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Unification Of Italy

Unification Of Italy


  • Italy, which was described by Metternich, the Austrian Chancellor as a mere ‘geographical expression’ in 1815 possessed a tradition of political unity which ran into distant past. This tradition in Italy was as old as the Roman Empire. Even after the disintegration of the Roman Empire the feeling of community persisted among the people for many centuries before it was replaced by the growth of local patriotism in Italian cities, and several small states made their appearance. During the period between fifteenth to nineteenth centuries France and Austria fought with each other to gain sway over the Italian kingdoms. In 1796 Napoleon established a Republic in Lombardy and Venetia. After he became Emperor of France he united the various kingdoms and created the Republic of Italy. Thus Napoleon unconsciously laid the foundation for the national unification of Italy and greatly contributed to the growth of Italian nationalism.
  • At the Congress of Vienna (1814-15), which was held after the fall of Napoleon, the Austrian Chancellor Metternich managed to acquire Lombardy and Venetia. He also succeeded in installing relatives of the Austrian Emperor on the thrones of Parma, Modena and Tuscany. As a result of this arrangement Austria acquired direct control over northern Italy and indirect control over central Italy. However, the Papal States continued to be under the rule of Pope, while Sardinia-Piedmont maintained their independent status. It was ultimately under the leadership of Sardinia that Italy achieved unification.

Factors Hampering Unification of Italy

  • Italy could not achieve unification till 1870 on account of a number of factors viz.the hostility of Papacy towards Italian units;
  • rule in northern Italy of a foreign power and in the south of a dynasty of a foreign origin;
  • the lack of wealth and industrial potentialities which helped the growth of nationalism in Italy, and
  • a weak middle class.
  • In short, we can say that despite excellent natural boundaries, common historical traditions and language, Italy failed to achieve national unification on account of persistent struggle between the Pope and the Emperor; the multiplicity of sovereignties; seemingly insurmountable social differences between north and south; an unwillingness of Rome, Milan, Venice, Florence and Naples to sacrifice their glorious past for the sake of the national unity.

Impact of French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars

  • The French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars which followed it provided a strong fillip to Italian nationalism and greatly contributed to the development of a sense of unity. On the one hand, the Italians were inspired by the French Revolutionary ideas and strongly resisted outside interference in their national life. On the other hand, Napoleon Bonaparte promoted the idea of national unification by uniting various kingdoms of Italy and creating Republic of Italy. However, these achievements proved only temporary and soon after the fall of Napoleon, Italy was again divided into several small units and the successors of the old royal families were again seated on the thrones of these tiny kingdoms. Some of these rulers deliberately ignored the interests of the people under them and acted in an autocratic manner. Lombardy and Venetia were, annexed to the Austrian Empire. The smaller kingdoms of Tuscany, Parma and Modena were distributed among the princes of Austria. Victor Emmanuel and Pope were seated on the thrones of Savoy and Rome respectively.
  • But the people of Italy who had been greatly inspired by the ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity of the French Revolution could not reconcile themselves to this situation. This led to the formation of the Carbonari, a secret society, for the liberation of Italy from the clutches of the foreigners. However, the various secret societies did not work in coopera-tion with each other. Despite this several rulers of Italy abandoned their autocratic rule and adopted liberal attitude towards the people. The two rulers who took a lead in this regard were Ferdinand, the King of Naples and Victor Emmanuel, the ruler of Piedmont. However, Metternich was not happy with these developments and sent an army to Italy to check the growing liberalising tendencies. He succeeded, in checking the liberal doctrines with the help of Austrian armies.
  • In the wake of fresh revolutions in France in 1830 and 1848 there was a fresh bid on the part of the Italians to achieve liberation. The people of Tuscany, Piedmont, Parma, Modena and Naples met with considerable success. However, on account of lack of necessary co-operation among the members of various secret societies, the Austrian armies succeeded in suppressing the revolts and autocratic rule was again clamped on Italy. As Hayes has observed “With the failure of the revolutions of 1848-49, Italy returned to her former condition of division into smaller states, arbitrary Governments and domination by Austria.”
  • It may be observed that the national movement during this period was divided into two parts-the moderates and the revolutionaries. The former represented the aristocracy and upper classes. They wanted to lead the Italian people towards national unity but did not want to give them any share in the control of the united states. They also did not want to deprive the Pope of his temporal power. They wanted the ruler of Piedmont to provide a lead because he was Italian and free from influence. The revolutionaries or radicals on the other hand mainly hailed from middle classes and artisans. They wanted to bring about union of Italy through series of rebellions, simultaneously organised throughout the peninsula. They hoped that in the course of these rebellions the various states would merge themselves into a single whole. They favoured Republican government on French model. They wanted to achieve all this under leadership of Mazzini. However, despite the divergence in the approach of the moderates and the republicans (revolutionaries) the two groups made a compromise and made a bid to achieve unity.

