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War of the Roman Republic - May-July 1849

After Bonaparte had placed himself at the head of the government of France, and reconquered Italy by the campaign of Marengo, in 1800, he allowed the new pope, who had been elected at Paris, with the title of Pius VIL, to assume the pontifical chair at Rome. In July, 1800, he made his entry into the city. He was a man of mild temper, and endeavored to restore every thing to its former state. But his political authority was merely nominal, for he could do nothing without the sanction of the French. In 1804, the pope was required by Bonaparte to attend the ceremony of his coronation, at Paris, when he became emperor of the French. In 1808, Napoleon determined to deprive the pope of all political power. He accordingly wrote to him, desiring that he would resign the sovereign authority of Rome, and content limself with the office of bishop of that city. The pope did not willingly submit; and a French army was sent to Rome, which took him prisoner, and removed him to the north of Italy. Rome was united to the French empire.

The overthrow of Napoleon restored the papal government at Rome, and the old order of things was reestablished in every respect. Pius VII died in 1823. His successor, Leo XII, reigned six years, and was followed by Pius VIII, who, bring very old, and in feeble health, lived only a few months after his election, and died in 1831. He was succeeded by Gregory XVI. His reign was not distinguished by any remarkable event. The system of repression, inaugurated under Pius VII by Pacca, and adopted unreservedly by the last three Popes, had broken down. Metternich himself had remonstrated against the medieval administration of Gregory XVI, which discredited absolutism.

Pius IX became Pope in 1846. He began his reign by an attenpt to introduce reforms into his government, and took measures to establish a system of popular representation. The overthrow of Louis Philippe, in France, in 1848, excited the hopes of the revolutionry party throughout Italy, and the pope hesitated to grant the full measure of popular privileges demanded by his subjects. The character of Pius IX has been variously estimated. It passed through more than one phase; and, while retaining certain leading qualities throughout, it was wanting in consistency. The abrupt change in his policy after 1848 gave the impression that Pius IX was a Liberal before, and a reactionary after, that date. It may be doubted whether he was ever by conviction either the one or the other. He had the obstinacy of a weak man. A man of sentiment rather than of fact, he moved in a world of signs and wonders: his credulity was abnormal, and his piety, sincere as it was, stood in no relation to the mind or facts of his time. He magnified his office; and, regarding opposition to his will as the unpardonable.

At his accession the government of the Papal States was, with the possible exception of the kingdom of Naples, the worst in Italy. Every public department was in disorder. The finances were desperate ; taxation was heavy and unequal; trade was limited to small industries; manufactures did not exist. The higher posts in the administration were open only to the clergy; the police, whose number was out of all proportion to the population, were employed mainly for political purposes ; smuggling and brigandage were rife. Railways were forbidden; education was nominal and difficult of access; the mental and moral life of the people was deliberately stunted.

The people, ignorant and untrained in the duties of citizenship, got out of hand; and the murder of the Minister Rossi, a doctrinaire Liberal, closed the first chapter of the pontificate. On the morning of November 15, 1848, Rossi drove to the Palace of the Cancelleria for the purpose of opening Parliament; after leaving his carriage and ascending the first fewsteps of the staircase, he met bis death at the hand of an assassin. On the day after the death of Rossi, a popular insurrection forced the Pope to call a Democratic Ministry under Monsignor Carlo Muzzarelli, of which Pietro Sterbini, one of the instigators of the murder, was a member. On November 25 the Pope fled from Rome and took refuge at the Neapolitan fortress of Gaeta. Here his vacillation ceased; henceforward he stood for the lost cause of European reaction. Irritated by the clemency of the French to his revolted subjects, Pius IX leaned on Austrian protection. He issued a Commission of Regency ; but his Commissioners were unable to act, or even to meet.

The Chambers replied by the appointment of a "Supreme Committee of State," which decided to proceed to the election of a Constituent Assembly by universal suffrage. This Assembly met on February 5, 1849, on the 9th proclaimed a Republic, and organized a government under three triumvirs.

France, Republican France, in whom Mazzini trusted so confidently, offered the Pope her intervention in Rome, on condition that she should act alone; and on April 25, 1849, a French force under Oudinot landed at Civita Vecchia on its way to Rome. The French, who had not expected any serious resistance in Rome, were soon undeceived. On April 30, 1849, Garibaldi repulsed them by sheer hard fighting; and he similarly drove back the Neapolitans on May 19. Oudinot concealed the extent of his defeat, and sent home for reinforcements. Thus between France and the Roman Republic there suddenly arose a question of military amour propre obscuring the political issues; and this just at the moment when the President of the French Republic, for the confirmation of his own power and for the eventual restoration of the Empire, needed the whole support both of the army and the Church.

In order to gain time, the French sent Ferdinand de Lesseps to Rome to treat for peace with Mazzini and the Assembly; and on May 17 an armistice was concluded. Lesseps no doubt acted in good faith, as did Mazzini; and they came to terms. But, as soon as the reactionary intrigues between Gaeta and the French headquarters were ripe, and the reinforcements had arrived, the terms were repudiated. Without even giving notice of the close of the armistice, the French suddenly assaulted Rome. Garibaldi ajid his forces made a heroic stand ; but on June 30, they were obliged to abandon the defence, and a number retreated with Garibaldi before the French entered the city. The life of the ill-starred Roman Republic ' under Mazzini had been precarious and, politically speaking, it earned small praise; but, as the death-struggle of Italians against foreign perfidy and violence, its record is glorious and its memory is still green.

The French took possession of Rome, and the authority of the pope was restored. He re-entered his capital, April 12, 1850, where, supported (except for a brief interval) by French bayonets, he reigned for twenty years. Laymen were again excluded from office; the electoral bodies were not even convened; in 1851, the number of political prisoners reached 8800; the vendetta pretina was in full swing.

The dispatch of the French expeditionary force under Oudinot, sowing, as it did, lasting seeds of discord between France and Italy, was a disastrous step on the part of the Second Republic ; Napoleon III in later years spoke of the occupation of Rome as the great mistake of his reign. But it must be remembered that, both at the time and subsequently, French diplomacy did its best to induce the Pope to make reforms; and that the military intervention of the Prince President barred the way to action on the part of the more reactionary Powers. Pius IX accepted everything, and conceded nothing; and, while lavishing effusive gratitude upon Austria, Spain, and Naples for the part taken by them in his restoration, treated his French preservers with marked coldness.

The Emperor Napoleon III, whose troops, withdrawn in 1866, had a year later regarrisoned Rome in consequence of an alleged breach of the September Convention by Italy, was now in high favor at the Vatican. Sadowa was to be avenged on Prussia by France, which, after a short and victorious campaign, was to lead Europe, confirm the Pope in the possession of his dominions, and champion the Catholic interest throughout the world. German science was to be crushed as effectually as German military power : with Napoleon III, as a new Pepin, the golden age was to return. The result of the Franco-German War of 1870 upset these calculations.

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Page last modified: 10-01-2014 19:01:58 ZULU