries like France and Austria to intervene in Italian affairs on behalf of Rome. She was particularly suspicious of France where in the early days of the Republic, Catholic sentiment was powerful and sympathetic towards the Pope and hostile to Italy, a new Latin rival. To this suspicion was added annoyance caused by the French occupation of Tunis to which she laid claim on grounds of proximity and colonisation. This made relations with France difficult for years and drove Italy into the arms of Austria and Germany. Thus was formed the famous Triple Alliance in 1882 and Italy obtained a promise from Bismarck that the Roman question should not be raised. But as the Roman bogey began to fade the Italians began to scrutinise the Triple Alliance and came to feel that its advantages were doubtful. On the contrary an alliance with Austria was looked upon as a serious obstacle to the realization of the national idea of Irredentism—the annexation of those territories north and north-east of Italy which were inhabited by Italians but not included in the new kingdom at the time of its creation. This Italia irredenta or “unredeemed Italy” comprising Trent, Trieste, and the eastern coast of the Ardiatic, still belonged to Austria. Italian nationalism in the decade before the Great War became very active and the Irredentists carried on an unceasing propaganda. But as a long as Italy was allied with Austria she was kept from any attempt to gain “Unredeemed Italy”. Her chance came when the Great War broke out. In 1915 she denounced her alliance with Austria and joined the Entente Allies against Austria-Hungary in the hope of realising her national aspirations.         Italy After The Union (1870 – 1914)

Ambitious Colonial Policy | Italy After The Union (1870 – 1914)

  • Italy was unified in time to take part in the colonial expansion of Europe after 1870, especially in Africa. She was obsessed with the idea of playing the role of a Great Power by reviving the glories and empire of classical Rome. But the task was rendered difficult by the fact that she had very little money for foreign enterprise. As a matter of fact she overtaxed her strengthen the attempt, and her colonial policy received serious checks. In the first place she was forestalled by France in Tunis. Shut out from Tunis she began to seek compensation elsewhere and seized positions on the Red Sea, and occupied the Abyssinian port of Massawa in 1885. During the ministry of Crispi who pursued a vigorous colonial policy, Italian protectorate was established over a region in eastern Africa called Somaliland. He gave the name of Eritrea to the settlements on the Red Sea and tried to extend Italian power into Abyssinia. The result was disastrous. An Italian expeditionary force under General Baratieri was overwhelmingly defeated in 1896 by the Abyssinians at Adowa. This ill-starred experiment in aggressive imperialism had to be abandoned. Not until 1912 did Italy find recompense for her early failure in the acquisition of Tripoli and Cyrenaica after her war with Turkey. These two conquests were formed into the Italian colony of Libya.        Italy After The Union (1870 – 1914)

World History

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