Role of Mazzini

  • As the chief moving spirit behind the Italian nationalism was Mazzini, it shall be desirable to know about his ideas on nationalism in some details. Mazzini considered the progress of humanity as the ultimate objective. He held that the individuals could not hope to fulfil their duty of forwarding the progress of humanity in isolation because the ultimate end of that progress was not revealed to man who could not even know its immediate objective unless he discovered the points on which his private conscience was in agreement with the accepted beliefs of humanity. He argued that such a process could only be carried out in an association, which might take three forms -the family, the nation and humanity.
  • While the first was too small to provide an adequate field for human endeavours, and the third too vast to be embraced effectively, the nation gave–or ought to give-a common agreement to which appeal could easily be made, since between fellow nations there could exist an intimate communion feeling and thought. Mazzini argued that the path to individual freedom led through co-operation on a national basis. He was the first Italian to emphasise that the unity of Italy was practicable and inspired others with the same faith.

Italy after 1848

  • One of the main difficulties which stood in the way of Italy’s unity after 1848 was her dominance by Austria. The states of Italy were so small and weak that they could not by themselves drive out Austria. No doubt efforts were made by leaders like Mazzini to combine the various states against the Bourbon despots but these efforts proved futile. The prospects of uniting the seven Italian States against Austria also did not look bright.
  • On the other hand, France could not reconcile with the growing power of Austria in Italy and decided to checkmate the Austrian ambitions by restoring the Pope. This move by France also operated against the Italian interest and was, therefore, naturally unwelcome to Mazzini.
  • However, despite this opposition France succeeded in restoring the Papal States. Thereafter, France was naturally committed to maintain a force in support of the Papal authority and opposed all movements for Italian unity.

Cavour and Unification of Italy

  • In the meanwhile, in Piedmont, a state which had played a leading role during the struggle of 1848-49, Victor Emmanuel appointed Cavour as his Prime Minister, which set the ball rolling for the Italian unity.
  • Cavour was a statesman with great diplomatic skill and was committed to make Italy a powerful nation, under the leadership of Sardinia-Piedmont. He, therefore, tried to increase the armed forces of Piedmont as well as to economically develop the state. At the same time he also realized that Piedmont could fight against Austria with the help of other powers only. Realising even though Britain may be sympathetic towards Piedmont she was not likely to plunge into a war with Austria. The only country which could offer help to Piedmont was France because she had been conducting her international relations on the basis of practical and selfish considerations. Nonetheless he started working with view to win the sympathy and support of other European powers.
  • First of all he extended support to England and France during the Crimean War in the hope that this alliance would promote Italy’s interests. He sent the Italian forces to the battle of Thernaya. When his soldiers complained of the excess of mud at the site of war Cavour asserted “Out of this mud, Italy will be made.” At the end of Crimean War, Cavour took part in the Convention of Paris in 1856 on terms of equality with other powers.
  • He was accepted as the representative of entire Italy at the Congress of Paris despite protests from Austria. He convinced the European powers in the course of Congress that independence of Italy was essential for maintaining peace in Europe. Thus he succeeded in making independence of Italy an international issue. He also utilized this occasion to vigorously attack Austria for misgovernment in central and southern Italy.
  • In 1858 he went to Switzerland and met Napoleon III, who was on sojourn there, and reached an agreement with him whereby France and Sardinia agreed to liberate Italy from the clutches of Austria. Sardinia was to place one lakh and France two lakh military soldiers for service in the war. Sardinia also agreed to find out an excuse for picking up trouble with Austria. In return for this Sardinia was to extend its territories to Lombardy, Romagna, Venetia etc, while Napoleon III was to get Savoy and Nice. It was further agreed that Pope shall continue to be the master of Rome and Kingdom of Sicily shall retain separate entity.

