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Wars of Italian Unification - 1859

Among the most important events of the latter half of the nineteenth century was the consolidation of the two great modern states of Italy and Germany. Both of these lands had been weak and divided during the Middle Ages. For centuries both Germany and Italy fell apart into independent little principalities and city states, often warring with one another and often dominated by foreign powers. After the French king Charles VIII invaded Italy in 1495, France, Austria, and Spain fought with one another over bits of Italian territory, and later Napoleon rearranged both countries to suit his taste.

The condition of Italy in the eighteenth century may be briefly summed up. Her people were sunk in apathy under the rule of foreign princes, who, with the exception perhaps of the Habsburg line in Tuscany, entertained a complete disregard for their welfare. In Savoy and Piedmont there was a semblance of national life, because the rulers were native and governed with commendable uprightness: territorial expansion was their constant ambition. Following on the war of the Spanish Succession, Austria (1713) had succeeded to the Spanish dominions in Italy, and though in 1738 she surrendered the Two Sicilies to the Spanish Bourbon line, she remained the dominant power, controlling the smaller States. In South Italy misgovernment produced a constant ferment of discontent. The Papal States, under clerical government, were in a deplorable condition, and, as in South Italy, the wellbeing of the people was neglected. It was the Napoleonic invasions which first stirred the lethargic mass into consciousness of a common life. Irt 1796 the French Army first entered Italy, driving the Austrians before them, and establishing republics or annexing territory to France. Napoleon's second invasion in 1800 resulted in the defeat of the Austrians, and in due course led to his own acquisition of the Crown of Italy.

Italy, after the fall of Napoleon, was divided into separate ill-governed small states, with Venice and Lombardy in the hands of Austria.The Congress of Vienna left Italy divided and assured Austria control over the northern portions. The idea of uniting Italy under one Government grew as the century advanced, and received fresh impetus from the revolutionary movements in Europe in 1830 and 1848. In spite of Metternich's efforts to maintain this situation there were leaders in Italy working for unification. The expulsion of Austria became the central idea of the movement.

After the Congress of Vienna leaders arose in Italy who strove to free their land from foreign domination and unite the various states into* a single powerful country. There were unsuccessful revolutions in 1820-1821, in 1830, and in 1848-1849. Among these leaders Mazzini, the poet and man of letters, was the most famous. He joined the Carbonari (1856) for a time, but became disgusted with their mummeries and formed an association called "Young Italy" to carry on the movement for Italian unity. The society, "Young Italy," under the guidance of Mazzini, kept the spirit of revolution alive, although several insurrections instigated by them failed. So the way was prepared for the king of Sardinia, Victor Emmanuel, and his able minister, Cavour, to realize at last the dreams of the Italian patriots.

The kingdom of Sardinia consisted mainly of Piedmont and the neighboring Savoy in northwestern Italy and had its capital at Turin; the island of Sardinia was a very unimportant part of the ruler's realms. After the unsuccessful war with Austria in 1848-1849 the country had been reorganized under a new constitution and became the nucleus around which all Italy might unite. Cavour easily induced Napoleon III to agree to lend his help if a new excuse could be found for attacking Austria and expelling her from northern Italy. Napoleon argued that since the Italians were a Latin race, like the French, a successful war against the German Austrians would be popular in France and would make his own position stronger. He also hoped he might add Savoy to France and perhaps become the protector of the proposed Italian confederation.

Victor Emmanuel managed easily enough to fall out with Austria and was immediately reenforced by a French army. Austria managed the campaign badly and was defeated, June 1859, in the fierce battles of Magenta and Solferino. But Napoleon was appalled by the horrors of actual war and seemingly startled at the enthusiasm aroused among the Italians, which he feared might result in so powerful an Italy that he would no longer be desired as protector. Consequently he left his work half done. Instead of freeing Italy to the Adriatic, as he had talked of doing, he arranged a peace with Austria by which she still held Venetia, but ceded Lombardy to Victor Emmanuel and permitted him to annex the little duchies of Parma and Modena. It was also arranged that France should be rewarded for its trouble by receiving Savoy and Nice, which were racially French rather than Italian.

Napoleon III had, however, precipitated changes which he was powerless to check. Italy was now ready to fuse into a single state. Tuscany, as well as Modena and Parma, voted (March 1860) to unite with Piedmont. Giuseppe Garibaldi, the famous republican leader, sailed for Sicily. After expelling the troops of the king of Naples from Sicily, he crossed to the mainland, and early in September he entered Naples itself, just as the king fled from his capital.

Garibaldi shares with Victor Emmanuel the national enthusiasm of Italy, and his monument, one of the finest in Rome, looks proudly over the Eternal City from a high hill. He was a republican, a convert of Mazzini, and had lived a restless life, having fought in South America and lived for a time in New York (where his house is preserved as a memorial). At the head of his "legion" of volunteers, clad in their gay red blouses, he was a most picturesque figure, and his rapid success in the south lent an element of romance to the unification of Italy.

Garibaldi now proposed to march on Rome and proclaim the kingdom of Italy. This would have imperiled all the previous gains, for Napoleon III could not, in view of the strong Catholic sentiment in France, possibly permit the occupation of Rome and the destruction of the political independence of the Pope. He agreed that Victor Emmanuel might annex the outlying papal possessions to the north and reestablish a stable government in Naples instead of Garibaldi's dictatorship. But Rome, the imperial city, with the territory immediately surrounding it, must be left to its old master. Victor Emmanuel accordingly marched southward and occupied Naples (October). Its king capitulated, and all southern Italy became a part of the kingdom of Italy.

In February, 1861, the first Italian parliament was opened at Turin, and the process of really amalgamating the heterogeneous portions of the new kingdom began. Yet the joy of the Italians over the realization of their hopes of unity and national independence was tempered by the fact that Austria still held one of the most famous of the Italian provinces, and that Rome, which typified Italy's former grandeur, was not included in the new kingdom. Within a decade, however, both these districts became a part of the kingdom of Italy owing to the policy of Prussia. William I and his adviser, Bismarck, were about to do for Germany what Victor Emmanuel and Cavour were accomplishing for Italy.

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Page last modified: 05-06-2016 20:46:50 ZULU