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Kingdom of Italy - 1870-1919

The unification of Italy was completed, like that of Germany, by the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. Under the monarchy, the most important problem was the reality in which "once Italy had been made, it was necessary to make the Italians."

After the war of 1866 Austria had ceded Venetia to Italy. Moreover, in August, 1870, the reverses of the war compelled Napoleon to recall the French garrison from Rome, and the Pope made little effort to defend his capital against the Italian army, which occupied it in September. The people of Rome voted by an overwhelming majority to join the kingdom of Italy, and the work of Victor Emmanuel and Cavour was completed by transferring the capital to the Eternal City.

The opposition of the French clerical party to the completion of the unification of Italy during the last decade of the Third Empire destroyed whatever gratitude the Italian people may have felt for the decisive aid rendered to the cause of Italian unity at Solferino. On the part of the moving spirits of Young Italy, indeed, this gratitude was not very great. For the first great step in the unification of Italy had been accompanied by a dismemberment of the territories from which the royal house of Piedmont took its name. Young Italy felt that the French had been paid for their help against Austria, and paid dearly. The cession of his birthplace, at the moment when the nation for which he had suffered so terribly and struggled so successfully came into being, hurt Garibaldi more than the French bullets lodged in his body eight years later at Mentana. The entrance of Italy into an alliance with the Teutonic Powers of Central Europe was believed by her statesmen to be an act of self-preservation.

After the Franco-German War, there were two tendencies in the policy of the Third Republic to prevent an understanding between France and Italy. The first of these was the recurrence in France of the old bitter clericalism of the Empire. Italy feared that French soldiers might again come to Rome. The second was the antagonism of France to the budding colonial aspirations of Italy. When France occupied Tunis, Italy felt that she had been robbed of the realization of a dream, which was hers by right of history, geography, and necessity. So Italy joined the Triple Alliance.

In order to maintain the dignity of her new position Italy rapidly increased her army and navy. Universal military service was introduced as in other European states, and modern warships were built. Then the Italians set about gaining colonies in Africa and in 1887 sent an army into Abyssinia; but after some fifteen years of intermittent warfare they were able to retain only a strip along the coast of the Red Sea about twice the size of the state of Pennsylvania. Again, in 1911, by a war with Turkey, they took Tripoli on the south shore of the Mediterranean.

The cost of armaments made Italy almost bankrupt at times, and as it was not a rich country, taxes were very high. Since these fell largely upon the poor, hundreds of thousands of Italians left their land as emigrants, preferring the United States or Argentina to their own colonies. Many of those who stayed at home became discontented with the government, some becoming Socialists. Still the present monarchy has proved much better than the old governments which it replaced. Much of the revenue had been spent on other things than armaments. Railroads have been built by the state to open up the country. Manufactures have grown up in the northern part, so that Milan is today one of the great manufacturing cities of Europe. National schools were bringing improvement in education, although the peasants in the mountainous districts were still very ignorant and superstitious.

The military system of Europe laid upon Italy a heavy burden. When the United States of America became a fact, they could dismiss their troops to civil life, because alone upon a continent and protected by 3000 miles of ocean. But the safety and the very existence of Italy depended on her immediate development and maintenance of an immense standing army. The latest arrival among the nations had to conform herself to the situation as she found it.

Ages of oppression had given the people few roads or bridges or means of communication. They had neither schools, courts, effective police nor equitable system of raising revenue. Brigandage was a profession over a large part of the territory. Ignorant and lawless, they were generations behind the civilized world. The king and his advisers applied themselves with patience and good sense to the organization of the kingdom. They accomplished much in every department of administration, but evils which had been growing for centuries could not be radically cured in a single reign.

Victor Emmanuel died in 1878. His son Humbert was assassinated by an anarchist in 1900. Humbert's son and successor, Victor Emmanuel III, was regarded as an enlightened man desirous of ruling within the limits of the constitution. The monarchy was in practice, as in form, quite similar to that of England.

The position of the king of Italy was not unlike that of the British sovereign. Supreme authority was vested in a parliament of two houses - an elective Chamber of Deputies and an appointive and aristocratic Senate - and in a ministry responsible to the parliament. Inasmuch as the "group system" of political parties prevails in Italy, the actual operation of the parliamentary system resembles more nearly that of France than that of Great Britain. For many years property and educational qualifications for the exercise of the franchise assured a completely bourgeois character to the Chamber of Deputies, but finally both the Socialist and the Catholic pressure for political democracy became so great that in 1912 an important electoral law was passed, making the suffrage almost universal for men.

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Page last modified: 26-02-2013 10:55:06 ZULU