War with Austria (1859)

  • After reaching an understanding with Napoleon III of France, Cavour started looking for a pretext for war with Austria. In 1859 rebellion broke out in Lombardy and Venice. Cavour, with the help of France succeeded in pushing out the Austrians from Lombardy and merged it with Piedmont. After this success of Piedmont, Napoleon III grew suspicious that ultimately Piedmont may lord over entire Italy and pose a menace to the French border. He, therefore, made a hurried peace with the Austrian empire, whereby Venetia was left with Austria and an Italian federation under the presidency of the Pope was created. This was a serious setback for Cavour.
  • After the conclusion of peace by Napoleon III with Austria, Piedmont was also forced to conclude Treaty of Zurich with Austria. Under the treaty the right of Piedmont to rule over Lombardy was accepted but Austria retained her mastery over Venetia. Nice and Savoy were handed over to France. All these developments convinced the Italians that they could hope to liberate their country only through a united action. The northern States of Italy requested their merger with Piedmont which was duly accomplished after plebiscite. As a result, with the exception of Venetia and Rome the entire northern and central Italy was united and a federal administration was established.

Victory over Sicily

  • After being checkmated in the north, Cavour thought of achieving Italian unification through south. He said “They have stopped me from making Italy by diplomacy through the north; I will make it by revolution from the south”. Accordingly in 1860 when the inhabitants of Sicily revolted against their autocratic rulers, Cavour sent Garibaldi with his soldiers to Palermo, the capital of Sicily, to assist the people. He ousted the ruler with the help of the people. He defeated and also inflicted a defeat on the army of Naples at Milazzo. As a result the whole of Italy with the exception of fort of Mazzina came, under his control.
  • Fearing that these victories of Garibaldi may impede the cause of Italy’s unification due to the possibility of Garibaldi coming to the rescue of the Pope, Cavour was able to secure approval of Napoleon III for invasion of Umbria and marches by the Piedmont armies. Ultimately On 29 September the armies of Piedmont captured Ancona. Garibaldi agreed to hand over Naples and Sicily to the King of Piedmont and thus the unification of Italy was completed. Victor Emmanuel was made the King of Italy.

Italy and Austro-Prussian War (1866)

  • Now only Venetia and Rome were to be added to make the unification of Italy complete. For the attainment of the objective Victor Emmanuel II concluded a treaty with Bismarck whereby Italy agreed to invade Venetia, while Prussia was involved in a war against Austria. Obviously the purpose of the treaty was to divert the attention of Austria. Accordingly, in 1866 when the war between Austria and Prussia broke out the Emperor of Italy also declared a war against Austria and invaded Tyrol, as well as Venetia. However, Italian forces failed to achieve any success. On the other hand, Prussia succeeded in scoring a victory over Austria. According to the terms of the treaty Bismarck handed over Venetia to Italy.

Franco Prussian War (1870)

  • Now there remained only one hurdle in the way of unification of Italy viz., occupation of Rome. But Rome was under the sway of Pope and Victor Emmanuel did not want any conflict with him. Further he had given a commitment to France not to invade Pope and to recognise his pious entity. In fact one army of Napoleon III was stationed in Rome for the protection of the Pope and Italy could not take any action. Therefore, the Italian leadership had to wait for some time more before they could capture Rome. The opportunity was provided by the defeat of France in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 which rendered France weak and hence it could no longer ensure the safety to Pope. Rome was captured by Emmanuel II in September 1870. A plebiscite was held to ascertain public opinion. In the plebiscite the people voted for unification with Italy with an overwhelming majority. Rome was made the capital of Italy and it emerged as a united and free nation.

Contributions of Mazzini to Italian Unification

  • Mazzini is often described as the prophet of 19th century nationalism and was one of the three great architects of Italian Unification (the other two being Garibaldi and Cavour). He developed a nationalist feeling from his early childhood and began to grasp a vision of united Italy. He impressed on the people that the whole of the Peninsula, though divided by artificial political barriers, was a living unity with a common heritage of traditions and historic memories. As a youth he joined Carbonari’s revolutionary organization with a view to work for Italy’s unification. He actively participated in a revolt in 1830, which was inspired by the French Revolution of 1830 and was imprisoned. While in prison Mazzini realised that the country could not be liberated by following principles of Carbonari and it was vital to charge the Italian youth with sentiments of patriotism, sacrifice, moral character etc. to attain Italy’s national emancipation. In 1831 he founded the society known as Young Italy, with its branches all over Italy. This society propagated Republican and nationalist ideas though education and insurrection and tried to cultivate a spirit of self-sacrifice among the Italian youth. It may be noted that Mazzini did not favour foreign help for emancipation of Italy.
  • Mazzini organised a number of risings in different parts of Italy, especially Milan and Lombardy, and succeeded in expelling the Austrians. He also organised successful revolt against the people who took to flight and Mazzini set up a Republic with himself as its President. However, the Roman Republic did not last long because after sometime Napoleon III sent an army which defeated Mazzini and destroyed the Roman Republic. Mazzini was forced to fly to America and ultimately died in foreign land in 1872.
  • The main contribution of Mazzini to the cause of Italian Unification was that he succeeded in impressing on the Italian people that liberation and unification of Italy was not an impossible dream but a practical ideal capable of realisation. He converted a large number of Italian people to his way of thinking and fired them with a missionary spirit to die for the cause of Italian independence and unification. It is true that though most of the attempts made by Mazzini to attain independence for Italy ended in failure, but this does not undermine his contributions to the cause of Italy’s independence. His services were in the realm of ideas and inspiration which he injected in the body and brain of the Italian youth. His chief contribution was that he gave a definite shape to the idea of Italian nationality and converted it into a popular cause. This greatly contributed to the struggle for Italian independence and unity. According to Lipson, “Mazzini deserves all the honour due to a pioneer whose life was devoted to the pursuit of a great ideal. His propaganda broadened the political horizon of Italians and created a vigorous public opinion in favour of national independence. Mazzini, therefore, holds an imperishable place amongst the makers of modern Italy.”

Role of Cavour

  • Cavour played no less significant role in the unification of Italy. Prof. Philip has brought out his role in unification of Italy thus, “Italy as a nation is the legacy, the life-work of Cavour. Others have been devoted to the national liberation but only he knew how to bring it into the sphere of possibilities. He kept it pure of any factious spirit, he led it away from barren Utopias, kept it clear of reckless conspiracies, steered straight between revolt and reaction and gave it an organised force, a flag, a government and foreign allies.” He has been described as “the master brain which mobilised the inspiration of Mazzini into a diplomatic force and changed the award of Garibaldi into a national weapon.”
  • He provided leadership to the other States of Italy by making Sardinia and Piedmont an ideal state so that other states may follow it. For this purpose he made it an ideal democracy and took numerous steps to create an infra-structure for the economic progress of the state. Above all, he tried to win the support and confidence of the foreign powers to attain his objective. One writer has observed, “If there had been no Cavour to win the confidence, sympathy and support of Europe, if he had not been recognised as one whose sense was just in all emergencies, Mazzini’s efforts would have run to waste in questionable insurrections and Garibaldi’s feat of arms must have added one chapter more to the history of unproductive patriotism.” In short, we can say with confidence that of all the political and national leaders of Italy, Cavour contributed most to the unification of Italy.

World History

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